Before the theater insists we pay attention again, here are some happenings from behind the scenes.
THE NEXT GENERATIONS
Three theaters that have changed the shape of adventurous New York theater are going through their own major changes right now.
Most wrenching, the Signature Theatre Company, reeling from the Aug. 2 cancer death of its invaluable founding artistic director James Houghton, 57, now has a new artistic director, Paige Evans.
Evans had run Lincoln Center Theater’s high-achieving LCT3 since the new-play venue, responsible for the Pulitzer-winning “Disgraced,” began in 2008. This summer, she has moved to the Signature’s craggily beautiful Frank Gehry building on West 42nd Street where entire seasons are devoted to the work of individual playwrights. This was just part of Houghton’s lasting legacy, as was reducing all season tickets to $25.
Meanwhile, Evan Cabnet, formidable director of the Pulitzer-nominated “Gloria,” succeeds Evans in the LCT3 jewel-box theater built on top of Lincoln Center Theater’s main building. Not incidentally, LCT3’s seats are just $30.
If that were not enough seismic activity for these serious theater treasures, Encores! Off-Center, the summer offshoot of City Center’s Encores! series of semi-staged musicals, has lost founding artistic director Jeanine Tesori after four astonishing years. Tesori, composer of such award-winning gems as “Fun Home” and “Violet,” understandably needs to return to her own creations.
She is succeeded by Obie-winner Michael Friedman — significantly, another composer instead of a director or an administrator — whose unpredictable musicals include “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and the underrated “The Fortress of Solitude.”
We’ll revisit each as their seasons reveal themselves.
SPEAKING OF THEATER PRICES
I mean the other ones, at the ridiculous opposite end of conspicuous consumption.
Sen. Charles Schumer and Lin-Manuel Miranda are not the only heroes trying to stop the scourge of cyber-scalping. As you probably know, Schumer and the creator of “Hamilton” banded together earlier this month to get Congress to crack down on hackers who use sophisticated computer programs called bots to scoop up tickets the millisecond they go on sale so they can be resold for outlandishly inflated prices. These online villains snatch the tickets and resell at anywhere between $500-$2,000 — and often much higher — above the top $189 face-value price. For Miranda’s final performance July 9, top seats were being offered on StubHub for as high as $20,000.
Now the British producers of London’s monster hit “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” are turning away people who knowingly bought a ticket through one of those resale sites. According to London’s The Stage, producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender called the secondary ticket market a “plague” on the industry. In what seems a relatively low-tech response, they have ordered the theater staff to request credit card receipts or email confirmation and deny entry to anyone with tickets bought anywhere except “official ticketing platforms.” Tickets are said to be inflated as high as 8,000 pounds — or about $10,500.
Scalping is hardly a new problem or unique to the theater. Earlier this month, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, of all people, was arrested on suspicion of trying to illegally sell Olympics tickets.
Still, sophisticated software, manic celebrity culture and, obviously, a boggling glut of surplus capital raised the stakes to unrecognizable heights. Schumer says he hopes his “colleagues in Congress will pass this bipartisan legislation so that consumers have equal access to these tickets.”
AL PACINO STILL LOVES THEATER
I’m so glad to hear that Al Pacino wants to come back to Broadway — as soon as this season. After his public shaming in David Mamet’s insultingly bad “China Doll” last season, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that Pacino, who grew up on New York stages from the ’70s through the ’90s, had better things to do with his life.
But here comes news that he took part in what Showbiz411 calls “secret performances” for industry people in L.A. on Aug. 13 and 14. The play is “When God Looked Away,” based on the autobiographical book by Dotson Rader about the last years of his friend Tennessee Williams. Pacino plays Williams. For right now, let’s not try to imagine his accent.
Throughout the decades, Pacino has attached himself to plays as if he were a pit bull on an ankle. He pummeled his way through gritty urban plays and took on some of Shakespeare’s most formidable characters — most recently Shylock — with riveting discipline, equally mesmerizing eccentricities and the poetic meter of the South Bronx.
He could be possessed, mannered, sly, smart and genuinely weird. What he was not, ever, was boring. Even as he floundered, under rehearsed, as the underwritten aging tycoon in “China Doll,” I found it hard to take my eyes off him. Movie actors have always given lip service to live theater. Pacino, 76, always put his mania where his mouth was — and, I’m happy to say, he still does.