The Marvel superhero originated in comics filled with racist tropes. The creators of the new film made a list of the preconceptions they were up against and set out to conquer them.In the pantheon of Marvel superheroes, there’s Spider-Man and Iron Man and Captain America and … Shang-Chi?Admittedly one of the lesser known players in the comic company’s roster, Shang-Chi, a.k.a. the Master of Kung Fu, wasn’t even familiar to many of the creators that Disney and Marvel Studios hired a couple of years ago to bring the character to cinematic life.Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which premieres Friday, had never even heard of the character when he was growing up. Nor had the Canadian actor Simu Liu (“Kim’s Convenience”), who plays Shang-Chi in the film.When the screenwriter David Callaham, a longtime Marvel fan, was first approached about the project and told it would feature an Asian superhero, he figured it had to be Amadeus Cho, a.k.a. the Korean American Hulk, who made his first comic-book appearance in 2005. When Callaham learned it would be Shang-Chi, “I said, ‘I don’t know what that is.’”Many people didn’t. For the creators, this gave them a lot of freedom in crafting “Shang-Chi,” which stars Liu as a young Chinese American hotel valet — and unbeknown to even his closest pals, “the world’s greatest martial artist” — trying to get out from under the thumb of his overbearing dad.Known property or not, the movie is a cause for celebration: It’s Marvel’s first and only superhero film starring an Asian lead, with an Asian American director and writer, and based on a character who was actually Asian in the original comic.But oh, that comic! When The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu was first published in 1974, the series was very much a product of its time — with its ’70s hairstyles and nods to Fleetwood Mac — and of even earlier times, with source material that dated to 1920s England. It was also one of Marvel’s most racially problematic, with Asian faces rendered in garish oranges and yellows unseen in nature, and Orientalist characters like Shaka Kharn (a reincarnated Genghis Khan knockoff); the monosyllabic Chankar (a.k.a. “the unstoppable sumo”); and Moon Sun (a Chinese “ancient one” accompanied by his “most lovely and honorable” daughter, Tiko).The original comic was rife with stereotypes.Leinil Francis Yu/MarvelIts star spent much of his time shirtless and shoeless, spouted fortune-cookie platitudes in stilted English, and hung out with British guys with names like Black Jack Tarr and Sir Denis Nayland Smith.And then there was his dad. Shang-Chi’s father wasn’t just any overbearing Asian patriarch who wanted his son to follow him in the family business, but Fu Manchu, the “Yellow Peril” arch-villain created by the British novelist Sax Rohmer in 1913. Long of nail and mustache, Fu Manchu dreams of world domination. In a 1932 film starring Boris Karloff in garish yellowface, he orders his followers to “kill the white man and take his women.” When reviving a series with that sort of legacy, what was Marvel to do?Ditch Fu Manchu, for starters. “Fu Manchu was problematic for a billion reasons,” Callaham said.Even so, Cretton said, adapting the series seemed daunting. “When I first met with Marvel, truthfully, I really just went in there to put my voice in the room and say, can you guys please avoid this, or try not to do that?” remembered Cretton, who’s better known for “Short Term 12” and other dramas. “I never thought in a million years I’d end up booking the gig.”Even without Fu Manchu, Marvel wanted to preserve the family relationship at the core of the story, but with a father figure that would appeal to an eminent actor. “When they asked who we should get to play the father, the first name out of my mouth was Tony Leung,” Cretton said. “But I also said there’s no way we would get him.”In many ways, getting Leung, who won the 2000 best actor award in Cannes for his role in “In the Mood for Love,” was a signal to just about everybody that Fu Manchu wouldn’t be in the movie, in any form. One of Hong Kong’s most beloved and gifted actors playing a racist, anti-Chinese stereotype? “I cannot imagine Tony Leung embodying a Fu Manchu kind of character,” said Nancy Yuen, the author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.” “It’s just not humanly possible because of who he has already been in the history of cinema.”The new film features a largely Asian cast including, from left, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina.Jasin Boland/Marvel StudiosCasting Leung was also part of a larger push to fill the story with Asians, something that the comic, and even the comic’s own influences, rarely did. (Perhaps tellingly, the two most prominent white actors in the new film, Florian Munteanu and Tim Roth, play monsters.) In the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu,” which Marvel hoped to adapt at the time before settling on Shang-Chi, the show’s “Chinese” hero (played by David Carradine) was surrounded by a largely white cast; similarly, in the 1973 film “Enter the Dragon” — which the original comic drew liberally from, down to frame-by-frame lifts of action sequences — Bruce Lee fought alongside non-Asian actors like John Saxon and Jim Kelly.This latest martial arts tale is chock-full of Asian faces, including veteran Hong Kong stars like Leung and Michelle Yeoh, and Asian American actors like Awkwafina, Fala Chen and the comedian Ronny Chieng.“I grew up in Hawaii, and all of my friends are some mix of Asian American or Pacific Islander,” said Cretton, who is Chinese American. “I wanted Shang-Chi to be surrounded by a group of young people who reminded me of my friends, and felt like my friends.”For the longest time, Liu said, “the martial arts genre centered on this fish-out-of-water story, that often took place in white America and focused on white characters. I think that it was about time to really reclaim that narrative, to tell a story on our terms without a white-focused lens.”To that end, the creators did a major reboot of Shang-Chi himself. Gone was the dated costume — “we weren’t going to make a movie about a guy in a gi and a headband, walking around Central Park karate-chopping people,” Callaham said — and the stilted English. Instead of a guilt-ridden hero tormented about killing people with his bare hands and having a demon for a father, this updated hero would be relatable — even funny.Shang-Chi has been rebooted as a comic as well.Leinil Francis Yu/MarvelMarvel Studios has been making its heroes funny for years, even the ones, like Iron Man and Thor, who were never all that funny in the original comics. But Shang-Chi, one of the very few Asian characters in the Marvel universe, cinematic or otherwise, has always been remarkably humorless even by superhero standards — yet another stereotype the creators set out to overcome. “There’s been this assumption in America until fairly recently that Asians and Asian Americans can’t be funny,” said Gene Luen Yang, writer of the latest run of Shang-Chi comics. “I think that’s why they had Eddie Murphy play Mushu in the animated ‘Mulan.’”The creators were so conscious of all the preconceptions they were up against that they even made a list of Hollywood stereotypes about Asians that they hoped to dispel. In their movie, the comedy would come from the Asian characters, not be directed at them. “We were also very interested in portraying Shang-Chi as romantically viable, as an Asian man,” Callaham said, “and simultaneously also very cognizant of the opposite stereotype of Asian women, where they’re oversexualized or fetishized.”To prepare, the creators caught up on martial arts films like the 1978 classic “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, as well as ’80s action movies like “Big Trouble in Little China.”“I’m also a huge fan of ‘Kung Fu Hustle,’” said Callaham, a movie that, like “Shang-Chi,” includes flying bracelets, wuxia-inspired action sequences and, yes, lots of comedy.“Shang-Chi” also features mystical creatures; a sly swipe at the racist pasts of both Fu Manchu and Marvel’s Fu Manchu-like character, the Mandarin; and martial arts heroines galore. But for Callaham, one of the most memorable moments in creating the movie had nothing to do with monster-filled mayhem or martial arts stunts.“I was writing a sequence where Shang-Chi’s in San Francisco, and he’s hanging out with his friends, living a lifestyle that is not entirely dissimilar from what I have lived in the past,” he said.“I suddenly felt myself overwhelmed with emotion,” he continued. “Generally I’m hired to write a movie-star role so that we can attract a movie star, and typically those have not been Asian faces. It’s usually a beautiful white man named Chris or something. And all power to those guys, but I’ve always had to put myself in a position of imagining what it would be like to be somebody else. This was the first time in my life I’ve been able to sit back and not have to imagine it anymore.”Continue Reading

The Times’s book critics reflect on how 9/11 has influenced writers and readers.The New York TimesThe events of 9/11 irrevocably changed the course of global affairs. They also changed culture. It will likely be easier to say how a century from now. But with 20 years’ hindsight, The Times’s book critics reflect below on some of the influence of that day on the writing that has followed.A Sense of DreadBy Dwight GarnerDon DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” published in 2007, caught something fundamental about the morning of Sept. 11. “By the time the second plane appears,” a character says while watching replays on television, “we’re all a little older and wiser.”When the jets struck, as if emerging from our subconsciousness, the midnight side of our minds, we were already living in a splintered world, one without the critical consensus that gave older novels, including many of DeLillo’s, their wide audiences. The idea that a single novel might capture America — did we ever really believe that? — already seemed as dated as a room-size IBM computer.The so-called American Century had ended in chaos, trauma and rubble. Never again would a major artist proclaim as guilelessly as John Updike did, nearly three-quarters of the way through the century, in a poetry collection titled “Midpoint” (1969):Don’t read your reviews,A*M*E*R*I*C*A:you are the only land.Writers are still metabolizing 9/11 and its aftershocks; they’ll do so for decades. “War and Peace” wasn’t written until some 50 years after Russia was invaded by France.Yet it’s not too soon to venture some short remarks about recent fiction in, and about, what Rita Dove has called “this shining, blistered republic.”A certain American cockiness, already fading on the page and off, was put to rout.Sept. 11 accelerated a trend, already long in motion, toward opening American fiction to formerly marginalized voices. The critic Alfred Kazin, in his masterpiece “On Native Grounds” (1942), wrote that each new generation must still “cry America! America! As if we had never known America.”Sept. 11 accelerated a trend, already long in motion, toward opening American fiction to formerly marginalized voices.Kazin was the son of Jewish immigrants. He would have admired the complex, wary yet fundamentally patriotic visions of America witnessed in the eyes of so many gifted young writers bent on re-examining places in this country that many readers thought they knew but did not: Jesmyn Ward’s Mississippi; Ocean Vuong’s Hartford; Bryan Washington’s Houston; Anthony Veasna So’s Central Valley.When Vuong wrote, in his novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” that “the one good thing about national anthems is that we’re already on our feet, and therefore ready to run,” he was restating something Philip Roth wrote in “The Counterlife” (1986): “Disillusionment is a way of caring for one’s country too.”We could speak here of semi- or autofiction. We could speak of the rise of parodists and tinkerers such as George Saunders, Colson Whitehead in “The Underground Railroad,” Ottessa Moshfegh, Karen Russell and Ben Lerner.We could speak of the less happy trend toward critics and audiences desiring bland novels that adhere to their idea of how the world should be, not how it is. Or the rise of the killing notion that a novelist cannot imagine himself or herself into any situation.Who’s to blame? There’s a telling moment in Zadie Smith’s recent essay collection, “Feel Free,” in which she and some friends, over dinner, bemoan “the strange tendency of the younger lefty generation to censor or silence speech or opinions they consider in some way wrong.” Then someone else at the table says, brutally, about their older cohort: “Well, they got that habit from us. We always wanted to be seen to be right. To be on the right side of an issue. More even so than doing anything.”We could speak of dread, hardly a new theme in our fiction, which flowered anew, along with a sense that while we were visible, our enemy (or enemies) was not. The English novelist Ian McEwan, the author of “Saturday,” one of the better novels about life in the years following 9/11, commented in the aftermath that “American reality always outstrips the imagination. And even the best minds, the best or darkest dreamers of disaster on a gigantic scale, from Tolstoy and Wells to Don DeLillo, could not have delivered us into the nightmare available on television news channels yesterday afternoon.”Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic novel “The Road,” he has said, was directly inspired by 9/11. Novels like Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven,” in which a fictional flu epidemic has devastated the world, and even Whitehead’s zombie novel “Zone One,” landed with fresh force. (Zombies became, in novels, film and television, something like national mascots.) There was a sharpened sense that the unease would never end.The American century: It makes a kind of sense that the last “Peanuts” strip was published in 2000.Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections” was published only a few days before Sept. 11. Its first two sentences feel like the last dispatch written from a dead world: “The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: Something terrible was going to happen.” Embracing AmbivalenceBy Jennifer SzalaiIn August 2003, nearly two years after the 9/11 attacks, the literary critic Edward Said was traveling back to New York City from Portugal, his body already ravaged by the leukemia that would kill him a month later. When he got to the airport for his departure, he was put in a wheelchair and escorted to the gate, where he was told that he wouldn’t be allowed to board because his name had triggered some sort of warning. Security proceeded to rummage through the bag of medications and books he kept on his lap. The author of “Orientalism” and “Culture and Imperialism” insistently told the staff that he had been born an American citizen and had lived in the United States for half a century. They finally relented, but the humiliation was complete.The navigation of proliferating and degrading travel restrictions was just one of any number of post-9/11 experiences to be refracted in fiction — an ordeal so commonplace that, a decade later, it constituted just part of the backdrop in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel “Americanah.” In that book, Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves Africa to study in America, can’t have her first love join her because his visa application was rejected. But the central preoccupation of the novel is also one that Said might have recognized. Ifemelu finds that leaving Nigeria, “a country where race was not an issue,” changes her understanding of who she is: “I did not think of myself as Black and only became Black when I came to America.” Adichie’s exploration of identity and belonging enacted what Said once called a “plurality of vision” — an awareness that “the very idea of identity itself involves fantasy, manipulation, invention, construction.”This idea seemed wholly unfathomable to some writers, who reacted to 9/11 by conjuring implausible versions of an exoticized other. John Updike’s “Terrorist” (2006) was a particularly awkward bid to depict extreme alienation. His protagonist, an Egyptian-Irish American teenager, is presented as a robotic fanatic who begins to question his violent fantasies after the “convulsive transformation” of (this being an Updike novel) an orgasm. Martin Amis exhibited a similar sort of bodily fixation in his story “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta” (2006) — insinuating that at least one of the 9/11 hijackers was partly spurred by “the ungainsayable anger of his bowels.”But such efforts were easily (and thankfully) eclipsed by fictional treatments of identity that had to do with uncertainty, instability, precariousness — depicting ambivalence as an irreducible part of the human condition.Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (2007) is constructed around encounters that take place in Lahore, between an American stranger and a Pakistani man named Changez — that very name alluding to his own shifting identity and the narrative’s unreliability. Julius, the Nigerian-German narrator of Teju Cole’s “Open City” (2011), meets a Moroccan living in Brussels who was “in the grip of rage and rhetoric” and decides that the only way to resist such profound disillusionment “was by having no causes, by being magnificently isolated from all loyalties”; yet Julius also recognizes that in the face of anti-immigrant hostility, such pristine detachment might not be sustainable either. “Was that not an ethical lapse graver than rage itself?”Such questions don’t lend themselves to obvious answers. In “Homeland Elegies” (2020), which is pointedly subtitled “A Novel,” Ayad Akhtar writes about a Trump-loving immigrant father who has jumped feet-first into a fanciful idea of the American dream; an immigrant mother who detects a “murderous cynicism” in American foreign policy; and an American-born playwright son named Ayad Akhtar who empathizes with his Pakistani parents but can’t fully identify with either of them.Experience isn’t static; it exists through time, absorbing and responding to the world in which it moves.The novel version of Ayad insists on staying open to his own doubts, as uncomfortable as they are. He seems both charmed and discomfited by the certainty performed by others, detecting a cloud of disillusionment roiling beneath the caustic directness of a friend who acts as if he has figured it all out, spouting off “charged racial views without judgment or apology” that purport to just tell it like it is. “Cheery pessimism. Or weary idealism. Take your pick.”Or not. Part of what Akhtar gestures at in his book — this novel-as-memoir, or memoir-as-novel, which gently skirts the demand to take your pick — is that one’s identity isn’t a matter of argument but experience. That experience isn’t static; it exists through time, absorbing and responding to the world in which it moves.Among the legacies of Orientalism observed by Said was a compulsion to draw invidious distinctions. We are this; we are not that. They are this; they are not that. But in “Homeland Elegies,” Akhtar slips between identities, between ideas, between worlds. Like Julius in “Open City,” he bristles at those who try to lay claims on him. “It was why I only ever voiced my thoughts indirectly,” Akhtar writes, “through that particular prevarication called art.” ✧✧✧In the six pieces below, the critics choose additional works and themes to help parse everything from the immediate reaction to 9/11 to more long-term changes in literary culture.✧✧✧The Wars That FollowedRobert Stone called the Vietnam War “a mistake 10,000 miles long.” The fiction that’s emerged from America’s post-Sept. 11 misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan has largely taken a similar tone. It took Denis Johnson three decades to give us, in “Tree of Smoke,” the kaleidoscopic novel that Vietnam deserved. We don’t yet have that novel about more recent wars. What we do have are Kevin Powers’s novel “The Yellow Birds” and Phil Klay’s stories in “Redeployment,” both about life on the ground in Iraq, both sensitive and pulverizing. We have Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a sardonic and disillusioned portrait of a wartime hero come too briefly back home. Two outliers stick with me. One is the Iraqi novelist Ahmed Saadawi’s “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” a bitterly funny fable about a junk peddler who unwittingly creates a sentient monster out of the body parts strewn in the streets by explosions. The other is John Wray’s “Godsend,” about a young American woman who, disguising herself as a boy, becomes a Muslim and works her way to the front lines in Afghanistan. Fountain said it in his novel: “Americans are children who must go somewhere else to grow up, and sometimes die.” —DGA Story Captures It AllDeborah Eisenberg’s story “Twilight of the Superheroes” is one fictional response to 9/11 that I keep rereading now and again. There’s a compressed intensity to it — a channeling of the larger world that she conveys in the amount of space that a full-length novel usually takes just to warm up. The story starts out funny and intimate, set in a New York City where everyone is fixated on the looming Y2K apocalypse. With the 9/11 attacks, it radiates outward, as the bloodshed moves offshore and what happened on that Tuesday morning becomes a source of both unresolved trauma and background noise.“Things, in a grotesque sense, are back to normal,” one character thinks. But normal isn’t the same thing as real. Even if all the levity (“good-hearted, casually wasteful”) may resemble the New York that existed before the attacks, that old reality was itself a fantasy: “You can’t help sort of knowing that what you’re seeing is only the curtain. And you can’t help guessing what might be going on behind it.” —JSTech Takes OverMario Puzo, the author of “The Godfather,” died in 1999. Among his last words, according to a friend, were: “Thank God I won’t have to deal with the internet.” Sept. 11 was the first world event experienced communally online; it changed how technology threads through our lives. The next morning, everyone who didn’t have a cellphone bought one. As Joshua Cohen wrote in “The Book of Numbers,” “Suddenly, to lose touch was to die.” Luddite semi-holdouts like Shirley Hazzard (“the audible nightmare of the cellphone”), Stephen King (who wrote a novel about zombies set loose by bad cell signals), Jonathan Lethem and some of the characters in Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” who worried that cellphones were vulgar, fell by the wayside. Crime novelists were affected: It became harder to get people alone. A new kind of anomie was detected and appraised. In “Motherhood,” Sheila Heti described “the empty-internet feeling inside me.” Jennifer Egan, in “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” noted how “everybody sounds stoned, because they’re emailing people the whole time they’re talking to you.” Yet there were new forms of connection, too. In Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland,” a father who’d had his son taken from him hovers over his son’s house nightly, “flying on Google’s satellite function,” searching the “depthless” pixels for anything, from thousands of miles away, he can cling to. It’s unbearably moving. —DGSontag Sparks OutrageIn the Sept. 24, 2001, issue of The New Yorker, Susan Sontag’s response to 9/11 was one of the shorter ones. Longer reflections by other writers conveyed a roiling sense of bewilderment, confessions of how the attacks, for all of the fire and rubble and death, felt almost unreal. By contrast, Sontag pointedly called the attack a “monstrous dose of reality,” and enjoined Americans to be wary of the violence that was probably going to be perpetrated in their name.Sontag was furiously denounced from all quarters. She admitted privately to her son that she felt the piece was “defective,” having been dashed off while she was in a Berlin hotel room, listening to what the talking heads were saying on CNN. In his biography of Sontag, Benjamin Moser notes that the substance of her critique proved to be correct, even if the piece as a whole betrayed a dearth of empathy that coursed through her life and her work. To a traumatized public, her admonishment sounded unfeeling and accusatory. But the vituperation leveled at her was so extreme that you would think she had started a war. —JSA Critical CeasefireWhat was it like working in the worlds of writing, publishing and criticism in the wake of Sept. 11? Well, as Martin Amis wrote: “After a couple of hours at their desks, on Sept. 12, 2001, all the writers on earth were reluctantly considering a change of occupation.” I was an editor at The Times Book Review on 9/11, and many critics felt the same way. Criticism may be a form of love, but it didn’t seem so in the direct aftermath. No one felt like lowering the boom; criticizing a novel felt, briefly, like clubbing a baby seal. (We’re in a similar moment with restaurants, which have been hurt by Covid; The Times has stopped bestowing, or removing, stars.) It may not be a coincidence that in the decade and a half after 9/11, there began to be a rise in publications (The Believer, Buzzfeed) whose book sections refused to run negative reviews at all, and were thus essentially unreadable. Writers found their way back. So did critics, who wrote again in the spirit of Wilfrid Sheed’s dictum that “mushy reviews are a breach of faith.” —DGDeLillo’s TakeWhen Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man” was published in 2007, it wasn’t quite the 9/11 novel some of us were expecting — not from him, anyway, a writer who had been circling the big themes of power and terrorism for decades. “Falling Man” was mostly an intimate book, about relationships that were frayed and forged in the aftermath of the attacks.I can recall my disappointment. At the time, the novel felt diffuse and impressionistic. DeLillo had written the World Trade Center into his fiction before, describing its construction (“Underworld”), gesturing at its “dark spirit” (“Mao II”) — even having a character work there in “grief management” who observes how “the towers didn’t seem permanent” (“Players”).I still can’t bring myself to call “Falling Man” one of DeLillo’s better books, but there’s a tenderness to it that I didn’t entirely appreciate at the time — love and memory and aging being varieties of the American experience, too. As DeLillo wrote in “Underworld,” “Everything is connected in the end.” —JSContinue Reading

Our critics and writers have selected noteworthy cultural events to experience virtually and in person in New York City.Art & MuseumsMoMA PS1’s Engaging CourtyardNiki de Saint Phalle’s “La femme et L’oiseau fontaine” (1967) will be on view in MoMA PS1’s courtyard until Monday.Niki Charitable Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; MoMA PS1; Marissa AlperIn 1997, the courtyard at MoMA PS1 became the main venue for “Warm Up,” a summer event that mingled art, music and design in order to draw new audiences. But things change. “Warm Up” certainly hasn’t gone away, but last fall, the institution began “PS1 Courtyard: an experiment in creative ecologies,” a program testing out ways to use the outdoor space that encourage community engagement.The initiative’s projects include a fountain from Niki de Saint Phalle, part of a larger exhibition at PS1 that closes on Monday, and Rashid Johnson’s “Stage.” Visitors are welcome to get up on his installation’s large yellow platform and freely use its five live microphones of varying heights. By showing a microphone as a dynamic social tool, Johnson’s piece, which will be on view through the fall, indicates the many things a stage can represent: a site of protest, music making, solidarity and, most important, amplification of your voice.MELISSA SMITHFilm SeriesScenes From Every SeasonA scene from “A Summer’s Tale,” one of four features in Eric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons, all of which Film Forum will screen through Sept. 9.Janus FilmsThe maximalist moviegoing event of Labor Day weekend is “Lawrence of Arabia,” screening on Saturday and Sunday on 70-millimeter film at the Museum of the Moving Image. But for a minimalist alternative, try Eric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons — four features, each set at a different time of year, that Rohmer, the most conversation-oriented French New Wave director, turned out from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. (Together, the running times total roughly two showings of “Lawrence of Arabia.”) With the changing of the seasons, Film Forum is showing all the titles separately from Friday through Sept. 9.Watching them in tandem illustrates how Rohmer — superficially so consistent and serene — subtly toys with structure and variation, recombining types of characters in friendships and romances that rarely develop as expected. The most summery is, naturally, “A Summer’s Tale.” Melvil Poupaud plays a commitment-phobe vacationing in Brittany who somehow winds up juggling a surfeit of commitments to women.BEN KENIGSBERGJazzCelebrating a Visionary Record LabelCharles Tolliver at the 50th anniversary of Another Earth in 2019. Through Saturday, he will be celebrating another 50th anniversary at Birdland — that of the record label he started with Stanley Cowell, Strata-East.Lev Radin/Pacific Press, via Getty ImagesIn 1971, seeking refuge from an exploitive, increasingly commercialized jazz industry, the trumpeter Charles Tolliver and the pianist Stanley Cowell founded Strata-East, a record label offering artists creative freedom and relative commercial control. Though short-lived, Strata-East inspired Black musicians in other cities to undertake similar efforts. And it captured a moment in time: Nearly every Strata-East album simmers with the heat and tension of the Black Power era, delivering terse, syncopated rhythms and pushing jazz linguistics into a more spare, confrontational zone.Cowell died last year after a prolific career, but Tolliver, 79, continues to perform. At Birdland through Saturday, he is celebrating the label’s 50th anniversary with an ensemble of all-stars, including some who recorded on Strata-East in the 1970s: the tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, the pianist George Cables, the bassist Buster Williams and the drummer Lenny White. Sets are at 7 and 9:30 p.m. The late show on Saturday, which will also be livestreamed at, will feature a guest appearance by the storied bassist Cecil McBee and will be hosted by the actor Danny Glover.GIOVANNI RUSSONELLOComedyNo Labor for These LaughsErik Griffin in his Showtime special “AmeERIKan Warrior.” He is headlining at Carolines on Broadway through Saturday.ShowtimeEven workaholics know they should take it easy this weekend, and fans of “Workaholics” will recognize the headliner at Carolines on Broadway through Saturday: Erik Griffin, who played Montez Walker on that Comedy Central sitcom. Griffin also portrayed a stand-up in “I’m Dying Up Here,” a dramedy about comedy in the 1970s on Showtime, where you can find two of Griffin’s comedy specials. At Carolines, he will perform one set at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and two sets at 7 and 9:30 on Saturday. Tickets start at $31.25.On Sunday at 7 and 9:30, Carolines will welcome Rosebud Baker, who released her debut special, “Whiskey Fists,” in August on the Comedy Central Stand-Up YouTube channel. Tickets are $27.25 and up.There will be a two-drink minimum at each show.SEAN McCARTHYKIDSThis Is How They RollA child at an NYC Unicycle Festival event in 2019. The 12th edition of the annual celebration takes place throughout the boroughs this weekend.Kenneth SpringleIn New York, casual basketball games are about as common as strutting pigeons. But the contest scheduled on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Bronx should result in a lot of head-turning, not to mention wheel-turning.That’s when the King Charles Unicycle Troupe will play — while riding its favorite vehicles — at the basketball court in Clinton Playground in Crotona Park. (Enter at Clinton Avenue and Crotona Park South.) A beloved local circus act, these guys can double-Dutch jump rope on one wheel, too.Their show is a highlight of the 12th annual NYC Unicycle Festival, a free outdoor celebration presented by the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. The festivities also include long-distance group rides on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which proficient young unicyclists can join if they’re accompanied by an adult. (Details are on the festival’s website.) Experienced riders can participate in a post-performance pickup game with the King Charles players on Saturday, too, along with a free-throw basketball contest and a unicycle obstacle course.Neophytes, however, can do more than watch. On Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., at Grant’s tomb in Morningside Heights, the festival’s conclusion will offer instruction and youth-size equipment for children who want to give unicycling a whirl.LAUREL GRAEBERContinue Reading

Joan Myers Brown, the founder of Philadanco, is stepping back if not quite away from her duties. She still goes to the office every day.Rushing to our Zoom interview from an in-person audition at the Philadanco studios, Joan Myers Brown opened the conversation by making me laugh. She asked for a reminder of what we were doing and then said, “What an honor, you want to talk about me — only thing I usually talk about is Philadanco.”Myers Brown is the keeper of all things Black dance, and Philadanco (or, the Philadelphia Dance Company) is the troupe she founded in 1970. Now, after more than 50 years, she’s “moving over,” as she calls it, stepping back but not quite stepping away from the daily work of running the company.At 89 (she turns 90 on Christmas Day), she is full of energy, and her memory is impeccable. Given the floor, she will share her love of dance, especially Black dance, for which she has been a champion and an institution builder.True to her Philadelphia roots, in 1960 she founded the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts, for African American children; then Philadanco in 1970; in 1988, the International Conference of Black Dance Companies; and then in 1991, the International Association of Blacks in Dance (I.A.B.D.), which supports the Black dance community through gatherings, presentations, education and career guidance.Myers Brown in the early 1960s when she danced at Club Harlem in Atlantic City.via PhiladancoOf course, none of this existed when Myers Brown started studying ballet at 7 with Essie Marie Dorsey, whose school catered to Black children. (Dorsey, who passed for Spanish, had studied ballet with whites.) At 17, in the segregated 1940s, Myers Brown got the bug to become a ballerina from a white teacher, Virginia Lingenfelder, and was the first and only Black student in Lingenfelder’s ballet club.Later, she studied at the Ballet Guild, where she was again the only Black student, and was spotted there by the British choreographer Antony Tudor, who invited her to take his class. “He was coming from England, so he didn’t have that American prejudice stuff,” Myers Brown said. “He taught me like I was the same as the others and not like an intruder.”She never became a professional ballerina. “Other than Janet Collins, Blacks were not hired at that time,” she said, referring to the first African American prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera. But because of Tudor, Myers Brown performed in a community production of Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides” with the Ballet Guild and the Philadelphia Orchestra. At 19, Tudor encouraged her to move to New York; instead, she commuted to study with the dancer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham. “I would’ve been afraid to go to New York and live alone,” Myers Brown said.She became a successful revue dancer and seized every opportunity to take class on her travels. “I read every book on ballet and dance, and then I chose to teach because I didn’t get the opportunities I wanted,” she said. “That’s when I started my school and tried to teach what I remembered.”The Black dance community reveres her, and the world has been noticing. She was the subject of a 2011 book, “Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina,” by Brenda Dixon Gottschild. And in 2012, President Obama presented her with the National Medal of the Arts.Rehearsing with Billy Wilson for the Philadelphia Cotillion Society in the 1950s.via PhiladancoI met Myers Brown, or Aunt Joan as she is known to those close to her, when we were both instructors at Howard University in the early 1990s. Like me, those who’ve walked alongside her know that she is a powerful force, a leader who has set the tone for Black dance organizations to follow. And though Myers Brown is stepping back from her role at Philadanco, make no mistake: She still goes to the office, and is very involved.When talking to Myers Brown, you bring your best because her presence demands it. She is always dressed to the nines, but her elegance is balanced by her lack of pretension and her quick, sometimes sharp, tongue.“You didn’t ask me any questions,” she said near the end of our talk. I did, but they flowed organically because Aunt Joan made it so easy. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.So, what made you decide it was time to step away?Guess, just guess! I’ll be 90 years old. I have four dance companies, two dance schools and six grandkids. I’ve been working 15-hour days for 50 years, plus my school will be 60. I’ve given enough of my life to this, but I don’t own it.What do you mean you don’t own it?Founder’s syndrome. After a while, the founder don’t mean anything because the company and organization have outgrown them.How are you feeling about moving over, as you call it?I’ve settled on moving over, and I appointed Kim Bears-Bailey as artistic director. Now I have to let her know it’s OK to do what she thinks and let her make mistakes. But I need a managing director, someone who is committed to moving something other than their own aesthetic forward.“I’ve settled on moving over,” Myers Brown said, “and I appointed Kim Bears-Bailey as artistic director. Now I have to let her know it’s OK to do what she thinks and let her make mistakes.”Marcus Maddox for The New York TimesKim was first at Philadanco, in 1981, as a dancer. Did she make an impression on you back then?She did. She was one of those girls that I don’t think ballet companies would have liked. You know how they do us when we are Black and we just don’t look the part.She wanted it, and was willing to put forth the work, and I said, “Why don’t you audition for Ailey?” She said, “Everything I need is here.”Was there a search for an artistic director?Not artistic, managing. I’ve had three white girls come into my organization with all the qualifications, but there was a sensitivity chip about Blackness missing. They have to think differently about how they treat Black people and know what we need. When I was looking for a development director, I hired a company of three ladies.Are they Black?No. White. I had to school them.Does Kim run the school also?Well, the school is not part of the company. The first 10 years the company was housed in the school, but when we purchased the building, we reversed the roles. The school pays rent to the company. I kept the school for profit so I would be guaranteed an income as a single parent.You know, the String Theory School wants to build a new location, a charter school, and call it the Joan Myers Brown School of the Arts.Wait, they’re naming a school after you?Yes, and they want me to develop a curriculum, so I put Ali [Willingham, artistic director of Danco3] there because he teaches the way I like people to teach — know the craft, break down the movement, demand growth and not show off. Our youth are caught up in getting the applause and not learning the craft, so when I find the ones that really want to learn, they have someplace for classes and performing opportunities.The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t new to you, is it?I experienced that in 1962, 1988 and 1995. Every time white folks in charge throw money out there and say, “Y’all got to help Black people,” they help us, but when the money’s gone, they’re gone. Have you noticed how every ad in Dance Magazine has a Black person? It’s like they are saying, “Look, I got one!”Did you envision I.A.B.D. conferences as a home base for the Black dance community?You know, the first few conferences we were a mess, but we were happy to be together. Cleo [Parker Robinson] is from Denver; Jeraldyne [Blunden] was Dayton; Lula [Washington], Los Angeles; and Ann [Williams], from Dallas. And each time we learned something about our own organizations, about others doing the same thing, and how we can help each other. Mikki Shepard pulled us together, and people said we set the plate for DanceUSA. I was on the board of DanceUSA then. I said, “I got to get away from here and start my own thing because this ain’t helping Black people at all.”The younger members want to ignore the things we learned, and their opinions are valid, but I say experience teaches you something. I.A.B.D. was a gathering to bring us together and share stuff, now it’s a full-fledged service organization.Myers Brown at a Philadanco class. “I’ve been working 15-hour days for 50 years, plus my school will be 60,” she said.Marcus Maddox for The New York TimesDo you miss the early gatherings?It wasn’t like, “Girl, you got to come,” but more like, “let’s be together.” And when Jeraldyne died, we were a mess. Debbie [Blunden-Diggs] is stepping up to the plate now.The Philadanco family is huge, isn’t it?We have a saying: You “gon” — without the “e” — but you’ll be back. A girl from my summer program told her mom, “I want to go back to Philadelphia because they give the training I need.” And her mother said, “I used to be in Philadanco 25 years ago, I’m going back with you.” She moved back, and I put her in charge of my minis.I’ll give you another example: My first company was football players. I had no big boys in the school, saw them playing at my old high school and asked them to be in a show. They were more interested in the girls at first and refused to wear tights. I couldn’t pay them, but the Negro Trade Union Leadership Council was paying Black boys to learn trades. I told them to go in the morning, learn the trade, get that check, and then come for class at night, and they caught the bug. One of the boys owns a company and does my renovations now.Everybody can’t teach or choreograph; I encourage all of my dancers to have a second career so that when you stop dancing you can do something else.What do you wish for?Well, I’m wishing that people would understand that I need to shore up this organization. So, if I drop dead, the organization won’t be saying, “Aunt Joan ain’t here, what are we going to do?” I want them to say, “Do this, and take care of that.”You always have a Plan B, so what is it?I like living alone. I like being single. I had three husbands, I’m fine. My Plan B is to do nothing, but I realized that people pay me to talk so I might do some more of that.Did I forget anything?No. Well, yes, I do what I do because it needs to be done. And I believe in helping people that need help, and if they don’t pay back, it’s OK. The last thing I can say is that being Black in America is being Black in America, and it ain’t easy.Charmaine Patricia Warren performs, teaches, produces and writes about dance.Continue Reading

The American Ballet Theater dancer discusses the beauty of anime soundtracks, the virtue of late ’90s music videos and playing video games backstage.It is 1:30 a.m., and James Whiteside, a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, is curled up in an Airbnb in London watching “Clash of the Titans.”Also, he is doing this interview.“Now is good!” Whiteside, 37, who suggested the time after flying to England with his boyfriend to attend a childhood friend’s wedding.He’s on a break from American Ballet Theater rehearsals, which have begun in earnest in anticipation of a mid-October return to the stage. He also just published his first book, “Center Center,” an almost-memoir (“because I’m not old enough to write a memoir yet”), which covers his coming-out story, his ballet career and his mother’s death from cancer in 2016.“I’m absolutely still grappling with things,” he said. “But writing it was quite enjoyable — I wrote about these things to feel better.”In a late-night phone conversation, he explained why “The Legend of Zelda” would make for a perfect ballet, offered his picks for the choicest gay bars in Manhattan, and professed his undying love for Vera-Ellen‘s tap dancing skills. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.1. SpotifyI make playlists for every month — a down-tempo playlist and an up-tempo playlist. It’s been a way for me to discover a lot of new artists and music I want to choreograph to, via the little “Swipe Up” story feature.2. Post-Lunch CoffeeRehearsal days can be really taxing. There’s a certain amount of mental fatigue that goes along with physical fatigue and dancing all day, when you’re learning new choreography and you’re just having to engage with people a lot. So, after I eat lunch, I have to have a cup of coffee. It can really reinvigorate me to start dancing again and interacting with people in an artistic way.3. AnimeI love the stories — the magic and fantasy as well as what’s called “slice of life,” which are normal situations in people’s lives that are incredibly beautiful and quite peaceful, even though they can be heavy. One of my favorite series is the original “Berserk.” And “Cowboy Bebop” — the music is fabulous. One of my favorite composers is Yoko Kanno; I’d love to work with her some time.4. Old Ballet Books, Documentaries, Photos and VideosIn my mid- to late 20s, I started really taking an interest in — I don’t want to say ballet history, because it’s more visual than that for me. I’m not a person who’s gobbling up ballet biographies; I more like to see the dancers in film, photos and beautiful art books. Someone gave me a DVD at the stage door one year at the Met Opera and it was a bunch of old A.B.T. performances, like ’80s and ’90s mini documentaries. I’m into super old stuff like books on Nijinsky and the whole Ballets Russes era. The imagery and the costumes and the shapes are just so fabulous.5. Late ’90s/Early Aughts Music VideosI was born in ’84, so by the time 1999 rolled around I was fully at the age where I could appreciate T.R.L. [MTV’s Total Request Live]. I would watch T.R.L. every day while doing homework and learn the dances — Janet Jackson, ’N Sync, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child, TLC. They spent time and money on these music videos because they were the best marketing for their music at the time. It isn’t quite the same now — I see so many lazy music videos.6. Video GamesI find video games to be a real way for me to calm down. If I have time to play it means I have time, which is rare. I play Super Smash Bros. at A.B.T. in the lounge a lot during our lunch break. I like video games because the structure reminds me of a classical ballet. There are a lot of similar story elements and musical structures, and the main characters tend to be similarly heroic. “The Legend of Zelda” would be such a great ballet. It’s got everything you want — magic, beauty, great music.7. Musical Numbers from the Golden Age of HollywoodI often go on YouTube and watch fabulous dance numbers from Old Hollywood. I love the “Abraham” tap number from “White Christmas,” where Vera-Ellen is in a yellow dress. She has another one called “Mandy” that’s really great. There’s one with Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall called “Alley Dance,” where they’re in an alley and it’s this virtuosic sort of “I-can-do-it-better” jazz number. And “Cabaret” is exquisite, tense, perfect.8. Gay BarsYou never know what’s going to happen, and that’s a good thing. Some of my favorites are The Phoenix in the East Village; Holiday Cocktail Lounge, which isn’t a gay bar, per se, but it’s frequented by gay people; and Julius’ in the West Village. In the U.K., The Village, G-A-Y is fun, Heaven — those are my clubs. 9. Fire Island PinesMy first time to the Pines was in 2017 for a dance festival, and every time I’m there I’m meeting people who are innovators in their field, or are freethinkers, or just fascinating people who have interesting histories. It reminds me of Andy Warhol and his clique — it has that element of all these creatives coming together.10. Clothing BasicsI moved to Boston when I was 18, and, as a young person, I was struggling to find a comfortable look for myself. I was railing against the extreme, collegiate, straight look of Bostonians, so I would buy all this garbage from H&M and just wear ridiculous, loud, obnoxious outfits. But it got to a point where I was like, “Oh my god, I’m exhausted and these clothes are all made of plastic.” So I turned to simpler clothing as a way to accept that the noise for me was on the inside. I’m not saying I don’t like to look noisy every once in a while, but I find comfort in easy, relaxed clothing like Levi’s, Converse, Adidas Sambas, plaid L.L. Bean button-downs and vintage T-shirts.Continue Reading

No one but her puppy, Alfie, was with Ayla Ciccone-Burton when she heard the good news from her agent.“I got up at the dog park in front of all these people that I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just running around, full screaming, telling my dog that I’m going to be on Broadway.”“He didn’t care,” she added, and laughed an effervescent laugh. She loves him anyway.Like most performers, Ciccone-Burton won’t be playing a starring role in her show. She’ll be singing and dancing in the ensemble — and making her Broadway debut.She and three other supporting performers, all scheduled for Broadway bows this fall, talked recently about what that means to them, and what they discovered about themselves and the industry when for such a long time it was all snatched away.Atticus WareAtticus Ware is 13 now, but he was 11 when he was cast in the new musical “Flying Over Sunset,” in 2019. Since Broadway shut down, he has done a lot of worrying that he might physically outgrow his role as the young Archie Leach, a.k.a. Cary Grant.Ware will play a young Cary Grant in the Lincoln Center Theater musical “Flying Over Sunset.”“You know, you can’t really do anything about it,” Ware said one morning in August, just back from summer camp. “So it was very stressful. But I am much more relieved now. And I’m almost certainly going to be able to do it.”Almost?“Because, I mean, you never know,” he said. “I could hit a giant growth spurt in the next few months, or my voice could drop.”Written by Tom Kitt, Michael Korie and James Lapine, who is also directing, “Flying Over Sunset” is a fantasy about Cary Grant, Clare Boothe Luce and Aldous Huxley on a 1950s Hollywood acid trip. With a cast led by Tony Yazbeck, Carmen Cusack and Harry Hadden-Paton, it was hours from its first preview when the industry froze.“I first heard about the pandemic like a week before that,” recalled Ware, who since being cast has split his time between North Carolina, where his mother and siblings live, and New Jersey, where his father lives. “When it hit, I cried. I cried a lot. It was rough.”The youngest of three children in a family of vegans, Ware started dancing at 4 and doing musical theater at 6. His brief bio is filled with credits from Charlotte, N.C., stages. He has been home-schooled for most of his life, and some of that education has always been online, but when things shut down, his dance classes went virtual, too.“It really lifted my spirits when I started to be able to do in-person dance classes again,” he said. “That was just really helpful with my mental state.”“Flying Over Sunset” is choreographed by the tap sensation Michelle Dorrance, and she has taught him a lot, including how to combine speed with precision. But there is also this, he said: “She’s very kind.”The company, now slated to start performances in November, spent some of its limbo time gathering on Zoom for themed parties with games and cocktails. Ware occasionally had a mocktail to match.“My mom, I honestly don’t know how she did it, but she made like nonalcoholic gin,” he said, and laughed. “I usually just grab LaCroix.”Ayla Ciccone-BurtonOn the August day when her pandemic-paused career revived at last, Ayla Ciccone-Burton called her mother twice in tears.In the morning, she wept because after a year of working as a nanny, she really, really didn’t want to do it anymore.Ciccone-Burton was on tour in New Zealand when the musicals stopped. She was recently cast as an Ikette in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”By midday, though, she was sobbing with joy, because she’d just been cast in the ensemble of her first Broadway show. When “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” opens back up in October, she will play an Ikette.“It means everything,” said Ciccone-Burton, 26, a bubbly and thoughtful actor-singer-dancer who was in Auckland, New Zealand, on tour with “The Book of Mormon,” when live performances stopped.In her dreams of Broadway’s comeback, she had envisioned herself as an eager audience member, and hoped she would have the money to catch an opening night.“And now I’m going to be onstage for one of those opening nights? Like, reopenings?” she said. “I just don’t even have the words.”Growing up in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Ciccone-Burton threw herself into theater, singing and competitive dance. When her high school did “Willy Wonka,” she played Violet Beauregarde.But by the time graduation came, in 2013, the future in performance that she had aimed for as a child seemed impractical, especially since the B.F.A. programs she auditioned for turned her down.Taking a cue from her mother, a high school science teacher, she became a biology major at SUNY Fredonia and went on hiatus from performing.“I would say my freshman year of college was one of my saddest years,” she said.It took a while — and ditching that major — before she found her way back. But in 2017, her professional career began when she was cast as a dancer and understudy in a nonunion national tour of “Dirty Dancing.” Just before it ended, she got the job in “The Book of Mormon.”She spent the first months of the pandemic back in Niagara Falls, where she streamed videos of Tony Awards shows from her childhood bedroom. When the Broadway Advocacy Coalition held online discussions of racism in the industry, she tuned in to those, too.So it is particularly meaningful to her to join a mostly Black show led by Adrienne Warren, a founder of the coalition. Ciccone-Burton said that growing up, and before “The Book of Mormon,” she was often a production’s “token Black artist.”“To be in this show where it’s the majority, and the people in that majority are trying to actively make change in the Broadway world, in the community?” she said. “Yeah, that feels really good.”Tomás Matos“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” whisked Tomás Matos off to Europe in 2016. Matos, who is nonbinary, was just out of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School — known as the “Fame” school — when they were cast in the musical for Norwegian Cruise Line.Setting out on Sundays from Barcelona, the ship sailed around the Mediterranean. Matos shopped for months in Italian, French and Spanish ports.As a member of the ensemble in “Diana: The Musical,” Matos has a featured duet with the actress playing the princess.“I left with one paycheck,” they said, “but I also came back with an entire European wardrobe. The clothes there are iconic.”Cheeky and funny and full of their own glamour, Matos was in previews with “Diana: The Musical” when Broadway went dark. Since the production won’t officially open until Nov. 17 — after a filmed version, shot during the shutdown, makes its premiere on Netflix on Oct. 1 — Matos’s official Broadway debut is on hold until then, too.Cast in the show in 2018, when it was en route to Broadway, Matos is part of the ensemble and has a small featured role, doing a duet with Diana.“There is a lot of dancing and singing and going full-out, and then standing in the back as palace staff right after,” Matos said. “And letting the sweat drip down my face while Queen Elizabeth is singing a ballad.”At 23, they have been dancing since sixth grade at I.S. 61 on Staten Island, where the teacher — Danielle McNally, who gets a thank you in Matos’s Playbill bio — said that whoever did the best plié would get a lollipop.“I damn well got that damn lollipop,” Matos said.Matos, who for a while during the pandemic was making and selling empanadas from home with their grandmother, considers shooting the film “Fire Island” this summer a personal pandemic highlight. Its stars include Bowen Yang of “Saturday Night Live,” where Matos was a backup dancer for Lil Nas X in May.“Another highlight, I became sober,” said Matos, who now uses both he and they as pronouns, having also embraced a nonbinary identity in the pandemic.“It’s something that took a lot of thought and a lot of panic attacks, trying to really come to terms with my gender identity and how nonconforming it is,” they said. “And I feel really, really happy that I can kind of put a pronoun to how I’ve always felt.”Yael “YaYa” ReichAt midnight on Jan. 1, 2020, Yael “YaYa” Reich was onstage in the Phish show at Madison Square Garden, one of a few dozen dancers costumed like clones of the band. It was a crazy-perfect start to what so many people knew in their bones was going to be a stupendous year.Reich was three days into rehearsals when “Hadestown” stopped. The musical is slated to reopen on Sept. 2.For Reich, 28, it certainly looked that way. In February, she successfully auditioned for “Hadestown,” the reigning Tony Award winner for best musical. Cast as a swing — a performer who learns multiple ensemble roles and must be ready to leap in as the understudy for any of them — she was just three days into rehearsals, with one other person who was joining the show, when Broadway suspended operations.Last month, as the production geared up for its Sept. 2 return, rehearsals involved the whole company: a bit of a shock to Reich’s system after a long stretch of introspection and solitude.“I’ve been on my own for most of the pandemic,” she said. “I actually drove out West and did a whole solo van trip. It was incredibly soul-searching and beautiful and expansive and difficult. But it has been a lot, coming back into a room full of people.”“The fact that it’s these people,” she added, “is kind of the only way I would want to do this right now.”Reich, who is nonbinary, grew up in Seminole, Fla., doing children’s theater with her younger sister from the time they were small.“I basically flew out of the womb singing and dancing,” she said.In high school at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, and later at the University of Florida, she majored in musical theater. After graduating college in 2015, she toured with “Mamma Mia!” for two years, then with “Rent” and “Evita.”The shutdown gave her the chance to slow down and step back. While she has dreamed her whole life of being on Broadway, she sees it as “a huge milestone” along the journey, not the destination.“If I’ve learned anything from the pandemic,” she said, “it’s that my dreams expand further and wider and deeper than one entity, one institution, one industry.”Continue Reading

The “Dance Moms” alum and TikTok personality will join the ABC show as the first contestant to compete in a same-sex pairing.On Thursday, “Dancing With the Stars” history was made with the announcement that the dancer and social media personality JoJo Siwa would be the first contestant on the ABC program to compete with a same-sex partner.The executive producer Andrew Llinares shared the milestone during a “Dancing With the Stars” Television Critics Association panel.IM SO EXCITED— JoJo Siwa!🌈❤️🎀 (@itsjojosiwa) August 26, 2021
(The show also announced that the gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee would be featured in its 30th season, and that other celebrity competitors would be revealed on Sept. 8 on “Good Morning America.” The season begins Sept. 20.)“I have a girlfriend who is the love of my life and who is everything to me,” Siwa told USA Today in an article published Thursday. “My journey of coming out and having a girlfriend has inspired so many people around the world.”“I thought that if I chose to dance with a girl on this show, it would break the stereotypical thing,” she said, adding that it would be “new, different” and a “change for the better.”Siwa came out as part of the L.G.B.T.Q. community earlier this year, when she posted a photo of herself wearing a T-shirt that read “Best Gay Cousin Ever” on Instagram. In April, she told People that “technically I would say that I am pansexual.”At the critics’ association panel, the model and TV personality Tyra Banks — who hosts and executive produces “Dancing With the Stars” — said that she supported the move.“You’re making history, JoJo,” she said. “This is life-changing for so many people. Particularly because you are so young doing this. For you to say this is who you are and it’s beautiful, I’m so proud of you.”Siwa, known for her sparkling hair accessories and bubbly personality, met her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, on a cruise. They began dating in January, and in June, the L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy organization Glaad had named her in their 20 Under 20 List.Glaad’s head of talent, Anthony Allen Ramos, lauded the show’s move in a statement on Thursday. “At 18, JoJo Siwa is once again using her platform to inspire and uplift the L.G.B.T.Q. community,” he said. “As one of today’s most watched and celebrated programs on television, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and Tyra Banks are making the right decision to feature JoJo Siwa competing alongside a female professional dancer.”“The show has such a wide, far-reaching audience,” he said, “and there is a real opportunity here for people to celebrate the same-sex pairing and root for JoJo and all L.G.B.T.Q. young people.”Continue Reading