- Fidler Afn Dakh (Fiddler on the Roof)
7/19/18 (Thurs), National Yiddish Theatre
A Fiddler in Yiddish – sounds crazy, no? This was a Yiddish version that played in Israel in 1965, just a year after the show debuted on Broadway, and has evidently not been seen since. I was going to take advantage of a rare Thursday matinee – the show doesn’t play on Fri nights or Sat matinees, for reasons obvious if you’re Jewish – but a friend happened to be going that night and had an extra ticket.
As it turns out, this was not just another Fiddler. The use of Yiddish, which would have been the language of the characters in real life, provided an unexpectedly fresh perspective on the familiar show. Continue reading
- カメラを止めるな（One Cut of the Dead）
8/15/18 (Wed), Tokyo
This zany film – literally, “Don’t Stop the Camera!” or “Keep It Rolling!” – has become a sensation in Japan, a low-budget little-film-than-could by a no-name director and cast that has spread like wildfire from a single out-of-the-way theater to nationwide release. Shows were sold out from morning to night in the peak o-bon holiday season. No one would tell me anything more about the film than that it involves zombies, which would normally make me turn the other way. But the word was so strong that I finally gave in to the hype and snagged a late-night ticket.
The first half-hour is taken up by an amateurish film with overripe acting and questionable direction, where actors making a zombie movie encounter actually zombies. My heart sank, and I started wondering what I was doing there. But then there comes a sharp change in gears that makes it all worth it. Continue reading
- Carousel, 7/17/18 (Tues), Broadway
I hadn’t initially intended to see this production of Carousel. The show is notoriously tricky to get right, and the last Broadway production, an import from London, set an extremely high standard. The typical British approach of darkening the material, which sank Oklahoma!, Oliver and Mary Poppins among others, worked spectacularly for this already dark show in what is still one of the best revivals I’ve ever seen. Beyond that inevitable comparison, this new production was further burdened by feminist complaints in these more enlightened times, not entirely unjustified, over the lead’s penchant for smacking his wife, making me suspect that the director would hold back from some of the show’s unpleasantries. But the word was generally good, including a rave by a good friend. So, when I ended up here after all, just five minutes before curtain (other shows were sold out), I went in with reasonably high expectations.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I was never a big fan of Mr. Rogers, who seemed embarrassingly old-fashioned to me back in the day even before Sesame Street was blowing the neighborhood away. But I’m regretting all those years of neglect after seeing this superb documentary of his life – his view of the role of the emerging medium of television in communicating with children, the radical ideas cloaked in his retrograde and laid-back style, his ability to reach out to children (the most difficult audience in any medium). Rogers felt that the pie-throwing and banana-peel humor of the early children’s shows were downright destructive to little minds seeking simple truths, and sought to bring kids up to his level rather than the other way around by addressing them honestly and directly. It’s difficult to imagine today how strange that must have seemed at the time, especially in the show’s childlike setup: sock puppets, crude sets, basic storylines, unhurried style, simplistic themes. But what could be cloying comes out as oddly compelling in the face of Rogers’ earnestness.
- Noh: 右近、八島 (Ukon, Yashima)
7/15/18 (Sun), Tokyo
The rarely performed Ukon is credited to Zeami, Noh’s towering genius, but was apparently revised to an unknown extent by his grandson Nobumitsu. While officially classified as a god-focused Waki Noh, it’s usually considered closer to a “third category piece” or female-centered Woman Noh. One actor told me that the stately Waki Noh tend to be boring and suspects that this piece may have been re-branded along the centuries to increase its appeal. That need may have prompted the grandson’s revision in the text, but it’s hard to know how much was changed or Zeami’s intentions in the absence of a manuscript; given that he was also a performer and thus writing for himself, he may not have been able to resist creating a juicy role in the first place. The play takes place amid the cherry blossoms, an odd choice for this blazingly hot season, but I suppose there aren’t many summer-based Noh plays to choose from compared to the vast number of shows set in spring.
7/6/18 (Fri), Tokyo
I hadn’t seen the stage version of Evita since Harold Prince’s original London production in 1978, which I caught 2-3 weeks after it opened. That and A Chorus Line, which was also in its initial run, were the first shows I ever saw on a West End or Broadway stage. With ACL also due in Japan next month, this is a real nostalgia trip for me. Thinking back, I realize that both productions represented a triumph of direction over material, with astonishing staging concepts that not only disguised the weaknesses in the shows but practically made them irrelevant. My experience to that point had been local or touring productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Man of La Mancha and such, so these concept-driven productions were pretty mind-blowing. Evita has been revived in various incarnations since, but this international tour is a recreation of the original overseen by Prince himself. I wasn’t going to miss it.
- Ivo van Hove’s (!) West Side Story
Something’s coming indeed. Hot on the heels of the unlikely news that Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg is taking on his first musical with a film remake of West Side Story, it’s been announced that the eclectic stage director Ivo van Hove is taking on his first Broadway musical with a stage production of that very same West Side Story. Odd that these are coming essentially at the same time, especially as the approaches of the populist filmmaker and decidedly non-populist stage director are likely to be vastly different.
Most notably, a press release on July 12 by veteran producer Scott Rudin says that the new stage version will not feature the classic finger-snapping dances by Jerome Robbins, who (in Robbins’ own modest words) “conceived, directed and choreographed” the original production, but use new work by contemporary dance choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Scenery and lighting design will be handled by van Hove’s regular collaborator and life partner Jan Versweyveld, making for an all-Belgian creative team. Based on the director’s previous shows, we can expect a bare stage and lots of bare feet.