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On Broadway, the American dream and the American pastime are under scrutiny

Every week, GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen shares the latest in arts and culture on Morning Edition. This week he took a New York City detour to hit some of Broadway’s latest plays, which includes two revivals that question American institutions and a new musical that reimagines “Romeo and Juliet” through the lens of pop music and girl power.

On stage through Feb. 5 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45 St., New York

“Take Me Out” is the 2002 play by Richard Greenberg, which looks looks at society through the prism of baseball. It ran last spring on Broadway and won a Tony Award for best revivial of a play. Because of its sucess and popularity, it has once again returned to the stage.

The main character, Darren Lemming, is a biracial baseball star who can do no wrong. He keeps his private life close to the vest, just how his fans want it. They don’t want their national pastime to be complicated. But then he comes out.

“We see the layers peel back once that happens,” Bowen recalls. “When something that is so treasured has a wrinkle in it, people are forced to confront what that means and why that is.”

The play explores how homosexuality ripples through the baseball team, and by extension, how it ripples through society.

“In this play, baseball is a powerful metaphor,” says Bowen.

(left to right): Jesse Williams (Darren Lemming) and Ken Marks (Skipper)

Jeremy Daniels / Polk & Co.

On stage through Jan. 15, at the Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44 St., New York

Arthur Miller wrote “Death of a Salesman” in 1949. In this post-war look at American life, Miller took on what he saw as the myth of the American dream by focusing on one fractured family: the Lomans.

The classic drama has been performed countless times. But this revival is the first time that the Lomans have been represented by a Black family on Broadway. Wendell Pierce (known for “The Wire” and “Jack Ryan”) plays Willy Loman, the salesman who is disregarded and disrespected on the job and at home. Defeated, Loman famously exclaims “Attention must be paid!”

“This is just riveting,” says Bowen. “It’s a marvelous production.”

Like all great plays, this tale continues to resonate with audiences today.

“Of course, we know that so little often changes,” says Bowen, “and this is why artists show us our stories.”

This is a scene from "Death of a Salesman." Wendell Pierce, as Willy Loman, is  standing. He looks confrontational. He's wearing a suit and holding a dress hat in his left hand.  His other hand is gesturing toward Howard, his boss, played by Blake DeLong. Howard is sitting at a table with his right side facing the audience.
Blake DeLong (Howard the boss) and Wendell Pierce (Willy Loman) in a scene from “Death of a Salesman.”

Joan Marcus / O&M Co.

On stage through May 28 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43 St., New York

The new musical “& Juliet” is what happens when William Shakespeare meets Max Martin, the songwriter who is behind some of the biggest pop anthems and stars, such as Britney Spears, Celine Dion and Katy Perry.

“When Juliet turns to the audience and says, ‘Oops, I did it again,’ you know you’re in for a different night,” says Bowen.

But this isn’t any jukebox musical. It’s set in the 16th century, on the opening night of “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway (performed by Betsy Wolfe), stops the show. She wants to take agency and Shakespeare’s quill. She decides that Juliet doesn’t need to kill herself, especially when you do the math: she’s known Romeo for only four days. Hathaway rewrites this story so that Juliet gets to go off on her way and have her journey.

“I think this is really what we need right now, which is just something fun,” says Bowen.

This image is from the musical "& Juliet."  Juliet is in the middle of the stage, dancing on an elevated platform, which looks like a nightclub version of the famed balcony in 'Romeo and Juliet.'  Beneath her, on both sides of the stage floor, stand the cast members, looking up at her amid a celebratory explosion of confetti, clusters of balloons and strobing lights.
The cast of the musical “& Juliet” in a dance scene

Mathew Murphy / Grapevine PR

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