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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

Emma Stone Wins Best Actress in Venice Film Fest for “La La Land”

la-la-emma-1The beauteous red-head Emma Stone just won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival! This is big win for Emma, and really turns the Best Actress Oscar Race upside down.

I thought it was going to be a slam-dunk for the unawarded genius of Viola Davis in “Fences” repeating her Tony triumph, but holt on! It may not be that easy with Emma Stone, radiant, young, and a  past nominee, too,for a film that won Best Picture , “Birdman”  is now in a very strong position. Much stronger than I thought she’d be this early on.

Viola’s reps may have to think about her going Supporting for “Fences.” And she’d surely win in that category.

Sasha Stone has it all and all the other winners at http://www.awardsdaily.com of the Venice Film Fest. This is bad news for Viola. “Fences” is opening later this year, outside of the Festival circuits. And Sasha believes that a film has to open right around NOW, in order to build Oscar consensus. As “Spotlight” did last year. Playing TIFF. And now we have “La La Land” being everyone’s new favorite movie and the new front-runner.

I’m seeing it next week and I’ll let you know what I think of it then, for sure. But this is bad news for Viola, who I think is on her was to another Emmy for “Getting Away with Murder” her TV show.viola-davis-fences-1

I really did enjoy Emma’s performance in Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” two years ago. And felt that “Cafe Society” was really written for her, not the tough-er cookie Kristen Stewart, who seemed overall uncomfortable in that sweeter-than-sweet ingenue role. whereas Emma would’ve been just right.

I hope this is not going to go down this way, but Denzel (who’s currently finishing the editing of “Fences” ) better hurry  up. He’s on everyone’s mind with “The Magnificent Seven” opening in Toronto. Yes, he stars in that, too.

I saw Viola onstage in “Fences” and she and Denzel BOTH won Tonys for their portrayal of an African-American couple in the ’50, who are finally able to buy their own house. And they were both beyond brilliant.

But Emma Stone…she could win for “La La Land” if the older Academy doesn’t feel comfortable with what seems a younger/skewing movie. Anne Thompson said this on her podcast this week. But historically, the SWARM(Straight White Old Rich Men) who have always dominated the Oscar voting have ALWAYS gone for the cute, young girl of the moment. Which right now is Emma Stone.

Sasha thinks that “La La Land” is going to win Best Picture. She saw it at Telluride, so she should know.la-la-land-1

 

 

And Here’s Pt.2 of “Some Enchanted Evenings” About Mary Martin’s Closeted Gay Life

Mary Martin 1

I conclude my two part interview with biographer to the stars David Kaufman. We discuss his new book “Some Enchanted Evenings” about the late Broadway star Mary Martin who was, according to Kaufman, a very likely, but closeted lesbian. She had extended long time relationships with film stars Janet Gaynor and Jean Arthur. Filmed at the still yet-to-open, Hell’s Kitchen eaterie Diane Elizabeth.

Videography ~ Slava Rusakov

You Tube formatting ~ Kevin Teller

slavas@yahoo.com

#Mary Martin #David Kaufman# Stephen Holt Show #gay # Lesbianism #Peter Pan

 

“The Royal Road” Must See Lesbian Doc

Vertigo 4Royal Road 4There’s something about intelligent lesbian lovelorn conversation that irrevocably holds me in its sway. And coming out very soon on DVD & VOD on Sept. 6, “The Royal Road” an unusual, innovative documentary is a must-see for every lesbian and gay and everyone else, who is reading this. It’s kind of a jewel, in its’ own unique, stubborn way.

Filmmaker Jenni Olson debuted “The Royal Road” to much acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival last year, but I’m just catching up to its’  challenging  beautys now. “The Royal Road” doesn’t make things easy for the viewer. Its’ esthetic is extreme. The 16 mm. camera NEVER moves and there is not one human being in the frame.Nor will there ever be.Royal Road 1 But there is an incredibly revealing and engaging voice-over by the filmmaker herself. It’s not a lesbian conversation. It’s a lesbian monologue, perhaps the longest one ever, as Olson confronts us with the daunting, relentless shot-after-shot of California’s decaying once pristine Royal Road or the Camino Real.

Once a uninterrupted trail from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the road itself is part of California’s repulsive urban sprawl and not romantic at all. While it is nothing to look at, Olson MAKES us look at it, and at the same time, because the images she’s chosen don’t move, you HAVE to listen to her. And you do. And it becomes mesmeric.Royal Road 3

As a native New Yorker, who has still yet to visit the LGBT capital of the world, the City by the Bay, it was all news to me, as Olson wants to show us HER lesbian San Francisco and tell her own woman’s story of how she left her heart there.Golden Gate Bridge 1

And a large part of her story is wrapped up in Alfred Hitchcock’s Number One critically proclaimed film “Vertigo.” By the time, she gets to this part of “The Royal Road” I was completely hooked. I’d only re-watched “Vertigo” earlier this week!On Monday night! It’s a film that never leaves you. It’s its’ own obsession.

Olson  hooked me into her narrative, just as the hypnotic spell of Kim Novak’s Madeline Elster bewitches James Stewart’s stalwart, but vertically challenged policeman Scotty Ferguson in this classic movie of Obsession. And of secondarily, obsession with San Francisco.

Vertigo 1She explains as she reads from an unheard, cut speech from the original “Vertigo” screenplay that Gavin Elster explains that his wife, Madeline(Novak) has fallen under the spell of old San Francisco and that it has driven her mad.Vertigo 2So intense is her desire to find ole San Fran that she roams the city in search of it and stops whenever a piece of it jumps out at her.

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Olson involves the viewer mightily with this ingenious piece of historical/cinematic   dialogue that I’d never heard spoken before. As research, it’s a find. It’s  breathtaking  and I’m not going to do “The Royal Road” the injustice of a complete speech quotation here. That would be tantamount to spoiling it,  but suffice it to say that it makes “The Royal Road” and also “Vertigo” at last make sense.

So I have to say thank you, Jenni Olsen, for finally elucidating this. She also audaciously makes Hitchcock a character in her monologue as she is trying to explain and examine HIS obsession with San Francisco and “Vertigo” and her own. For the first time, she claims “Vertigo” as an important lesbian movie in terms of the impact that the quest for character of Madeline, mirrored her own.

So she answers a couple of important, unresolved questions about “Vertigo,” including the fact that the quixotic name of the mysterious Madeline was probably  inspired by Proust! And of course, it’s Proust’s tasting a madeline cookie that sends him on HIS historic literary quest in “Remembrance of Things Past.” Just as Olson has taken us on a “Royal Road” into her own history, in her own unique. original way.

Vertigo 4

I loved this lovely little film and I hope you do, too!

#Vertigo # Royal Road # Lesbian# San Francisco # Documentary # Hitchcock # Royal Road

Newcomer Andrew Burnap’s Astonishing Debut in “Troilus & Cressida”

Troilus and Cressida 1Andrew Burnap 1“Troilus and Cressida” is considered one of  Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. It’s hardly ever done. It’s wildly uneven, and it’s always nigh to impossible to tell the Greeks from the Trojans. It’s clear that there’s a war on, but who’s who and which is which is always mightily confusing.

Director Dan Sullivan has perhaps rectified all that with his testosterone fueled-production in Central Park this summer. He’s cast one of the strongest male casts I’ve ever seen containing some of the best young Shakespearean actors around today. Main among them is newcomer Andrew Burnap in the usually forgettable title role. But Burnap burns up the stage as he holds his own against as formidable a male cast as I’ve ever seen in Shakespeare in the Park, New York’s annual, pastoral summer ritual. Founded by the late Joe Papp to be free to all New Yorkers, the Park never disappoints, though most times the productions certainly do. But not this time.Shakespeara in the Park 1

I’m happy to say that “Troilus and Cressida” is one of the best Shakespeare’s I’ve ever seen in the Park.

But back to Andrew Burnap. A recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he’s stepped right out of school and right into stardom, following in the footsteps of former Yale-ees Meryl Streep and Lupita Nyong’o who just soared immediately upon graduation. His beautiful, brave, heart-broken, angry, and eventually murderous Troilus is everything a dream role for a young actor should be. And blond, blue-eyed, dashing Burnap is living the dream. In a part, I’ve never really even noticed before, he makes it seem a greater role than it’s ever been.

Troilus and Cressida are sort of Romeo and Juliet gone wrong.  The Trojan War  breaks them apart early and nearly kills them.

I saw Helen Mirren as a young girl, maybe even a teenager, make her debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company back in the ’60s as Cressida.Helen Mirren Young Her debut, her first scene, she got rolled out of a Persian carpet completely nude. And thus began her great career. She was utterly heart-breaking in the scene where she emerges ravaged from the rival army’s camp where she has been raped repeatedly. She was shattered, bruised, barely able to speak, unforgettable. The actress here, Ismenia Mendes, just can’t cut it. You barely can tell she’s been gang-raped, and you don’t care much either.

But you do care about Andrew Burnap/Troilus’s reaction to his love being so defiled. He goes madly to war against his enemies, main among them the superb young Shakespearean actor Zach Appelman, as Diomedes, another part no one ever remembers. Appelman, you may remember, was the diamond brilliant Hamlet in Hartford, just this past winter for Darko Tresnjak.

Troilus and Cressida 3In the first act, Diomedes has very little to do, except to flex his muscles and show his six-pack lifting barbells and strutting shirtless (as do many others of this studly, sweating, stunning cast) in the 100 degree heat New York is now experiencing. But in Act 2, he gets to come into his own, as he battles Burnap. Appelman is a Yale graduate, too, btw.  As pictured above and below, you can see how intense their final confrontation is.Troilus and Cressida 4

I also must mention the tremendously strong ensemble feel that this T & C production had and I wasn’t surprised when I checked my program later that there were 10 (!) count’em TEN graduates of the equally superb NYU Grad Acting program! Which boasts its’ own  terrific, classically trained actors, main among them Corey Stoll. Stoll was so memorable as Ernest Heminngway in Woody Allen’s ” Midnight in Paris.” Here the completely bald Stoll is oiliness personified as the only man in a suit in this play, the slippery, Ulysseus, whom Stoll plays as   a corrupt ad exec, who arranges Cressida’s gang rape and many other nefarious things.Corey Stoll 1

I also had the privilege of seeing Understudy Keilyn Durrell Jones go on as the muscle-bound Achilles. He was just so loopily love-struck by his male amour Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), he licks his face like a huge puppy dog.Keilyn The Millionaire Jones

Yes, this is also the gay-est play Shakespeare ever wrote and director Sullivan does not hesitate to show the mighty Achilles, gathering his beloved up in his hugely muscled arms and whisking the giggling Patroclus off to their love-tent.

A male cast this awesome, and striking, who speak the Bard’s lines as magnificently as they make love AND war, makes one re-consider “Troilus and Cressida” as a much better play than it ever seemed before.

#Troilus and Cressida # Shakespeare # Trojan War #Andrew Burnap #Zach Appelman #Shakespeare in the Park #Corey Stoll #Achilles #Helen Mirren # Royal Shakespeare Company #Helen Mirren nude #Ulysses #Dan Sullivan # Problem Play # Central Park #Hamlet # Hartford Stage Company # Darko Tresnjak # Keilyn The Billionaire Jones#Achilles

 

Provincetown Award Winners 2016

Ptown 2016 1With great regret and sadness, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to attend this year’s Provincetown International Film Restival. Though I was enthusiastically invited. Things that I don’t want to bore you all with stopped me, but suffice it to say, I look forward to attending NEXT year and going to to the Montreal and Toronto Film Festivals in August and September. It just killed me to miss two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee. who I adore /and whom I have so much to talk about with His”Brokeback Mountain” changed my life, as I always say. He was the guest of honor as this year’s “Fimmaker on the Edge.”

But anywho, here’s a list of the award winners that were announced last night.

NOW ANNOUNCING OUR FESTIVAL WINNERS
HBO AUDIENCE AWARDS
JOHN SCHLESINGER AWARDS
BEST SHORTS
FESTIVAL SPECIAL MENTIONS
2016 PROVINCETOWN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WINNERS ANNOUNCED
HBO Audience Award/Best Narrative Feature: 
THE INNOCENTS directed by Anne Fontaine
HBO Audience Award/Best Documentary Feature (tie):
THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE 
directed by Morgan Neville
POLITICAL ANIMALS directed by Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares
HBO Short Documentary Award:

TERRITORY directed by Eleanor Mortimer

The John Schlesinger Award, presented to a first time feature filmmaker (narrative): 
BLOOD STRIPE directed by Remy Auberjonois
The John Schlesinger Award, presented to a first time feature filmmaker (documentary): 
OFF THE RAILS directed by Adam Irving
Here Media Award – Best Queer Short Film: 

ONE LAST NIGHT directed by Kerem Blumberg

Best Narrative Short Film:

THUNDER ROAD directed by Jim Cummings

Best Animated Short Film: 

GLOVE directed by Alexa Haas and Bernardo Britto

Best New England Short Film: 

BLACK CANARIES directed by Jesse Kreitzer

Best Student Short Film:

THE MINK CATCHER directed by Samantha Buck

Special Mention:

¡MAIS DURO! directed by Camila Saldarriaga

Congratulations to all our winners and to all the hardworking artists and filmmakers on the edge who attended this year’s 
18th Annual Provincetown International Film Festival!
The Short Film Jury consisted of Ian Samuels (filmmaker, MYRNA THE MONSTER), Lisanne Skyler (filmmaker, BRILLO BOX (3¢ OFF)) and Kim Yutani (Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival).
Save the date and join us for next year’s festival!
June 14-18, 2017
Making Provincetown the Global Destination for Creative Exploration In Film!
The Provincetown Film Festival| 508.487.3456| info@ptownfilm.org |www.ptownfilmfest.org/

A Star is Born! Ross Destiche Burns Up the Stage in DC “Equus”!

Ross Destiche 2As an avid theater-goer and critic, you hope that lightening strikes the stage you’re watching, and it certainly did in Wash.D.C.’s U Street area where Ross Destiche is burning up the stage in “Equus”. He is simply astounding in the oft-revived Tony -winning play by Peter Shaffer, Destiche is so incendiary as well as powerful as the disturbed (un)stable boy who blinds six horses, that I’m going to say that Ross Destiche, who is being valentin-ed by the local press, is the best Alan Strang I’ve ever seen. And yes, that includes Daniel Radcliffe’s recent Broadway star turn that the Drama Desk nominated for Best Actor, but the Tonys did not. But the production co-starring the late Richard Griffiths sold out anyway.

If Ross Destiche’s performance was on Broadway in this role, he’d WIN a Tony!

He is not only movie-star handsome with a chiseled cheekbones and a body like a  Greek god carved in blinding white marble, he’s got the blue-est eyes imaginable. His eyes magnetize the audience. You see, the Constellation Theatre Company’s stage is teeny-tiny and the set by A.J. Guban is a huge triangular thrust. And director Amber McGinnis Jackson (yes, a woman directed this most homo-erotic of plays), places Destiche’s tormented Alan on-stage for almost the whole proceedings. Perched on the tip of the triangle, curled up into a teenage ball of pain, Destiche is in a position where he can scrutinize every member of the audience.

He gave me such a look of blinding hostility as I took my seat, that was absolutely chilling and disturbing and absolutely right for the character. He immediately scared the living daylights out of me. A classically trained actor from Minnesota, where he graduated with a BFA from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Program, Ross Destiche just has the word “Star” stamped all over him. Every inch.

His Act Two extended nude mad scene was unforgettable. When I got to interview him after the show, he wanted to make sure I gave full credit to Emily Kester, who he plays opposite, who is also completely nude, as is Destiche for that astounding Second Act. She was effortless and utterly comfortable in what could have been a very uncomfortable situation, being that the audience was “THIS close.”

“I couldn’t have done what I do in that scene without her,” Destiche told me. Sounding kind of astounded at just how powerful that scene between them is.

Kester plays the part of the cocky stable girl who coaxes him out of his clothes as she takes off hers.

He caught my eye in a small part in Ethan McSweeney’s “The Tempest” last year at the Harmon Shakespeare Theatre, sort of a DC equivalent to Lincoln Center. He stood out even then in a nearly wordless emsemble part.

And so when I received the news that he was garnering raves in “Equus.” I made sure I made my way down-there post-haste. And Destiche didn’t disappoint. He was thrilling.

He made sense out of the psyche of a role that always seemed inexplicable to me, no small feat.Ross Destiche 2 Ross Destiche 1

I told him that I felt he was one of America’s best young actors.

And the only thing wrong with this production of “Equus” is that it’s in DC, and it’s closing on Sunday and the Broadway & Hollywood Theater Godz will likely not get to see it.

But they’ll remember the name of Ross Destiche. He’s going to be very, very famous. And soon.

 

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