Friday, November 17, 2017

Elizabeth Taylor: Fatal Beauty

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The Sand Piper (1965)
I recently viewed Elizabeth Taylor at two vastly different points in her career via two media platforms. The Sand Piper (1965) flew to me on a DVD from Netflix. Only a small handful of classic "old" films have found their way to the streaming service--mostly with Marilyn Monroe because she trends--but you can get almost any film ever made on the DVD mail-in deal. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1955) has been in public domain for many years and a low-grade print of the entire film is available on YouTube. It's even on a cheap DVD of Hollywood "classics" you can buy at Walmart. Of course Taylor is ravishingly beautiful in both films, but her acting veers from tolerable in Paris to execrable in Sand Piper. Also in both, she plays unconventional women in tragic relationships.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ripped Apart: Thoughts on America in 2017

America is being pulled in two directions. The forces of reaction and conservatism want to drag us into the past, while progressives seek to continue the march to the inclusive future. The election of Donald Trump exemplifies this split, it was definitely a reaction to our first black president. Not everyone who supports the Orange Man Baby is a racist, sexist pig, but there is a significant portion of his base that wants us to travel back to the 1950s or even further. No pesky government regulations on air and water pollution. No political correctness to force us to consider the feelings of women or minorities who should know their place. No gay marriages. Back to the closet, y'all. No Happy Holidays crap.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Lucy in Retirement

When life gets a bit hectic, I watch reruns of The Lucy Show on YouTube. I always wondered what happened to Lucy Carmichael after the series ended and Lucille Ball turned into Lucille Carter on Here's Lucy. Here's a sketch imagining a meeting between Mrs. Carmichael and her daughter Chris:

A retirement home in Danfield, NY. 1980.

Chris Carmichael is sitting in the dayroom. She is a stylish woman in her early 40s, dressed in chic French couture. Her mother, Lucy Carmichael, now in her 80s, in wheeled in by a nurse.

Nurse: Here we are, Mrs. Carmichael. You have a visitor.

Lucy (waking up): What? Who is it?

Chris: Hi mom, it's me, Chris, your daughter. (Nurse leaves)

Lucy: What? Who? I have a daughter?

Chris: Yes, remember I had a brother Jerry and we shared the house with Aunt Viv and her boy Sherman after our dad died.

Lucy: Oh, yes, it's all coming back now. Chris, sweetheart.

Chris: Good. Mom, I know I haven't seen you in many years, but there's something I've been meaning to ask you. Why did you just abandon me and Jerry when you moved to California?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Apocalyptic Food Stuffs

A scene from The Day After (1983)
During reruns of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on the Decades channel, there were incessant commercials for food supplies to be consumed in case of national emergency. You've seen them. It starts with blazing images of man-made or natural disaster. North Korea...Isis...Hurricanes...Earthquakes. Homes wrecked, cities destroyed. A shot of a father comforting his little boy in a landscapes of debris. Then the announcer intones "Protect your family for up to 25 years with this amazing survival food system." These scenes of tragedy and disaster are followed by a shot of a white, suburban family calmly sitting around the dining room table passing huge casseroles and spooning out its heaping contents while it's totally dark outside. So the message is that if the North Koreans nuke us, we'll be OK as long as we buy this rip-off company's freeze-dried macaroni and cheese. It's airing during Laugh-In reruns, for God's sake, who do they think is gonna buy this crap? I was tempted to call for a free sample and their "free survival guide" just so I could read what weird shit they would be peddling to scared people who are genuinely worried about avoiding the apocalypse.

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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Broadway Goes to the Beach for 2017-18

The Spongebob Musical
Credit: Joan Marcus
Broadway is headed to the beach for the 2017-18 season. Two new musicals with seaside settings, The Spongebob Musical and Escape to Margaritaville, have just announced definite dates for the fall. The Spongebob Musical, based on Spongebob Squarepants, the popular NIckelodeon cartoon series, will wash up at the Palace Theatre for previews beginning Nov. 6 before it officially docks for a Dec. 4 opening. The family-oriented musical premiered at Chicago's Oriental Theater last year and features original songs by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles (Waitress), Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots), John Legend, The Flaming Lips, They Might Be Giants, and T.I. with an addition song by David Bowie and additional lyrics by Jonathan Coulton. Tina Landau (Superior Donuts, Bells Are Ringing) directs. Leads from the Chicago
Spongebob: "I'm going to Broadway!"
run will repeat their performances including Ethan Slater as the titular sponge, Gavin Lee (Mary Poppins) as the sour octopus Squidward, Lilli Cooper (Spring Awakening, daughter of Tony winner Chuck Cooper) as Texas squirrel Sandy Cheeks, and Danny Skinner as dim-bulb starfish Patrick. BTW, Lauper is also set to do the score for Working Girl. a stage version of the 1988 film comedy.


Escape from Margaritaville is derived from the music of Jimmy Buffett (you know, he had that big hit with the tune about the outlawed shaker of salt), and is set for previews at the Marquis on Feb. 16 before a March 15 opening. Currently playing at the La Jolla Theatre and ready to tour New Orleans, Huston, and Chicago before its Broadway bow, the show's plot concerns a laid-back bartender at a beachside resort falling in love with a urban-oriented tourist. Christopher Ashley (Come from Away) directs. Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) is music supervisor. Kitt will also serve in the same capacity for Jagged Little Pill, a musical based on Alanis Morrisette's Grammy-winning output, which will have a reading starring Idina Menzel. The Wicked Tony winner is scheduled to star in Joshua Harmon's Skintight Off-Broadway, so she is not set to appear in Pill's planned April 2018 run at the American Repertory Theatre.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

More Critical Shrinking: Rex Reed Out at the Observer

Rex Reed
Just as Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate change accords, New York-based media is pulling out of theater coverage. As I have noted in previous blogs, print and web outlets are cutting back on stage critics or eliminating them altogether. Someone on Facebook said being a theater critic these days is like being in a long, slow version of Ten Little Indians, the Agatha Christie murder mystery where guests on an isolated island are picked off one by one. Rex Reed, the longtime film critic of the New York Observer, was recently let go after 25 years, according to IndieWire. Reed also covered theater for the publication which was bought by Jared Kushner in 2006. The president's son-in-law divested himself of the paper to take a position in the White House and sold his interest to his brother who is apparently running it into the ground (or so Reed claims). Reed's theater coverage has been sparse, mostly Broadway or Off-Broadway only if there are major names involved. The last stage production he reviewed was War Paint. His last Off-Broadway review was Yen, probably because it featured Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Tony and Drama Desk Award Predictions

Dear Evan Hansen with Ben Platt will clean up at the Tonys,
but is ineligible for Drama Desks. Credit: Matthew Murphy
Usually the results of the Tony and Drama Desk Awards are pretty much the same, even though the Tonys are only for Broadway shows and the DDs combine on and Off-Broadway. The 120 or so DD voters, a group of theater critics, reporters, and editors, usually vote for Broadway with occasional departures for Off-Broadway hits such as Hamilton when it played the Public. The 868 Tony electorate consists of the members of the Broadway League (the producers' organization), the American Theatre Wing, boards of directors of various professional unions and guilds such as Actors Equity and the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, and the members of the New York Drama Critics Circle (full disclosure: I am member and so also a Tony voter as well as a Drama Desk voter).

This year the two theater accolades may vary somewhat because many Tony-eligible shows have won or been nominated for Drama Desk Awards for previous seasons when they played Off-Broadway. These include Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. Plus the Drama Desk nominating Committee (seven DD members) didn't seem to like Groundhog Day very much--they gave it one major nomination for lead actor Andy Karl--while the Tonys have nominated the show for seven awards. Here are my predictions for both awards, indicating where I think they will vary. The Drama Desks will be held on June 4 and the Tonys are handed out the following week on June 11:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Xi in Florida: A Modern Opera

(A modern opera in the style of Nixon in China)

ACT ONE
An airport in Florida. PRESIDENT TRUMP is standing amid a crowd of reporters and staff. Repetitive dissonant music in the style of Philip Glass or John Adams plays. Trump sings.

TRUMP:
Fake news. Fake news.
You are all fake news.
I am the one real news.
You are all fake.
I am real. You are fake.
News. Fake or real.
Who knows? Who knows?

Do you? Do you? (he points to members of the audience)
There is no true. There is no lie.
It's what I say it is.
Fake news. Fake news.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oscars So Diverse: Predictions

Will Hidden Figures upset LaLa Land at the Oscars?
This year's Oscars did not dominate the national zeitgeist as much as usual. Perhaps it's the Trump circus overshadowing every other event of normal obsession such as the Super Bowl and the Westminster Dog Show. Anyway, I predict the speeches will be more political than usual with many denunciations of the President's fascist regime. The awards will be a repudiation of his racist rhetoric and a reaction to last year's lack of diverse nominees with #OscarsSoDiverse replacing #OscarsSoWhite.

Best Picture
Prediction: Hidden Figures
LaLa Land has racked up a massive 14 nominations, sharing the record for the most ever with the magnificent All About Eve and the bloated Titanic. Normally, that would mean a lock for Best Picture, but there has been serious backlash against the nostalgic musical. While the film is basically a lighthearted tribute to the Golden Age of cinematic tuners such as Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris and The Bandwagon, many have seen it as a celebration of white culture at the expense of African-Americans. I just read a bizarre LA Weekly column comparing director Damien Chazelle to Leni Riefenstahl for creating a propaganda film by casting white Ryan Gosling as the savior of pure jazz while black characters are shunted to the sidelines. This is a more than a bit extreme but the anti-Trump sentiment might be enough for the majority of voters to pass over the feel-good musical and hand the top prize to Hidden Figures, an Oscar-bait candidate if ever there was one. There is the traditional underdog fighting the power (three real-life African-American female mathematicians battling sexism and racism in 1960s NASA) and an uplifting final triumph, plus it's a great way to say "Screw You, Racist Prez!" Of course Hollywood may want to fete LaLa as a narcissistic hurrah for itself, but I think politics will be stronger than self-love this time.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Broadway Update: Theatre Responds to Trump

Headlong and Almeida Theater's stage version of 1984
is coming to Broadway
Donald Trump has only been President two weeks, but theater is already responding to his controversial (to put it mildly) regime. Many have compared Donald and his spokespeople Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer's offering "Alternative facts" as truth to the doublespeak of the tyrannical dictator Big Brother in George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 which is enjoying a resurgence lately (I wonder why.) A stage version of Orwell's classic will be presented on Broadway in a limited production, opening on June 22 at the Hudson Theatre, now home to the also limited engagement of Sunday in the Park with George (more on that production and its decision to stay out of the Tony race in a future blog.) This British production of 1984, originally presented by the Headlong and Almeida will arrive with an American cast under the auspices of producers Sonia Freedman and Scott Rudin. A previous stage version played the Joyce Theater Off-Broadway in the 1990s as part of a regional American theater festival.
John Hurt in the film version of 1984
There have been two movie adaptations. Edmond O'Brien, Jan Sterling and Michael Redgrave starred in the 1956 version and John Hurt (who just passed away) and Richard Burton headlined an even starker edition released in year of the title. With claims of fake news and imaginary terrorist attacks coming from the Trump administration, Orwell's prophetic work is more relevant than ever.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

B'way Update: 'Butterfly' and ' Prada'

Clive Owen will star in M. Butterfly
on Broadway this fall
Clive Owen, last seen on Broadway in Harold Pinter's Old Times, will return in a new production of David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, directed by Julie Taymor in her first Broadway staging since being dismissed from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. (Her interpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream played Off-Broadway.) M. Butterfly will open Oct. 26, 2017 at a theater to be announced. The original 1988 production wmade a star out of B.D. Wong as Song Liling, a Chinese opera singer engaged in an affair with a French diplomat played by John Lithgow. Based on a true story, the 20-year relationship shocked international circles when it was revealed Song was really a man. This new production will new include new material based on information about the case that has come to light since the original staging which won the Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Play and ran for 777 performances (a rare long run for a non-musical).

Also in the works, but in a much earlier stage of development, is a musical version of The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisenberger's autobiographical novel about an assistant to a high-powered fashion magazine editor not unlike Vogue's Anna Wintour. Sir Elton John, whose previous theatrical musical ventures include Aida, The Lion King and Billy Elliot, will write the music. Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, I Hate Hamlet, Addams Family Values) will make his debut as a musical book-writer and lyricist. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Emily Blunt starred in the 2000 film version.
Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt
in the film version of The Devil Wears Prada