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Archive for the ‘Disaster’ Category

A Canadian Feel-Good Musical About 9/11? “Come From Away” Says “Yes”!

Having spent a large part of the past 17 years traveling to Canada and reporting very positively on Canadian culture, once again, I was not surprised by the fact that one of the hottest tickets on Bway right now is, of all things, a feel-good musical about 9/11! No, I’m not kidding. Only Canadians could have written this foot-stomping and even funny look at a tragedy, that I who was also stuck in Canada while it was happening can verify. I was trapped at the Toronto Film Festival with my camera crew of three. We were lucky. We had TRAIN tickets so we could get out of there as scheduled. But no planes were flying. FOR DAYS!

Which is what “Come From Away” is dealing with. It’s the rather arcane story(on paper) of some 7000 passengers getting diverted to Newfoundland, a small island in the far eastern part of this very large and large-hearted nation. “Come From Away” is the most positive take on Newfoundland I’ve ever seen and so enjoyable it makes the case very well for Americans, who are restive and restless in this particularly troubling time in our history to just get on a plane, boat or train as soon as possible and move there, lock, stock and barrel. Which is what “Come From Away” tries to depict. And the openness, do-good-ed-ness, politeness and warmth many American will find a tad unbelievable. But it’s true. Yes, they ARE like that. Meryl Streep recently called them “the nicest people in the world,” and I think she’s right.

Newfoundland, particularly, as strange as it may seem, is the butt of endless Canadian jokes, akin to our own misguided Polish jokes. As in “How many Newfis does it take to screw in a light-bulb?” etc.

But not the Newfoundland in “Come From Away”. The husband-and-wife writing team of Irene Sankien and David Hein, Torontonians  both, have done their homeland proud here. The strangest thing that their Newfis offer to the “plane people” is their tradition of kissing a fish(pictured above and also below),And yes, that’s Drama Desk nominee and Broadway stalwart Chad Kimball as the put-upon gay fish kisser, Kevin I. Yes, there’s a gay couple on the stranded plane, too, who are both named Kevin. “It was cute at first, but then it got old” says one Kevin.

Kimball is also called upon to play President George W. Bush, and he does it with raising nary a snicker. The Other Kevin, the amazingly versatile Cesar Samayoa also plays a Muslim, and many other dizzying roles. The whole singing cast of twelve is made to seem like a cast of thousands in that respect as they flash instantly from one role, and one accent and nationality, at the speed of light.

In such a strong ensemble, it seems unfair to single out individual actors, but I have to mention another Broadway bright light Jenn Collela, as the pilot of one of the grounded planes. She gets almost the only complete solo in “Come From Away” as  she sings about her girlhood dream of becoming a pilot in the on-point “Me and the Sky.”Come From Away 4

I wish some of the other characters were more developed. Kimball ALMOST gets a solo in “Prayer” but then others join in. It’s hard to sit for an intermission-less 90 minutes, and try in identify with an amassed crowd, as opposed to single characters. But I’m old-fashioned that way. I like characters. In plays. In musicals. On film. And this is the flaw in “Come From Away” and leads to many of its’ distressing lulls.

It’s got a rousing opening number “Welcome to the Rock” that the entire cast sings and I wish there were more songs like this. The great Christopher Ashley as director whips them into a frenzy, as much as he can. It’s hard to whip a singing throng.

This is currently being talked up as a possible Best Musical of the Year. But against “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” which is just across the street, I wonder….I play the music for “Natasha, Pierre…” morning, noon, and night, and I’m talking about the ORIGINAL circus tent Off Broadway cast album which stars Phillipa Soo. And now, FINALLY, they’ve recorded Josh Groban and the Original BROADWAY cast singing it, which is due in stores any minute now….

“Come From Away” is a musical that is incredibly timely in that it’s not too early and not too late in the cultural conversation to be embraced and enjoyed for its’ light-hearted look at a national tragedy.

It’s recency cuts both ways.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” Explodes with Hilarity, on Bway!

“The Play That Goes Wrong” gets everything hilariously right on Broadway. This latest Brit import will keep you laughing long after it’s over. And watch out! It’s so stupendously funny it may run forever!

Right now it’s cracking up audiences at the Lyceum and everything about it is top drawer as the British say. Low comedy, high comedy, physical comedy, double and triple entendres, malapropisms, vaudevillian spit-takes… Every comic stop is pulled out and it’s a joy to watch the Cornley University Dramatic Society explode with inept hilarity as they try to stage a dreadful 1930’s style thriller “The Murder at Havisham Manor” well. And of course, they can’t. It’s seemingly impossible for them to do anything right.

A direct cousin of that other great Brit backstage farce “Noises Off”, ” The Play that Goes Wrong” is set entirely ON the stage, during a particularly horrendous performance of this Whodunit that has hoary, horrific dialogue and no suspense whatsoever. Think Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” as if written by the Mouse.

Yes, it’s snowing outside(scraps of large white pieces of paper thrown at the window from stage right) and the assembled have gathered for the engagement party of a lord, who, of course, is found dead (well, almost) as the curtain rises. Actually the incredibly lithe Greg Tannahill is found creeping into place as the dead man, as the curtain precipitously goes up. He’s the most hilariously active corpse I’ve ever seen in a play on Broadway, or anywhere, as everyone WILL keep stepping on his extended hand causing him to jump in pain as he tries to lie stock still . And all and sundry keep sitting on his prone figure sprawled on the chaise longue stage center.

I was quite taken particularly with Dave Hearn’s upper class twit and brother to the (almost) dead man. New to the stage, he keeps snickering to himself as he finds the audience applauding or laughing at his antics, and then starts bowing to them and applauding himself, as every other cast member keeps slapping his hands down to get him to stop. This is an ancient theatrical device known as the “Klaptrap”. No, I’m not kidding, and this is what actors in the 19th century up to and including Tallulah Bankhead would do to acknowledge the audience’s approval. Hence, the word “clap-trap.” And yes, there’s a lot of claptrap in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Thank god! And I loved every minute of it!Also a particularly agile physical comedian, he doesn’t let one set-piece (or way ward prop) go by without tripping over it or slapping him in the face. He seems also always to be in danger of injuring himself, so much of his comedy is death-dying in its’ oafish, but perfectly-timed  hilarity.

It’s written by a comic trio sent from heaven to make us all split our sides in a way I didn’t think possible in this dark time. Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields have my undying admiration and gratitude for keeping us all bouncing in our seats til we think we can bounce no more. But we can! I was still bouncing in Act Two!

Lewis I thought was wearing a fat suit. Well, he either is or isn’t, and the fat jokes abound, particularly when he is caught on a collapsing second floor balcony. I didn’t think a person of his great size could move at that rate of speed. But he does.

Pint-sized Jonathan Sayer is paired with Lewis in most scenes as the malaproping, ancient butler who at first I thought was named Florence. He has all his multi-syllable words written on his hands and STILL he gets them wrong as he pronounces “façade,” as “fuck-aid.” Lewis is always seeming to be about to sit on him or squash him in various iterations.

Lastly, there is the John Cleese, stiff-upper-lip chap  Henry Shields as “The Inspector,” who is being played in hilarious dead pan by the Cornley Society’s Director, Chris Bean, who gets the proceedings rolling (or is it roiling?) by announcing that at the outset that he is making his “de-boo” and that the Cornley Dramatic Society has now increased its’ funding to the point where they don’t have to do “Roald Dahl’s James and the Peach” or “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cat.”

They are the new Monty Python-like comedy-theater group, who all as one seem to be claiming British drama school LAMDA as their alma mater. And this type of finely honed, precisely timed physical comic mayhem has not been seen in New York since the late Charles Ludlam’s Theater of the Ridiculous.

Calling themselves, appropriately, the Mischief Theatre, I feel that they are going to be around forever, so precious and unique is their gift of inspired laughter. “The Play That Goes Wrong” is STILL running in London and won this year’s Olivier award for Best New Comedy.The Play That Goes Wrong marquix

Massive, Historic Oscar Mess-up/Mix-up!?! WTF!?!

oscar-mix-up-1oscar-mix-up-2WTF just happened?!? Warren Beatty, who must be 😯 at least, and Faye Dunaway, who actually read out “La La Land” surely needed their reading glasses. But the card said “Best Actress Emma Stone La La Land.”

But Emma herself has been claiming that she herself has the Best Actress card with her name on it, as well as, of course, her Oscar and showed it on ABC’s post-show which is airing now.

So somebody handed Warren Beatty a DUPLICATE Best Actress card?!? How is that massive a mess-up even possible?!? Chaos! And it was incredibly gracious of the producer of “La La Land” the tall bald guy, whose name I will add in later, (Jordan Horowitz) showed the card that said “Best Picture Moonlight” and the three producers’ names.

This mess-up is all that anyone is talking about instead of about “Moonlight” a historic GAY black film. That cost about as much as the Sunday Times. Perhaps less. That historic moment is totally being buried. In fact, I didn’t hear the word “Gay” mentioned ONCE in the entire program or this ridiculous after-show were the two co-hosts, Lara Spencer and someone who is clearly really drunk. And the whole thing is cringe-worthy and whatisname Anthony Andrews(?) is saying it’s “a conspiracy” and just all of them so awkward and embarrassed that it’s a GAY film that won.

Part of me feels that Warren B. did this on purpose. Or Jimmy Kimmel was playing yet another prank. But whatever and whoever did this someone’s being fired tomorrow, if not sooner. It was so embarrassing and took away completely from “Moonlight”s winning.

I did think that something like this would happen though. Because I kept hearing how so many people didn’t like “La La Land” and it went home with the most Oscars anyway. Six.

Emma Stone’s dress was the best. The first winner wearing Givenchy since Audrey Hepburn in the 50s. It took 17 days to make. Shimmering gold, with beaded fringe. Gorgeous. Pure gold. She looked like the Oscar she won, but a little paler. Almost a rose-hued gold.emma-stone-oscar-dressAnd “Manchester by the Sea” won two. Two big ones. Best Actor for Casey Affleck and Best Original Screenplay for the brilliant Kenneth Lonergan.viola-casey-emma

Kevin O’Connell won after 21 times as an nominee for Sound! This mess-up really leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And “Moonlight” has barely made $20 million. The lowest take ever by a winner I think.

It won three awards. Mahershala Ali, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Cra-zee, KRAY KRAY KRAY zee night but so happy for Casey Affleck and Emma Stone. And Damien Chazelle won Best Director for “La La Land.” It won Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and the two musical awards.

But it’s a crying shame that this mishap is overshadowing the history that was made tonight. A GAY FILM JUST WON BEST PICTURE!!! How historic is that?!?

Sasha Stone at Awardsdaily is the only one who had an inkling of his, but it was more than a wish, a hope, and yes, Sasha, it happened. An all-black cast in a black directed and written film. That’s history, too. Or should I say African American? I was told you don’t have to use the term African American anymore by a black female reporter at the New York Film Festival this year.

But it’s an achievement. And Sasha was right!

Bomb Scare Tonight at Town Hall After Bway’s Rising Stars

Town HallOk, so I’ve wondered what it would be like to be caught in a bomb scare. And now I know. At the tail end of the always fascinating evening of this year’s Annual Broadway’s Rising Stars concert, which was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary tonight, host/creator Scott Siegel told the entire audience that they could not leave the building that there was ” a suspicious package outside the theater” and that “everyone should sit back down and stay in their seats.”

It was frightening. It was unbelievable that in this most amiable of settings that this catastrophe should happen to all these show-tune-loving theater goers.

I just shut down completely. I couldn’t react. There were friends of mine in the audicnce, most notably Pepe Nufrio, who was in the cast of last year’s Rising Stars as well as in my new play “A Hyacinth Coat…” where he sang the living daylights out of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Pepe 1

Also there was his co-star on my show and in last year’s “Rising Stars” Ally Kupferberg, and in the show were previous guests Rising Stars of prior years, Jon Hacker, who is now in “Jersey Boys” and Chris Hlinka who has just returned from a National Tour of “Mama Mia.” Plus all of this year’s talented Rising Stars.

This couldn’t be happening to all these truly gifted young people. Scott Siegel ever the showman decided to “entertain you while you wait.” He assured us the NYPD Bomb Squad was almost immediately there, checking that “suspicious package” out, and Scott sang a song in Yiddish! I didn’t know he could sing!

And then had director Scott Coulter come out for what was surely his finest hour and sing a song that held the audience’s attention and the title of which has flown right out of my mind. But it was a show tune.

He then included Jon Hacker in a Four Seasons number “You’re Just Too Good to Be True.” And a former Carol King from “Beautiful” sang one of that shows trademark numbers and did a very good job of it, too. Which number again I’m too flummoxed by this whole thing to remember.

But suffice it to say that after about twenty minutes to half-an-hour, Scott told us he had “the All Clear” sign and we could go. Phew! Of course, we could go. This was unreal. It couldn’t be happening. But there was no panic visible. Scott handled this really, really well.

And thank god it was such a delightful evening with a plethora of young singing talent belting their hearts out that in a way you never wanted it to end. And this time it nearly didn’t.

#Bomb Scare # Town Hall # Broadway’s Rising Stars # Pepe Nufrio

 

My Deepest Sorrow & Condolences

LGBY handsMy deepest sorrow and sincerest condolences to the friends and families of the GLBTQ victims in Orlando, Fla. of the greatest, most horrible mass shooting in American History. This violence must stop. Against gay people and against all people.

#Orlando Shooting #GLBTQ #Gun violence

“Hughie” First Big Disaster of Bway Season. Not Surprised It’s Closing Early.

Hughie“Hughie” is the first big disaster of the Broadway season, closing early it will have lost its’ entire 3 million dollar investment. One wonders what they spent the money on? The set? Well the set was grand! Set and costume design by Christopher Oram, and kudos to him for one of the best, most evocative renderings of a Time Square hotel in sad, ghostly decline that I have ever seen. Oram is ably abetted in his decaying spookiness, by lighting designer Neil Austin. Can’t remember such a good use of green lighting and green neon to boot.

I wish I could say the same about actor Forest Whitaker’s embarassing, one-note performance. He wandered about the stage, and that was about all he did. Whitaker, Academy Award winner for “The Last King of Scotland,” seemingly has never appeared onstage before. And knowing that, I wondered about the wisdom, and hubris, of attacking what is basically a one-man show, as his Broadway debut.

And the one-act play of Eugene O’Neill’s is as barely there as Whitaker’s vaporous performance. O’Neill is not helping him at all and there’s no drama whatsoever. Flat, flat, flat.Erie Smith(Whittaker) is a small time gambler, down on his luck, and the late former night clerk, Hughie, was his only friend.

And poor Frank Wood, as the NEW night clerk of the decrepit hotel, is trapped there, seeming to fall visibly asleep, as he is stuck listening to Erie Smith’s(Whitaker) ENDLESS monologue of his late friend Hughie, who was the night clerk before Wood’s character got the job. I ended up feeling sorry for night clerks.

But that’s because Wood an esteemed Tony-winning stage actor is very, very good in the little he has to do. And you keep wishing the play was more about HIM. And the characters he’s seen in his life. He admits to being a lifetime night clerk. And the weariness and boredom of his job is palpable. Because he’s had to listen to one loser spilling his guts to him after another, midnight after midnight.

Basically, Erie Smith is a bore. And he bored me and obviously, he’s boring audiences, because they are not coming. And it’s closing early. That doesn’t happen much anymore on Broadway. Investors are so careful, if not parsimonious with what they sink their cash into that shows are previewed and tried out to death. Guess this one wasn’t.

It was barely an hour, but it felt like years. Stick to films, Forest. He’s a great film actor, but onstage, he’s a bore.

NYU Grad Acting Class of 2015 in Building Next to Blast

East Village 3East Village FireI’ve enjoyed heartily the annual trek I make to the East Village’s Second Avenue, to see the graduating class of NYU Grad Acting perform their “Actors Presentations” or “Leagues” or scene nights. This year was a little more complicated in getting there because of the bomb blasted setting and building collapse, which occured literally NEXT door to the NYU building. Pictured above on the left, it’s the white building.

And yes, it almost went, too. “The building shook” I was told by Brian Bock, one of the talented graduating actors. Before the evening’s presentation, Chair of the Acting Dept. Mark Wing-Davey introduced it by describing it this way. “This class is very special to me because we were all in this building getting ready to open our production of ‘The Three Sisters’ and the explosion happened.”

He told me later that they didn’t know if the Actors Presentations(as spectacular and electrifying as ever) were going to take place in that building on Second Avenue and he referred me to an article in the New Yorker, which vividly details what went on.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/13/show-goes-on

I applaud all involved.

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