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Cover Story Interviews

Eight Questions with Native American Broadway Playwright, Larissa FastHorse

In honor of National Native American Heritage Day, we asked The Thanksgiving Play writer about the show’s rebirth coming to Broadway this spring, making greater Indigenous strides from Hollywood to the theatre, and how she uses yoga (and much more) to help her through it all.

By Jim Glaub

A member of the Sicangu Lakota nation of South Dakota, Larissa FastHorse is the first known, female Native American playwright produced on Broadway. Her show, The Thanksgiving Play, was a 2018 hit and was apart of the Broadway’s Best Show’s award-winning series Spotlight on Plays and will return to the stage, this time at the Helen Hayes Theater in the spring of 2023, and will be directed by Rachel Chavkin, who won a Tony for Hadestown. 

In honor of National Native American Heritage Day on November 26, we asked FastHorse a number of questions we had for the history-making playwright. Read on for her witty answers. 

Where did The Thanksgiving Play come from? 

Larissa FastHorse: For starters, it wasn’t easy locking down non-white actors for my shows. It was early in my career and Broadway producers were more timid about casting too far outside of traditional norms in order to draw demand. But what I mostly wanted to accomplish with this play is what it’s like to be me in the room—a contemporary Indigenous person—and where the pitfalls are to the best-meaning folks in the theatre industry who, if not for lack of trying and sometimes to their own detriment, do want to make sincere cultural strides. 

Now that The Thanksgiving Play is something that people really love to see and that it’s such a fun production, and I was able to keep the things I wanted to say in it, I was really excited to have this as my first real Broadway play. 

That fact that the show is so funny, and has such an approachableness to the otherwise difficult conversation on American colonialism, really sets it apart from other comedy. Do you find comedy a lot easier to do? 

FastHorse: Oh yes. Comedy and satire is what I do. I don’t love going to the theatre and being hit over the head. Plenty of people do and that’s great for them! I go to the theatre to engage with those around me in a fun and silly way. That’s my gift to the audience. You’re going to show up to my show and laugh and have a great time and be able to engage your friends afterwards. I like to make you think and contemplate things, but I want you to have fun with it too. 

Do you imagine yourself stepping off the stage and into film and TV? 

FastHorse: I have several in development right now, actually. They’re comedies, of course, and I’m doing a lot of animation. Suddenly, here I am with Dreamworks and Netflix, working on movies. When they gave me Peter Pan to work with, you’ve never seen funnier pirates. I’m the girl writing fart jokes and getting carried away with the silliness before I tone it down and make sure it’s also intelligent enough for adults. 

How do you approach a story as big as Peter Pan and make it your own? 

FastHorse: I’ll be honest—it’s hard. As someone who wasn’t a Peter Rooter or a watcher growing up, I had no clue how to approach it, which was probably a good thing. By having some conversations about it, I began to realize that so many people love this title and have unique and differing experiences watching it with their parents and grandparents. So I asked folks what they loved most about the story because all I could see were the problems. It’s been a great time listening and starting to write based on these personal stories. 

How did you find your way to doing theatre?

FastHorse: Long story short, I was a young ballerina finding my creative way before someone suggested I start writing. Back then I wasn’t seeing a lot of Native representation in Hollywood. I’d sold a few TV shows but felt really frustrated with the watered down nativism so I then found my way to the theatre. I got commissioned to do my first play at Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis. And that was the first place where I was told, okay, you tell us how best to do this. From there we hired Native American consultants in every area, including elders, and we simply wanted everything done correctly. It was incredible getting to do all the things that Hollywood wasn’t doing yet. From the caterer on opening night to the commissioned art in the lobby—it was all Native talent. 

So that’s how Indigenous Directions came to be? 

FastHorse: To be more accurately Native American, yes. At least to fight for that accuracy. We’ve gotten to do some good things. We’ve even been working with Macy’s for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade to make floats and balloons a more appropriate. These are subtle changes slowly happening over the last three years and this project is weirdly one of our favorites. For example, the Tom Turkey is no longer a pilgrim but a Show Turkey, complete with top hat and bowtie. He’s very New York now!

The theatre is an institution that has existed for a very long time. So it’s hard to come in and shake things up. But you’ve got to know the rules in order to break the rules, right? 

FastHorse: Oh yeah. I’ve known Rachel Chavkin, the new director of the upcoming version of The Thanksgiving Play, for a long time now, but this is our first time working together. It’s great because she really knows the rules of Broadway from all sides of the stage and inner production. She’s helped me understand a lot of things that are newer to me. It’s important to have good partners to help guide you, especially as a Native American newcomer who didn’t have the same access to such folks and resources as I do now. 

Okay, last question. You’re in the “explosive” stage of your rising career. What are you doing to nurture yourself and stay safe? 

FastHorse: It’s definitely a challenge. Just as suddenly as it hit us, COVID protocols ended and then everything came flooding in at once. I now have five shows in a row next year. It’s your best and worst nightmare at once. From Broadway to film, every production is challenging in its own way but also hugely exciting. I’ll be honest, I’m nervous about it all because it’s a lot and a lot of pressure. And with a Broadway show also comes all the other Broadway stuff, like the Tony’s and press and so forth. So I’m currently trying out a million things to relax and steady myself, too. Haha. 

I’m trying new types of yoga and meditation and self-care things to try and figure out what’s best for me and which practice to add to my toolkit. I’m also working to stay conscious and focused on what’s ahead. 

It’s going to be an incredible year for Larissa FastHorse so be sure and see and experience any production she’s behind as it will be unlike anything else on the stage or screen. 

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving and hope that you join us in celebrating National Native American Heritage day for all days to come. 

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Creative

Broadway’s Best Thanksgiving Day Parade Performances

As Thanksgiving approaches, many Broadway fans will be gathering around their TV or streaming device to catch the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  To celebrate, Broadway’s Best Shows is looking back at some of our favorite parade performances throughout the years. 

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will kick off on Thursday, November 24th at 9am on NBC or streaming on Peacock. This year’s performance lineup includes Lea Michele and the cast of Funny Girl, A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical, The Lion King (Celebrating 25 years on Broadway), and Some Like It Hot. Who are you excited to see?

Moulin Rouge! Performing The Sparkling Diamond at the 2021 Thanksgiving Day Parade

NEWSIES performing King of New York at the 2011 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Once performing Falling Slowly at the 2012 Thanksgiving Day Parade

TINA: The Tine Turner Musical performing The Best/Proud Mary at the 2019 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Matthew Broderick and the cast of How To Succeed… performing Brotherhood of Man at the 1995 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang performing Toots Sweet at the 2005 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Footloose performs the title number on the 1998 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Sister Act: The Musical performs Spread the Love Around at the 2011 Thanksgiving Day Parade 

Christina Applegate and the cast of Sweet Charity perform I’m A Brass Band at the 2005 Thanksgiving Day Parade

Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Broderick, and the cast of Nice Work… perform Lady Be Good/S’Wonderful at the 2012 Thanksgiving Day Parade

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors perofrm Little Shop of Horrors/Suddenly, Seymour at the 2003 Thanksgiving Day Parade

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Creative

The Rise of the “Dance-ical”

By Jordan Levinson

When we see most musicals, they tend to use spoken word and song to get their point across, with elements of dance mixed in. However, there have also been several “dance revues” through the years in which the choreography does the heavy lifting. For instance, earlier this week, MCC Theater’s Only Gold officially opened. It tells the story of a royal family returning to Paris in the 1920s (including a king who tries to save his fading marriage) and three couples falling in and out of love, making everyone in town reexamine their lives and the choices they have made. Using the music of singer-songwriter Kate Nash, the diverse, multitalented cast performs Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, a series of moves that turn “eye-catching sequences into long narrative arcs.” (The New York Times) Their postures, twists, and turns tell the bulk of the story. 

Bob Fosse’s Dancin’

Meanwhile, it was recently announced that a revival of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ will arrive on Broadway in the spring; previews begin March 2 at the Music Box Theatre with an official opening set for March 19. A tribute to the art form that is dance, Dancin’ sets Fosse’s moves to a variety of musical styles and artists — from Mozart and Bach to Cat Stevens and Neil Diamond and everything in between — celebrating his influential form and exemplary spirit. The revue was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning two (including Fosse for Choreography), and running on Broadway for over four years and 1,774 performances. 

Other “dance-icals” have jetéd to NYC in seasons past, to varying degrees of success. The late 1990s and early 2000s especially saw a renaissance of extended dance pieces reach New York stages.

The three-act musical revue Fosse is a more direct link to the many shows Bob Fosse worked on, and some of their most memorable numbers. Conceived by Fosse interpreter Chet Walker, Fosse played over 1,000 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre, from 1999 to 2001.  

Lincoln Center Theater also got in on the dancing act at the turn of the century, as Susan Stroman’s Contact opened in March 2000 and was met with critical acclaim. Made up of three separate extended dance pieces (and set to prerecorded music from all different eras, from Tchaikovsky to The Beach Boys), each one follows a central character’s desire to make a romantic connection or increase their “contact.” Contact won four Tonys including Best Musical but did not shy away from controversy because there was no live singing or original music in the show; a separate award for Best Special Theatrical event (which has since been discontinued) was introduced the following year. 

Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk

In 1996, Savion Glover (of next season’s Pal Joey revival) put on his dancing feet as he choreographed Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, which also won four Tonys (including Choreography). Here, dance served as both entertainment and a guide to history, as the concept of this revue revolved around the Black experience, from slavery to the present day. Glover was also part of the dynamic original cast, returning to the show for its final weeks before it shuttered after a successful 1135 performances. 

Right before the dawn of the 2000s, Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s swing musical, the aptly titled Swing!, opened December 1999 at the St. James Theatre. Told entirely through music and dance, the show celebrates the look and sound of the swing era; Swing! featured well-known tunes from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many others. Though it didn’t win any Tonys, it was nominated for Best Musical and Choreography; it closed after over a year on Broadway.

Riverdance

Even the Irish received some love in New York at the turn of the century, as a company of 16 led Riverdance to the Great Bright Way. This show’s path was an unorthodox one, having been an interval act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It was expanded into a stage show the following year, opening (where else?) in Dublin. To this day, over 25 million people have witnessed the step-dancing wonder of Riverdance, in over 450 venues worldwide. It ran for a year and a half in New York, from early 2000 to mid-2001.

The early 2000s introduced the world to the work of renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who had three separate Broadway “dance-icals” utilizing the work of popular artists. The most successful of them was Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out, about a group of Long Island youths and their experiences with the Vietnam War. The rock ballet ran three years (2002 to 2005), won two Tonys (Joel for co-orchestrating, as well as Tharp), and spawned a national tour — a commercial hit. 

Tharp also received a Tony nomination for her short-lived 2011 Frank Sinatra ballet Come Fly Away, which, like that of Contact, told the story of several couples in search of love. Despite only lasting five months on Broadway, it also received a national tour of its own. 

A valid reason as to why all these moving-and-grooving productions have popped up here and there is that dance is a language of its own. When words can’t say quite enough, choreography at its finest can be expressed by emotion and physical expression. Dancing breaks all language barriers and can easily be communicated amongst vastly different cultures. “Dance-icals” get their point across to both English and non-English speakers, opening themselves up to large audiences whenever they kick-ball-change their way over to Broadway houses.

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Creative

Spotlight on Plays Series wins Silver Clio Award

The 2022 Clio Entertainment Awards, recognizing creative excellence in the marketing of film, television, home entertainment, gaming and live entertainment, were handed out on Tuesday night in Hollywood and 2021 Spotlight On Plays series were awarded with a Silver Clio.

Live Entertainment winners include AKA for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, RPM for A Strange Loop and Super Awesome Friends for Spotlight on Plays.


During the Dolby Theater ceremony, Netflix was revealed as the network of the year, Microsoft Studios/Xbox as game publisher of the year, Walt Disney Studios as studio of the year and Trailer Park Group as agency of the year.

Click here to see the winning entry. Congratulations to all the winners.

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Interviews

Q&A with Tony Nominated Lighting Designer Allen Lee Hughes

By Maia Glasman


We did a Q&A with Ohio State Murders Tony nominated lighting designer, Allen Lee Hughes (four times for K2, Strange Interlude, Once on This Island, A Soldier’s Play) and here’s what he has in store for us.

Q: What drew you to this play?

A: I was drawn to the play by the great director Kenny Leon.  I did not know the play.  Now that I know it, I can see why it is so respected. I have also admired Audra McDonald’s work and I’m looking forward to lighting her. 

Q: What is your process like?  

A: Of course, I read the script two or three times.  I do a scene breakdown and meet with the director. Usually the light plot (drawing of where to place the lights) is due around or before first rehearsal.  I have to take an educated guess about what I will need when we go into technical rehearsals. I then attend rehearsals, where I get a sense of what the show really needs.  

Q: Who in the theater world has been an inspiration to you? 

A: Lighting Designers; Jennifer Tipton, Tharon Musser, Arden Fingerhut.  Notice that I picked all women.

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in the Theater District? 

A: It used to be a Sushi place on 45 or 46th and 8th avenue.  Alas, they did not survive the pandemic.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at the theater?  

A: I like to hang out and eat with friends and watch the news.

Q: What other projects are you working on this season? 

A: I designed the lighting for Topdog/Underdog and later I will design the tour for A Soldier’s Play the tour.

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Interviews

Seven Questions with Tony-Nominated Sound Designer Justin Ellington

by Maia Glasman

This week, I got the change to do a Q&A with Ohio State Murders Tony nominated sound designer, Justin Ellington (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow Is Enuf) and here’s what he had to say:

Q: What drew you to this play?

A: Adrienne Kennedy, Kenny Leon and Audra McDonald for starters. I have been a fan of Ms. Kennedy’s writing and had the opportunity to compose and sound design for her most recent play, He Brought Her Heart Back In A Box (2018). Her writing, rich imagination and particular construction of story is intriguing, bold and delicate and offers a welcomed challenge for me. 

Q: What is the most exciting part about working with Audra McDonald? 

A: First time working with Mrs. McDonald actually. I am excited to tell this story with a truly superb group of people. Having the pleasure to share space and collaborate with Audra McDonald, Kenny Leon and this creative team will forever be cherished.

Q: What is your process like?

A: Before I start making any sound, I do a lot of listening. I listen to the cast and their collective rhythm, I listen to the descriptive words and phrases used by my director and collaborators. I take all of that information along with my own life experiences and start building the sonic world of the play. I tend to make more than enough material so that my director can have options to choose from. Once we find “it”, the work because implementing these ideas into storytelling. It should be stated that most theaters DO NOT have a sound system in house, so a huge part of the process is designing a speaker system that can support the sonic storytelling needs.  

Q: Who in the theater world has been an inspiration to you?

A: Freddie Hendricks, Kenny Leon, Kent Gash, Dwight Andrews. I can name so many others because I am inspired by each new group of people I work with, but these four gentleman have showed me some of the possibilities this theater world has to offer and how my talents can work within this arena.

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in the Theater District? 

A: Ohh this is not an easy question, but if I had to pick one, I am a big fan of Hummus Kitchen on 9th Ave between 51st and 52nd.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at the theater?

A: I have really fallen in love with photography over the years and when I am not in tech or preparing for a show, I like to get out of the city and access some of the amazing offerings mother nature has for my camera to capture. Also, I am always writing music and spending time in the music industry working with various artist and producers.

Q: What other projects are you working on this season? 

A: Soon after Ohio State Murders opens, I will be in La Jolla working on a premiere production of The Outsiders which has been made into a musical.

Congratulations to the cast and crew who go into their first preview on Friday 11/10! 

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Capsule Reviews

The Notebook

by Noah Price (Chicago)

Based on the 1996 Nicholas Sparks novel and the 2004 Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling film, The Notebook may be one of the most surprisingly successful and genuinely touching musical adaptations in recent history. It tells the story of two lifelong lovers, Allie and Noah, from teenage meeting through the end of their lives, framed through the memories Older Noah must recount to Alzheimer’s patient Allie from the titular notebook. The musical not only elevates the source material, but stands on its own as a uniquely grounded and heartbreakingly beautiful piece of theatre. Ingrid Michaelson has made her debut into musical theatre scoring seamlessly, crafting a luscious, cohesive, soaring soundscape that takes us on the journey of these two lovers.
 

The stellar cast includes Jordan Tyson and John Cordoza (both wonderful new talents as younger Allie and Noah), Joy Woods and Ryan Vasquez (as middle Allie and Noah), and Tony Winner Maryann Plunkett and John Beasley (as older Allie and Noah). The marvelous effect of this structure being that the different aged counterparts can sing simultaneously in each other’s thoughts and memories, creating genuinely heartbreaking moments. Directed by Michael Grief and Schele Williams, The Notebook is ready to be a Broadway hit.

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Cover Story Long Form

Broadway in the Age of Streaming

What Broadway Can Learn from TV and Streaming

By Nicholas Pessarra

The theatre has always been a place of inspiration and invention. From the stories that we tell to the increasingly innovative ways we tell them, the theatre has continued to flourish and evolve throughout the centuries.

However, with the advent of digital streaming and the unforeseen impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theatre – and Broadway in particular – are facing a rocky road ahead.

The good news is that there is still time to do what the theatre has always done: adapt. 

Frozen on Broadway musical canceled because of COVID-19 outbreak at St. James Theatre. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Global Shutdown

When the world shut down in the spring of 2020, the creators, casts, and crews of Broadway were forced to reimagine the theatergoing experience. Concerts, plays, musicals, and more took to the digital sphere with virtual performances; helping audiences stuck at-home experience the bright lights of Broadway.

In fact, during this period, people everywhere discovered that they could access a wide variety of experiences from the comfort of home: online shopping, video streaming, gaming, socializing, and so much more. 

This was already a trend prior to 2020, but the pandemic accelerated digital development and led to a massive influx of services designed to make the desire to stay home more sustainable. 

Needless to say, there will always be a demand for in-person experiences and interactions, but there is also a lot to be said for the convenience of having the outside world come directly to your doorstep.

Embrace the Change

Prior to the pandemic, digital streaming was becoming increasingly popular with seemingly every media company creating their own exclusive platform and content. This caused a major disruption in the movie theater industry that was only exacerbated by the global shutdown. 

Even as COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders became more lax and were eventually lifted, movie theaters failed to see the return of audiences that they would have liked.

In fact, several movie studios including Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures have continued to release top-priority films either exclusively on their respective streaming platforms or simultaneously with the wider theatrical release. 

This has given audiences the option of going to the theater or streaming the most anticipated films remotely. 

Falsettos on BroadwayHD

Critics of this film release strategy consider it a cannibalization of the film’s potential box office take. However, while the direct profit from ticket sales may have taken a hit, streaming services themselves are seeing an increase in subscribers, viewing hours, and overall engagement.

This strategy also has meant that more audiences have had exposure to films, television series, and other content that they normally would not.

Newsies on Broadway

Broadway’s Broader Audience

Broadway has always had a difficult time obtaining mass appeal primarily due to its geographical limitations. Even if potential theatergoers had general interest and consideration for attending any specific show, there is always a barrier to overcome.

Travel costs, schedules, and more become prohibitive for many consumers as they opt instead for the convenience of in-home viewing. However, instead of writing these audiences off, there is an opportunity to meet them where they are. 

The idea of broadcasting musicals into movie theaters and televisions is far from revolutionary. The movie musical and live television special have enjoyed their own successes in the past, but as audiences continue to “cut the cord” and shift from traditional appointment viewing to mobile and digital streaming, it has become essential that Broadway do the same. 

Media companies like BroadwayHD have already started this process. However, their business model prevents the casual viewer from experiencing their productions as a result of its focused appeal in the oversaturated market of streaming platforms. 

By partnering with major media companies like NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, and Warner Bros. Discovery, Broadway has an opportunity to tap into existing audiences and subscribers. 

This would provide shows with an opportunity to reach entirely new audiences and to raise awareness of up-and-coming Broadway talent giving them immediate exposure to a much wider fan base.

Ultimately, nothing will ever compare to the thrill of live, in-person theater – the connection with an audience, the energy, the spectacle – but there is a huge opportunity for Broadway to seize; not simply out of a necessity for continued growth but to expand and promote a love of theater like never before.

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Capsule Reviews

Parade

by Sydney Smith

For many musical theater devotees, PARADE exists only in their minds, through the Original Broadway Cast recording.  Now, Leo Frank’s story takes center stage at this New York City Center  gala production led by Tony Award winner Ben Platt and Michaela Diamond.  Anchored by a sensational orchestra (led by the musical’s Tony Award winning composer, Jason Robert Brown), this production, rehearsed in just eight days, confirms stager Michael Arden’s rise as one of the most exciting new artists in the American musical theatre, a capstone for him after his imaginatively reinterpreted productions of “Once On This Island” and “Spring Awakening”.    An impressive ensemble of 30 actors  brings this powerful but sad story to vivid life….  In today’s times, with antisemitism on the rise, the story of a Jew wrongfully convicted in a post-Confederate South, holds an elevated sense of profoundness for the audience. This production of PARADE, which only runs thru the weekend, deserves to be seen.