Monday, January 31, 2022

The Gilded Age and The Adams Chronicles Intersect

Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski
in The Gilded Age
Credit: HBO
HBO's The Gilded Age is my new favorite binge-worthy show. Some critics have decried it as a low-rent Downton Abbey--sort like when CBS tried to rip off PBS's imported Upstairs Downstairs with an American version called Beacon Hill which flopped quickly in 1975. Like Gilded Age, Beacon Hill boasted a cast of theater actors and it was shot in NY, but its scripts were inferior. (Prominent stage actors on Beacon Hill included George Rose, Beatrice Straight, Nancy Marchand, David Rounds, Kathryn Walker, Edward Herrman and the previous Paul Rudd--not to be confused with the new Paul Rudd.) I enjoyed the first Gilded Age episode--mostly for the gorgeous sets and costumes and for all the Broadway people in the cast. The plot is kinda melodramatic and similar to Downton, probably because both shows are by Julian Fellowes. There's the sharp-tongued queen of the social set (Maggie Smith on Downton/Christine Baranski on Gilded Age), the ambitious young newcomer desperate to make his/her mark (Tom the chauffeur on Downton/the niece from Pennsylvania on Gilded Age), the closeted gay (Thomas the footman/Christine Baranski's son).

Sunday, January 30, 2022

B'way Update: Music Man and the Critics; Tony Voters and Bias Training; etc.

A lotta news goin' on: 

Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster and cast
in The Music Man.
Credit: Joan Marcus
The Music Man
, probably the most anticipated show of this entire post-COVID theater season, will not admit first-string critics until opening night on Feb. 10. This flies in the face of the usual practice of inviting the press during preview performances so the scribes will have time to consider their opinions and craft their prose instead of rushing up the aisles to make the morning edition. No reason was given for this move, but spokesperson Rick Miramontez issued the following snarky statement when the news broke: 

"We feel just terrible for offering dozens of theater critics premium seats to a Broadway show. I am sure they will simply loathe having to tell their grandchildren about the time they were forced to witness Broadway history in the making. Most of all, it pains me personally to imagine the burden of having to turn around a review on such a tight timetable, has such a feat ever been attempted before? Well, let it be seen as the greatest vote of confidence by this production in our beloved press corps that we think they just might be up to the challenge!"

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Is Gay Marriage in Jeopardy?

Amy Schneider,
the current Jeopardy champion
With the current right-wing tilt of the Supreme Court, many of my friends are worried same-sex marriage is in danger. During dinners and zoom chats, they predict the religious Catholic Justices in the majority will find a way to invalidate future gay unions or to allow redneck states to not recognize their legitimacy. They cite the growing certainty that Roe V. Wade will be overturned any day now, even though the majority of the country favors abortion rights. I take a more hopeful stance, pointing out that there may be a thirst on the extreme right to strike down abortion access, but that same-sex marriage is not a rallying cry. Abortion is still a polarizing issue and the emotional argument can be made to moderates that it kills innocent babies (I don't agree with that, but those who are in the middle with no convictions can be pushed that way). While gay marriage is no longer seen by the middle of America as threatening or evil. Yes, there are hard-core haters out there who would gladly send all us gays into concentration camps, but this is not the mainstream view.

A lot of this change in attitude is due to the gradual "normalization" of the LGBT community in media. Through exposure in sitcoms, commercials, and even game shows, to a large part of America, we have become just like them--people who go to jobs and have families, not sex-crazed deviants out to recruit their kiddies. The current Jeopardy champion is a trans woman in a lesbian relationship, which she discusses openly and normally on the show. Gay couples are featured in commercials in casual ways. There's one for Dupinext where an average-looking guy is handed a paper-bag lunch for his daughter on the school bus by his husband. Gay couples also make appearances in ads for jewelry, cruise lines, and car-selling apps. (There was one for Spectrum Mobile, I think, with two men sharing a house, but they seemed more like roommates than life partners. Still, two adult men sharing an apartment is one thing, but a suburban house?) Reality shows also include gays. The current Amazing Race features a black gay pair.

You don't see abortion normalized in the same way. There are no commercials for your friendly abortion provider. There are no whacky abortion doctors on the new ABC sitcom. 

Maybe I am being naive, but I think taking away gay marriage would be seen as unnecessarily cruel and Chief Justice Roberts would not want that messing up his legacy. This right-wing Supreme Court may allow florists and bakers to refuse service to gay weddings, but I don't see them removing such a fundamental right as the marriage itself. And how would it work anyway? Would a gay couple moving from New York to Alabama have their union revoked in their new home? Would current gay marriage be OK, but no more moving forward? What about insurance for partners and benefits, would those dissolve? It would be a nightmare, and not one SCOTUS wants to take on.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

B'way Update: Kite Runner, Strange Loop Dates; WSJ Critic Terry Teachout Dies

A scene from the London production
of The Kite Runner.
Credit: Irina Chira
Amid news of many shows closing or going into hibernation for the winter, Broadway got a boost with the announcement of a new production. A stage version of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini's international best-seller, will be coming to Broadway for a limited run this summer after two seasons in London's West End. The novel tells the story of Amir, a young boy born in Afghanistan in the 1970s, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant. As their country is pitched into political turmoil, the boys' lives are changed forever. The play with music, adapted by Matthew Spangler and directed by Giles Croft will begin previews at the Hayes Theater on July 6 and open on July 21 for a limited run until Oct. 30. The Hayes is owned by Second Stage which will rent the theater out to the production. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 21

Lots of news on the Carol Burnett Show front: The Paley Center (formerly the Museum of Broadcasting) appears to have finally opened its doors after almost two years of COVID shutdown. They have several complete episodes from the "lost" years (Seasons 1-5) which are not on DVD or have been hacked up on the syndicated reruns seen on MeTV, Amazon, Shout Factory! and other outlets. I will have to pay them a visit soon and find the missing pieces. Speaking of those syndicated half-hours, several have mashed together segments from different episodes. They recently showed one with separate sketches featuring Sammy Davis Jr. and Cher who never appeared together on the show and another with Alan King and an extended sketch which was originally on the family show for Season 10 with no guests. Also Channel 21, a local PBS station, is running hour-long episodes, although none are the missing complete shows from season 1-5. But they do have some really interesting segments from seasons 6-11. I checked the programming schedule of other PBS stations and it seems they do have the complete Ethel Merman episode from season 2. Here's a rundown of recently seen episodes from my DVD collection I hadn't gotten around to, reruns on Channel 21, and mash-ups on MeTV.

Season Three:
Nov. 23, 1969: Lucille Ball, George Carlin
Carol and Lucy as the Rock Sisters
(The Lost Episodes/Classic Carol) Old and new comedy styles are highlighted as the Queen of TV past (Lucy in her third appearance on Carol's show) co-stars with then-hip comic George Carlin. The main sketch has both guests in a time-warp show-biz mash-up. Carol and Lucy play the Rock Sisters, a sibling vaudeville act too corny even for 1919. Harvey plays a parody of Ted Lewis, a now forgotten crooner whose signature was a lisping "Is everybody happy?" Theater manager Lyle fires the girls and Harvey and they remain unemployed for 50 years, denoted by pages falling off a calendar. 

Half a century later, Carlin plays a disc jockey staging a concert at the same theater where Carol, Lucy and Harvey were terminated. He's one act short in his bill of 100 attractions. His dim-witted assistant Tondelayo (Vicki) hires the now ancient siblings to complete the show. There are plenty of geriatric gags as the grey-haired entertainers hobble their way to their latest gig. The "girls" are almost booed off the stage for their old-fashioned rendition of "Happiness Cocktail," a piece of special material parodying the songs of the 1910s and '20s. But the chorus boys, dressed as hippie rockers lend a hand and the old broads are a hit. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

B'way Update: Mockingbird and Girl to Go on Hiatus

The cast of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Credit: Emilio Madrid
Two more Broadway shows are going on hiatus, joining Mrs. Doubtful as productions temporarily closing during these volatile COVID-tinged times in hopes of keeping open in a later, less chancy atmosphere. To Kill a Mockingbird, Aaron Sorkin's stage adaptation of Harper Lee's beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, will play its last performance at the Shubert Theater on Jan. 16. The play will re-open at the smaller Belasco Theater on June 1 with Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Greg Kinnear resuming the lead role of courageous lawyer and father Atticus Finch. Mockingbird opened on Dec. 13, 2018 with Jeff Daniels as Atticus and has been one of the most financially successful straight plays in Broadway history. The play re-opened on Oct. 5, 2021 with Daniels and Tony winner Celia Keenan Bolger returning to their original roles. It will have played 626 performances and 45 previews. 

Meanwhile, the current tenant of the Belasco, Girl from the North Country, will play its final performance on Jan. 23. The producers have stated it will reopen sometime in the spring at a Shubert theater to be announced. Girl is written and directed by Connor McPherson and employs the songs of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan to chronicle the travails of the denizens of a rooming-house in Depression-era Duluth, Minnesota, Dylan's hometown. It originated in London and played the Public Theater Off-Broadway. The current production opened on Broadway March 5, 2020 but had to close a week later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The show re-opened on Oct. 13, 2021 and will have played a total of 31 previews and 117 regular performances.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 20: In Tribute to Betty White

Betty White as Ellen and Vicki Lawrence as Mama
in The Attic sketch
Beloved Betty White passed away on New Year's Eve at the age of 99. All of the tributes mentioned her Emmy-winning turns as the promiscuous, nasty Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and as the endearingly naive Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, as well as her performances on Hot in Cleveland and thousands of game shows including the various iterations of Password, hosted by her husband Allen Ludden, Tattletales and Match Game. But she was also memorable as Ellen Harper Jackson, the snooty, faux-aristocratic sister of Eunice on the Family sketches of the Carol Burnett Show. Here's a look at her appearances: 

Season 9: 
Nov. 22, 1975: Betty White

Ellen has been referred to in many previous Family sketches--always as Mama's favorite but the child who never shows up when there is an emergency and Eunice must bear the brunt of whatever arises. Like the time Mama fell and broke her ankle in Eunice's bathroom and the old lady had to stay in their house. Most of the sketch consisted of Eunice trying to get Ellen on the phone so she can share in the caretaking duties. But she was too busy with a bridge tournament. 

We finally meet Ellen when Eunice throws Mama a birthday party. Ellen arrives with an expensive fur coat for Mama and lords her husband's success over Ed and Eunice, particularly when Eunice reveals her gift to be a glittered fly swatter. Resentments boil over as Eunice accuses Ellen of throwing expensive gifts at Mama, but neglecting her and of stealing Eunice's teenage boyfriend, Duke Reeves. Ellen finally stomps out calling Eunice a jackass and disabusing her of any illusions that Duke had any interest in her at all. Betty and Carol perfectly convey the electric tension between the sisters as they battle for Mama's love and attention. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

B'way Update: Skeleton and Paradise Shift Dates, Joan Copeland Dies

COVID and Omicron are still necessitating changes on Broadway. Skeleton Crew, Dominique Morriseau's drama presented by Manhattan Theater Club starring Phylicia Rashad, has suspended all performances through Jan. 9 due to breakthrough COVID cases in the company. The opening, originally scheduled for Jan. 19 will be postponed to a later date to be announced.

Chilina Kennedy and Joaquina Kalukango
in Paradise Square during its Chicago run.
Credit: Kevin Berne

Paradise Square
, the new musical about the owner and multi-racial customers of a tavern in NYC's Five Points neighborhood during the Civil War, has also pushed back its opening dates. The show will now begin previews at the Barrymore Theater on March 15 in advance of an April 3 opening (The original opening was set for March 20).

“During Christmas week, when there were over 560,000 positive daily cases in the US, over 70,000 positive daily cases in NYC and scientists suggested that the virus had yet to peak, we grew deeply concerned for the ongoing safety of our cast, crew and creative team, who were scheduled to begin Broadway rehearsals this month,” commented producer Garth H. Drabinsky. “We hope that a later start date for rehearsals and performances after the current wave is predicted to subside will better protect our company, audience and theatre community.” 

Also, Flying Over Sunset will be closing three weeks earlier than its original limited engagement. The musical imagining Cary Grant, Clare Booth Luce and Aldous Huxley taking LSD together running at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont, will end its run on Jan. 16 instead of Feb. 6.

Joan Copeland

Monday, January 3, 2022

B'way Update: Doubtfire Pauses, Proud Closes, Jackman Sidelined

A scene from Mrs. Doubtfire
which will pause performances
at the Stephen Sondheim.
Credit: Joan Marcus 
Here's the first David Desk blog of 2022 and it's not good news:

The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to wreak havoc on the New York theater scene. In an unprecedented move, Mrs. Doubtfire will halt performances at the Stephen Sondheim Theater for nine weeks from Jan. 10 through March 14 when it is hoped the current surge of COVID cases will have died down. Producer Kevin McCollum states that raising costs for COVID testing, loss of revenue due to cancelled performances and the production's high weekly running expenses would have forced the show to close permanently if not for this pause. All 115 cast and crew will be laid off with the promise of being rehired when the show re-opens.