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NYC fall arts guide
IN the cutthroat world that is Broadway, where tens of thousands of actors struggle to get a break on the Great White Way, a young Singapore singer-actress managed to make it through layers of auditions to clinch a part in the new musical Allegiance.
Elena Wang, 28, who previously starred in Singapore musicals such as Michael Chiang's Beauty World (2008) and Wild Rice's Snow White (2008), had no agent or previous Broadway credits when she auditioned for the musical. But that didn't stop her from snagging the role of a young Japanese mother in a play created by and starring George Takei, the former Star Trek TV actor and Hollywood celeb.
Allegiance is inspired by Takei's own family's experience of forced relocation and incarceration during World War II. The US government had ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942, shortly after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. (Four decades later, a law signed by President Ronald Reagan apologised for those events.)
Also headlining Allegiance is Lea Salonga of Broadway's Miss Saigon and Disney's Aladdin and Mulan fame. As Salonga has a few commitments to fulfil during the coming months, Wang is expected to step into the lead role during her absence. In fact, after Wang aced the auditions, the producers were already getting her to rehearse the lead role pending Salonga's confirmation that she could commit to the production.
For Wang, who's been based in Los Angeles for the past five years doing commercials and running a production company with her fiance, almost any role on Broadway is a "great opportunity". She says: "At the start of the year, I met up with (New York-based) Singapore actress Liz Lazan who received the Allegiance audition email through her New York connections. Although I knew it would be a gruelling process to go through an 'open call' as a non-equity member, I decided to give it a shot."
Wang miraculously passed through rung after rung of auditions, beating hundreds of talented girls to clinch the part. In a video that has gone viral on social media, director Stafford Arima was shown visibly moved after Wang sang a key number from the musical. He raved: "Oh my God! My hair is sticking out all over my body."
Though Allegiance officially opens on Nov 8, it is already showing daily previews at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. Wang says: "The show is still going through a lot of changes which we rehearse in the day and put it up in front of the audience each night. So far it has been well-received but it's still being refined and there might be new songs."
Wang has only high praise for lead stars Takei and Salonga. She says: "George (Takei) is one of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met. He also has so much love to give that he has quickly become a grandfather figure to me. I have never had close relationships with my grandparents so his generosity and love towards me and the cast has taught me more than I could ask for in my lifetime."
"Meanwhile, Lea (Salonga) is a powerhouse machine! She can get song and script changes under her belt within the day and I am learning so much from watching her perform night after night with absolute consistency."
Wang says she doesn't know what her future on Broadway or Los Angeles will bring: "In Broadway, you're dealing with an open run which could span from months to years. I am just so lucky to be a part of the original Broadway cast of this incredible musical."
Allegiance opens on Broadway on Nov 8 at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W 48th Street, New York. Previews are now on daily except Mondays. Tickets from allegiancemusical.com
BROADWAY, with its more than 40 theatres, gives you everything from serious dramas to rambunctious rafter-rattlers. But if you've done the rounds of The Book Of Mormon, The Lion King, Wicked and Chicago, here are a few terrific shows to consider.
The most heartbreakingly good new musical is Fun Home which won the Tony for Best Musical this year. Nothing will quite prepare you for this extraordinary true story of a woman recalling the life of her father who kept deep secrets from his family. It's not just the story that's heartwrenching, the music by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron is also par excellence.
On a lighter note, the season's new feel-good smash hit is Sylvia. It stars the terrific Matthew Broderick as a man who adopts a dog, played by a human (Annaleigh Ashford). As man and dog begin to bond, the wife gets very jealous - indeed, as playwright AR Gurney intended it, the dog is really a stand-in for a younger woman. With superb comic performances all round, Sylvia is an utter delight.
Now if you're looking for something rude and rowdy - and you've already seen the amazing Book Of Mormon - try Something Rotten, a rip-roaring musical about a failed Renaissance-era playwright who is jealous of the success of his peer Shakespeare. Turning to a soothsayer who predicts the world will one day embrace something called musicals, the playwright decides to pen Omelette - instead of Hamlet, get it? Hilarity and high kicks ensue.
For a deeper streak of subversion, make a beeline for Hand To God, a very dark but very funny play about a shy boy whose hand puppet is possessed by the devil, making it say and do the most shockingly irreverent things. Things come to a ridiculous head when a pastor decides to perform an exorcism on the puppet.
Broadway isn't Broadway these days without Hollywood actors headlining a few shows. Clive Owen and Kelly Reilly make their Broadway debut in Harold Pinter's sexual drama Old Times, as does Kiera Knightley in Emile Zola's tragedy Therese Raquin. Marlee Matlin and Camryn Manheim also make their debut in Spring Awakening, while Al Pacino returns to the floorboards next week in David Mamet's new play China Doll.
AS the opera season returns to the Metropolitan Opera House, two works are absolutely unmissable. The first is Franco Zeffirelli's gorgeous production of Puccini's final opera Turandot, conducted by Paolo Carignani. The set alone is so stunningly ornate, the audience gave a collective "Aaahh" when the curtain rose on Act 2 for the first imperial palace scene.
Formidable soprano Christine Goerke plays the titular role of Turandot, the cold-hearted Chinese princess who orders the beheading of any suitor who fails to solve her three riddles. Her latest suitor Calaf is played by able tenor Marcelo Alvarez, while the slave girl Liu is played by Hibla Gerzmava, a singer so excellent the audience gave protracted applause after her arias Signore, ascolta and Tanto amore segreto.
Zeffirelli certainly has an eye for the opulent. Though first staged in 1987, Turandot continues to be one of the Met's most popular and visually splendid productions. And, notably, the massive set changes have become faster with each revival so that one doesn't have to wait for more than 40 minutes of intermission time - which one used to have to - for the next act.
The other must-watch production is Verdi's Il trovatore directed by Sir David McVicar with stage and lighting designs inspired by Goya paintings. Superstar leads Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky play Leonora and Conte di Luna respectively and delivered such extraordinary vocal performances, the orchestra had to pause for long periods after each triumphant song until the audience stopped cheering and clapping. At one point, they even threw white roses at Hvorostovsky's feet - he was that good.
Other titles playing this fall are Rigoletto, Tosca and Anna Bolena.
THERE are more art museums in New York City than one can usually cover on vacation. But these essential four should give you your fill. First stop, the Guggenheim Museum whose major attraction this fall is a retrospective of Italian master Alberto Burri (1915-1995).
Burri was a former doctor and a WWII prisoner. His assembling of unusual materials such as sack, linen and tar resulted in crude-looking yet alluring paintings that introduced a new dimension to the medium. These picture-objects blurred the lines between paintings and relief sculptures.
His art had a profound impact on the Arte Povera, Neo-Dada and Process Art movements, and these over 100 artworks have never been displayed outside Italy. Even if you've seen Burri's works in pictures, nothing beats seeing them in the flesh. They're simply stunning.
Meanwhile, at the Museum of Modern Art or Moma, the unchallenged monarch of modern art Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) may surprise even longtime art lovers with this new exhibition of his sculptures.
While his paintings are the mainstay of museums, these three-dimensional triumphs show a different but equally inventive side of Picasso.
Also, check out the new Whitney Museum which reopened this May in Lower Manhattan. The chic and spacious eight-storey building overlooks the river and has enlarged galleries to house its massive collection of masterworks by Hopper, Gorky, Basquiat and others.
Finally, don't miss the New Museum located in Bowery. It embraces contemporary art in a way few museums dare to, and its current exhibition featuring kick-ass artists such as video and performance artist Wynne Greenwood (better known as Tracy + the Plastics) as well as Jim Shaw, who creates new works from low-brow objects such as pulp novels and cheap posters.
FANCY an evening trapped in a six-storey Jazz Age haunted hotel with more than 100 rooms? It may be the most unusual experience you'll ever have. And, like so many who've passed through the hotel, you'll want to recommend it to your friends.
The long-running dance show Sleep No More takes place in an entire building called the McKittrick Hotel. Unlike an ordinary dance performance, it doesn't make you sit while the performers deliver their routines. Rather, you have to chase them around as they move from one location to another. At each stop, they play out a scene that has to be pieced together with others to form a narrative.
Each audience member is given a beak mask to wear. If you come with friends, the hosts will break up your group and make you travel solo. What you make of the story depends entirely on what you choose to see. And as the scenes run simultaneously in a loop, you can always catch up on scenes that you missed.
The scenes tell a story loosely based on Shakespeare's Macbeth: Macbeth, an ambitious general in King Duncan's army, is persuaded by his wife to kill the king and claim the throne for himself. But after doing so, he and his wife are racked with guilt and haunted by strange visions.
Sleep No More transposes Shakespeare's tale into a 1930s Jazz Age dance story. The performers look spiffy in their drop waist dresses and dinner jackets - before the gruesome murders begin.
To augment the creepy experience, each of the 100 rooms are also filled with strange objects and clues for you to peruse.
The award-winning work is by Punchdrunk, a company which specialises in immersive theatre experiences. If you're travelling to London instead of New York, check out Punchdrunk's other long-running show, The Drowned Man, which, in this writer's opinion, is even better than Sleep No More.