The holidays are upon us so don’t expect anything too heavy on local stages for the next month or so. Or to kinda quote Stephen Sondheim, “Comedy tomorrow, tragedy next year!”
If you’re looking for something to do besides caroling and standing under the mistletoe, check out some–or all–of the following–
Wicked, now the 4th longest-running show in Broadway history, returns to the Saenger Theatre November 29-December 17. This Stephen Schwartz musicalization of Gregory Maguire’s novel about the witches of Oz has yielded three modern standards–The Wizard and I, Popular, and Defying Gravity–and, having just celebrated its 20th anniversary, women who saw it as young girls are now taking their daughters to see the Wizard. More info and tickets at https://www.saengernola.com/events/wicked/
Celia Hottenstein and Olivia Valli in Wicked (photo by Joan Marcus)
On December 1, you’ll want to be in two places at once when The New Orleans Opera Association presents native New Orleanian and Metropolitan opera star Lisette Oropesa for a one-night-only event at the Mahalia Jackson Theater while the Jefferson Performing Arts Society has the Grammy Award-winning Blind Boys of Alabama at their auditorium in Metairie for a gospel Christmas concert.
Oropesa will perform an evening of French and Italian arias inspired by her recent album, French Bel Canto Arias, accompanied by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. The program highlights arias from the Bel Canto period by composers including Donizetti, Rossini, Bellini, and others. Oropesa’s concert with New Orleans Opera is one of only three appearances of hers in America this year. For more information, visit https://neworleansopera.org/lisette-oropesa-in-concert/
The Blind Boys of Alabama have been touring for 75 years and have achieved “legendary” status. Since the original members first sang together as kids at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in the late 1930s, the band has persevered through seven decades to become one of the most recognized and decorated music groups in the world. According to The New York Times they “epitomize what is known as jubilee singing, a livelier breed of gospel music,” adding that “they made it zestier still by adding jazz and blues idioms.” Tickets and more info at https://www.jeffersonpac.com/events/detail/blind-boys-of-alabama
If you prefer more traditional Xmas fare, head to Loyola’s Marquette Theatre for the Crescent City Stage’s A Christmas Carol, December 7-21. Patrick Barlow, writer of the Broadway and West End hit The 39 Steps, retells Charles Dickens’ holiday classic using only five actors to bring some of literature’s most beloved characters to life. From Scrooge and Tiny Tim to Bob Cratchit and Mrs. Fezziwig, this Carol uses nothing more than some simple props, fresh physicality, and the power of imagination to convey this timeless story of redemption. (https://www.simpletix.com/e/a-christmas-carol-tickets-145464)
If you want to buy a vowel or get someone a unique gift, however, purchase tickets to Wheel of Fortune LIVE!, a theatrical experience with Mark L. Walberg hosting at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on December 12. This live show gives audience members the opportunity to go on stage and win in this adaptation of the classic TV game. Contestants will be randomly selected from the audience for the chance to call consonants, buy vowels, and maybe even solve puzzles to win prizes, including trips to destinations like Paris and Hawaii or up to $10,000 in cash. Everyone will get in on the fun and a chance to win because there are audience games too. Tickets and more info at https://www.mahaliajacksontheater.com/events/wheel-of-fortune-live/
Out at the Docville Farm in Violet December 1-3, The Company: A St. Bernard Community Theatre presents Scrooge! The Musical, Leslie Bricusse’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol. As always, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of Christmas Eve, after being visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. (https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/78833)
On the Northshore, 30 by Ninety Theatre in Mandeville promises that their A Very Merry Christmas Spectacular will be a “spirited celebration of the holidays featuring local performers of all ages with singing, dancing and complimentary milk & cookies at every performance.” It plays December 1-10 and you can find tickets & more info at https://30byninety.com/shows/a-very-merry-christmas-spectacular-23/
Slidell Little Theatre has the new musical The Christmas Schooner. Based on the historic Great Lakes voyages of Christmas tree ships during the late 1800s and early 1900s, The Christmas Schooner tells the true story of a Michigan shipping captain who braved the deadly winter weather to bring Christmas trees to homesick German immigrants in turn-of-the-century Chicago. His voyages became a yearly tradition, despite his wife’s misgivings, until a fateful voyage makes her realize the true importance of his mission. The Christmas Schooner runs, or sails, December 1-17. (https://www.slidelllittletheatre.org/)
Fans of Jean Shepherd’s singular style of humor should head to Playmakers Theater in Covington December 2-17 for A Christmas Story. Set in the 1940s in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, the play follows 9-year-old Ralphie Parker and his quest for the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts–an Official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Rebuffed at every turn, Ralphie plots numerous schemes to acquire his coveted BB gun with heartwarming results. (https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/)
What happens when two NYC Gals host a Christmas party in the Big Easy? It’s Jackie & Jan’s Jingle Jam! and if Daniel Nardicio is involved, it’s sure to be a blast! Jackie Cox and Jan Sport, two of the most iconic and beloved queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race, team up to bring you a holiday experience like no other. Expect madness, mayhem, and holiday cheer at Café Istanbul on December 17. Tickets at https://www.redeyetickets.com/jackie-jans-jingle-jam-nola/
And if you want some holiday magic–and who doesn’t?–appear at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on December 30 for The Illusionists – Magic Of The Holidays, an all-new installment of the touring magic spectacular. This year’s family-friendly show promises illusions, close-up magic, mentalism, and technological spectacle performed by master entertainers and illusionists. Tickets available at https://www.saengernola.com/events/the-illusionists/ https://www.mahaliajacksontheater.com/events/the-illusionists/
Hmmm…I wonder if those Illusionists can wave their wands and make sure that 2024 will be filled with peace and happiness for all…
New in New York
During a visit earlier this month to New York I saw the David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical Here Lies Love about Imelda & Ferdinand Marcos and their rise & fall as leaders of the Philippines.
I wanted to tell you about the beguiling music and inventive lyrics, one of the best scores that’s appeared on Broadway in ages.
I wanted to tell you about Director Alex Timbers’ phenomenal immersive staging which has the action swirling around those members of the audience who choose to stand in the Broadway Theatre’s reconfigured orchestra section (there’s also the option to sit in the theater’s balcony and look down on the performance).
I wanted to tell you about Justin Townsend’s dazzling lighting, Clint Ramos’ wildly imaginative period appropriate costumes, David Korins’ ever-moving set, and M.L. Dogg & Cody Spencer’s great sound design which allows you to hear all the lyrics.
I wanted to tell you about the terrific all-Philipine cast (a Broadway first!) led by an almost-too-attractive-for-Imelda Arielle Jacobs, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora as the rival politicians Marcos and Ninoy Aquino, respectively, and Melody Butiu as a spurned childhood friend of Imelda’s, the moral heart of the show.
Arielle Jacobs (center) and the cast of Here Lies Love (photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)
(I also wanted to tell you that I wished there were more emotionally engaging moments in Love, like its final number whose lyrics were taken from actual quotes of Filipinos, in addition to all the visually spectacular ones, but that’s another story.)
And I really wanted to tell you to go see this unique and audacious distillation of 20th century history.
But, alas, Here Lies Love closed on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, a victim of the harsh realities of Broadway economics. If you should ever have an opportunity to see this musical, however, by all means do so.
Here Lies Love may be gone, leaving only Tony winner Kimberly Akimbo and off-Broadway’s preposterously funny Titanique worth seeing (and, yes, long-runners Lion King and Chicago if for some crazy reason you haven’t seen them before), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things to do in NYC. Currently, four Upper East Side museums plus one in midtown provide hours and hours of cultural engagement.
At the Metropolitan Museum, Manet/Degas (thru Jan. 7) is a fascinating compare-and-contrast exhibition which examines the close and sometimes tumultuous relationship between Édouard Manet (1832–1883) and Edgar Degas (1834–1917), friends, rivals, and, at times, antagonists who worked to define modern painting in France. By examining their careers in parallel and presenting their work side by side, this exhibit investigates how their artistic objectives and approaches both overlapped and diverged.
“Boating” (1874) by Edouard Manet (1832–1883)
To be sure, if you read all the wall plaques, you’ll learn much about these frenemies. You’d be forgiven, however, if you just walked thru the exhibit taking in masterpiece after masterpiece, including “Olympia,” Manet’s revolutionary brothel scene on its first ever visit to America. New Orleanians should especially appreciate Degas’s “A Cotton Office in New Orleans”, “Cotton Merchants in New Orleans”, and “Courtyard of a House (New Orleans)”, all done during Degas’ 1872-73 visit to the Big Easy (was it called that back then?), the only Impressionist artist ever to visit the New World.
While at the Met, do check out the newly redesigned Northern Renaissance Sculpture and Decorative Arts gallery which brings together ceramics, textiles, metalwork, clocks, chess sets, stained glass, and more, much more. Some of my favorite baubles included an ivory cup created on a lathe, a leather cup in the form of a shoe, a nautilus shell cup with gilded silver mounts, and an incredible small ivory statue of Saint Sebastian whose tears trickle down his face and whose “naked body allowed artists to explore the sensuality of the male form.”
Dutch Nautilus Cup (1602)
A few blocks away, while The Frick Collection’s home on Fifth Avenue is being renovated, highlights of the magnificent collection have moved over to the famed Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue and 75th Street, former home to the Whitney Museum. It’s been dubbed Frick Madison and is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see masterpieces up-close and away from all the ornate trappings of the Frick mansion.
Through January 7, in addition to Rembrandts and Vermeers, you can also see 14 life-size portraits by Barkley L. Hendricks (1945–2017), the first-ever solo show for a Black artist at the Frick. The paintings, many with white backgrounds, recall some of Manet’s works as well as gold-leafed religious devotional works of the late Gothic/early Renaissance and the classical motif of the Three Graces as seen in a triple portrait of a good friend of Hendricks from Philadelphia in “Bahsir (Robert Gowens)”.
“Bahsir (Robert Gowens)” (1975) by Barkley L. Hendricks (1945–2017)
Perhaps my favorite image is “Lagos Ladies (Gbemi, Bisi, Niki, Christy),” painted after Hendricks visited Nigeria for the World Black Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977. There he met these women, who worked as cooks at a hotel. Photographs show them outdoors, standing on sandy ground. Transporting them to the flatness of a white-on-white painting, Hendricks showcases the range of the women’s skin tones and variety of their shoes. An early critic accused Hendricks of using the “same all-purpose brown” for his figures, to which the artist replied: “Damn, even Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles can see a difference in the variety of skin handling I was involved with! The attempt on my part is always to address the beauty and variety of complexion colors that we call Black.”
17 blocks north, at the Jewish Museum, Mood of the moment (thru Feb. 18) showcases the Jewish entrepreneur Gaby Aghion (1921-2014) and her legacy as the founder of the French fashion house Chloé. Nearly 150 garments detail the label’s 70-year history of luxury ready-to-wear clothing from designs by Aghion on to such subsequent creative directors as Karl Lagerfeld (first hired by Aghion in 1964) and Stella McCartney.
Three dresses (Bergamotte, Balalaika, and ABC) all from 1967 by Karl Lagerfeld (1933–2019)
If you saw the Lagerfeld exhibit at the Met earlier this year, you’ll be able to put in context some of his wildly imaginative designs seen here. If not, you’ll still come away with a new-found respect and appreciation for Aghion and her game-changing achievements. Either way, a clip from Luis Buñuel’s Academy Award-winning 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie which includes an actress wearing a Chloé dress is a fun bit of lagniappe.
Head south to the Neue Galerie at 86th Street and Fifth Avenue for Max Beckmann: The Formative Years, 1915-1925 (thru Jan. 15) a tightly focused exhibition which examines how the artist’s style moved away from his Impressionistic origins to the verist style of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) that defined his later work. We see how the painterly and romantic compositions of the pre-war years were replaced with more angular, darker forms, and how biblical imagery gave way to paintings of circus folk and members of the Jazz Age’s cafe society.
“Self-Portrait in Florence” (1907) by Max Beckmann (1884–1950)
Max Beckmann: The Formative Years gives insights into how World War I transformed the artist (he served as a medical orderly, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1915, and was discharged from service in 1917); his acid views of Weimar society show why the Nazis labelled him a “degenerate” artist. If all this just whets your appetite for more of Beckmann, head to MoMA which has some prime examples of his works in its collection. Before you do, however, by all means check out Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I (1907) (aka The Woman in Gold) in the Neue Galerie’s permanent collection.
Once at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and having seen the Beckmanns, do not miss Between Two Rivers (thru Mar. 16), An-My Lê’s wide-ranging exhibit of photographs that present images from her homeland, Viet Nam, as well as series that capture reenactments of the Viet Nam war in North Carolina, and actual training sessions of US troops in the Mojave Desert, exercises used to prepare them for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“High School Students, Fourth of July Celebration, New Orleans, Louisiana” (2017) by An-My Lê (1960-)
For her Events Ashore series (2005-2014), Lê shot aboard US Navy vessels to provide intimate views of officers and sailors. And similar to the Met’s Manet/Degas exhibit, Between Two Rivers will have extra resonance for New Orleanians with images that take you to Lafitte Greenway and Bayou St. John as well inside the Homeland Security storage facility where the deposed General Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard monuments reside.
When you’re done museuming, head to Red Eye on 41st Street just off 9th Avenue, to indulge in impresario Daniel Nardicio’s latest foray into queer nightlife. Open from 8am to 4am, this full service spiked-coffee bar pumps out drinks day and night, while evenings find the most fabulous cabaret performers, burlesque & boylesque acts, drag royalty, Broadway triple-threats, and TV stars entertaining there. No matter the time, the staff is charming, gracious and very cute.
Karol and Brian behind the bar at Red Eye
Upcoming events include–
—Brini & Mary Ellen- A Christmas Miracle (Dec. 9 at 7pm), for which Brini Maxwell and Mary Ellen McGillicuddy, a beloved duo on cable access in the 90’s and early aughts, will reunite for the first time in 15 years for a night of Christmas cheer and good-natured comedy.
—The Bad Judies’ How the Grinch Stole Xmas (Dec. 9 at 9pm), a dazzling live music drag experience that will take you to Whoville. Lyra Vega, Wesley and Worshipher play your favorite characters from the classic Dr. Seuss story. It’ll be a night of parody, enchanting holiday tunes, guest performers and fierce drag!
—Madonna Worship Night: Celebration Edition (Dec. 15 at 10pm), to celebrate Madonna’s long-awaited Celebration Tour finally making its way to NYC, The House Of Dandridge and DJ Chauncey D will throw a special party smack dab in the middle of her Brooklyn tour dates The night will feature some magical Madonna performances, an all-Madonna dance party, and many more surprises! The night will feature curated performances by New York nightlife talent and encompass every inch of her forty-year career with popular hits, b-sides, rarities, and remixes throughout the evening.
—A Very Ada Christmas (Dec. 16 at 8pm), starring Ada Vox, with Lyra Vega on the piano. Hal Rubenstein, one of the founding editors of InStyle magazine, states “Ada Vox is] a Latina drag queen with a rafter-shaking voice of stratospheric range who is far and away the most formidable talent American Idol has introduced since Jennifer Hudson.”
And that’s just in the spacious upstairs theater/cabaret/dance area. Downstairs is the more intimate Cockpit which hosts The Devil Wears Nada dance’n’fun party Friday nights at 10pm. I’m not saying you’ll find Meryl Strip there but, hey, it’s New York—anything’s possible!