As typically happens when the temperatures go up, theater activity goes down. Still, a goodly number of shows, from comedies to dramas to musicals to a drag extravaganza, will be playing in the greater New Orleans area in July and August. If you prefer your entertainment “live and in person” rather than on TVs, movie screens, cell phones, or computers, plan on getting tickets to some–or all!–of the shows below.
Who could ever forget when NOLA’s own Bianca Del Rio triumphed on RuPaul’s Drag Race? Well, she’s an old queen now and a current crop of favorites– Kameron Michaels, Rosé, Vanessa Vanjie, Yvie Oddly plus finalists from RPD’s Season 14–will be in New Orleans on Friday, July 15, at the Saenger Theatre, performing live in the official RuPaul’s Drag Race world tour, WERQ THE WORLD.
In this fully staged production, an experiment gone wrong sends audiences spiraling through time with no way of returning to 2022. The queens will whisk fans on a magical journey through iconic periods of history in hopes of returning them safely home. Wonder if they can get rid of Covid and other pressing nastinesses while they’re at it as well?!
Won’t be in town on the 15th? If you miss it here, following New Orleans, WERQ THE WORLD will sashay across North America all summer, playing some of the continent’s largest theaters including Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium and New York City’s Radio City Music Hall! More information and tickets are available at https://vossevents.com/werq-the-world-tour/
There may not be any queens, but you will find a couple of Princes as well as a Witch and a Wolf at Tulane’s Dixon Hall when Summer Lyric Theatre (SLT) presents Into the Woods.
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s beloved musical takes a smorgasbord of classic fairy tale characters (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack of beanstalk fame, etc.) adds a few new ones (most notably a childless Baker and his Wife) and shows how things can turn out “happily ever after”…until they don’t.
John “Ray” Proctor directs Keith Claverie, Meredith Owens, Josiah Rogers, and Leslie Claverie, along with a host of cast members whose names are new to me. If you can’t get up to New York to see the new star-studded revival on Broadway, this is probably the next best thing. Performances run July 14-17.
Concluding SLT’s season August 4-7 will be Jonathan Larson’s Rent. Loosely based on Puccini’s La bohème, this Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical follows a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York’s East Village in the early 1990s, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Polanco Jones, Jr. will direct and choreograph the show.
When Rent opened in 1996, it seemed like a cri de cœur ripped from the headlines. Ironically, now, in the age of PrEP and with the East Village all gentrified, it comes off more like a historical pageant, albeit one with a very catchy score. Tickets for both shows are available at https://www.tix.com/ticket-sales/summerlyrictheatre/6927?productionidlist=191950,191992,191993
While you’re at Tulane and if you prefer Shakespeare to Sondheim–or enjoy both–check out the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival’s production of the Bard’s Henry IV, Part 1, the first time the Festival has offered it in its 29 years of existence.
In this historically-based play, King Henry IV prepares for war at home and abroad while his son, Prince Hal, spends his days and nights drinking with the boastful scalawag, Falstaff. Meanwhile, the formidable Hotspur plots his revolution against the King.
Silas Cooper appears as King Henry, Jake Bartush as Prince Hal, Brittany N. Williams as Hotspur, and Mike Harkins as Falstaff, all under the direction of Burton Tedesco. Performances are July 14-30 in Lupin Theater. More info and tickets at https://neworleansshakespeare.org/products/king-henry-iv-part-1
New Orleans has not seen Summer and Smoke in 29 years, but that’s about to change when The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans presents it at The Marigny Opera House August 5-21.
A tale of mismatched affections between two souls who’ve been friends since childhood, Summer and Smoke explores themes found throughout Williams’ canon, including passion vs. propriety, repression vs. expression, and what can happen to someone, particularly a woman, who’s not able to follow her natural desires.
Directed by Augustin J Correro, and starring Elizabeth McCoy as Alma Winemiller and Justin Davis as Dr. John Buchanan, tickets and further info for this “gothic drama” can be found at https://ci.ovationtix.com/35398/production/1106693?utm_source=TWTC+Master+Email+List&utm_campaign=131286737b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_25_11_53_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_91ea48b996-131286737b-244632125
If New Orleans has not seen Henry IV, Part 1 and Summer and Smoke in decades, English playwright Pam Gems’ Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi has never been on the boards here at all. Kudos then to Andrea Watson’s new company Fat Squirrel for rectifying that.
This 1976 play takes place in an unpretentious London flat where four young women try to help each other pull their lives together and find the sense of purpose and individuality which can so easily elude women in contemporary society. Called “…a funny, sparkling and vivacious play” by The London Evening Standard, when Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi was revived in London in 2013, The Guardian noted its “moments of delirious joy and laughter.”
Featuring Lucy Faust, Dusa, Fish, Stas and Vi plays at Bryant Park Nola August 8-18. For tickets, go to https://fatsquirrelnola.square.site/
Another play featuring women is being done at the Azienda Theater in Chalmette, but this one should be much more familiar to most anyone reading this column.
The Company: A St. Bernard Community Theatre is mounting Steel Magnolias, Robert Harling’s 35-year-old dramedy that with a little teasing, coloring and perming, never seems to age. Set in Truvy’s beauty parlor, the six “steel magnolias” of the title may border on the cliche but, in the right hands, blossom with a pulsing vitality.
Running July 14-17, Carol Ortego directs, with Gretchen Black as Truvvy, Michelle Rossi as M’Lynn, Lillian Boyington as Annelle, Roxanne Gray as Clairee, Kerry Pakucko as Ouiser, and Shelby Neal as Shelby. Tickets at the door or at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/65677
Head north from Chalmette to Slidell where Slidell Little Theatre presents Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier from July 23 to 30. Directed by Hagan Harkins, this original musical celebrates and lovingly pokes fun at Disney’s Aladdin.
I suspect it helps if you’re familiar with the movie or its stage version but, whether you are or not, the adventures–or misadventures–of Aladdin, a princess and a genie as seen from the villainous Jafar’s perspective sounds like a hoot. Tickets at www.slidelllittletheatre.org/tickets
Further north, in Covington, Playmakers Theater sounds like it has something equally wild. Choose Your Own Oz allows audiences to play playwright with a chance to change everything from Dorothy’s footwear (silver slippers or ruby red…clown shoes?) to Toto’s species (lion, tiger or octopus?—oh my!) to the Witch’s flying footmen. L. Frank Baum’s classic tale may never be the same again!
Directed by Lee Dukes, Choose Your Own Oz opens July 30 and continues until August 14. For tickets, go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/
Over in Ponchatoula, the Kay Butler Performing Arts Project at Swamplight Theatre is seeing “who will buy?” tickets to Lionel Bart’s musicalization of Charles Dickens’ Oliver! (as in Twist).
Set in Victorian England, we watch as the young, orphaned Oliver navigates London’s underworld of theft and violence, searching for a home, a family, and, especially, love. Featuring a dozen memorable songs, including Food, Glorious Food, I’d Do Anything, and As Long as He Needs Me, Oliver! will always have a warm spot in my heart as I played the Artful (Consider Yourself) Dodger in summer camp when I was 9 years old.
The musical, whose film version won an Oscar for Best Picture, runs through July 24 and tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/oliver-tickets-317864630667
And for sheer, silly fun–and who can’t use some of that these days?!–take a trip to Mandeville for 30 by Ninety Theatre’s production of the classic British farce See How They Run.
We’re promised an English vicarage where “galloping in and out of the four doors are an American actor and actress (he is now stationed with the Air Force in England), a cockney housekeeper who has seen too many American movies, an old maid who touches alcohol for the first time in her life, four men in clergyman suits presenting the problem of which is which (for disguised as one is an escaped prisoner), and a sedate Bishop aghast at all these goings-on.” Sounds like just another day in da Quarter, more or less.
Jason Leader directs this madness which plays July 30 through August 14. More info and tickets can be found at https://30byninety.com/shows/see-how-they-run/
Despite white linen nights and red dress runs, hope you’ll have a chance to catch some of these live performances!
New in New York–Museums and More
If you’ll be heading up to New York soon, a number of museum exhibits are well worth seeing, but before I get to them, I have a good-ish and a not-so-good-ish update to last month’s column about theater in NYC.
The good news is that Fat Ham at The Public Theater has been extended until July 31. In this Pulitzer Prize-winner, playwright James Ijames has reconfigured Hamlet so that its deliciously dysfunctional family is no longer fighting over Denmark but, rather, a BBQ restaurant in the South. Apparently, this is the show’s final extension. Might it move elsewhere for a commercial run? Could be or could not be, so if you have a chance, get thee to this brilliant production.
Alas, the gender-reversed revival of Company at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre shall also be closing on July 31, much sooner than anticipated. Director Marianne Elliott deservedly won a Tony for it. Katrina Lenk gives a touching, terrific performance as Bobbie (formerly Bobby). And Patti LuPone not only delivers a fierce Ladies Who Lunch, but has also parsed and put back together The Little Things You Do Together with the skill Dame Judi Dench brings to a Shakespearean monolog. If you’ve never seen Company before, and even if you have, do try to catch this revelatory staging.
As for the visual arts, five exhibitions, highlighting artists both well-known and obscure, merit a visit.
At the Metropolitan Museum, Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents provides a wide-ranging view of the New England painter, and the largest critical overview of his art and life in more than a quarter of a century.
If the centerpiece of the exhibition is Homer’s iconic The Gulf Stream, a painting that reveals his lifelong engagement with charged subjects of race, geopolitics, and the environment, among the other 87 oils and watercolors, are complex works created during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, haunting seascapes, and an almost surreal image of a seemingly giant fish floating over three men in a canoe. Homer (1836-1910) is difficult to pigeonhole; Crosscurrents (on view till July 31) enables you to appreciate his timeless insights as an observer of nature and humanity. (https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2022/winslow-homer)
Also at the Met, Louise Bourgeois: Paintings (thru August 7) is the first comprehensive exhibition of paintings produced by the French-American artist between her arrival in New York in 1938 and her turn to sculpture in the late 1940s.
Generally speaking, Bourgeois’ sculptures have always elicited a comme ci comme ça response from me. Not her paintings, which can be witty and charming as well as a cri de coeur from a feminist perspective; note her Femme Maison (“Housewife”) suite in which female figures are obscured and confined by domestic architecture. Surreal and wildly imaginative, these works, many never seen in public before or not in many years, add Bourgeois (1911-2010) to the list of artists, mostly male, who created vital works in the mid-twentieth century. (https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2022/louise-bourgeois-paintings)
Bourgeois’ paintings may not be well known, but most art lovers are familiar with her work, especially her giant spiders. The remarkable queer artist Lorenza Böttner (1959-1994), however, is only now getting her first presentation in the United States.
Lorenza Böttner: Requiem for the Norm at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art (thru August 14) showcases paintings, drawings and videos by Böttner, a Chilean-German artist who lost both arms as a child in a freak accident. Rejecting prosthetics intended to compensate for her supposed disability, in art school she started presenting as female and went on to create hundreds of individual works, painting with her feet and mouth, until AIDS-related complications cut her life short.
Wall plaques and a brochure helpfully elucidate Böttner’s background, and her works, especially large-scale pastels on paper, are mind-boggling. As someone who can barely draw stick figures, I marveled at Böttner’s undisputed talent made even more astonishing by the manner by which she willed her creations into being. (https://www.leslielohman.org/exhibitions/lorenza-b%C3%B6ttner-requiem-for-the-norm)
I suspect James Nachtwey (1948-) wishes his photographs didn’t need to come into being as he documents wars, conflicts, and other critical social issues. As a way of raising public consciousness, however, Memoria at Fotografiska New York (through August 21) displays extraordinarily powerful images of man’s inhumanity to man leavened by a few more lighthearted ones, such as one of South African children in Soweto who had paid a small fee for a few minutes of playtime on a trampoline.
A must-see exhibit, Nachtwey “hopes that his pictures will stand as a remembrance of the people in them, of the conditions they endured, and of how those conditions came to be.” If only such conditions didn’t come around, in one form or another, again and again and again. (https://www.fotografiska.com/nyc/exhibitions/james-nachtwey/)
As worthy as these four shows are, they all are typical exhibitions in which artwork hangs on walls or sits in vitrines. Matisse: The Red Studio (thru September 10), at the Museum of Modern Art is something else entirely.
Henri Matisse’s The Red Studio (1911) depicts the artist’s work space in the Parisian suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux; when first displayed, it was met with bafflement or indifference. It went on to have an interesting history, including a stint in a glamorous London nightclub, before entering MoMA’s collection in 1949.
Matisse: The Red Studio reunites, for the first time in 111 years, the artist’s depiction of his studio with the surviving six paintings, three sculptures, and one ceramic by Matisse that appear in this six-foot-tall-by-seven-foot-wide canvas (one painting was destroyed many years ago). It is SO cool to be in the room with the painting and see the objects in it situated, more or less, as they are in the image itself. As impressive as each of these works of art are, this is truly a case of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
An adjacent room details the history of The Red Studio, its rejection by the patron who commissioned it, its international travels, and its eventual acquisition by MoMA. There’s also a video about its conservation. Enjoy all these supplemental materials as they add immeasurably to your appreciation of the canvas itself. It’s the room where The Red Studio hangs and where all the items depicted in it are also displayed, a veritable immersion into art history, however, that will leave you with a joyous smile upon your face. And isn’t that a good thing to have in these crazy times? (https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/5344)