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‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ … and to Fans Hungry for More

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When “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” debuted on Netflix in 2018, it seemed like just the latest title in its “Summer of Love” promotion. There was “Set It Up,” “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” and “The Kissing Booth.” But “To All the Boys” quickly proved to be a phenomenon.

The main character, a Korean-American high schooler named Lara Jean (played by Lana Condor), won over audiences who saw themselves mirrored in her life and mixed heritage. There was a surge of thirst for the internet’s newest crush, Noah Centineo (playing Lara Jean’s love interest, Peter Kavinsky). Sales for Yakult, a Japanese yogurt drink, increased after being featured in several scenes, and by Halloween, Twitter was overloaded with images of costumes inspired by Lara Jean.

“To All the Boys” became one of Netflix’s “most viewed original films ever,” with many fans watching it repeatedly, according to Variety. If the streaming service, which selectively releases audience numbers, is to be believed, more than 80 million subscribers caught the rom-com. The company also cited Instagram data to show the film’s impact: Condor’s follower count jumped from about 100,000 to 5.5 million, while Centineo’s increased from 800,000 to 13.4 million.

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” clearly seemed to tap into an unmet demand. Now, the team behind the first film is hoping its sequel, “P.S. I Still Love You,” will too when it premieres on Feb. 12.

Based on Jenny Han’s best-selling 2014 novel of the same name, the first movie followed Lara Jean as she is forced to confront her emotions when private love letters she penned are sent to her past crushes — and to her current one, her sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh (Israel Broussard). While navigating the mayhem that ensues and trying to make Josh jealous, she ends up in a fake relationship with Peter, a popular but kindhearted jock. It’s not long before the fake relationship leads both to develop real feelings.

Casting the Vietnamese-born newcomer Condor as the endearing Lara Jean opposite Centineo (of “Charlie’s Angels” and “The Perfect Date”) resulted in palpable chemistry that certainly helped fuel the success of “To All the Boys.”

Condor said in an interview that she thought the excitement around the original stemmed from its wholesome, uplifting love story: “You kind of feel better after you watch it. You feel joy, and I think there’s something to be said about, right now, today, you kind of have to actively seek joy.” Centineo similarly saw the film as comfort food. “Chicken soup for the soul, baby. That’s what we want.”

But the film’s popularity was also driven by more tangible factors. For one, there had been a noticeable lack of successful film rom-coms for years. Movies like “10 Things I Hate About You,” “She’s All That” and “Drive Me Crazy” were staples of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but that was the last time the teen rom-com was really prevalent on the big screen; “To All the Boys” was a rom-com for a new generation.

And it injected new life into the genre with its diverse cast of characters. Condor’s casting was seen as a win for Asian-American audiences, who had seen several Asian characters morph into white ones in recent screen adaptations. (See the controversies surrounding “Doctor Strange” and “Ghost in the Shell.”)

LeiLani Nishime, a professor of communications at the University of Washington, said Asian-Americans usually show up only “in certain kinds of genres” like sci-fi or family dramas “but things like detective films or rom-coms, you didn’t see a whole lot of Asian-Americans.”

The movie was a (partial) answer to the underrepresentation of such characters. Han said, “We’ve seen a certain type of rom-com many times, and I have never seen an Asian-American girl as the lead of a rom-com. So I think being able to experience the first blush of first love through her eyes, it felt really new and sparkly.”

“To All the Boys” was also released the same week as “Crazy Rich Asians,” and the combination of both films propelled a surge of interest in Asian-American romances onscreen. These two rom-coms of course couldn’t solve the lack of representation, but they did prove that Asian-American audiences wanted to see more of themselves onscreen.

In“P.S. I Still Love You,” once again adapted from Han’s romance novel series, the budding relationship between Lara Jean and Peter continues. But the onscreen antics are further complicated when another one of Lara Jean’s past crushes (and letter recipients), John Ambrose — played by Jordan Fisher — re-enters her life. With John, Lara Jean’s first love, in the picture, she has another dream guy to consider. John, unlike the suave, popular Peter, is both bookish and charming. What transpires is a love triangle that will probably spur an online battle of internet crushes.

“The truth of the matter is, when you have someone like Jordan Fisher up against anyone else, his competition should be afraid, very afraid,” Centineo said, “because he is charismatic, he is extremely intelligent, extremely articulate and more than anything, he’s just a kind human being and soul. And he knows how to cook.”

While Centineo said he knew that some viewers wouldn’t be thrilled with a rival love interest, he added that it made for a more compelling narrative. “When dealing with a franchise, especially one that was as successful as the first film, you really want to follow up with something that isn’t just exactly what the audience would want,” he said. But the romantic chaos will give fans endearing moments from Lara Jean that include stress baking and a “Cinderella” scene where everything comes to a head while she’s clad in a ball gown.

The sequel is filled with the same chemistry between Condor and Centineo that once sparked rumors they were dating. Despite that speculation, the two actors say they had just formed a tight bond. (Condor has been with her boyfriend, Anthony De La Torre, for more than four years).

“Acting with Noah is very, very easy, so, it doesn’t take a lot for me to love his heart and his mind,” Condor said, adding, “If people believe that we’re together or they want us to be, I think that means we did our job as actors.”

Centineo also noted that when they met they “were both in very similar places in our lives and we bonded on the pain that we were both experiencing.”

“P.S. I Still Love You” is about more than just romance, though. Just as one of the screenwriters, Sofia Alvarez, didn’t want the first film to be “about a girl who was in love with her sister’s boyfriend,” the second film follows Lara Jean as she explores what it “means to be vulnerable once you’re actually in that relationship and dealing with the other person as opposed to just thinking about being in a relationship with them.” Ultimately, Condor said, that will lead to more challenges for viewers. “The audience is going to be more frustrated at Lara Jean than they will be at the boys,” she said.

“P.S. I Still Love You” is part of a larger Netflix plan. Both Condor and Centineo said they wrapped filming on the final entry in the trilogy in August. While details about the third installment were limited, one of the producers, Matt Kaplan, said that the film centers on “Lara Jean and Peter dealing with what life is like when you have to start to make more adult choices, like going off to college and figuring out how to navigate bigger, more adult conversations about relationships.”

But the team behind the franchise thinks it will reverberate beyond the initial releases. Alongside films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Always Be My Maybe,” Condor said she hoped the “To All the Boys” movies would inspire more rom-coms to take Asian-American representation into consideration. “I think Asian-American actors have really kind of harnessed their power and they are trying to step into the space with confidence,” she said. “I am so proud to even be a little part of a movement that I hope is not just a movement, but is a very long forever process.”

And the producer Kaplan envisions the “To All the Boys” films becoming part of the rom-com canon, Kaplan said: “I hope that the franchise will resonate in a way that lasts for generations, and that kids can look back at these movies and Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky can kind of be known in history as one of these really charming romantic comedy couples.”

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Editorial

A London ‘Fidelio’ With a German Twist

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This season, opera in London speaks with a German accent.

At the Royal Opera House, the director Tobias Kratzer wants to tap into the spirit of Beethoven with a fresh production of “Fidelio” in a year of celebrations that mark 250 years since the composer’s birth.

In just a few years, Mr. Kratzer has shot to prominence with a string of acclaimed productions across Europe. His recent triumphs include an emotionally wrenching production of Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Der Zwerg” at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and a mischievous “Tannhäuser,” which won near universal acclaim at the 2019 Bayreuth Festival.

“Fidelio,” with sold-out performances through March 17, marks Mr. Kratzer’s debut in the English-speaking world. In London, he is one of the youngest practitioners of a German stage philosophy sometimes known as Regietheater (literally, “director’s theater”) that often takes liberties with plot details and can subject canonical works to strenuous deconstructions.

Speaking between rehearsals in early February, he sounded unfazed by the challenge of bringing his avant-garde sensibilities to London’s main opera house, even if doing so rubs up against local traditions.

“The idea of having a director not only arrange things, but really to interpret pieces, is more or less a German invention, dating back to the time of the Weimar Republic,” said Mr. Kratzer, 40. If London or New York audiences expect more from a production than mere window dressing, the influence of German directors is part of the reason.

“The British theater tradition is still much more based on a narrative level, while the German tradition starts from a more deconstructive point of view,” he explained.

But Mr. Kratzer’s productions show that a director can approach a well-known opera from an unusual angle without destroying it. His Bayreuth “Tannhäuser” turned Wagner’s minnesinger into a prankster whose anarchist pals include a dwarf and a drag queen; his Berlin “Zwerg” read between the lines of the libretto to construct a portrait of the tortured composer.

Such approaches may prove refreshing to audiences for whom German opera productions often carry a stigma as chaotic spectacles.

Mr. Kratzer feels a primary responsibility to communicate a piece’s emotional weight in order to connect with his listeners even as he surprises them. “This doesn’t mean that you have to fulfill an audience’s expectations,” he said, “and it doesn’t mean that you need to break them at any price.”

Over the past decade, London has seen more examples of German theatrical styles, and this season, some of Mr. Kratzer’s compatriots have been tasked with new productions. At the Royal Opera House, Claus Guth stages “Jenufa” later this month, followed by Christof Loy’s new “Elektra” in May. At English National Opera, Tatjana Gürbaca directs a new “Rusalka” in late March.

Oliver Mears, the Royal Opera House’s director of opera, invited Mr. Kratzer to direct “Fidelio” after seeing Mr. Kratzer’s 2018 “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” Jacques Offenbach’s opera about a hard-drinking poet and his sad love affairs, in Amsterdam.

In “Fidelio,” a devoted wife assumes a false identity to break her husband out of prison. Like “Hoffmann,” it is an opera that is easy to be jaded about.

Part of what fascinated Mr. Kratzer about “Fidelio” was how Beethoven, writing in the aftermath of the French Revolution, used opera as a medium capable of delivering a political and personal message. “He’s really trying to use this art form almost as a philosophical tool,” he said. “And this is a starting point for a tradition that goes through Verdi and Wagner, up to Helmut Lachenmann,” he said.

The contemporary challenge for a director, Mr. Kratzer said, is to find a way to present Beethoven’s only opera that expresses its idealistic message. A searing ode to the Enlightenment and to marital love, “Fidelio” is a piece whose faith in lofty ideals can easily seem naïve and dated.

In his productions, Mr. Kratzer seems to purposely avoid any sort of instantly recognizable, signature style, preferring to approach each work on its own terms. In the case of “Fidelio,” he said, he was aiming to convey something of the piece’s radical idealism in a production that fused modern and traditional elements.

“I think even in a period piece there can be completely modern, psychological investigations,” he said. “For me, it’s not primarily a matter of setting an opera in modern times or not. For me it goes deeper. You can have quite a modern production in a period staging, and a pretty old-fashioned production in 20th or 21st century settings.”

“The specific challenge of this piece is that it has a very optimistic, utopian message,” he continued. He added that it is very easy now for directors to fall into the trap of actively undermining the opera’s message (and many have). “Looking at the world today, it’s quite easy to be cynical about this opera,” Mr. Kratzer said.

“Times are difficult for utopia,” the director added. “In this anniversary year, I’d like to recapture the spirit Beethoven intended for this opera,” he said. “It’s a hard goal, but worth aiming for.”

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Editorial

What to See and Experience in New York City This Spring

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Afrobeats isn’t a particular rhythm, like dancehall or dembow. It’s more like a magnet, drawing on and realigning possibilities from across Africa and the African diaspora with a Nigerian sensibility. Davido’s songs have elements that are familiar to American audiences: crisp programmed drum-machine sounds, computer-processed vocals, guest rappers and R&B singers. Like rappers and reggaeton artists, he devotes most of his songs to bragging and romancing.

But in Davido’s music, the programmed beats also mesh with African percussion, twisty guitar and keyboard lines and rhythms from across Africa and the Caribbean. Lyrics in English share space with African languages. And even with Auto-Tune, the personality in Davido’s voice still comes through. His Afrobeats is world music with an African aesthetic of smooth omnivorousness and calm mastery. JON PARELES

STAGECOACH Of the many mainstream country music festivals that pepper the United States each spring and summer, Stagecoach has historically been the least preoccupied with orthodoxy. In part, that’s because of where it’s held — the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., the same field that hosts Coachella — and who throws it: the Coachella promoter Goldenvoice, which isn’t unreasonably beholden to Nashville’s illuminati.

But also, in recent years, country has been loosening up at the fringes, a movement well captured by the 14th iteration of this festival, which runs from April 24 to 26. At the superstar level, it offers an unlikely blend: the soaring Carrie Underwood and the swaggering Alan Jackson, the snarling Eric Church and the genial Thomas Rhett.

But the middle section of the bill is most intriguing — the Southern rock titans ZZ Top; the soft-rock crooner Brett Young and also the hip-hop-conversant LoCash; the unerringly sincere Dan + Shay and the pitch-perfect ironists Midland. Stagecoach also showcases an impressive array of female singers: Gabby Barrett, Ingrid Andress, the Haden Triplets, RaeLynn, Nikki Lane, and naturally, Tanya Tucker, still collecting her flowers.

And finally there are the outliers, acts that might not be booked at any other country festival, but make plenty of sense nonetheless, like the D.J.-producer carpetbagger Diplo and the queer country performance artist Orville Peck. And also the viral country-rap phenom Lil Nas X, who is a pop star though maybe not a country star (or for that matter, a rap star), but makes complete sense at a festival that’s an open-eared revue of the genre and the directions in which it may someday venture. JON CARAMANICA

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Editorial

Review: ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ Has Its Ups and Ups

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Let us survey the many moods of Molly Brown: She is perky, chirpy, spunky, bubbly, cheerful. Even stranded on a raft after the Titanic sinks, she can’t help being, ahem, buoyant.

The resilient heroine of the Meredith Willson musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was always an upbeat go-getter, with an action-packed journey that took her from a hardscrabble Rockies mining town to the Denver upper crust. But the Transport Group revival that just opened at Abrons Arts Center has turned Molly (played by Beth Malone, a Tony nominee for “Fun Home”) into a human exclamation mark. The production is simultaneously busy and lifeless — a feat of sorts, if not a desirable one.

The 1960 show was Willson’s follow-up to “The Music Man,” and lightning did not strike twice: There was a Hollywood adaptation four years later, but the stage steered clear, and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” doesn’t appear to have been revived on Broadway or Off in nearly 60 years.

The choreographer/director Kathleen Marshall and the book writer/lyricist Dick Scanlan must have seen an opportunity to give vintage material a fresh start, so they went back to the drawing board: According to the production notes, “none of the characters in the 2020 version appear in the 1960 version. Both have characters called Molly, but she says and does different things. The two versions share three lines of dialogue.”

Fewer than half the songs are from the original show, including the fine “I Ain’t Down Yet” and “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys.” The rest are pulled from Willson’s catalog with a mix of tweaked and entirely new lyrics by Scanlan. (This revisal has been in the works for about 10 years, with productions in Denver and St. Louis.)

The title character is based on the actual Molly Brown (1867-1932), though both Scanlan and his predecessor, Richard Morris, have played fast and loose with the facts. Which is fine, since musicals tend to believe that if the legend becomes fact, it’s best to sing the legend.

The problem is that Scanlan and Marshall give us a one-note dynamo whose needle never leaves a positively aggressive red zone.

Molly, née Tobin, is now a fearless, progressive woman speaking truth to power. The tone is set when, facing an all-male Senate hearing in an introductory scene, she is told, “You have been warned, nevertheless you persist: Settle down.”

That is how the show rolls: with all the subtlety of a Hummer.

And there is plenty more where that came from in this protracted tale of resilient feminist pluck.

Newly arrived in Leadville, Colo., the young Molly wins over the local workers; befriends a pregnant widow, Julia (Whitney Bashor); and ends up marrying J.J. Brown, the manager of a silver mine (David Aron Damane).

“I can be anyone I wanna be, why not be a queen?” Molly muses. She and J.J. don’t achieve royal status, but they do strike it rich. Her folksy, rough-hewed attitude appalls Denver’s ladies who lunch until — you guessed it — she charms them, with an assist from some spiked tea.

And so it goes. Molly becomes a women’s suffrage activist. Molly fights for workers’ rights and helps the needy (“Why shouldn’t one of Denver’s ‘better families’ help Denver’s families do better?,” she says).

Although Malone almost never leaves the stage, she is not given much to work with by either Scanlan or Marshall and compensates with unbridled “I’m auditioning for Peter Pan” enthusiasm.

Eventually Molly learns J.J. had an affair (which took place offstage, lest the audience be subjected to anything vaguely resembling moral ambiguity or dramatic stakes) and decamps to Europe. Neither the decadent old continent nor the Titanic can bring her down, however. Soon she’s back in New York, where she stands up for an indigent immigrant whose entry is blocked by an immigration officer, while a repentant J.J. waits in the wings. You may never have yearned so much for a show’s heroine to calm down, even for a second.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Through March 22 at Abrons Arts Center, Manhattan; 866-811-4111, transportgroup.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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