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Archive for the ‘British’ Category

Real Treat for Hitchcock Fans! 2 Early Films w/Ivor Novello on Criterion

A luscious, real treat for fans of Alfred Hitchock and for those of you who adore the Silent Film star Ivor Novello! “The Lodger” and “Downhill” are both out and in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray, and as usual the Criterion Collection has done a marvelous job of putting together a 2 DVD Special Features Edition.

Ivor Novello was the British/Welsh Rudolph Valentino of his day. A heart-throb, a matinee idol and a silent film star, he was right up there as a composer, too. He wrote most famously “Keep the Home Fires Burning” as a World War I anthem and many, many more songs as well as  full-length musicals. He is even portrayed in Julian Fellowes’ “Gosford Park” by Jeremy Northam. Fellowes has also written a biography of him. He was gay but, of course, closeted, for those times didn’t allow him to say what he was, but he had a male lover Bobbie Andrews, who he lived with for all his life. And he had notorious liasons with Noel Coward, and even Winston Churchhill.

When asked what it was like Churchill supposedly replied, “Musical.”

None of this information of course, is included in the Criterion Collection, but I thought you all dear readers, dear cineastes, would like to know what all the fuss was about in the 1920s.

“The Lodger” was Hitchcock’s break-out movie in 1927 and Novello was its’ star. In audio interviews on the “Supplements” with Francois Truffaut(1962) and Peter Bogdonvich(1963 and ’72), Hitchcock makes no bones about how he felt working with Novello. As the biggest star of the day, Hitchcock, who was unknown at the time, HAD to use him, and use him he did.

Novello gives an uber-creepy portrayal of the lodger, who just might be Jack the Ripper. Because of Novello’s immense popularity at the time, he could not be a villain. So Hitchcock played it right on the knife-edge, where he was so often going to keep his audience for the rest of his career. Was he guilty or was he innocent? You don’t know til the end of the film.

And for those cinephiles who remember the famous opening close-up of Grace Kelly coming in to plant a big, wet, sloppy one on James Stewart in “Rear Window”, we see Novello in the same, intense, swoon-worthy pan into a frame (see above, top) where Novello seems to be about to kiss the audience. That zooming shot made me question if Hitchcock was not gay after all. Well, he certainly never acted it out. But in that shot, and how lovingly he treats Novello, though he was “stuck with him” in order to advance his career, it’s clear that he also had great affection for Novello’s helping making him (Hitchcock) a star-director with “The Lodger.”

And “Downhill,” the other included film, also from 1927, shows that Novello felt strongly enough about what Hitch was doing for HIM, that he let Hitch direct, this second film, which Novello also wrote, about a college boy, who is wrongly accused of a flirtation (or more) with a shop girl, and is expelled from his Eton-like school, and his life goes downhill from there. Included in “Downhill” which is not a thriller or a mystery, there’s a great shot of Novello descending an escalator on the London underground, going down, down, down.

The 2K digital restoration has a marvelous, eerie score by Neil Brand, performed by the Orchestra of St. Paul’s. And an informative interview of the challenges he faced creating the scores for both these silent films, which I’m so grateful to Criterion was presenting us with in this sparkling manner.

#Alfred Hitchcock, #Ivor Novello, #The Lodger, #Downhill, #Silent Film

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“Dunkirk” Lives Up to It’s Oscar Hype! Mark Rylance Will Get His 2nd Oscar nom!

I just LOVED “Dunkirk”! Not a fan of war movies as a rule, the cinemaster Christopher Nolan has re-written the book on this genre as well as re-inventing it with this spectacular achievement . It’s a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, white knuckle thriller as well as an eye-popping, frightening and ultimately triumphant Best Picture of the Year. Well, so far, anyway.

It’s hard to imagine anything that will top it in terms of its’ size and scope, and story, too. Christopher Nolan is the screen-writer as well as director, and also, a producer.

I found myself moved from the first frames of “Dunkirk,” with its’ magnificent Hans Zimmer score thumping and pounding and shaking the earth, which in the first shots are a picturesque rendering of the French seaside town of Dunkirk as it was then, in June of 1940 .  Nazi leaflets are dropping like autumn leaves on the young British soldiers below, who all are about to be slaughtered outright by the unseen enemies machine gun bullets.

The most unlikely, scrawny, leading young man is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, (See above and at top of page) who we are going to follow through his epic journey of struggling to survive the evacuation of 400,000 British and allied troops, who are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Bullets are ripping, searing and whizzing everywhere as Nazi planes pound the helpless soldiers, exposed, vulnerable and innumerable on the Dunkirk beach. They are just sitting ducks. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel” one officer proclaims.

How will they EVER get out of there? And that is the drama that director Nolan is portraying so incredibly accurately, and in such a breath-taking and wholly cinematic detail. Nolan’s exacting directorial eye gives verisimilitude a new meaning.Mark Rylance with Oscar 1

Oscar winner Mark Rylance (for Best Supporting Actor for “Bridge of Spies”)  is the truly heroic, mild-mannered, stiff-upper-lipped British captain. owner of his own medium-sized,  pleasure yacht, hardly a warship. It is one of the many civilian small craft that are commandeered by Churchill to set sail across the churning English Channel and rescue all those stranded soldiers. Rylance’s no-nonsense, utterly focused, amateur seaman/citizen is a masterpiece of restraint, understatement and terse John Bull heroism.

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And he’s symbolic of one of hundreds of small boats that turned the tide of this terrible war, WWII. They did the impossible, because they had to. How they were called upon and how all they just stepped up to this incredible, daunting challenge  and how in doing so  served their country and saved the free world. Churchill’s thrilling call to arms “We will fight on the beaches!” echoes throughout the film, and as a first generation Brit myself, I was immensely proud of all of them. magnificently depicted here in this their finest John Bull hour of courage.

It’s a David v. Goliath feat, and it’s all true. This really did happen. And Nolan re-creates it down to the smallest, scarifying detail. Not even pop star Harry Styles,who acquits himself quite admirably as the gnarliest of the small group of British soldiers, teenagers, really,  can fall out of line. If you weren’t looking for him, he would blend in totally with the other young, struggling, dirty, frightened, brave soldiers.

“Dunkirk” explodes with many, many understated and marvelously compelling performances. Irish actor Cillian Murphy(below)is totally unrecognizable as a survivor of a downed plane that Rylance and his crew of two lads rescue from the sea. Is he a German? Is he a deserter?

Rylance’s scenes of struggle between him and Murphy will. I’m pretty sure,  net the Oscar winner another nomination. He’s got the biggest part. The Academy likes to nominate those they’ve awarded and nominated before. But Murphy, Whitehead, Styles and Sir Kenneth Branagh (as the British troop leader,who has the most moving single line in the film, which I won’t reveal here) are all  exemplary.


That Harry Styles in his film debut holds his own with these Knights of the Realm is as much a tribute to Nolan’s laconic, terse direction of the actors as well as the many, many ships at sea and the planes in the air. And to shoot this all on water! How did he get those incredible, aquatic shots?

Hoyte Van Hoytena, the superb cinematographer of the awe-inspiring, acrobatic camera work is surely on his way to an Oscar for his astounding work here of filming the unfilmable on land and on sea .There’s not a lot of blood in “Dunkirk” but there is an awful lot of water!  Lee Smith’s phenomenal, fast-paced film editing is going to be acknowledged, too, at awards-time, I’m so sure. “Dunkirk” is incredibly only 90 minutes! And it’s shot on film. Nothing is digital.Tom Hardy Dunkirk 1

A special note most also be taken of previous Oscar nominee Tom Hardy (for Best Supporting Actor for “The Revenant”)’s ability to act throughout the film almost entirely in a pilot’s gas mask, with only his eyes and his voice for expression.(See above) He’s got to carry nearly a third of the film in tight close-up in his fighter pilot’s cockpit. He’s as moving and as effective of those fighting to survive below, who we see in full.Dunkirk 4

This picture was made for Oscar, and it will get nominated all over the place, and deservedly so. It’s a great movie. And a great movie movie. And Number One at the box-office for the past two weeks to boot. Don’t miss “Dunkirk”!

#Dunkirk, #Mark Rylance, #Christopher Nolan, #Harry Styles, #WWII #Tom Hardy, #War Movie, #Oscars, #Best Supporting Actor, #Best Picture

TONY Predictions 2017!


I am so in love with the idea that this year’s Tony Awards might heavily feature two of my all time favorite theatrical events. “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” the genre-busting pop-opera and “Little Foxes” which makes audiences (and critics) see double with the divine Laura Linney switching up with Cynthia Nixon. I admit to bias here, but I have the Drama Desks Awards this past Sunday to second my emotions.

Yes, I think “Natasha, Pierre…” will win many, many of its 10 nominations on TONY night, this coming Sunday. Including, I’m calling it now, Best Musical, Best Director of a Musical Rachel Chavkin, who won the DD on Sunday, Best Set of a Musical Mimi Lien, Best Lighting of a Musical, and Best Orchestrations Dave Malloy, who also wrote the incredibly, ketchy and thrilling  sung-through musical score, which may also get Malloy ANOTHER Tony in that hotly contested category.

I’m going to go with the more influential than ever Drama Desk Winner for Best Actor in a Musical and think that in a surprise Andy Karl will prevail in this category.He tore his ACL, and I’ve torn mine and trust me, it’s VERY, VERY painful, and takes a LONG time to heal, and Karl, formerly nominated as Bway’s “Rocky” overcame this excruciating experience to OPEN “GROUND HOG DAY” and continue on performing it, singing and dancing as he did before, turning it into a hit, where people are coming to see HIM as well as the show. He also won an Olivier Award in London for this performance. THAT counts bigly with Tony Voters.

And his HUGE, BLACK, frightening-looking knee brace is in full view the ELEVEN times he has to change into his clothes in front of the audience. And he’s clearly in pain doing all this. This counts heavily with the TONY voters, who know the show must go on, no matter what the pain level.

I think Broadway vet Karl wins this category over 23-year-old newcomer Ben Platt in “Dear Evan Hansen.” The TONY voters, I have to add, are older and more homogeneous than even the #Oscarssowhite Academy members. Yes, AMPAS is more diverse and forward thinking than the TONYs. And pain counts. Ben Platt will have other chances.

They’re not necessarily going to GET a musical about the Internet. Some of them DON’T EVEN HAVE INTERNET. So…It’s too young for TONY, but “Natasha, Pierre…” is a masterpiece based on a masterpiece, Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, so it’s just right. It’s got the most nominations. It’s right in the Tony voters comfort zone(s). Usually the show with the most nominations wins. Let’s see if that holds true this year on Sunday night when the awards are handed out at 8pm EST on CBS.

Surprisingly, “Natasha, Pierre…” won in EVERY CATEGORY for the Drama Desks that it was nominated for. And because it opened earlier Off-Off Bway, it was only eligible for the parts of it that were NEW to this production. And those category were Best Director of a Musical, Best Set of a Musical, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.

Another category that I think “NPATGCO1812” will win is Best Featured Actor in a Musical. I think the TONYs will help the astonishing Lucas Steele along on his way to mega-stardom. It doesn’t hurt that though he’s cited as Supporting, he has a larger part than Pop Superstar Josh Groban, who is also nominated in the lead category, where he faces Karl AND Platt, unfortunately, or the award  handily would be his.

Lucas Steele is Anatole, Groban’s Pierre’s wayward, hedonistic brother-in-law, a very, complicated. LARGE part of the villain, as it were, of the extremely small section of “War and Peace” that has here been excerpted. He’s hot. He’s a little dumb. And he plays the violin. And he’s charismatic beyond belief and has been with “NPATGCO1812” for FIVE YEARS in all its’ growing and re-growing on its’ way to Bway. And he hits notes that are stratospheric, to say the least.

Bway vet Gavin Creel of “Hello, Dolly”, although he won the Drama Desk Award in this category, is funny, yes. But that’s about all there is to that part. , AND he was not up against his main competition, Lucas Steele that night.

Bette Midler, of course, even though she DIDN’T SHOW to pick up her Drama Desk win, as Best Actress in a Musical, will easily win in this category.

If I’m leaving out Best Play, it’s because “Oslo,” a play that bored me to death, has won every other Best Play award this year. And,yes, will probably devour the TONY, too. I wish my former guest Michael Aronov was going to win Best Featured Actor in a Play.

But I think that award, like it did at the Drama Desks, will go to Danny DeVito for “The Price.”LITTLE fOXES 3lITTLE FOXES 14

And as far as the Supporting or Featured Actresses are concerned, I think, like the Drama Desk it will go to Jenn Collela for “Come From Away.” And Best Featured Actress in a Play will be Cynthia Nixon. Pairing up for a win with her co-star Laura Linney, giving the performance(s) of their careers in the brilliantly double cast “Little Foxes.”  What a theatrical event! And this was all Laura’s IDEA! And the Tony Voters know it and she’s never won.</a
And Best Actor in a Play? Oops, I almost forgot. Kevin Kline in “Present Laughter” and yes, he won the Drama Desk, too.

#Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, #Josh Groban, #Lucas Steele, #Bette Midler # Hello, Dolly, #Gavin Creel, #Dear Evan Hansen, #Ben Platt, #Andy Karl, #Groundhog Day, #Kevin Kline, #Present Laughter #Rachel Chavkin, #Laura Linney, #Little Foxes, # Cynthia Nixon

“Natasha, Pierre” Wins Most Drama Desks – 4! Laura Linney AND Cynthia Nixon Both Win!Bette Midler & Andy Karl score, too!

Drama Desk Awards 2917The 62nd Drama Desk Awards are now in the history books, and are they perhaps predicting the Tony winners?

Natasha, Pierre 20Natasha, Pierre Broadway Set“Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” won all four awards, the most it was eligible for, the most it could win. Since it opened several years ago at the Ars Nova theater Off Off Broadway, it’s not nominated for the ten awards it’s up for ON Broadway. But the Acting Categories it IS predicting, I think are Best Actress and Featured Actress in a Play both of which went to Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon for “Little Foxes.”  Laura gave a beautiful speech. If TONY winners saw it…She was a very popular win.lITTLE FOXES 14Laura Linney OCC 1

I guess the headline was that Bette Midler didn’t show to accept HER award for “Hello, Dolly!”Hello Dolly 11But Gavin Creel did. He claimed to be “unfunny” and that director Jerry Zaks made him “funny.”Michael Urie Tux

Certainly funny AND charming was host Michael Urie who really aced this tricky show. He even jumped up high to give towering presenter the legendary Tommy Tune a kiss! Tune shockingly quipped “the last person to kiss me at one of these things was Leonard Bernstein.”…Pause for huge laugh…”He gave me tongue,” Pause for another huge laugh. “And I LIKED IT!” Applause.

It was one of the slickest evenings in the Drama Desks chequered and long and distinguished history. It was certainly a very high point. And I am proud beyond words to be part of this organization. It enables me to see all these wonderful shows and to write about them and to bring them to you on my blog and my TV show. I’ve been a member for over twenty years, or more. But who’s counting? It’s work I love to do.

True story. I voted for most of tonight’s winners. Showing you one’s vote DOES count. I prefigured nearly every award in the design categories, and Andy Karl winning for Best Actor for “Groundhog Day.” He quipped “This is the biggest pity award I’ve ever gotten.” Referring to the fact, and he referenced it by tripping on his way up to the stage, but then making like it was a joke and he was fine. But seriously, he did tear his ACL right before the show opened and to this day, he wears a massive knee brace, which as he is in his underwear almost constantly, (11 times, but who’s counting?) in the course of the show. Andy Karl on mike

It IS “Groundhog Day” after all.

“Hello, Dolly!” in addition to winning for Midler and Creel also won Best Revival of a Musical and the Canadian musical “Come From Away,” as I predicted it might, won three awards including Best Musical. And also Best Supporting Actress for Jenn Collela.

Danny DeVito won for Best Featured Actor in a Play for “The Price.”

Here’s the list of shows by number of winners who reached more than two.

Wins by Production:

 

“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

“Hello, Dolly!” Bette Midler! Wow! Wow! WOW!!!!!

Hello Dolly 2Is “Hello, Dolly!” newly revived on Broadway with the legendary Bette Midler and selling like hot cakes, one of the greatest shows ever??? PRETTY Close! It’s an instant contact high, as they used to say in the ’60s. The minute you hear the first few notes of that famous score, Jerry Herman’s best by far, you’re instantly elated.

Like your lungs are filling up with helium! Hello Dolly 1

The orchestra got applause at the first notes. The conductor got applause! The scenery got applause, when the curtain went up. The chorus, when they first entered, got applause. And Bette Midler? Well, she stopped the show cold by just dropping the newspaper that she was hiding behind, to her lap. She got an ovation! And it just didn’t stop! And I mean, the crowd was just going wild from seeing her. In person. At age 72. And “back where she belonged” on Broadway, where she’d never been before.(Lest we forget her Sue Mengers’ one-woman show a few years back.)

Well, that’s not exactly true. When I was in college, I saw her in “Fiddler on the Roof” as Tzeitel, the oldest daughter of Teyve, who gets married as the cast sings “Sunrise, Sunset.” And I remember looking at my program and trying to find “that girl. “She’s going to be famous, ” I thought. The girl who had the most infectious smile…she still does. She was “Midler from Fiddler” for three years. But Supporting no longer.Hello Dolly 5

She’s the star of stars now of “Hello, Dolly!” and she is just flat out wonderful in it! The audience was going CRA-ZEE, as I’ve said. And the whole show is just miraculously infectious like Bette’s crinkly smile. Just what is it that makes it so fabulous? It’s like bottled joy! I’m not kidding. You just can’t be in a bad mood around Bette Midler’s role of a lifetime, Dolly Levy. A matchmaker, made in heaven.

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Broadway veteran director Jerry Zaks is at the absolute zenith of his long career here and so is newcomer, choreographer Warren Carlyle. They have lovingly recreated  what must’ve been the sugary-up, rainbow feeling of the late, great Gower Champion’s two-dimensional, but fabulous dancing. And it gets better.

Another Broadway baby who has been around for quite some time, Gavin Creel completely owns the role of Chief Hay and Seed Clerk, Cornelius Hackl, who is just bursting to get a day off and go to Manhattan (“Hello, Dolly!” is set firmly in turn-of-the-last-century Yonkers.)  So he can “Put on His Sunday Clothes” and go dancing, and he “won’t come home until” he ‘”kisses a girl,” which of course, he does.

The six foot plus Creel has just been nominated for a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. As has his co-star Kate Baldwin, and Bette, too, mais oui. AND David Hyde Pierce, “Hello, Dolly!“s resident Scrooge.

Creel has been nominated for a Tony twice for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Hair“, but never won. This may be his year. And he’s an Out Gay LGBT actor, and I’m very, very proud of him. He also WON an Olivier Award in London for his role as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon.

It certainly is Bette’s year.She, who has NEVER been nominated for a Tony, but this year, I predict she will be dodging all the awards that are going to be hurled at her. Her powerhouse Dolly Levy lives up to her legendary alter ego The Divine Miss M, make no mistake.

Hello Dolly 12

Meaning that Sophie Tucker and the Mermaid-in-the-Wheelchair are never far from her Dolly, who, of course, has a wicked twinkle in her eye, 72-year-old widow though she may be.

Her conversations with her late husband Ephraim, which she delivers downstage center, are very moving indeed. She gets to exercise her dramatic chops here and grounds her Dolly in a great well of loneliness as she plaintively begs her late husband’s ghost “to let me go, Ephraim.” She wants to rejoin life “Before the Parade Passes By” and she does.Hello Dolly 11

Her irrepressible humor and warmth,  a lark and a flirtation and an active pursuing of “half-a-millionaire, Horace Vandergelder” keep her moving forward  even while she is trying to make matches for Cornelius and his fellow clerk Barnaby (a marvelously pint-sized bundle of joy, Taylor Trensch). David Hyde Pierce is masterful here. too, as Horace. Pierce mightily holds his comic own as the pinch-penny object of Dolly’s overly effusive affection.

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Hello, Dolly!” is a much sturdier and more delightful vehicle than I ever imagined it to be. I saw it with Ginger Rogers of all people when I was a mere child, and I don’t remember being THIS excited about it.

In the hands of all these great Broadway pros and one certified legend, the divine Bette, I just never wanted it to end. And with the way the public is storming the box-office it may never end. Ever. And I don’t want it to.

This is Broadway at its’ absolute, level best,pure old-fashioned escapism superbly done. It is at its best, its absolute, level best.

 

#Hello, Dolly! # Bette Midler # Broadway, #Musical Comedy, #Gavin Creel # David Hyde Pierce

 

 

Movies That Shouldn’t Be Made into Musicals “Ground Hog Day” & “Amelie”


If you think you’re seeing double, you’ll be seeing triple and quadruple in the current mish-mash that is passing as a hit musical from London, “Ground Hog Day.” I have to say that if you haven’t seen the 1993 Bill Murray movie set in Puxitawney, PA., you’re really out of luck. Because this musical doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.. But, so I’m told,  if you’ve seen the movie, it does. Otherwise, it’s a godawful mess. Or is it? Or is that EXACTLY what it’s supposed to be? Utterly and immensely confusing, like it’s central character, Phil, a TV weather person, played very engagingly by the swaggering Andy Karl.Ground Hog Day 3

But don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Andy Karl, having seen him long ago as one of the five “Altar Boyz” Off Broadway. He was the muscle- bound one and he continued in that vein with the tremendous performance he gave in “Rocky:The Musical” which I just loved. But audiences didn’t. I thought it was a real lollapalooza and Karl gave a knock-out performance as the iconic Rocky Balboa, made famous by Sylvester Stallone. Yes, he sang, danced AND boxed his heart out in “Rocky.”Andy Karl Rocky 1

Then he had the colossal bad luck of dislocating his ACL in previews for “Ground Hog Day,” and now has become something of a Broadway legend and also, believe it or not, a front-runner for the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, because despite performing in a black knee brace, he went on!

They should re-label “Ground Hog  Day” as “Andy Karl MUST GO ON!”

In the great theatrical tradition, nothing could stop him from giving this powerhouse, but utterly confusing performance.” Obviously in pain, he went bravely forward, over and over and over again, as the repetitious “Ground Hog Day”, a science-fiction musical if ever there was one, repeats and repeats and repeats itself. With Karl leading the charge, injured though he is, and with his knee brace clearly showing (he’s in his underwear a lot, as usual. And thank god for those terrific thighs!).

And audiences are going wild.

“Ground Hog Day” will have to run on fans of the movie, and perhaps, garbled and senseless (to me, a non-believer) as it was, that’s what audiences are craving these dark days in our country’s history. A feel-good, only partially funny, gigantic musical that makes no sense whatsoever. The world has gone mad in Puxitawney, Pa, and that’s the plot, such as it is.  Puxitawney is where the famous Puxitawney Phil, the ground hog who if he doesn’t see his shadow when he peaks of his hole in the ground means we’re getting six more weeks of winter. As far as I could tell, he didn’t see it. Thank god, it’s really now spring in NYC!

So, it’s Feb. 2nd and time and Ground Hog Day itself, keep repeating, repeating and repeating  in our beleaguered hero’s brain, while those townsfolk around him make merry and march and re-march and re-march. There is no end to those parading Pennsylvanians!

The music itself is also not much of anything. Tim Minchin who debuted so powerfully a few seasons back with the wonderful “Matilda”, here goes backward in time to really forgettable music and lyrics that seemed to be in a time-warp of their’ own, as if the magical “Matilda” had never happened.

And since this show was generated out of Australia, the small town PA. people are REALLY cartoons of what Pennsylvanians are like. Whatever they are, Pennsylvanians are not singing Australians, with bad American accents. And so the nightmarish cartoon juggernaut that is “Ground Hog Day” continues to roll over and distort and distort and re-distort everything in its’ path.

The Bill Murray movie couldn’t be this non-funny or garish. Oh, yes, and there aren’t any jokes. But there are lots of flying sets, one of which injured Andy Karl and may have won him a Tony. He deserved it for “Rocky,” but not for this mess.

And no, I’m not going to find the movie of “Ground Gog Day” and now watch it just to make sense of this gob-bil-di-gook. It would be just too painful. And I’m sure not funny, after what I’ve just been through with “Ground Hog Day:The Musical.” It’s like a night-mare you want to forget.

And “Amelie”! I hate to say anything negative about “Amelie”. It’s like kicking a kitten. I saw this French language movie, and I didn’t like it ,and can’t remember anything about it, except that Audrey Tautou is endlessly cute, and became a French icon of the ages. And I never could understand why. But there, like the Eifel Tower, she stands. Starring in French films of wildly varying quality. But an American musical?

And not casting a French girl in the lead? New York is NOT Paris, and good as she was in the original Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” off-Broadway in the circus tent, and Tony-nominated for “Hamilton,” as his hapless wife, Eliza, Phillipa Soo never had to utter a single word of dialogue. Both these great early successes for the now 26-year-old Soo were wordless, sung-through pop-operas and boy, can she sing!

She possesses one of the great powerhouse voices, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her over and over and over again on the CDs of “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” But here in “Amelie:The Musical” with REAMS of trite, banalities to make cute, piquant, quixotic and adorable, she’s utterly at sea. She’s at a loss with no script OR music to bolster her as she had both so memorably in “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” I wonder if it will even last until the Awards are handed out in June? Somehow, I doubt it. And I’m a Francophile.

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