Theater review: ‘Traffic & Weather’ a joyous, tuneful tribute by Steve Barnes
GLENS FALLS — Since its founding 27 summers ago in a Lake George RV park, Adirondack Theatre Festival has presented an average of more than one world premiere per season, some of which went on to significant success including “Fully Committed” by Becky Mode, which after its ATF debut in 1998 has received hundreds of productions across the country including a Broadway premiere in 2016 starring Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
A glimpse of what might be the next hit to originate at ATF is on view now in “Traffic and Weather,” a tribute to the music and lyrics of the songwriter Adam Schlesinger. Brief in length, running only 45 minutes or so, it’s more revue than musical, but it’s performed with infectious joy, and the core is there for an expert dramatist to write a full-length script built around the songs from the 2007 album “Traffic and Weather” by Fountains of Wayne, the power-pop band led by Schlesinger and his co-songwriter, Chris Collingwood. Although officially credited as being written by the pair and finished together with the band, most of the album’s songs, including all of those in the stage show, were later to be acknowledged as solely Schlesinger’s creations.
Martha Banta, ATF’s co-founder and its artistic leader until 2007, returned this summer as interim producing artistic director, bringing with her “Traffic and Weather.” After first hearing the album, she introduced herself to Schlesinger about eight years ago, convinced that his catchy melodies and the mini-narratives told in his songs had the makings of a jukebox musical. (In addition to Fountains of Wayne, Schlesinger composed for TV and film, winning three Emmys and being nominated for a Tony and an Oscar.) The pair set the musical aside for other projects, but after Schlesinger died of COVID-19 on April 1, 2020, Banta was determined to bring the nascent show to the stage to honor his memory and his work.
Unusual in the pop genre, the songs on “Traffic and Weather,” FoW’s fourth studio album, are vignettes, telling short stories as varied as crushing on a DMV clerk (“Yolanda Hayes”), celebrating a car not conventionally considered sexy (“92 Subaru”), being broke (“Strapped for Cash”) and having luggage lost by an airline (“Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim”). Even the tunes about romance and lust have stories, including accusing a lover of cheating (“This Better Be Good”), a hookup that fizzles when one partner overindulges (“Planet of Weed”) and the title track, during which a pair of TV anchors become amorous during a newscast.
Working with choreographer Monica Kapoor and music director/arranger/pianist Gary Adler, who leads the four-member onstage band, Banta crafts discrete scenes for each song, with the cast — five principals with national credits and six backing performers — speedily moving on furniture and related items that loosely create settings including apartments, cafes, bars and offices.
It’s an exuberant good time, and the energetic cast is clearly thrilled to be on a stage performing such fun, infectious material. The running time is disappointingly short, but when understood in the context of how early in its life cycle “Traffic and Weather” is as a stage show, it is enough. The potential is evident for so much more, perhaps even on a future ATF season.
REVIEW: ‘Traffic and Weather’ shows off brilliance of pop maestro by Will Doolittle
If, like me, you’re not familiar with the music of the prolific pop songwriter and producer Adam Schlesinger, then Adirondack Theatre Festival’s current show, “Traffic and Weather,” is a wonderful introduction.
If, like the guy who was sitting in front of me at the show last week, you are already a big fan, then the show brings his music to life in a visceral way.
“Traffic and Weather” is a concert show, presenting songs from the album of the same name, put out in 2007 by the band “Fountains of Wayne,” which featured Schlesinger on bass.
The songs are played by a four-person band ranged across the back of the stage. In front of them, the cast sings, dances and acts out the stories told in Schlesinger’s clever, literate lyrics.
It’s a marvelous burst of energetic music-making and dancing, with some pop poetry thrown in to engage your mind a bit, too. At about an hour long, the show ends before any of the songs’ varied moods repeat themselves. It leaves you perfectly satisfied, if not full with the pleasures of live entertainment.
Schlesinger’s mastery of pop music comes across in the effortless transitions from a wistful love song like “I-95” to a rocker like “Traffic and Weather” to a tongue-in-cheek ditty like “Planet of Weed.” All of the songs are catchy and upbeat and, often, slyly sophisticated both in their construction and message.
“Planet of Weed,” for example, uses the classic rhyme scheme A-A-B-A, also found in Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century translation of ancient Persian quatrains he called “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” Perhaps not coincidentally, “The Rubaiyat” has a similar theme of enjoying the moment, especially with the help of wine, as “Planet of Weed.”
Schlesinger died last year from COVID-19. Martha Banta, the festival’s interim producing artistic director (and a co-founder of the festival), knew him in New York and had been working with him on a show that would feature his music.
Banta has worked as a director of the long-running Broadway show “Mamma Mia,” and the original idea was to structure a plot, including dialogue, around a collection of Schlesinger’s songs, as with Abba’s songs in “Mamma Mia.” But the dialogue was dropped and, instead, the show is a collection of musical short stories, like MTV used to be but smarter.
The ensemble cast does a great job with the singing and dancing, keeping up a breakneck pace, with no pauses between numbers. It’s a short show, but it packs a lot of entertainment into an hour.
Adirondack Theatre Festival announces new Producing Artistic Director, Miriam Weisfeld
New artistic leader says ATF is place ‘to come together—to laugh, to reflect, to ask hard questions, and to celebrate our resilience’
GLENS FALLS – As its 27th season nears its close, Adirondack Theatre Festival has named Miriam Weisfeld as its fourth producing artistic director after an extensive national search.
Miriam Weisfeld most recently served as Director of Artistic Development for the Tonywinning Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. She assumes the position on Sept. 1, 2021 but is in Glens Falls Aug. 1-15 observing production of ATF’s final show of the season, “Traffic and Weather,” which opens Aug. 5.
“Miriam emerged from a great field of candidates partially because of her command of the contemporary issues in American theater around inclusion, audience development and innovation,” said Nancy Fuller, ATF board president. “And she also presented the board a clear vision for producing work that is a continuation of ATF’s rich history of entertaining audiences with original stories created and performed by superlative talent.”
Weisfeld was one of 91 candidates who applied and 44 who were interviewed for the position according to Kate Broderick, an ATF emeritus board member who coordinated the search for the organization. “The six-month search produced so many qualified candidates who made it clear that ATF is not just important to Glens Falls but to the theater world at large,” she added.“I’m so grateful to assume stewardship of the Adirondack Theatre Festival and to join the Glens Falls community,” Weisfeld said in a statement. “For 26 years, ATF has held fast to its mission to produce innovative new plays and musicals at the foothills of the beautiful Adirondacks.
She continued, “The impact that ATF has had for artists and audiences is a tribute to Martha Banta, David Turner, David King and the other founders, staff, and remarkable board members who have helped to make this a unique cultural gem of the Southern Adirondack region. I look forward to building on this legacy: to widening the circle of artists, partners, and patrons we include and to deepening the impact of our work.”
The producing artistic director role is being handed off to Weisfeld by Martha Banta, who assumed an interim role after temporarily returning with her family to the region to live during the pandemic. The ATF co-founder returned to her hometown of Lake George at the same time the position opened due to the departure of Chad Rabinovitz.
Banta said Weisfeld’s experience and reputation suggest she has the qualities inherently required of the position. “It is a diverse set of skills required,” Banta said of the position. “On one hand you need to have the talent to develop and implement an artistic vision for ATF. And on the other, in a small company, your business acumen is extremely important. Add communications and leadership skills … It’s a lot. “Everyone I know who knows Miriam says she possesses each of those talents,” Banta added. “She is extremely well thought of in the field.”Weisfeld and her family are very familiar with the region.
“My husband Joe (Isenberg) and I have had the privilege of developing new work with various performing arts organizations in the southern Adirondacks and the Hudson Valley over the years,” she said. “We’ve been particularly moved by the welcoming, adventurous spirit of audiences in the Lake George region. Although Isenberg—an award-winning fight director and actor—will maintain residence in New York City for various projects, Weisfeld stated “our family will be based in Glens Falls and our daughter will attend school here. We’ve spent many of our happiest moments in this region: visiting with family, sailing, picking apples, and exploring the mountains. We feel like we’re coming home—and at the same time, we feel we’re at the start of a new adventure.”
Weisfeld said ATF may be needed by the community now more than ever. “As we emerge from a year of turmoil, we need spaces like ATF to come together—to laugh, to reflect, to ask hard questions, and to celebrate our resilience.” There have been only three artistic directors in ATF’s history prior to this appointment: Banta (1995-2007, 2021), Mark Fleischer (2007-2014) and Rabinovitz (2014-2020).
Weisfeld joins Tracey Sullivan in ATF leadership roles. Sullivan has been ATF managing director since December 2019
About Miriam Weisfeld
Weisfeld helped to develop Generation Now, a $1.5 million co-commissioning project for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) playwrights funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, at Children’s Theatre Company, and spearheaded the stage adaptation by Cheryl L. West of “Something Happened in Our Town,” a multigenerational story about racial justice which will be produced in partnership with CBS Twin Cities affiliate WCCO in March 2022. She was previously senior vice president for Production and Development with The Araca Group in New York City. At Araca, she recruited the creative team for “The Outsiders” (pre-Broadway engagement at the Goodman Theatre in May 2022) and supported the development of “The SpongeBob SquarePants Musical” (Broadway); Ayad Akhtar’s “Junk” (Lincoln Center Theatre); and “Clue” (national tour).
Prior to Araca, Weisfeld served as associate artistic director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington DC. At Woolly, she dramaturged world premieres of Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns: a post-electric play” (#4 on the New York Times’ list of “The 25 Best American Plays Since Angels in America”); Robert O’Hara’s “Bootycandy” (ObieAward Special Citation); Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” (American Theatre Magazine’s top 10 most produced plays of 2016); and many more. She conceived and produced Woolly’s 30th anniversary conference on theatre and democracy, which led to the creation of Woolly’s nationally recognized community engagement program.
Weisfeld’s work has also been seen at New York Theatre Workshop, the American Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Two River Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Lookingglass Theatre, the Kennedy Center and the Banff Playwrights Colony. She has lectured at Harvard, MIT, Northwestern and the Moscow Art Theatre School. She is a contributing author to “The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy” (Magda Romanska, ed.) and “Writing Adaptations and Translations for the Stage” (Jacqueline Goldfinger). She holds an MFA in Dramaturgy from the A.R.T./MXAT Institute at Harvard University.
Adirondack Theatre Festival announces
summer 2021 line-up at the Wood Theater and City Park
Tickets are now on sale for a comedy, a musical tribute, and a new play reading at the Wood; free PB&J Café show will stage at City Park
GLENS FALLS – Adirondack Theatre Festival is live and inside this summer, staging a comedy, a concert tribute, and a play reading at the Wood Theater. ATF is also producing free entertainment outdoors including a children’s play at City Park and nightly 30-minute music performances next to the Wood on ATF show nights.
“After a long intermission, it seemed appropriate that we open our summer with a comedy,” says Martha Banta, interim producing artistic director, of the play “Slow Food.” “Theater is a lot about human connections and what better way for audiences and actors to return together and connect through laughter.”
Another entry on the schedule is “Traffic and Weather,” a songbook production of the music of Adam Schlesinger, one of America‘s most revered songwriters of the past quarter century. “Don’t worry if you don’t know Adam’s name or the music of his band, Fountains of Wayne,” Banta suggests. “He was a master craftsman when it comes to songwriting and his melodies are accessible to anyone who might enjoy a contemporary spin on the classic pop music sounds of the 1960s and early ‘70s.”
“This is not exactly what an ATF summer season normally looks like,” Banta says of the shortened schedule and outdoor shows. “But it is the right balance between presenting strong performance art, being cautious about what civil safety guidelines might be in place when these shows are staged and restarting arts in downtown Glens Falls.”
Charles R. Wood Theater Wood Theatre line-up
Each evening ATF show at the Wood is proceeded by “Shows on the Side” – performed outside in the alley next to the theater starting at 7 p.m. The 30-minute free performances feature some of the area’s most talented musicians; a different artist will be featured nightly.
7:30 p.m. July 20-25 and July 27-31; 2 p.m. July 28 and July 31
A comedy by Wendy MacLeod and directed by Martha Banta.
There’s no escape from the world’s worst waiter. On their anniversary, a famished couple battle with an absurd waiter who has them questioning everything from the menu to their marriage! A tender, uproarious comedy that delves deeply into what we hunger for.
To learn more about Wendy MacLeod visit wendymacleod.com.
Minding Miss Mae Mae
2 p.m. July 25 and 7:30 p.m. July 26.
A staged reading of a new play by Phillip Christian Smith; directed by Tyrone Henderson. Join the playwright and the cast of actors in the first step of this play’s development.
Barbara is Miss Mae Mae’s home health aide and when Barbara’s son Jordan, the star of a network procedural, comes home ravaged from crystal meth, the women form their own unconventional rehab to detox him. Barbara believes in tough love; Miss Mae Mae, a paraplegic and a pot smoker, believes in the Lord.
To learn more about Phillip Christian Smith visit phillipchristiansmith.com
Traffic & Weather
7:30 p.m. Aug, 5-8 and 11-14; 2 .m. Aug. 7, 11, and 14
Music & lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and directed by Martha Banta.
A concert tribute to the Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer, songwriter and producer that Rolling Stone says “had one of the most unique and busiest careers in pop.” From a founder of the pop rock band Fountains of Wayne, watch and listen to an evening of music that treats the “characters in the lyrics with meticulous craftsmanship and a wry balance of compassion and scorn, parody and affection,” according to The New York Times.
Adam Schlesinger died on April 1, 2020 due to coronavirus complications. Read his obituary in The New York Times here.
Tickets for “Slow Food”, “Minding Miss Mae Mae” and “Traffic & Weather” go on sale at noon May 6 with very limited seating. There are no subscription plans; all seats are $45 Visit ATFESTIVAL.ORG to order tickets and choose seats or call the Wood Theater box office for tickets and info at 518-480-4878.
At City Park
Cinderella Goes Disco outside – weather permitting – at noon July 22-24 and July 29-30 at City Park on Maple Street. All performances are free.
A children’s play by Shubert Fendrich and directed by Marty McGuire.
PB & J Cafe Children’s Theatre returns this year in City Park in partnership with the Crandall Public Library. Bring your own picnic lunch! After receiving an invitation to go to the Prince’s Disco Dance, under-confident Cinderella needs to be told fairy tales by her fairy godmother to be convinced that she is indeed capable of becoming a Disco Princess.
ATF is the leading professional theatre in the Capital Region dedicated to emerging artists, new plays and new musicals. Each summer ATF normally produces a nine-week season at the Wood Theater. The organization, which presented its first season in 1995, operates under a Small Professional Theatre Agreement with Actors’ Equity Association (the union of professional actors). The actors seen on the ATF stage, as well as the designers and directors, have worked regularly on and off-Broadway, on television and in movies.
Adirondack Theatre Festival announces summer 2021 will be at the Wood Theater
Two shows, a new Play reading, and PB&J Café planned; titles to be announced early May
GLENS FALLS – “Determined to make theater live and inside,” Interim Producing Artistic Director Martha Banta announces Adirondack Theatre Festival is returning to the Charles R. Wood Theater for its 27th season.
Banta made the announcement today after months of organizing when and where ATF might return. “As long as state guidelines didn’t allow performing arts venues to be opened, we explored options for presenting outdoors. But once the state announced the full guidelines last week on reopening at 33 percent capacity, it became clear we would do everything necessary to return indoors for the theatrical experience which ATF is known, and it will also support the Wood.”
ATF has been the anchor tenant of the 294-seat Wood Theater since it opened in 2004; the downtown venue has been shuttered since the start of the pandemic.
ATF’s season – featuring two shows, a new play reading, and a children’s theater (PB&J Café) – will run from July 19-Aug 15. Show titles and details will be announced in early May.
Banta said the season schedule will look different in a number of ways from recent years due to the economics of being able to operate at only 33 percent capacity. “It is entirely possible that capacity will expand under state guidelines by mid-July but we have to plan with what is known right now.”
In addition to a season that is roughly half of the normal length, the theater will use all local interns, Banta said. “Many are alumni of local performing groups in the region and each will wear many hats rather than specializing in one department.”
Banta said the next step is to iron out all details with the Wood Theater, particularly seating configurations that meet state guidelines so that ATF and the Wood are ready to put tickets on sale when the season’s titles are announced.
Co-founder Martha Banta returns to Adirondack Theatre Festival as interim artistic director
ATF board, Banta anticipate a scaled-back season this summer
GLENS FALLS – The founding producing artistic director at Adirondack Theatre Festival, Martha Banta, is returning to her former role on an interim basis while the organization conducts a national search for a permanent replacement.
The theatre’s board announced last week that Chad Rabinovitz resigned after six years as ATF’s producing artistic director. Nancy Fuller, board president, in making the announcement about Banta, said “Martha will not only serve the organization artistically, she is helping guide us through the transition and search process.”
Lake George native Banta – now NYC-based – has had a storied career in American theatre. She was the original resident director for the New York Theatre Workshop, Broadway, national tour and London productions of four-time Tony winner musical “Rent”. She was associate director of “Mamma Mia!” on Broadway and for one of the national tours. She also developed and directed “Playhouse Disney Live” for Walt Disney World; later called “Disney Jr. Live”, it closed in 2018 after 17 years. More recently, she directed a new tour production of “Rock of Ages” that made a stop in April 2019 at Proctors in Schenectady.
The pandemic is a challenge for the entire theatrical field but Banta said the timing is actually a good opportunity for a transition at ATF. “We are not under duress to put on the upcoming season,” she said, signaling that the pandemic will impact ATF’s summer schedule. “We have the time to focus on finding the right person.”
As a result of the economic disruption in the arts created by the pandemic, Banta forecasted that “there is going to be a bigger pool of people applying for this position.”
Fuller said the board is committed to having the organization be active this summer with a scaled-back schedule. “There are a lot of artists who have been halted from doing what they do best, and I think they are willing to do projects to help out and we’ll definitely rope them in.”
A full-scale show, perhaps outdoors, is possible. “We’ve done it before,” Banta said, recalling ATF’s 2003 world premiere of “The Lake’s End”, which she directed. The play was staged outdoors at Lake George Recreational Center while the vacant Woolworths that ATF had used as a performance space since 1996 was being renovated into what would become the Wood Theater.
Banta and David Turner, along with a 12-member founding committee, created the Adirondack Theatre Festival in 1993 and presented its first 18-day season of new and contemporary theatre at the French Mountain Playhouse within the Lake George RV Park in June 1995. Turner, married to Banta, is an emeritus member of the ATF board of directors. He has managed a number of shows on Broadway including Book of Mormon and Six Degrees of Separation, and is executive producer of Mean Girls.
There have been only three artistic directors in ATF’s 26-year history: Banta (1995-2007), Mark Fleischer (2007-2014) and Rabinovitz (2014-2020).
Banta joins Tracey Sullivan in ATF leadership roles. Sullivan has been ATF managing director since December 2019.
More about Adirondack Theatre Festival
ATF is the leading professional theatre in the Capital Region dedicated to emerging artists, new plays and new musicals. Each summer ATF produces a nine-week season– typically four mainstage productions and four special events – for more than 9,000 audience members at Wood Theater in Glens Falls. The organization operates under a Small Professional Theatre Agreement with Actors’ Equity Association (the union of professional actors), casting Broadway-level talent. The actors seen on the ATF stage, as well as the designers and directors, have worked regularly on and off-Broadway, on television and in movies.
More about Martha Banta
Some of Banta’s New York directing credits include new plays at NYSF Public Theater, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Ensemble Studio Theater, New York Theater Workshop, New Georges, The Lamb’s Theater, Clark Theater at Lincoln Center, Urban Stages, Cherry Lane and Soho Rep.
She has directed new play and musical readings/workshops at New York Theater Workshop, The Public Theater, York Theater, Children’s Theater of Minneapolis, New Dramatists, Berkshire Theater Festival, ASCAP, La MaMa, New York University and New Georges.
Regionally she has directed at The Ordway Theatre St. Paul, Portland Center Stage, Cincinnati Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public Theater, St. Louis Rep, Westport Country Playhouse, Merrimack Rep, Capital Repertory Theatre, Vineyard Arts Project and the Berkshire Theater Festival. University Productions include Juilliard, NYU Graduate School, Stony Brook, Ramapo College and Dartmouth.