In the past two weeks the sheer number of concerts, recordings and livestreams churned out by the theater world has been extraordinary to witness. While I remained mostly occupied with staring at my wall in shock, theater artists and institutions across the country had jumped into quick action.
Regardless of their relative success, I know these various offerings have been a great comfort to me – even more so when they didn’t exactly work. As such I won’t be reviewing them per se – that would seem unfair. What follows are just some scattered thoughts on virtual theater content of the last two weeks.
Linda Lavin and Billy Stritch – Facebook livestream
Posted by Billy Stritch on Wednesday, 18 March 2020
My first and probably favorite livestream of seclusion so far, this was a charming, slightly wacky affair. Musical director Billy Stritch accompanied theater legend Linda Lavin as she sang, pattered and wore various gloves, all whilst standing under a portrait of herself. Lavin sang mostly selections from her upcoming album ‘Love Notes,’ which Stritch produced – though she threw in other treats, including a jaunty take on ‘Let’s Get Lost.’
Effortlessly luminous presence that she is, 40 minutes with Lavin certainly helps with the heart rate. A surprise pan to her adorable dog Nicky, sprawled out and comfortable on her couch, also did not hurt. “Nicky is my inner life, I hope,” quipped Lavin on the chilled-out pup.
Most entertaining was Stritch’s habit of forgetting about the whole ‘pandemic thing.’ First he casually noted that physical copies of ‘Love Notes’ were available in stores (“well, not now,” Lavin mutters, mostly to herself); then after a rousing “Shall We Dance?” he moved to embrace Lavin, who yelled “NO!” as she started back. “Six feet!” Lavin then exclaimed, clutching her heart as Stritch apologized. We stan a social distancing icon.
Melissa Errico’s Sondheim Sublime at Guild Hall – Previously Recorded
One of Melissa Errico’s more esoteric choices for her 2018 album Sondheim Sublime hits today as ever so timely. Early in a June 2019 Guild Hall concert of (mostly) songs from the album, which the venue has now placed online, Errico sings Sondheim’s ‘I Remember.’ The song comes from forgotten made-for-television musical Evening Primrose, about a community of night people who live secretly in a department store. In the song a young member of the group, Ella Harkins, recalls long ago memories of trees, sky and sun.
“I remember trees / and parks and bridges / Ponds and zoos…and days/ I remember days,” Errico sings, sublimely of course. Days? Yes, I vaguely recall those. The song continues: “At times I think / I would gladly die / For a day of sky.” We will not, to be clear, be dying for a day of sky – but at moments it does sound tempting.
Using YouTube’s ‘Chat Replay’ you can even relive Errico’s live commentary on the concert, which is mostly her insisting many times, “I didn’t know the dress was THAT LOW CUT.” And of course, during ‘I Remember’: “wouldn’t we LOVE A DAY OF SKY!!!????”
Tori Scott Is Overserved at Joe’s Pub- Previously Recorded
Tori Scott performed Tori Scott is Overserved at Joe’s Pub in November of 2018, as part of her fall residency at the venue. It’s a crass, silly and very enjoyable evening that slowly, ever so slowly, reveals itself to be more than that.
At first Scott’s brassy humor and pop covers feel like a perfect light distraction for this moment, best consumed while sipping a cocktail. And it is that! But as it grows and the lights around Scott darken, Overserved also gets at the isolation of New York life and the hard bargains of life as a traveling artist. Scott’s black humor may feel tossed-off, but she’s really getting at the loneliness of being the life of the party. That emphasis on social isolation feels all too fitting right now. Maybe after this is over, we’ll all serve each other a little better.
Plus, Scott does a killer rendition of ‘Bad Romance.’ So stick around for that.
The Rosie O’Donnell Show LIVE! – Broadway.com Livestream
Plenty has already been written about this epic, chaotic affair, but here I am regardless. I’ll admit my jaw dropped when Rosie’s camera first clicked on to reveal a bland, overlit garage with crafts strewn across the floor. Surely Broadway.com could muster a fancier setup, even in these times? I was way off. Broadway star or no, right now everyone is just sitting on their couches, staring into their screens. Why bother with forced formalities? Fuck it, just let Rosie ask everyone what they’re streaming right now. Let her plug The Outsider a million times for no clear reason. Let the mom talk flow. After a few interviews I not only got used to the messiness, but started to find it very comforting.
As with Lavin and Stritch’s livestream though, things got a little weird when the reality of this horrific virus intruded. About two-thirds of the way through the three-and-a-half-hour stream, Gavin Creel joined from a cabin upstate. Creel shared that he was sick, dealing with a likely case of COVID-19 that had spread amongst the Waitress West End cast. O’Donnell only said loving things, of course, but it was clear that she wasn’t sure how to react.
It’s not a criticism of Rosie to note that even on a livestream designed to raise money for artists impacted by this crisis, no-one really knew how to talk about the virus that put us here. Singing songs to help The Actor’s Fund is something tangible, something we can wrap our heads around, a way to help. I for one am thankful for these distractions from the unspeakable.
tiny plays for the time of no plays – New Georges, e-mails
Lastly, my favorite bit of isolation content has actually been e-mail based. New Georges has sent out two ‘tiny plays,’ with hopefully more to come. Subscribe here.
Each captures just a fragment of a moment. In Amy Gijsbers van Wijk’s Within the Trapping I Feel Trapped, a couple decides on tea, and watches the water boil. In Tori Keenan-Zelt’s Weather We’re Having, two midtowners are sent in freefall when the ground falls away. The plays are disquieting, a touch overwhelming, and very familiar. I leave you with the wonderful opening of Keenan-Zelt’s work: