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Archive for May, 2017

Cannes Film Festival Winners 2017

Here are this year’s winners. A mixed bag indeed. Will any of them make it through the year’s various trials and tribulations that films have to endure to get to the end? Er, I mean, the Oscars. Well, usually from Cannes, they don’t.

Though my eyes are on Lynne Ramsey’s “You Were Never Really There” which scored Best Actor for Joaquim Phoenix, who accepted wearing a man bun, and he certainly overdue, and seems quite happy to have won this award.

It sure looks like Joaquim is going to be in the race for Best Actor this year. And I’m betting he’s going to be more amenable to doing the necessary press the Race requires. He’s been notoriously press adverse for years! Remember his “rotten carrot” quote from the last Oscar go-round?Joaquim Phoenix at Cannes

But if he’s happy, I’m happy. Means smooth sailing ahead.

I’m also very happy for New York actress Judith Roberts, who is gaining positive mention for playing his mother.

Also, keep a lookout for Sofia Coppola’s step away from Hollywood(her eternal subject) and into the Civil War(?!?)”The Beguiled” which includes a starry cast of woman, Nicole Kidman & Elle Fanning and many others, seducing and doing god knows what else to Yankee solider Colin Farrell. Sofia Coppola won Best Director! “The Beguiled” is also going to be shown at the Provincetown Film Festival where I go every year.

Sofia Coppola is being honored there as Filmmaker On the Edge. I’m heading there, to Ptown, as fast as I can!Well, here’s the complete list of winners. Make of them what you will…I also want to note that Scottish film maker Lynnne Ramsey won for Best Screenplay for  “You Were Never Really There.”

Most of these films, sad to say, will never reach our shores, but here’s hoping. And PS: Pedro Almodovar was the chairman/head of the jury this year.

 

Thanks to http://www.awardsdaily.com for this list.

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Actor Kevin Geer Passes, Began His Career Off-Off at La Mama

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It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to report that I’ve only just discovered that my life-long friend Kevin Geer passed away. In January. He was 64. I always felt we traveled in approximately the same  theatrical circles, but I guess not. I’m absolutely shocked at his passing. He was always the Spirit of Youth to me.

I met him at La Mama in 1972 when I was working at the box-office at 74A East Fourth St. He was with Gerome Ragni, the late co-author of “Hair“, whom he lived with until Ragni died many years later.

Kevin hadn’t even BEGUN to act yet, but he was studying it, with Gerri’s support, and I immediately felt he had star quality. He had a strapping build and chiseled leading man features, even then. His father, whom he never knew, was evidently also an actor in Hollywood. He once told me “I met a fella who said he knew my Dad.” He said that “He was very handsome and a very good actor.” Which is what Kevin always wanted to be. From his earliest days. And what he became, an actor’s actor.

I’m happy to say that he was featured prominently in two of my early plays and that they perhaps constituted his stage debuts, certainly his earliest roles.

He played ironically a character called The Spirit of Death, which was supposed to embody the Actor’s Studio. He was always dressed in a black turtle neck and was often carrying a dead seagull. This was in my autobiographical musical “Audition!” in 1972. I was 24 and decided it was time for a look back…I had had a teacher in college who was obsessed with the Actor’s Studio, and I just did  NOT fit in to that traditional mold. And..well, enough of that…

Kevin and Agosto Machado, who also appeared in “Audition“, were standing under a tattered awning on St. Mark’s Place and the Bowery that said “Two Saints.” It inspired me to make my first movie, only ten minutes or so with Agosto standing in for both parts because Kevin was squeamish, at the time, of playing Agosto’s counterpart. They remained friends for Kevin’s life, and they really were, as I thought that summery day in the ’70s Two Saints.

Agosto Machado is the renowned downtown Asian transvestite. He and I were both in Jackie Curtis’ “Vain Victory,” a Warhol extravaganza that I think Kevin and Gerri Ragni came to see nearly every night. In 1972. And so did Bette Midler. That was where she got the idea of being a mermaid in a wheelchair. Candy Darling was a mermaid in it who longed for legs, and I was her greedy, demanding stage mother, Nunca the Divine. It was a Golden Age for Off-Off Broadway.

It was about that time that Kevin also. quite accidentally, was filmed for the “American Family“, the ground-breaking Reality TV documentary, at the Chelsea Hotel talking with Holly Woodlawn about seeing “Vain Victory.” He was in the late Lance Loud’s room. Lance had taken his straight-laced Mother Pat to see “Vain Victory.” And she famously did not like it.

Kevin is seen in a scene sitting on Lance’s bed, describing his awed reaction to the nearly all-drag queen performance, and commenting particularly on the 6 foot plus ballerina Ekaterina Sobechenskaya,who was played by the late Larry Ree. That cast also contained Candy Darling, Mario Montez, Eric Emerson…and me. As Candy Darling’s mother. Kevin told me it was his first week in New York.

Kevin gave what I always thought of as his greatest performance in my play “Men.” He played the part of The Boy opposite the late, great Ridiculous director John Vacarro’s amazing, brave turn as The Man. He was an ex-drag queen who cruised Men’s Rooms in the Broadway Central Welfare hotel, as did this lost Boy that Kevin embodied so unforgettably. His character was always being beaten up there. The Man saves him. I think the lines were-

BOY: Mister, what should I do? What should I do with my life?

MAN: Take the moment, baby. Take it. It’s all we’ve got. It’s all we’re given.

It was one of the first Out Gay plays, and I’m very proud of all who were involved in it including Christine Ebersole, in a wordless walk-on as a “Dyke with Cigarette.” She was just out of NYU Tisch Acting School, and I have no doubt that Kevin, had he lived, would’ve been right up there on the Great White Way with her.

Actually, his back on the poster of “Dude” was immortalized in one of Broadway’s great flops. He played Dude, the title role that would have made him an instant star. It was written for him as a tribute by Ragni, but he was fired from it, by producers who I always felt were jealous of Kevin and Ragni’s relationship.

After Gerri’s death, Kevin was able to survive and thrive on his own, even so far as acting on Broadway in “Side Man” and “Twelve Angry Men.”

He’s the big guy on the far left of this “Side Man” picture.

He was well on his way to establishing himself as his own man and his own independent, always working actor.

According to The New York Times obit, he had no survivors, but he will be deeply missed by all his theater friends.

Dina Merrill, Actress, Philanthropist, Passes

Dina MerrillDina Merrill Hartley (born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton; December 29, 1923-May 22, 2017) was an American actress, businesswoman and philanthropist.  She died peacefully at home surrounded by her family.

Merrill was born in New York City on December 29, 1923. She was the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, the Wall Street investment broker Edward Francis “E.F.” Hutton.

 She adopted the stage name Dina Merrill, borrowing from Charles E. Merrill, a distant relative and a famous stockbroker like her father. Merrill made her debut on the stage in the play The Mermaid Singing in 1945.  During World War II, she was part of the Moss Hart USO troupe and performed throughout the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Her stage career in regional and Broadway theatre took off after the war and continued through the 1990’s including the1983 Broadway revival of the Rodgers & Hart musical On Your Toes.

 Merrill appeared in more than 25 feature films including Desk Set (1957), Operation Petticoat, The Sundowners (1960),Butterfield 8 (1960), The Young Savages (1961), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father , and Robert Altman’s A Wedding (1978) andThe Player (1992).

 Merrill appeared on more than 100 television shows varying from What’s My Line to The Magnificent Ambersons.

Merrill has been married three times. In 1946 she wed Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. and had 3 children, including David Rumbough (d. 1973)

In 1966 she married Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, with whom she had Heather Robertson (d. 2007)

 In 1990’s, Merrill and her third husband, Ted Hartley, merged their company, Pavilion Communications, with the famed RKO to form RKO Pictures which made a number of feature films including Mighty Joe Young (with Disney).

 Merrill devoted a great deal of her time to public and charitable service. She was Chairman of the board and Director emeritus with over 50 years of service to the New York City Mission Society. When her son David was diagnosed with diabetes, Dina founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, dedicated to diabetic research. She served as the International Ambassador for ORBIS International, the flying eye hospital which teaches advanced eye care and eye surgical techniques all over the world.

 Ms. Merrill was an energetic supporter of the performing arts. She was a founding t of te O’Neill Theater Center and an early director of the Paley Media Center. She served for 12 years as presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was honored by Guild Hall, where she performed on stage for many summers in East Hampton, NY,by the naming of their theater and back theater spaces the Dina Merrill Pavilion.

She was a trustee of the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC.

She also served as a board member of the Population Resource Council and the Republican Majority for Choice Committee promoting “choice” for women and was a founding vice chairman of the Pro-Choice Coalition.

As a corporate leader, she served as the Vice Chairman of RKO Pictures and was actively involved in many of its productions and activities. She has served on the Board of Directors of E.F. Hutton Company and the Board of Lehman Brothers.

She is survived by her loving husband Ted Hartley, son Stanley Hutton Rumbough, and ughter Nedenia Rumbough Roosenburg and six grandchildren.

Burial services will be private for the family.  Celebrations of Dina’s life will be scheduled iks to come.

Remembrances of Dina could be sent in her name to:

Orbis International, 520 8th Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY, 1001

–        O’Neill Theatre Foundation, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, CT 06385

10037, Attention: Development Office

  Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008

 Messages of condolence will be gratefully received at dinamerrillremembered@rko.com

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” Wonderful New Musical Off-Bway!

FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” is the most wildly inventive musical of the Off-Bway season. And if anyone would have told me I’d be raining superlatives over a two-person love story that’s set simultaneously in Brooklyn and Antartica (!) I wouldn’t’ve believed them! But it’s true! It’s all true! And 19th Century Arctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton has come back to life(Through a date searching app on the Internet) to make wild, theatrical magic love to a single 45-year-old Mom with a baby named Zach in an unheated apartment “far out” in Brooklyn, well, it just sounds preposterous.

But the theater exists to make the unbelievable, believable.And “Ernest Shackleton” amazingly does just that .Our heroineKat (the extraordinary singer/actress/musician Val Vigoda) is an experimental music composer, whose living room is filled with every kind of electronic musical device imaginable, including a red, heart-shaped electric violin, which she barely puts down and a set of amplified drums that she beats all her many frustrations out on. This assemblage of electronicaErnest Shackleton 2 is backed by a gigantic computer screen, behind the stage, on which we see her many, many wild fantasies play out on.

The frigidity of her (very) cold water flat and the stress of her life as an artist. “I gave my life to art!” she plaintively sings, sends her over the edge and into the imaginary arms of studly Arctic hero, Ernest Shackleton, who calls out to her romantically through the Internet dating site, “Katherine! Katherine!..”and then enters her own version of Antarctica, through (where else?) her refrigerator.

Wade McCollum and Val Vigoda are the star-crossed lovers linked by the heroic struggles both are going through. He, to reach his high-flown Arctic goals, and she, well, just to survive her life. Her baby never stops crying, her computer’s keyboard keeps re-looping the word “Alone,” and they spend “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” finding each other in the highly unromantic ice and snow, which the dauntless duo here turn into a winter wonderland.

The fiery Ms. Vigoda has also written the equally red-hot, heartfelt lyrics to go with Brendan Milburn’s Irish-inflected score.

There are a lot of sea shanties mixed in with the hard-rock and the love songs and the rock-solid book is by Joe DiPietro of “Memphis” fame, who really knows his way around a musical.  And underground there is massive musical amplification on  every kind of instrument imaginable by Sound Designer Rob Kaplowitz and Orchestrators Ryan O’Connell and Glen Milburn. And the super-skillful director Lisa Peterson makes the duo seem like a cast of thousands.

At no time do Kat and Shackleton strain our credulity, as the metaphor of his ice-bound ship, the Endurance, freezes over and sinks, stranding them and a crew of 22. This is based on a true story, which I won’t spoil here.(You can look it up. It’s a recorded fact.)And they had a videographer with them, too! As newsreel footage of Shackleton’s impossible dreams becomes all of our dreams of achievement, love and survival against all odds.“Ernest Shackleton’s motto was “Optimism is a form of moral courage.”
I left “Ernest Shackleton” filled with more optimism, and hope, yes, hope for the innovative American Musical than I’ve felt since well, since “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
He sings “FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND!”

#Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, # Ernest Shackleton, #Val Vigoda,#Wade McCollum,#Antartica, #Artic Explorer, #Endurance, # Electric Violin, # Single Mom

“Sweat” a Pulitzer Prize- Winning Play That Lives Up to Its’ Title

Sweat 4

Sweat” is this year’s Pulitzer-prize winning play. It more than earns that great accolade, as well as its daring title. “Sweat” dares you to take into account the sweat of most of its main characters’ smaller-than-life lives. Sweat could be a synonym here for “work,” and that is what most of its squashed denizens of Reading, Pennsylvania, actually do. It’s more like slavery. They are slaves to the steel mill, so much so that the entire town’s economy, and the citizens’ lives, are attached at the hip to the Mill.

Sweat 1

It’s morning, noon and night, until they die. It’s brutal. It’s tough stuff. Now two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is no stranger to horror. Witness her other, superb, previous Pulitzer-winner “Ruined” about the unspeakable terrors of African warfare and its ruinous effect on women.

Sweat” tackles horrors you can speak of. Over-work and under-pay, being the two main topics of nearly every conversation, its hard-scrabble characters carry on at the local bar, which is almost womb-like in its superb setting by John Lee Beatty. It is so familial and familiar, you feel like you’ve been hanging out there for years, as the plays’ bedraggled characters have.

If this bar, and its Christ-like bartender (a superb James Colby) seem right out of “The Iceman Cometh,” you’re not far wrong. Nottage is really plowing Eugene O’Neill’s lower depths, as well as her own. And like O’Neill, they are all being crushed and cursed by alcohol. Being that it’s 2017, other addictions apply. They pile up on the beleaguered characters of “Sweat,” as the actions to close down the Mill roll over all their lives in a relentless juggernaut of corporate greed and union-busting that leads, of course, to catastrophe.

Sweat” is terrifyingly prescient. This is the first play I’ve seen that explains why “You Know Who,” to quote Whoopi Goldberg of “The View,” got elected. This is a Rust-Belt play with all the Rust in full view.

Sweat 2

Sweat” begins its road to hell-in-a-hand-basket with two matched monologues of two young men, barely out of their teens, childhood friends’ it turns out, one black, one white, who have been imprisoned there for some unspeakable, violent act. We don’t find out just what, until the frightening ending, but suffice it to say, that Khris and Jacob’s predicament hangs over the play like the doomed fog that has shrouded all these characters’ lives, white and black. Eugene O’Neill’s characters have gone from Pipe Dreams to Rust.

Sweat 3

The cast is uniformly excellent but I do have to single out the German descent White-Supremicist-in-the-making of Will Pullen, who has totally nailed the seemingly sweet, but really brutal Jason, a totally exact product of rural Pennsylvania and his factory working Mom, the Tony nominated Johanna Day.

The two of them enact a scene of horror that rivals any horror film, when he finally gets out of jail and comes home to borrow $5 from her, only to find that she is now completely unemployed and a hopeless pill-head. Without that pollution-spilling Steel Mill, they’re both reduced to hopeless addicts, and their lives and hopes destroyed.

Sweat 5

No, “Sweat” isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but it’s god-damned powerful. And Lynn Nottage capturing their pain and frustration so winningly is a compelling sign of hope.


#Lynn Nottage #Pulitzer Prize, #Sweat, #Broadway, #Will Pullen # Johanna Day, #Reading Pennsylvania # Stell MillsSweat 4

CD of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet…”A Masterpiece Recording of a Masterpiece Musical!

The soon-to-be-released 2-disc CD of the Original Broadway Cast of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” is a masterpiece of recording of a masterpiece musical. I’m sorry, I just can’t stop the superlatives when talking about “Natasha, Pierre..” or as some call it “The Great Comet.” But whatever you call it, I predict it’s going to land like a bomb in the middle of TONY awards season. It’s due out May 19 and it will be flying off the shelves, like, well, like the great comet that it memorializes forever in this dazzling pop-opera spectacle that I’ve seen FOUR times and I can’t wait to see again!

Natasha, Pierre 22And yes, the magnificent lyric baritone of the legendary Josh Groban pierces through the massive ensemble and breaks your heart, with a vocal range we have barely heard him use before, especially thrilling in the darker, almost guttural, lower tones. Groban is turning into a consummate actor-singer right before our very eyes, and he has been selling out Broadway with this fiery, very avant-garde opera that challenge him at every step he takes and every note he sings and he meets the challenges magnificently..

And yes, I could see him singing at the Met one of these years. His voice just grows in depth and resonance in this incredible recording, as his performance as Pierre Bezukov has grown, too, since I first saw it. “Poor, bewildered Pierre, a warm-hearted Russian of the old school” sings the full-throated chorus, masterfully orchestrated by composer Dave Malloy. He was nominated for TWO Tonys, for his score and his orchestrations of it.

Natasha, Pierre 20Groban has two stunning solo numbers “Dust and Ashes” which ends his Act One and the title song, which ends the show. He is also singing throughout the entire score, with that pure, moving voice that is sometimes here almost a rock rasp. “What? What? WHAT?” he wails as his cousin Maria Demitryevka (the frightening Grace McLean) tells him some very alarming news indeed regarding his unrequited love, beautiful, young Natasha.

His Pierre is angry, frustrated, and almost always reading or drunk. He is married to “a bad wife”, the slinky, sensual Amber Grey as Helene.

amber-grey

She continues with this sensational role of “the slut”, wailing like a blues singer, belting out “Charmante,” wearing green furs and sequins, and sounding for all the world like a Russian Billy Holliday. As she helps seduce innocent Natasha, a better-than-ever Denee Benton, for her dissolute brother Anatole.Denee Benton 1

He is played to the hilt and beyond by Lucas Steele, who has also been with the show through all the years of its’ many peregrinations as has Amber Grey, McLean and many others. He actually has a larger role than Groban!Josh and Lucas

“Natasha, Pierre…” has had a grueling five year journey From the tiny Ars Nova theater Off-Off Broadway to the festive circus tent in the meat-packing district, where I first saw it. where they served dinner! They also went to Boston to the ART theater there. All the while under the stupendously inventive guidance of  director Rachel Chavkin. who is herself nominated for a Tony, too.

“Natasha, Pierre…” has now been nominated for TWELVE Tony Awards and I hope it wins all of them. Groban, Benton and Steele have all been nominated in their categories, but only Lucas Steele of the actors has won an award for the evil Anatole so far. He scored a prestigious Lucille Lortel Award.Lucas Steele 1Lucas Steele Lucille Lortel Award 1

In his category, Best Featured Actor in a Musical, he’s up against Broadway veteran Gavin Creel, who is a riot in “Hello, Dolly!” Both shows are mega-hits, but Steele’s Anatole is so dastardly, and also so devilishly handsome and sexy AND he plays the violin, having a wild solo as he fiddles away, preparing his plans to abduct the underage Natasha. He’s married already, and it’s a crime that he’s about to perpetrate. Yes, even in 1812 Moscow, he would be considered a criminal. and yes, this is all out of a tiny sliver of the 1000+plus-paged novel “War and Peace” from which this epic is adapted by the uber-talented Malloy.

This sliver is so epic…you can only imagine what the rest of Tolstoy’s classic novel is like. Believe it or not, I read it in the 8th grade. The other kids in the Bronx Catholic boys school I was doomed to,  made fun of me carrying his huge tome around with me for a year.

“Are you really reading all that?”

Yes, I was and I did, and I’m so glad now that I can say that I felt every inch a genuine Russian after reading it and especially seeing “Natasha, Pierre” FOUR times! And now this extraordinarily beautiful, tuneful, masterfully recorded treasure of a CD is coming soon! May 19! Remember that date!

I saw “NPATGCOE,” as the Internet might abbreviate, this last time, seated RIGHT ON THE STAGE! Every time you see it sitting in a different place in the wildly re-devised Imperial theatre,  it’s like seeing a different play! When you’re sitting on the stage itself, you feel like you are IN the play! The stage actually vibrates with the bass notes of the synthesizer that sometimes Josh Groban himself is playing in the pit of the orchestra. Which is stage center and completely unhidden.Natasha, Pierre Marquis

In fact, from his first entrance in front of a blinding blaze of  white lights, he is playing the accordion himself, and he rarely if ever leaves the stage.  Bespectacled Pierre is Tolstoy’s alter-ego. He is one of the first, modern anti-heroes. He is thoroughly depressive, a big Russian,
beaten-up bear of a character. And yes, he’s the hero of “War and Peace.”  Groban to his everlasting credit has totally immersed himself to the point of unrecognizability in his heroic, vanity free performance. He is wearing a fat suit. He now lumbers and growls and shuffles his considerable weight as a middle-aged man would. His long, thin fingers shake with what may be delirium tremens as in a man who drinks Way too much. His young brow is now furrowed, without any make-up.

You can hear this bear of a character that he is so perfectly portraying growling through the CD like a wounded animal. But like the maestro he is, Pierre’s voice, his howl of pain, is always also modulated and very, very beautiful.  And moving.Natasha, Pierre Broadway SetYou must hurry and buy it. I predict it will be a best seller, the first Broadway recording and the best maybe ever. It could go platinum in five minutes. And go see Groban live and onstage before he leaves the show forever in July. He’s entitled. He’s been packing them in on Broadway, for nearly a year, revitalizing it and don’t even get me started on Mimi Lien’s transformative set and the wild, magnificent lighting of Bradley King! Both also nominated for Tonys. I hope they all win!

I also have to add that there seems to be a thousand-voiced choir, an epic number of voices that call themselves “The Great Comet Singers” who are pictured in the CD program and contribute to the amazing sound and rhythm of “Balaga” and “The Abduction.” They are also credited as “Shakers.” Because the audience was all given egg-shaped shakers to increase the beat of the delirious troika ride to end all troika rides in Act Two. Yes, “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” of 1812 will abduct you, too. Your heart, I mean. You’ll never think of musicals the same way again.

Lucas Steele & Denee Benton 1
#Natasha, Pierre, # The Great Comet of 1812, #Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 # Josh Groban, #Lucas Steele, #Tony Awards, #Denee Benton, #Russia, #War and Peace

“Glass Menagerie” & “Amelie” Both to Close

As I predicted both “Glass Menagerie” and “Amelie” will close before Tony Awards. Sally Field, nonetheless, received a nomination for Best Actress in a Play. “Amelie” received none and will close first on May 21.

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