Sunday, January 29, 2023

Book Review: Assassination Vacation

Found in one of those little library boxes outside a church in our neighborhood. For free. I've been meaning to read this for a while because I love history and this looked like an interesting read. Sarah Vowell takes us on a funny, quirky road trip down American history lane. With her sister and macabre-obsessed toddler nephew, Vowell visits various locations associated with the assassinations of three presidents--Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley. Along the way, she offers views on the current state of our nation, drawing parallels between the McKinley and Bush administrations (the book was written during the Iraq war). There are also fascinating recreations of each shocking moment of violence, the bizarre coincidence that Robert Lincoln, Abe's eldest, was present for all three killings, and the state of our union during the various time periods. Enjoyable and sharp.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

B'way Update: Making 'Room' and Changes to the OCC Awards

Adrienne Warren
The 2023 Broadway spring season is getting more crowded. The latest entry is Room, Emma Donoghue's stage adaptation of her best-selling novel. She also adapted the work for the 2015 film version for which Brie Larsen won a Best Actress Oscar. Tony winner Adrienne Warren (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical) will star as the young woman who is held captive with her son in a shed by a sexual predator. The play which features songs by Scottish songwriters Kathryn Joseph and Cora Bissett and direction by Ms. Bissett, will begin preview performances at the James Earl Jones Theater on April 3, prior to an April 17 opening. Room has had previous productions in London (both in England and Canada), Dublin, Glasgow, and Toronto. Additional cast members will be announced.

Whether the show will be considered a play with music or a musical has not yet been determined, since there has been reworking after the last production when it was classified as a play with music.

“I am truly honored for the opportunity to return to Broadway in a project unlike anything I’ve done before,” Adrienne Warren commented. “There were many reasons I wanted to join this team in telling this story, but most importantly, I wanted to share this beautifully human bond between a mother and her son. This is for all the little Jack’s out there determined to hold on to their sense of joy and wonder and all the Ma’s out there doing their absolute best to live, love, and protect through it all.” 

Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay
in the film version of Room (2015)

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 35: Down the Helen Reddy Wormhole

Season 10
Feb. 5, 1977: Helen Reddy
Carol with Helen Reddy
When I mentioned on blog post number 33 in this series that there was a missing musical sequence from this episode with Helen Reddy in the Best of the Carol Burnett Show DVD collection, a Twitter follower named Mamaleh Trump who bills herself as Donald's long-lost imaginary Yiddishe bubbe, posted a link to a YouTube video with the missing 12 minutes. Here's her tweet: "Episode with Helen Reddy is missing a WONDERFUL 12 minute medley where Helen & Carol sing an amazing group of songs from the 60s. Video/sound quality is not great, but it is still very much worth watching. Cost of rights to all the songs is the problem." Helen and Carol sing a prolonged medley of hits from the 1960s from Hello, Dolly to Eleanor Rigby.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Off-B'way Update: Days of Wine and Roses Musical

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in
Days of Wine and Roses
A musical version of the 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses will open Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company with previews starting May 5 and continuing till June 25. An opening date has not yet been announced. The show is a hot item because of its stars and the creative team. Tony winner Kelli O'Hara (The King and I) and Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Brian d'Arcy James (Sweet Smell of Success, Shrek) will play the leads, a young couple battling alcoholism played by Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon in the film (Piper Laurie and Cliff Robertson starred in the original 1958 TV play.) The score is by Adam Guettel (Richard Rodgers' grandson and Mary Rodgers' son) and Craig Lucas pens the book based on JP Miller's screenplay. Michael Greif (Rent) directs. Guettel and Lucas previously collaborated on The Light in the Piazza, both winning Tonys, which starred O'Hara.

Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James

Monday, January 16, 2023

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 34: Carol's 1991 Comeback

Carol with Martin Short on her
short-lived 1991 variety series
After the end of the original Carol Burnett Show, Carol made her third and final attempt at another regular series in the fall of 1991 and it did not go well. Her 1979 four-episode series Carol Burnett and Company did reasonably during its summer run on ABC. She returned to a series with Carol and Company, an anthology series featuring a different playlet each week and the repertory company of players. This was a midseason replacement on NBC which ran from March 1990 until July 1991 with a total of 33 episodes (many of which are available on Youtube. Perhaps I will do a blog on some of those some day soon.) There were occasional guest stars like Betty White, Christopher Reeve, Swoosie Kurtz (who won a Guest Actress Emmy), Robert Urich, and Carol's daughter Carrie Hamilton. When Carol and Company was cancelled, Carol went back to CBS for a revival of her variety-show, but the magic just wasn't there. She had a cast of recurring, young performers including two holdovers from the Carol and Company group--Richard Kind (now on CBS's East New York crime drama and a veteran of the NY stage, I met him at the Drama Desk Awards many times) and Megan Fay. They are joined by Chris Barnes, Roger Kabler, and Jessica Lundy. The reviews were not great. "Making Carol Burnett and Martin Short dull and monotonous is a steep, uphill climb," squawked the Los Angeles Times. "But Friday night’s premiere of “The Carol Burnett Show” on CBS somehow got there, affirming that even the funniest performers rarely overcome unfunny material. Burnett’s is the last of the 1991-92 fall series to debut. And, amazingly, one of the worst."

Thursday, January 12, 2023

B'way Update: Here Lies Love and Hamlet

Jose Llana and Ruthie Ann Miles in
the Off-Broadway production of 
Here Lies Love.
The new year has barely begun, but there are already theatrical plans for summer 2023. Here Lies Love, the immersive disco musical based on the career of the infamous Imelda Marcos and the rise of the People Power Revolution of the Philippines, will make its Broadway debut and the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park series at the Delacorte will present yet another production of Hamlet, this time set in a post-COVID contemporary America.

Here Lies Love, featuring a sung-through score by pop icons David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, will begin previews at the Broadway Theater on June 17 and open on July 20. The theater will be reconfigured into a dance floor for the show's environmental design. The original production opened at the Public Theater in 2013 and won five Lucille Lortel Awards and three Drama Desk Awards. The show has had subsequent stagings in London and Seattle. Original director Alex Timbers (Tony winner for Moulin Rouge) returns to the production.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Broadway Update: Parade Revival with Ben Platt

Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt in
Parade which will transfer to Broadway
after its NYCC run.
Credit: Joan Marcus

Tony winner Ben Platt will return to Broadway in a revival of
Parade, reprising his role from the New York City Center limited run of the musical based on the 1913 trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who was accused of raping and murdering his employee 13-year-old Mary Phagan. Platt who won a Tony for Dear Evan Hansen will be joined by his City Center co-star Micaela Diamond (The Cher Show) who plays Frank's wife. Parade opened at Lincoln Center Theater's Vivian Beaumont Theater in 1998 and ran for 84 performances. It was nominated for nine Tonys and won for Alfred Uhry's book and Jason Robert Brown's score, and won six Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Musical. Platt is also currently filming Richard Linklater's screen version of Merrily We Roll Along.

Parade, directed by Michael Arden (Once on This Island, Deaf West's revival of Spring Awakening) will begin previews on Feb. 21 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater and open on March 16 for a limited run until Aug. 6. 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Lionel Barrymore Imitations in Cartoons

Lionel Barrymore in
It's a Wonderful Life
In a previous blog, I detailed my listening habits on my drive to work. One of the old-time radio shows I would listen to was the Story of Dr. Kildare with Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore, both recreating their roles from the film series. Barrymore was a member of the famous acting family with brother John and sister Ethel. He was confined to a wheelchair due to a broken hip and arthritis, but that did not stop him from continuing his acting career. His character Dr. Gillespie was a crochety old coot, lovable but crusty, always advising the young Dr. Kildare on difficult patients and cases. He is probably best known today for his role as Mr. Potter, the autocratic banker who attempts to dominate Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. Barrymore's distinctive vocal style inspired numerous imitations in animated cartoons when a curmudgeon was needed. 

Book Review: Lucy by the Sea

One of my resolutions of 2023 is to post my reviews of the books I read, no matter how short. I have been doing this on the website I did copy over some reviews occasionally in previous years, but I want to start keeping a record of my reading here on the blog. Also to record where I got the book as a journal of my connections with the book world.

Bought at Barnes and Noble for $28 with a few dollars left on a gift card from last year. I really enjoyed reading Strout's fourth novel about Lucy Barton, presumably an autobiographical figure, a novelist dealing with aging, her ex-husband, her two grown-up daughters, and the trauma of growing up within a dysfunctional, poverty-stricken household in a garage rather than a house. (Previous works are My Name Is Lucy Barton, Anything Is Possible, Oh, William. The first one was made into a solo play starring Laura Linney on Broadway.) In this version, Lucy chronicles her experiences of the COVID pandemic. Her ex-husband William, a scientist, brings her to stay in a remote house in rural Maine to avoid the mass infections in NYC. As the lockdown drags on, William and Lucy reconnect, her daughters encounter their own crises, and she makes friends with characters who also appear in Strout's Olive Kittredge novels (Pulitzer Prize, made into an HBO mini-series with Frances MacDormand). Spare, incisive prose cuts to the heart of her characters. Lucy deals with Trump supporters and the BLM movement with compassion. No one is a hero or villain, just people trying to get along.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 33

Here is the first David Desk blog of 2023. I haven't done a Carol Burnett Show roundup in quite a while. Here are some bits and pieces I came across since part 32.

Season One: Feb. 5, 1968: Jack Palance, Liza Minnelli
(Originally reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 9, edited MeTV version includes gangster sketch; YouTube clips include Liza's two numbers, "The Ballad of Butterfly McHart" and "The Happy Time")
Carol as Trilby and Jack Palance as Svengali

Channel 21 continues to air full-hour reruns of Carol's show, but this is one of the rare ones that heretofore has not surfaced in its entirety. I discovered it several weeks ago and DVRed it. I had seen the MeTV edited versions plus YouTube clips of Carol's numbers with Liza. Previously unviewed material includes a typically lame Carol-and-Sis sketch where Carol and Roger entertain Crissy's date--a whacked-out hippie. But it turns out he's not her date, just a crazy guy looking for a hand-out, and then an even weirder guy in black leather motorcycle gear show up as Crissy's real date. Later Carol plays a saloon entertainer in the Wild West who destroys a bar with her Ethel Merman-like vocals. Then she has a solo warbling a slow version of "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nelly."