Jeff Lunden

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Broadway celebrated a record-breaking season in terms of audience and box office with the Tony Awards last night. And two shows came up big, as Jeff Lunden reports.

The scores of Be More Chill, Beetlejuice, Hadestown, The Prom, To Kill a Mockingbird and Tootsie are all up for Tony Awards at the 73rd annual awards show.

Trustees of the American Federation of Musicians and Employers' Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) announced the evening of May 24 that they will apply to the U.S. Treasury for a reduction in member benefits, due to the AFM-EPF's "critical and declining" status – meaning the fund is projected to run out of money in 20 years. The AFM represents 80,000 professionals in the United States and Canada who play in symphony orchestras and opera houses, on Broadway, in film and television, and on studio recordings.

The 2018-2019 Broadway season hurtled to a close, with 14 plays and musicals opening in March and April, before the Tony Award nominations were announced on Tuesday morning. And some of the late entries into the race were handsomely rewarded.

Rupert Murdoch is arguably the most powerful man in media today. But in 1969 — before he owned Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and newspapers and networks around the world — he was a hungry 38-year-old, looking to break into London's newspaper establishment. A new Broadway play called Ink chronicles those years.

Merce Cunningham in 1988.
AP

The choreographer Merce Cunningham would have turned 100 years old this week.

Actor and playwright Heidi Schreck says her new play — What the Constitution Means to Me — is a love letter to her mother.

The Broadway play — part personal memoir, part civics town hall — recreates the constitutional debate contests Schreck attended in high school. It's an attempt, she explains, to trace her evolving understanding of the U.S. Constitution and how it relates to her life, her family, and the women in her family in particular.

The Ferryman starts in a graffiti-covered back alley in Derry, Northern Ireland. A parish priest is questioned by an IRA captain — the body of a man who disappeared 10 years ago has been found in a bog.

The scene then shifts to the dead man's family and their farm. It's harvest time, 1981, and despite the joy and warmth abundantly on display, the first scene looms in the background.

There's a new star on Broadway. He's 20 feet tall, weighs 1.2 tons and requires 15 people to move.

His name is King Kong.

The gigantic puppet is the centerpiece of a $35 million musical, based on the classic 1933 film. In some ways, King Kong is a typical Broadway musical — there are songs and dances and dialogue. But what the audience really wants to see is the giant ape.

He is quite big — when he stands upright, snorting and sniffing and roaring, he's two stories tall. And he feels alive.

Two of the country's oldest and most venerated music institutions, the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, are beginning their seasons with a change in artistic leadership. Both organizations are grappling with 21st century issues of bringing new audiences in and convincing them that centuries-old music forms are central to their lives today.

When the sci-fi teen musical Be More Chill opened in New Jersey a few years ago, it got a ho-hum critical response. But then something surprising happened.

The cast recording and some YouTube videos went viral. Then came fan art, fan fiction and fan covers of the songs on social media.

When the show opened off-Broadway last month, it sold out entirely. In February, Be More Chill will move to Broadway.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Composer and conductor Oliver Knussen, one of Britain's most influential contemporary classical figures, died Sunday, July 8, at the age of 66. His passing was announced by his publisher, Faber Music, but no cause of death was given.

Editor's note: This story includes language that some may find offensive.

It was 1968. But playwright Mart Crowley felt he had to write what he knew.

"Nobody wanted the play," Crowley says. "Not even agents wanted to look at this play. They just thought it was pornographic and it was outrageous."

What he wrote in The Boys in the Band was a thinly veiled slice of autobiographical fiction. A group of gay friends gather for a raucous birthday party; by the end of the evening, secrets are spilled, tears are shed.

Remember A Chorus Line? The immensely popular 1975 musical looked at the stories of some of the people who often work completely anonymously on Broadway.

Tonight, the 2018 Tony Awards — Broadway's highest honors — will be handed out in a ceremony at Radio City Music Hall. Lead and featured actors in plays and musicals will win prizes.

A Chorus Line was nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 1976, and won nine. But the performers in real-life choruses aren't even eligible to win.

One of the oldest and most distinguished Spanish language theaters in the U.S. is housed in a converted Manhattan brownstone. "It started actually as a private house," explains Robert Federico, executive producer of Repertorio Español.

The space is tiny — rickety wooden stairs lead backstage and small props are stored in the hallway. The sets are designed to be stashed flush against walls behind black curtains.

In 1943, two 25 year olds — Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein — were about to rock the ballet world. The dance they collaborated on was Fancy Free — about three sailors in a bar, trying to meet women before they ship out to World War II.

"It's such a wonderful little sweet picture of that time ..." says Christine Redpath, one of four ballet masters Robbins chose to stage his work. "It's playful, and they're just fun and innocent. They don't know what's going to happen when they go off to war."

The most expensive play in Broadway history opened Sunday night. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cost $33.5 million, runs five and a half hours long (in two parts), and has gotten rave reviews. But while it has plenty of special effects, it's actually designed for audiences to use their imagination.

Since the Disney animated musical Frozen premiered five years ago, the song "Let It Go" has been inescapable. Even the daughters of its songwriters were a bit tired of it.

"Like many people in our culture, there was a feeling of Frozen fatigue, if you will," says co-songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is not the sort of place you'd expect to find a flourishing music community, but a workshop run by Carnegie Hall offers inmates the ability to learn in harmony. Twice a month, artists from New York City travel to Sing Sing and spend a day giving 30 inmates enrolled in the Musical Connections program formal training.

Jerry Bergman is sitting in the audience at a Broadway matinée performance of The Band's Visit. Despite the fact that a huge sign above the stage tells the audience — in English, Hebrew and Arabic — to turn off cellphones, Bergman is keeping his on so he can read closed captions while watching the show.

He is one of an estimated 48 million Americans who have some degree of hearing loss. And he is availing himself of new technology that allows deaf and hearing-impaired people to enjoy shows with something most people have in their pocket — a smartphone.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Several years ago, Claire van Kampen was composing music for a London theater production. During a break, one of the singers asked her if she knew the story of Farinelli, the famous 18th century opera singer.

"'You'd really like the bit where he goes to Spain and sings to King Phillipe who has this bipolar disorder.' And then I started to think: Now that's an interesting story that I haven't heard about, seen."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When playwright Sarah DeLappe was growing up, she loved war movies. So she decided to write a play that was like a war movie – but about girls soccer.

The Wolves opens at New York's Lincoln Center on Monday. As the lights come up, nine teenage girls are in a circle atop a green expanse of artificial turf, stretching before a match. And they're all talking at once.

When songwriter David Yazbek, whose mother is Jewish and father Lebanese, decided to write a musical that fused his two cultural backgrounds, he knew he didn't want it to be about tribal conflict.

His new Broadway show, The Band's Visit, attempts to do something that seems almost unfashionable: look at two historically antagonistic cultures and tell a story about their commonality.

The Hebrew Psalms have inspired composers for thousands of years.

Now, New York's Lincoln Center is presenting The Psalms Experience, a festival of choral settings of all 150 Psalms by 150 different composers. It includes nine U.S. premieres.

Over the years, many authors have dealt with alcoholism, addiction and recovery — think of plays like Long Day's Journey into Night, or films like Days of Wine and Roses. Now a new play from England joins them: People, Places & Things takes an unsentimental and, at times, harrowing look at addiction and recovery.

Cheryl Strayed — author of the bestselling memoir Wild — was still an unknown writer when she started an anonymous advice column called "Dear Sugar." She remembers reading and writing things "that we don't normally say to people in the public space," she recalls — and those intimate exchanges made her explore her own life more deeply. "I always think of the 'Dear Sugar' column as, like, therapy in the town square."

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