Around Broadway

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Every Wednesday morning, Jeff Spurgeon finds out what's new on Broadway and beyond from Charles Isherwood, theater critic for The New York Times.More from Around Broadway »

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'Shuffle Along,' an Unusual Revival Finds Its Way Back to Broadway

One of the most interesting musicals to appear on Broadway this season brings a new look to an almost century-old story. Ninety-five years ago, Shuffle Along was an unprecedented sight on the Great White Way: a show written, produced, directed and performed by an African-American cast of characters. The not-quite-a-revival carries the unwieldy full title: Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, which New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood calls "truth in advertising." The current production, starring Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell with choreography by Savion Glover and direction by George C. Wolf (who also wrote the book), has earned 10 Tony Award nominations. Isherwood explains why the show is deserving of those accolades.

'Hamilton' Receives Record 16 Tony Nominations

The 2016 Tony nominees were announced on Tuesday, and Charles Isherwood, theater critic of The New York Times, joins WQXR morning host, Jeff Spurgeon, to gab about the big news. Most notably, the juggernaut known as Hamilton met lofty expectations with a record 16 nominations. The musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton headlines a diverse list of potential winners, in contrast to the pool of Academy Award nominees that begat the #OscarsSoWhite social-media movement. In addition to trying to predict how many statuettes Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda will take home, Isherwood mentions who was snubbed and which of the year's races are the most competitive. Listen to the discussion in the audio above.

'Waitress' Serves Up a New Recipe for Movie-to-Musical Adaptations

Broadway is home to another a new musical based on a movie. Waitress springs from the 2007 film of the same name and tells the story of a small-town girl, who dreams of an escape from her small-town existence. It stars Jessie Mueller, who makes an even stronger impression than in her Tony Award-winning portrayal of the songwriter Carole King in Beautiful, the Carole King Musical. Pop artist Sara Bareilles wrote the songs for the show with care toward the characters and attention to language. New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood joins WQXR morning host Jeff Spurgeon to offer more about what this Waitress is serving to theater audiences at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

In 'Mary Page Marlowe' a Role so Big It Requires 6 Actresses

Tracy Letts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (August: Osage County) and Tony Award-winning actor (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf), has a new play running at his home company, Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre. The play, Mary Page Marlowe, tells the story of one woman at various points throughout her life. And to accomplish this, she is played by six talented actresses with a supporting cast of equal caliber. New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood visited the Windy City to see the production and offers his impressions of the play, Anna D. Shapiro's direction, reasons behind dividing the title role into a half dozen parts and whether it may land in New York in the near future.

'Exit Strategy': The Final Days of a Failing School

Set at an urban public school on the brink of closure for the usual reasons — poor test scores and low graduation rates — playwright Ike Holter's Exit Strategy is an indictment of the state of public education but not a polemic. Much of the play takes place in a teacher's lounge, where faculty discuss their previous stints failing schools. When one enterprising student hacks into school's website, creating a Kickstarter campaign for last-ditch fund-raising, several teachers are inspired to act. Despite the serious subject matter, "the play is quite funny," says New York Times theater critic, Charles Isherwood. "The characters are wisecracking their way through this crisis in their careers."

3 Kings, 4 Plays, 12 Hours, a Shakespeare Cycle at BAM

This spring, England's Royal Shakespeare Company has taken up residence at the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It's presenting four of Shakespeare's plays — Richard II; Henry IV, Parts I and II; and Henry V — in a package called King and Country: Shakespeare's Great Cycle of Kings. Our intrepid critic, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times, has traveled far from Broadway to take in approximately 12 hours of the Bard's prose and verse over three days. During that period, he experienced David Tennant as Richard II, Antony Scher as Falstaff and Alex Hassell as Prince Hal, who becomes King Henry V, and reports that the company is in good hands. Click on the audio above to hear more of his impressions. Performances of the productions continue through May 1.

'Bright Star' by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Shines on Broadway

With a book by comedian/actor/author Steve Martin, lyrics by singer/songwriter Edie Brickell and a bluegrass-inflected score by both, Bright Star comes to Broadway music with its creators as the most recognizable names on the marquee. Set in North Carolina, the story jumps back and forth between moments in the life of Alice Murphy; it shows her both as a young rebellious girl in the 1920s and later as a sophisticated woman who runs a literary journal in the 1940s. As Alice, Carmen Cusack impresses in her Broadway debut, playing the main character at both stages. New York Times theater critic CharlesIsherwood describes the show as more gentle alternative to the usual Broadway spectacle. Hear more of his thoughts in the audio above.

'Dry Powder': a Comedy to Ignite Economic Debate

Dry Powder, a new play that just debuted at The Public Theater, is bringing the same discussions about the world of finance to the stage as the film The Big Short brought to the movies. The title refers to cash reserves or highly liquid assets, which are central to playwright Sarah Burgess's plot about an executive facing a PR nightmare after throwing himself a lavish party at the same time his firm is forcing layoffs. The play comes to The Public with a big endorsement as co-recipient of this year's Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award, given to an unproduced full-length play by an emerging playwright. The award comes with a $25,000 prize for the playwright and $50,000 for the company first mounting it. It also boasts a star-studded cast, featuring Claire Danes, Hank Azaria and John Krasinski, in his stage debut. Meanwhile, its director, Thomas Kail, has another show running now in New York — perhaps you've heard of it: Hamilton. New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood lets us know his investment in the production.

Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick Bring 'Disaster!' to Broadway

With its suggestive exclamation point, the title of the new Broadway musical Disaster! hints at the campy, over-the-top qualities it brings to the Nederlander Theatre. Set on a cruise ship precariously moored along the Hudson River, the show spoofs disaster movies such as The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake that were popular in the 1970s. It also features a number of disco hits and pop songs of the era. Written by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, the production has assembled a cast of well-known Broadway names: Faith Prince, Roger Bart, Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler, among them. New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood has experienced this Disaster! first-hand and weighs in on its less-than calamitous results.

Danai Gurira Delivers On and Off Broadway

Zimbabwean-American playwright Dania Gurira is having a moment. Her play Eclipsed has just transferred to Broadway in a production starting Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o at the Golden Theatre, and her work, Familiar, is now running at Playwrights Horizons. New York Times theater crick Charles Isherwood joins us to talk about this notable feat. "For dead white men it's not that unusual," to have two plays simultaneously on stage in New York City, he says, adding, "but for a black women it's quite remarkable. And in fact Eclipsed has made history in the sense that it's the first Broadway play that is directed by written by and entirely acted by black women." Eclipsed is the darker of the two works, exploring of the brutal treatment of women during the Liberian civil war. Familiar provides a little more levity, as it follows the drama set in motion when a Zimbabwean aunt visits her family in Minnesota.

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