Digested week: I heart New Yorkers for being united in vitriol
Astonishing scenes in the arts section of the New York Times at the weekend as the review drops for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, or as it has been retitled for Broadway, Bad Cinderella. Within days of tickets going on sale, they were already being flogged on discount ticket sites in New York and that was before the review came out. Then the review came out.
Jesse Green’s assessment of a show that had, as he put it, been “welcomed with indulgent warmth” in London two summers ago was neither warm nor indulgent. From the first directive, “Bring earplugs”, to the next, “Bring eye plugs”, to the further suggestion that “if there were such a thing as soul plugs, I’d recommend them as well”, it announced itself as one of those reviews it is practically mandated by law to start forwarding around. (I exchanged texts with several friends that morning that read, simply, “soul plugs”, with no further explanation required).
The gist of Green’s beef was that the show, a “vulgar, sexed-up and dumbed-down” version of the classic tale, relied on “workmanlike lyrics” by David Zippel, an undercooked book by Emerald Fennell and “unrelievedly pompous direction by Laurence Connor”. Linedy Genao, who plays Cinderella, was said to “sing bravely” – no harsher critique. In the course of dismantling the show, Green took a swipe at Evita (not “good for the culture”), and Cats (“not good for anything”), which made one briefly side with Lloyd Webber. The whole reading experience was an absolute rollercoaster of shifting allegiances.
Despite its savagery, it still fell short of the gold standard for this sort of thing, which is Lyn Gardner’s review in this newspaper of a short-lived 2005 West End musical called Behind the Iron Mask. Referring to a plot point about whether or not the heroine should be killed, our fearless critic concluded: “I would quite happily have volunteered for death myself to help speed things up.”
New York has bounced back robustly from Covid, but not robustly enough for the Partnership for New York City, a charity that, by its own account, “mobilises private sector resources and expertise to advance New York City’s standing as a global centre of economic opportunity, upward mobility, and innovation”. I think this means branding, which was certainly at the centre of a new campaign launched by the charity last week, turmoil over which is still churning. With a mission statement to “cut through divisiveness and negativity” in the city – begging the question: have you ever met someone from New York? – the campaign introduced a new spin on the classic, Milton Glazer-designed logo I Heart NY, changing it, bafflingly, to “We Heart NYC”.
A tidal wave of negativity and divisiveness rolled in. According to Graham Clifford, who designed the new logo, the sans serif lettering was customised from a font used in the subway, while the heart design has a bulging, cartoony vibe. With vitriol worthy of a New York Times theatre critic, someone on Twitter observed: “This sucks on every conceivable level and also on some levels that exist beyond human perception.” A lot of other New Yorkers agreed, a show of unity that raises the possibility that the Partnership for New York City is smarter than it looks.
Trouble at Chief, the “women’s networking group” that attracted $100m (£81m) in funding last year alone and is now embroiled in a fight about what and who it is for. Personally, I can think of nothing worse than being in a women’s networking group, the world of networking grift invariably hingeing on a business plan that presents concentrated self-interest as an agent of social or political mobility. (Side note: I’ve never met women less inclined to help other women than at paid events organised by women to help other women). In this case, the group’s members pay annual subs of $5,800 (or $7,900 for executives) for access to speaker events, mentoring, clubhouses and, of course, each other, the idea being to promote women in leadership positions. Now, dismally, the members are fighting over what some of them see as the organisation’s inadequate response to the death of Roe v Wade, and a drift within the upper ranks towards cliquishness. Who could have foreseen it – that a group designed to aid women’s corporate advancement might have dead-ended in these kinds of dynamics?
A growing trend in New York is for so-called “sober dive bars”, which as far as I know started in the East Village with a bar called Hekate and has spread to outfits in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint and Williamsburg. It’s a smart idea and one I’m increasingly drawn to, offering alternatives for those not drinking to the Russian roulette of coffee after 7pm, and in a more appealing evening setting than an overlit cafe.
As happened with veganism, sobriety is likely to undergo an image overhaul in the coming years, as drinking rates taper off from massive boozers, Gen X, to the more moderate habits of millennials and Gen Z. And just as early vegan recipes evolved to stop selling things made of carrots as “chicken”, so reference in traditional bars to “mocktails” are being replaced with options that sound less sad and apologetic. At the sober bar Kava Social, in Williamsburg, everything from lattes to mules are infused with the Fijian root, which, OK, sounds like the thing they poisoned Mia Farrow with in Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s at least a move in the right direction.
Extrapolation is a new climate crisis drama from Apple TV, featuring Meryl Streep as a talking whale, Sienna Miller as a marine biologist and Matthew Rhys – I don’t want to spoil things for the few who make it this far – as a man who at the end of the first episode has an unfortunate encounter with a walrus. Career low points all round and almost worth watching for the extraordinary example, particularly in Streep’s case, of just how high up the chain you can go with a chequebook the size of Apple’s. Suddenly Bad Cinderella doesn’t look all that bad.