Oh, the drama! Broadway bounced back with a vengeance this year, defying the pandemic with electrifying production numbers and more swabs than a health clinic the week after Pride. Covid be damned: nothing can take down the theater.
Of course, no Broadway season would be complete without some unanticipated scandals. Here’s a look at five memorable — or forgetful — happenings from this Broadway season.
A picture of Jesse Williams is worth a thousand Pulitzer Prize-winning words
Never mind that Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out received four well-deserved Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Revival of a Play. All eyes were on the full-frontal nudity. And there was plenty of it as Jesse Williams and most of the cast stripped down for some front-and-center shower scenes.
Despite the use of locked Yondr bags to prohibit audience members from recording a keepsake, one amateur videographer managed to get the goods. But what felt like a homerun for the internet was a foul ball for producers, who responded on Twitter by saying, “Taking naked pictures of anyone without their consent is highly objectionable, and can have severe legal consequences. Posting it on the internet is a gross and unacceptable violation of trust between the actor and the audience forged in the theater community.”
Williams took it in stride, telling the Associated Press, “I’m not really worrying about it. I can’t sweat that. We do need to keep advocating for ourselves. And it’s wonderful to see a community push back and make clear what we do stand for, what we don’t.”
A Razzie a day will keep the audience away
Princess Diana has been the subject of countless portrayals from Naomi Watts to Kristen Stewart, but none could belt a high F-sharp like the musical’s star Jeanna de Waal. Despite her rafter-shaking vocals and a cacophony of shoulder-padded fashion by costume designer William Ivey Long, Diana famously failed after 34 painful performances.
That doesn’t’ count the number of bleeding eyes transfixed on the previously released Netflix version, which producers hoped would jumpstart ticket sales as the musical planned its post-COVID Broadway return, which critic Winnie McCroy described as “a royal pain in the *ss.”
She wasn’t alone. The Netflix film was nominated for nine Golden Raspberry (Razzie) Awards, a parody award celebrating the worst cinematic endeavors of the year, earning the distinction as the first filmed stage performance to ever win a Razzie for Worst Picture.
Mamet’s monstrous response to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ takes a slice out of American Buffalo
Even an all-star cast including Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss couldn’t deflect the real-life toxic masculinity oozing from playwright David Mamet’s mouth when he accused male teachers of being “predators” and “pedophiles.”
Mamet leaned into the accusatory “grooming” trope on the FOX News broadcast, saying, “What we have is kids not only being indoctrinated but groomed, in a very real sense, by people who are, whether they know it or not, sexual predators. Are they abusing the kids physically? No, I don’t think so. But they are abusing them mentally and using sex to do so.”
Most are familiar with the playwright’s portrayal of toxic masculinity onstage; he’s made a career out of it. But the theater community clapped back, including Alexandra Billings, who tweeted, “By attending ‘American Buffalo’ you support David Mamet: a dangerous, transphobic human who believes teachers are ‘inclined to pedophilia’ and that I, as an open Trans educator am a “groomer”. Remember that as you sit in the dark waiting for the curtain to rise.”
Who’s afraid to say that Beanie bombed? Mostly nobody.
“It’s a hard-knock life.” Nobody knows that better than the orphans in Annie and now Beanie Feldstein, the lovable film star who stepped into the first — and likely last — Broadway revival of Funny Girl. Few expected vocals like Barbra Streisand, but Feldstein failed to clear even a lowered bar, with Jesse Green for the New York Times writing, “You root for her to raise the roof, but she only bumps against it a little.”
Time Out NY’s Adam Feldman was more blunt: “Beanie Feldstein falls on her Fanny.”
Even so, all can’t be blamed on the leading lady. Funny Girl was never known for its stellar book, and Harvey Fierstein’s reworking of the material fails to make sense of the real-life Fanny Brice’s love addiction to Nicky Arnstein. As a worthy consolation, Jane Lynch is brilliant as Fanny’s mother, Rosie, and rumor has it that Feldstein’s understudy, Julie Benko delivers a star turn, too.
The library is now open, and Patti reads the room
Patti LuPone, currently starring in the Broadway revival of Company, recently took an audience member to task for not wearing a mask during a post-performance talkback, and the heated exchange went viral on Twitter.
“Put your mask over your nose, that’s why you’re in the theater,” said LuPone, who battled COVID-19 earlier in the year, along with many castmates, who have endured regular testing to keep Broadway open. “That is the rule,” she continued. “If you don’t want to follow the rule, get the f*ck out!”
It’s not the first time LuPone has stood up for the integrity of her profession. In the 2009 Gypsy revival, she stopped mid-performance to have a camera-happy patron removed, and in 2015 grabbed an audience member’s phone while appearing in Shows for Days.
In her current role as the martini-drinking Joanne, LuPone stops the show with “The Ladies Who Lunch,” climactically belting, “Everybody rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!”
Audiences are doing just that — bursting to their feet to give standing ovations for the hard-working thespians and production crew keeping live theater afloat. What will next season have in store? The Karate Kid, a Neil Diamond musical, and an all-female/non-binary production of 1776 are on the way, so save us a seat.