a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for March, 2013

“Hands on a Hard Body” a Warm-hearted Musical Hits Home

I really did enjoy the recently opened “Hands on a Hard Body” the surprising, innovative musical hit that just opened on Broadway starring one of my favorite Bway actor/singers Hunter Foster. Yes, THAT Hunter Foster, who is the very, very talented older brother of the much more famous Sutton Foster, she who has now two Tonys and Hunter doesn’t even have one!

Hunter does however have a Tony nomination for “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Perhaps the super-duper “Hands on a Hard Body” will change all that. Certainly, it COULD. Hunter has the role of his career here playing the much-older-than-he-is, bad-ass, red-neck lead Benny Perkins.

Based on a much-respected but little-seen real-life documentary of the same name, “Hands on a Hard Body” traces the journeys of its’ dozen or so working class Texan characters, who have accepted the daunting challenge of standing with their hands on the hard body of a brand spanking new, gleaming, red as rose Nissan pick-up truck. Whoever can last the longest, in this rather unbelievable, but true competition wins the truck. And hopefully a bigger piece of the American pie, than all of them presently have.

Yes, a cast of have-nots, singing their Country and Western hearts out, to the tune of our sluggish economy and the stagnant social mobility that used be the American Dream.

Contempo, yes, to the max. But I liked that. And I REALLY liked all these characters, and their elucidation musically by Trey Anatasio (of “Phish”) and Amanda Green. And literarily by Pultizer-Prize winning librettist Doug Wright. Who wrote “I Am My Own Wife”. I liked this MUCH better than “Wife”, and was so pleased that there were relatable characters of all ages, sizes and genders singing their hillbilly hearts out.

The way the Musical Numbers are listed in the maddening program, without the names of the characters or actors who are singing them, it’s hard to single out just who sang what. But I found much to my delight(and hopefully yours, too) that every song was a winner.

Hunter Foster really dominates here and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did receive a Tony and/or Drama Desk nomination for his memorable meanie, whose big number was certainly “Hunt with the Big Dogs”, which ended the first act with a BANG! But he also sang many other terrific tunes, too.

Top-tapping music and amazingly interesting choreography by Sergio Trujillo kept “Hard Body” (and the red truck, too!) moving so much that you never noticed its’ seemingly static premise. Kudos are due, too, to its’ sharp director Neil Pepe.

Particularly so during Hawaiian belter Keala Settle’s roof-rasing “Joy of the Lord” which had the larger than life Ms. Settle pounding away on the truck until it turned it into a percussive instrument! Tony/Drama Desk and more nominations are CERTAINLY headed her way for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Giving her a run for her awards’ money in that category will be Dale Soules, whose Texas rasp, made me feel like she had just wandered in from the Grand Ole Opry, instead of an extensive career in theater.Her big number was “It’s a Fix!”

Also registering powerfully were Jon Rua as born-in-the-USA hispanic kid with a dream who wants to win the truck, so he can sell it and he can go to school and be a veterinarian. His soulful “Born in Loredo” is marvelously moving and mesmerizing. As is the Iraq war vet with PTSS, David Larsen,in his “Alone with Me” solo that also brings down the house. As do they all.

I love that a Broadway musical takes risks like “Hands on a Hard-Body” does. And reaches and fulfills them. I hope audiences find it as enjoyable and moving as I did!

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“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Bombs in a Flop House

I’ve always thought that whatever unfortunate production found itself mounted at the slightly out-of-the-way Cort Theater on Broadway EAST, a bit, on W.47th St. was always doomed to bomb. I’ve always thought of the Cort as a Flop House.

And when I saw to my dismay that
a)The NEW “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was playing at the Cort, and
b) that it wasn’t a musical, I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. Or rather a bump-less night. I don’t know how I stayed awake.

When the most exciting moment of the (ENDLESS) evening turned out to be the leading man, Cory Walker Smith taking all his clothes off and getting into a bathtub, completely needlessly. Totally gratuitously. But suddenly the talent-free Smith suddenly showed his REAL talents, and I now knew why he was cast in the part. He’s
got the slammin’,scuplted, muscular body and, er, talents, to make up for his lackluster acting skills.

His co-star and leading lady Emilia Clarke, then also needlessly disrobed, and joined him in the bath and the bubbles.

This was supposed to signify…well, whatever it was I didn’t care, by that point.

How bad was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? Well, it was soooo bad, that if you were someone who had never had a previous encounter with the works of the late Truman Capote, you’d think “Why the fuss?”

And this production is so dreary, on every level, I don’t think it will still be running by the time I finish typing this sentence.

Already adapted into a musical that never opened, starring Mary Tyler Moore no less in 1966, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is not a flop-proof classic.

Light as air and paper-thin as a novella to start with, the legendary film version starring Audrey Hepburn iconically summed up the social strivings of an era. Hepburn as Holly Golightly was utterly divine and floated on gossamer wings through 1960s Manhattan. She epitomized the struggling, moon-struck yearner in everyone, who comes to New York City. She was the essence of romance. Of dreams striving to be fulfilled. Of someone, who you cared about if her heart was broken, and…well…She made film history.

A generation identified with her. You never forgot her, and “Moon River”! “Moon River” was FROM THIS MOVIE! It won the Oscar for Best Song and Henry Mancini’s dreamy, charming, zany music won Best Score. Audrey Hepburn on that fire-escape strumming her guitar and breaking your heart with “Moon River.” Poignant, haunting, magnificent.

And they have the nerve! The outright GAUL! to have Emilia Clarke attempt a NEW tune-less tune, also strumming a guitar, also on a fire-escape, that was so dirge-like it reminded me of a funeral march. I wanted to escape, the theater, but alas, it was just the first act, and there was much more suffering, dullness and bad acting to be endured for nearly two more narly hours!

Emilia Clarke is a British TV star and I imagine quite photogenic in a close-up. She’s evidently wowed the world in “Game of Thrones” on HBO.(I’ve never seen it.) But whatever the camera reveals of her talents, the stage just emphasizes what she doesn’t have, which is any kind of presence whatsoever.

Could she have been any worse?

No class, no style, no ethereal social butterfly her Holly Golightly, her Holly was like the Maltese Falcon, a fake bird made of lead. The great costume designer Colleen Atwood is also defeated here. Her clothes for Holly at least TRIED to suggest an effervescence. But in fifty shades of grey, which was the predominant color of the dreary slide-projected set, she just faded into the background as some gawky girl tottering around in her mother’s high heels and finery. I was around New York in the ’60s, and believe me it was anything BUT grey!

Warhol’s divine drag star Holly Golightly, 40 years ago, in “Trash” had that demented, delusions of grandeur diva thing going on ALL THE TIME. I kept thinking of the great story about her in real life, when she successfully emptied out the French Ambassador’s wife’s bank account. Then went back again A SECOND TIME and this time the impersonation landed her “in the hooskow” as she put it to me on the Christmas episode of my TV show in 1992.
IOW, Ryker’s Island. I must re-run that show again soon.

This is what this “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was making me think of….And it also made me think of how much like Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles, Capote’s Holly Golightly really was. Did Capote read Isherwood’s”I Am a Camera” of his Berlin stories, and just decide “Oh, I can do better than THAT?” But did he?

And yes, I kept waiting for the band to strike up and the music to begin, but alas, it never did. The actors just “spoke” Oy vay.

And of yes, George Wendt wandered around, in a miniscule part of a bartender, looking embarrassed, like he was looking for the exit.

And the cat! Oh yes! The cat! The cat was great! I really believed she was a cat! And the cat scampered off looking for the exit, just like George Wendt was doing.

And so was I. As soon as I possibly could.

How to Cure le Post-Oscar Blues? Read this!! At the Great Awardsdaily.com!

http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/2013/03/22/great-performances-by-great-actresses-dominate-rendez-vous-with-french-cinema-2012/#more-63430

This is what I’ve been doing! And the Rendez-vous is always sublime and thank you Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams for the breath-taking lay-out!

Sasha is headed to Cannes once again, and I look forward to her delightful Cannes postings every year!

Stay tuned!

“Downton Abbey” Ends and Begins to Shoot Season 4

Well, that was a BANG-up finale to perhaps the strongest season yet, Season 3, of “Downton Abbey,” a few weeks back now. It’s taken me this long to come to terms with its’ being over soooo quickly, and also so tragically…

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!SPOILER ALERT!

I knew Dan Stevens, who played the handsome, perfect Matthew Crawley, was leaving at the end of this season. There had been MUCHO publicity about it. How could this be? No Matthew! Oh Nooooo! You can’t DO that, Author Julian Fellowes! Noooo! How will we, nevermind Lady Mary, his pregnant wife, do without him?????

But Stevens’ three year contract was up, and I personally feel he’ll rue the day. I don’t think his fans will ever forgive him for leaving. And he’ll never live up to the career high of “Downton” and the classic, unforgettable heart-throb he created in Matthew Crawley.

So, we knew his character’s end was nigh. But it was the really harsh and violent CHOICE of how they choose to write him out, erase him completely, that was startling. Yes, Matthew Crawley is dead. Really dead. Dead as a Dickensian door-nail.

And the sight of the intense close-up of his handsome corpse with the blood running in a rivulet down his beautiful, dead blonde face was really something that stuck in my mind. I wish I could get it OUT of my mind! It’s haunting! That’s the word!That someone so young and so dashing and so rich, someone who had survived the trenches of WWI, only to die, like James Dean, too soon, too soon…WELL!

And as I watch that episode over and over and over again.
(What ELSE is there to watch on TV that’s THAT good? I mean, really!)

Well, that shot and the scenes of marital bliss leading up to it with his address to his newborn baby son, “My dear little chap.” Well, it began to get to me more and more the more I re-watched it. And of course, the tragedy of Lady Mary, the ever more and more magnificent Michelle Dockery’s fate, as a newly widowed single mother, is even more magnified the more that I see it. The happiest of images of her in that sun-filled room and her little baby grabbing at her finger…*sob*

But not to worry, dear fellow, Downtonians. They are already shooting Season 4. And we know Shirley MacLaine will be back for a least one more go ’round with the legend herself Dame Maggie Smith…The way the show keeps moving forward in time, the Dowager Countess must be now circling 100!

Another departure I saw coming in Ep.7 was the exit of Downton’s own Wicked Witch of the West, O’Brien. Author Fellowes had pretty much written himself and O’Brien’s character, into a corner with the utter blackness of O’Brian’s hideous, irredeemable soul, so she had to go.

And at the end that episode, we see her cozying up to Lady Susan, who is not at all happy with HER Lady’s maid, and is about to be posted to Bombay with her husband Cousin Shrimpy. Et voila! There goes O’Brien off to deepest, darkest India.

And I imagine Siobhan Finneran, the excellent Irish actress who has had the difficult job of making us love to hate O’Brien, for three seasons now, may have just had enough of this unrelenting, no-where-to-go-but-down character.

That brief scene in the happy, new love nest of the ideal working class couple Anna and Bates, where Bates whispers the words “Her Ladyship’s Soap” into O’Brian’s shocked ear. Well! It sends a chill down O’Brian’s spine that I felt, too, and sends her packing from the Bates’ house without her even having had her tea!

“Get Back in the Knife Box, Miss Sharp!” Indeed.

What will Season 4 bring? Well, STAYED TUNED! I know I will be!

March Doldrums…Oscars are over. What next? Holland Taylor as Ann Richards

Yes, dear readers, dear cineastes, the Oscars are over til, well, at least Cannes. Which is in May. Not that I’m going. Tres cher as the French say. And since every one else in the blogosphere will be there, one might as well stay put and not endure the French sun(too hot) or the humiliation if you get the wrong colored pass. You see, in Cannes, everything for the Press is determined by what colored press pass you get.

A certain color will let you march right in to the press screening you desire to go to. But if not, you have to line up with all the others who don’t have the right colored pass and wait til the other colors file in past you, taking up all the good seats. Well, sod that, as the Brits say.

Lining up in Toronto is enough of an ordeal in itself. You sometimes have to get there an hour early to get in to what you what to see. I’m remembering back to the “King’s Speech” which was at 8:45 AM, and yes, there was a line. A very long one. But as I got there particularly early, in fact, I was the FIRST ONE IN LINE, I knew I’d get in.

No such guarantee in Cannes…

Meanwhile, what else does one do in New York in March? Well, being a Voting Member of the Drama Desk, I being to start attending Broadway shows once again.

Yes, dear readers, dear cineastes, I foresake the movies for the plays, and last night I did just that starting my theater-going Spring season off right with the imploding powerhouse that is called “Ann.”

It’s a one-woman show about the late, great governor of Texas Ann Richards who was one hell of a gal, a real Texas broad who liked trail-blazing as much as she loved talking trash as well as liberal politics.

And Ann Richards is a great under-known American political figure and being a female Texas governor is no mean feat. And the real Ann Richards did it ALL.

Unfortunately, Holland Taylor, the actress who has the audacity to shoulder her story as a one-woman show at the cavernous Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont, has chosen not only to act alone on a over-sized stage that a musical would be lost on, but also to have written the wobbly book as well. *sigh* It could’ve been great. But it’s only a little less than so-so. The road to theater hell is paved with good intentions. Although “Ann” is more like purgatory.

Taylor, an actress who is now somewhere in her seventh decade, is someone I feel I’ve seen acting since forever. A typical WASP matron type, I remember her being grandly soused in a supporting role in A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour,” and she’s been in many, many plays and television shows, and she was always, well, serviceable. Just OK. But not a star, by any means.

I guess she’s most widely known now for “Two and Half Men” and I don’t know who she’s playing on it, but it’s made her well-known and probably cemented her fortune, since she’s been on it since the beginning. Me, I’ve never watched it….And there’s certainly big bucks behind the lavishly produced one woman show that is “Ann”. If only Holland Taylor hadn’t written it herself.

She’s not much of a writer, but here, as an actress, for the first time in her long career, she truly dazzles. Esp. in the long, first introductory section where she is basically directly addressing the audience, as Richards, telling her uber-colorful life story. She really does shine here. And she’s basically quoting sassy, saucy lines that Richards actually said. And in this, she’s quite fine. And funny, too and endearing. You start to love her.

BUT—

She’s so good in this, so much so that when she begins to falter in the second act of the play, and even before that, you feel a sinking frustration that a great theatrical opportunity is being blown here.

“Ann” is just TOOOO long.

The minute Michael Fagin’s stunning set for the Governor’s Office is revealed, then moves forward in space towards Holland/Richards, it’s a dazzlingly theatrical moment, and the first act should’ve end THERE. But no, no. It goes ON and ON for quite sometime where we see Ann As Governor in action, as Ms. Holland takes her seat in the Governor’s chair.

And when she sits down, so does the play. And it never really stands up again. THEN there’s a SECOND act, with basically the SAME territory covered in the Governor’s office setting AGAIN, til I just wish she’d step forward onto the apron, relate directly to the audience and shineshineshine again. Finally she does, and I have to admit I admired Holland Taylor’s pluck, but basically about the time Ann was entering her 7th decade, I felt I had been there just about as long, and was ready for her to ascend into Demoratic heaven. And she does.

Why didn’t she get a PLAYWRIGHT to help her? The EGO of the actress in this regard is overwhelming. And terribly misguided. Or a director to help her shape this unwealdy piece of barnstorming? Benjamin Endsley Klein, whoever HE is, was listed as the director, but it seemed Ms. Taylor was out there flying blind. Oh well. She’s a good enough actress and is having the time of her life bringing the exuberant Ann Richards back to life, to make it worth your while to sit and watch her display herself for two hours. But be warned. You’ll be underwhelmed. But you’ll still like Holland Taylor, but you just wish somebody could’ve said STOP!

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