A Gilmore Girls Revival, Philip Glass’s “Ankhaten,” And 7 Other Things To Read, Watch, And Do This Weekend
On the brink of Thanksgiving, your mind is likely on the holiday – its pleasures and stresses alike – but find some time this week to indulge in great new reads, the long-heralded return of Amy Sherman Palladino’s “Gilmore Girls,” and, if you can drag yourself off your couch, concerts and plays in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.
1) Be wowed by Philip Glass and Stephen Sondheim masterpieces
In Los Angeles, LA Opera’s production of Glass’s “Akhnaten” closes this Sunday. Lauded by the Los Angeles Times as “the first major American ‘Akhnaten’ in more than a quarter-century,” and met with some protests over its casting of a white man as the titular Egyptian pharaoh, the staging is sure to intrigue. Also in L.A., following last week’s release of a new documentary on Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” catch the show itself at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The production, which opened this week, will play through December 18th.
2) Check out new nonfiction on Jewish luminaries, from Moses to Jon Stewart
This week brings three intriguing nonfiction releases. Chris Smith’s “The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests,” a preview of which was recently spotlighted by this column, provides humorous insight into Stewart’s reshaping of late-night comedy. Susan Rubin Suleiman’s “The Némirovsky Question: The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in Twentieth-Century France” dives into the history of the French Jewish writer Irène Némirovsky, killed during the Holocaust, whose posthumously-published “Suite Française” became a controversial bestseller. And Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s “Moses: A Human Life,” the latest installment of Yale University Press’s “Jewish Lives” series, draws an intimate portrait of a biblical legend.
3) Grab a cup of coffee – or 12 – and curl up with the “Gilmore Girls” revival
Amy Sherman Palladino’s well-loved “Gilmore Girls,” which she once called “The Jew-iest goyim show on television,” gets a long-anticipated update this Friday with the Netflix reboot “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” Curl up with coffee, enough junk food to make you sick for a week, and binge the show, watching out for a reprise of such classic lines as “oy, with the poodles already!” Hey – it’s the Gilmore way.
4) Get cheesy with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
No, the “Elf on the Shelf” balloon is not getting a “Mensch on a Bench” companion this year. (A girl can dream.) Still, with performers like Regina Spektor and the almost-Jewish Tony Bennett – ok, it’s a stretch, but dudes, it’s Tony Bennett – on the roster, the shticky celebration, which airs Thursday at 9 am in every time zone, is worth at least a passing glance.
5) Follow the Jewish take on the “Hamilton”-Mike Pence drama
As is now popular lore, last weekend Vice President-elect Mike Pence paid a visit to the Broadway production of “Hamilton,” the cast of which concluded the performance with a speech about the inclusive American vision they hoped Pence, in office, would protect. President-elect Donald Trump reacted angrily on Twitter, demanding the cast apologize and causing a media firestorm. The Forward’s Adam Langer responded by speculating about how the episode might have played out differently had it happened at “Fiddler on the Roof,” not “Hamilton,” and the New Yorker’s Michael Schulman issued some further musical theater recommendations for Pence. Among them were that same “Fiddler” – “A musical about members of a despised minority who are forced to leave their homes after being targeted by violent hate groups under a repressive czar. A heart-warmer!” Schulman wrote – and the very-Jewish “Falsettos.” Last Saturday also brought an outburst by a Trump supporter at the Chicago production of “Hamilton;” that musical may have even greater contemporary political relevance now than when it premiered.
6) Catch a Tony Award-winning Arthur Miller revival
Belgian director Ivo van Hove’s revival of Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” astonished audiences in London and New York, winning Tony Awards for best revival of a play and best direction of a play. Washington D.C. audiences now have a chance to see the production, running at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through December 3rd. The Forward’s Jesse Oxfeld called the staging “an intense, unsettling, and deeply original evening of theater;” don’t miss out on the chance to see if you agree.
7) Kick back with klezmer
Also in D.C., attend a klezmer brunch on Sunday at the Edlavitch DCJCC featuring Seth Kibel. That same day, Chicagoans can catch Rabbi Joe Black and the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band at the Old Town School of Folk Music for the Hanukkah-themed performance “Eight Nights of Joy.” Both performances promise to be foot-tapping fabulous close-outs to the holiday weekend.
8) Read Michael Chabon’s new novel “Moonglow”
Chabon, best known for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” is a talented storyteller with a famously enormous vocabulary. That vocabulary is on restrained display in his new novel “Moonglow,” which is notably quieter than his previous works, but no less engaging. A novel disguised as a memoir –Chabon, in the book’s acknowledgments, calls it “a pack of lies” – “Moonglow” prances between the most darkly thrilling episodes of the twentieth century, from the ruins of Germany at the tail end of World War II to the space race. At its heart, though, the book is a emotionally complex exploration of the relationships that made its protagonist’s life, simultaneously rich and muted.
9) Wax nostalgic about Coney Island
This Sunday, join the Brooklyn Brainery and New York Local Tours for a walking tour of Coney Island. While you wait to indulge in the New York of yore, put your rose-colored glasses on early by revisiting Ezra Glinter’s gorgeous 2015 essay for the Forward “The Life and Death and Life of Coney Island.”
J.K. Rowling’s Jewish Wizard, Bernie Sanders’s Manifesto, And 8 Other Things To Read, Watch, And Do This Weekend
It can be hard to remember to take time for yourself, in this week between the madness of the election and that of Thanksgiving. Still, take some time this week for the arts. With good reads, a few good movies, and events in New York, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles, there are plenty of options to keep you interested.
1) Revisit Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant flop
The new documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” opens in New York this weekend (and Los Angeles the following one). The documentary tells the story of Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” the original run of which lasted only 16 performances; made by one of the original cast members, Lonny Price, it’s a tender look at a musical that’s since become legendary. While you wait to see it, read Abigail Pogrebin’s recent essay in the Forward about her experience as a member of the show’s original cast.
2) Read about the remarkable rise of women artists
Famously, in 1971 the art historian Linda Nochlin penned an essay interrogating the lack of great women artists. In a feature for The Atlantic, Sarah Boxer revisits the subject 45 years later. Reviewing a year of exhibits focused on women artists like Barbara Kruger and Diane Arbus – “this year, 2016, is once again the year of the woman artist – it happens roughly every decade,” she writes – she revisits the question of the unique ways in which women move in the art world.
3) Speaking of Barbara Kruger and Diane Arbus…
Check out an exhibit on the former in Washington, D.C. and the latter in New York. An exhibit of Kruger’s art opened in late September at D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, and will run through mid-January; an exhibit of Arbus’ work, which opened at New York’s Met Breuer in July, will close on November 27th. While you’re on the Jewish-women-artists bent, stop by Annie Leibovitz’s “WOMEN: New Portraits” at Manhattan’s former Bayview Correctional Facility, open until December 11th.
4) Curl up (or get fired up) with books by Bernie Sanders and Ron Chernow
Sanders and Chernow made waves this year for very different reasons – Sanders as political firebrand, Chernow as the historian whose work inspired “Hamilton” – and this week release very different books. Sanders’ manifesto “Our Revolution,” published November 15th, outlines his ideas for continuing the movement he began in his presidential campaign. Chernow’s “The Warburgs,” re-released two decades after its original appearance, relates the story of a patrician German and German-American Jewish family in the twentieth century. Their path through the twentieth century mirrored that of German Jewry more broadly, and provides useful looking back for Jews in what are still the early days of the twenty-first century.
5) Plunge back into J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world – this time with a Jewish protagonist
The first installment of the five-film series “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the first big-screen return to the world of “Harry Potter” in five years, features Porpentina Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterson. She and her sister Queenie take center stage alongside Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander; as relations of Anthony Goldstein, an exceedingly minor character in “Harry Potter,” they’re the first major Jewish wizarding family Rowling’s created. Catch the movie when it comes out Friday to find out.
6) Check out talks with Sarah Ruhl, Edward Hirsch, and more
New York has a strong roster of talks and lectures this weekend, starting with Thursday, when Sarah Ruhl will join fellow playwright Lynn Nottage and actress Cynthia Nixon in conversation at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Leonard Barkan will discuss his new book “Berlin for Jews” at the 92nd Street Y. Following those conversations, on Sunday the poet Edward Hirsch will appear with his friend and fellow writer Alec Wilkinson at the Museum at Eldridge Street to discuss his book-length poem “Gabriel,” written at Wilkinson’s urging to process his son’s death.
7) Hear the Ariel Quartet take on Mozart, Shostakovich, and Beethoven
The Ariel Quartet, formed by students in Israel almost two decades ago and now serving as the Faculty Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, performs at D.C.’s Kreeger Museum this Saturday. The program includes Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131; watch the group perform an excerpt from the piece below.
8) See Broadway actress Joanne Borts revisit tunes from the Yiddish theater
Sunday, in Chicago, Borts will perform a program rooted in the traditions of Yiddish theater at Chicago’s Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in the Chicago YIVO Society’s Sarah Lazarus Memorial Concert. Borts most recently appeared on Broadway in “Once,” and Yiddish material is familiar to her; check out her performance of “Dem Zeydn’s Nign,” below.
9) Watch Jonathan Dobrer deliver 100 years of Jewish humor
As part of a stand-up comedy showcase at Los Angeles’s American Jewish University, watch professor and comic Dobrer deliver some serious shtick this Sunday. Dobrer, who also teaches at the university, will perform a set followed by a conversation with fellow comic Annie Korzen.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax
“Alice Longworth Roosevelt said, ‘First you’re young, then you’re middle-aged, then you’re wonderful,’” Stephen Sondheim remarked at the conclusion of his 80th birthday celebrations at Avery Fisher Hall in 2010.
Now very much in his wonderful years, Broadway’s greatest living composer-lyricist is experiencing a phase in his career where revivals, musical reviews and fêtes honoring his achievements have filled the void left by the absence of new material. His last original musical, “Road Show” — which had been in development since the mid-1990s — played Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2008. One must look back to “Passion” in 1994 to find Sondheim’s last musical début on Broadway.
But since “Road Show,” Broadway has experienced revivals of “Gypsy,” “West Side Story,” “A Little Night Music,” and “Follies,” as well as a New York City Center production of “Merrily We Roll Along.” “Sondheim on Sondheim” — a revue which included an original song, “God,” written by Sondheim — played Studio 54 in 2010. Last year, New York City Center put on “A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Affair,” which wrapped jazz arrangements of Sondheim’s back catalogue by Wynton Marsalis around an original plot.
Now, 54 Below — the Broadway cabaret and restaurant on West 54th Street — is staging “Three Wishes for Sondheimas,” turning Stephen Sondheim’s birthday — he will turn 84 on March 22 — into something of a religious festival for musical theatre aficionados. Described as “one part concert, one part hilarious worship service,” the evening will tell “the Birth of Steve as you’ve never seen it before,” featuring a salad of Broadway actors and dancers, puppeteers, and the Sondheimas Tabernacle Choir.
Once upon a time, Americans grew up humming show tunes. They dominated radio airwaves, so, even if you hadn’t seen the musicals (or the films made from them), you knew the melodies and words to the songs of “Oklahoma,” “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady.”
But that changed as pop, rock and rap started to control airtime. Today, it’s a rare Broadway song that cracks the national consciousness. It’s in part for this reason that James Lapine’s HBO documentary, “Six by Sondheim,” which debuts December 9, is so fascinating and important.
Lapine uses archival footage as well as fresh performances by Audra McDonald and America Ferrera of six Stephen Sondheim songs to tell the story of the composer’s fascinating and troubled life.
Some of the stories will be familiar to Sondheim enthusiasts, especially those who’ve read Meryle Secrest’s outstanding biography, “Stephen Sondheim: A Life.” He was a child of divorce. His mother once sent him a note saying she was sorry she gave birth to him. But he lived near the Pennsylvania home of Oscar Hammerstein, who mentored and encouraged him and became almost an adoptive parent.
That turns out to have been entirely appropriate, since Sondheim went on to become heir to Hammerstein (and Rodgers) and certainly the greatest Broadway composer of his generation. His shows, starting with “West Side Story” and including “Gypsy,” “Sunday in the Park With George” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
He’s sort of like Mozart,” Lapine told the Forward in a telephone interview. “His work is going to live.”
Of course, Lapine is not exactly an unbiased observor. He’s been Sondheim’s partner on several musicals. They shared the Pulitzer for “Sunday in the Park” and Lapine won a half dozen Tonys for directing and writing the book of plays for which Sondheim wrote music. Lapine talked to the Forward about how he and Sondheim met, about their collaborations, and how the film came about.
Curt Schleier: How did you meet Stephen?
Sheldon Harnick isn’t going to be 90 until next April, but the celebration of that milestone kicks off October 27. That’s when Brooklyn’s Encompass New Opera Theater honors one of Broadway’s greatest lyricists at its annual gala.
The group works with young composers of musical theater and opera. Harnick has been associated with the company for 40 years. So even though he didn’t want to rush the big nine-oh, he agreed to go ahead. A who’s-who of Broadway is involved, including Harold Prince and the Stephens, Schwartz and Sondheim.
Harnick is right at home in that pantheon of the American Songbook. He and his long-time partner Jerry Bock were the musical team behind “Fiorello!” (which won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony) and “Fiddler on the Roof” (nine Tonys), among other plays.
And age hasn’t slowed him down. He’s shopping a new musical based on a Molière play, “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.” There’ll be mini-productions of five of his lesser-known plays at the York Theater in Manhattan later this season. And he and his wife, Margery, have collaborated on a coffee table book, “The Outdoor Museum,” which combines her photographs of New York with his poems.
The lyricist spoke to The Arty Semite from his home in East Hampton about what’s going on in his life, early negative reaction to “Fiddler” and how Sondheim almost derailed his career.
Curt Schleier: With this big birthday coming up, do you think back and say, “Holy Moly. This was a great life”?
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