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DGA Noms. “Lion” Surprisingly In. Scorsese Out. Lonergan, Jenkins,Chazelle In, too.

lion-1lion-2One wonders how much influence Harvey Weinstein has over the DGA. Answer, probably a lot, because once more this awards morning yields a Weinstein Co. surprise in the form of a much-prized DGA nomination for his company’s only entry into the Oscar race this year, “The Lion.”

This probably assures Nicole Kidman(pictured above) and Dev Patel assured nominations in the Supporting Actor categories, and likely a Best Picture nod, too.

You see the five directors named by the all-powerful DGA will also most likely end up in the Oscar race as well as having their pictures assured a nom, too.manchester-by-the-sea-7

The other directors named were Kenneth Longergan for “Manchester by the Sea”, Barry Jenkins “Moonlight”, French Canadian Denis Villeneuve for “Arrival” and the man of the hour Damien Chazelle for “La La Land.” Unknown Garth Davis directed “The Lion.” All are first nominees of this, one of Hollywood’s highest honors.

Many thought Martin Scorsese for “The Silence” and Mel Gibson “Hacksaw Ridge” would score for Old Times Sake, if not for the quality of their current films, not no, they were both bumped by all these first-timers. Oscar isn’t nostalgic any more.

Producers Guild Announces Their Nominations

manchester-by-the-sea-8The Producers Guild has just announced its’ all-important ten nominations. They are listed below alphabetically. And it’s interesting to note that “Silence,” “Nocturnal Animals” and “Jackie” are completely left out. But a super-hero film like “Deadpool” is left IN.

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

  • Arrival

Producers: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, David Linde

 

  • Deadpool

Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds, Lauren Shuler Donner

 

  • Fences

Producers: Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Todd Black

 

  • Hacksaw Ridge

Producers: Bill Mechanic, David Permut

 

  • Hell or High Water

Producers: Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn

 

  • Hidden Figures

Producers: Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, Theodore Melfi

 

  • La La Land

Producers: Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt

 

  • Lion

Producers: Emile Sherman & Iain Canning, Angie Fielder

 

  • Manchester By the Sea

Producers: Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin Walsh

 

  • Moonlight

Producers: Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner & Jeremy Kleiner

 

Debbie Reynolds Dies One Day After Carrie Fisher “Brights Lights” both

carroe-fisher-debbie-reynolds

Hollywood’s heart is surely broken forever with the devastating news of Legend Debbie Reynolds death the day after her beloved daughter Carrie Fisher’s death. I’m sad. I’m reeling. I just saw them featured quite marvelously in “Bright Lights” a doc on their tangled lives at the NYFF. And the thing that struck me so much about “Bright Lights” by Fisher Stevens, was how much they loved each other. How much fun they had and what a joy and a treat this documentary was.

It’s supposed to air on HBO, now probably sooner rather than later, but don’t miss it. It now has an air of tragedy hanging about it, that both Fisher and Reynolds dispel completely by their constantly being “On.” And entertaining us mightily and forever. It’s a fitting tribute to them, as they always say.

And they don’t hold back. It’s like they just couldn’t. But they loved each other and clearly couldn’t live without each other as events have sadly born out.

When I heard Carrie had died, I just KNEW in my heart that her death would kill Debbie, too, and it did. Their houses adjoined each other more or less “up a steep hill” as Carrie put it in Hollywood. They collected endless memorabilia from the Golden Days, and now Debbie herself, one of the biggest symbols of Hollywood’s hey day that there ever was is gone.

I can scarcely stand it. Debbie Reynolds played such a large role in my life, always the smiling, dancing teenager from “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Tammy” that song that never leaves your mind. And she was even nominated for an Oscar once for “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Carrie had “Star Wars” a bigger hit financially than any of her mother’s films ever were. And her now iconic Princess Leia never really bowled me over. But her millions of fans disagree.

I loved her acerbic wit, which the film “Bright Lights” capitalizes on by starting with Carrie calling Debbie “tsu-Mommy,” but not to her face. When she enters the room with Debbie in it, it’s always “Mommy.” And the sweetness is not faked for the cameras.

With all her addictions and bipolar disorders, I always thought of Carrie as crashingly normal despite her upbringing and her surroundings. And so did she.

Debbie once said of Carrie “She’s genuine.” And she was. They both were.

We, the fans, are with them forever and are happy that they are together again in Hollywood Heaven. And we do have this great upcoming doc “Bright Lights” to watch over and over again as soon as it starts airing.

No Mommie Dearest relationship here. They truly loved each other. Don’t miss “Bright Lights.” Their bright lights will never go out.

#Debbie Reynolds Death

# Bright Lights doc

# Carrie Fisher Death

Josh Groban Makes Musical Theater History on Bway in Spectactular “Natasha, Pierre…”

Can you believe that schlump is  handsome rock star Josh Groban???

natasha-pierre-1How to describe what is certainly one of the best musical theater experiences I’ll ever have in my life? There are no words. Only superlatives, and they can’t even begin to do justice to the transformative, shocking, heart-breaking, bravura performance Josh Groban gives in the pop-opera “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comic of 1812” now on Broadway at the Imperial Theater. Former home to “Les Miserables” which ran there for decades and I’m predicting this will, too.

And win Josh Groban Best Actor in a Musical and every other Tony in the book. Move over “Hamilton” there’s a new masterpiece in town! (And it’s right next door to “Hamilton” too!)”Natasha, Pierre…” is a tiny sliver of Leo Tolstoy’s 1000 page epic Russian novel “War and Peace” and is as unlikely a musical comedy blockbuster as “Hamilton.” The War that’s “breaking out somewhere out there” is the Napoleonic War against Russia. But in Moscow, the decadent aristocracy is partying like it’s 2016.

They sing “Chandeliers and caviar! The war can’t touch us here!” But of course, it is, led by Napoleon. And  as it gets closer and closer the  aristocrats & the party crowd are becoming more and more frantic.

 

natasha-pierre-5Those who’ve been following the career of pop star Josh Groban will be stunned by the absolute 360 he’s done with “Natasha, Pierre…” which is as innovative and spectacular a musical, and risky, too, as the astounding performance Groban gives in it. You see, “Natasha, Pierre…” is not your ordinary musical comedy. It’s hardly a comedy at all, though you do feel like you’ve been in the midst of a drunken Russian party that turned into a wild, thumping troika ride.

As a handsome young man, who is now unbelievably only 35, one did wonder what Groban, a brilliant musician, lyricist and composer as well as a platinum selling recording artist with four world tours and seven albums under his belt, and millions of fans to boot. Sexy, and angelic at the same time, one wondered what he was going to do when his teenaged good looks and youth appeal began to wear off. Not that it has, but Groban was open-minded and daring enough to take on the completely incongruous and daunting role of Pierre Bezukov, Tolstoy’s depressive, over-weight, bespectacled alter-ego in “War and Peace.” It’s proving to be the role of his career.natasha-pierre-4

At first entrance, on to the stage, flanked by a blinding bank of rock star lighting (by Mimi Lien, whose contribution  is inestimable) Groban enters as Pierre with an accordion, then makes his way almost lumbering to center stage, down several stair cases (director Rachel Chavkin has carved up the Imperial into a brand-new, almost intimate cabaret-like space and puts the audience onstage, too!) and you think that middle-aged, almost-fat man CAN’T be Josh Groban, but it is! josh-groban

Heavily bearded with long-grown out, almost greasy, dark, curly locks, he looks nothing like any iteration we’ve seen of Josh Groban  before. He’s almost unrecognizable!  He’s totally transmogrified himself into this hulking Russian bear of a character, but that’s exactly what Tolstoy wrote his hero as. He’s the symbol of pre-Napoleonic Russian aristocracy.

He’s depressive. He’s unattractive and he drinks and drinks and drinks.

“I drink and read and drink and read and drink,” he sings in a confused clarion of voice that is less than happy about this inactive plight.

He’s married to a completely inappropriate wife, the witchily attractive Helene, who is referred to in the opening number simply as “Helene’s a slut.” Amber Gray plays Helene with exactly the right blend of nastiness, sexuality and charm. as she sashays  her way through the night seductively telling our heroine, the virginal Natasha (Denee Benton) that she is “Charmante, Charmante.”amber-greyHer brother, who turns out to be a dastard of the first water, Anatole, is portrayed with a devil-ish  blend of blond good looks, rock star pompadour hair, and VERY tight military pants by Lucas Steele. “Anatole’s hot” the opening chorus sings. And who are we to disagree?natasha-pierre-2He’s out to elope, or basically kidnap, Natasha. He’s already married and clearly an irresistible and untrustworthy slime-ball. Anatole’s seduction of Natasha, who thinks he’s going to marry her, forms the plot that is as wildly complicated as the novel itself. But don’t be scared of Tolstoy. You can follow him.natasha-pierre-6

 

Dave Malloy, who I saw play Pierre originally three years ago, wrote the music, lyrics and adaptation. It is all sung-through, so yes, it is indeed an opera, but it’s only a tiny sliver of Tolstoy. Volume 2, Part 5, to be exact. I saw it first in a circus tent in the Meat Packing District of the West Village, where they served a Russian meal to you while seated at cabaret tables(see above.) It was dazzling, even then.

Phillipa Soo was astounding as Natasha, and went on to become a Broadway star as Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton.” But Denee Benton, who plays Natasha now, just glows and glows and grows on you, too, the absolute picture of willful innocence and stubbornness as she falls in love with, then insists on her ill-advised elopement with bad boy Anatole.

A core of miraculously agile, vocally and physically, actors continued with the show from the tent  they called Kazino to Broadway, including Amber Gray, Brittain Ashford and Grace McLean. In that cast I first saw, Josh Canfield of “Survivor: San Juan del Sur” fame, was equally charismatic as Anatole.

But it’s Groban that kicks this show upstairs and into theatrical history with his astonishing performance and perfect voice. To hear someone who has been called a choir boy for years with his perfect pitch and miraculous tenor, tear into the gutsy, difficult, challenging, sometimes discordant vocals of “Natasha, Pierre…” is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Drunken, depressed, over-weight, near-sighted and scruffy though his Pierre convincingly is, his golden tones ring out in the night(and twice weekly at matinees.) His respect for the other actors is evident as he also blends seamlessly into their tight ensemble.

Josh Groban, genius that he is, has perspicaciously plunged himself into the midst of an equally amazing group of fellow-artists, who are geniuses, too, in their own ways. Did I mention Mimi Lien’s lighting? She’s the recipient of a MacArthur Genius grant. So it’s official. And of course, there’s a killer solo that composer Malloy newly wrote just for Groban that they call “Dust and Ashes”, but I would call “This is how I die?” as Pierre berates himself for his intellectual inaction as “there’s a war going on out there somewhere.”

I’ve seen “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” three times now and I can’t wait to see it again!

Groban has committed an entire year to staying in this historic production and helping it thrive. It’s been making a million dollars a week.

#Josh Groban

# Broadway musicals

#Natasha, Pierre…

#Tony Awards

# Broadway

 

 

Edward Albee Dies at 88

In trying to  figure out the best way to  sum up the great American playwright Edward Albee, I am showing you, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of theatre, a  portion of an interview I did with two women who REALLY knew him.

Leila Robbins and Catherine Curtin were in his “Lady from Dubuque” at the Signature Theater about four years ago, and they share some absolutely charming memories of working with him.

I knew him as someone who was always standing very erect in a corner, glowering at everyone and everything. And yes, he never said much, and I was too afraid of his intense stare to talk to him. He was an intimidating character. And I’m so glad Leila and Cathy shared happy memories and moments of him here. R.I.P. Edward Albee.

Mhz’s French “Little Murders of Agatha Christie” Tres Charmant,but not Hercule Poirot at all

little-murders-1I continue my Hercule Poirot/Agatha Christie obsession with Mhz’ new series of five French TV shows, “Les Petites Muertres d’Agatha Christie” or “The Little Murders of Agatha Christie.” They may be “inspired” by Agatha Christie, but they are not Christie at all. Well, maybe glancingly. But they become their own delightful devertisement nonetheless.

Focusing yet again on the renowned fictional creation of Christie’s Hercule Poirot, one of the most famous Belgians ever, “Little Murders” starts by making Poirot as French as French can be. He’s totally transmorgrofied here. Christie’s solitary, probably celibate Poirot,in the French version here is the typically randy rogue, with a roving eye, and he turns out to have a daughter,too! Mille tonneres! It’s a shock to see him portrayed this way. And his Hastings stand-in is Gay! So, of course, I was delighted!

And also the very strong and funny performances by Antoine Dulery as LaRosiere, the Poirot character, and Marius Colucci as the piquant, red-headed Lampion, do enthrall and involve you in their own right.

They pull you into a world that is not Christie, but Christie-esque.. The period is the same the 1920s-30s . I kept thinking of Sophie Hannah and her two marvelous Poirot continuation novels, “The Monogram Murders” and “Closed Casket” the new one that has just come out and  is climbing the best-seller charts as we speak.CLOSED cASKET 1

Hannah’s Poirot is meticulously the Poirot we know and love. And is, yes, always being mistaken for being French, and he’s always snapping out “I’m Belgian!”david-shuchet-1

And he certainly doesn’t have any children, or former wives. He’s a solitary figure, and fussy as hell. He’s really OCD, I think And we love him for being such a nit-picking perfectionist. I can’t recommend “Closet Casket” highly enough and you’ll see how British Christie/Hannah’s Poirot really is. And PS, he hates the British! I always wondered why he has stayed in England throughout all his adventures.

Closed casket 2In “Little Murders”, Poirot still loves to eat. But La Rosiere will eat ANYthing! He’s a glutton. He’s not picky, like Christie/Hannah’s Poirot certainly is.

The five 90 minute segments that Mhz has so marvelously packaged for our delectation state-side really are VERY watchable and as convoluted as Christie’s brain-teasers should be. But you’ll only catch Christie, if you really are a devotee (as I am) because the plots are quite buried if not thrown away altogether by the French creators. I wonder what Christie or for that matter Sophie Hannah would think of this saucy, mistake-prone Poirot. And Lampion is always yelling at his boss! Poirot would never allow ANYone to raise their voices to him! Especially not his side-kick!

He’s also always mistaken for being gay, because Lampion is gay. There’s one episode where they end up in the same bed! I loved it!

little-murders-2My favorite  episode  was “Knife in the Neck” which is based on “Lord Edgware Dies.” I don’t want to spoil it, but in the French version there are TWO murder plots a foot, where Christie only had one, and this is one where Poirot’s comely teenaged daughter Juliette (Alice Isaaz) turns up.

Poirot has been an absentee father and Juliette reproaches him for leaving her alone to grow up with her (unseen) mother . I can’t even imagine what Madame Poirot might look or be like. In any case, Poirot doesn’t want anything to do with her, or their lovely daughter. But Juliette won’t leave her father alone.

She and the droll gay character Assistant Detective Lampion both fall for the same handsome actor, Julien Sobel. Played marvelously by Julien Allugette. There’s even a fantasy sequence where Lampion imagines Sobel doing a strip tease for him!

This is not your mother’s Agatha Christie, as you can see by the clip below.And I have to mention the fatalist  of femme fatales, Sarah Morlant, a great diva actress, who is based on the Lady Edgware character, but again only slightly. Maruschka Demets does a fantastic, sultry job, huskily purring every line she says, with blood red fingernails, like talons. There’s also several brief scenes of Racine’s “Phedra” thrown in. I loved that.  Antoine Dulery and M. Demets were more than up to this classical challenge.

“Little Murders of Agatha Christie” is not what I expected, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Surprised to be Loving “Cats”

cats-2Much to my great surprise, I really enjoyed the hearty  new revival of “Cats” that opened at the Neil Simon Theater on Broadway. I can’t be THIS moved by this pile of furry kitsch which has been disdained through the ages, can I? Well, I was particularly by the first act. And it was the MUSIC. Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber just did me in with his sweeping, weeping synthesizer-based, semi-operatic score, which has held up remarkably well, and is being beautifully played and sung here.

What “Cats” has got that I hadn’t counted on was memory. And not just the song “Memory” which I saw for the first time in 1996 with an old boyfriend, who was then new, and both of us had never seen it before. And we were both more swept away than I remembered, but especially by Liz Callaway’s heart-rending rendition of “Memory.” Which you can see  at the top of this page. We were sitting in the nearly the front row of the Winter Garden, and Callaway looked me right in the eyes and held my gaze as she sang it. It was earth-shattering. Like she was saying, “I know what this song means to you.” And she was right.

And watching that very complete performance on Vimeo, yes, she did it to me again. With a full orchestra yet.

I was moved to tears in 1996, and my friend had to comfort me as Grizabella went to the Heavy Side Layer. So romantic. I could barely speak. And this time “Cats” did it to me again. But it was from the instant I heard those iconic bars of music at the beginning of the first act overture. They had me at “hello”. Or “meow”. And I don’t like cats as a species.

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Leona Lewis, who won a talent contest in England and has sold millions of records, just didn’t have the acting chops that Liz Callaway, and probably Betty Buckley, who I never saw do it, or Elaine Page, the original Grizabella in England more than 20 years ago, did. She can sing it, but she can’t act it. Grizabella, the tattered glamour cat needs both. She’s tragic.

But the first act! Before Leona Lewis “hesitated towards you” and threw “Memory” away, before THAT, I found “Cats” Act I absolutely delightful and moving.

You see, you have to toss all preconceptions of what a musical should be. It still doesn’t have a plot. But this time I thought, it didn’t need one. The first time I saw it in 1996, I missed the plot. There is no plot. There is just a string of poems by T.S. Eliot of all people set to music, and Act One is a series of reviews, vaudeville turns really, and this talented cast was up to it in spades.

The dancing this time is just terrific. “Hamilton”s Tony winner for Best Choreography Andy Blankenbuehler was outdone himself re-doing each number in his own very striking, stirring, purring way.

(A hilarious theatrical foot-note. My tap teacher from when I was a struggling young actor/playwright/char-woman in London in the, ahem, er, ’70s, ended being the original choreographer for “Cats.” And she’s now a dame. Dame Gillian Lynne.)

Blankenbuehler attacks “Cats” like he attacked the dancing in “Hamilton” and also “In the Heights.” He approached as if it were a new script entirely, so his take on the many Cats and their movement, is very fresh and strong.

Original director Trevor Nunn is still on board, so there is a sense of tradition in “Cats” too. But its’ just jammed with stunning new talent. Main among them is Andy Huntington Jones, who you can see at the top of the page as Munkustrap, who acts as the narrator. Not an easy job in this fur-filled ensemble. You’re also going to remember Christopher Gurr as Bustofer Jones in Act I “The St. James St. cat” and also Asparagus, the ancient theater cat in Act II. They touch you in ways that Leona Lewis can’t. I hear she’s leaving the show soon anyway. It seemed like she was half out the door already.cats-4

But a favorite among favorites was the tangled twosome of Munjojerrie and Rumpleteazer. Who are really Jess LeProtto and Shonica Gooden.

Tyler Hanes really rocked the place as Rum Tum Tugger, the Mick Jagger of cats.cats-5And Ricky Ubeda dazzled as the magical Mr. Mistoffelees, jumping,  summersaulting and pirouetting his way into the hearts of all. He seemed to be turning into a rainbow of colors to match his electrified suit.cats-7

And Quentin Earl Darrington as Old Deuteronomy, the oldest cat alive, was appropriately moving. Spoiler Alert! Especially as he as Grizebella, ascended to the Heavy Side Layer, and Leona Lewis woke up and finally started to act with him.

So yes, I teared up all over again. I’ve always felt that Andrew Lloyd Webber was a much better theater composer than anyone has ever given him credit for. Except the audiences who pack into his shows. “Cats” ran for 16 years the first time. “School of Rock” is at the Winter Garden, where “Cats” was originally and “Phantom of the Opera” is still running, too. With an astonishing three shows currently on Broadway, he’s obviously doing something right.

#Cats, #Andrew Lloyd Webber, #Broadway #Stephen Holt Show

#Leona Lewis, #Betty Buckley, # Liz Calloway, # Elaine Page

# Musicals

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