Friday, February 29, 2008

Dorothy Loudon: An Appreciation

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The American musical had a bright spot with this fearless comedienne-actress who could have you howling with laughter one moment and crying your eyes out the next. (Case in point; look at her signature roles - Miss Hannigan in Annie and Bea in Ballroom. About as night and day as you could imagine). Loudon managed to survive a string of early flops: the prophetically titled Nowhere to Go But Up that lasted two weeks, The Fig Leaves Are Falling which ran a whopping four performances (yet garnered Loudon her first Tony nomination). She was the best thing about Lolita, My Love a decent if ill-advised adaptation of Nabokov's novel, which opened and closed out of town in Boston. There is a recording of her performing the showstopping "Sur Le Quais", a Gallic romp for Charlotte Haze in the middle of the first act. After playing Edith in a short-lived revival of The Women in 1973 (opposite Kim Hunter, Alexis Smith, Rhonda Fleming and Myrna Loy), she spent the mid-70s touring. Mike Nichols personally asked her to audition for the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie and took a supporting role and made it a star turn, triumphing at the the 1977 Tony awards over co-star Andrea McArdle. The success of Annie brought Michael Bennett and Ballroom calling. Though the show was a failure, her performance was highly lauded and the only thing that prevented her from winning the Tony was the juggernaut of Sweeney Todd and Angela Lansbury. Incidentally enough, her next job would be replacing Angela in Sweeney. She played opposite Katharine Hepburn in The West Side Waltz, took on Patricia Routledge's role of Dotty Otley in the Broadway premiere of Noises Off and was one of Jerry's Girls. One song that she got to sing in the latter was the highly irreverent and politically incorrect "Have a Nice Day." Cut from La Cage Aux Folles early in its Boston previews, the song was an expression of a character's bigotry, with a lyrical punchline so offensive that only someone of Loudon's ability could make it funny. She rarely appeared on film, but made an impression as Carol Burnett's replace on The Garry Moore Show in the '60s and was a perennial favorite at the Tony awards. She also was featured on many Ben Bagley recordings, as well as many cast recordings and compilation albums produced by Bruce Kimmel in the 1990s. Loudon's final appearance on Broadway was in the first preview of the Lincoln Center revival of Dinner at Eight. Due to her failing health, was forced to withdraw and Marian Seldes stepped in. She died in November 2003 at the age of 70, losing her battle with cancer. The following May, at the Theatre World awards, she received a tribute in the closing of the ceremony by Peter Filichia, which prompted a spontaneous full-house standing ovation in her memory. (I was there). One of the great disappointments in my theatre-going career is having missed out on the opportunity to see her perform live. Enjoy these two clips of her bringing down the house. The first is her performance at Sondheim - A Celebration at Carnegie Hall in 1992, where she puts a new spin on "Losing My Mind" and "You Drive a Person Crazy." The second is much-talked about performance from the 1983 Tony awards. The evening was a celebration of George Gershwin, as the Uris Theatre became the Gershwin Theatre, and the line-up featured many stars performing various songs. Loudon had the choice task of performing this obscure little Gershwin number, "Vodka." (I would post her "Fifty Percent" from the 1979 Tony awards, as it's a devastating and captivating performance - when the Tony's allowed performers to perform entire songs... but the youtube clip is of an inferior quality).

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The 39 Steps"... and a Birthday Tribute

Before the Oscars last Sunday, I jetted down to the city to take in the matinee of The 39 Steps as part of my Roundabout subscription. I should preface anything I have to say with the following: I am an enormous fan of Hitchcock. In fact, it's easier for me to list his films I haven't seen: Topaz, Marnie, Under Capricorn, The Paradine Case, Spellbound and Jamaica Inn. Don't worry - I plan on getting to them in the near future. There are many of his films I love and only a couple that I dislike (Torn Curtain is my least favorite; even though as is the case with any lesser Hitchcock, there's always something to be appreciated). I have been obsessed with him ever since I first caught a glimpse of the shower scene when I was 7 and it scared the bejesus out of me - imagine my horror when I was told only a few minutes later it was time to shower and get ready for bed. I've devoured his films, read a lot about them and just enjoy them on many levels. (And a lot of them are surprisingly hilarious. Take for instance Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Carole Lombard in Hitch's sole screwball comedy; he uses his trademark styles to heighten the comedy and with hilarious results). I can only assume that the more you know Hitchcock, the more you'll enjoy The 39 Steps.

Anyway, the film is one of Hitchcock's early classics, released in 1935. I won't give away much of the plot, as it's a film that should be seen to be fully appreciated. Robert Donat stars as Richard Hannay, who is an early prototype for Hitchcock's trademark "wrong man" protagonist. Anyway, there's a murder; he's wrongly implicated and gets involved in an espionage plot as he and only he can try and stop the agents from fleeing the country with valuable information. All the while, he is being chased from London into Scotland by the police. Episodic and plot-driven, the film is a tour-de-force for Donat, who is supported by Madeleine Carroll (the first Hitchcock blonde...?) and the always perfect Peggy Ashcroft in a small but crucial role as a Scottish housewife. There are twists and turns and chases across the moors; great one-liners from Donat and one of the sexiest scenes to get by the censors when he and Carroll are handcuffed together (whether or not you see the play or film, you'll know the one I mean).

“I long for something mindless and trivial. Something utterly pointless...I know! I’ll go to the theater!!"

So Mr. Hannay decides in his opening monologue. You already know that this fateful decision is going to incite a slew of mystery and intrigue. But who knew slapstick comedy was going to be a part of the equation? This stage adaptation opened in London last season, winning the Olivier for Best New Comedy. In an incredible feat of unending creativity, the film is recreated onstage. The catch? There are four actors: one playing Hannay (the spot-on Charles Edwards, who originated the part in London; the lone actress (Jennifer Ferrin) playing the three pivotal female roles and two actors (Arnie Burton and Jonathan Saunders) playing EVERYONE ELSE, in a feat that is so audacious and clever, there aren't enough superlatives to praise the actor's hard work.

For a film that is as much a travelogue of Scotland as well as thriller, its staging is devilish fun. The proceedings keep things to a minimum with a lot of fun theatrical tricks and clever use of minimalist scenery (and props) to recreate large panoramic scenes (like the Moor chase) and even the uncanny and hilarious ability to recreate the many crowd scenes in the film (the moment where Hannay joins a parade to escape the police brought down the house). The show uses the wit of the screenplay to their best advantage, adding indelible low-comedy that will leave you breathless from excessive laughter. Watch Burton and Saunders as they portray about five characters having separate exchanges all at the same time. My favorite was their recreation of the famed hotel scene where the spies encounter the proprietor and wife. Nothing short of genius on their part.

There are also musical and textual references to other Hitchcock films, many of the music cues getting huge applause and a lot of strangely enjoyable groan-inducing puns (the music hall and vaudeville tradition put to use was welcomed wholeheartedly by the audience). The play flies by; each act is 45 minutes and is a decidedly engaging mix of absurdist parody and low-brow comedy. (Think of say, Airplane! as opposed to Spy Hard). My only qualm to the powers that be - it would be even better if the show ran without an intermission. You don't have to have seen the film to enjoy the play, but what the hell, it enhances one's appreciation for Mr. Hitchcock and I still find it quite good 73 years removed. It's worth of the price of admission alone to see the two supporting actors do their thing; I'm still reeling from their performances.

Oh, and for the curious, Mr. Hitchcock has a cameo. I won't tell you where or how, but it too stopped the show.

Before I sign off for the night, just wanted to wish the ever-youthful and ever-beautiful Bernadette Peters a happy 60th birthday. That is not a misprint. The beloved diva is reaching her milestone birthday looking nowhere near her age. Hopefully you all put on your favorite BP album (what did you listen to, I'm curious? I listened to Sunday in the Park With George) and take a glass to celebrate. This raises an important question: when is Bernadette coming back to Broadway and in what star vehicle? (Whatever the answer, it's not soon enough).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another Openin', Another Show...


Your Tickets:

South Pacific
Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 6:30 PM
1 Ticket, Center Loge Row E, Seat 308
Total Cost: $53.25


That's right! I'm going to the opening night performance!!! I am uber-excited!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some thoughts on the Oscars

The 80th annual Academy Awards went on. After being threatened for weeks by the strike, it was resolved and all ended well and the awards happened and here are some thoughts so I can end this ridiculous run on sentence before I completely lose my mind.

- Jon Stewart was, I thought, an amusing host. Much more comfortable and relaxed than the last time - and much funnier. Apparently not everyone agrees with me. Oh well. Did miss the best bit from his last time: the political smear ads among the acting nominees ("Judi Dench took my eye out in a bar fight." Anyone?) which would have been ever so appropriate this year of all years. The lines about the strike (the Vanity Fair line is brilliant) and the upcoming election were spot on. For the record: My favorite line of his, one that reduced us to pure hysteria: "Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty."

- Tilda Swinton provided an amusing upset over my beloved Cate Blanchett (who can really do no wrong and whom I adore). However, this was an incredibly strong category, and one that was pretty much impossible to peg, so I have bear no ill-will. Swinton's stellar restrained work in Michael Clayton is a master class in finding nuance and character in what otherwise would have been a complete caricature of a shrewy harridan. Her speech is one of the most offbeat and amusing I have ever heard in my life. (If you thought her Hefty-bag themed dress was atrocious, youtube her recent BAFTA win to see the garish insect costume she wore to that event...) Horrid styles aside, she seems like quite the amusing personality.

- Javier Bardem was incredibly classy - and also completely terrifying and fascinating in No Country. He's also going to be Guido Contini in the upcoming film adaptation of Nine; with Marion Cotillard as Luisa.

- The Coen brothers win for Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country. I immediately get a phone call telling me I am on TV (in the personage of Ethan Coen). For the record, my brother Patrick is more of a dead ringer than I. But I'll take it (and the Oscar too, thank you).

- Marion Cotillard wins for Best Actress over my beloved Julie Christie. Not quite the upset that some would make it out to be. But I have never seen an actor more relieved not to win than Christie. As the announcement comes closer you can see her getting insular and practically shrinking. They announce Cotillard and there is this moment where she kind of feels like a weight has been lifted and then goes completely nuts applauding Marion's win. Have I mentioned, I adore Julie Christie in practically every way? Possibly the most fascinating and coolest movie star that ever lived. Cate Blanchett, nominated for being awesome in a crapfest, looks like she was about to jump out of her seat to give her a hug, she was so ecstatic. Gotta love those British actors; not only do they deliver the goods, they certainly keep it real. It's the first time a French performance has been awarded an acting Oscar; and the first foreign language victory in this category since Sophia Loren made Two Women in 1961. My other question: why did they present this one so early? They would have done better to get predictable Best Actor out of the way and let us have some surprise toward the end.

- Note how each song from Enchanted fell flat. Amy Adams showed up, but apparently the set and a concept didn't. It felt like watching a stellar actress at work in an acting studio. Kristin Chenoweth phoned in on hers and I wish they got someone who could sing for the third song. Really pitiful presentation on all parts.

- "Falling Slowly" was beautifully performed by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Once may be my favorite film of 2007 and quite possibly a contender for my all-time favorite list. "Falling Slowly" is a lovely song and very affecting, but it's even more emotionally stirring when seen in context. I was so thrilled when they won, possibly my favorite category of the evening. Then to top it off the Oscars took an unprecedented step and allowed Marketa, who was cut off just as she was about to open her mouth, to come out and have her say. (Classy move, Oscar, classy move). Two beautiful and humble speeches by two of my new favorite people. See Once. Stewart had one of the best quips of the night with "Wow, that guy is so arrogant!" following Glen's half of the acceptance.

- Did no one tell Katherine Heigl you should never apologize for being nervous before you do anything in show business, ever? She was a total wreck, and we were all the more obvious because she blatantly pointed it out first. Doubt we'll be seeing her try live theatre any time soon.... and we're probably the better for it.

- I could listen to Daniel Day Lewis speak all day. He is one of the most articulate actors I have ever heard in my life. He also has one of the most staggeringly extensive vocabularies of anyone I've heard speak in my life. His performance in There Will Be Blood is one of the most mesmerizing star turns I've seen in a film in years. Though I hear he's fearfully method, I wish he would act more. I guess a return to the stage is out of order. But I was amused to read he cobbles in his free time.

- I've realized with time that I really hated Atonement. The more I think about it the more I dislike it. Though, the score was admittedly creative, with all that unique type-writer in the orchestration. Glad it didn't win anything else (even costumes. One stand-out green dress doesn't mean the entire thing should be awarded; I was rooting for Sweeney Todd or La Vie en Rose. I was surprised that they awarded it to Elizabeth: The Golden Age especially since no one seemed to like it.

- Enjoyed Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway presenting. In fact seeing the two of them play off each other so well makes me just a little more excited for the upcoming Get Smart (damn you marketing experts!) I thought the Adapted Screenplay exchange between Josh Brolin and James McAvoy was highly amusing.

- Anyone notice that Charles Lane and Brad Renfro were absent from the "In Memorium." Lane was a reliable character actor; normally called on to play a heavy of sorts, almost always a walk-on or minor supporting bit, yet always memorable. Born in 1902, he made his film debut in an uncredited role in 1931. He worked for decades, dying last year at the age of 102. Many of his film appearances include the Best Picture winner of 1938 You Can't Take it With You (as the frustrated IRS man), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ball of Fire, It's a Wonderful Life, State of the Union, The Music Man, and many others. A friend of Lucille Ball, he appeared in guest spots on her three hit sitcoms, and is probably best known on TV as the scheming Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction. He was also a founding member of the television academy, the Screen Actor's Guild and when awarded by TV Land on his hundredth birthday, he announced to the crowd "I'm still available." His last credit was narration for the 2006 short The Night Before Christmas. I think a 75 year career as a reliable and recognizable actor is worthy of a few seconds of time. (Yet they had time for agents? Did any of us know who they were? Or, all due respect, care?). In the case of Mr. Renfro, he was a more recognizable actor and his story was much sadder and more shortlived. People are actually quite up in arms over his omission. The Academy's excuse that "they didn't have time for everyone" is rather weak.

- Helen Mirren has a body that most of the twenty-something actresses at the Oscars would kill for. She is 62 1/2 years old - and possibly the sexiest senior citizen on the planet.

- Why was Marion Cotillard (who is quite gorgeous) dressed like a rejected chorine from The Little Mermaid?

- Was I the only who missed the living winners tableau they do every five years on a major anniversary? (For the 75th, they had Olivia de Havilland introduce the brief yearbook moment to a stirring standing ovation. I miss some of that old school glamour in these awards).

Anything I missed...?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dennis Letts

At the opening night of August: Osage County, I had the privilege of seeing many Chicago-based actors making their Broadway debuts. One of these actors was Dennis Letts, who played the brief but pivotal role of Beverly Weston in the play's prologue. Letts, the father of the play's author Tracy Letts, succumbed to lung cancer yesterday, February 24, at the age of 73. He had been diagnosed in August of 2007 after the Steppenwolfe run of August had ended, but in spite of his ill health and poor prognosis he insisted on continuing with the show. Incredibly reminiscent of Kathleen Freeman, who was dying of cancer during her run in The Full Monty (and left the show only a week before her death in August 2001), Mr. Letts continued to work for as long as he could without giving any indication of being in such poor health (he left the show in late January). Letts is survived by his wife, author Billie Letts and his sons, as well as a considerable body of work as a character actor in film and television.

Another Reason to Love Emma Thompson

The English actress Emma Thompson has stepped in to protest about an up-and-coming British actress, of seemingly perfect proportions, being required by an American film company to lose weight for her next role. Hayley Atwell may be the latest muse of Woody Allen, starring in his new film Cassandra's Dream, but she didn't measure up for Miramax Films, who are behind the big-screen remake of Brideshead Revisited.

Having been cast as Julia Flyte, the gilded scion of an aristocratic family played in the original TV series by Diana Quick, the 25-year-old Londoner was asked to shed a few pounds.

Thompson, who appears in the remake as Lady Marchmain (opposite Michael Gambon in the old Laurence Olivier role as Lord Marchmain), learned of Atwell's predicament when she invited her to dinner at her home.

Says Atwell: "I went round to Emma's one night and she was getting very angry that I wasn't eating all the food she was giving me. I told her why and she hit the roof." The no-nonsense Thompson was so outraged that she called the producers the next day and threatened to resign from the film if they forced Atwell to lose weight. Faced with Thompson - a two-times Oscar winner - on the warpath, Miramax Films swiftly relented.


This was an article I found on The First Post while making my rounds this morning. Frankly people, does the girl look like she needs to put down the fork? No. She looks beautiful and healthy all on her own without the executives forcing another anorexic Keira Knightley type on us.


Here is a picture of Ms. Atwell:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Atticus





Figured it was time to introduce you folks to my current pride and joy (till I actually father a child; depending on my luck could be sooner rather than later. No not that kind of luck. Bad luck. Whatever. Moving on. I digress...), Atticus. I was just organizing old photographs and he's just so damned cute that I figured why not? Now, what you gotta understand is that I wasn't particularly a cat person. I enjoyed them, but they were too temperamental for my taste. Anyway, my housemate in college brought one home and we had a little tabby running around the house. About a month later, he had to take him to the vet and I was enlisted to come along to help him, since he had yet to acquire a cat carrier. With about an hour or so to kill, I realized that they had two kittens up for adoption; brother and sister. I asked if I could see them, figured at least it would be a time killer. The vet tech told me they had already had a taker for the grey female but the orange male was still around. I said okay or whatever. Anyway, the minute they walked through the room with him, I said "I'll take him." Yep, just like that. I highly recommend if you're looking for a pet that you rescue. The animals are incredibly grateful for the care; and let me tell you, orange male cats are the best. Not only is he a beautiful cat, he's ridiculously devoted to me, likes to play fetch and occasionally thinks I'm also a cat. Atticus (yeah, To Kill a Mockingbird) is going to be three on April 5 and if nothing is as energetic and playful as ever. Okay, not theatre or film related, but I wanted to share.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

RAD-LIB! Write your own Oscar Speech

Radar Online had this delightful little bagatelle to deflect me from more important responsibilities. Enjoy.

http://www.radaronline.com/features/2008/02/ralibs_oscar_speeches.php

Here is mine:

Wow. Oh boy. I wasn't going to prepare a speech, but my Myrna told me I'd jinx myself if I didn't. So, thanks, Bo-Peep! [Pause. Inhale deeply. Nod to Jack Nicholson.] I'd like to thank the Academy. I'd like to thank the stellar, visionary and legendary actors I was nominated with. Just to be included in a group with you all is an honor. I'd like to thank my manager, Maury, my agent, Ari, my stylist, and all the immensely talented people at New Line, Harvey Weinstein, Jesus, and Bob Hartley.

I'd also like to thank my parents, who supported me through cough drop addiction. And Martin Landau, my one ... true ... love [gaze into audience]. Last, but certainly not least, we all just lost Mel Brooks, a truly idiotic visionary and stupendous soul. [Begin tearing.] I'd like us to take a moment to ... No! Gee Willickers, Batman!! Don't start playing that music, I have 85 more people to go! My editor Thelma Schoonmaker, my accountant Irving Kaplan, my lawyer Arthur Anders, and my personal assistant Mozambique, Josh at Marble Faun Pictures. Brad Grey. When we started this project, Terror on the golf course was something no one wanted to talk about. Victims of frog attacks, this is for you! Thank ... [Music swells]

The Best Picture Oscar

I have now seen all five nominated films in this category; and have tried my best to catch up with the general releases of 2007, as it was not a big year for moviegoing and I do not know why. In fact I think I haven't seen so few movies in a year since 2001. Anyway, I'm going to run down the five movies and whether or not I find them up to snuff. I apologize for any minor spoilers (I wouldn't give away the endings, you philistines!) that might pop up.

Atonement: A solid period piece with all the trimmings. Detailed art direction, stellar costume design (everyone seems to flipping for that green dress). Potent performances of a potentially explosive script. However, for all its merit, I couldn't help but feel that the story of the film on whole was hallow. For someone as beloved in a household as Robbie Turner was to his employers, it seems unthinkable that they would immediate take Briony's word for fact, when she was known for dramatics, overimagination and generally obnoxious histrionics. The investigation into the entire rape scenario seems rushed - and um, why do the rapist and victim marry each other? Anyway, they're inconsequential to the film after the first forty minutes. In fact the ending felt empty and for that I was depressed. Aside from a brilliant cameo turn by Vanessa Redgrave as an aged Briony, the end didn't satisfy. It was quite a film to absorb, but there wasn't that much to absorb from it. Though I did learn a few lessons. Number 1: Make sure you put the right letter in your envelope. 2. Never give envelope with wrong letter to precocious, assuming and thoroughly unlikable 13 year old. 3. Don't rape a teenager when you're a guest in the family home. 4. Don't put the wrong letter in the envelope. Oh wait, I covered that? Oops. Anyway, see it if you like, but Howards End or The Remains of the Day this is not. Oscar should have paid James McAvoy's stellar performance notice, but not Atonement as a whole.

Juno: This year's popular quirky little off-beat indie comedy that could. Say, a follow-up of sorts for the fans of Little Miss Sunshine. It's hard not to like the film. For all its quirks (and is there a plethora; perhaps screenwriter Diablo Cody should collaborate with Wes Andersen and blow our minds), the film is actually quite sweet and occasionally quite funny. The film rests on the shoulders of Ellen Page, as the title character, who at 16 finds herself pregnant and goes about her situation in the most pragmatic and mature manner possible. Dry and sardonic, but not unfeeling, Juno is the kind of character you wish would show up more often. The straight man to all the lunacy around her, especially as she becomes involved in the lives of the couple who wish to adopt from her. What's fascinating is that with the breadth of characters and setting (not to mention the chemistry) it felt like the pilot for a truly brilliant sitcom, akin to Freaks and Geeks or Arrested Development (Michael Cera and Jason Bateman probably brought out a lot of fans of the latter). One of the overlooked performances, for my money, is J.K. Simmons as Juno's father, who is heartwarming and hilarious - sort of the Alan Arkin (minus the crass and drugs) of this movie. Allison Janney is a riot as her stepmother; Jennifer Garner effective as the would-be adoptive mother. And Cera is brilliantly awkward as the father of the child.

Michael Clayton: Truth be told, I didn't think I was going to like this film. Legal person gets caught up in whistleblowing scandal; Life is on the line. The whole rigamarole. Well, do I love to be surprised. Think of it as Erin Brockovich meets Jason Bourne and this movie is the love child of their respective movies. Okay, so that's somewhat complicated and weird, but you can figure out what I mean. It's mostly an action thriller that features smarter-than-usual writing and a strong performance from George Clooney. However, he is eclipsed by the brilliant Tom Wilkinson as the top tier attorney who threatens a $3 billion lawsuit when he goes off his meds and the efficient chill of Tilda Swinton's smile as corporate legal counsel who will stop at nothing to protect the interests of her corporation that is under fire. Well directed and well paced, it makes for an entertaining couple of hours. However, if we're going to accept smart popcorn movies into the race for the Academy awards (the Academy's undying love of George Clooney not withstanding), why not some more serious attention to the incredibly well-loved and well-reviewed Bourne Ultimatum or even the lost gem of last winter, Zodiac, which has a small but rabid fanbase?

No Country for Old Men: The Coen brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's sparse novel is one of the most bad-ass movies I have seen in a long time. There are three main characters in the story, each interrelated, though none share any screen time. What you have is a dark moral tale of chance and fate; and how the choices either good or bad can impact a person's life. Strong script, stronger direction and the performances of the three major characters make this an unforgettable film experience. Tommy Lee Jones is the solemn sheriff trying in vain to maintain order in his generally peaceful Texas town all the while coming to the realization that he is powerless to the forces of change and time. Josh Brolin is the blue-collar Llewellyn who stumbles across the remnants of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Then we come to the quiet ferocity that is Javier Bardem who is giving a performance that is already legendary. You'll think twice before you call a coin toss, let me tell you... This has been a front-runner for many awards, in spite of the controversy many have felt regarding the ending (which actually folks is subtle genius - if you've been left feeling uneasy, it's worked). The only loss I mourn in translation from novel to screenplay is the further dimensions we are given regarding the Sheriff and his past.

There Will Be Blood: The most epic of this year's nominated films captures one of the most spellbinding performances I've seen in a movie in quite some time. Daniel Day Lewis is Daniel Plainview, an oil man who finds himself at odds with a cryptic faith healer (Paul Dano, another Academy oversight). Big, bold, operatic and crafted with considerable beauty by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (whose Boogie Nights should be required viewing for all) the film is loosely based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. It tells of a man's quest for power in the oil industry and the price he pays for it; in certain terms it's a rather complex character study with images and ambitions that never cease to amaze for the entire 158 minute time. The scenes between Lewis and Dano are among the most volatile; every time they appear onscreen together Lewis gives his usual all and Dano rises to the occasion, making their scenes tense, nerve-wracking and occasionally hilarious. Every time Daniel Day Lewis makes a movie, it becomes an event of sorts and he regularly delivers the goods. I've been a huge fan of Sweeney Todd and have been pushing for Johnny Depp to win, but about halfway into this film, I told my friend "I concede, The Oscar is Daniel's." Oh and before I forget, the film's also got a rather fascinating musical score and has sumptuous cinematography.

I've been able to narrow it down to No Country and Blood as the two most deserving of the nominees. My personal preference would give it to Blood; but I'll be damn fine when it goes to No Country.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kelli O'Hara loses her golden locks for "South Pacific"

I normally don't recommend ever going to broadway.com because of the terrible photos that they take (not to mention the worst captions ever), their tacky man on the street critiques in lieu of, well, actual criticism and most unforgivable, the lack of Ken Mandelbaum whose column was a mainstay and, toward the end, the only reason to venture onto the site. Horrible. However they had a video crew follow Kelli to the salon for her necessary haircut for the upcoming revival of South Pacific.

http://www.broadway.com/Gen/Buzz_Video.aspx?ci=560973

Even with short hair, she's no less than an absolutely glamorous stunner.

Sunday is officially here and Gypsy is coming next week. But I'm equally excited for this first-ever Broadway revival of a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein. And since its being done by LCT at the Beaumont (with much of the Piazza team in place) we're sure to have a glorious evening of beautiful scenography and performance. This is definitely a year for musical revivals, not originals.

Raves for Sunday in the Park

The revival of Sunday in the Park With George officially opened last night to superlative rave reviews from the critics; a far cry from the divisive reactions the original production received in 1984. This time around it seemed as though the critical consensus was more accepting of the second act (which was the problem for many the first time around) and that this particular production allows the show to have heart. Kudos are being given to stars Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, imperative supporting player Mary Beth Peil, director Sam Buntrock and the scenography by David Farley, Ken Billington and Tim Bird. All names that will be remembered come Tony nomination time.

Ben Brantley ended his review with the following paragraph, which may be the most incredible thing he's ever written:

"That the second act ends as the first does, in a ravishing epiphany of artistic harmony, now feels more than ever like a loving benediction, bestowed by the show’s creators on its audiences. Every member of those audiences, whether consciously or not, is struggling for such harmony in dealing with the mess of daily reality. How generous of this production — and it is the generosity of all great art — that it allows you, for a breathless few moments, to achieve that exquisite, elusive balance."

Yes folks, that about sums up the breathtaking experience this revival provides.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Were They Thinking...?

Oh kids. This is too awful and hilarious (awfully hilarious...hilariously awful...?) not to share.

"He Got It in the Ear"

Rockabye Hamlet is the notorious flop rock opera adaptation of, yeah, you guessed it. (The setting: a Rock concert). A rare Canadian musical import, the show was originally commissioned for radio under the title Kronberg 1582. With direction from Gower Champion, of all people, it played 7 performances at the Minskoff in 1976 and featured Beverly d'Angelo in her sole Broadway appearance to date as Ophelia. Larry Marshall was Hamlet (fortunately for him, he followed this immediately with the role of Sportin' Life in the acclaimed '76 revival of Porgy and Bess) and none other than Meat Loaf played a supporting part as a Priest. This number is how they chose to adapt the famed play within a play. Honeybelle is played by Judy Gibson.

I dare you to listen to the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let's See What Happens

So here's a project for the mere fun of it, kids. Put together your solo album. For the conceit of it all, let's pretend money is no option (if you want a guest or two) and we all have ridiculous six octave voices that could do everything we can imagine vocally. First off, you can't just throw it together with your favorite songs; (though obviously that's sort of what will happen). But there must be some sort of cohesion and sense to the choices you make. The one I deem the winner earns my approval. Yep. You read that correctly. (What, you think I have a budget for dollar store prizes?) Impress me, kids. (All three of you that will participate).

Let's See What Happens
Sur Le Quais
A Time for Singing
One More Walk Around the Garden
Do I Hear a Waltz?
I Wouldn't Bet One Penny (special guest Victoria Clark)
My True Heart
Not on Your Nellie
All the Things You Are (orig. orch; special guest Kelli O'Hara)
Chain of Love/Reach Out medley
I Had a Ball
Bonus Track: "Duet for One"

I haven't titled it, but can you guess from whence cometh these songs?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Official Press Release: "August" to Extend, Transfer to Music Box

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY HAS A NEW HOME BEGINNING TUESDAY, APRIL 29th. NEWBLOCK OF TICKETS NOW ON SALE!*

100th Performance celebration this Wednesday, February 20th*

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, Tracy Letts' acclaimed play about the missing patriarch of an Oklahoma family, has found a new home right next door at the Music Box Theatre. The Steppenwolf production will play its last performance at The Imperial Theatre, Sunday, April 20th at 3:00PM and will reopen at The Music Box Theatre Tuesday, April 29th at 7:30PM. At the February 20th matinee, the play will celebrate its 100th performance on Broadway.

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County focuses on the Weston family of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. This "darkly funny family drama" was voted #1 play of the year by Time, "The Associated Press," Entertainment Weekly, and "TimeOut New York." Charles Isherwood of "The New York Times" called August: Osage County, "The most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years." Others agreed. Joe Dziemianowicz of "New York Daily News" says "Letts' perspective is bracingly fresh. You're laughing hysterically one minute and appalled the next." Clive Barnes of "The New York Post" writes "August is One Hot Drama." The original cast includes: Ian Barford, Deanna Dunagan, Kimberly Guerrero, Francis Guinan, Brian Kerwin, Dennis Letts, Madeleine Martin, Mariann Mayberry, Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, Jeff Perry, Rondi Reed, Troy West, Munson Hicks, Susanne Marley, Jay Patterson, Dee Pelletier, Molly Ranson, Aaron Serotsky and Kristina Valada-Viars. The designers are Todd Rosenthal (sets), Ana Kuzmanic (costumes), Ann Wrightson (lights), Richard Woodbury (sound) and David Singer (original music). August: Osage County performs Tuesday-Friday at 7:30PM, Matinees on Wednesday and Saturdays at 2:00PM, Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00PM. Tickets can be purchased at Telecharge.com, or by calling (212)239-6200. Outside the NY Metro (800) 432-7250.The Imperial Theatre is located at 249 West 45th Street.The Music Box Theatre is located at 239 West 45th Street.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Patricia Routledge!

This site's favorite musical theatre diva turns 79 today. With word from Variety that Trevor Nunn may be directing a revival of A Little Night Music for the Menier Chocolate Factory, wouldn't she make a marvelous addition to the cast as Madame Armfeldt? I'd certainly cross the pond for that.

I listened to four different renditions of my much-loved "Duet for One" this afternoon (it even warranted a playlist on itunes) delivered by three noted sopranos. Patricia Routledge (at the world premiere performance in Philadelphia and several months later at the final performance in NY; with different versions of the song, the former of which has been reinstated as the official), June Anderson who recorded the First Lady for the CD premiere of Bernstein's score A White House Cantata, and finally Judy Kaye who recorded the piece for the John McGlinn Broadway Showstoppers compilation CD. Anderson's is pretty tepid; she has plenty of voice, but little humor and practically no personality. She barely even tried to delineate between the two first ladies. She's also the only one out of the three who doesn't cap off the end of the song on a high D above C (kudos to Pat and Jude for such prowess). For a famed coloratura soprano who has sung the roles of Cunegonde, The Queen of the Night and Lucia, among others, you'd think she'd be able to pop out a little old D. Hey June, I bet Renee would do it better. So there.

If I knew how to upload songs on here, I would.

Also, a special birthday shout out to Broadway and film legend (and first-time Oscar nominee) Hal Holbrook who is 83 today. I wish him luck at the Oscars. Though I love Bardem's performance in No Country for Old Men and is a lock for the award, there is a small sentimental part of me rooting for Holbrook.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Once

Though everyone has been talking about the movie musical in terms of adaptations of Hairspray and Sweeney Todd (the former I have not seen in its entirety, the latter I loved), the low-budget and low-key Once is the best movie musical of 2007. I realize I make that statement and haven't seen all of Hairspray but let's face it, my statement is unlikely to change if I ever decide to watch the rest. I'd say since the serious re-emergence of the musical as a film genre with Moulin Rouge in 2001, this is probably the most affecting of all.

It seems that nothing in this film should succeed. It was made for practically no money; the plot is relatively simple and the two leads aren't experienced actors. Nonetheless, the elements come together with quietly devastating results; thanks to the musical work of the two leads, Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech musician Marketa Irglova (together, both composed the entire musical score, I might add). Writer-director John Carney manages to use their sincerity and musical skill to great advantage. The plot involves a husker-by-day, streetsinger-by-night with an incredible gift for songwriting who meets a rose-selling immigrant on the streets of Dublin. Together they share a kinship - no - passion (that word gets thrown around too much but its most appropriate in this case) for music. In a short span (the film covers about a week's time), they come together and well, make beautiful music. Sorry, but there's no other way of putting it without cheapening it. The songs string together the story, often commenting on the character's emotions while underscoring onscreen action. From such simplicity comes rich dimension. The two leads have both gone on record saying that they probably won't act again (pity); however, they have been nominated for the Best Song Oscar for "Falling Slowly," the best song in the film.

This song is heard twice; once in its formative stages in the beginning of the film as he teaches her in a little music store. It was at this point of the film, I completely surrendered myself, and there was no return. Patient, well-paced and emotionally overwhelming, everything you need to know is expressed through the music. Add to that, it's also one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard in my life. Yes, the songs are diegetic; they - and we - are aware they are singing. However, as we watch these collaborators express their heart and soul in their art, you almost forget they are singing, it's that transportative. The creative bond that the two share transcends the usual sex-laden, superficial and supercilious sappiness that pervades most romantic films; for that emotional honesty I am nothing short of thankful. The film manages to accomplish much in terms of expression with a lack of pretention. I can't wait to watch it again; I feel like the experience can only be enriched the second time around and I don't think I'm wrong.

I haven't been so moved by a score since I attended the opening night of The Light in the Piazza almost three years ago. I hope if and when you see this movie that you can have a fraction of the emotional response I have had. Duncan Sheik wishes he could write a contemporary score as effective as this.

My only qualm with the film? It was too short. But I must contradict myself by adding, if they made it any longer or bigger, it would destroy the charm and ambience. There have been films, plays and musicals that have ended and I've wondered what becomes of the characters post media res. Well, my curiosity for such information has never been more piqued. I want to know what becomes of these characters so badly. And I hope they never make a sequel; it's that perfect.

I'm still a complete wreck two hours later.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Beloved Aunt

All the hoopla over Jane Fonda's on-air faux pas this morning not only had me in hysterics (Offended people: come on, you have to admit it's pretty hilarious that it happened, especially on the Today Show. The only way it could have been better is if Katie Couric was conducting the interview) but got me to thinking about the use of language on TV and how certain words are off limits. Anyway, I want to say a quick word on her behalf. Ms. Fonda was not on the interview to offend anyone. In fact she was there with playwright Eve Ensler (whom some neanderthal credited as "playwrite" on the character generator) to promote the 10th anniversary of the V-Day movement; which began 2.14.98 with a benefit reading of The Vagina Monologues. Anyway, while I think the word was probably better left unsaid, I do think that people shouldn't really fly off the handle at her either. The word, as offensive as many find it, was actually being used in the context of a literary title; it so happens to be the title of the monologue she was asked to perform. It was also uttered in response to a question posed by Vieira about Fonda's initial reticence to get involved with the play. Her response to Ensler was "I don't think so. I've got enough problems." It was funny, you have to admit to see Meredith Vieira trying in vain to maintain her poise; she was pretty stunned. About ten minutes later, Vieira apologized on behalf of NBC and Fonda for the slang term usage. And while I don't suggest we all open up our windows and scream out every vaginal and penile euphemism at the top of our lungs (though the darker side of me giggles at the prospect), I hope that this slip-up today doesn't overshadow what Ensler and her initiative is trying to accomplish: bringing about an end to violence against women worldwide.

I wonder, were people more offended when Diane Keaton casually dropped the word "Fuck" on Good Morning, America or by this morning's incident? We certainly have some sassy older actresses making the talk show rounds these days. Better be ready on the censor button when Meryl Streep makes her next appearance on The View.

Anyway, I laugh because I'm reminded of a very special episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, from whence cometh the title for this post. In said episode, Larry promises to get an obituary in the paper for his wife's recently deceased aunt. Well, you can figure out the rest, I'm sure. If not, watch it, it's hilarious. There was also a pretty crazy 30 Rock episode that also dealt with this insult of insults. For those who are offended by said word, I am sorry. It is a word - and an offensive one - but there are worse things going on in the world that really should be commanding our attention at this time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WGA Strike Ends!

After three months, the WGA members overwhelmingly voted to end their strike and return to work. Hopefully those powers that be can salvage the remnants of the season so we can have some new episodes of 30 Rock, The Office, Family Guy and American Dad. Among all the other shows you all know and love too. It's also nice to know that these crew members and production staff people who were laid off as a result of the strike will once again be employed. Also, they can get back to work on quality movies so we're not stuck with complete dreck in the fall.

And the Oscars shall go on and it shall be a glorious night. I saw No Country for Old Men, the contender for Best Picture. I am so incredibly fascinated by Anton Chigurh and his portrayal by virtual Oscar-lock Javier Bardem. Such an interesting and subtle film, beautifully directed and written, with generally superb performances all around. The book by Cormac McCarthy goes more in depth in terms of the characterization of the Sheriff, but as an adaptation, it is incredibly faithful. More movies to see in the next couple of weeks. Plus, some more Oscar thoughts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NCassidine Takes on "Applause"

NCassadine has provided ATC with yet another brilliant parody; this time taking on Applause at Encores! I hope he doesn't mind my reposting it here. It's pretty brilliant and hilarious.

COMPANY OF APPLAUSE
This is dusty and corny and dated
tired, forlorny and yes, overrated
Let's revive!
Let's revive!
Let's revive!
This is rotten, forgotten, affected,
All of the numbers are over directed
Let's revive!
Let's revive!
Let's revive!

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE
I wish I were home in Jersey
Chicken soup and cherry Halls (tm)
Maybe you can't hear the lyrics
God I hope the curtain falls!

ALL
And this is silly and dripping with drama

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE
I can be Margo if Patti is Mama

ALL
Not an ounce of lust
Showing off the rust
Knowing that we must revive!

(generic 70s music)
CHRISTINE EBERSOLE shows up at the Monster.

GAY MEN and assorted VILLAGE PEOPLE
LITTLE EDIE!

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE
Fasten your seatbelts - it's gonna be a bumpy night!

AUDIENCE GOES NUTS AT THE RECOGNITION OF A LINE FROM THE MOVIE!

ALL
Put down your torches, now that we've sung (eh, eh, eh, eh, eh) the famous line!
Put down your torches, follow the weird melodic line
Ensemble numbers, they could sure use a redesign.
Make the noise,
Just get past the bumpy line.

MEGAN SIKORA
What stops a show from workin' out?
The flaws, the flaws.
Who has the plot? What've you got
but major flaws?
You're rooting for Eve
then Bonnie's the star
You never believe
what you're watching
And now you're plum distracted by
those glaring flaws
Casting's a mess, book is a guess
but we refuse to distress cause
the words are sublime
now here comes the rhyme
The flaws! The flaws! The flaws!

The lights dim, and CHRISTINE EBERSOLE takes center stage.

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE

Welcome to the Encores!
to the clunkers, to the flops
where jokes are old and rather stale
where characters are hard to nail
and subtetly is all for naught
Now you've entered City Center
What an eyesore, it's true
Legroom's unheard of and
renovation's overdue
But welcome, Erin Davie
past the garden we called grey
You're on your path to bigger parts
Just learn to smile and win their hearts
You'll be miscast but you'll hit the charts
from New York to Santa Fe
So,welcome to the theatre
My dear, you're on display!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rifke! ...and other anecdotes from my trip to "Applause"

I've had a taste of, the sound that says love... Applause... Hm. Roxie and I attended the final performance of the Encores! presentation of this 1970 Best Musical winner. It was a great afternoon. I watched the impressive natural wonder of a arctic cold front push across the Hudson River while I waited for the train. Wandered around the Times Square area with Roxeleh before the show. Had a most amusing dinner at a diner down the street from the City Center. The title of this post comes from a rather absurd moment where this woman sat next to us while we were eating. First off, as she was being handed the menu she asked the waitress what I was eating as if I wasn't even there. Her voice was also at a volume where her entire conversation was privvy to the both of us. And let me just say hilarity ensued. The woman was in her sixties and sounded like Mae Questal with a post-nasal drip. Roxie and I burst into a quiet frenzies of hysterical laughter when the woman started talking about her Yiddish class to a random friend and went on about her classmate Rifke. "Oh my goodness, Rifke put down she was 24! Can you believe it?! Oh that Rifke!" Now those of you who are familiar with Fiddler on the Roof know that Rifke is the first recipient of "The Rumor." But the combination of the elements led Roxie and I into hysterical fits of laughter. You had to be there, but it could possibly rival seeing Ms. Ebersole tear up the stage as the highlight of the day.

Anyway. Applause. You can see my previous post back in October about the guilty pleasure status of this score. Well. It was certainly a fun time. The show is rather poor in practically every way. Yes, I'm well aware that 20th Century Fox wouldn't allow the musical theatre team to use any of the screenplay; yes, I'm aware that the 1970s was a different era, and contemporizing was the rage. But did no one stop to think that what they were writing was pretty much sub-par?

Pros:

- Christine Ebersole. Yes, everything about her is true. She is a musical theatre diva with endless energy, voice, charisma, beauty and presence. Probably a whole slew of other things wondrous as well. Margo has never been more attractive and so relatable as she was last evening. For the first time, I felt "Hurry Back" worked. In the original production, it was performed as a part voice-over (what?!) and then Bacall, in her basement keys took over live. It just felt like dead weight that didn't go anywhere. Ebersole brought it to life with a great deal of heart and some delightfully jazz vocals. Fortunately for the comfort of all in the house, the keys for Margo were brought up 4ths and 5th, allowing Ebersole her comfort belt and tones, which sold every number; especially her powerhouse rendition of the second-rate "Welcome to the Theatre" (if the first half of the lyrics were as good as the second half, I'd consider a change). And especially for someone who missed a great deal of the rehearsal time due to influenza, she scored big time and unlike Stokes in Kismet, I was able to forgive her reliance on the prompt book.
- Mario Cantone. Playing the role of the sassy gay sidekick to the diva usually lends itself to caricature; but Cantone played Duane, Margo's dresser as a friend and confidante who also just happened to be a very funny individual. Cantone's exercise in restraint and nuance was much appreciated by those in attendance. You knew he cared for and protected Margo; and it showed with a very warm relationship between the two characters.
- The ensemble. They danced it up; especially the boys in "But Alive" who managed to send up the camp while delivering it. (Here's the clip from the 1973 telecast with Bacall. Outrageous. http://youtube.com/watch?v=71dRwNTN69I). They brought down the house with the title song. They even managed to work with the dreck of "She's No Longer a Gypsy," the bizarre "Fasten Your Seatbelts," and "Backstage Babble."
- Kate Burton. Who can do so much with so little. What a treat. And what a waste of a role. This woman deserves to be doing anything from Phyllis in Follies to Vera in Mame.
Michael Park and Tom Hewitt. In choice supporting roles as lover and producer of the star; they take a necessary backseat to the Margo-Eve story.
- The first act. It plays much smoother. What is bad, is at least enjoyable camp and therefore more amusing to watch and hear.
- The gentleman behind us who was so excited to see Christine Ebersole we thought he was going to have a diva fit. It was priceless. Especially Roxie's enjoyment of the entire proceeding.
- The orchestra. They sounded phenomenal. Great sound, great musical direction and a great complement to the singers.

The In-Between:

- Erin Davie. A fresh-faced delight from Grey Gardens; her best scenes were opposite Ebersole. However, I don't think she was well-directed. She was too "Little Evie" for my liking. Noah was incredibly accurate in describing her "One Hallowe'en" as "Daddy's Girl."
- Chip Zien. He's rather annoying. But he wasn't terrible.
- The midsection of the title song. It was cute, but a little cloying. They removed the original mid-section of the number with a send-up of various hit musicals by replacing lines with "applause." Here, they did an Encores! best-of run-down, setting up a small gold proscenium and people performing snippets from a slew of musicals that have been done in recent years. A few of them were amusing, but come on. Also, he glaring anachronism of using "All That Jazz" and "Beautiful Girls" in a song that takes place in early '71 was rather irritating. (Granted Follies was a few months away, but it's highly doubtful this chorus boy would have been singing "Beautiful Girls" at this point). The original was also quite famous for its Oh, Calcutta! moment where the boys flashed their asses to the audience; something that was also telecast on the Tony's in 1970 ON CBS!!!! (I'm surprised they got away with it).


Cons:

- The score. I'm sorry Sarah, in spite of occasionally amusing campy numbers, and one really good song (the title), this is the worst score of a Best Musical winner. Strouse and Adams have run the gamut - Bye Bye Birdie to Bring Back Birdie should say it all. The second act is particularly hideous ("One of a Kind" takes it cue from a coffee tagline; then crams too many words into too short a space and just kinda sits there awkwardly).
- The book. Jesus Christ. One of the greatest films ever. A pretty middling book. It lacks bite. It lacks character development; And it lacks a satisfying ending. In fact, the ending was a complete rushjob. Comden and Green have delivered class and wit in many of their shows; in spite of a few great one liners, they were not the people for this job. Certain characters (Karen, Buzz, etc) just lose so much in this translation.
- The second act. There is little to salvage even for a camp factor. And who the hell thought "Truman Capote's balls" was a good idea for a lyric?
- The ending. A combination of the two previous entries. Not only was it rushed, it was unsatisfactory. All of a sudden everything was wrapped up; Eve was basically a kept woman by her producer and Margo decides to give up the theatre for marital bliss. WHAT? Well, at least that's what came about from the terrible eleven o'clock number "Something Greater." The hook: "There's something greater." I'm still not sure if it was intentional, but suddenly it feels as though the actress playing Margo is commenting on the song she's singing... When you get the revelation that Margo wants to "be what to her man what a woman should be is something greater and finally that's for me." Horrible. When Encores! did Fiorello! in its first season, they revised the creaky "strikes me" line from "The Very Next Man." Besides, someone as interesting and in love with theatre like Margo couldn't possibly give up one for the other; but try to find a balance between the two. It's not Bill would ever give up his directing career for her, so why would she not be the diva to her adoring public? Also, we lose the book-end effect of the flashback, where we come back to the awards and everyone gets in their parting shots (Bette Davis has what I think is the greatest exit line on film) and also the incredibly memorable final scene of poetic justice.
- Direction. I don't think Kathleen Marshall showed up.
- Playbills. How could the City Center run out of Playbills for a 5 performance run? Most of the gallery received photocopied programs that you might get at an elementary school production. Fortunately Roxie spotted some while we were making a brief trip to the rear mezz to see Sarah and Kari. Though it felt like we were going to have to ward off the angry mob when we got back up after intermission.

Imagine if:

Arthur Laurents wrote the book, with Jule Styne and Bob Merrill providing the score. Perhaps Angela Lansbury was Margo Channing; we can keep Penny Fuller, who may be the definitive Eve; watch her on the telecast and prepare to be floored. She even, after the flashbacks, makes early Eve likable. Just throwing that out there....

Overheard while waiting for the train.... Three actors talking in Grand Central Station... "Oh my goodness, we just came from the final dress of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It was embarassing. We couldn't even stay for the third act." Oh dear. Well, I guess I'll find out for myself on March 12.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Upcoming Excursions

Today was an eventful day. I worked for 8 1/2 hours; drank a lot of green tea and bought a laser printer (thank God for 50% sales), 1500 pages of blank paper, binders and sheet protectors for my latest project; organizing my vocal scores. My first effort was for the score of 1600 Pennylvania Avenue (from the Philadelphia tryout). Now all I need is a piano... The much-loved (by me) "Duet for One" is a whopping 26 pages long. The Bernstein estate will not permit the original Broadway version of the show to be presented; the Cantata is a concertized revisal which eliminates a great deal of the book with some revision among the musical numbers, dropping the original's "Rehearse" and reinstating the endless "Monroviad." (Bernstein was so disappointed with the show as it played in NY in 1976, he refused to allow the cast album to be recorded, can you believe that? ARGGH!). Speaking of which, the Collegiate Chorale is giving the Cantata its New York premiere on March 31 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center (what a curious name for a venue). I really, really want to go. Baritone Dwayne Croft and soprano Emily Pulley will be singing the roles of the President and First Lady. Anyone else interested? The top tickets are $85, but I plan on aiming a bit lower ($65, 55, 45, 35, 20).

http://collegiatechorale.org/concert_schedule/

Broadway-wise: I've got my season ticket to The 39 Steps on February 24th. I will not be lingering in the city that night, since it's supposed to be Oscar night (oh please, God). Also, I will be attending the March 12th matinee of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Broadhurst. It's going to be exciting as it will mark the first time I've seen James Earl Jones or Phylicia Rashad live in performance. I'm seeing Sunday again as a subscriber on March 9th. But first? Applause this Sunday at the City Center. Hearing how the flu has caused her to miss rehearsal and to lose her singing voice, I hope Christine Ebersole's health will be much improved by then. This, among all the other festivities is going to make for one hell of an exciting spring season of New York theatre.

PS - My script of August: Osage County arrived in the mail today (along with Auntie Mame, Mister Roberts and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Huzzah!

Monday, February 4, 2008

An 'All That Chat' survey...the Play Edition

1. The first play I ever saw on Broadway was Noises Off! (July 9, 2002)
2. The play I would most like to see would be the original companies of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Death of a Salesman, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Noises Off (NY & London; for Pat Routledge and Dottie Loudon), West Side Waltz, The Glass Menagerie, The Lion in Winter and probably a slew of others...
3. The play I would most like to see again is The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the revival of Journey's End. Still running...? AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY!!!!
4. The play I never want to see again is Romeo and Juliet (sorry kids, just don't care for it; West Side Story on the other hand...)
5. The best performance in a Broadway play by a woman I’ve ever seen is... wow this is tough. I've seen Cherry in Doubt, Kathleen in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Frances de la Tour in The History Boys and Judy Kaye in Souvenir; however, I'm going to go with Jayne Houdyshell in Well. (Though the previous divas are all a decimal point away from the title).
6. The best performance in a Broadway play by a man I’ve ever seen is Bill Irwin in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (honorable mentions to Stark Sands in Journey's End, Zeljko Ivanek in The Pillowman, Brian F. O'Byrne in Doubt).
7. The person I wish they never cast was David Barbour in Virginia Woolf. The person they should have cast was Billy Crudup.
8. My favorite Broadway staging of a play was The Pillowman.
9. The line that always brings a lump to my throat is - "I am, George, I am."
10. The stupidest line I’ve ever heard is... hm, I'll fill this in if I can think of something that bad...
11. The first play I had to go back and see twice was the revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
12. The first play I ever walked out of was - I have never walked out of a show.
13. The most under praised and overly deserving play in my opinion is Coram Boy.
14. The most overly praised and under deserving show in my opinion is The History Boys. I mean, I liked it; but, The Lieutenant of Inishmore was a much more satisfying play.
15. The line or monologue you're most likely to quote in every day life: "Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death!" Auntie Mame.
16. If I could recast any role in a current Broadway play with a performer of the past it would be Uta Hagen as Violet in August: Osage County, Laurette Taylor in Doubt, young Kim Stanley or Barbara Bel Geddes in Proof.
17. If I could recast current actor in a Broadway play that was before their time it would be Cherry Jones in The Little Foxes (with Vicki Clark as Birdie); Margaret Colin in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Harriet Harris in The Desk Set or Come Back, Little Sheba, Mary Louise Parker in Mary, Mary.
18. The show they should never change a word of because it is already perfect is Long Day's Journey Into Night. They've already tampered with Virginia Woolf?
19. The show I'd most like to get my hands on and rewrite is Well.
20. The role I was born to play on Broadway is any acerbic and witty wisecracking sidekick.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

An 'All That Chat' survey...

The Giants have won the Super Bowl!!!!!! That was one hell of a game, I gotta say. I got so into it, my blood pressure skyrocketed and I went buckwild after that last touchdown. Think Mary Louise Wilson's acceptance speech times ten. And with more explicitly jubilant language.

Anyway... this was a 20 question survey posted on All That Chat for those who wouldn't be watching the game tonight. Well, since I missed the boat as I was glued to the game, I thought I'd fill it in here and now....

1. The first musical I ever saw on Broadway was Miss Saigan (March, 15, 2000)
2. The musical I would most like to see would be the original production of any of my favorites: this includes Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Mame, Pacific Overtures, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, She Loves Me, High Spirits, Kismet, Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, et al, et al, et al.
3. The musical I would most like to see again is The Light in the Piazza and/or Grey Gardens.
4. The musical I never want to see again is Cats.
5. The best performance in a Broadway musical by a woman I’ve ever seen is Victoria Clark in The Light in the Piazza (honorable mentions to Christine Ebersole, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald & Bernadette Peters).
6. The best performance in a Broadway musical by a man I’ve ever seen is Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz (what a star turn; what a shit show) and Carousel (wowowow, what a night). Honorable mention to David Hyde Pierce, who made Spamalot more enjoyable than it should have been.
7. The person I wish they never cast was Christine Baranski in Follies.
The person they should have cast was Angela Lansbury (yes I know she's a bit old for the part, who cares?) or Patti LuPone or someone who could sing it on pitch at least.
8. My favorite Broadway choreography was in the show La Cage Aux Folles
9. The lyric/line that always brings a lump to my throat is - many of Sondheim's great works "Children and Art," "Finishing the Hat," "Sunday," "Move On," "Send in the Clowns," "Liaisons," "Another Hundred People," Not a Day Goes By" (I've just decided that I'm going to dedicate an entire post to my favorite Stephen Sondheim lyrics), some of Hammerstein's, some of Guettel's even, though I know people look down on him as a lyricist.... too many indeed...
10. The stupidest lyric/line I’ve ever heard is "I'm a priest and I cannot love her" - that's the hook - the cleverly titled "I'm a Priest" from Notre Dame de Paris. There are others, but this one always stands out in my mind as it was just so god-awful.
11. The first musical I had to go back and see twice was The Light in the Piazza (I started my own trend).
12. The first musical I ever walked out of was - I have never walked out of a show.
13. The most under praised and overly deserving show in my opinion is; well it was technically a play with a lot of music, but it fits: Coram Boy.
14. The most overly praised and under deserving show in my opinion is, even though I enjoyed it, Spring Awakening.
15. The song show tune I’m most likely to sing while I’m dancing around at home is"Not on Your Nellie" Darling of the Day or "A Little Priest" (both parts)Sweeney Todd or whatever catches my ear at the moment.
16. If I could recast any role in a current Broadway musical with a performer of the past it would be Barbara Cook fifty years ago as Clara or thirty years ago as Margaret in The Light in the Piazza. Patricia Routledge in a London Piazza. Kaye Ballard, Susan Johnson or Dolores Gray as Carmen in Curtains.
17. If I could recast current actor in a Broadway musical that was before their time it would be Victoria Clark in Darling of the Day and Street Scene, Donna Murphy in Lady in the Dark. Audra McDonald in
18. The show they should never change a word of because it is already perfect is She Loves Me.
19. The show I'd most like to get my hands on and rewrite is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
20. The role I was born to play on Broadway is Georg in She Loves Me (I feel like he's my musical alter ego) . Not realistically, probably Alice Challice in Darling of the Day (those songs sit right in my comfort zone, isn't that sad?).

I would love to see what your answers would be...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Some cast recordings and DVD releases

While I couldn't care less about the impending CDs of The Little Mermaid or Ring of Fire, DRG is putting out three on March 4 that make me considerably happy.


Happy Hunting - 1956 OBC. Initially released by RCA Victor, the album has been long out of print and goes for a costly used fee on amazon.com or ebay. It's the weakest of the post-WWII musicals to feature Merman. However, due to Merman's audience appeal, she managed to keep the show running for a year, and allowing it to make a profit. Working with the inexperienced song-writers on this less-than-stellar project was the reason she nixed Stephen Sondheim as composer for Gypsy, demanding an established professional (Jule Styne) take the honors. So I guess we can thank Harold Karr and Matt Dubey for indirectly leading to the 1959 musical of musicals being the perfection that it is. "Mutual Admiration Society," an upbeat mother-daughter charm duet, is the only song that had a life outside of the show (I enjoy the recording made by the late Teresa Brewer).


Annie Get Your Gun - 1962 studio recording. This one features Doris Day and Robert Goulet in the leading roles. I assume it's not faithful to the stage orchestrations and it more of a curio than a document of the stage show. This is the first time the CD will be available in the US. This was originally supposed to be released on the Sony Masterworks series in the late 90s/early 00s (which appears all but dead).


Say, Darling - 1958 OBC. This is more a play-with-music than an actual musical. Loosely inspired by his experiences adapting his novel Seven and a Half Cents into The Pajama Game, Richard Bissell wrote Say, Darling which documented a musical going through its creative and rehearsal periods. The cast features Robert Morse, Vivian Blaine and David Wayne. Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green supplied the score.


It's good to have DRG keeping up on the neglected scores, especially with the market being anything but stable for lost treasures and curiosities. And while I'm on it, whatever happened to the CD premiere of my beloved guilty pleasure Illya, Darling?


DVD front: Warner Bros. is releasing the 1961 film Fanny on DVD for the first time on June 17. The film was an adaptation of the 1955 Harold Rome musical (which in itself was based on the Marcel Pagnol film trilogy of the 1930s). Directed by Josh Logan (who also co-wrote and directed the Broadway production) and starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer, the film adaptation eliminated the singing and adapted the musical themes as underscoring. I saw the film before I knew that, but it doesn't have any impact on how much I enjoyed this Oscar-nominated and underrated classic. (A Best Picture nominee... it was lost in the shuffle of The Hustler, Judgment at Nuremberg and West Side Story). And while I'm on the DVD front, there are going to be DVD premieres of Kismet (and a handful of other musicals in a boxed set and individual) and Light in the Piazza (both from Warners). Criterion is issuing a boxed set of Ernst Lubitsch musicals of the early 1930s (including The Love Parade, Monte Carlo, One Hour With You and The Smiling Lieutenant). There will be restored reissues of The Music Man, Gigi, An American in Paris and The Great Ziegfeld. (the latter two may actually just be an upgrade from those awful cardboard snapcase DVD cases to the plastic keepcase, that is most prominent; I refuse to buy any of the card board ones, part of my OCD). The Member of the Wedding is going to be issued as a part of a Stanley Kramer boxed set, which is irritating because I already own Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night and would prefer to purchase this one separately. There will also be a reissue of Ship of Fools in the set, and one hopes that they present it in its actual original aspect ratio.


I'm still waiting for DVDs of The Magnificent Ambersons, The Enchanted Cottage, Love With the Proper Stranger, The African Queen, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Wings. Also, it's time that someone reissued Rebecca, Notorious, Spellbound (previous Criterions, long since deleted) and MGM should get Wuthering Heights w. Olivier and Merle Oberon back into circulation.