Season Announcing Season continues
It's been two weeks since I giddily announced the beginning of Season Announcing Season, that splendiferous time of year in which theater companies dutifully line up to announce the plays they have planned for the next theater season. Theater seasons, unhelpfully, do not line up with actual seasons, months, years, or any other generally-recognized methods for marking the passage of time (though, in fairness, it is easier to figure out than how the date of Easter is determined), so it's difficult for any one person to really know when Season Announcing Season actually begins. Much like pornography, you know it when you see it. It's just a feeling. Don't try to analyze it.
One of my markers for the season here in Minnesota is the annual Arts Advocacy Day, when hordes of artists descend upon the state capital to convince our legislature that, yes, in fact, we are watching you when you try sneaky things like diverting Legacy Amendment money for a sports team. Since I found myself amongst said hordes last week, meeting and greeting legislators, I know in my heart that the Season is upon us. (Special thanks to the many, many theater people I saw over in St. Paul on that day.)
The latest grand pronouncement in the Season comes to us courtesy of the Ordway. As per usual, the Ordway is building its foundation on the solid stone of musical theater classics. However, this year, as if to start atoning for the culturally-insensitive Miss Saigon debacle from a few years back, they have also included in their lineup a surprisingly diverse selection of other works, including an evening of contemporary Native dance, the African American dance company Step Afrika!, and a production of West Side Story that will not feature white people slathered in bronzer. Progress!
Openings and closings
It's never a happy time when a long-standing institution runs headlong into a cashflow problem. Unfortunately, the seas of non-profit performance are full of rocky shoals, and even the longest-sailing ships can run aground easily.
Everyone was little bit stunned and confused this week when Skylark Opera a 36-year-old institution in the Twin Cities, suddenly announced that it was "postponing" its 2016 season. After a frantic, last-minute fundraising push at the end of last year and the departure of the company's long-time Artistic Director, Steve Stucki last month, the company's board finally laid bare the dire financial situation that the company is in. For several years, Skylark has been posting small, but consistent losses, which have drained its reserves to the breaking point.
While we may weep at the loss of one company, we have to remember that the Twin Cities is a very active ecosystem, constantly churning. There's always something new waiting in the wings. We all remember when Ballet of the Dolls, the beloved dancer denizens at the Ritz Theater, went on their own indeterminate hiatus. It left a hole in the local arts scene that almost took the Ritz down with it. However, musical theater makers Theater Latte Da stepped into the Dolls' place at the Ritz and are now in talks to buy the building.
In another part of Northeast Minneapolis, there is another theater switch happening. A few weeks ago, I told you about a Kickstarter campaign for Minnsky's Theatre, a circus/vaudeville/cabaret company that was promising to move into an already-existing theater space in my part of town. For the life of me, I could not think of what space they were talking about, other than the one that Nimbus Theatre recently vacated. I was driving past that particular location the other day, and discovered that it is now painted pink. Indeed, it is the new home of Minnsky's.
My god, I actually predicted something correctly! Someone should hire me to be some kind of talking head pundit now. (Just kidding; they never make good predictions.)
[Addendum: in this same vein, as I was sending this article off for publishing, I was alerted to the fact that another Twin Cities institution, Patrick's Cabaret, is losing its current home as well.]
The Broadway news
Justin Timberlake was right: a billion dollars is cool. So, guess who's cool now? That would be the Broadway production of Wicked, which just topped $1 billion in lifetime sales. It's in a pretty exclusive club, with only The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera for company, and it got there way faster than its predecessors. Now it's time to set their sights and destroy The Lion King's other record: $6 billion in global income. Wicked is already at $4 billion. The witch is coming for you, Mufasa.
Speaking of money and Broadway, Hamilton just saved Hamilton. The sudden and explosive popularity of the show has led to renewed interest in the founding father with terrible aim just at the point when the US Treasury was making plans to drop him from the $10 bill in exchange for a woman. Now the plans appear to be producing multiple new editions of the bill, some with Hamilton, some with the as-of-yet unnamed female person. I know we need to start including more diversity on symbolic things like money, but if ever there was an American deserving of his own place on a bill, it is probably the first Secretary of the Treasury and the guy who founded the first national bank. If only there was some completely terrible person that could be replaced on some other bill.
While we're busy trying to diversify our money, how about we diversify our workforce? More specifically, the theater workforce. There's been a lot of talk about how the diversity on Broadway has greatly increased recently, and that is true, but only if you look at who's on the stage. Behind the scenes, it's a little bit more pale, and not just because they spend their lives in darkened theaters. New York has decided to tackle this gap head on by establishing a $2 million fund to promote backstage diversity in technician, director, designer and stage management positions.
Is $2 million cool? Let's ask Lance Bass this time.
Try it again, but with passion
Last month we were talking about the Fox network's foray into the live musical world with Grease: Live. This month, Fox has delivered on its promise to never stop mashing you in the face with big, overly complicated live events. It sounded like a fever dream when Fox announced last year that it would produce a live musical Passion play with Tyler Perry hosting and a bevy of pop singers playing the various people in the life and death of Jesus. Iin fact, it still sounds like a fever dream, but, by god, they actually went and did it.
Loosely adapted from a similar yearly show in the Netherlands, Fox's production upped the ante by casting a handsome latin singer as Jesus, country singer Trisha Yearwood as Mary and Seal as Pontius Pilate, all of them belting out re-adapted pop songs to convey the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Tina Turner's anthem from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, "We Don't Need Another Hero" was there; unfortunately, they changed the line where the song directly references a thunderdome.) As an added bonus, the event was held in New Orleans, and they made some ham-fisted attempts to connect Christ's resurrection to the city's own glorious resurrection, which is, um, extremely debatable.
It all adds up to what the New York Times described as "Jesus' final hours as a halftime show". If you ever wanted to see songs by Train, Imagine Dragons and Hoobastank convey the Good News, this was your show. For about 6 million people it was. (For comparison, 12 million people got their transcendent experience from Grease: Live)
Don't worry if you missed it, folks. Netflix just agreed to pick it up, so you can watch Jencarlos Canela stand atop the Westin Hotel in New Orleans singing Katy Perry's "Unconditionally" and it's somehow about Jesus as many times as you want.
Comedy or tragedy?
Listen, parents. I know many of you are trying to get hip to being sensitive and understanding of other cultures and rooting out hateful viewpoints so that your precious little ones can go out into a glorious new world in which hate and fear has been eliminated, and everyone has equality and whatnot, but you could you notch it down just a shade? Because now I have to read about a high school that was trying to do a production of The Producers and ended up with a big damn uproar from the parents because the set had some swastikas in it.
For those of you who don't know this Mel Brooks show, the central joke is that a shady producer purposely tries to create a flop by making a musical about Hitler. This is a patently ridiculous concept rife with opportunities for comedy, and in the course of that comedy understand better our own reactions to such symbols and maybe, just maybe confront the latent fear and bigotry in humanity that made Hitler in the first place, using laughter as a vehicle to explore issues that we are otherwise afraid of discussing. We understand the difference between that and actually promoting Nazism, right? Anyone?
I'm seeing a lot of glassy stares from the parents at Tappan Zee High School, so we'll just end class now. Your assignment for next week is to look up the definition of "context".