Broadway, Wagner’s “Ring,” the opening of the Shed: what our critics and writers are looking forward to this season.
Broadway | Off Broadway | Classical Music | Pop Music | Dance
‘TOOTSIE’ What’s wrong with musical comedy? Generally, the music. And the comedy.
Which may be why most of the best musicals of the last decade — “Fun Home,” “Hamilton,” “The Band’s Visit” — have been serious indeed. The art of being funny on the beat is mostly a lost one.
But David Yazbek, the songwriter behind the musical comedies “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “The Full Monty,” maintains the magic. Even his score for “The Band’s Visit,” mostly drenched in melancholy, has moments of lyrical hilarity. Let’s just say “marrow” and “pharaoh” never thought of rhyming until he insisted.
That’s the top reason (among several) I have high hopes for the stage version of “Tootsie,” arriving at the Marquis Theater on March 29. Based on the 1982 movie about an actor whose stalled career revives only when he pretends to be a woman, it offers both the size and sentiment a musical comedy, in any era, needs for liftoff. JESSE GREEN
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‘OKLAHOMA!’ What’s likely to be the freshest, most revolutionary musical on Broadway this season is more than three-quarters of a century old. Its title is “Oklahoma!,” and, yes, that’s the same Rodgers and Hammerstein show about farmers, cowhands and frontier love that was first seen in New York in 1943. But the director Daniel Fish’s revitalizing interpretation, scheduled to open at the Circle in the Square Theater on April 7, asks theatergoers to look at a deeply familiar classic through the eyes of the 21st century.
The songs, dialogue and characters remain almost entirely the same. But as it demonstrated during its sold-out run at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn last year, Mr. Fish’s version finds provocative depths of darkness amid the prairie sunshine. BEN BRANTLEY
‘INK’ The British actor Bertie Carvel, who wore a dress for his Tony-nominated role as the terrifying schoolmistress Miss Trunchbull in the musical “Matilda” six years ago, is switching to neatly tailored trousers for his return to Broadway. But don’t expect him to be any less intimidating. In James Graham’s “Ink,” which opens in April at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, Mr. Carvel will be portraying one Rupert Murdoch. And in this London hit about the tabloidization of British journalism, directed by Rupert Goold, any similarities between Mr. Carvel’s character and a certain Australian-born media mogul are definitely not coincidental. BEN BRANTLEY
‘WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME’ Heidi Schreck’s play about invisible women and the 14th Amendment was electrifyingly topical when it ran Off Broadway last year, amid the national outcry over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Sadly or fortuitously, “What the Constitution Means to Me” is even more urgent as it moves to Broadway, where performances begin on March 14. Its take on abortion as a protected liberty (and a personal turning point) comes smack up against now-Justice Kavanaugh, who signaled, in one of his first opinions, a willingness to reverse Roe v. Wade.
But the play is deeper than its timeliness suggests. Though it uses the idea of debate as a touchstone — and ends, deliciously, with a live one — it’s really about how we come to question our most bedrock assumptions about the world. If that makes seeing it almost a civic duty, duty has rarely been so pleasurable. JESSE GREEN
‘THE LEHMAN TRILOGY’ Three Bavarian-born brothers who first set foot on American soil more than 150 years ago are returning to New York next month, accompanied by a centuries-spanning brood of their descendants. Their names are Henry, Emanuel and Mayer, and they — and their seemingly countless kin — will be reincarnated at the Park Avenue Armory in Stefano Massini’s “The Lehman Trilogy,” an epic tale of financial rise and ruin, directed by Sam Mendes.
This three-hours-plus production features what is surely the largest cast of characters of any play in town. Yet they are embodied by a mere three, seemingly inexhaustible actors with the power to multiply themselves like amoebas: Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley. Though the story they tell — which begins and ends with the world-rocking bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008 — is one of entropy, the play in which they appear promises to be a resounding testament to the regenerative powers of theater.
As befits a sprawling, globe-girdling story of historic transformation, “The Lehman Brothers” has an intricate, multinational pedigree. Mr. Massini’s chronicle of a dynasty begun by emigrants to the United States began life as an Italian radio play before making its stage debut in Paris (in French) in 2013. Its Italian premiere was at the fabled Piccolo Teatro in Milan two years later, when it ran a whopping five hours.
Ben Power’s English-language adaptation opened at the National Theater in London last summer, overseen by Mr. Mendes, the very busy stage and film director whose gripping production of Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman” is a current hit on Broadway. Mr. Power pared Mr. Massini’s trilogy to a sleek and unexpectedly lyrical three hours (not counting two intermissions) to be performed almost entirely by three actors on an elegant but nearly empty rotating set (by the ever-inventive Es Devlin).
Otherwise, empty is hardly a word to be applied to this interpretation, as I can attest from seeing it at the National last July. Mr. Beale, Mr. Miles and Mr. Godley fill the stage to repletion, as they assume the varied forms of the dynasty-founding Henry, Emanuel and Mayer — and all subsequent generations of Lehmans.
And their friends, lovers, spouses, customers, rivals, ad infinitum, with a variety that continually astonishes. Unlike investors who lost their fortunes on Wall Street a decade ago, no one who leaves this encounter with the brothers Lehman is likely to walk away feeling poor. BEN BRANTLEY
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‘MARYS SEACOLE’ Born in 1805 to a free Jamaican mother and a Scottish father, Mary Seacole grew up to become an international businesswoman and freelance nurse, crossing paths with soldiers, royalty and Florence Nightingale.
That would be more than enough material for a straight-ahead bio-drama — but not, it seems, for the always surprising and formally ingenious Jackie Sibblies Drury, whose “Fairview” was one of last year’s best plays. In the deliberately plural “Marys Seacole,” playing through March 24 at LCT3’s Claire Tow Theater, everyone in the six-woman cast is a Mary — or a Merry, a Miriam, a Mamie or the like.
The indispensable Quincy Tyler Bernstine appears as the historical Mrs. Seacole in this production directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. The others, whose characters cross continents and time, help raise a central question of nursing even now: Who takes care of the people who take care of others? JESSE GREEN
‘WHITE NOISE’ No American playwright has contributed more to the churning and ever-evolving conversation about race in these United (and divided) States than Suzan-Lori Parks. This prodigiously imaginative writer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog,” has addressed the toxic legacy of slavery in a rich assortment of theatrical forms and languages, from the surrealism of her early “The America Play” to the Homeric chronicle “Father Comes Home From the Wars.”
Now Ms. Parks is focusing her gaze on interracial friendships in the 21st century with the resonantly titled “White Noise,” which begins previews next month at her longtime home, the Public Theater. Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, oversees a four-member cast, led by Daveed Diggs (the original Marquis de Lafayette in “Hamilton”) as an African-American man forced to reconsider the depth and danger of the gap between black and white. BEN BRANTLEY
‘MRS. MURRAY’S MENAGERIE’ I’m not sure anyone could have imagined a duller setting for a play than a high school faculty meeting, yet in “Miles for Mary,” the theatrical collective called the Mad Ones turned the banality of the break room into a hilarious and ultimately galvanizing Off Broadway hit.
As if to top themselves, the Mad Ones return this spring with “Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie,” set in (a) the 1970s; at (b) a focus group; for (c) a children’s television show. That is all we know, and all we need to know.
Except that the Ars Nova production, which begins performances on March 26 at the Greenwich House Theater, features a cast of expertly light-touch farceurs under the direction of Lila Neugebauer, who made “Miles for Mary” so moving behind the laughs. If this is banality, let’s have more! JESSE GREEN
THE ‘RING’ The Metropolitan Opera’s high-tech, low-energy production of Wagner’s four-opera “Ring,” which returns for three cycles this spring, has been notable mostly for its snafus. At its first performance — “Das Rheingold,” back in 2010 — the set’s massive array of seesaws malfunctioned near the end, spoiling the gods’ climactic ascent across a rainbow bridge.
Another time, the Microsoft Windows logo flashed across the stage instead of the sophisticated projections that distinguish the cycle’s many locales. One performance of “Die Walküre” that was being broadcast live to cinemas worldwide was delayed nearly an hour because the “Machine,” as it became known, wouldn’t cooperate. And that’s not counting the loud creaks and whirs that accompanied its every move.
But while the Met claims that the costly Machine — conceived by the production’s director, Robert Lepage — has been tamed, the technical troubles always struck me as distractions from the real problem. All of Mr. Lepage’s spending and innovation resulted in a cycle that was dull, and out of touch with Wagner’s intricately drawn characters and plot.
The singers seemed genuinely undirected, lost in front of the set’s imposing mass; the production team was scrambling to make the effects work, but it appeared that relatively little attention had been given to the acting. There were no discernible relationships charted onstage, no drama, no attempt to transmit — let alone interpret for our time — complex themes of power, sacrifice and societal collapse.
Indeed, though the set design meant that some singers spent long stretches in a kind of trough, the effects, while wonky, may have been the best part. At the beginning of “Das Rheingold,” bathed in blue light, the 20 enormous planks levitated in silence. Wagner’s long, low E flat began. Then, like the music, the machine began undulating — first slowly, then faster. It truly was the river Rhine.
The opening storm of “Die Walküre” similarly came to life: We were in a sky full of dark, rushing clouds; then in the middle of a forest during a snowstorm; then inside a hut glowing with firelight. It was sweeping and evocative.
A production crowded with visual stimulation, in which the singers seemed to be left to their own devices? This “Ring” reminded me, more than it probably intended to, of the Met’s hyper-realistic Franco Zeffirelli spectacles of the 1980s. Like Mr. Lepage, Mr. Zeffirelli creates grand spaces in which stick figures are moved around. The shows ignite when you have compelling performers and sink when you don’t.
This revival — which Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manger, is mounting after many thought the Machine, last seen in 2013, would be mothballed for good — does indeed have some compelling casting. Christine Goerke, as Brünnhilde, promises more vocal confidence than Deborah Voigt had when the production was new; Greer Grimsley and Michael Volle will each make a capable, articulate Wotan; Philippe Jordan returns to the Met for the first time since 2007 to conduct.
Things may well go more smoothly this time around. But will this yet be a Wagner we can believe in? ZACHARY WOOLFE
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‘PRISONER OF THE STATE’ “How he mocked me,” a villainous official laments, explaining why he locked away the political prisoner he now wants killed. That chilling line rings out in “prisoner of the state,” the new David Lang opera that reimagines Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio”; the New York Philharmonic will give its premiere on June 6.Beethoven’s theme feels as resonant as ever in a country grappling with questions about mass incarceration; immigrants separated from their children at the border; whether the president is answerable to the law; and how inmates were quietly kept without heat or light for days in a federal jail in the middle of New York City.
The opera, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, will serve as the finale of Jaap van Zweden’s first season as the Philharmonic’s music director, and he will conduct a cast that includes the moving bass-baritone Eric Owens. MICHAEL COOPER
ECSTATIC MUSIC FESTIVAL Among its other skills, the Bang on a Can organization
is smart about fund-raising. By soliciting fans to help them commission new works, the collective ensures a reliably expanding repertory for its in-house chamber ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The latest batch of these “People’s Commissioning Fund” pieces comes to the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall on March 6. Fresh music by Nicole Lizée and Pulitzer Prize-winner Henry Threadgill will share a bill with vintage works by Annie Gosfield and Glenn Branca, who died last year. The evening’s theme is music for dancing, which Mr. Threadgill has previously explored with his Society Situation Dance Band. If you can’t make it to the concert, you can tune in for a live webcast, on newsounds.org. SETH COLTER WALLS
MITSUKO UCHIDA It’s easy to forget that the piano is a percussion instrument when it’s played by Mitsuko Uchida. She animates it with both symphonic might and enchanting lyricism — a perfect fit for the vast emotional range and singing melodies of Schubert. Ms. Uchida recorded one of the finest cycles of Schubert’ssonatas, and she has been revisiting portions, the late works, in a survey at Carnegie Hall. That comes to an end this spring, with two recitals on April 30 and May 4.
Endings are very much part of both programs. They are almost stages of grief: The Sonata No. 20 in A (D. 959) contains an abruptly tumultuous passage, like a petulant tantrum, then the heart-rending Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D. 960) offers bittersweet acceptance. JOSHUA BARONE
THE SHED The Shed has a modest name and enormous ambitions.
Opening April 5, it’s the cultural component of the gigantic Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Manhattan: an eight-story structure that includes galleries; rehearsal space; a theater that can adapt to seated or standing-room events; and a shell that can enclose an adjacent plaza into a performance space.
Its mandate is to commission and present world premieres of new and innovative works, and its artistic director and chief executive, Alex Poots, arrives after a decade as the artistic director of the Manchester International Festival in Britain and, in recent years, of the Park Avenue Armory in New York City.
The Shed’s first full-scale offering celebrates the heritage and scope of African-American music. Over five nights from April 5-14, “Soundtrack of America” sets out to explore a “family tree” of American music, from spirituals to hip-hop, with a lineup of 25 young performers to bring out continuities and breakthroughs.
“Soundtrack of America” arrives with unquestioned credentials. The series is conceived and directed by the filmmaker and video artist Steve McQueen, whose “12 Years a Slave” won the Oscar for best picture in 2014. His brain trust includes the illustrious producer Quincy Jones; the crate-digging hip-producer No I.D. (a.k.a. Dion Wilson); and the keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, who was Michael Jackson’s musical director and has worked with Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and Bruno Mars.
The performers announced so far — five each night — include 2019 Grammy winners like Fantastic Negrito and PJ Morton; the genre-meshing New Orleans band Tank and the Bangas; Judith Hill, who sang backup for Prince and Michael Jackson, among many others; the rapper and singer Smino; the eerily idiosyncratic, falsetto-loving songwriters Moses Sumney and serpentwithfeet; and Jon Batiste, who leads the band Stay Human on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” The African-American musical family tree gives them a boundless source of potential material.
The Shed has also announced another major musical production, May 6-June 1: a premiere from Björk, who introduced her “Biophilia” in 2011 at the Manchester International Festival. Björk describes it as “my most elaborate stage concert yet, where the acoustic and digital will shake hands”; her backup includes a seven-woman Icelandic flute ensemble. The title, promisingly, is “Cornucopia.” JON PARELES
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ROBYN A Robyn show is a bit different from other pop concerts. It isn’t an over-the-top spectacle of rotating set pieces and wardrobe changes, or a showcase of vocal acrobatics and choreographed backup dancers.
It is sweaty and straight-up — pop church and pop group therapy, a place for fans of the Swedish singer and songwriter, who first hit the United States in the late 1990s, to experience Robyn’s transcendent, deeply addictive music beside her.
From February to April, including a stop at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 8, she’s touring to support “Honey,” her first full album in eight years, which came after a half-decade of psychoanalysis and a series of personal challenges. Her loyal listeners have been anxiously waiting to share their euphoria and pain. CARYN GANZ
MASSIVE ATTACK In 1998, the British trip-hop trio Massive Attack unleashed its third album, “Mezzanine,” a brooding, sensual, chilly, paranoid record of sputtering grooves and gauzy atmospherics that wound its way into popular culture everywhere, from “The Matrix” to the TV show “House.”
The band has released two more albums in the 21 years since, but the gravitational pull of “Mezzanine” remains potent, and the group — now a duo consisting of Robert del Naja (known as 3D) and Grant Marshall (Daddy G) — is playing a series of shows marking its (belated) 20th anniversary. The brief tour, which hits Boston on March 14 and wraps in San Diego on April 2, promises to be an enveloping, dynamic visual extravaganza. CARYN GANZ
BIG EARS FESTIVAL The Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., has become a point of pilgrimage for all sorts of experimental listeners: Indie classical, avant-garde jazz, ambient electronic music and post-rock are all well accounted for here.
The festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary, March 21-24, overtaking nearly a dozen spaces across the city’s downtown. All are within walking distance of each other, but each is comfortable and acoustically sound enough that you’ll forget what you’re missing a few doors down.
This year’s acts range from the virtuoso vocalist Theo Bleckmann (paying tribute to Kate Bush) to the radical improvisers in the Art Ensemble of Chicago to the psychedelic, soulful explorations of the rock band Spiritualized. Big Ears 2019 doubles as a 50th-anniversary celebration of ECM Records; the influential label will present 20 performances throughout the festival, featuring artists from across its eclectic roster. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
MERCE CUNNINGHAM Merce Cunningham, that marvel of a choreographer, understood that dancing meant different things to different people. In the book “Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years,” he is quoted as saying: “What to some is splendid entertainment, to others is merely tedium and fidgets; what to some seems barren, to others is the very essence of the heroic.”
His entire career was a heroic act of vision and persistence. One of the most revered and revolutionary choreographers of the 20th century, Cunningham was a rule breaker who collaborated deeply with many artists, including his life partner, the composer John Cage. Their experiments involved allowing music and dance to exist separately, as well as introducing the concept of chance as a creative device.
In 2019, the year of his centennial, Cunningham — who died at 90 in 2009 — is being celebrated all over the world with performances, workshops, talks, screenings and more.
“The ideas are still very much alive and relevant and exciting and creative,” Ken Tabachnick, the executive director of the Merce Cunningham Trust, said. “Every time I see something again, I’m just amazed at how relevant it is. It could have been made yesterday.”
That is one of the important points that Mr. Tabachnick and Trevor Carlson — a trustee and the producer of the Trust’s celebration of the centennial — hope to impart with the multi-tentacled celebration. Events continue all year and are updated on the Trust’s website, but one highlight is just around the corner: “Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event,” on April 16, Cunningham’s birthday.
Three cities — London (at the Barbican), New York (at the Brooklyn Academy of Music) and Los Angeles (at the Center for the Art of Performance at U.C.L.A.) — will stage Events, the name that Cunningham gave to performances that featured fragments of works from his repertory. (Events date to 1964.)
“We’re looking to continue Merce’s tradition of doing things that hadn’t been done before,” Mr. Carlson said. “We wanted to make the largest Event ever made.”
In the spirit of the new, none of the performers — including the New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, the Martha Graham dancer PeiJu Chien-Pott and the choreographers Kyle Abraham and Vicky Shick — are former Cunningham dancers. Those dancers are involved, however, in staging the solos. (Cunningham’s company, according to his wishes, disbanded after his death and a legacy tour.)
“We wanted to signal that the Cunningham legacy has a future for people who never experienced Cunningham,” Mr. Tabachnick said. “So you’ll see ballet dancers, you’ll see dancers who are not classically or rigorously trained, you’ll see younger dancers and older dancers. And that is to show the diversity and breadth of the possibilities for the legacy.”
Events are piling up, and include a Cunningham celebration at the Joyce Theater (April 17-21) featuring Compagnie CNDC-Angers/Robert Swinston, Ballet West and the Washington Ballet. Amid the excitement, Mr. Carlson has a problem. It’s a good one.
“It’s wild, but I’m afraid we might have to expand the amount of time of the centennial in order to include everyone who wants to be included,” he said. “I think we’re going to see ourselves extending to what would have been Merce’s 101st birthday.” GIA KOURLAS
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DANCE THEATER OF HARLEM Dance Theater of Harlem has never been just another ballet troupe. It was created, in 1969, as a hopeful reaction to hope-crushing circumstances. The assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was among the spurs to action, but the principal problem in need of addressing was longstanding and continuing: the dearth of opportunities for ballet dancers who were not white. “You can’t do this,” these dancers were told by the world in many ways. Dance Theater of Harlem told them they could, and then proved it to the world.
The survival of this institution for 50 years deserves a big celebration. With the death of its trailblazing founding director, Arthur Mitchell, in September, the anniversary festivities have also become memorials. In recent decades the company has valiantly struggled with diminished funds, and its New York season at City Center (April 10, 12-13) isn’t as grand as one might wish. Such signatures pieces as “Agon,” “Firebird” and “Creole Giselle” return only in excerpts. But it’s appropriate that one of Mr. Mitchell’s works (“Tones”) is being revived, and Robert Garland, the troupe’s underrecognized resident choreographer, is presenting a premiere. However these turn out, the occasion is major. BRIAN SEIBERT
PAM TANOWITZ When Emma Portner, known for her video dances, withdrew from a New York City Ballet commission, the company turned to Pam Tanowitz. The circumstances are hardly ideal, but here’s a one-word reaction: Finally.
Ms. Tanowitz, whose new ballet will be unveiled at the company’s spring gala on May 2, has been making dances since 1992. Celebrated for her ability to mix classical and contemporary vocabulary within a framework of formal structures, she will expand a piece set to Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5 that she created during a choreographic workshop at American Ballet Theater in 2017.
It’s not the prolific Ms. Tanowitz’s only new dance this season: In April, she presents a work at the Martha Graham Dance Company; another commission, from Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, will have its premiere at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s Bach Festival in June, the same month she presents a new work for her company and the City Ballet dancers Sara Mearns and Taylor Stanley at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival.
And on March 22, she will land in Cleveland to stage a site-specific work at Pilgrim Congregational Church for her company along with local dancers. “Recital #1 (five small dances for Cleveland)” is an experiment: She’s looking at ways to reimagine her repertory. GIA KOURLAS
LIGIA LEWIS Every so often, New Yorkers catch a glimpse of the choreographer Ligia Lewis, who spends much of her time in Berlin. Her brief visits, which in recent years have been high points of the American Realness festival, are not to be missed.
Capping the refusal-themed “No Series” at Performance Space New York, Ms. Lewis will present “minor matter” and “Water Will (in Melody),” two parts of a triptych that began in 2014 with the spare and piercing “Sorrow Swag.” Each work in the trilogy corresponds to a color, teasing out its associations: blue, red and white. (“Sorrow Swag” featured a lone male performer enveloped in blue light.)
First seen in New York at Abrons Arts Center, where three indefatigable dancers (Ms. Lewis included) seemed almost to topple the theater walls, “minor matter” (red) returns May 21-22. Exploring the space between love and rage — and the relationship between blackness and the black-box theater — it stages a kind of tangled collective struggle, in which the people onstage could be conspiring with or against one another, maybe both at once. The final part, “Water Will (in Melody),” May 28-29, flirts with melodrama and catastrophe, which sounds like a fitting end. SIOBHAN BURKE
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