The first person to tip me about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” was producer Brad Simpson, at the March 2015 downtown premiere of the last season of “Mad Men.” He assured me this was something unique and rare. And I tried to get tickets at the Public Theatre, then figured I’d go when it hit Broadway, which proved difficult. The publicity people didn’t need coverage from Indiewire. I finally ordered tickets without markup back in October for March, the week after the Oscars.
So even though Indiewire just got bought by Penske Media and there was a lot going on, I still indulged my frantic cultural New York post-Oscar stint. And had a blast hanging out with Indiewire’s super-smart NY team: Eric Kohn, Kate Erbland, Chris O’Falt, Jason Gonzalez and Zack Sharf. Penske Media digital editor William Earl gave me a tour of the spanking new Variety and Women’s Wear Daily offices where Indiewire will soon move, plastered with great black-and-white celebrity photo blowups, across from the New York Public Library.
And “Hamilton” was not a let-down, at all. It’s so dense and rich and varied, from Miranda’s sophisticated Sondheim lyrics as hip hop rhymes to standard musical formats; knowing the catchy soundtrack left me unprepared for the flamboyant comic stage craft provided by Jonathan Groff as George III and Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson. I couldn’t believe how long it took to get to the end of Act One (in a good way, the show covers so much ground), how much I emotionally responded to the rallying cries of the American Revolution, and was moved by fathers Burr and Hamilton expressing their love for their sons. (One great New York story: when new NYU president Andrew Hamilton came on board this January, he kept hearing people talk about how great ‘Hamilton” was and thought they were talking about him.)
The women of “Hamilton” carry the narrative, too. “I loved him,” three women say in the opening number. And they don’t fall into the standard good-girl bad-girl archetypes. The play actually passes the Bechdel Test.
So does Scott Rudin’s production of Stephen Karam’s Tony contender “The Humans,” a superb New York-set relationship drama. “House of Cards” vice-president Reed Birney is the father and husband at the center of this well-cast, fast-moving long night’s journey as his wife, infirm mother and two strong daughters deal with each other’s rampant imperfections. And it’s funny.
I also caught another Rudin play still in previews, Ivo van Hove’s revival of Arthur Miller’s still timely “The Crucible” (March 31), starring West End stage greats Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo as the beleaguered Proctors and Ciaran Hinds, who dominated Benedict Cumberbatch in The National’s”Hamlet,” as the powerful judge running the witch trial. Saoirse Ronan more than holds her own as Abigail, the leader of a mean girl clique. (Also a must-see: atmospheric period film thriller “The Witch.”) And an escapist good time was had by all at Bill Irwin and David Shiner’s “Old Hats” at the Signature on 11th Avenue, which combines silent mime vaudeville and magic, accompanied by gifted writer-singer Shaina Taub
Nelly McKay and her band.
On Monday, Paramount mounted a pre-SXSW New York premiere of Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some” (Paramount, April 1) at the East Village Sunshine cinemas, hosted by Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” series star Ethan Hawke, with “Dazed and Confused” star Parker Posey on hand, along with Danny DeVito, Geoffrey Fletcher, David Cross, Ira Glass, Marky Ramone, Mike Birbiglia, Spike Jonze, John Sloss, Anne Hubbell, Willem Dafoe and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Linklater made “Everybody Wants Some” while promoting Oscar-winner “Boyhood” last year, after the project had languished at Paramount since studio hit “School of Rock.” “Everybody Wants Some” debuts at SXSW on Friday, and follows a few freshmen players who join the University of Texas at Austin baseball team in 1980. Foremost on their minds, like the film’s older sibling “Dazed and Confused,” which was set in high school in 1976, are girls, music, baseball and weed. “1980 was a really fun time to be in college,” Linklater said before the screening. “It was hard to get a movie like this made. It doesn’t have a lot of stars in it. I tried for over a decade to get it financed, and then finally it did.”
The first film broke out young actors Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey, among others, and this one will do the same for Hollywood scions Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) and Zoey Deutch (daughter of Leah Thompson and Howie Deutch) as well as Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, and Tyler Hoechlin.
I also checked out the Jackson Pollock exhibit at MoMA, where everyone has a camera and selfies are the order of the day, as well as wandering through the permanent collection on the top floors and having a cup of coffee with film curator Dave Kehr, who was checking out a pristine 35 mm Jerry Lewis classic print playing at the film department. Throughout the museum, various dancers were draping themselves over sets of museum stairs in slow motion, accompanied by moody electronic music.
Next up: SXSW.