Category: Theater

With an oddly coherent one-two punch of homey Canadian sensibility and electrifying Broadway wit, Come From Away has come to town. Written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, the musical has taken the musical world by a storm, wooing New Yorkers and out-of-towners like Justin Trudeau alike.

The New York Times dubs the musical “the catharsis we need in this American moment,” and it is not wrong, for Come From Away manages to lift us out of our modern political turmoil and transport us back to a time of astounding unity — albeit one that was extremely sobering. It takes place during the week after the September 11th attacks, in a remote Canadian town called Gander where 38 airplanes had to land unexpectedly after U.S. airspace shut down. A humanitarian crisis arises at the outset of the show: aboard these planes sit 7,000 people — a number equal to the town’s entire population — all of whom desperately need food, water, medication, and shelter. The musical captures a miraculous display of humanity in which the townspeople all come together, abandoning their personal responsibilities to spend an entire week tirelessly feeding, housing, clothing, and entertaining the passengers. As the small-town locals intermingle with these “Come-From-Awayers” from more than a hundred different countries, we lament that it takes such sadness to make people come together and celebrate life.

The cast of "Come From Away", Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2016

Particularly noteworthy is the musical’s ability to highlight the ways in which people of different identities experience their time in Gander. A gay couple, for example, initially feels the need to hide any trace of romance from potentially conservative locals and fellow visitors, but soon enough they find that everyone around them accepts them as they are. One of the pilots involved was actually the first-ever female captain in American history, and she spends the time in Gander ruminating about the last time she was not allowed to fly: when the all-male captains of her youth told her she was not fit for the skies. A Muslim chef experiences the most persistent intolerance, however, as some members of the group associate his religion with the terrorist attack and therefore do not want him to help out with the food preparation despite his expertise. These individual stories of hardship, and sometimes triumph, form a mosaic of humankind that could not stand out more from — or yet fit better into — the backdrop of Gander.

The space itself was a reflection of this mosaic superimposed upon rurality. For the musical, Gerald Schoenfeld Theater transformed into small-town Newfoundland, with thickets of evergreens bracketing the stage like the dense forest that frames rural Gander. On the stage itself, a rotating surface showcases each character from multiple angles, amplifying their individuality even during moments of solemn stillness.

The music served as the driving force behind this recurring paradigm of unification through individuality. The cast shone as a single entity in numbers such as “Welcome To The Rock,” while standouts like “Me And The Sky” sculpted the emphatically different characters in all of their joy, ambition, and desolation.

A grippingly beautiful take on a bleak moment in history, Come From Away is a must-see contemplation of what we can do in our darkest hours when we come together. Those who seek a fantastic feel-good musical that does not gloss over the trials of life should hasten to see it.

Tickets to Come From Away can be purchased here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Come From Away?”

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Currently out on Broadway is August Wilson’s Jitney. This play is an intricate, multidimensional story about cab (jitney) drivers in 1977 and their worlds colliding after their jobs are threatened. Jitney encompasses the human struggle to deal with family, success, and love. Through extremely complex characters, Wilson creates a narrative that highlights themes of generational differences, failing your parents, and creating a better life for yourself. Below is an interview with cast member and actor Keith Randolph Smith, who plays Doub in the show. 

Photo Courtesy of jitneybroadway.com.

Photo Courtesy of jitneybroadway.com.

What is the role of August Wilson’s work in today’s society? Especially since Jitney is on Broadway now and Fences is in theaters.

This is an opinion, but August plays a part in expressing culture. He is a storyteller and poet. He has a poet’s ear for language and distilling feelings and thought into a rhythmic miracle language that is truly showing the dignity that these characters have. It allows people in the culture to recognize themselves and their parents, uncles, etc. It also allows people not within the culture to witness conversations and modes of behavior and topics that they wouldn’t be privy to. His work is a chance to share the culture of African Americans. Wilson had love for his characters and gave them such dignity in going about their daily lives.

This is the first time Jitney is on Broadway – why is now a good time?

You know how old folks say how things always happen in the right time? I could never understand it or explain it. There is a reason it is happening now – I don’t know why, but economics, theater availability, interest, etc come into play as well. It works right now because of the political landscape, where people are being marginalized, though they are part of the mosaic of the United States. Workers, these drivers in the play, create an industry for themselves. In this time, 1977, yellow cabs wouldn’t go everywhere, so these jitneys came into being in Pittsburg to get people to get groceries and get rides when you needed them.

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

The exchange between Doub and Sheila:

“Becker’s boy is getting out of the penitentiary today.”

“No kiddin’. Time goes along and comes around. It goes and never stops.”

There is a scene in the play that discusses two wrongs not making a right and how that statement loses meaning when you are continuously wronged. What do you think about this statement? How does it apply to today?

Booster and Becker have a discussion of just epic proportions, spiritual matters, moral, and ethical matters. Booster comes out of a place after killing this girl by thinking more with his heart than his head. He tells his father he was wrong and that he did it. He’s debating morals and ethics and says there’s a reason he did it. They have a point of view and both feel they are right. It’s the definition of a tragedy. On one hand, Becker believes Booster is wrong for taking a life — that it’s not in your realm of power — but Booster thought he was right, he didn’t want to go to prison for something he didn’t do. He would rather go to prison for something he did do, rather than a lie. August gets you to understand the other side and presents it to you. It’s tough because many people are spiritual, philosophical, ethical, etc, but you can’t justify it even with telling me your thought process. So, August isn’t getting into that – but is highlighting the relationships both of these men had and that they both lost the women they love and blame each other for that loss.

What is the message you think families should take away from this show?

Family was big for August. I try to talk to people after the show. They say they’re are going to call their father on the train. The past couple of weeks, people have lost people, and it was felt at the theatre. There was an actor who just saw it, and he died. So, that’s why people want to do that. Generational differences have been around forever. The parent’s job is to teach you things so you can live on your own. Then, when they get older, the circle of life comes around, and you take care of them. The young have to help them with technology. The people in the play in the station make a family. You are born into a family, and then there is the family that you choose. We all play various roles like that with each other. There are so many levels to it — generational and familial. I love the play, not just because I’m in it.

Do you have any advice for the Columbia community?

I mean, I was a theatre major. I just like the fact that you guys are in school. As corny as it sounds, you are the future and the world. It’s good to know that a lot of bright people are at Columbia getting prepared to change and love the world and help everyone else, no matter in what field. But, especially in politics. I saw a bit of what recently happened at UC Berkeley. It brings up a question of: do we shut down what we don’t want to hear? Should we present many viewpoints? We don’t want to be the ones on the wrong side of history where we could do something but we didn’t. I just hope that everyone at Columbia is living consciously about the world they live in, especially those in the arts. Your work and all of our art is a reflection of what we are going through and the world: that goes into all of your choices. I have less years ahead than you do, so I really want your peers to stand up. Like Bob Marley said, “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!”

August Wilson’s Jitney is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman theatre. Tickets can be purchased here, and $30 rush tickets are available for purchase on the same day of each performance.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

The demon barber of Fleet Street has arrived in New York, and he’s come with a vengeance. With performances starting on February 14th, the Tooting Arts Club Production of Sweeney Todd has opened off-Broadway after previously playing in London. In following the style of the London production, which was hosted inside of Harrington’s Pie shop, the team has completely redecorated the Barrow Street Theatre in a similar fashion.

Indeed, upon entering the small theatre, one goes from a standard entrance into what looks and feels like an actual pie shop. This experience is intensified with a special addition: the option to purchase a pre-show pie and mash. Best of all, the pie and mash is created by none other than owner of The Perfect Pie company and former White House pastry chef, Bill Yosses. The pies come out hot and fresh and were a fantastic experience as audience members get ready for the show.

“Whatever pie you like, he will make it, and it will be the best pie you have ever eaten.” – President Barack Obama. Photo courtesy of Sweeney Todd NYC.

“Whatever pie you like, he will make it, and it will be the best pie you have ever eaten.” – President Barack Obama. Photo courtesy of Sweeney Todd NYC.

As quick as Yosses dishes out his signature pies, the pie shop quickly switches into performance mode as the actors begin mingling with the audience and preparing to take over the kitchen.

After clearing customer dishes, the lights dim and the actors get ready to start the show. For this production, the orchestra is pared down to the bare necessities: a piano, a violin, and a clarinet. Even though they were small in number, the orchestra performed beautifully, adding the perfect musical flair that helped to convey the tones of any given scenes.

The show’s interactive format worked fantastically with this Sondheim classic: actors walk along pie shop tables and are entering the theatre from numerous entrances. From the start, the viewer feels as if they themselves have been thrust into the lives of these character struggling to seek revenge and find love in an unforgiving world. In this musical thriller, Sweeney Todd (formerly Benjamin Barker) is a loving husband and father and professional barber until a Judge Turpin, enamored with his wife, sends him off to Australia. Upon his return several years later, he learns his daughter, Johanna, is a ward of the Judge and, after finding his old shaving razors, enacts a plan with nearby pie show owner, Mrs. Nellie Lovett, to kill many of his customers and turn them into pies as he waits to seek revenge on the Judge that ruined his life. Indeed, the show represents many of these horrific scenes with a stunning combination of music and lighting in order to showcase the power of the characters and add significance to the scenes in which these people–who have their own lives and experiences–are turned into cheap pies sold to anyone.

Within the show, the actors themselves phenomenally portray the characters they play. In particular, Siobhán McCarthy plays her character Mrs. Lovett astonishingly well as she effortlessly develops the character from a optimistic pie shop owner to a woman clearly gone mad, clinging at anything she can to keep her devious plan with Todd alive. 

Jeremy Secomb and Siobhan McCarthy star as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett respectively in the production of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre. (© Joan Marcus)

Jeremy Secomb and Siobhán McCarthy star as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett respectively in this New York City production of Sweeney Todd. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Her performance is equally matched by Jeremy Secomb, who drives fear into even the audience in his chilling take on Todd. Within every scene he appears, Secomb quite easily asserts his character’s dominance in the theatre while also beautifully revealing the complex layers of Todd, a man heartbroken over the loss of his family yet driven by anger and blood hungry revenge.

With its intimate environment, phenomenal casting, and great pie to boot, this show is one that every person should run and see.

Tickets to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street can be purchased at sweeneytoddnyc.com with tickets currently being sold through August 13th.

At first glance, In Transit seems a tad odd: an a cappella Broadway production with no orchestra  based inside a gritty New York City subway station. As the first a cappella show on Broadway, it’s hard  to know what to expect even with a book, music, and lyrics created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), Sara Wordsworth, James-Allen Ford, and Russ Kaplan. Yet as the lights dim and the titular “turn off your cell phone” a cappella jingle from the show’s creators begins, it becomes abundantly clear that the audience is in for a treat.

There’s something  simple yet beautiful about In Transit. Just under two hours, the show focuses on eleven individuals trying to live their lives in New York. Through a talented street artist, Boxman, the audience watches how these people’s lives intertwine and the struggles of balancing their hopes and dreams with the crushing sense of reality. Through his witty beats and charming personality, Boxman unfurls the lives and current struggles of the show’s characters frantically rushing to get on their train (or in some cases, begging for help to pass through the fickle Metrocard turnstiles).

The show features standout performers including Moya Angela (The Lion King, Dreamgirls National Tour, 30 Rock). Throughout the show, Angela effortlessly switches between three characters: a religious mother, a subway booth attendant, and a routine office manager. And in one part of the show, she saunters out in a dress completely comprised of New York City Transit Metrocards!

Another standout performance came from Chesney Snow as Boxman who could produce almost any sound with his mouth — including the sound of the Metrocard Machine again failing to accept the cash he inserted into it. Throughout the performance, it was clear he was energized for the role, as his vocals to immersed the audience in the eclectic cacophony of music and voices in the city.  

In Transit is a thrilling show that is relevant to almost everyone as it questions what it means to follow your dreams and how we deal with rejection and hardship. From start to finish, the show captures your attention and thrusts you right up to the bare, raw emotions of these eleven residents struggling to be themselves and overcome their inner demons. This show will resonate with almost every New Yorker who encounters the trials and tribulations of trying to achieve your dreams in the city that never sleeps. Oh, and the struggles of riding the subway…

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

To learn more about the show, we talked with Russ Kaplan, one of the show’s writers. Kaplan, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, majored in directing with a minor in jazz piano. During the interview he noted how he originallygot bit by the directing bug in high school. But it didn’t occur to me to start writing music for theatre until I was a grownup and started writing In Transit (at my co-authors’ encouragement).”

But how did the idea for making all a cappella musical come to be? According to Kaplan, “Well, we (the writers) were an a cappella group, so it just seemed sort of obvious at the time. It’s what we were already doing!”

What was the process like of making an a cappella musical? What challenges did you face?

The writing process is actually similar to “normal” musicals…you’re still following the same fundamental rules of dramatic storytelling and trying to write emotional and memorable melodies. The challenges emerge later with logistics and performance, and that list is so long it’ll make your head spin, but I’d say the main one is that all eleven cast members have to sing for a hundred minutes straight…so even a staged reading of In Transit requires exponentially more rehearsal than other shows.

What was the inspiration behind the story of In Transit?

Ourselves and the people we know!

What was the songwriting process like? How did you decide what each song would be about? Were any ideas or sources you drew inspiration from?

First, we’d decide as a group what new songs would be about and what the general sound should be like; then one lyricist and one composer would pair up to do a first draft; then that draft would come back to the group and we’d all tinker together until we had a final draft we were all happy with.  We tried to tap into as many musical genres as possible, especially those that you hear blasting on the subway regularly (which is to say all of them).

As a musician, what do you think music has the power to do for audiences?

Music pretty much gives my life meaning. It’s the thing that provides me with hope and gives the world its beauty.  It was like that for me well before I knew anything about music, and I suspect it’s true for most people, whether the music is “about” something or not. It’s pretty cheesy but I really do think it’s one of the few things that can truly bring people together.

But the biggest piece of advice Russ had for Columbia students? “Sing a cappella. It’s good for you.”

Tickets to In Transit can be purchased through the show’s website here. The show also offers a daily lottery for $39 tickets daily through the TodayTix app.

Welcome, welcome to theater! After going over our last guide to discounted Broadway tickets, we realized that there are even more resources out there for students to utilize to get cheaper tickets to both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.
Run by Columbia, the Arts Initiative provides students with discounted tickets, most of which can then be picked up at the TIC in Lerner. This is a great way to get tickets, but you have to be fast because they do sell out quite quickly.
If you’ve got luck and persistence, Broadway Direct has online lotteries for most performances of some of the biggest productions around, including The Lion King and Cats. Depending on the show, winners pay anywhere from $10-$55 for their seats, which is more than half off regular pricing.
Being a theater-goer and being a student at the same time isn’t always easy on the wallet, and the Roundabout Theatre Company understands that. So, if you’re between the ages of 18-35, you can be part of their low-price ticket program, HipTix, for free. By becoming a HipTix member, you can buy up to two $25 tickets to each Roundabout Theatre production. While these tickets may not be orchestra seats (unless you upgrade your membership to Gold or Platinum), you can’t beat the price.
General Broadway Lotteries:
Some productions choose to host lotteries for tickets on their own personally-tailored sites instead of using Broadway Direct or TodayTix. It can be hard to find these lotteries sometimes, or just plain annoying to google them everyday. So, here are all the ones with individual sites for your convenience:

 

Updated April 9, 2017