Writer and showrunner Jason Katims is best known for his rich and realistic characters, and for a long list of television credits including “My So-Called Life,” “Boston Public,” and “Friday Night Lights,” which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award. On February 22 he premieres a new TV series on NBC called “About a Boy” and on February 27 his long running hit show “Parenthood” returns for a new season. And Katims also just finished a stint as keynote speaker at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans. The Arty Semite caught up with the assiduous Katims for an exclusive interview.
Dorri Olds: What is your new show about?
Jason Katims: “About a Boy” is based on the book and the movie. It’s about this guy Will [David Walton] who’s in his early thirties but hasn’t grown up. He’s a womanizer, plays video games, and loves his single life. Then Will meets this quirky kid, Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who looks up to Will like a father, like a god, like an everything.
What is Minnie Driver’s role?
Max’s single mom Fiona, who is kind of a hippie but also overprotective and controlling. We’re almost halfway done shooting the first season. It’s been fun already because during the pilot episode, where the three first meet, the adults are both loggerheads. As Marcus [Benjamin Stockham] works his way into Will’s life, the adults develop a sort of mutual respect. It’s incredibly charming.
What is the key to creating so many shows that have a cult-like following?
This will definitely be composer Jason Robert Brown’s year.
A musical version of Robert James Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County” (music, lyrics and orchestration by Jason Robert Brown) opens February 20 on Broadway.
“Honeymoon in Vegas” (music, lyrics, dance and vocal orchestration by Jason Robert Brown), which received rapturous reviews during its debut at the Paper Mill Theater in New Jersey, opens on Broadway in the fall.
The film version of his innovative off-Broadway play, “The Last Five Years” (book, music and lyrics by Jason…you get the picture) will be in theaters later this year.
All this on top of the Tony he won (best original music score) for “Parade,” about the Leo Frank trial and “13,” his Broadway follow-up, about a young bar mitzvah-age boy transplanted from New York to the Midwest after his parents divorce.
I first saw Jason perform almost 20 years ago at a small suburban theater not far from Monsey, NY, where he grew up. I wish I could say I purposely sought out the show. Actually, his show was — to my way of thinking — just thrown in as part of a subscription to the plays I really wanted to see. But it wasn’t very long before he blew away with a musical review, “Songs for a New World.”
After that I followed him almost everywhere, walking that fine line between sycophant and stalker. I saw “The Last Five Years,” the story of his first marriage. I sat across the aisle from him at a preview performance of “Parade.” (For the record, that was a coincidence.)
At “13,” the PR folks gave out CDs of the score with the press kit and I rushed to him to get it autographed. He told me I was the first.
Finally, at the Paper Mill, I saw him in the lobby, reminded him of our past and begged him for an interview. He said three magic words I’ll never forget: “See the publicist.”
Well it wasn’t “no.” So here we are, a few weeks before Madison County is slated to open, and Jason is on the phone.
Curt Schleier: When did you realize you’re a genius?
The first time I spoke to Steve Rosen, almost 10 years ago, I credited him with sole responsibility for the Broadway production of “Spamalot.” Forget Monty Python. It was a Steve Rosen production.
Rosen played Sir Bedevere as well as several other characters, and of course participated in the chorus of the song that generated the most audience reaction, “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway.” It went like this:
In any great adventure,
that you don’t want to lose,
victory depends upon the people that you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to this news:
We won’t succeed on Broadway,
If you don’t have any Jews.
The song went on to suggest that without Jews all you’ll get is boos. Your show won’t be saved even with great reviews, if you don’t have any Jews.
It turned out I was wrong. After the story was published, director Mike Nichols approached Rosen and said “You’re not the only out Jew in this production.”
Rosen offered that postscript in a phone conversation about his latest production, “The Other Josh Cohen.” It opens February 23 at the Paper Mill Theatre in Millburn, N.J., in what Rosen hopes is a pre-Broadway run.
The show originally ran off-Broadway for a brief Hurricane Sandy-interrupted run. But good reviews have prompted producers to resurrect the show.
Curt Schleier: I thought it was an inventive show and great fun. Where did that come from?
The sea of love can be a “dark and scary place — deep, cold, impenetrable, and populated by billions of freakish creatures lurking in the depths with their gnashing teeth and electrified appendages,” Daniel Jones, editor of the Modern Love essay column in The New York Times, writes in his new book, “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers),” (HarperCollins).
Jones should know: He receives about 100 submissions a week for the column, which he’s edited for the past nine years. Appearing in the Sunday Style section, Modern Love is one of the most-read columns in the world — by women, anyway. Columns have resulted in at least 37 different books, making the column one of the most sought-after reads by writers, as well.
You might expect Jones to know everything there is to know about love, but he denies being a guru. In “Love Illuminated,” he examines the trends he’s seen over the past decade, broken down by stages from “Pursuit” to “Connection” to “Monotony” to “Infidelity,” mixed with anecdotes from published essays, his own pre-Internet path to marriage and amusing questionnaires.
The Forward’s Amy Klein spoke to Jones, who has a Jewish grandfather and his wife is Jewish, about concepts like destiny, soul mates, the role religion plays in love and, of course, what type of stories pique his interest enough to be published in Modern Love.
Our high school, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto was, as its name indicated, a community school. Kids entered ninth grade from the spectrum of Jewish day schools — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Sephardic. But it was also a community school in a different way; we were a small group (graduating class of 110), and we looked out for one another. So when one of my classmates starred, in that first year of high school, as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in a local production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a bunch of went to see her. None of us knew her very well yet (nor each other), but we loved watching her. “She’s a born performer,” whispered one of my classmates.
That couldn’t have been a more prescient observation I thought earlier this month, watching Neshama Carlebach perform with Joshua Nelson, another star of the shul circuit, at the Jewish Center in Princeton, New Jersey, hundreds of miles and in a country apart from the one where I first saw her on a stage. Still sprinkled with fairy dust, Neshama belted out songs that give life to her “soulful” name, songs that left the crowd beatific. All around me, faces were lit up with rapture; people swayed and sang along; some broke into spontaneous dance. When I went to give my old classmate a hug after her performance, I had to fight off dozens of other admirers who wanted to give her a hug, not because they also knew her, but because they loved her without needing to know her.
Photo Credit: Tom Morris/Wikimedia Commons
“I see a lot of young Jewish gay people today who are very confident about being out. I see them on Old Compton Street wearing their Star of David like it was just a piece of jewelry. They think it’s fun,” Russell Vandyk says. “But they have to be aware that things weren’t always so easy. The danger is that people get too relaxed and comfortable. Actually, it’s a serious matter and one needs to be on guard, because at any time the wheel could turn.”
Vandyk, who was immersed in the struggles of the 1970s and ‘80s and was a key part of London’s Jewish Gay Group, is one of several individuals who recorded their stories for “Rainbow Jews.” This oral history project, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, seeks to capture and preserve the testimonies of LGBT British Jews, encompassing the range of experience from the 1950s until the present.
The persons interviewed for the project include Lionel Blue, the first British rabbi to declare his homosexuality publicly, Abi Jay, the only known Jewish intersex person in the U.K., and Sheila Shulman and Elli Tikvah Sarah, the first openly lesbian rabbinical students. “We were putting together what it meant for us to a lesbian, to be a Jew,” Tikvah Sarah says. “We could see strong similarities because in both cases [we had] minority marginal identities.”
Their experiences and their voices form the basis for a new exhibition at the London School of Economics, also named “Rainbow Jews,” staged to coincide with LGBT History Month in the U.K. Tikvah Sarah and Shulman are among those who feature in the two movies that make up part of the exhibit: “Now and Then,” an intergenerational conversation with eight Jewish people sharing stories about LGBT lives in Britain, and “Rainbow Jews: Pioneers and Milestones,” a historical narrative interlaced with taped interviews.
(Reuters) — An Israeli singer has become an unlikely star in Yemen, an Arab country where his hit songs blare from cafes and taxis.
Zion Golan’s parents were born in Yemen, but like other Israelis, he is banned from traveling to the conservative Muslim nation, which has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Known in Yemen as Ziyan Joulan, his songs — whose Arabic lyrics are written by his mother-in-law — are distributed on bootleg CDs and downloaded from the Internet.
“Yemeni music is in my heart and in my soul,” Golan told Reuters.
“My big dream is to go to Yemen. My parents told me many stories about Yemen, about Sanaa, about Aden, all about Yemen, so I felt it was right to write, to perform songs in a Yemeni style, which I feel is part of me.”
In Sanaa, Waddah Othman, a doctor, grinned as he displayed an array of Golan’s songs on his mobile phone.
“I adore this singer,” he said.
Abdullah al-Haj, who owns a video and music shop in Sanaa, said music of Yemeni Jewish singers was in high demand by local youngsters, who increasingly are getting music off the Internet.
Listen to Pentatonix, and you’ll be sure that you hear instruments. In fact, it is an a cappella quintet of young singers — four men and one woman — who perform without any accompaniment, and manage to make a remarkable range of sounds in musical styles ranging from pop to electronica to R&B and dubstep.
Pentatonix emerged just over two years ago, when they won the third season of the a cappella reality show “The Sing Off.” They’ve put out three albums thus far and, with 4.5 million YouTube subscribers, are hugely popular. Pentatonix’s super-fun medley of Daft Punk songs has close to 47 million views on YouTube, and their cover of Lorde’s “Royals” more than 23 million. Pentatonix also sings original songs, like the delicate, powerful “Run to You.”
Avi Kaplan, 24, is Pentatonix’s baritone or “vocal bass.” Kaplan has been making music with a cappella groups since high school and was majoring in opera, as well as winning prizes as part of a vocal jazz ensemble, at a California college when he was invited to join the nascent Pentatonix right before “The Sing Off” auditions. He also plays guitar and arranges choral and a cappella music. Kaplan spoke with The Arty Semite from Texas, where the group was getting ready for a college performance, in a warm up to their 28-date sold-out North American concert tour, which began February 5 in Tulsa and will lead into a European tour.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: Why do you think a cappella music is so popular?
Standing naked on a Tel Aviv beach, Sigalit Landau spins a hula-hoop around her waist. But instead of plastic, the hoop is made of barbed wire — and lacerates Landau’s belly throughout the minute-long performance.
The mesmerizing video piece, “Barbed Hula” (2000), is one of six video works in a new retrospective of Landau’s work that opened at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts on February 6. Canada’s largest city marks the starting point for a show that will continue to Moscow, Johannesburg, Beer-Sheva, Rome, Gdansk, and Tronso, Norway.
‘Moving to Stand Still’ marks the first solo show in Canada for Landau, a bona fide art-world star who’s twice represented Israel in the Venice Biennale. “We don’t often show existing work, or do surveys of one artist’s work,” said Mona Filip, director and curator of the Koffler. “But Landau’s doing vital work that expresses critical thinking from an artist dealing with issues of her time. And she’s considered one of the most representative contemporary artists in Israel.”
The biggest point of contention with this year’s Sapir Prize, Israel’s equivalent to the Booker, was who the judges were and how they came to their shortlist of five nominees. But controversy should not take away from the achievement of winner Noa Yedlin for her “Ba’alat Bayit” or “House Arrest,” her second novel. Yedlin works as a journalist and is currently the deputy editor of the weekend magazine of the Ma’ariv newspaper; her first book was a collection of her columns “You ask, God replies” (2005), and her second a novel, “Track Changes” (2010). As winner, Yedlin will receive a 150,000 NIS prize, translation of her novel into Arabic and into another language of her choice.
The novel is about a family from the elite Ashkenazi echelons of Jerusalem society and their house on Al-harizi Street in Rehavia, a prestigious and older neighborhood, quiet and leafy. The Fogel’s 40-year-old son, Asa Fogel, a divorced and unemployed PhD in New Age culture from a critical perspective, lives there and pays rent to his mother, Elisheva. She is a professor and the head of a prosperous center for peace studies. She is also accused of embezzling 3.4 million shekels from the research institute. The Fogel siblings, a real estate agent and a psychiatrist who is developing a reality TV show to give psychiatric advice to adolescents, fall out on different sides of the question about the guilt of their mother. Asa, is most entangled — his ex-wife had an affair with the journalist who first broke the embezzlement story and he does not know whether his mother is using him as a cover for her own dealings or not.
The Jewish people’s “right of return” is a cornerstone of Zionist philosophy, and was enshrined into law shortly after the creation of the State of Israel. According to this principle, any Jew from around the world can relocate to Israel and become a citizen.
Playwright Israel Horovitz’s “Lebensraum” — currently being revived in Los Angeles by the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company — opens with an outrageous twist on this tenet. As the German Chancellor wakes from a dream, he decides to invite six million Jews to move to and live in Germany.
The “Fatherland,” indeed. The Chancellor’s offer sends shockwaves across contemporary Germany, as well as wherever dispersed Jewry dwells, from Europe to America to Australia to Israel and beyond. Jews begin to trickle in and then flock to avail themselves of the Chancellor’s seemingly generous proposal. But there are some, including members of a Jewish Defense League-type group from Israel, who smell a rat and suspect that the 1,000 year Reich is up to its old tricks. They believe the German invitation is really an insidious ruse to finish the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” Add to this combustible concoction unemployed Aryans who, amidst an economic downturn, must compete for limited jobs and resources with a formerly despised minority who are now being given preferential treatment — in what could be their millions.
Photo Credit: Caideco Productions
For 20-plus years, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival has been one of L.A.’s top theater events, highlighting multi-cultural female performers for the live stage. This year, LAWTF — which begins properly on March 27 — is being preceded over three February weekends at the Fremont Centre Theatre by “From the Best of the Fest,” a selection of the finest performances by solo performing women artists who have previously presented their work during the Festival’s 20-year span. It is serendipitous that on February 6 the very first piece to kick off this “Best of the Fest” happens to be my favorite act I’ve ever encountered at LAWTF: Sariyah Idan’s breathtaking “Homeless in Homeland.”
In this riveting one-woman show, the protean Idan (formerly known as Saria Idana) morphs into about 17 Jewish, Palestinian, male and female characters, ranging from childhood to old age, as she explores the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. What’s a progressive young Jew to do when the oppressed appear to have become the oppressor? To find out Idan, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including to a refugee camp and other sites in the West Bank. Unlike Dorothy, she may not have gone over the rainbow, but the dancer and actress encountered a divided realm every bit as strange as Oz.
The last thing I wanted to do was write a piece about Woody Allen.
That might seem disingenuous, since here I am, writing a piece about Woody Allen. But after reading the open letter by Dylan Farrow, published February 1 on Nicholas Kristof’s blog in The New York Times, I would have liked to avoid the subject altogether.
In the piece, Farrow (who now goes by a different name) alleges that “when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me.”
Who wants to think that a beloved filmmaker, comedian and cultural icon could well be a child molester? Who wants to struggle with what that means for our appreciation of his work?
Unfortunately, we don’t really have a choice. And because I’m a critic who writes about Allen’s films, I can’t avoid writing about it, either.
I’ve been reading the many pieces remembering actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead at the age of 46 of an apparent drug overdose on Sunday morning. Everyone is praising him for his memorable performances in movies such as “Capote” (for which he won an Oscar in 2006), “Moneyball,” “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,” and “The Master.” Some writers are even pointing out that many of his best performances were in really bad movies, like “Patch Adams” and “Along Came Polly.”
But no one seems to be recalling his title role in the award-winning 2009 Australian clay animation film, “Mary & Max.” Hoffman voiced Max (full name: Max Jerry Horowitz), a lonely, obese middle-aged Jewish man with Asperger Syndrome living in 1970s New York. He was raised Orthodox, but is now an atheist. He continues to wear his yarmulke, but only because it keeps his brain warm. Max has a penchant for chocolate hotdogs (his own recipe), playing the lottery and the Noblets, characters in an animated television show.
Max becomes pen pals with a little girl in Australia named Mary, who has troubles of her own. She, too, loves the Noblets and chocolate. The film, expertly done in all respects, chronicles the ups and downs of Mary and Max’s relationship over the years, as Mary grows older and Max grows fatter. It’s a brutally honest film, and it makes me cry every time I watch it.
Roald Dahl’s “Dirty Beasts” poems have a musical cadence which may explain why, after the success of stage versions of “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, three of them are being set to music to introduce young people to the orchestra.
The anteater which gobbles a spoiled rich boy’s aunt, the flying toad which can turn itself into a roly-poly bird to escape frog-loving French gourmands, and the girl with a bag of sweets who sits on a porcupine and has to have quills removed by a dentist have been orchestrated by composer Benjamin Wallfisch for a February premiere atLondon’s Southbank Centre.
“In these times when kids have so many options, I was hoping with this piece aimed at people under the age of 10 to inspire them to explore the orchestra,” Wallfisch, 33, who comes from a distinguished British musical family, told Reuters in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.
The premiere will take place during Southbank’s “Imagine” children’s festival, which this year features a major strand of Dahl tributes to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.
Luke Kelly, Dahl’s grandson who helps direct his estate and who was in London on Friday for the festival launch, said the late Welsh-born author and onetime fighter pilot had a knack for writing works that lend themselves to adaptations.
“The characters are so boiled down and the humour is so present I think it does translate to many mediums, whether it’s musical, films or operas,” Kelly, 27, told Reuters.
Yeshiva University is reportedly not interested in having its students wear their hearts on their sleeves—or faces, for that matter.
Y.U. administrators put the kibosh on plans by YU and Stern College students to bring Sacramento,California-based photographic artist Steve Rosenfield to campus for his “What I Be” Project, according to Haaretz, Rosenfield, 38, has visited half a dozen other universities for the project, in which he photographs young adults after they have written a word or phrase expressing their greatest vulnerability on either their face, arm or hand (in some cases, all three).
Rosenfield’s portrait of Ben Faulding, a 30-year-old member of Crown Heights, Brooklyn’s Chabad community, has recently been shared widely on social media. Faulding, who has a black father and white mother, chose to have “SHVARTZE” (Yiddish for black, and used in a derogatory way) written on his forehead. He wrote a post about the experience and gave it the title, “I Hate This Word And So I Let A Man Write It On My Face.”
Rosenfield engages in a serious interview with each model about their greatest insecurities before photographing them. “In that 30-minute interview Steve uncovered something that I hadn’t even talked about in two years of therapy,” said Dasha Sominski, a Stern College student who was among those who led efforts to bring the project to Yeshiva University.
The cable television universe isn’t necessarily being taken over by female comics, but it seems that way: Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham and now Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, stars of the new Comedy Central series, “Broad City,” an outgrowth of their popular YouTube series.
The two ladies share at least two characteristics with their comedic antecedents. They are Jewish and they push the comedic envelope very much towards the very edge. Push? They kick it over the goal line. In the opening minutes of the first episode, Ilana Skypes Abbi while having sex.
The two slackers’ main ambition seems to be to get money for pot and Li’l Wayne concert tickets. To help raise funds, Ilana places a Craigslist ad that reads: “We’re just 2 Jewesses tryin’ to make a buck.” They’re hired by a gentleman who wants them to clean his home while they are in their underwear — and he’s in diapers.
Abbi (straight hair) and Ilana (curly) spoke to the Forward about summer camp, being a “double Jew,” and having sex on Skype.
Curt Schleier: Can you tell me a little about your Jewish backgrounds?
To state the obvious, Pete was an iconic figure in the folk music movement in the United States. As were many, many of my colleagues, I was profoundly influenced by Pete’s music just as I started to really enjoy music. I first found him through the recording of The Weavers reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a great record, and for me, Pete’s performance of “Wimoweh” was the highlight.
Pete inspired me to try to learn to play the banjo. Fortunately for the world, that didn’t take, but I did learn a lot of what I know about certain styles of guitar playing from a book on playing the guitar that bore Pete’s name, before it was revised and published with Jerry Silverman’s name in place of Pete’s. The first time that I saw Bob Dylan was at one of Pete’s concerts. Pete brought him out to sing, and gave him a great introduction. I don’t think that many people in the audience had heard of Bob Dylan before that moment.
Pete was also an iconic figure in American politics. He was an inspirational activist for many ideas that seemed somewhat successful, until just recently. I’m speaking of the cause of unions, and the cause of ending minority repression. Of course neither cause was ever totally successful, but we were doing a lot better a few years ago. Now there is no Pete Seeger to lead us.
I didn’t agree with all of Pete’s political convictions, but I found it incredible that people who swore to uphold our constitution tried to silence him. To say he was brave, strong, and a great musician is understatement in every respect. Pete built the house that he lived in, and he led (forgive me for bringing this in) a moral life. He was true to his convictions in every part of his life, as far as I, or anyone I know, could see. I believe that we may have just lost a just man.
Proverbs 20:7 The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.