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'...

Olivia de Havilland Goes to Washington

Two-time Oscar-winning legend Olivia de Havilland was in Washington, D.C. the other day to remind of us of that old-school Hollywood glamor and receive the National Medal of Arts during a ceremony at the White House. The actress, probably most identified with her role as Melanie Hamilton in the iconic 1939 masterpiece Gone With the Wind, is 92 and resides in Paris (where she teaches Sunday school). Among the other recipients were the Ford's Theatre Society as well as brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, the composing team behind Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Charlotte's Web, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Broadway musical Over Here! and the deathless "It's a Small World."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Angela Lansbury, the most glorious words in the English language!"

posted on ATC 11/18/08 by user 'young-walshingham'

Monday, November 17, 2008

Elaine Stritch Returns to "30 Rock"

I don't know about you, but I'm already there...

"30 Rock" (9:30-10 p.m.)
"Christmas Special"

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT TAKES OVER 30 ROCK AS LIZ ATTEMPTS TO FULFILL CHILDREN'S CHRISTMAS WISHES; ELAINE STRITCH GUEST-STARS -- Only days before Christmas, Liz's (Tina Fey) parents ditch her to celebrate the holidays at a couples-only retreat, leaving her all alone for the holiday and to fill the void, she participates in a charity program, "Letters to Santa," to help underprivileged kids have a nice Christmas. Meanwhile, Jack (Alec Baldwin) takes his frustration out on the TGS staff when his plans for a dream holiday vacation away from his overbearing mother, Colleen (guest star Elaine Stritch) are crushed. The TGS crew are forced to give up their plans to produce a last-minute Christmas special. Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer, Judah Friedlander and Keith Powell also star.

The Theatre Aficionado Goes to Church

The Broadway community lost one of its greatest assets in 1989 with the closing of the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The Nederlanders, who owned the building, leased it to the Times Square Church for liturgical uses and eventually sold the building to the Church for $17,000,000 in 1994. Every time I pass 51st and Broadway, I look at the facade and there is a little part of me that looks on with a sense of mourning as it once housed some of the best and some of the worst of Broadway. Its history is one for the ages.

The theatre (originally the Hollywood Theatre), designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, was built in 1930 by Warner Bros to serve as their premiere movie house in New York City (and the first to be designed specifically for the talking picture). So for the first several years of its existence, it was a cinema palace (whose original entrance was on Broadway; the 51st Street entrance and lobby was the secondary) then becoming a legitimate playhouse, before becoming a movie house again. Little sidenote to film fans (eg Esther): the world premiere of Casablanca occurred at this theatre in December 1942, prior to its LA release, which explains why a 1942 film is a 1943 Oscar winning Best Picture).

In 1949, the theatre was officially established as a Broadway house under the name Mark Hellinger (for the recently deceased critic and producer) with the musical All for Love. The venue is probably most famous for having housed the original production of My Fair Lady in 1956. However, there were many other productions: Two on the Aisle, Plain and Fancy, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Illya Darling, Dear World, Coco, Jesus Christ Superstar, Seesaw, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the acclaimed Houston Grand Opera revival of Porgy and Bess in 1976, and Sugar Babies, the last commercial success to appear at the theatre. There wasn't a singular success during the 80s, with shows such as A Doll's Life, Merlin, the flop revival of Oliver! with Patti LuPone, Grind and Rags.

I was in NYC for brunch with a lot of the regulars: Sarah, Kari, Roxie, Esther, Jimmy Moon and Sarah's friend Joe. When the uptowners ventured home via the 10, the foursome that was left: Roxie, Jimmy and Esther (both of whom had matinee tickets) and myself headed South. I was insistent to Roxie that we were to make a pilgrimage of sorts to the Times Square Church. Several months earlier I stopped in briefly on my way through town, however, there was a service going on and I was only able to get a brief glimpse into the lobby.

Much to my dismay, we found the doors locked. However, a person who appeared to be a worker there (they had just gone through an extensive renovation of the theatre and the marquee - the theatre is considered a landmark and its original integrity must be maintained), let us in and instructed us to go down the aisle to the front of house and just look up.

As I walked in down the aisle, there was this warmth that filled me as I stepped from out from under the overhang of the mezzanine. It was almost as if the opulent interior and the ghosts of all the performances that occurred at the theatre (Bert Lahr! Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison! Barbara Harris and John Cullum! Melina Mercouri! Angela Lansbury as Countess Aurelia! Katharine Hepburn! Patricia Routledge's "Duet for One"!) The utter glory of the Mark Hellinger just threw us all for a loop. For several minutes, we just stood staring up at the ceiling, with its chandelier emblazing the pristine ceiling paintings. I took a glance around at my friends, whose jaws had succumbed to the forces of gravity (all the while realizing mine had as well). Stepping into the lobby was a similar experience. Grand, ornate, circular with draperies and such detail in the design, we were just as equally floored, with Esther and myself stepping over to read the plaque placed in the lobby in 1949 upon the dedication of the theatre to Mark Hellinger (written by his friend Walter Winchell).

Reflecting on this later in the Drama Bookstore, Roxie and I discussed how we both separately imagined first night crowds walking through the lobbies, with tuxedoes and evening gowns (ties, tails and fur coats, et al). Stepping inside takes you back to an era when going to the theatre was as glamorous every night as it was on opening night.

If there is one thing to lament in all of this, it's only that the space is unlikely to ever become a theatre again. It was rumored that when the Nederlanders were looking to unload, they rejected an offer from Cameron Mackintosh to buy the property outright, instead selling it to the Times Square Church (which originated with services at Town Hall, and later leased the Hellinger when Legs Diamond closed in 1989). No offense to the ladies and gentlemen of the church, but I would prefer the space reverted back as a legitimate playhouse. Perhaps give the place a new name, such as the Hammerstein Theatre; with its 1500+ seats, it would be ideal for many a musical.

If you're ever walking up around 51st and Broadway and have a few moments to spare, stop in and take a look at a piece of theatre history. Anything I've written here can't even remotely begin to do the experience justice.

(Note: the photo above shows Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe in the lobby of the Hellinger in December 1956, as photographed for Life magazine by Gordon Parks).

Judi Dench - "Don't Tell Mama"

When people think of Cabaret they don't necessarily think of Dame Judi Dench. One might be more inclined to think Liza Minnelli, or perhaps Natasha Richardson. But Judi originated the part of Sally Bowles in the original London production in 1968. (And in my humble opinion, gives the definitive rendition of the title song on the cast album).

Here she is with the original company, I am not sure if this was taken live in performance, on a television special or an awards show, but here is "Don't Tell Mama." With that black wig, does anyone else think she looks a little like Vivien Leigh? (The sound goes on a couple of occasions, but that shouldn't hinder the viewing pleasure).

Special thanks to my friend Russ Dembin for finding this clip.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gone, But Not Forgotten

It's hard to believe it, but it was five years ago today that we lost the great Dorothy Loudon to lung cancer. I was never privileged to have seen Loudon perform onstage (her final performance was the first preview of Dinner at Eight at Lincoln Center less than a year prior to her death), but thank God for her cast albums, her Tony-winning legacy and in this instance, youtube, for keeping the memory of this extraordinary talent alive. I'll never forget the following spring at the 2004 Theatre World Awards when Peter Filichia made a special mention of her toward the end of the ceremony bringing about a full house standing ovation in her memory.

Here is her performance of "Fifty Percent," the eleven o'clock number from Ballroom, from the 1979 Tony awards telecast.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

Peter Filichia in his 11/12/08 column:

Funny; on Tuesday, I wrote a negative review of High School Musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, and three readers contacted me to complain. “Don’t you see that such a show is getting kids to go to the theater?” they asked. Yes, but at what cost? Is it really worth it to give kids inferior material just to get them into a playhouse? All that seems to be happening is that we’re getting more and more lousy work aimed at indiscriminating kids.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


This was an editorial cartoon in today's issue of the NY Daily News by Bill Bramhall. I think it sums up what everyone of us feels this Veteran's Day. Have you thanked a veteran yet today?

"Where I went one day..."

I'm not sure what it was about the revival of South Pacific that got my father interested in the notion of going to see it. I think part of it stemmed from my overwhelming and enthusiastic response to the show after I saw it on opening night last April. That was the first time that I noticed he was genuinely listening to what I had to say about the show I'd seen. My parents just know I go and see shows and that it's my thing. My mother enjoys a good show, but is rather wary of venturing down to NYC. The incongruity here lies in her completely unfazed attitude at flying around the country on exotic vacations at the drop of a hat. (There was less drama about her flying out to the Philippines for the birth of her grandson than driving down to Manhattan last Tuesday evening). Neither had ever seen a Broadway show. Until now.

My father's favorite movie is The Sound of Music. One of his other favorites is the 1958 adaptation of South Pacific. So much so that he and I on our various travels have visited both Salzburg and Kauai, HI, taking in the filming locations. So whenever a place with which he is familiar is mentioned, he always interjects subtly under his breath "Where I went one day." (Case in point: he once listened to the Ricky Nelson classic "Travelin' Man" realizing he'd been to every single place listed in the song). My brothers will attest, if we had a $1 for every time he said "Where I went one day, " we'd be considerably well off... Anyway I digress...

Back in August, the subject was brought up again after my father came home from a golf trip and mentioned that his friend had talked about wanting to see it, but not being able to get tickets until March. Then it became something he wanted to do, so I set to work getting tickets. Anyone who has tried to purchase tickets for this revival knows that it is one of the hottest tickets in town (huzzah for LCT!) and you have to really scope out the tickets. For my parents, where we sat wasn't an issue, as long as we got there.

For years as a child, I had always asked for tickets to see shows in NY and everytime I was given a gentle dismissal, as if to say "I know, but that's not going to happen." So I gave up on my family as theatre-going companions. They understood that this was something I enjoyed doing, but aside from obligatory viewings of myself in educational theatre expositions in high school and college, they were mostly homebodies. So my excitement levels were already amped up for this, since they would be on my turf, following my lead and this was really also a testing area to see if this is something they will do on a continual basis.

This was all planned out in August. Then October came around and my family was knocked for a considerable loop. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had an idea of this back before South Pacific was even a discussion, but wasn't 100% certain until his actual diagnosis. Barring my father's need for privacy, he didn't tell anyone that he was having a biopsy. But when it became clear that surgery was the option, he had to let us know. My first suspicions came when I heard two red flag alerts: "I don't want radiation or seed implantation" and "I have tickets for South Pacific on the 4th, this won't interfere with that, will it?"

Thankfully everything is fine. His diagnosis was made in stage I, meaning he was cancer free as of his surgery; however, I was a little concerned as his surgery was twelve days before the show! If anyone reading has ever met my father, they know he's a hard-working, quiet, engaging person. He was in the Marines and worked as a paid firefighter for 36 years in Scarsdale, NY. He is also incredibly stubborn. He had surgery on a Thursday and was home from the hospital on Sunday. Monday was a comic sight as my mother was yelling at him to take it easy as he insisted on working around the house. However, given the minimally invasive nature of the procedure these days, recovery time is much less than it was even five years ago. (Everything is done with robotics; with pinpoint accuracy not even afforded the naked eye and hands).

Anyway, Tuesday rolled around and there were no worries. As I said in my post from that day, we did our civic duty and voted. Around 3:30 in the afternoon we got in the car and drove down to the city. My parents had never been to the Lincoln Center area, but we got there easy enough. In an amusing case of "small world," a gentleman approached the ticket booth in the garage and nodded a hello to us. After a moment, he turned to my mother (who at 4'9" and a rather jovial high decibel Scottish brogue is a rather memorable character) and told her "I feel like I've seen you somewhere before." Lost she shrugged and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. As soon as she spoke, it clicked in for him. "If I'm not mistaken, you live around Peekskill, correct?" Well, we were clearly making a connection here. Turns out he was Jehovah's Witness that had come to prostelyze his at our door several months prior. My mother, a devout Catholic, adamantly tells them immediately that she has no interest in converting but will never be rude enough to not answer the door and will usually engage the ladies and gentlemen in a brief conversation. Turns out my mother kept him around for the Cliff Notes version of the family history as he turned to me and asked "Is this the archaeologist?" (My brother). The amount of information he recalled from the conversation was either incredibly remarkable or incredibly creepy, possibly a little bit of both. My mother, with a cosi fan tutti shrug, just turned to us and said "I just can't get away wherever I go."

We emerged at Lincoln Center through the Met. They are undergoing some intense renovations at the moment, so it's a little easy to get lost. We exited into the main plaza where they took in the beauty of that area (and were impressed with the set-up regardless of the all the paneling and detours). Dinner was at O'Neals, where I looked on with a smile as they couldn't get over the grand treatment that was given them at the restaurant (they really treat the customers spectacularly there). We ate early as to avoid the rush and to give us ample time to relax and digest leading to the performance. Originally we were going to walk around a few of the blocks as they wanted to scope out the surrounding area, but poor weather prevailed. We instead headed over to the Vivian Beaumont and waited for the house to open.

A lot of this time I entertained questions from them about this particular house and about Broadway etiquette in general. They were fascinated by the presence of a bar and the concession stand, with both charming the hell out of the girl behind the counter. (My mother could make friends with the enemy during battle, she's got that gift; my father can be one hell of an innocent charmer when he wants to be).

The show was resplendent; even more nuanced and affecting than the first time I saw it. Kelli O'Hara is giving one of the most dynamic, three dimensional performances in NY; she's just continued to grow since opening night. It is easily one of the most naturalistic performances I have ever seen in a musical. William Michals was on for Paulo Szot, which led me to quip "Paulo who?" Michals, a little older and perhaps not as physically imposing as Szot, acts the role with sincerity and can sing the hell out of the score. Not only sing it, but act it as well. His was one of the most impressive understudy performances I've ever witnessed. Matt Morrison is back after a month hiatus and is sounding more legit than ever. Danny Burstein is still giving Luther Billis the Bert Lahr treatment. And Loretta Ables-Sayre is still as impressive as ever.

I have to admit I was a little on edge during the performance, not so much because of my enjoyment of it, which was incredible, but moreso because I was curious/nervous as to how my parents were reacting. I realized that I hadn't been in an audience with my parents since my dad took us to a George Jones concert in the now-defunct Opryland for his birthday back in 1994, so I had basically nothing to go on in gauging their reactions. It's very interesting though, that their body language could help pinpoint it for me. My father has the best poker face you'd ever see. When I saw him crack a smile during the first Billis-Bloody Mary exchange, I knew he was enjoying it. My mother, on the other hand, is very exuberant in her reactions; she practically fell out of her chair cheering on Loretta Ables-Sayre at the curtain call and couldn't stop talking about how much she enjoyed her performance on the ride home.

It was amusing to be the one conducting their evening. They purchased the souvenir program and a magnet to bring home. He briefly considered a t-shirt until he heard the prices. (Frankly, I don't blame him. I wouldn't plop down the money for a glorified Hanes myself). While my mother talked on about what she enjoyed (which was basically the entire show; I heard nary a complaint the entire time), my father drove on with a very calm, peaceful and satisfied look on his face. Another tell-tale sign he was enjoying himself, he was cracking quiet jokes to me before, during and after the show. (It was not nearly as bad as it may sound, in fact both were ideal audience members - my mother even unwrapped all her lozenges beforehand after reading the notice in the playbill - but for what it's worth, be wary if you sit next to him at Mass, it'll be a struggle to maintain your composure).

Given their immense enjoyment of South Pacific, can I get them to see anything else? I'm not sure. My father is generally content to be a homebody - and venturing into NYC for an evening at the theatre isn't something I can expect him to do on a regular basis. Perhaps if Julie Andrews might appear in something (ohhh, does he love her...) or if The Sound of Music were to come back in another revival, maybe he'd consider it. My mother would probably be up to more trips to the city to see things, as she has seen many of the classic musicals in their film adaptations. (I'm going to work on a friend of hers to go see Gypsy. She's enjoyed the movie, but hasn't experienced the real thing).

It's interesting to open up your world to people for the first time. To see people enter a Broadway house for the first time, take in their surroundings and audience neighbors (The twosome hit it up nicely: Mom with the woman from Ohio on her left; Dad with the woman to his right), I have to say (and this seems a little weird, but oh well) I was incredibly proud to have witnessed this milestone. To have them see how transportative the Broadway experience can be, especially with one of the first-class productions in NYC, well who could ask for anything more?

And now when someone mentions Broadway to my father, he can now say "Where I went one day..."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Call From the Vatican

Okay, so I'm on a bit of a Nine kick this evening. I've got the 2003 revival cast album on because I haven't listened to it in a couple years and have been talking up the show with a few friends. My google expertise brought me to this clip of the great Anita Morris performing 'A Call from the Vatican,' one of the sexier numbers to ever be featured in a Broadway musical. She is calling her lover Guido Contini, who is unfortunately seated next to his wife, and sexy hilarity ensues. Morris started out as a mime, but segued into a sturdy Broadway career that culminated in her appearance in Nine. She was featured in the original NY casts of Jesus Christ Superstar, Seesaw, and The Magic Show as Charmin. She also was a replacement in the burlesque Sugar Babies and took over the role of Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

With her red hair, voluptuous body and full, red lips, she became a Broadway sex symbol. CBS banned her showstopping number "A Call from the Vatican" from the Tony telecast as they felt her costume, a sheer but strategically designed lace body stocking, was too risque for television. (William Ivey Long designed the costumes and won his first Tony for them). Instead, they presented Kathi Moss and the (fully-clothed) ladies of the ensemble in "Be Italian." In a brilliant marketing move, the producers of Nine made a TV ad with Morris (in her costume) seducing people to come see what CBS wouldn't let them see on television.

Though it is easy to remember her performance merely for her sexualized, flirtatious turn in the first act, she also broke the audience's heart in "Simple" in the second act after she faces a rather brutal rejection from Contini. (She was nominated for a featured actress Tony, but the award went to co-star Liliane Montevecchi). Morris' departure from Broadway led to a few roles in film (Ruthless People) and on numerous television shows (I seem to recall her coyly flirting with Andy Griffith on Matlock). Sadly, she passed away in 1994, a few days shy of her 51st birthday from ovarian cancer, which she had fought privately off and on for almost fifteen years. She is survived by her widower, Broadway dancer/choreographer/director Grover Dale and their son, actor James Badge Dale.

Here is a performance of "A Call from the Vatican" taken from the 46th Street Theatre. Forgive the video/audio quality, but it's a glimpse into one of the most unique performances of a Broadway song I've ever seen. Immediately following is the video of her commercial. Enjoy...

Quote of the Day: Sophia Loren

Roaming around a few websites about Nine, I stumbled across this quote:

"Sex appeal is 50% what you've got and 50% of what people think you've got."

-Sophia Loren, still proving it today at 74

Okay so this gets me excited...

There is almost too much sexy in this picture for me to handle. Principal filming on the upcoming film adaptation of Maury Yeston's Nine is underway. Rob Marshall who made an impressive motion picture debut with the 2002 Best Picture winner Chicago is directing a cast including Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman; Oscar nominees Penelope Cruz and Kate Hudson. Oh, and Fergie.

I wasn't sure what I thought about a film adaptation of Nine, as it is an rather abstract concept musical that takes place in the mind of Guido Contini, a film director facing a mid-life crisis, an inspirational nadir and divorce from his frustrated wife. Through the course of the show he interacts with all the women of his life, both past and present, including his wife, mistress, muse, mother, a prostitute from his childhood, his French film producer, among others. In a brilliant move, Contini is the only major male role in the musical (a flashback to the encounter with Saraghina, the prostitute, incorporates 1-3 young boys) and the great deal of the show allows diva after diva to have a turn.
Producer Liliane LaFleur has "Folies Bergere," Mistress Carla sings "A Call from the Vatican," Muse Claudia gets to sing the haunting ballad "Unusual Way" and Mrs. Luisa Contini sings the devastating "My Husband Makes Movies" and "Be on Your Own." The score is, for my money, the strongest Yeston has ever written. The "Overture delle Donne" is sung through by the ladies of the cast and the entire ensemble pulls out all the stops in the second act mini opera "The Grand Canal," an elaborate fifteen minute piece detailing his idea for a film about Casanova, based on elements from his own life.

Seeing this picture, however, I am more than excited to see how this turns out. Thoughts?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Random Non Sequitur

An unusual and random tidbit about me: I have "The Internationale" on my ipod. I'm not a Communist by any stretch of the term, but I have to say that it's one of the most stirring anthems I've ever heard. Especially when heard in Reds where it seems that Warren Beatty's John Reed single-handedly brought about the Russian revolution. I kid, I kid. (Even though the crowd starts singing it as he makes an impassioned speech, then segues into a brilliant montage of uprising...) It's a unique and politically complex epic about the unabashedly leftist Reed, who famously documented the Bolshevik Revolution in Ten Days That Shook the World and his frustratingly passionate romance and marriage to Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). Aside from its stellar Oscar-winning direction (by Beatty), the film boasts one of Keaton's greatest performances, Maureen Stapleton in an Oscar-winning turn as anarchist Emma Goldman and the beautiful, if sparse original score by Stephen Sondheim (who is also interviewed in the DVD extras). Anyway, now I want to watch Reds again in all its 194 minutes of glory. (It's also heard in David Lean's beautiful adaptation of Doctor Zhivago, that other glorious epic about romance set against the Russian Revolution, but it's impact is not as important as it is in Beatty's film. Maybe if I find seven hours, I can make it a double feature...)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"It's a Great Day for America, Folks"

So says Craig Ferguson in the introduction to his monologue every evening on "The Late, Late Show." Today I am doing my civic duty and voting in our presidential election and I do hope that all of you are doing the same. After my parents and I hit up the polls, we will be venturing down to Manhattan for dinner and this evening's performance of South Pacific. What could be more patriotic than that?

Once again, I turn to a personal favorite for musical theatre support:

"To Make Us Proud" (Bernstein-Lerner)
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (cut out of town)/A White House Cantata (finale)

To burn with pride
And not with shame
Each time I hear
My country's name
Not hide my head
When the flag goes by,
But feel I'm soaring
Where eagles fly:
Not walk away.
But stand and say:
I love this land!
It will prevail.
If love be strong
We will not fail
Let rage be fearless and
Faith be loud.
This land needs love.
To make us proud.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Quote of the Day: Elizabeth Ashley

Stage legend Elizabeth Ashley, currently in previews at the Booth Theatre for the Broadway premiere of Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate, was interviewed by

In your memoir, you expressed ambivalence about your talent. Has that changed? Can you embrace the fact that you are an outstanding stage actress?

I think I’m good at my job. Because I look at it as labor. Life is a series of tasks, and ideally we find the tasks to which we are well suited. I understand what my task is on the stage. It’s not “look at me,” it is to serve the playwright and tell a story. I see myself as being part of something really ancient: Let me tell you my story, and if I do it well, maybe you’ll know a little more about being alive than you did before you heard my story. It seems to me that we are smugglers, and I’m a pretty good smuggler of ideas. I like that. But I am only at best a tool of the playwright. The ship is the playwright, the director is the captain of that ship and I am a damned good first mate.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Observation of the Day

Peter Filichia commenting in his October Leftovers column. I had to share it:

Saw A Man for all Seasons with a most unresponsive audience. How I remember experiencing the tense feeling in the house back in the early ‘60s when the same play unfolded. I suspect that back then, people had a better sense of honor and a feeling that “A man must stand up for what he believes is right.” After decades of our increasingly becoming jaded -- assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, Enron, Lewinsky, steroids, and plenty of other scandals -- today’s audiences may not have as noble a mindset. Instead of being impressed that Thomas More is standing up to Henry VIII and won’t sign his loyalty oath, they may well be thinking, “Oh, just put your name on the thing, will you, and don’t ruin your life, not to mention your wife’s or your daughter’s.” Whatever the case, the cast is terrific in the Roundabout revival.

Need a Laugh?

Then you must meet the FailBlog. AKA my new favorite website. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"A Little Priest"

I'll never forget the night I watched Sweeney Todd the first time. I was home on break from college and had borrowed the VHS tape (heh, anyone?) from the library, figuring that I might as well give this musical a viewing. I hadn't heard that much about it, except for what I'd read about it in the MTI licensing catalogue in my high school drama teacher's classroom. It was the dark one about the people being turned into meat pies. Plus, there was a girl on our drama executive board who wanted us to do it. However, the director was adamant - he would never do Sondheim. I didn't think much of it until my first spring break a year later and figured with little else to do aside from some homework, why not?

I popped it into the VCR late at night after everyone else had gone to bed and settled in. Within minutes I was entranced - by the prologue, the dark, gritty quality of the set and costume design. Everything. However that night I ended up watching only the first act. I was so mesmerized by "Epiphany" and "A Little Priest" I ended up rewinding and rewatching those 12 minutes for almost two hours. My mind blown at the genius, especially in the structure of the act one finale, but in it's brilliant word play, it's bouncing waltz melody and the duplicitous music hall entertainment provided (we are loving it; all the while we're accepting what they're actually singing about - genius).

"A Little Priest" may very well be my favorite Sondheim song. It's certainly one of the best list songs I've ever heard. When I was a guest lecturer in New Paltz and gave my talk on Sondheim, I would make it a point to show the entire sequence. It was always fascinating to see; the last time I did it, the theatre students and some of the more literate really understood the underlying Juvenalean tone of the number, while I had others who were disgusted, including two girls who actually had to leave the room. Truth be told, it was one of the most memorable moments of my collegiate life. I loved it!

Anyway, here are Tony winners Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou in Hal Prince's original Tony winning staging of the 1979 Tony winning Best Musical Sweeney Todd giving the act one finale that darkly delicious spin: