Monday, August 31, 2020

Binging on John Ford, Part Two

Lee Van Cleef, Lee Marvin, James Stewart,
and John Wayne
in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

Continuing a John Ford binge. Ford uses visuals to tell his stories brilliantly, his characters are true to themselves and there is a certain majesty in that. But his America was mixed up with myth. The most telling line in all of his films comes at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. When the newspaper publisher finds out the titular shooting was done not by esteemed senator Jimmy Stewart, but unknown John Wayne, he says "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

I avoided The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence for the longest time. I had ordered the DVD from Netflix months ago and never got around to watching it. It sat on my DVD player gathering dust until I got so bored with the second season of Community before they got to Inspector Space Time, I finally succumbed and watched.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Binging on John Ford, Part One

John Ford (c.) on the set with James Stewart and John Wayne.

I never really "got" Westerns. When I was a kid, I would run from the room when my dad would turn on
Gunsmoke instead of Laugh-In or settle in for a long John Wayne oater (as they say in the crossword puzzles) on a Saturday afternoon. But, as an adult who wants to expand his taste and appreciation of all forms of cinema, I've viewed several horse operas, especially the works of the master of the genre, John Ford. 

Like the Western itself, I've avoided Ford because to me he always represented the kind of toxic masculinity that horrified me as a child. The star of many of his most famous efforts, John Wayne, also exemplified this type of behavior: unexpressive emotionally, arch conservative, revels in all-male environments such as the military or the prairie, speaks with his fists. "Never apologize, it's a sign of weakness," said Wayne as the tough-as-nails cavalry captain in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, While filming Mister Roberts, Ford hauled off and socked leading man Henry Fonda in the jaw. On the set of his films, Ford would often pick out a target and mercilessly ride and bully him, like a fraternity brother. I rejected this template for being a man and still do, but Ford has long been regarded as one of the greatest helmers in film history and my education would be incomplete if I did not at least view his top works. (Orson Welles said he viewed Stagecoach 40 times in preparation for Citizen Kane. Ford is also the only director to win five Oscars.) So during this COVID summer with no theater or new movies to go to, I launched a Ford festival through TCM DVRing and Netflix DVD harvesting. The results of this Ford binging have deepened my respect for his mastery of visual storytelling and the complexity of his historical and political views. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

2020 Tonys to be Presented Digitally This Fall; Other News

Like a child late to a birthday party, the Tony Awards are finally arriving at the accolade-dispensing festivities. The 74th annual Tonys will be presented digitally in the fall. There were no specific dates or details on the platform in the press release issued by the Broadway League, the organization of theater owners and producers which co-presents the ceremony with the American Theater Wing. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters closed, cutting short the season and the number of shows eligible for prizes. While all the other NYC theater awards including the Drama Desks, Outer Critics Circle, Obies, and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, presented their trophies either online or by press announcements through May and June, the Tonys stayed mum. 

The question now is how will the Tony voters will be able to make fair and accurate judgments. Many Tony voters are out-of-town road producers who don't see all the nominees until after the nominations are announced in early May. Since the shows are all closed many of the electorate won't even be able to view all the candidates. At the time of the pandemic shutdown, only a handful of new musicals and one musical revival (West Side Story) had opened. Of the five new musicals, one (Girl from the North Country) had only just opened. The other four are Jagged Little Pill, Lightning Thief, Moulin Rouge and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. David Bryne's American Utopia did not invite Tony voters and was not eligible. There is more variety and scope in the play division with ten possible new candidates and four revivals. Of the new play potential nominees, none were running at the time of the shutdown. Only The Inheritance had been playing relatively soon before the shutdown. Matthew Lopez's two-part update of Howard's End closed on March 11 and the theaters all went dark on the very next night. There is speculation West Side Story and Girl will not be eligible since they opened so close to the shutdown and not many voters got to see them. (See the list below for a complete list of the truncated 2019-20 Broadway season).

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

B'way Update: 'Diana' Preems on Netflix Before B'way

Jeanna de Waal in Diana: The Musical
Credit: Little Fang
Another COVID-postponed Broadway musical has announced plans for reopening, but with a twist. Diana, the bio-musical about Great Britain's beloved late princess, will now premiere on Netflix before opening on Broadway on May 25, 2021. The show will be filmed in the Longacre Theater next month without an audience and premiere on the streaming service sometime in early 2021 (no specific premiere date has been announced.) Diana began preview performances at the Longacre on March 2 and was to have opened on March 31, but all Broadway theaters closed on March 12. Diana will be the first production to return to Broadway since the closure, if only for one filmed performance. (A current production of Godspell at the Berkshire Theater Group in Pittsfield, Mass., was the first professional regional production to open. The show is playing in an outdoor tent in the theater's parking lot and features socially distanced actors and attendees.) Actors Equity has approved safety procedures for Diana, including initial and recurring testing, isolation protocols for the actors and stage managers, and adjustments to the theater's air-conditioning system to insure proper ventilation.

The Broadway cast will return to their original roles including Jeanna de Waal as Diana, Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles, Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles and two-time Tony winner Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth. Christopher Ashley, artistic director of San Diego's LaJolla Playhouse where the work premiered in 2019, stages Diana. The team behind Memphis, librettist-lyricist Joe DiPietro and composer-lyricist David Bryne, are the authors.  

This will also be the first instance of a Broadway musical premiering on a streaming service before it opens on Broadway. Numerous shows have appeared on TV and streaming after they have opened including the megahit Hamilton which boosted subscriptions for Disney Plus when it was streamed recently. 

In other news, Sing Street, another delayed Broadway production, has announced it will open in the winter of 2021 or in 2022. All of these plans are contingent on a COVID vaccine being widely available, otherwise prospects for attendance would be dim.

Tentative Broadway/Off-Broadway Schedule for 2021-22

March 15--The Minutes (Cort) (previews March 1)
April 13--Plaza Suite (Hudson) (previews March 19)
April 14--American Buffalo (Circle in the Square) (previews March 22)
April 15--MJ (Neil Simon) (previews March 8)
April 22--Take Me Out (Second Stage/Hayes) (previews begin March 22)
May 20--The Music Man (Winter Garden) (previews April 7)
May 25--Diana (Longacre)
Spring 2021--Flying Over Sunset (LCT/Vivian Beaumont)
1776 (Roundabout/American Airlines)
Caroline or Change (Roundabout/Studio 54)
Intimate Apparel (LCT/Mitzi Newhouse)
Letters of Suresh (Second Stage/Kiser)
...what the end will be (Roundabout/Laura Pels)
Exception to the Rule (Roundabout/Steinberg Center)
What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Playwrights Horizons)
Selling Kabul (Playwrights Horizons)
Tambo and Bones (Playwrights Horizons)
Wish You Were Here (Playwrights Horizons)
Fall 2021--Untitled Play by Lynn Nottage (Second Stage/Hayes)
Birthday Candles (Roundabout/American Airlines)
Winter 2021-22--Sing Street; Trouble in Mind (Roundabout/American Airlines)
2021--Our Town
Future--Death of a Salesman; Funny Girl; K-pop the Broadway Musical; The Nanny; The Normal Heart/The Destiny of Me; Smash; Some Like It Hot; Soul Train; The Who's Tommy

Unopened Productions from 2019-20 with no new dates yet
The Lehman Trilogy
Mrs. Doubtfire
How I Learned to Drive

Long-Running Shows and Opened 2019-20 Shows 
Ain't Too Proud
The Book of Mormon
Come from Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Girl from the North Country
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Jagged Little Pill
The Lion King
Mean Girls
Moulin Rouge
Phantom of the Opera
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
To Kill a Mockingbird
West Side Story

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Richard Burton Diaries

I came across Richard Burton's Diaries at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library months ago and ran through the index, eagerly searching for quips and quotes on the likes of Lucille Ball ("A machine of enormous energy, which driven by a stupid driver who has forgotten that a machine runs on oil as well as gasoline and who has neglected the former, is creaking badly towards a final convulsive seize-up"); Andy Warhol ("He looked like a cadaver when still and a failure of plastic surgery when he moved which was seldom"), and other fascinating figures ranging from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to James Baldwin to Tito to Rex Harrison and his then-wife, an abrasive Rachel Roberts. I always meant to read this volume, but its 650-plus pages daunted me. The COVID crisis gave me lots of free time, so I bought a hardback copy at the Strand (once it was opened for business, it was like a ghost town when I finally went) for $12.50.

Burton is a tragic figure. These diaries (published in 2012) reveal him to be witty, superbly intelligent, incredibly literate (he reads voluminously), but he's also erratic, easily bored in his work and relationships, ultimately succumbing to booze and the pressure to maintain an opulent lifestyle at the cost of his art. As a young man, he was thought to be the natural successor to Gielgud and Olivier as the world's greatest classical actor with the potential to also be that rarest of creatures--a gorgeous movie star who was also a master interpreter of any role put before him. But his career ended in alcoholism and an abundance of shoddy projects. Born Richard Jenkins, Burton yearned to escape the crushing poverty of his childhood as the son of a Welsh coal miner. He took the name of a mentoring teacher and discovered his facility for learning, language and literature. His stunning good looks, personal magnetism, and sonorous voice led him to the stage and eventually Hollywood.