Commentary: Broadway musicals get Biblical...

Katie Buenneke, Theater Editor for (USC Annenberg Digital News), 3/13/12

Religion is having a renaissance on Broadway, it seems. Some combination of God, Jesus, or religion in general figures prominently into five shows on the Great White Way. From the lampooning nature of "The Book of Mormon" to Stephen Schwartz's parable-centered "Godspell" to Andrew Lloyd Webber's megamusical "Jesus Christ Superstar" to the story of a con-man preacher that is "Leap of Faith" to the nun-centric "Sister Act," it looks like the Bible might be one of Broadway's hardest-working writers this season. Even "Anything Goes" references the Old Testament in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." I don't know if inundating Broadway with Christian-themed shows will necessarily pave the way for success. The aforementioned shows make up about 1/8 of the shows currently appearing or soon to appear on the Great White Way. While that's not an astronomically high percentage, it certainly seems like the Bible is more present than ever on Broadway. Will this trend last? I doubt it, honestly. Certainly, "The Book of Mormon" will run for years, but I wouldn't be surprised if the other four shows struggle to find a market. It's a shame, but such is the nature of Broadway. I don't really believe that Broadway can support five religious-themed musicals at once. While they do fall all over the spectrum of portraying religious life, something has got to give. I don't know what it will be, or when, but I doubt Broadway can sustain this religious renaissance for much longer unless the rest of the country experiences a mass Christian revival.


Commentatry: ...but religion in plays doesn't have a hope in hell

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian Theatre Blog, 3/13/12

By all rights, theatre ought to say its prayers. According to most origin stories, theatre emerged out of religious ritual, not once, but twice: initially courtesy of the ancient Greeks, and then again in medieval Europe, where many scholars trace the rebirth of theatre to the Quem quaeritis, a short section of dialogue in the Easter liturgy. But in New York, a city of 6,000 churches, 1,000 synagogues, and more than 100 mosques - to say nothing of the other faiths - drama often puts religion on stage only to criticise it. It strikes me as odd that so few straight plays pay tribute to the power of religion and instead seek to condemn it, relegating any celebration of faith to musical theatre. But maybe the reason is less political than it is aesthetic. After all, we describe what audiences must offer, as the auditorium darkens, as "a willing suspension of disbelief". In other words, spectators must have faith that what appears on stage before them is actually happening - that four chairs really represent a car, that a scene change indicates the passage of years, etc. Clearly, it's not on the same level as accepting a wafer as body and wine as blood, but drama similarly dismisses immediate sensory perception in favour of psychic conviction. There are other similarities, too - costume, lighting, performance, that both drama and a religious service ask parishioners to put their hands together, in prayer or in applause. So is theatre then a competing creed, one that the appearance on stage of another belief system might render shaky? Drama, it seems, demands its own kind of worship.


Now even Israelis are criticizing Habima Theatre's plan to perform at Globe 

The Stage, 4/10/12

Habima, Israel's National Theatre, is facing criticism within its own country for agreeing to perform The Merchant of Venice next month at London's Shakespeare's Globe. Ilan Ronen, Habima's artistic director, speaking in Tel Aviv said: "In Israel they are saying, we shouldn't take this play and perform it at all, they think of it as an anti-semitic play. We are under pressure from both sides. I don't see the play as anti-semitic, it deals with racism, and xenophobia. I take it as a play about how do you deal with minorities."  The news follows criticism of the production from within the UK arts sector. Major artistic figurs continue to be split over the invitation: at issue is the fact that Habima performs in Israeli settlements on disputed land in the West Bank, which Ronen said they are obliged to do, by law, as a state-financed institution.  Opponents of Habima's appearance in the festival include Mark Rylance, the founding artistic director of The Globe, Mike Leigh, Emma Thompson and Jonathan Miller, while Booker prize winner Howard Jacobson has joined Simon Callow, Steven Berkoff, Maureen Lipman and Arnold Wesker in arguing passionately against censorship of the company.


Texas community mobilizes to keep a gospel theater in business

Sara Higgins,, 3/23/12

A sign [directs visitors] off the highway to a dirt road. A shuttle ride from the parking lot [leads] to Ragtown Gospel Theater, [a] 400-seat theater [which] serves to entertain as well as minister to those willing to make the trip. The theater was opened by brothers Chip and Glenn Polk in 2007 [and] they are in the midst of their 18th production. Despite their on-stage success, the owners found themselves facing a crisis this month that threatened to bring a halt to their ministry. The theater has been an uphill struggle from the beginning; the brothers were turned down by 22 different banks in their search for funding. A loan finally was approved in 2005, but the Polks broke ground on the day Hurricane Katrina hit. 3 years ago, a private lender [purchased] their loan from the bank. [But] last month, the Polks were notified the agreement would not be extended, as they had anticipated. The group was faced with an immediate financial crisis. The theater sent out letters to its mailing list, and volunteers mobilized to help raise money. "We're just standing in absolute awe of what God's doing," Chip Polk said. "We're to a point now where I feel a lot more comfortable about us staying in business and being able to continue our ministry. For a while there, it was pretty scary." The works performed on Ragtown's stage range from dramatic and jarring plays to comedies and musicals. In everything they write and perform, the Polks hope for their audience to leave with a different perspective on Biblical stories. Lately, though, it's been the Polk brothers who are gaining a greater understanding. "It is a ministry to people," Chip Polk said, "but what we didn't realize was how much we were going to be ministered to every weekend."

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