Sunday, September 17, 2017

Thoughts on Joan Rivers

From my review of Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Love, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers by Leslie Bennetts which I posted on Goodreads.com

This book was a gift from friends who know I always enjoyed Rivers' comedy. Bennetts has a great beginning with Rivers contemplating suicide after her husband has done likewise in the aftermath of the cancellation of her Fox talk show which he produced. She's devastated but her little dog jumps on her lap and she reconsiders. After this horrible setback, she bounces back stronger than before becoming a cultural icon while most of her contemporaries fade away. The rest of the bio is fairly standard but not up to the intriguing opening scene, offering insights into Rivers' driven personality and the contradictions in her career. She shattered sexist glass ceilings in comedy, but reinforced the chauvinist attitudes towards beauty and female roles. She made fun of men's shallowness but also derided women who slept around or had let themselves go such as the late-career, heavy-set Elizabeth Taylor. Bennetts also delivers a mini-history of women in comedy, but not a very deep one. She neglects to go very far back (no talk of Mae West or Fanny Brice), skips over some pretty big names (like Elaine May), barely mentions Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Angels and Mockingbirds Descend on Broadway

Nathan Lane and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in Angels in America
at London's National Theatre
Credit: Helen Maybanks
There's been a flock of new Broadway announcements lately. The smash hit National Theater revival of Tony Kushner's two-part epic Angels in America will be winging its way from London to New York and the long-gestating stage adaptation of the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird has confirmed an opening date. Angels will begin performances Feb. 23, 2018 at the Neil Simon Theatre prior to a March 21 opening night. Most of the London cast including Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield will be repeating their performances which were seen in cinemas worldwide as part of the NT Live series. The only cast member not to make the trek will be Russell Tovey (whose bare chest caused an audience member to swoon during A View from the Bridge). Denise Gough will repeat her performance as the delusional Harper Pitt, but first she will repeat her Olivier Award-winning turn as an alcoholic, drug-addicted actress in People, Places and Things at St. Ann's Warehouse. Speaking of Harpers, the stage version of Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird to be adapted by The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin was first announced months ago. Producer Scott Rudin took out a two-page ad in the New York Times announced the show will open on Dec. 18, 2018. I picked up a copy of the print edition of the Times recently (I hadn't looked at it in ages) and I was astonished at how few ads there were in the theater section. Tony winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, Golden Boy) will direct.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Big Broadway Turnover for 2017-18

Summer is drawing to a close and that means a rush of announcements for the fall Broadway season. But with the incoming tide of new shows, there is also a group of outgoing productions unable to survive the tidal pull of audience indifference. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 will shutter at the Imperial on Sept. 3 and Groundhog Day will burrow into the ground forever on Sept. 15. The case could be made that both shows did not get a fair shake. After three successful runs Off-Broadway, Comet soared onto the Main Stem with pop superstar Josh Groban in the lead and received 12 Tony nominations--the most for any show during the 2016-17 season. But once Groban left tickets sales plummeted. A casting controversy erupted when the producers clumsily
Mandy Patinkin; Okieriete Onaodowan
announced Mandy Patinkin would take over the lead role from Okieriete Onaodowan (Groban had already vacated the show at that point.) Several actors of color protested on social media stating the African-American Onaodowan was being let go in favor of the white Patinkin who quickly withdrew. The producers could have handled the situation better. Not long after the controversy erupted, the closing notice was posted. Comet probably would have closed not long after Patinkin's limited engagement anyway and the producers should have realized that Onaodowan was not a strong enough name to bring in new customers. The fact that he was in the original company of Hamilton was not a big drawing card. Was Patinkin suddenly available and only for a short time? Could he have played certain performances and alternated with Onaodowan? Who knows. But it's a pity this innovative, exciting show will close. 



Friday, July 28, 2017

Memories of Laugh-In

Lily Tomlin, Barbara Sharma, Goldie Hawn,
Ruth Buzzi, and Nanci Phillips on
Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
In the early 1970s, George Schlatter, the producer of Roman and Martin's Laugh-In, appeared on the David Frost Show. When asked by Frost what it was like to put together that mad house on a weekly basis, Schlatter casually mentioned they did about 250 jokes a show. This fascinated my 10-year-old self and so on the very next Monday night (Laugh-In was on every Monday from 8 to 9), I counted every single gag and yes, it added up to 250. By this time the show had been on for a few years and I was old enough to stay up late and watch the entire thing. When it premiered in 1968, my bedtime was 8:30, so we would watch I Dream of Jeannie at 7:30 (this was before the FCC designated the 7:30-8PM slot solely for local stations) and then the first half-hour, usually just as they finished the News. The Decades Network is now rerunning episodes and it brought back a host of memories. It was my favorite show because you never knew what was going to happen next--a bucket of water, a specialty song, a cocktail party. I would often fantasize about being a regular performer, even going so far as to participate in my sixth grade talent show with my imitation of Lily Tomlin's Ernestine. My teacher even said she thought I did a good job and was far superior to the other "acts" which mostly consists of girls lip-synching to Motown records. At least I was using my own voice.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Eighth Annual David Desk Awards

Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal in
Sunday in the Park with George
Credit: Matthew Murphy
The Tonys, Drama Desks, Outer Critics, Lortels, Obies and all those other theatre awards have been handed out long ago. Now it's time for the Eighth Annual David Desks, the high points from the past theater season on and Off-Broadway. Unlike the Tonys, Drama Desks and OCC, I am including Sunday in the Park with George. The producers of the Sondheim revival declared the show ineligible for all theater accolades because their run was so short and they did not wish to give comp tickets to the various voters which would eat into their profit margin. Since I am the sole judge of these awards and I saw the show, I am free to include it. I have tried to limit the number of honorees in each category to six, but there are a few instances where I have stretched it to seven, just like the Emmys. The Drama Desks have also not been strict about the number of nominees in the categories. In previous years, they ballooned to as many as seven and this year, some were only five and some six. Like the DDs and OCCs, I considered Dear Evan Hansen last season for its Off-Broadway run. Among the honorees who were largely ignored by the other award dispensers are Annette O'Toole in Tracey Letts' Man from Nebraska, cast members from Hadestown, and Janet McTeer, brilliant as always in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Play
The Antipodes (Annie Baker)
A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Lucas Hnath)
Indecent (Paula Vogel)
Man from Nebraska (Tracey Letts)
Oslo (J.T. Rogers)
Sweat (Lynn Nottage)
Vietgone (Qui Nguyen)

Musical
The Band’s Visit
Bandstand
Come from Away
Groundhog Day
Hadestown

Saturday, June 24, 2017

MacTrump, A Shakesperean Farce Act Two

(Continued from a previous blog post)

ACT TWO

Scene One: The King's Private chamber, garish, tacky and gaudy. It is the dead of night, MacTrump sits up in bed, tweeting like crazy.

King MacTrump: They dare to mock me? Tis like spitting on the flag.
I'll fix their asses with a witty hashtag.
(Presses send)
Send!
(Tosses I-phone onto the bedstand.)
This tree-like Comey invades my thoughts like a giant ghost
The bastard is too tall by half, thinks he can hide amidst my draperies
I shall contrive to have him removed ere he can pin a scandal on my royal head
But how without appearing craven and afrighted?
For MacTrump must never appear weak, low, or unsure like mere mortals.
(Picks up his phone again and scrolls through his cabinet list)
Sessions, that Southern Keebler elf
Will provide cover for my royal self.
I'll call him on the morrow
To relieve me of my Comey-caused sorrow.
And now to bed. But first a visit to mine Queen. She owes me one.

(Exits and re-enters another bedchamber on the other side of the stage. He rouses Queen Melania, sleeping)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

MacTrump, A Shakespearean Farce, Act One

In light of the controversy surrounding Shakespeare in the Park's Julius Caesar featuring the assassination of a Trump-like would-be dictator and Trump's King Lear-ish cabinet meeting, here is a parody of the current administration employing a Shakespearean template:

ACT ONE

Scene One: a wood somewhere in America. Enter Three Witches

1st Witch: When shall be the next meeting of we three?
On blogs, airwaves or on TV?

2nd Witch: When the hurlyburly's done
When the ratings are lost and won.

3rd Witch: There to meet upon the hump
And greet the coming of MacTrump.