David Byrne’s American Utopia: A Sneak Preview of Spike Lee’s New Concert Film

First came the album and tour in 2018. Then the Broadway show in 2019. And now the latest incarnation of David Byrne’s American Utopia–the concert film directed by Spike Lee. Debuting on HBO Max on October 17th, this Spike Lee joint shows David Byrne “joined by an ensemble of 11 musicians, singers, and dancers from around the globe, inviting audiences into a joyous dreamworld where human connection, self-evolution, and social justice are paramount.” If the movie is anything like the tour, it will be sublime. For now, we’ll whet your appetite with the sneak preview above.

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Watch the Opening Credits of an Imaginary 70s Cop Show That Stars Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett: avant-garde dramatist, brooding Nobel Prize winner, poet, and…gritty television detective?

Sadly, no, but he had the makings of a great one, at least as cut together by playwright Danny Thompson, cofounder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck.




Some twenty five years after Beckett’s death, Thompson—whose credits include the Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in a Dustbin in Paris in an Envelope (Partially Burned) Labeled: Never to Be Performed. Never. Ever. Ever! Or I’ll Sue! I’ll Sue From the Grave!!!repurposed Rosa Veim and Daniel Schmid’s footage of the moody genius wandering around 1969 Berlin into the opening credits of a nonexistent, 70s era Quinn Martin police procedural.

The title sequence hits all the right period notes, from the jazzy graphics to the presentation of its supporting cast: Andre the Giant, Jean Paul Sartre, and Jean “Huggy Bear” Cocteau. (Did you know that Beckett drove a young Andre the Giant to school in real life?)

Thompson ups the verisimilitude by copping Pat Williams’ theme for The Streets of San Francisco and naming the imaginary pilot episode after a collection of Beckett’s short stories.

He also notes that a DVD  release of the first, only and, again, entirely non-existent season has been held up by the notoriously litigious Beckett estate. Alas.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #53 Explores the Hamilton Phenomenon

Your hosts Erica Spyres, Mark Linsenmayer, and Brian Hirt are joined by Broadway actor Sam Simahk (Carousel, The King and I, My Fair Lady) to discuss this unique convergence of musical theater, rap, and historical drama. Does Hamilton deserve its accolades? We cover the re-emergence of stage music as pop music, live vs. filmed vs. film-adapted musicals, creators starring in their shows, race-inclusive casting, and the politics surrounding the show.

Some articles we looked at included:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion including Sam that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Breaks Down How He Wrote Hamilton‘s Big Hit, “My Shot”

The current moment has forced the original cast and crew of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s massive hit musical Hamilton to revisit and reevaluate the story it tells about America’s founding. As Miranda himself told The Root’s Tonja Renée Stidhum, “All of these guys are complicit in the brutal practice of slavery, slavery is the third line of our show… that is just a prerequisite for the story we’re telling.” But he didn’t first set out to write history. “Originally, this was a concept album. I wanted to write a hip hop album, so I was never picturing the guys on the statues that are being torn down right now. I was picturing, ‘What are the voices that are best suited to tell the story.’”

Debuting in more optimistic times, when the country had its first Black president, Hamilton declared, says Leslie Odom, Jr. (who played Aaron Burr) that “if this history belongs to all of us… then we’re going to take it and we’re going to say it and use our own words to tell it!” Controversy and critique aside, there’s no denying Miranda’s tremendous gifts as a dramatist and songwriter, on display not only in Hamilton but in the Moana soundtrack.




How does he do it? Riding the wave of renewed Hamilton fandom after the Disney release of the original cast film, Miranda recently sat down with Rotten Tomatoes to discuss his process. When he gets to Hamilton, he gives us a detailed breakdown of “My Shot,” which, he says, took him a year to write.

“It was not only writing Hamilton’s ‘I want’ song,” says Miranda, “although it certainly is that. It was also proving my thesis that Hamilton’s intellect is what allows him to propel through the narrative of the story.” The play’s protagonist proves his intellectual worthiness by mastering and making his own the styles of Miranda’s favorite rappers, from Big Pun to Jay Z to Biggie to Mobb Deep. “I’m grabbing from the influences and paying homage to those influences. …I’m literally calling on the ancestors of this flow. …The ‘Whoah’ section, I’ll just say, is based on the AOL startup sound because I wanted it to feel like …his words are connecting with the world.”

Whether or not any of Hamilton’s younger viewers have ever heard the AOL startup sound, the detail reveals how Miranda’s mind works. His creations emerge from a matrix of references and allusions, each one chosen for its specific relation to the story. Many of these callbacks go over the audience’s heads, but they still have their intended effect, creating tension in “the densest couplets that I could write,” Miranda says. The message in “My Shot,” within the context of the musical itself, is that “Hamilton is the future within this group of friends.” But the message of Hamilton has nothing to do with the 18th century and everything to do with the 21st. Perhaps its most subversive idea is that the highest leadership in the U.S. might just as well look like Hamilton as Hamilton. See Miranda and the Hamilton cast perform “My Shot” at the White House just below.

via Laughing Squid

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The Muppets Sing the First Act of Hamilton

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Muppets Sing the First & Second Acts of Hamilton

Or, at least it’s one fine impression of the Muppets.

Here’s the cast and find Act II down below:

Alexander Hamilton – Kermit the Frog
Aaron Burr – The Great Gonzo
Eliza Schuyler – Miss Piggy
Marquis de LaFozette – Fozzie Bear
George Washington – Sam the Eagle
Angelica Schuyler – Camilla the Chicken
John Laurens – Beaker
Hercules Mulligan – Rowlf the Dog
King George III – Animal
Peggy Schuyler – Janice
Samuel Seabury – The Swedish Chef
Charles Lee – Elmo
Congressional Delegates – Floyd and Zoot
Crazy Patriot – Crazy Harry
Statler and Waldorf – Themselves

via BoingBoing

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Watch Free Plays from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth & More

As depressing articles about the upcoming Summer of COVID-19 begin to proliferate, our hopes for beach days, concert series, and summer camp begin to dim.

Here in New York City, the Public Theater’s announcement that it is cancelling the upcoming season of its famed Shakespeare in the Park was met with understandable sadness.

You don’t have to like Shakespeare to enjoy the ritual of entering Central Park shortly after dawn, prepared to sit online for several hours awaiting noon’s free ticket distribution, then returning to the Delacorte later that night with snacks and sweater and wine.




Performing a quick Internet search to brush up on the plot can enhance the experience, but—and I saw this as someone whose degree included a metric heinieload of The Bard—it can be equally satisfying to spend the final acts enjoying an impromptu, al fresco nap.

Bonus points if a raccoon runs across the stage at some point.

Alas all this must be denied us in the summer of 2020, but it’s still within our power to replicate that summer feeling in advance of the equinox, using the past productions that London’s Globe Theatre is screening on its YouTube channel as our starting place.

First up is Romeo & Juliet from 2009, starring Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun, though according to the Independent’s Michael Coveney, the show belongs to Penny Layden as the Nurse:

Far removed from the fussing tradition of comic garrulity and the Patricia Routledge factor, Layden plays her as a scrubbed, middle-aged, sensible woman carrying a history of sadness. The bawdy assault on her by Philip Cumbus‘s melancholy Mercutio is both shocking and plausible, and she retains her quiet dignity while at the same time mourning its sacrifice.

Back to New York City…

Prior to starting your screening, you’ll want to approximate a seat at the Delacorte (which, like the Globe, is authentically circular in shape). I recommend a metal folding chair.

Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of water onto the seat if you want to pretend it rained all afternoon leading up to the performance.

Definitely have some wine to pour into a plastic cup.

Slather yourself in insect repellent.

Silence your cell phone.

If your housemate’s cell phone goes off mid-performance, feel free to tsk and sssh and roll your eyes. Honestly, how hard is it to comply with the familiar instructions of the house manager’s speech?

At intermission, stand outside your own bathroom door for at least 15 minutes before letting yourself into a “stall” to use the facilities.

Doze all you want to…. arrange for your housemate to tsk and sssh at you from an appropriate distance, should your snoring become audible.

You have until Sunday, May 3 to stumble sleepily away from the screen, and pretend you’re wandering to the subway with 1799 other New Yorkers.

Then make plans to wake up at 5:30 and sit on the floor with a thermos of coffee for several hours, hoping that they won’t run out of tickets for The Two Noble Kinsmen before you make it to the top of the line.

(Spoiler alert: they won’t.)

Others in the Globe’s free series:

MacBeth, May 11 until UK schools reopen

The Winter’s Tale (2018), May 18 – May 31

The Merry Wives of Windsor (2019), June 1 – June 14

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013), June 15 – 28

Clicking the red “discover more” lozenge beneath each show’s photo on the Globe Watch’s landing page will lead you to a wealth of supporting materials, from pre-show chats with the Globe’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Will Tosh to photos, articles, and a student challenge specifically tailored to the times we find ourselves living through now.

Subscribe to the Globe’s YouTube channel to receive reminders.

Donate to the Globe here.

Americans can make a tax-deductible donation to The Public Theater here.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Depending on how long this thing goes on, she may look into giving Penny Layden a run for the money by live-streaming her solo show, NURSE. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Full Productions of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Musicals, Streaming Free for 48 Hours Every Weekend

Writer and theatermaker Nicholas Berger’s recent polemic, “The Forgotten Art of Assembly: Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making,” touched a whole plexus of nerves, by positing that the frantic rush to approximate live performance in isolation, using non-broadcast quality home equipment and a live-streaming platform, is an imitation so poor it should cease and desist.

Acknowledging the scary economic reality that drives many of these hastily assembled online readings, solo shows, brand new 24-hour plays, monologues, and inexpertly shot Off-Off-Broadway footage did not get Berger a pass from the theater community.




Nor did attempting to head ‘em off at the pass by fretting that his “cynicism for this emergency style of digital performance will be labeled as pessimism or defeatism” and insisting that it’s his “love for theatre that cringes when (he sees) it inch closer and closer to becoming a TikTok.”

We acknowledge the likelihood that the general public has as much appetite for this sort of theater community infighting as it does for the burgeoning Covid-19 era virtual theater scene, especially if the players are unfamiliar from film or TV.

Not so the free Andrew Lloyd Webber buffet being served up every weekend in the recently hatched The Shows Must Go On YouTube channel.

Here, the excellent production values, famous names, and brand name tunes add up to a genuine television event, especially since each offering sticks around just 48 hours before turning back into a pumpkin.

You’ve already missed comedian Tim Minchin‘s unforgettable street punk turn as Judas in 2012’s Jesus Christ Superstar, expertly filmed at London’s cavernous concert venue The O2. (Have a look at the above clip for a taste of what you missed—in addition to the Victoria’s Secret-style angels and mega church-style lighting displays, this production featured pole dancing, Anonymous masks, a former Spice Girl, and a close enough Shepard Fairey tribute poster for a Jesus who won the coveted role in a TV talent show.

Regret to inform, you’ve also missed former teen idol Donny Osmond as the titular character in the 1999 remount of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. (Or not, if Lloyd-Weber takes mercy on hoards of devastated viewers flocking to the YouTube comments section to beg him to air it again, having just discovered that they missed it the first time.)

What’s next? You’ll have to ask the Magic 8 ball, or wait for an announcement, though in the video below, Lloyd Webber pledges that his failed adaptation of author P.G. Wodehouse’s beloved series, By Jeeves, will for sure be a feature of the line up. Other titles in his oeuvre include CatsStarlight ExpressSunset BoulevardThe Phantom of the Opera, and Evita (the latter with lyrics by Tim Rice, Lloyd Webber’s collaborator on Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and several other shows).

Each week’s feature-length show streams free on YouTube for 48 hours, beginning at 2 PM EST.

As with much of the thrown-together programming Berger decries in “The Forgotten Art of Assembly,” viewers of these not-quite-live performances are encouraged to cap things off with a donation to a theater charity, with suggested links for giving in the USthe UK, and Australia.

For those who’ve never caught an episode of Great Performances and thus find the concept of watching taped theater “a bit of a headfuck,” to quote Minchin, the advice he gave to Time Out (temporarily rebranded as Time In) is:

You’ve just got to get through the first ten minutes, and then it’s an extraordinary experience – because you’re actually watching people in real time.

Subscribe to The Shows Must Go On here.

#WithMe

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her unprompted contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway in Isolation scene is a hastily assembled tribute to the classic 60s social line dance, The Madison. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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