a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for April, 2011

Outer Critics Circle Announce Their Nominations

So, BANG! The theater awards season is now officially off and running with the Outer Critics Circle Nominations announcing this morning. And “Sister Act” is the show that got the most nods. Which surprised me. I’m seeing it tomorrow night.

Tony Sheldon got nominated in the lead for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and his two terrific co-stars did not. He won’t win, however. Daniel Radcliffe will. For “How to Succeed…”

There’s so much still to see, and when the Drama Desk Nominations come out on Friday morning, then I REALLY get busy. I have to play catch up and see everything they nominate, if I can between the time they are announced and when their voting closes on May 18. Being a Voting Member of the Drama Desk is a very important thing, and I take it very seriously.

The DDs don’t always mirror the Outer Critics, but there is an overlap. But it gives you a guide to what you MUST see. And second place nomination count gatherer “Anything Goes!” is still on my To-Do list. Looking forward to that.

And I was delighted that Bobby Cannavale, whom I just interviewed for my TV show for “Motherfucker with the Hat”, did get nominated for Best Actor in a Play. I bet he repeats in the DDs and also the Tonys, which announce NEXT TUESDAY! Yikes!

I was also happy to see Evan Jonigkeit, who played the gay druggie in the now closed “High”, turn up as Best Featured Actor in a Play.

“War Horse” is nominated all over the place, too. And as Albert Narracott, the young keeper of the horse, Joey, Seth Numrich finds himself nominated in Best Featured Actor in a Play as well. I love BOTH “War Horse” AND “The Motherfucker with the Hat”, and they are both competing against each other in the Best Play category, too! Decisions, decisions. And I think this will repeat in the other awards that are coming up fast.

More theater news every day, so stay tuned! And I’ll let you know when Bobby Cannavale’s interview posts on my YouTube channel!

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“Hey, Boo!” intriguing new doc on the mysterious Harper Lee

I really was quite enchanted with the lovely, new documentary film “Hey, Boo!” about the reclusive Southern authoress Harper Lee. She wrote the  classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, won the Pulitzer Prize, then never wrote anything again and disappeared from sight. This very well done doc by Emmy-winning documentarian Mary McDonagh Murphy explains why.

I had no clear picture of this elusive author, except what one could glean from, of all things, the TWO films about Truman Capote that came out one right after the other in a two year period. “Capote” won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, and got Catherine Keener a supporting actress nomination. It was her second, and she was playing a lesbian in both films, “Capote” and “Being John Malkovich.” 

Sandra Bullock, in her best performance ever, and pre-“The Blind Side”, played an even butcher Harper Lee in the 2nd (and I thought superior) Capote film, “Infamous.” These two films made sure that Truman Capote was back in the public’s eye, even though he’s been dead for a number of years…But no Oscars or nominations were coming the way of “Infamous.” It sucks to be second in this kind of close filmic race. But Truman would’ve loved all this posthumous attention. Harper Lee, no.

However, there Harper Lee was depicted on screen in two movies, helping, traveling and being the all around best pal to Truman Capote, as he traveled to Kansas  by train to investigate the horrific deaths of the Clutter family. Massacred en masse by two gay drifters, one of whom Capote fell madly in love with Perry Smith, and who he pretty much immortalized in his greatest work “In Cold Blood.” And Smith is depicted in all THREE films.

Harper Lee doesn’t appear in “In Cold Blood.” And Capote did not win a Pulitzer Prize, fairly or un-fairly, for his greatest work. And he never forgave his former best friend since childhood, Harper Lee, for this. She had a Pulitzer. He didn’t. And this revelation, among many others, sort of forms the climax of “Hey, Boo!”

“Hey, Boo!” performs the magic trick/tap dance of not having the central character Harper Lee anywhere in it. Yet it still remains compelling. No mean feat. Kudos to filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murpphy who is also the author of the New York Times Best-Seller “Scout, Atticus & Boo: Fifty Years of to Kill a Mockingbird.” This film is so complete, Oprah Winfrey is even in it, telling how much this small, succinct book impacted her young life. To this day, “To Kill a Mockingbird” still sells a million copies a year!

We see pictures of her, and hear her heavily Southern-inflected voice on a radio broadcast from the early ’60s, but that’s about it.

Nell Harper Lee, for that is her full name, and all her friends who are interviewed in the movie call her, Nell, was Capote’s next door neighbor in the small Southern town of Munroeville, Alabama. That these two children would both become considered America’s great writers of that time is a fateful historic co-incidence.

And the film reveals many things we did not know about Nell. She was, when she came to New York in the ’50s an airline reservation ticket counter clerk for a quite a long time before some well-meaning friends, who are interviewed extensively in the movie, generously gave her money to take a year off to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And it wasn’t a breeze doing so for Nell, even with this generous support.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was rejected by many publishers before Nell Harper hit pay dirt and got a sympathetic editor…and the rest as they say is history.

She always reminded me more than a bit of Margaret Mitchell, that other Southern female writer, who wrote one great, best-selling novel, “Gone With the Wind” then was never heard from again, literaray-il-ly speaking.

And “Hey, Boo!” lays out why. Suddenly famous, then also suddenly weary of all the non-stop press attention she was getting, she just says simply to someone, “I have given enough. I don’t want to give any more.”

And I guess, she, being a woman of carefully chosen words, meant was she said.

In this Internet age, one wonders if one book, and a novel at that, could ever make such a stir these days. But in its’ day “To Kill a Mockingbird” coupled with the great Black and White film that won three Oscars, one for Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the heroic lawyer, patterned to a T on Harper Lee’s own father, and one for Horton Foote’s screenplay and one for Haskell Wexler’s cinematography.

It’s also a question if the book without the film’s monumental impact would have achieved the legendary, classic status both the novel and the film enjoy to this day.

But “To Kill a Mockingbird” endures and endures, and this great, thought-provoking documentary explains why.

Kathleen Turner “High” closes low ~ on Easter Sunday!

Well, blink and you’ve missed her. Kathleen Turner was starring on Bway for a bunch o’ days, but she won’t be after tomorrow late afternoon. Her intermittently interesting starrer “High” is leaving on a season low. Closing on Sunday. Easter no less.

Kathleen Turner, once a great screen beauty, is now, in her later years beginning to resemble Winston Churchill. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se. Her force, her magnetic star power is in full blaze in “High” but the rather weak and extremely clichéd play she’s in “High” is the Bway season’s biggest low. And no match for a blazing, charismatic talent like Turner’s. She literally blows it to pieces.

Usually, a play this mediocre does not make it to Broadway these days. Shows used to open and close in one night. Not so anymore when there are millions of dollars at stake . Shows get workshopped to death in places far from the glare of the Great White Way’s white-hot spotlight.Preparation and caution is all.

But how this low “High” ever made it to the Rialto is a mystery. It simply may have been the star’s wanting to do it. And that’s not really enough.

It’s a BIG part for a BIG GAL,a swearing, formerly alcoholic nun. And these days Miss Turner is nothing if not BIG. She hasn’t passed over into the plus sizes, but she’s getting there. And now she’s sporting a neck the size of Texas.

There’s virtually no sets, and not much in the way of costumes. And there’s one extended nude scene for its’ homo druggie, which actually is the play’s best scene. And Bway newcomer Evan Jonigkeit is more than up to the task. He and Ms. Turner have a nude wrestling scene. He’s nude. She isn’t. And she gets him to the floor, from which he and the play barely get up in the second act.

Jonigkeit does manage to REALLY score in the climatic gutter death scene between him and Turner in Act Two. But by then it’s the play’s death rattle you’re hearing. And it’s too little, too late.

All the characters are more or less repulsive and non-relatable. And Bull Dog Turner’s George C. Scott-like attack-style of acting was much better suited onstage as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” which she successfully essayed several seasons back. Here she just sort of endlessly stands there with her basso profundo voice bellowing in the Booth Theater like she was Enrico Caruso with a sore throat.

Supposedly an expose of corruption in the Catholic Church (and guess what overly used plot device vice that means?) playwright Matthew Lombardo really offers nothing new at all on the subject. “Doubt” starring Cherry Jones in the role of Sister Aloyisius that won her a Tony for Best Actress in a play. And won Best Play, too. And a brace of other Tony and awards galore.”Doubt” has covered all this very same ground and did it a lot faster, and better. Memorably so.

Ms. Turner’s Martha lost the Tony to Ms. Jones’ indelible nun that year and here as Sister Jamison Connelly she’s gonna lose, too. Though stranger things have happened on Broadway. Valerie Harper in Mr. Lombardo’s other Bway bomb, er, offering “Looped” (which I actually kind of enjoyed) got Valerie Harper a Tony nod for her boozy bravura Tallulah Bankhead. Turner could pull off that hat trick, too. The critics were kind.

Me? Ms. Turner reminded of Greater Tuna. The fish, not the show.

“War Horse” – an incredile, stirring Bway spectacle triumphs!

I must say I am of two minds about Puppets. Especially Puppets on Bway. I’d rather see actors act greatly, and no matter how good a puppet is, to me it’s still not THAT relatable. That’s how I felt UNTIL I saw the incredible, overwhelming, brilliant “War Horse.” And was totally blown away by it ~ in the second act!

You’ve never seen anything like this. Three puppeteers, clearly visible to the audience, are more or less melded together for the 2 hour 40 min. duration, which I must say, I at first balked at. And the first act left me cold. The writing is not very good,putting it mildly, and well, the puppets, stayed just puppets. The human beings just shouted every line. EVERY-SINGLE-LINE! The horses just snorted and snuffled at the proceedings. And I agreed with their reactions. I almost didn’t stay for the second act, but I’m soooo glad I did. I guess the motto of this story is “Don’t walk out on anything”!

You just never know what the Second Act will bring.

And the Second Act really did bring it.

The rather clunky, interminable first act just nattered on and on as pre-WWI Englishmen treated each other badly in their local pub. Ho-Hum. And the dilemma to buy, or not to buy this humongous  horse/puppet ,who at this point is a mere foal, and who is really the central character of this over-written speech-y play. And the horse s named Joey.

I feel about horses much the same way I feel about puppets. I can take them or leave them. And horse heads on human bodies were used to such great effect on stage in “Equus”, I felt, why bother to do THAT again?

Well, “War Horse” doesn’t do that at all. As the second act took off, and believe me, it really does,  I found myself getting more and more involved with those damned gigantic horse puppets, whether I wanted to or not. And by the time the bloody Battle of the Sommes rolled around(and it’s really about this extremely grisly Battle to End All Battles in the War to End All Wars) I was totally hooked, and the climax of the play is absolutely totally shattering and moving.

More I will not dare to reveal, lest it spoil your enjoyment, of something that is truly an Awards Magnet par excellence, if there ever was one.  Will this superlative puppeteering lead Joey, the War Horse, into the Winner’s Circle at the Tonys, the first big awards show it is going to compete in? It’ll get nominated all over the place. And I hear Stephen Spielberg is prepping the movie version. But the overwhelming, superb theatricality of the puppet/horses is something unlike anything we’ve ever seen on a stage.

And the humans? Well, a few of them did manage to make an impression despite all the horse wizardry and graphic animations and projections. Seth Numrich will break your heart as Joey’s teenage owner as we watch horrified as both the boy and his horse are swept up into the horrors of WWI. Stephen Plunkett has the memorable moment of literally blown off Joey and into smithereens right before our eyes as the British commander. And Ian Sinclair Lassister has sly fun as the barnyard goose’s puppetmeister.

One way or the other, you’re going to see “War Horse.” It’s an incredibly innovative piece of theatre at itsabsolute best. And South Africa’s Handsping Puppet Company and directors and Tom Morris and Marianne Ellis deserve all the kudos that will undoubtedly be coming their way in the very near future as New York’s critics’ groups begin to announce their nominations next week and the weeks after, culminating in the upcoming Tonys.

It’s a busy theatrical spring coming up. Theater-packed. I love it!

Melissa “F-Bomb” Leo Apologizes Like Crazy on “The View”

Yes, I watch “The View.” I love Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg, and I used to call in to Joy Behar when she was on radio doing a morning call-in show here in NYC, back in the early ’90s, before her “View” fame, when I was in Beauty School. Joy and I used to talk about hair, of course, and movies movies movies.

I think she was the one who said to me ~ on the air ~ “Stephen, a little bit of you goes a long way” …

WHATever…I do enjoy her on “The View.”

Well, this season’s Oscar nemesis Melissa Leo who famously not only won, but dropped the F-Bomb doing it, was more or less apologizing  for it. Like crazy. Sort of. It seemed to be all they could talk about. Or all they kept asking her about. It’s never ending. Evidently.

Whoopi exclaimed “It was the best Oscar acceptance speech ever!” and Barbara sort of mumbled something that seemed like foregiveness…

I must say Miss F-Bomb Leo seemed more poised and gracious than she’s ever seemed before. They even showed a clip of her from her “All My Children”days when  I was first aware of her. She was outstanding on that show. She called it “All My Rest in Peace Children.”(I feel soooo awful about it’s going off the air. It’s like a death in the family.” But that’s another article.)

She said she hasn’t yet talked to Kate Winslet about saying what looked like the hugest insult in Oscar history when she blurted out “Kate Winslet made it looked so fucking easy” in her, Leo’s, Oscar acceptance speech this year. This in reference to  Winslet’s Oscar speech a few years prior

 She also mentioned sort of grudingly, I thought, that “I was there then. When I had to watch her speech the night she won. I was nominated that year for ‘Frozen River.'” Sheesh.

She just won’t let go of that Kate Winslet envy. And she even did an imitation of her saying “She’s British, you know.” As if that was something terrrrrrible.

Still, I wish she hadn’t said it. I still feel that moment demeaned the Oscars and demeaned her whole profession.

She’s a talented actress. Did she need to do that?

Well, she’s got her Oscar now, and as I predicted, she will be apologizing for that awful moment for the rest of her life. As she was doing this morning on “The View.” It will define her forever.

“Catch Me If You Can” A Waste of a Lot of Terrific Talent

“Catch Me If You Can” was a terrific Stephen Spielberg-directed, entertaining, sexy movie. It had speed, style, wry humor, Leonardo DiCaprio at his charming best, Tom Hanks as his frazzled, funny pursuer, Christopher Walken’s best before-0r-since performance as Di Caprio’s complex, concerned dad and French film legend Natalie Baye as Walken’s wayward wife and Di Caprio’s dazzlingly young French mother. RENT IT IMMEDIATELY.

Because if you drop a bundle of cash on Broadway’s over-priced tickets to the new musical version of “Catch Me if You Can”, you are going to feel gypped. Really, really gypped.

First let me say that I LOVED Aaron Tveit. He was memorable, haunting and engaging as the ghost of the manic-depressive Mom of the brilliant Alice Ripley in the far superior “Next to Normal.” He egregiously didn’t get a Tony Nomination, when everything else in the musical, including the rug, got nominated a few years back.

And I really did look forward to seeing him emerge as a musical comedy star, in a musical specifically written for him by the same team that successfully brought us the musical of “Hairspray” but alas ~ no. He has to carry this HUGE, WEIGHTED DOWN, dull, dull show almost entirely on his own.

His pursuer, Hanratty, played with great gusto, but disfiguring horn-rimmed glasses and a fat suit by the great Norbert Leo Butz, is a supporting player here. Whereas Tom Hanks in the movie, was the superbly slick Leonardo DiCaprio’s co-star. When he got frustrated chasing this ace con man around the world, Hanks was always funny in his frazzeledness. But Butz, in this awful outfit, seems simply sad and middle-aged. Not great qualities to buoy up a sinking Broadway musical. Ditto the defeated-edness of Tom Wopat as our hero’s father.

Chirstopher Walken was so complex and moving as the Dad in the movie, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. That 2002 performance has stayed in my mind and reminds me of just how terrific an actor Walken can be when he is not doing schtick.

But mostly I worried about the handsome, young Tveit. And how he seemed endlessly flat, but bright and spritely, as this lumpen musical wore on and on. Wearing out its’ questionable welcome hours before it was over.

One kept hoping it would pick up and become like “Hairspray” i.e. tuneful and funny. But it doesn’t. It certainly doesn’t. And the music is flat, too. What a shame.

Will the promising Tveit’s career overcome what surely is going to be seen as HIS great failure. But then, “Catch Me If You Can” may not be able to outrun its’ critics pans. Like this one. The sooner this show closes, the better for Aaron Tveit’s  budding career.

Sidney Lumet R.I.P. My interview with him…

http://youtu.be/Wnx4mqUpBR8

He was one of the greatest of all time. The greatest director, the greatest New Yorker, the greatest appreciator of New York’s great actors. And he could step outside of his comfort zone, too. Like with the delightfully suspense filled “Murder on the Orient Express.” It got Ingrid Bergman her THIRD Oscar, but Sidney never won one, though he was nominated for five or so times. Finally he got a Life-time Achievement Oscar.

He talks about the Oscars in this interview. And I believe “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” was right up there with his best.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman used his Oscar cred from his Best Actor win for “Capote” to get the financing for this film. And I’m so glad he did.

Every film of Lumet’s was a feast of great actings. Actors always did their career best work for him.

R.I.P. Sidney

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