Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"But let's be glad for what we've had and what's to come..."

-Betty Comden & Adolph Green, "Some Other Time," On the Town (1944)

Happy 2009, Everyone!

The Year of Living Cinematically

Last New Year's Day as I had a couple days to myself I decided to have a mini movie marathon. During this time, I decided to keep track of the movies I watched throughout the year in my Moleskine, just out of curiosity. I only included movies I watched in their entirety and just thought I'd share the list with you (it's a bit long):

Love Actually (2003) 1/1
Operation Petticoat (1959) 1/1
California Suite (1978) 1/1
People Will Talk (1951) 1/1
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) 1/2
Harold and Maude (1971) 1/2
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) 1/2
Shane (1953) 1/3
Peter Pan (1953) 1/3
North by Northwest (1959) 1/5
Superbad (2007) 1/6
Jurassic Park (1993) 1/8
On the Waterfront (1954) 1/9
Music and Lyrics (2007) 1/30
10 Things I Hate About You (1999) 1/30
The World of Henry Orient (1964) 2/2
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 2/2
No Country for Old Men (2007) 2/2
Once (2006) 2/15
Gone Baby Gone (2007) 2/18
There Will Be Blood (2007) 2/19
The 39 Steps (1935) 2/20
Michael Clayton (2007) 2/22
Atonement (2007) 2/22
Juno (2007) 2/23
La Vie en Rose (2007) 3/1
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) 3/2
Being Julia (2004) 3/8
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) 3/12
Laura (1944) 3/14
The Heiress (1949) 3/15
Mean Girls (2004) 3/16
The Quiet Man (1952) 3/18
Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) 3/19
Rififi (1955) 3/23
Michael Clayton (2007) 3/23
I See a Dark Stranger (1946) 3/29
The Prestige (2006) 4/11
The Clock (1945) 4/13
Deathproof (2007) 4/19
Cloverfield (2008) 4/23
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) 4/24
Children of Men (2006) 4/24
Closer (2004) 5/18
Enchanted (2007) 5/25
Freaky Friday (1976) 5/25
Charade (1963) 5/25
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) 5/27
Twister (1996) 5/30
Rear Window (1954) 5/30
The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) 6/1
Surf’s Up (2007) 6/3
Wall-E (2008) 7/1
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) 7/7
Hancock (2008) 7/7
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (2008) 7/7
Death on the Nile (1978) 7/13
The Dark Knight (2008) 7/18
Knocked Up (2007) 7/22
How to Steal a Million (1966) 7/23
Gosford Park (2001) 7/24
The Dark Knight (2008) 7/25
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) 7/26
Volver (2006) 7/26
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) 7/26
The Lady Vanishes (1938) 7/27
Sense and Sensibility (1995) 7/27
The Awful Truth (1937) 7/27
Caddyshack (1980) 7/27
Sixteen Candles (1984) 7/27
Pretty in Pink (1986) 7/28
The Rocketeer (1991) 7/29
The Queen (2006) 8/4
Auntie Mame (1958) 8/13
Bull Durham (1988) 8/16
Tropic Thunder (2008) 8/17
City Lights (1931) 8/22
1941 (1979) 8/24
Evan Almighty (2007) 8/28
In Bruges (2008) 8/29
The Savages (2007) 8/30
Superbad (2007) 9/5
Pineapple Express (2008) 9/9
No Country for Old Men (2007) 9/19
Lady for a Day (1933) 9/24
Gigi (1958) 9/29
Run Fatboy Run (2008) 10/4
Halloween (1978) 10/31
Rebecca (1940) 11/3
Role Models (2008) 11/7
We’re No Angels (1955) 11/8
The Ritz (1976) 11/10
Muriel’s Wedding (1994) 11/11
Battleground (1949) 11/11
Quantum of Solace (2008) 11/14
Bad Santa (2003) 11/17
Smiles of a Summer Night (2007) 11/18
Wall-E (2008) 11/22
On the Town (1949) 11/25
Bachelor Mother (1939) 12/7
From Here to Eternity (1953) 12/7
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) 12/9
The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) 12/11
White Christmas (1954) 12/15
Harold and Maude (1971) 12/16
The Bishop’s Wife (1947) 12/20
Home Alone (1990) 12/22
Suddenly Last Summer (1959) 12/23
Scrooged (1988) 12/24
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 12/25
A Taste of Honey (1961) 12/31

Theatrical Highlights of the Year

1. Sunday in the Park With George. January 25, 2008 @ Studio 54. This was the first of three big musical revivals that set fire to the New York stage this year. An import from London, the cast was led by Olivier winners Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, with able support from Mary Beth Peil (her ability to listen as an actress was a marvel to watch), Michael Cumpsty and Jessica Molaskey and company. The revival featured spectacular scenography, with breathtaking visual design that enhanced the experience. I've never seen the second act work so well before. The only complaint was the reduced orchestration.

2. Gypsy. March 27, 2008 @ the St. James Theatre. The superlative City Center Encores! production became the most acclaimed Broadway revival of the show in my lifetime. All but Nancy Opel transferred, bringing something more in depth to the tables as actors, as well as marking the return of Lenora Nemetz to Broadway after an absence of more than two decades. LuPone, Gaines and Benanti won deserved Tonys for their work, with the latter two providing especially definitive interpretations of their roles. Quibbles with the minimalist production, unnecessary edits and kabuki lamb not-with-standing, a stirring, earth-shattering revival of the Great American Musical.

3. A White House Cantata. March 31, 2008 @ Jazz at Lincoln Center. This marked the NY debut of the concert adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner's colossal (and much-loved, by me anyhow) flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Though a concert presentation from the Collegiate Chorale, it was important as it was a presentation of an incredibly rare and important Broadway score, one that has long been forgotten because of the embarrassment surrounding its original concept and staging. While I would have preferred theatre actors to opera singers, I was still thrilled for the opportunity to hear many of the favorites of the score performed live with Hershy Kay's original orchestrations. I still hold out hope that the estates will let Encores! put on the original Broadway 1600 with Victoria Clark giving us the "Duet for One" (and perhaps a chance for the overture to be heard).

4. South Pacific. April 3, 2008 @ the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. One of the most entrancing musical revivals I've ever seen. My excitement for the production was high from the first announcement that the show was a go a couple years back. Kelli O'Hara and Paolo Szot oozed sensuality as Nellie and Emile, with his "This Nearly Was Mine" bringing down the house. Matthew Morrison sounded better than I've ever heard him sing, and his acting continues to grow more nuanced and polished. Danny Burstein channeled more than a little Bert Lahr into his Luther Billis, but that was okay. And finally, the delightfully gracious Loretta Ables-Sayre made her Broadway debut as Bloody Mary, finding depth and humor from within the character. The staging and its design were flawless, with eye-popping and lush visuals. Plus there was that packed orchestra with that glorious reveal during the Overture. What what was a pleasant surprise was that it quickly became (and still is) one of the hottest tickets in town.

5. La Fille du Regiment. April 18, 2008 @ the Metropolitan Opera House. I had never even heard of Donizetti's opera comique when Sarah offered me a comp to the open dress rehearsal. Since it was the right price and seemed like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, I was decidedly game. However, I didn't expect to be totally overwhelmed by the production. World-renown coloratura Natalie Dessay was playing opposite tenor Juan Diego Florez, with Marian Seldes making her Met debut in a cameo role. I was thoroughly engaged but went into a near frenzy when Florez tackled that Mount Everest of arias, "Ah, mes ami! quel jour de fete!" (aka "Pour mon ame"). The aria demands nine high C's in a row, and is a challenge for even the most nimble and technically proficient singer. It was one of those rare moments that you watch well aware that you - and everyone around you - is about to go completely wild with enthuiastic applause, which we certainly did. Dessay and Florez's chemistry is palpable and their vocal blend is top-notch, and I hope to see them together again in La Sonnambula this spring.

6. No, No, Nanette. May 11, 2008 @ the City Center. Hands down, the best thing I've ever seen performed at Encores! There was the most polish, the sturdiest direction, the best choreography, costumes to complement stellar casting. The show itself is a wonderful example of the pre-Show Boat crowdpleasing musical comedy with its trite characters and machinations; however, the show, especially as seen in its 1971 revisal (presented here) is nothing but a huge Valentine to the 1920s (Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Drowsy Chaperone are decidedly not). Sandy Duncan tore it up at 62 with the chorines, kicking just as high and twice as energetic as the kids. Charles Kimbrough was charming. Mara Davi was an ingenue delight. Rosie O'Donnell had a blast supporting as the wise-cracking maid. Michael Berresse charmed and danced up a storm (another one who could have been a fantastic Joey Evans). But it was Beth Leavel who walked away with the evening, particularly her devastating eleven o'clock torcher "The Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone-Blues." Infectious, endearing and charming, we hummed all the way across the street to Seppi's. This is one Encores! I wish made a transfer to Broadway.

7. Boeing Boeing. September 3, 2008 @ the Longacre Theatre. What should have been a tired, unfunny exercise in bad farce turned into one of the freshest comedies of the season, winning the Best Play Revival and Best Actor Tony awards. The success is owed in part to Matthew Warchus, who took this English adaptation of a third rate French farce and felt that there was something to work with there. The majority of the success; however, belongs to Tony-winner Mark Rylance in his Broadway debut. Originating the part in Warchus' original London production in 2007, Rylance's character was a complete creation of his own, finding succinct choices as an actor which proved uproarious onstage. Bradley Whitford, Christine Baranski, Kathryn Hahn and especially the fearless Mary McCormack provided sturdy support.

8. [title of show]. September 27, 2008 @ the Lyceum Theatre. The one everyone thought I'd hate, but to the surprise of apparently everyone, I absolutely adored it from start to finish. Fresh, effervescent and unyieldingly clever and entertaining, the show might have fared better had it played a smaller Broadway house like the Helen Hayes or the Circle in the Square. Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff are all heroes, with special mention of Blackwell's unique comic sensibility ("Die, Vampire, Die!") and Blickenstaff's vocal prowess ("A Way Back to Then"). I hope they all receive Tony nominations this spring. A return visit for the closing performance only cemented my admiration for the show and those who created/starred in it. The final performance of "Nine People's Favorite Thing" prompted the longest Routledge ever witnessed by this Aficionado - three whole minutes.

9. On the Town. November 23, 2008 @ the City Center. In celebration of Leonard Bernstein's birthday, the Encores! crowd decided to present his first Broadway musical as the debut of their latest season. The score is superb, the comedy hilarious. The book is a trifle, but with such winning numbers, zany antics and plentiful opportunities for exceptional dancing. Tony Yazbeck is a star on the rise - and I am glad to have seen him in this. Andrea Martin was the comic highlight with her uproarious turn as Madame Dilly. Of course, they rumored a transfer, as seems to be the case for every favorably reviewed Encores! show, but that seems quite unlikely.

What I want to see next year: Blithe Spirit, Billy Elliot, Music in the Air at Encores!, Hedda Gabler, All My Sons, Equus, The Philanthropists, Waiting for Godot, The American Plan, 9 to 5, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Firebrand of Florence (Collegiate Chorale concert), La Sonnambula at the Met, West Side Story, 33 Variations, Mary Stuart, Impressionism, Accent on Youth, Happiness, Mourning Becomes Electra.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"You Can Dance With Any Girl at All"

From the 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette: Tony-winner Helen Gallagher and nominee Bobby Van perform this charmer on the Tony telecast. For those fellow bloggers who were there for the superlative Encores! concert this past May. To quote Stella Deems, wasn't that a blast?

Monday, December 29, 2008

To Revive, or Not to Revive

South Pacific opened on Broadway in 1949, swept the theatre world by storm winning every award in sight (including the Pulitzer) and when it closed in 1954 wasn't seen in an official Broadway revival until this year, where it rinsed and repeated the original, currently remaining one of the hottest tickets in town in spite of the other shows dropping like flies around town. This leads me to think on this boring night about the olderTony-winning Best Musicals that have yet to receive a revival on the Great White Way. (For intense purposes, I've left out those shows from Evita onward)

Applause. It received a failed revisal at the PaperMill Playhouse in 1996. It was also presented in its original form at Encores! which, in spite of a game if ailing Christine Ebersole, only highlighted the many flaws in the project. It's presentation at Encores! was exactly the sort of return the show can muster - a full scale revival seems highly unlikely.

Bye Bye Birdie. Instead of a revival, Broadway was treated to the four performance bomb Bring Back Birdie in 1981, which brought back Chita Rivera (which proved that she was an ultimate pro who could still deliver a superlative star turn regardless of the vehicle) and fast-forwarded the story of Albert and Rosie by twenty years, with them approaching middle age and dealing with their teenage children. The original musical is a period satire of the national craze over Elvis Presley's drafting. The score, by Strouse and Adams, is a mix of superlative character numbers and spot-on parodies of period rock and roll. The show has been seen in every high school in the country, was presented at Encores in 2004 and even had a television remake in the mid-90s. But no Rialto berth... hmm. There lies only one problem that I can think of: who could possibly fill Chita Rivera's admittedly daunting shoes?

Fiorello! This charming biomusical about NY's favorite Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia was a big success in 1959, tying for the Best Musical Tony with The Sound of Music and picking up a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for a musical. The score was Bock and Harnick's second Broadway entry after The Body Beautiful and put them on the map as a composing team of deft skill, craftmanship and an extraordinary ability to integrate song and scene and character (Fiddler on the Roof and especially She Loves Me further illustrate this point). This was hte first Encores! concert back in 1994, and would seem unlikely for a full-scale commercial revival; however it might prove a great entry from Roundabout (so long as they don't reduce the orchestra or overhaul the book).

Hallelujah, Baby! Leslie Uggams starred in this concept musical about 200 years of African American history in the 1967. This Best Musical winner holds the distinction of being the show that got Jule Styne is one and only Tony award. Comden and Green did the lyrics; Arthur Laurents wrote the book and directed. The show is the second shortest running Best Musical (the winner of that dubious honor is Sondheim's Passion), and most of the issues with the show have to do with its libretto (a time honored complaint). However it could soar with some considerable work from David Ives at Encores! with Anika Noni Rose.

A Little Night Music. One of the most enchanting Sondheim musicals, it is inexplicably the only one of his ground-breaking 70s works to not have a full-scale Broadway revival. Even Roundabout has plans to bring Merrily We Roll Along back within the next season or two. There is a London revival that is transferring to the West End for an extended run, but perhaps (and this is my hope) New York producers are waiting for the right time, the right star and all other stars to align for this show to come back. For years, there was talk of Glenn Close starring in a revival, though from what I understand that is no longer an option.

Redhead. Okay, this is one of the more obscure Best Musical winners. Many haven't heard of it, but it was a decent-sized hit winning 8 Tonys in 1959, including two for stars Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley. The musical, which was also Bob Fosse's Broadway directorial debut, is a murder mystery musical about a Jack-the-Ripper type stalking ladies in and around the London waxworks museum. Even from the liner notes it's apparent that the plot is a bit convoluted and the book not exactly up to par. Even if the book isn't up to snuff, the score is pleasant if not top tier. This show is the definition of why we have the Encores! series. Perhaps one of these days, if they can find the right personality (Mara Davi? Charlotte d'Amboise? The 'It' Girl?), we can see this at the City Center.

Two Gentlemen of Verona. Probably better known as the show that won Best Musical over Follies, one of those decisions that still incites passionate reactions in the most emblazoned Follies enthusiasts. The show, a rock opera adaptation of the Shakespeare play, was a transfer from the Delacorte, written by Galt McDermott. It had a hit summer revival a couple years ago in the Park, but it doesn't seem likely for a Broadway return. Perhaps the outdoor environment suits it best?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Family Guy - An Outtake

I laughed so hard my arms hurt. Does that make me a bad person?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"That's Him"

This is one of those stories that is repeated in all the books about musical theatre. Mary Martin, who was still a rising figure in the American musical during the early 40s, was cast in her first major lead in One Touch of Venus. The score was by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, with a book by S.J. Perelman, involved a barber putting a ring on a statue of Venus, thus bringing her to life and leading to romance. The team hoped to recruit the famed designer Mainbocher to design the costumes for the production. The audition involved Mary Martin turning her chair around, sitting with her arms resting on the back and singing "That's Him," directly to the designer. Upon finishing the song, Mainbocher agreed to do it, but under one condition: that Martin never perform that song any other way. The chair stayed in, and the show was a smash hit.

Here is Martin, many years later, recreating this song. Her voice lost quite a bit of its luster as she got older, but she never lost that charm that seduced Mainbocher into designing for her. Enjoy.

A Daughter's Tribute

Kitt McDonald Shapiro on her mother, the late, great Eartha Kitt from a 2005 piece for the CBS Sunday Morning show:

"The one thing I always knew about my mother was that she always loved me," said Kitt Shapiro. "And I give her tremendous credit for being able to, throughout our lives, let me know that she always loved me, and that was always unconditional."

It was pure instinct, said Shapiro, that guided her mother.

"She had accomplished so much on her own with no family and nobody there guide her. There's something there. Her name, Eartha, is her given name, and she is of the earth, and she is so much of the earth. She has that richness, and she's sturdy, she's firm. Her name is perfect for her."

Eartha Kitt (1927-2008)

In a somber contrast to the joyous day we are having, it saddens me to report that the legend that is Eartha Kitt has passed away today at the age of 81 after a substantial battle with colon cancer. A legend of film, theatre and television, she was a multi-talented performer whose distinctive purr of a voice became her trademark. She became famous for her recordings of "C'est Ce Bon" and "Love for Sale," as well as her most famous single which we've been hearing a lot these past weeks, "Santa Baby." Orson Welles once called her "the most exciting woman alive." She stirred up considerable controversy in 1968 when she famously brought Lady Bird Johnson to tears when she spoke out against the war in Vietnam during a White House luncheon. She would be scorned by the Johnson administration and was professionally blacklisted in the United States for years. Kitt was featured on Broadway in New Faces of '52 (in which she sang the sultry showstopper "Monotonous"), Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley opposite Eddie Bracken. After twenty years away, she returned to the Great White Way in the all-black revisal of Kismet entitled Timbuktu! Kitt's diva entrance involved her being carried on like the African princess she was portraying by two muscular men in the chorus. Eartha brought down the house nightly by stepping down from her chaise, downstage center, and announcing her first line: "I'm here." Then she launched into a brand new song written especially for her called "In the Beginning, Woman" (which replaced the contextually irrelevant "Not Since Nineveh," which was geographically linked to Baghdad, the setting of Kismet). She later returned in La Chiusa's The Wild Party (a second Tony nom) and as Chita Rivera's replacement in the revival of Nine. She also famously brought down the house in London when she succeeded Dolores Gray as Carlotta in the 1987 production of Follies. She is probably best known on television for her portrayal as Catwoman on the campy 60s series Batman (a role also played by Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether) More recently, she made a lot of new, considerably younger fans in her riotous voiceover work as the villainous Izma in the Disney animated feature The Emperor's New Groove as well its subsequent TV series (for which she would win two Daytime Emmys). Professional that she was, she could be seen in NY among many first night crowds and gala events throughout her illness, as well as appearing in cabaret at the Cafe Carlyle in September 2007 and at La Pigalle in London in April 2008. Kitt is survived by her daughter Kitt McDonald Shapiro and four grandchildren.

Here is the legend performing "I'm Still Here" on the Olivier Awards during her run in Follies:

The Perfect Ending

"To my big brother George, the richest man in town."

Gets me every single year.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

iPod Shuffle Answers

1. "With my wings resolutely spread, Mrs. Burnside" - "Gooch's Song," Mame
2. "The sun sits low diffusing its usual glow" - "The Sun Won't Set," A Little Night Music
3. "Child, I know the fear you’re feeling" - "He Can Do It," Purlie
4. "To this we’ve come that men withhold the world from men" - "To This We've Come," The Consul
5. "I went down to the tennis courts, lookin’ good in pleated shorts" - "70, Girls, 70," 70, Girls, 70
6. "Now as the sweet imbecilities tumble so lavishly onto her lap" - "Now," A Little Night Music
7. "Why can’t you be like a woman ought to be?" - "Old Sayin's," Juno
8. "You called me back with a silent plea" - "You'd Better Love Me," High Spirits
9. "Daddy always thought that he married beneath him" - "At the Ballet," A Chorus Line
10."You smug little men with your smug little schemes" - "There Won't Be Trumpets," Anyone Can Whistle
11. "Let's start looking alive, when we arrive it's gonna be great!" - "Rehearse!" 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
12. "Thank the Lord Mimi Paragon’s on board!" - "Come to Me," Sail Away
13. "The day we meet the way you lean against the wind" - "Love to Me," The Light in the Piazzza
14. "Mademoiselle, I have followed you everywhere" - "Love Can't Happen," Grand Hotel
15. "Hail! Hail! Hail! Hail! Hail to the man who (hail!) without whom (hail!)" - "Duet for One (The First Lady of the Lady)" 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
16. "When you see the shape the world is in" - "Thank God I'm Old," Barnum
17. "My life is simply great, my silverware is gold" - "I've Got It All," On the Twentieth Century
18. "When the sun flew in my window and crept in bed with me" - "Sweet Thursday," Pipe Dream
19. "Do you see that cloud up there with the number nine?" - "I Had a Ball," I Had a Ball
20. "You dear attractive dewy-eyed idealist" - "No Way to Stop It," The Sound of Music
21. "The best kind of clothes for a protest pose is this ensemble of pantyhose" - "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," Grey Gardens
22. "Talk to flowers right here?" - "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here!" On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
23. "Take me back where I belong" - "Wilkes-Barre, PA," Tovarich
24. "Before you half remember what her smile was like" - "Kiss Her Now," Dear World
25. "Things may not come through the way you plan" - "I'll Buy You a Star," A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
26. "I will never understand what I did to deserve you" - "All the Wasted Time," Parade
27. "I married many men –a ton of them" - "To Keep My Love Alive," A Connecticut Yankee
28. "Staring my life in the face haunted by what could have been" - "Talk Amongst Yourselves," Taboo
29. "That old April yearning once more is returning" - "One More Walk Around the Garden," Carmelina
30. "I’ll bet your friends are all celebrities. That’s wonderful." - "The Grass is Always Greener," Woman of the Year
31. "I often have these miserable instincts" - "Nobody Steps on Kafritz," Henry, Sweet Henry
32. "My days are brighter than morning air" - "With You," Pippin
33. "To me this emporium is sex in memoriam" - "A Woman is How She Loves," Coco
34. "The newspapers call you the goddess of sex" - "You Are Not Real," The Apple Tree
35. "Glad to see you folks. Sure is homey here." - "The Babylove Miracle Show," The Grass Harp
36. "When I was young my heart was weaving in and out of romance" - "One Man (Ain't Quite Enough)" House of Flowers
37. "I remember Claude. His face was gaunt, his skin was pale" - "The Tea Party," Dear World
38. "Who’s the girl who had the men all eating from her hand?" - "Mata Hari," Little Mary Sunshine
39. "I remember the way our sainted mother would sit and croon us her lullaby" - "Easy Street," Annie
40. "Who'd believe that we two would end up as lovers?" - "Unlikely Lovers," Falsettos/Falsettoland

"Wine francaise straight from Burgundy" - "Sur Le Quais," Lolita, My Love
"A friend of mine was hurtin' bad, I bought that friend a beer" - "He Got It in the Ear," Rockabye Hamlet

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Elizabeth Ashley Joins "August" Cast

Currently starring in LCT's limited engagement of Dividing the Estate at the Booth, the Tony-winner will be packing her bags and heading across the street to the Music Box to play Mattie Fae Aiken in the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County starting February 3. I know when I saw Amy Morton's last performance back in October I said I was done; however, Ashley's presence is enough for me to consider making a fifth trip to see those pillars of dysfunction, the Weston family.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Unusual Artistic Discretion by Hollywood Producers

It seems common sense and artistic vision rarely come into play when Hollywood decides to remake a classic (or even for that matter, lesser films that shouldn't have been done the first time). Every year someone is churning out pale carbon copies or "revisionist" remakes of films left best alone (it seems to be mostly horror, but look out world, here comes Zac Efron in Footloose...seriously).

The producers of the proposed Rosemary's Baby remake are displaying unusual intelligence and honesty in announcing the cancellation of their project. The original, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow (with an incredibly unsettling Oscar-winning supporting performance from Ruth Gordon), still manages to get the job done, 40 years later. This was reported from this afternoon:

The movie producers behind a planned remake of 1968 horror classic Rosemary's Baby have dropped plans for a new film.

Brad Fuller and Andrew Form have been working on a way to bring the tale, based on the 1967 novel by Ira Levin, back to the big screen.

But the pair has been forced to admit they haven't been able to conceive a fresh angle which would make a new version credible.

Form tells, "We went down that road and we even talked to the best writers in town and it feels like it might not be do-able. We couldn't come up with something where it felt like it was relevant and we could add something to it other than what it was, so we're now not going to be doing that film."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shalom Aleichem

Amusing factoid from my live feed: A reader from Bat Yam, Tel Aviv arrived on my blogpost "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - a synopsis of sorts" from by searching for "Duet for One First Lady of the land lyrics." It was so random and amusing I felt I just had to share. It's nice to see that people from around the world are dropping by for a visit. And for such entertaining reasons!

Friday, December 19, 2008

For the Liza fans reading...

I may not be her biggest fan (except when she's appearing as Lucille 2 on my beloved Arrested Development), but there is no denying the impact her return to Broadway at the Palace is having on NY theatre audiences. Here is the Tony performance of the infectious "City Lights" from her Tony-winning turn in The Act. For those of you that do love her so, this is for you. Enjoy.

Wouldn't Hugh Be Loverly?

Okay, so that probably goes down as the worst blog title I've yet to post. Sue me. But anyway, there was a brief piece in Variety about Oscar-winner Emma Thompson in Variety talking about her current and upcoming projects. First up, she's got a movie out called Last Chance Harvey in which she stars opposite Dustin Hoffman (earning a Golden Globe nomination in the process). But for those theatre fans out there, she is currently starting work on the screenplay for a remake of My Fair Lady for which they've apparently already signed Keira Knightley (blurgh) to play Eliza Doolittle. However, Thompson's first choice to play Henry Higgins is none other than her old Cambridge classmate Hugh Laurie, who turned in a delightfully understatedly droll supporting turn as Mr. Palmer in Thompson's exceptional adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. His casting would at least makes this (unnecessary) remake interesting. Seriously, though folks, there should be a full-scale revival of the musical with Kelli O'Hara before any film is brought to theatres. Just my $.02. Your thoughts folks?

The article also states that Thompson is poised to film a sequel to her successful Nanny McPhee, a witty adaptation of Christiana Brand's Nurse Matilda books (again written by Thompson - is there anything this woman cannot do?) If you haven't seen this film, get thee to a video store. It draws immediate comparisons to Mary Poppins, but provides an enjoyably fresh take on British children's literature. Plus, it's got fantastic supporting turns from Colin Firth, Celia Imrie, Imelda Staunton and Miss Angela Lansbury as Aunt Adelaide, sporting a false nose and finding herself thrust into the middle of chaos during a nuptual food fight gone horribly wrong.

And though Sarah is poised to respectfully disagree with me here, I would really love to see her play Desiree Armfeldt in a revival of A Little Night Music (with Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt, perhaps?)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In honor of the opening of "Pal Joey"...

Here's Harold Lang performing "Happy Hunting Horn" with featured dancer Norma Thornton and the dance ensemble on the Ed Sullivan Show during the 1952 Broadway revival (which was supervised by Robert Alton, recreating his original choreography).

And for a real treat, here are a few seconds of silent 16mm footage (in color, no less) of originator Gene Kelly as Joey during the original 1940-41 Broadway run.

Another Snowy-Blowy Christmas

We are expecting a major winter storm here in the NY area tomorrow and Christmas is only one week away. This year the season itself seems to be flying away so rapidly that I can hardly believe it. It's been a dicey holiday season given the times in which we live. People are worrying about employment, the economy, our, well, everything. Anyway, for the first time in a long time I have been swept up in the season so I thought I'd give a very brief list of some of the my personal favorite musical theatre-related Christmas songs. If there's anything you think I've overlooked, feel free to comment (and no, "I Don't Remember Christmas" from Starting Here, Starting Now does not count).

"Twelve Days to Christmas" - She Loves Me. This song is a brilliant summation of Christmas in retail - from the perspectives of both the employees and consumers. The advancement of the plot from December 13 through the evening of the 24th is your typical Bock & Harnick - charm, wit and (very importantly) plot and character development. The song starts in a leisurely tempo, with book scenes interspliced showing how the two lead characters are growing fond of each other, but each time we go back to the song the tempo picks up pace until it becomes a full out patter verse complete with malapropisms on Christmas Eve. It's a beautiful way to build the show to its inevitable and breathtakingly simple finale between Amalia and Georg. (And if you recall, I listen to the cast album every Christmas Eve).

"Pine Cones and Holly Berries" - Here's Love. This musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street opened in late 1963 to less than stellar critical response in spite of a cast that included Janis Paige, Craig Stevens and Laurence Naismith (others included Fred Gwynne, Baayork Lee and Michael Bennett). Written and composed by Meredith Willson, the show wasn't his best effort, but did feature a showstopping opening - a march overture that segued into an onstage recreation of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Willson incorporated his already popular "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas," but he turned it into a quodlibet by adding this song as a counterpoint. (Interesting note: many people know that "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Goodnight My Somone" were written to complement each other, but did you know that a contrapuntal reprise of "My White Knight" and "The Sadder-But-Wiser-Girl" was originally written for the scene prior to Harold's arrest?) Apparently, this is a favorite Christmas number for the Osmonds.

"We Need a Little Christmas" - Mame. Nothing like the world's favorite aunt declaring an early holiday in order to raise everyone's spirits. However, given our current economic state, the song is as timely as ever. But it is a sheer joy to see and hear; especially as delivered on the original cast album by Angela Lansbury, Jane Connell, Sab Shimino and Frankie Michaels, which remains the definitive recording of this ever-popular holiday favorite. Here is a clip of the replacement cast led by Jane Morgan (Helen Gallagher is Gooch!!) performing the original staging on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Here's the real thing:

"Who Says There Ain't No Santa Claus?" - Flahooley An utterly enchanting little Christmas song from this flop score by Sammy Fain and Yip Harbourg. Jerome Courtland and the effervsescent Barbara Cook in her Broadway debut lead this gem.

"Be a Santa" - Subways Are For Sleeping. Note how many of these Christmas songs have many of our best Jewish composers behind them. Irving Berlin led the way with "White Christmas," "Happy Holiday". We also have Sammy Fain and Jerry Herman represented here. Now it's Jule Styne; with his steady collaborators Comden & Green. The show is most famous now for David Merrick's publicity stunt and for Phyllis Newman's Tony-winning tour de force as Miss Martha Vail (particularly in that 'musical dramatic playlet written and directed by huhself', "I Was a Shoo-In"). Sydney Chaplin leads this company number (once again we have Michael Kidd staging) in which Salvation Army Santa Claus' dancing up a storm.

And of course, that perennial favorite from Promises Promises. "Turkey Lurkey Time" I know I posted this video last year, but hell, it's Christmas and to steal from my friends at [title of show], this is something you want to enjoy 24-7.

Quote of the Day: David Mamet

“I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury,” Mamet said. “So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”

-David Mamet, on Jeremy Piven's abrupt departure from Speed the Plow due to illness "attributable to a high mercury account. (Seriously, kids).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coming Soon!!

When Grey Gardens opened at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2006, it established itself as the only Broadway show ever based on a documentary. Winning Tony awards for its stars Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, the musical had a 306 performance run before it closed prematurely due to much-publicized poor producing. Thankfully, Albert Maysles, who created the original documentary about Big Edith and Little Edie Beale, brought his video camera around to document the gestation of the musical through its Broadway opening in a new film called Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway. This documentary is set to air on PBS as a part of its "Independent Lens" series next week. For those of us in NY with Channel 13, it airs on Tuesday, December 23 at 10PM. The channel 21 airings on WLIW will be on Wednesday, December 24 @ 9AM, 3PM and 8:PM and Thursday, December 25 @ 1AM. For those of you around the rest of the country, be sure and check your local listings at the PBS website.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Quote of the Day: Tyne Daly on Rose

I then mentioned to Tyne that since the musical Gypsy is constantly revived, we should probably assume that it will come back again in a few years and, by the law of averages, someone sitting in the audience will probably be playing Mama Rose. Any tips? She turned out, glared and advised, "She is not a monster!" and stormed off. She's still got it.

- Seth Rudetsky recapping his onstage conversation with Tony-winner Tyne Daly at the 20th anniversary of the "Gypsy of the Year" competition in his latest "Onstage & Backstage" column

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another Closing, Another Show

The acclaimed, Tony-winning revival of Gypsy appears to be the latest victim of our current economic crisis. It was announced today that the show is going to be closing on January 11, 2009 earlier than originally anticipated March 1 closing date. So if you've not had a chance, now is the time to see the three superlative characterizations of Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines as you've got less than a month. Will any of the bloggerati who were at the opening night or post-Tony show be out for the last performance?

It's a little frightening when you consider the shows that will be gone over the next few weeks: Spring Awakening, Hairspray, 13, Boeing Boeing, Grease, Spamalot and Young Frankenstein. That doesn't include the current limited engagements of Liza at the Palace, Dividing the Estate, All My Sons, The Seagull, Equus, Speed the Plow, and A Man for All Seasons, which ended today. I wish the new shows still to open this season the best of luck, as it becomes more and more apparent that they will be facing an uphill climb to find an audience and establish a long term run. If you were hoping to see any of these shows, go! There are discounts to be had via the Playbill, Theatremania and Broadway Box websites. The shows may be going, but they haven't gone yet!

"Rainbow Round My Shoulder"

I could repeat and rehash all of the superlative salvos that have been showered down upon the immortal Barbara Cook. Her professionalism, musicality, her warmth, her breadth of emotion and her uncanny ability to inhabit a lyric. It's all been said before and will be said again: Barbara Cook is a living legend, who at 81 shows no signs of slowing down and continues to grow as an artist. And that is why it is imperative you pick up her latest solo album from DRG, "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder." Cook essays a diverse branch of composers including regulars Gershwin, Bernstein, Bucchino (a devastating "If I Ever Say I'm Over You") and Sondheim (of course), but also giving us Walter Wolcott (a scintillating "Sooner or Later" from the controversial Song of the South), Kurt Weill (the sublime "Lost in the Stars," here paired with Sondheim's "No More" in a haunting medley), and even Ray Charles ("Hallelujah, I Love Him So"). Every track is a gem. It's definitely one of the most notable solo album releases of 2008. I would have to put it on my list of gift recommendations for anyone reading who is in need of a gift for a Broadway/cabaret fan. You can never go wrong with Barbara Cook.

Name That Tune - IPod shuffle style

While I was checking out the facebook this evening, an addiction for which there appears to be no cure, I discovered a friend of mine had created a quiz involving his iPod library. Following his lead, I put my ipod on shuffle and I've quoted the first line of each song. All I need is the song title and the show in which it appears. Some are easy, but I'm not going to lie, some are rather obscure, so knock yourselves out!

1. "With my wings resolutely spread, Mrs. Burnside"
2. "The sun sits low diffusing its usual glow"
3. "Child, I know the fear you’re feeling"
4. "To this we’ve come that men withhold the world from men"
5. "I went down to the tennis courts, lookin’ good in pleated shorts"
6. "Now as the sweet imbecilities tumble so lavishly onto her lap"
7. "Why can’t you be like a woman ought to be?"
8. "You called me back with a silent plea"
9. "Daddy always thought that he married beneath him"
10."You smug little men with your smug little schemes"
11. "Let's start looking alive, when we arrive it's gonna be great!"
12. "Thank the Lord Mimi Paragon’s on board!"
13. "The day we meet the way you lean against the wind"
14. "Mademoiselle, I have followed you everywhere"
15. "Hail! Hail! Hail! Hail! Hail to the man who (hail!) without whom (hail!)"
16. "When you see the shape the world is in"
17. "My life is simply great, my silverware is gold"
18. "When the sun flew in my window and crept in bed with me"
19. "Do you see that cloud up there with the number nine?"
20. "You dear attractive dewy-eyed idealist"
21. "The best kind of clothes for a protest pose is this ensemble of pantyhose"
22. "Talk to flowers right here?"
23. "Take me back where I belong"
24. "Before you half remember what her smile was like"
25. "Things may not come through the way you plan"
26. "I will never understand what I did to deserve you"
27. "I married many men –a ton of them"
28. "Staring my life in the face haunted by what could have been"
29. "That old April yearning once more is returning"
30. "I’ll bet your friends are all celebrities. That’s wonderful."
31. "I often have these miserable instincts"
32. "My days are brighter than morning air"
33. "To me this emporium is sex in memoriam"
34. "The newspapers call you the goddess of sex"
35. "Glad to see you folks. Sure is homey here."
36. "When I was young my heart was weaving in and out of romance"
37. "I remember Claude. His face was gaunt, his skin was pale"
38. "Who’s the girl who had the men all eating from her hand?"
39. "I remember the way our sainted mother would sit and croon us her lullaby"
40. "Who'd believe that we two would end up as lovers?"


"Wine francaise straight from Burgundy"
"A friend of mine was hurtin' bad, I bought that friend a beer"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Van Johnson (1916-2008)

Film and stage actor Van Johnson has died at the age of 92. He had recently been living in an assisted living facility in Nyack, NY. Johnson forged an indelible image as an easy-going, sandy haired presence in many popular films of the 1940s and 50s, and later carved out a niche in regional, Broadway and London theatre scenes. His Broadway career included Too Many Girls and the original production of Pal Joey, where he understudied Gene Kelly in the title role. Following in Kelly's footsteps, he went out to the West Coast and his film career soon began with an uncredited bit in the film adaptation of Too Many Girls, which starred his good friend Lucille Ball (who was instrumental in jumpstarting his acting in Hollywood).

Signing with MGM, he became part of the studio system, rising in the ranks as a matinee idol in diverse projects such as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, State of the Union, In the Good Old Summertime, The Caine Mutiny, Brigadoon, The End of the Affair and The Last Time I Saw Paris. His costars included Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Kathryn Grayson, Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Judy Garland, Deborah Kerr, Gene Kelly, Angela Lansbury, Esther Williams, Tony Martin, Janet Leigh, Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon, to name a few.

When his film career waned toward the late 50s/early 60s, Johnson went to London where he starred as Professor Harold Hill in the original West End company of The Music Man (while we're on it, the Laserlight CD release of the London cast album is decidedly incomplete; thankfully I have the complete HMV recording). Johnson's Broadway comeback in the 1960s included the shortlived Come on Strong with Carroll Baker and the one-performance wonder Mating Dance, as well as replacing John Cullum as Dr. Mark Bruckner in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Johnson would go onto star in regional and stock productions, with a final Broadway turn as a replacement Georges in the original production of La Cage Aux Folles. He also made several notable appearances on television, including the musical episode of "The Love Boat" with Ann Miller, Ethel Merman, Della Reese and Carol Channing as well as several guest bits on "Murder, She Wrote." Johnson is survived by his daughter Schuyler (from marriage to Eve Abbott Wynn).

Hugh Jackman to Host Oscars

It was announced today that Hugh Jackman will host the 81st annual Academy Awards ceremony on February 22, 2009. It's a bit of a left-field choice, considering most recent hosts have a background in either stand-up or sketch comedy. However, if his charismatic turns hosting the Tonys in 2003 & 2004 are any indication, I don't think viewers have much to worry about. Though one does wonder, does he plan on singing?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center

For all the fans of Kate the Great, here is some fun news: The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center is being established in Old Saybrook, near at her family home in Fenwick. I received a comment from Ann, who runs the blog documenting the progress of the theatre arts center, which is currently under construction and poised to open in the summer of 2009, informing me about this wonderful project. The non-profit theatre organization is going to take residence in a historic theatre on Main Street in the Town of Old Saybrook, with funds provided the town and private donations raised by trustees of the organization. "The Kate" as the theatre has already been affectionately monikered, will feature a 250 seat theatre as well as a museum devoted to the iconic actress.

Hepburn, one of the last true stars of the Hollywood Golden Age, died in 2003 at the age of 96, leaving behind a considerable legacy on stage, on television and most notably on film. Her relationship with Spencer Tracy has taken on an iconically romantic status of its own. She alone holds the record for most Oscar wins by an actor with four statuettes (for Morning Glory, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond), though the always practical Kate never really cared for awards or the fuss of celebrity. Kate also treaded the boards in the The Lake (prompting that oft-quoted zinger by Dorothy Parker), The Philadelphia Story, Coco, A Matter of Gravity and The West Side Waltz (the latter opposite Dorothy Loudon, what a night that must have been), earning two Tony nominations along the way.

Hepburn is one of my all-time favorite actresses. With her distinctive looks, voice and independent personality she defied what was expected of a movie star, one of the reasons why she remained a movie star for sixty years (unlike her contemporaries, like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis who found themselves reduced to camp roles in lower quality films). She won her last Oscar as leading actress in 1982, just before she turned 75; and she would continue to work steadily throughout the 1980s, ultimately retiring in poorer health after a brief cameo in 1994's Love Affair. Her film roles were very diverse, from literary heroines to historical figures to screwball comedy heiress to witty, urbane society women, to vulnerable "spinsters", etc.

It should be noted that she had some of her greatest successes (and a couple of failures along the way) working in film adaptations of plays. Starting with her 1932 debut in A Bill of Divorcement, she also brought stage characters to the screen in Morning Glory, Spitfire, Quality Street, Stage Door, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story (inspired by and written for her by Philip Barry; one of the best things that ever happened in her career), Without Love, State of the Union, Summertime (David Lean's Technicolor valentine to Venice in an adaptation of Arthur Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo), The Rainmaker, Desk Set, Suddenly Last Summer, Long Day's Journey Into Night (one of her finest hours as an actress), The Lion in Winter (my personal favorite?), The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Trojan Women, A Delicate Balance, The Glass Menagerie (for TV), The Corn is Green (also for TV), and On Golden Pond. That's not even taking into consideration those roles written expressly for her: Bringing Up Baby, Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib, The African Queen, etc. Speaking of The African Queen... this classic has yet to be released on DVD in the United States... someone is clearly sleeping on the job here! So to whomever owns the rights: restore it, reissue it and give it the superlative DVD treatment it deserves.

Now as an added treat, here is Kate's one and only appearance on the Academy Awards. Under an incredible veil of secrecy, Hepburn showed up (in a black Mao pantsuit and garden clogs, at that) to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to her friend and colleague, Lawrence Weingarten at the 46th annual ceremony in 1974. The audience reaction she receives after a gracious introduction by the one and only David Niven (remember when Hollywood gave us such class acts?) is one of those for the ages - and so is her quip...

She was a star. One of the best we've ever had. Now... who's up for a road trip to Old Saybrook this summer...?

I Rise Again!

After a precarious week, I am back online and rarin' to go. On Wednesday evening, my computer shut down in some sort of fatal error that froze the system and begat the ruination of my week. Upon my restart, instead of a general start-up, I was face to face with the nefarious Blue Screen of Death. The BSD, which isn't anyone's friend, continued to pop up as the system refused to access Windows and start-up. My laptop is relatively new, so needless to say, I was bitchy, twitchy and manic. Enough, anyway, to contact tech support at 3 in the morning (which proved useless as she never called me back - I decided to pass out and try again, thankfully receiving an individual of actual competence who was very helpful and decidedly sympathetic. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say there was the obligatory wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garment.

So I got a new hard drive to install and I've been building myself back up. Many of you know that I have an enormous collection of music; theatre and otherwise. Fortunately I had about 80% of it backed up. I've also been working toward getting back the other items that were lost along the way. Needless to say this has taken an impact into my blogging time...

In happier news, I returned to the revival of A Man for All Seasons on Tuesday night as part of my Roundabout subscription. I've gotta give it to them, everyone at Roundabout is nothing short of wonderful (especially my dear old friend Tova Heller, with whom I went to high school) and were very accomodating in switching my ticket. (I was supposed to see this on November 23, but shows were canceled because, presumably, Frank Langella had to fulfill press obligations for the upcoming Frost/Nixon film. My only complaint with the relatively intimate American Airlines Theatre is with the desing of its mezzanine. I have no issues with the sightlines or the seating (I was in the center front mezz, not bad all things considered), but the lack of any center aisles does leave things wanting, especially since it's practically inconvenient to everyone. Those in the middle go on safari through a sea of limbs to get to their seats while those on the aisle find themselves sitting and standing like they were at Mass.

The show onstage is considerably stronger than it was when I saw it on the fourth preview in September. Langella is magnanimous, and the supporting cast is, for the most part, doing strong work (though the inconsistency with the accents is still a sticking point). The audience this time around was a remarkably more responsive crowd, appreciating the understatedly dry wit and humor of More and finding themselves incredibly moved during the more devastating parts of the second act, as we watch the man's physical decline in his imprisonment. (Langella's physical transformation, within a span of seconds, is stunning).

As someone who has always been fascinated by the Tudor period of English history (all those wives! all those outcomes!), it's satisfying to see historical figures dramatized. When I was ten, I went to England for the first time and was able to visit the Tower of London and Hever Castle (where Anne Boleyn's family resided), reading about the different figures, wanting to divest myself in their history and know as much as I could about them and their incredibly melodramatic existence. (Of course, we still have such sensational figures in our society, but on a more laughable level; they've sure cut back on the beheadings). Court intrigue, conflicts, heightened emotional intensities, etc etc. It has to be said that our entertainment world has a great fascination with the era on stage, on screen and on television: Anne of the Thousand Days, Mary of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, Elizabeth I, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Young Bess, The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth R, The Tudors, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Private Life of Henry VII, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, A Man for All Seasons, The Other Boleyn Girl, Rex, etc. The actors who have played these noted figures: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Laughton, Bette Davis, Florence Eldridge, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Penny Fuller, Nicol Williamson, Richard Burton, Charlton Heston, John Gielgud, Genevieve Bujold, Paul Scofield, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jean Simmons, Rex Harrison, Judith Anderson, et al. There will be many more adaptations and incarnations of these same stories to come, though I have to say, why not something about Sir Richard Rich, considered one of the top historical villains of all-time and the man who betrayed Sir Thomas to his ultimate death. I think there's an interesting story waiting to be told.

Seasons ends its extended limited run next Sunday, so if you haven't had the chance, run to the American Airlines to see one of America's finest stage actors giving a superlative star turn. Trust me, he's worth it.

I shall now resume a more regular blogging schedule... Gee, but it's good to be here!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Elaine Stritch talks "30 Rock" with Kari

My friend Kari, our blogosphere's answer to Tina Fey, had the opportunity to participate in a conference call interview with the one and only Elaine Stritch about her upcoming appearance on the 30 Rock Christmas episode. For those who aren't watching this brilliant series - and you should be, Stritch plays Colleen, the unrelentingly brash and tough-as-nails mother of Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin). She won an Emmy for her first appearance on the first season finale. You can read the delightfully colorful and unabashedly honest things she had to say about the series and her co-star here. Stritch has asked Fey to write an episode for her to appear in with Nathan Lane as her other son. I up the ante, and say bring back the whole Donaghy clan including Molly Shannon as their sister. ("I want you to punch your sister in the face." from that particular first season episode is one of the many comic lines this contemporary classic has to offer).

"I Was Never in the Chorus"

I post this rare shot of Anne Francine and Angela Lansbury performing "Bosom Buddies" in Mame for my own Moon Lady and fervent Mame/Lansbury enthusiast, Sarah, who I think will appreciate this more than anyone else. In talking about the character of Vera Charles with a friend of mine, I decided to google image Ms. Francine and lo and behold, this shot popped up. Francine, born into a wealthy Main Line Philadelphia family, was a noted actress and sophisticated nightclub singer who replaced Tony-winner Bea Arthur as eternally inebriated Vera about a year into the original run. She toured with Lansbury in 1968 and subsequently returned for the remainder of the show's Broadway run . She also reprised the role in the short-lived revival, again with Angie, in 1983. She considered this the favorite role of her career. Other Broadway appearances included By the Beautiful Sea, Tenderloin, The Great Sebastians and the 1987 Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes. Her film work was scarce (she was in Juliet of the Spirits, The Savages and Crocodile Dundee); however, some of you may recognize her as Barbara Eden's archnemesis Flora Simpson Reilly on the TV series "Harper Valley, PTA."

Now, getting down to business, who should play Vera in the next revival...?

Pop Quiz

If any musical theatre enthusiast is in the mood for a bit of a challenge, give the quiz in today's Peter Filichia column a try.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Nine Year Old Could've Written It..

In today's NY Post, one of the most random things I've ever read...

By Jennifer Fermino

He's only 9, but this pint-sized pickup artist already knows plenty about pleasing the ladies.

So much, in fact, that Alec Greven's dating primer, "How to Talk to Girls" - which began as a handwritten, $3 pamphlet sold at his school book fair - hit the shelves nationwide last week.

The fourth-grader from Castle Rock, Colo., advises Lothario wannabes to stop showing off, go easy on the compliments to avoid looking desperate - and be wary of "pretty girls."

"It is easy to spot pretty girls because they have big earrings, fancy dresses and all the jewelry," he writes in Chapter Three.

"Pretty girls are like cars that need a lot of oil."

He advises, "The best choice for most boys is a regular girl. Remember, some pretty girls are coldhearted when it comes to boys. Don't let them get to you."

Over a few Shirley Temples yesterday at Langan's on West 47 Street, Alec said that he culled his wisdom by peeking at his peers at play.

"I saw a lot of boys that had trouble talking to girls," Alec said.

As for his how-to, he concedes, "I never expected people to buy it like a regular book in a bookstore."

But with classic plain-spoken advice - like "comb your hair and don't wear sweats" - it's no surprise his 46-page book was a hit with boys and girls of all ages.

He believes the best way to approach a girl is to keep it to a simple "hi."

"If I say hi and you say hi back, we're probably off to a good start," he said.

As for his own love life, he said he is not dating anyone at the moment. "I'm a little too young," he confessed.

In his book, published by HarperCollins, he suggests holding off on falling in love until at least middle school.

Dating - which he defines as going out to dinner without your parents - is for "kind of old" people, who are 15 or 16.

Officials at the Soaring Hawk Elementary School said he wrote the book - which was the runaway bestseller at its book fair - for kids, but believe anyone can find inspiration in it.

Alec's mother, Erin Greven, credits her son's beyond-his-years insight to his avid reading.

"He reads nonstop. At dinner, I say, 'Put your book down,' " she said.

Alec - who just finished a children's book on the Watergate scandal - said he wants to be a full-time writer when he grows up, with a weekend job in archaeology or paleontology.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Kim's Charleston"

It seems that every production of Show Boat has featured a different number in the eleven o'clock spot. At that point of the production, the period is the 1920s and Magnolia has retired gracefully to allow her daughter Kim to become the next big musical comedy star. In the original Broadway production, Norma Terris played both Magnolia and Kim, in which she presented "Kim's Imitations," in which she did impressions of popular people of the era, which itself was replaced by a reprise of "Why Do I Love You?" shortly after opening. For the London production in 1928, Kim (Edith Day) sang "Dance Away the Night." The 1946 revival featured what was to be Jerome Kern's final song "Nobody Else But Me" written specifically for Jan Clayton.

In 1993, Harold Prince took on the musical, with considerable revision done to the troublesome second act, including a new showcase for Kim, called "Kim's Charleston," a 20s-flavored dance piece featuring a period variation on "Why Do I Love You?" and featuring the Tony-winning choreography of Susan Stroman. Here is the Tony performance of the latest in the long evolution of Show Boat with Tammy Amerson as Kim, Elaine Stritch as Parthy and John McMartin as Cap'n Andy. Enjoy.

Patti LuPone's "Gypsy" to be filmed?

Those purchasing tickets for the final performances of Gypsy have been receiving the following notice as per an article on Playbill:

"IMPORTANT NOTICE: This performance of 'Gypsy' may be filmed for future purposes. Please be advised that stationary and moving cameras may be placed throughout the theatre as we attempt to capture this historic production on film."


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Mitzi Gaynor

Most of us remember Mitzi Gaynor from the film adaptation of South Pacific. That landmark adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage launched Mitzi into an unusual stardom. She was a product of the studio system, often relegated to supporting roles in musical films. However, South Pacific was a bona fide blockbuster. You would have thought that the success of the film would have catapulted her to the top of the lists for starring roles in film and on Broadway. But for whatever reason, that was not to be the case. After South Pacific, only made three more films.

She was convinced to perform in Las Vegas, where she proved an overwhelming success. One thing led to another, and from her overwhelming success in Vegas she was asked to perform the Oscar-nominated song "Georgy Girl" at the Academy awards in 1967. Gaynor hadn't seen the film Georgy Girl nor had she ever heard the song, but they staged it elaborately with spectacular choreography and costumes by Bob Mackie. The resulting performance brought about one of the longest standing ovations in Academy award history.

The buzz generated by this one-time performance was enough for television executives to give her a variety special of her own. Produced by her husband and manager, and as she will quickly attest, the real love of her life, Jack Bean, the shows aired once a year for ten years. Ms. Gaynor had Bob Mackie and his eye-poppings designs, as well as the frequent direction and choreography of Tony Charmoli (who choreographed Woman of the Year on Broadway), plus the help of noted choreographers Peter Gennaro, Bob Sidney and Danny Daniels. She was also able to get as many stars as there were in the heavens to make appearances, most notable in her one special Mitzi...and 100 Guys, which saw the likes of Bob Hope (performing a softshoe), Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Mike Connors, Jim Nabors, Andy Griffith Tom Bosley, Michael Landon (in a comic duet of "Delovely") and a slew of others appear. When asked on WLIW about how she got all of them to appear, her simple answer was "We asked and they said yes!" Each year brought a different theme - and her one-hour specials turned out to be landslide winners in the ratings.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of South Pacific and the 40th anniversary of her first special, the simply titled Mitzi, a new DVD documentary has been released by City Lights Home Entertainment called Mitzi Gaynor: The Razzle-Dazzle Years, an introspective into the television specials with extensive footage of the shows as well as indepth memories from Ms. Gaynor herself, as well as Rex Reed, Kristin Chenoweth, Carl Reiner, Bob Mackie, Tony Charmoli and Kelli O'Hara. Ms. Gaynor herself is nothing short of gracious and humble, having a sense of humor about herself but also quick to give credit to everyone around her.

Looking at her perform throughout these specials, I can't help but think of the variety of musical theatre roles she could have played in NY. From the lavishness of her specials, the first show that pops into my head is Mame. But I could also see her performing in Sweet Charity or Chicago as well. (Many of her costumes gave the censors agita, because they were rather coyly suggestive, especially during the '70s, even though you really can't see anything. After all, Mitzi is first and foremost a lady). Broadway's loss was certainly television's gain here.

Included on the DVD are several complete performances from her specials, including "Mitzi & Friends Salute Sondheim's Company, with Jerry Orbach, Ted Knight, Suzanne Pleshette, Jane Withers and Cliff Norton performing "The Little Things You Do Together" set at a sophisticated dinner party in NY. Seeing the phenomenal Pleshette (yes she sings, in a baritone shades of Stritch and Bacall) here leads me to wonder if anyone ever thought of casting her as Joanne in Company. There are also some sketches, an outtake from the documentary about her appearance on the show the night the Beatles were on and a featurette with Mitzi and Bob Mackie discussing the costumes.

The performance footage seen on this documentary and in the bonus features has not been seen since the specials aired between 1968 and 1978. However, it would have been fun to see her showstopping performance at the Academy Awards on here, but I guess rights weren't available.

Mitzi is anecdotal and warm, a complete delight to hear with many interesting stories about the people with whom she worked and an uncanny knack for impersonation. (And like I said, undeniably gracious and humble). It's definitely worth taking a look as its probably in the listings for your local public broadcasting station (they are getting their pledge on!)

Hyacinth wants a part in "The Boy Friend"

One of Patricia Routledge's most inspired moments as social climber Hyacinth Bucket on the Britcom Keeping Up Appearances. Emmet, the next door neighbor who she constantly "sings at," is director of the local amateur opera company, who is putting on a production of The Boy Friend. Deliciously oblivious Hyacinth, who fancies herself a great musician and singer, drops some far-from-subtle hints that she wants a part. Hilarity ensues.

Quote of the Day: August in London

"Vulnerable, angry and thoroughly transfixing, [Amy] Morton has forged one of the great theatrical performances of the modern era. Like the rest of this remarkable show, it stares out from the stage with surety and terror."

- Chris Jones, in his review of the London transfer of August: Osage County in the Chicago Tribune's Theatre Loop

"You know you’re in for a lively evening when a play about a family reunion includes a fight director among the team. And how satisfying that he’s called Chuck, too."

- Christopher Hart in the Sunday Times

"Maybe Letts invites comparisons, a tad too obviously, with other canonical greats: Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee. But what's really joyous is his emergent Chekhovian talent for weaving a broad tapestry, depicting a whole extended household. He combines that with pin-sharp detailing which rings painfully true. Amy Morton's Barbara is unforgettable, howling with grief, then distractedly brushing her hair."

- Kate Bassett in the Independent

"Watching manipulative, mischievous Dunagan, or bruised, angry Morton or brassy Rondi Reed or any of Anna Shapiro’s terrific ensemble, you ruefully ask an obvious question. Could a British cast bring such commitment and conviction to this subversive take on Oklahoma!? Surely not."

- Benedict Nightingale in the Times

A Helluva Town

Here's the round-up on all my recent adventures into NY...

Dividing the Estate 11/20 - I love an opening night show. Who doesn't? You are there for the official first performance. Regardless of whether or not the show is a success, you were there for the performance that will put it into the annals of Broadway history books. Electric, starry and a chance to really dress it up too. The play, by Horton Foote, offers fascinating characters and intriguing ideas, but the result is rather middling. It felt more to me like a revival of a pre-Miller work, with its rather archaic plot machinations and contrivances. That's not to belittle the ideas behind the work: those complicated familial associations with property and money that cloud all else. Stellar cast. Elizabeth Ashley is a hoot as the aging matriarch, Penny Fuller is the epitome of honesty in her performance (and she looks two decades younger than she is) and Hallie Foote (the playwright's daughter and definitive interpreter) all but walks away with her study of avarice and solipcism. (Did her vocal inflection remind anyone else of Kim Stanley's voice over narration at the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird? Incidentally, Horton Foote won an Oscar for the screenplay). I don't know if I've ever been so angry at a character, yet simultaneously in total admiration of the performance behind it. Not even the ladies who've played Violet Weston have had that effect. Gerald McRaney makes his Broadway debut as the ne'er-do-well brother (who drinks...) and Arthur French provides a memorable supporting turn as the ancient servant who refuses to retire. Comparisons to the titan August: Osage County are inevitable, but this is really as Noah put it, August lite. The opening crowd gave 92 year old Foote a standing ovation. Runs through January 4th at the Booth. Required viewing for the three leading ladies, but especially Ms. Foote.

On the Town 11/23 - The classic Broadway debut of Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green hasn't fared well with time. The film version eliminated almost the entire score (far too sophisticated and raunchy for studio executives) and Broadway revisals in 1971 and 1998 were failures. Thanks to Encores! we got the chance to hear Bernstein's first stage score as part of the innumerable festivities celebrating his 90th birthday. The show started with the National Anthem, a replication of the original 1944 production which opened during the last year of the Second World War (timely then, and sadly enough, timely now). Instantaneously, the entire audience stood. People started to sing a little bit, quietly to themselves, and infectiously more and more people started to join in with the volume increasing until the entire City Center audience was singing full volume for the final phrase. One of those beautiful communal moments that has such a beautiful effect on a person. As for the show: those orchestrations, those dance arrangements, those Comden and Green lyrics, their cartoonish but endearing book. All loads of musical comedy fun. Tony Yazbeck is a star on the rise: those looks, that voice and the sincerity of his acting. Did I mention he dances like an heir to Gene Kelly? (You know, why didn't Roundabout cast him as Joey?) Christian Borle and Justin Bohon provided stellar support as Ozzie and Chip. Jennifer Laura Thompson is one hell of a funny soprano. Leslie Kritzer belted the hell out of the score, but her comedy was a bit forced. And then there was Andrea Martin, an absolute riot from start to finish as Madame Dilly, the perpetually soused instructor at Carnegie Hall who tore up the scenery in her few scenes (with her help, my beloved "Carnegie Hall Pavane" stopped the show). Roxie and I made our usual pilgrimage to the Park Cafe, but there was no sign of Rifke or Mireleh. Next up from the Encores! crew is a rare revival of Kern & Hammerstein's Music in the Air in February.

Jonathan Tunick & Barbara Cook at Birdland 11/24 - This joyous evening came about thanks to Sarah, who had an extra ticket. I'd never been to Birdland and it turns out that it's one of the most enjoyably intimate spaces I've ever been in. A total throwback to those nightclubs you see in the 40s and 50s movies. The only thing missing, the two of us agreed, was a dance floor. The prices are right and the food and drinks were fantastic. Tunick leads the Broadway Moonlighters, a fantastic brassy band made up of players from Broadway shows. They gave us a fantastic evening of entertainment with arrangements of "Strike Up the Band," "Lazy Afternoon," the overture for Merrily We Roll Along, two original pieces by Tunick "Buffet Luncheon" and "Pumpkin Lane" (which he named after an exit on the Taconic State Parkway). Midway through the set, they introduced their girl singer: Ms. Barbara Cook who sang a few choice favorites and this inestimable treasure provided us with a few vocal selections, including Gershwin's "Nashville Nightingale," "Sooner or Later" (not the Sondheim, but from Song of the South), and a lovely rendition of "Autumn in New York." The evening wrapped up with a sing-a-long rendition of "Let it Snow!" and several encores, capped with "Lullaby of Birdland." We were among some of the greats of the NY scene. Priscilla Lopez, Kelly Bishop, Margaret Colin, Ron Raines, Marni Nixon, Alice Playten were some of the stars out on the town. I had the pleasure of meeting the effervescent Kate Baldwin, one of the loveliest singing actresses in town (who will be on an upcoming SVU so be on the lookout!) and my candidate to play Ellen Roe in Donnybrook! should Encores take the initiative. I also got to meet Harvey Evans, a perfect gentleman and one of the nicest people in show business. The party didn't end there: we went to Angus' for a nightcap and further good times with good friends.

Road Show 11/29 - I have never had the privilege of seeing a new Sondheim show until now. Although it's not entirely new, the show, a labor of love (quite possibly an obsession) for Sondheim, was work-shopped as Wise Guys (dir: Sam Mendes; Nathan Lane & Victor Garber) in 1999, played regional engagements as Bounce (dir: Harold Prince; Richard Kind & Howard McGillin) in 2003 has finally made its way into New York as Road Show (dir: John Doyle; Alexander Gemignani & Michael Cerveris) in 2008. The musical, about the Mizner brothers, has been given a dark, conceptual staging here in NY that was rather unengaging, void of emotion and rather uninteresting. The show has been scaled back considerably with a unit set, intermissionless hour and forty minute running time. Gemignani and Cerveris provide excellent performances, carrying the evening. Doyle's directorial choices bothered me, particularly his favorite: two actors talking to each other while facing front. However, the costumes by Ann Hould-Ward are incredibly clever, especially having the opportunity to see the work up close as the actor's collected for BC/EFA. The score sounds like a Sondheim piece, those discordant synocopated vamps and his usual lyrical wordplay (though I think here his composition outshone his text); but aside from "You" and "The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened," (that melody!) there wasn't too much that stood out. As I walked away two musical lines were trapped in my head: "Everybody's Got the Right" from Assassins and the line "Ooh your song's derivative" from "Die, Vampire, Die" out of [tos]. (Watch Road Show be declared a masterpiece in ten or twenty years and watch us naysayers changing our critical tunes). Newcomer Claybourne Elder was an endearing well-sung presence as Addison's lover Hollis. Alma Cuervo, William Parry and Anne L. Nathan did the best with what they were given, which wasn't much. I went into this knowing the divisive opinions on the show and the mixed critical response, however, I was hoping beyond hope that I would enjoy the play, but overall Road Show just isn't that compelling. The day wasn't a total disappointment: I got to roam much of Manhattan with my very good friend Chris Lavin (Follies enthusiast and a discerning and observational writer who needs a blog of his own - I know you're reading this Chris, and I mean it). Visited a new favorite haunt, the Drama Book Shop and was lucky to just have a wonderful day in NYC. Let it be said, while I didn't care for the show (I quipped to several friends that I had just seen Road Kill), he loved it. And you know what that means, kids. Sondheim definitely has a new show in town.

Barbara Cook: "When You Wish Upon a Star"

Well, why not...?


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Definitive Eve...

Alright, so Applause isn't exactly brilliance. In fact, considering the rather leaden Encores! concert from last season, it's far from it. However, what is brilliance is Penny Fuller's interpretation of the role of Eve. In fact, it is the only thing that keeps the telemovie version of the musical afloat. (From what I've been told, Tony winner Lauren Bacall was worlds better live in performance than she is here). For as much as I enjoy the film, I feel after having seen the Eves of Anne Baxter, Penny Fuller and Little Evie - er Erin Davie... that Fuller best encapsulates the character. She only gets to sing two numbers, including this ferociously explosive ironic reprise of "But Alive" toward the end of the second act that brought down the house (preceding the dead on arrival "Something Greater" for Lauren Bacall to all but resign herself to June Cleaver's kitchen). I have to admit, it's not a strong song as written but she sure as hell sells it.

Penny still looks fantastic and is giving one of the most honest performances on a NY stage right now in Dividing the Estate (look for more on that in the near future). She also gets to sing a little but, sounding exactly as she did almost forty years ago which prompts the question: why hasn't she been in any musicals lately?

Design for One

Here is an original sketch of Tony Walton's costume design for Ken Howard as Teddy Roosevelt from the original production of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, before he removed his name from the production and his work was replaced by others. Now if only we could see what Patricia Routledge's costume looked like for her famed "Duet for One." I think there should be a field trip to the appropriate research facilities to find as many press photos as possible. Are you with me, gang...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

"And that audience! Omigod! You know what's great? The audience is a palpable part of the evening — which is what you're always hoping for. As an actor in the theatre, you want the audience to be vitally, dynamically involved — and they are with this. It's not realistic. It's not naturalistic. It's just pure theatre…. The very first night I thought, 'Wow! This is like a wall of security — this audience energy. It's fabulous.' Every performance is different. That's why it might be possible to play it forever, whereas with ordinary plays four months is about as long as I can take it without sorta doubling back on 'What am I doing here?' I'm hoping they'll invite me to do the tour, because I love to tour. That's the plan in my head. It's starting in August 2009 in San Francisco. I just would really love to tour with it to see how it is in other cities. I love exploring."

"Deanna said to me, 'Y'know, I'm only leaving because they won't let me do six a week.' So I immediately called the producers and my agent and said, 'What am I, some kind of lamb being led to the slaughter here that I'm expected to do eight when the woman who has been doing it says she can only do six?' But she's a very different person than me and probably not quite as strong. I have a 50 percent strain of Swedish peasant blood, not to mention that the other half is Old New England."

- Estelle Parsons in a new article for Playbill

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

History repeats itself...

Christian Hoff has been replaced in title role in Roundabout's Pal Joey revival by his understudy Matthew Risch after suffering from a foot injury this past weekend. However, many people on the web boards have speculated that the injury itself is perhaps some sort of cover for Hoff's departure, especially considering the eviscerating word of mouth he was receiving for his first few preview performances.

Coincidentally, the last Broadway revival of the show in 1976 saw stars Edward Villella and Eleanor Parker replaced by Christopher Chadman and Joan Copeland during previews. (That production, which played the Circle in the Square for 73 performances, featured Dixie Carter as Melba, who also played Vera regionally - an inspired choice).


Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's opening night...!

As I embark on the beginning of what could be a delightful year-end glut of theatre, I will be venturing down to the Booth Theatre for the opening night of LCT's production of Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate. This will also mark the first time I'll be seeing Elizabeth Ashley and Penny Fuller live in performance, which makes up a great deal of the excitement I'm feeling. It also marks my first opening since I was at the Vivian Beaumont last April for South Pacific.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Get a Kick Out of Reba?

Michael Riedel tells us today in the NY Post that Reba McEntire may be headlining a Roundabout revival of Anything Goes next season, directed by Kathleen Marshall. McEntire, who famously made her Broadway (and stage) debut in the revival of Annie Get Your Gun to rave reviews and sell-out business, winning a 2001 Theatre World Award as well as a special award from the Drama Desk. Plans to film her performance as Annie Oakley never came to fruition and instead she signed up for her long-running self-titled sitcom. There was a brief return to play Nellie Forbush in the 2005 Carnegie Hall concert of South Pacific and even talk of her returning in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (did you know that she was James Cameron's first choice for the part of Mrs. J.J. Brown in the film Titanic but had to turn it down because of her touring schedule?). Now it looks as if she'll take on the role of Reno Sweeney, another part originated by Ethel Merman, but also memorably essayed by Eileen Rodgers in a 1962 off-Broadway revival, Patti LuPone in a Lincoln Center revision in 1987 and Elaine Paige in the London transfer of the Lincoln Center production.

It is here that I confess muted interest. I am a fan of Reba; however, not so much of that chestnut of a show, with a some fine Cole Porter tunes but with a book of miniscule prescience and substance - and I'm referring to the 1987 rewrite! (I notoriously retitled an unusually plagued production at my college Everything Blows). There is another Merman role that I think would fit Ms. McEntire hand-to-glove: Mrs. Sally Adams in a revival of Call Me Madam. (She was legitimately born on a thousand acres of Oklahoma land. Make that seven thousand acres). Madam has only been revived in an Encores! concert with Tyne Daly and is dated in its Truman-era topicality (those phone calls about Margaret's recitals would be obscure today, but I'm sure Lady Iris and I would be in stitches), but with the right star and personality, much like McEntire's, it would be a good time. Just sayin'...