Friday, April 28, 2023

B'way Update: Harmony and King Lear

Harmony will make the trip from
Off-Broadway to on this fall.
Credit: Julieta Cervantes
Harmony, the musical based on the real-life careers of a German singing group destroyed by the Nazis, will make the trip from Off-Broadway to on with preview performances commencing Oct. 18 at the Barrymore Theater, prior to a Nov. 13 opening. The musical with music by the legendary Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner Barry Manilow and book and lyrics by Drama Desk winner Bruce Sussman, had a sold-out engagement at the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene from March to May of 2022. Directed and choreographed by Tony winner Warren Carlyle, Harmony follows the story of the Comedian Harmonists, a popular vocal sextette from the 1920s into the 1930s whose meteoric rise to fame was stymied by the anti-Semitic policies of Adolph Hitler. 

For this Off-Broadway run, Harmony was nominated for a Drama Desk for Outstanding Musical and won for Outstanding Book of a Musical. It also received eight Outer Critics Circle nominations and two Lortel nominations. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

B'way Update: Shark Jumps the Atlantic; Pre-Tonys on Pluto TV

Demetri Goritsas, Ian Shaw, and Liam Murray Scott 
in The Shark Is Broken
Credit: Helen Maybanks
Broadway is about to jump the shark. The Shark Is Broken, a new play based on the filming of the blockbuster film Jaws will make the transatlantic leap from London to New York this summer (after an engagement in Canada). After runs at the Edinburgh Festival and the West End where it was nominated for two Olivier Awards and at the Royal Alexandria Theater in Toronto, Shark will swim into the John Golden Theater for previews starting July 25 in advance of an Aug. 10 opening. The three-character comedy is written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon. Shaw will also reprise his role of his father Robert Shaw who played the gruff shark hunter Quint in the 1975 Steven Spielberg original film. Casting for the other roles of Shaw's co-stars Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider will be announced. The action follows the feuding between the three stars as production is held up when the mechanical aquatic monster breaks down.    

Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and
Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Book Review: Woody: The Biography

Received as a Christmas present, finally got around to reading it. I think this is the fourth Woody Allen biography I've read (after Marion Meade, Eric Lax and John Baxter). This is definitely the most pro-Woody one so far. Published in 2015, Evanier's book praises Allen at every turn. Evanier makes a point of not following a chronological sequence, he goes back and forwards in Allen's life. The result is somewhat confusing. At one point he devotes an entire chapter to a transcription of an interview with Dick Cavett. Much of the book critically examines Woody's films, books and plays in a detailed, considered manner, but the last few chapters turn into a tabloid expose of the Soon-Yi/Dylan/Mia scandal. Allen's later films are given scant attention.

Evanier's main theme is that Allen bounces back after every setback. The book was written before his biggest challenge when the #MeToo movement gave renewed vigor to the Farrow family's campaign to cancel Allen altogether. Despite Amazon canceling his contract, actors in his recent films denouncing him and contributing their salaries to charity, and his autobiography being nixed, Allen kept going. His book found another publisher and he continues to make films at 87. Reports of his retiring from moviemaking were evidently incorrect. His 50th film--Coup de Chance, entirely in French with a French cast--has found a distributor and will presumably be available in the US. The rest of the world is not rejecting him. I guess we won't get a definitive Allen bio until the subject passes away and the final movie is made.

Niels Schneider and Lou De Laage in
'Coup de Chance'

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna, Dies at 89

The brilliant Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everage, has passed away at 89. I've seen all three of her Broadway shows (Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance, and All About Me co-starring Michael Feinstein) and worked with her when she did a Drama Desk luncheon. It was hilarious. Before the lunch, Barry called me as Dame Edna and asked what the lighting was going to be like. I said it was a restaurant with ordinary natural light. "Well, I'm not going to perform in the dark, darling!," she intoned. Afterwards, Barry called and apologized for the bizarre behavior of his "client." It was really as if he were two people.

Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1934, Humphries introduced Edna as an average Aussie housewife in 1955. She became a sensation when she appeared in Australian and British TV in the 1970s. Barry first brought Edna to the US in Housewife! Superstar!, an Off-Broadway solo show in 1977. He received a Drama Desk nomination, but the production was not a hit. He returned in 2000 with Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, making her Broadway debut and winning a Drama Desk and a Tony Award. She joked that her first outing received a negative review from the New York Times and she had to wait 25 years for the critic Richard Eder to die before she came back to the States. Her shows consisted of monologues and interacting with audience members. In one particularly funny bit, she would telephone relatives of audience members, no matter the hour. She woke one English gentleman up in the middle of the night (because of the time change.) "I'll bet who know who this is," she chirped to the respondent on the other end of the transatlantic call. Then she asked what he was wearing and he replied, "My undershorts." "Ah, yes, British to the core," she quipped.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

B'way Update: DD Changes Rules; Critic-Playwright Mario Fratti Dies

The Drama Desk Awards are joining the Outer Critics Circle, the Lortels and the Independent Spirit Awards in eliminating gender distinction in their performance categories. Several regional theatre awards such as the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, DC, the Barrymores in Philadelphia, and the Jeffs in Chicago have also gone gender-neutral. The Drama Desk is an organization of approximately 100 New York-based theater critics, reporters and editors which presents the only theater awards honoring work on, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway equally in multiple categories. (Full disclosure: I am a Drama Desk member and former President). In a recent email, the DD board informed its members that male and female distinctions for acting awards would be taken away. Previously there were 8 acting categories (four each for plays and musicals) plus one for solo performance which was always gender-neutral. In addition to the solo category, there will now be four acting slots--Outstanding Lead and Featured Performance in a Play and Outstanding Lead and Featured Performance in a Musical. There will be two winners in each category, so the number of acting awardees will remain the same. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023

More Post-Oscar Pix

Triangle of Sadness
I've seen two additional Oscar-nominated films after the actual Oscar ceremony thanks to streaming services: Triangle of Sadness (Best Picture and Original Screenplay nominations, plus Golden Globe Supporting Actress nomination for Dolly DeLeon) on Hulu and Aftersun (Best Actor for Paul Mescal) on Amazon, rented for $6.99. 

Triangle is a clever social satire from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund (there's an umlut over the o but I don't feel like figuring out how to type one). The Oscar-nominated screenplay is divided into three parts: 1) the romance of two supermodels where they squabble over who picks up the restaurant bill (the woman earns more than the man, yet she still expects him to pay for them both); 2) a journey on a luxury yacht resembling Ship of Fools; the supermodels are just two of the passengers who also include a crass Russian capitalist and a British couple (Oliver Ford Davies is the husband) who manufacture grenades; 3) the ship sinks after an attack by pirates and a storm at sea resulting in much vomiting and diarrhea. The last part is a modern spin on JM Barrie's The Admirable Crichton in which I appeared as a Stable Boy in a high school production . Of course, Abigail the toilet attendant on the ship (DeLeon), becomes the captain on the desert island since she is the most capable of hunting and fishing. The balance shifts as Abigail pressures the male supermodel into a sexual relationship in return for food. Funny, sharp, scary.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Rematch in 2024: Good Grandpa Vs. Evil Grandpa

Rematch in 2024?
While waiting for a doctor's appointment, I overheard a conversation among three people--one older white male, a late-middle-aged African-American woman, and her elderly father. After praising the doctor they had come to see, the white guy steered the talk to the sorry state of our country and our world. The Dalai Lama saying saying suggestive to a young boy, mass shootings, crime, inflation, etc. The usual. He then proceeded to trash Biden, listing examples of the President's failing memory and supposed advanced state of senility. In a speech, the prez mistook a woman who was dead as being still among us. He seemed lost at a state meeting. You get the idea. "And this is our president," the white gentleman dismissively complained. The elderly black gentleman and his daughter agreed we are in a sorry state, but they did not agree or disagree with the white guy about Biden. Of course, I tactfully did not say anything, being seated several chairs away. If I were right next to them, I might have said "Would you rather have Trump? Because that was the choice--and it's probably going to be the choice again in 2024." Of course, the man could have been disliked Trump too and be one of those people who thinks all politicians are awful and we're basically doomed.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Post-Oscar-Award Season Pix

For once I actually decided to continue trying to see as many Oscar nominated films after the ceremony, as well as films that received other accolades and nominations. 

Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry
in Causeway
Credit: Apple TV
was a intimate little indie (like To Leslie) with a familiar storyline--two damaged, disparate people form an unlikely friendship. Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence), a young white lesbian woman, has returned home from Afghanistan after nearly getting blown up. She meets James (Oscar Supporting Actor Nominee Brian Tyree Henry), an African-American mechanic, dealing with his own post-traumatic stress following a car accident resulting in the loss of his leg and the death of his nephew. They meet when Lynsey's truck breaks down and reach out to each other. We've seen this scenario before, but it's handled with tenderness and subtlety. Director Lila Neugebauer has numerous Off-Broadway credits and the cast is stuffed with NYC theater actors including Tony winner Jayne Houdyshell (The Humans), Linda Emond (Enchanted April, Homebody: Kabul), Frederick Weller (Seascape, Some Men), and Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences, Between Riverside and Crazy). Emond is particularly subtle as Lynsey's neglectful mother. She doesn't lay it on thick with a molasses accent or drunken slurring. She quietly displays the mother's selfishness in small details such as the way she casually tells her boyfriend on the phone she's not doing anything when her daughter is sitting right there. The screenplay has three authors, which is weird, but I was familiar with only one: Otessa Moshfegh from her novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation which I enjoyed.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

B'way Update: Window Replaces Room

Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan
in The Sign in Sidney Brusteins's Window
Credit: Catalina Kulczar
Donald Trump's 34-count indictment isn't the only big news coming out of Manhattan this week. The revival of Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window which recently finished its run at BAM is transferring to Broadway just in time to qualify for the 2023 Tony Awards. The play about a group of bohemian Greenwich Village residents in the 1960s will begin previews on April 25 at the James Earl Jones Theater and open two days later on April 27, the last possible day for Tony Award consideration. The quickie transfer and short preview period were made possible when the Jones' previous resident, a stage version of Emily Donoghue's novel Room, was postponed indefinitely because a major backer withdrew funding. The cast from the BAM production, directed by Anne Kaufman, will repeat their performances including Oscar Isaac (Scenes from a Marriage, Hamlet) and Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Big Knife) in the lead roles of Sidney and Iris, an idealistic intellectual and his wife, an aspiring actress.