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Archive for the ‘Tony Awards’ Category

“Bernhardt/Hamlet” She’s great. The play is not.


A theater goddess walks among us. Clearly, British actress Janet McTeer is one of the greats. Anyone who saw her “Doll’s House” back in the day can attest to this. Anyone who sees Theresa Rebeck’s half-baked “Bernhardt/Hamlet” will wonder why this acting colossus is attempting this pygmy play.

And of course, the answer is “There are no great parts for women.” Or few great parts as the play makes abundantly clear. Over and over and over again. Pedantic, didactic and I agree with playwright Rebeck’s conclusion. And frustration. But the means she uses to execute her thesis, and this is a thesis play. Collegiate. If she were in college, and she wrote this at the time she was in college, say roughly the 1970s, it may have seemed like something sparkling and new, but as “Bernhardt/Hamlet” as presented on Broadway by the redoubtable Roundabout, it is trite, trite, trite.

However the sublime Janet McTeer makes you almost forget all these things. Almost. If  Hamlet was a vivacious housewife who just solved her servant problem.And she is surrounded by some of the best young actors working today. Dylan Baker, Matt Saldivar, Nick Westrate and main among them, Jason Butler Harner. And they are all defeated by this mediocre material that the Roundabout is trying to foist on us as a silk purse, when it’s really the sow’s ear. Or in this case, the entire sow.

McTeer is a gargantuan presence. She is six-foot five at least, with the deepest and most resonant of voices. She has played many, many male roles herself, recently a remarkable Petruchio, in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park’s all female “Shrew” a few seasons back. And on-screen she was the transvestite lover of Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs.” So she is no stranger to cross-dressing. Nor, evidently, was the diminutive  Bernhardt, who was barely five feet.

Considered to this day, the greatest actress of the 19th century, she was a dyed-in-the-wool eccentric. She slept in a coffin. She had a leopard for a pet, and wore a hat made out of bats’ wings. The only way we non-time-traveling mortals can experience her greatness today is by reading about her in the many, many books and biographies of “La Divina” as she was known. And the contemporary reviews of her critics. Don’t forget the critics! George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde both adored her and wanted her in their plays.

None of this is in “Bernhardt/Hamlet.” Rebeck the writer makes her seem smaller than life and seems to have tailored this play as simply as a vehicle for the dynamic McTeer. Who deserves to have plays written for her. Just not this one.

She seems like a socialite, a gad-fly, someone who likes to have a beer and pal around with the guys, rather than sleep with them. She had many, many lovers and yes, McTeer kisses Butler Harner (As Edmund Rostand) again and again and again. As if to prove some kind of heterosexual point.

The great French playwright wrote “Cyrano de Bergerac” for her, but the part of Roxanne is hardly what you remember Cyrano for. And she chastises him, but he doesn’t make the part any better, and she still continues her affair with him. And yes, they kiss and they kiss and they kiss at every opportunity. Rebeck even presents us with Rostand’s wife,(Ito Aghayere) who in a very bizarre scene, seems to condone the affair, but that’s about as eccentric as this earth-bound Berhhardt is allowed to get.

Rebeck  has made the great Bernhardt seem very everyday as an actress. She seems remarkably superficial, constantly complaining the Shakespeare’s greatest play had too many words  in it. And constantly going “up” (forgetting her lines) in rehearsals, which this Bernhardt seems to treat as a schlog and a joke.

Ah! But then McTeer is allowed to do “Hamlet” straight on, it is just wonderful. And a great gift to those who witness it. There are only TWO niggardly moments that Rebeck allows her to play Hamlet at full throttle..

At the beginning of Act Two, she gets to do the entire “What a piece of work is man” scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And she and Dylan Baker play the Ghost scene as if it were a love scene and it works. (pictured above^)How it works! These two moments really are worth the price of admission. I just which we had a chance to see the great Janet McTeer do ALL of the real Hamlet and not just this shoddy imitation.

And would that the witty and wonderful late playwright Wendy Wasserstein was still with us. SHE would’ve made Bernhardt scintillating, rather the mundane feminist Rebeck leaves us with.

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Great American Playwright Neil Simon Passes at 91


Neil Simon Theater 2
Neil Simon, long considered America’s most successful and certainly most prolific playwright dies at 91. It’s fitting that the Neil Simon Theater still exists on Broadway.at 250 West 52nd Street.  I hope it always stays “The Neil Simon Theater.”

I did not know Neil Simon personally. But growing up in the theater in the decades where he dominated the Great White Way, his work was overwhelming to a young playwright, me. At one time, he seemed to have every play on Broadway.

The Christmas after my mother died, I was feeling particularly bereft and found myself observing a great Broadway tradition.I went to Chicago. By train. To see the out-of-town try-outs for a musical version, of a movie  he wrote “The Goodbye Girl.” Seeing that only half-successful work in the middle of the cold Chicago winter made me realize that yes, all your idols have feet of clay. IOW, everyone makes mistakes. The Goodbye Girl was a musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by David Zippel, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, based on Simon’s original screenplay for the 1977 film of the same name.

I was also at a rehearsal of “The Goodbye Girl” when it limped to New York, and in the rehearsal room were the star Bernadette Peters and yes, Neil Simon himself.

He seemed so un-prepossessing in person. He was wearing a robin’s egg blue sweater and  kibitzed around with the various actors….But it was his eyes that got me. The intensity of his stare. Nothing was being missed. He saw it warts and all and I’m sure was thinking “How can I fix this? How can I help?” He reminded me of a very warm and friendly rabbi. His vast knowledge of the theater seemed to match those of a rabbinical scholar. He seemed immediately nice. But also intimidating. I mean, he was NEIL SIMON! But he didn’t carry himself like a star as Ms. Peters certainly did.

I guess I was so intimidated by him, I didn’t even have the chutzpah to talk to him. But what could I have said?  “I saw your play in Chicago and really liked it.” God! I hope didn’t say THAT! Which would have been a complete lie.  I don’t think I did.

I never saw him again. And, the show flopped. I thought nothing he wrote could ever flop, but some did.

He strangely isn’t revived much of late, but the Neil Simon Theater is still there. A permanent and fitting monument to a man that made Broadway history over and over again. He will be missed by all in the theater community. It was his great love.

Neil Simon R.I.P.

Come Ride Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Wonderful, Rousing Revival of “Carousel” on Bway!

 

“Come ride away with me! And I will take you to heights you never dreamed of! ” beckons the plaintive/beautiful “Carousel Waltz” that opens Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “Carousel” now being magnificently revived on Broadway, directed masterfully by Jack O’Brien. It stars, as the star-crossed lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful”) and Joshua Henry(“The Scottsboro Boys”).

And “Carousel” is sounding more blissfully like an opera than ever. with the largest, most opulently orchestrated orchestra (with a harp even!) I’ve ever heard on Broadway! Orchestrations by the great Jonathan Tunick and Musical Supervision by Andy Einhorn.

The legendary lyric soprano Renee Fleming is on hand, too. To make the point even more clearly that Rodgers and Hammerstein meant to break your broken heart even further with a celestial, moving “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

You can’t miss this one! All you musical  theatre romantics out there!. It will make you cry from the first chords of the wordless, long, lush overture that opens with the “Carousel Waltz ” as Santo Loquasto’s glittering cup-cake-like tiara of a shimmering crown descends to represent the top of this dizzying merry-go round, as Tony-winning choreographer, Justin Peck keeps his dancers flying, spinning through the air. You MUST ride their joyous Carousel with all these wonderful artists on it! It’s a joy ride of a revival that surprises and startles and blows you away over and over again. especially musically. Particularly if you think this is an over-familiar chestnut of a  score that has no surprises left to find. You’ll never be able to forget the sounds this magical musical makes..


As perfectly classical as this “Carousel” is in every respect, it is breaking ground thoroughly too with its casting of African-American Joshua Henry, who proves beyond a doubt that he is one of the best great baritones Broadway now has, but that also director Jack O’Brien’s color-blind casting gives this masterpiece even more depth and timeliness that it’s ever had.

Joshua Henry’s reluctant wooing of white Jessie Mueller seems a perfect match, and gives credence to the other small town New Englanders giving vent to their small-town New England prejudicial warnings to Julie Jordan(Mueller). Their constant put-downs of Billy Bigelow(Henry) now seems justified from the 19th century point of view. It reminds us that their admonishments of an inter-racial romance’s “ending will be sad” prove true  as the (spoiler alert) Second Act turns tragic.

Billy never thinks he’s good enough for Julie and events bare him out.

Joshua Henry brings down the house with a rage-full “Soliloquy,” turning it more powerfully dark than I’ve ever remembered it. When he sings he doesn’t want his unborn daughter “to be dragged up in slums with a lot of bums like me,” it is coming from a place of pain that Rodgers and Hammerstein never envisioned.

And Jessie Mueller is a revelation too, singing in a sweet coloratura soprano that we’ve never heard her use before. She’s always been a Broadway belting baby utilizing her killer voice in the lower veiled registers. She now shows that her vocal and emotional range is limitless. She also doesn’t shy away from the passion Julie is feeling that propels her to Billy. “What’s the Use of Wond’ring” which is often just a throw away, here becomes a life lesson. 

It is foreshadowing as she is joined in its sad, resigned tones as Mueller proves to be a true relation of Renee Fleming, who joins her in the song and agrees with her. And then on Billy’s horrifying death, a bloody one this time, when Fleming tells Mueller over Billy’s dying body “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” she shakes the heavens as well as the rafters with the celestial perfection of her legendarily, thrilling voice.

My only disappointment, and it was a big one, was that Tony Winner Lindsey Mendes was out the night I saw it. She was replaced by a very bland, super-white, uptight college girl, which is not what Carrie Pipperidge’s character is supposed to be at all. I disliked her so much I won’t even mention her name.

And SHE won the Tony? In THAT part? Ms. Mendes must’ve been terrific, because the massive achievements of Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller and Renee Fleming were world-class, unforgettable.

The excited audience applauded everything. The opening carousel appearance, and stopped almost every single number with rounds of applause also, WITHIN the song. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And last but not lost, Method Actress Margaret Colin proves that tasty, tacky, businesswoman/owner of the carousel, Mrs. Mullins demands and commands every single second of her stage time. She makes one wish she had more to do and even makes you think that SHE should have had a rousing song, too. I’ve never seen a “Carousel” with such a strong Mrs.Mullins. In Ann Roth’s flouncy, bouncy costumes, Colin’s virago becomes a diva.

I could see this “Carousel” over and over and over again, and I can’t wait til the next time I do!

Happy Fourth of July!


Happy Fourth of July to all my dear readers, dear cineastes and lovers of theatre all! And now donors, too! Thank you! I’m at $575 still nowhere near the $1500 sum needed. Go to GoFundMe. com and type my name in the search box, and it all will com up. Thank you advance!

Oscar Supporting Actress Possibilties Are Piling Up!

It’s mid-October and although New York has been enjoying an unseasonably mild fall, Mother Nature is trying to deceive us that Oscar season is not fully upon us BUT IT IS! And even the said-to-be-sparse Supporting Actress category is beginning to be piled up with potential nominees. All of them brilliant I’m happy to say.

I know one thing for sure. There are three actresses whose shots are better than others. First I’m going to start off with the least known of them. The beauteous British actress Juno Temple, who is playing full-tilt Brooklyn bombshell, Carolina, in Woody Allen’s new wonderful “Wonder Wheel” which I just saw as the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival.

Always one of honor his actresses of choice with great roles that become them, I say Temple gets in, because of the same thing happened to another little known Britisher Sally Hawkins. When she co-starred in “Blue Jasmine” with the soon-to-be Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, every Academy member WATCHED THAT SCREENER and saw how marvelous Hawkins was as Jasmine’s working class, comforting sister. The same thing will happen to Juno Temple, too.

Whatever they think of the film, Temple is getting Oscar-buzzed praise.

So is recent Tony winner for Best Actress Laurie Metcalf. Super superb as Saoirse Ronan’s put upon Mom in Great Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.” Metcalf is having a banner year with the Tony win for “Doll’s House, Part Two” on Broadway and now actually having a juicy sympathetic screen role as the frantic nurse practitioner mother of wayward teenage, Lady Bird.

Because Metcalf is such a beloved industry figure, having won multiple Emmys as Roseanne’s sister on “Roseanne,” she really has the edge here. And her role as Lady Bird’s Mom has got Oscar written all over it. The kind of part that Metcalf has never really had before on film. AND she’s never even been nominated before! Believe it or not.

I would say she has the edge. And it’s definitely

Oscar Nominees Begin to Arise at NYFF


Oscar Nominees, potential Oscar Nominees, Begin to Emerge as the New York Film Festival reaches its’ much touted half-way point.

Last Flaf Flying 1
The biggest winner so far seems to me to be Steve Carell, who has two strong possibilities in two films, one in the Festival, one outside it. The hilarious “Battle of the Sexes” and the somber “Last Flag Flying”.Steve Carell

I would say that his hysterical turn as blow-hard Tennis Pro Bobby Riggs is almost sure to be nominated in the Supporting category for Carell. I would’ve said that his MUCH more serious turn as the grieving father in “Last Flag Flying” was also a Supporting performance, but some are saying he’s lead.

It would be just like the mercurial Carell to end up in both categories. He’s well-liked and clearly at a career high, so it’s entirely possible.

I’m SURE they are going to nominate Emma Stone, last year’s winner for “Battle of the Sexes.” That would be in the Best Actress category for her portryal of closeted lesbian Tennis Pro Billy Jean King. Best Actress is now more jammed than ever with potential nominees clamoring to get in. Saoirse Ronan is pitch perfect at the rebellious teen in “Lady Bird.” She’s definitely an “In”. As is Laurie Metcalfe, also on a roll, after winning the Tony this year for “Doll’s House, Part 2.” Her put-upon hard-working mom to Ronan’s rambunctious teen daughter is as maddening as she is sympathetic. She’s “In” in Supporting, never having even been nominated for an Oscar before.

Another surefire “in” is Willem Dafoe in the magnificently original “Florida Project.” He could win in this category, Supporting Actor, but he’ll be up against Carell, or even Bryan Cranston AND Laurence Fishburne for “Last Flag Flying”. Though I would say Cranston and Fishburne are BOTH leading roles.”Florida Project” also has a secret weapon in six-year-old Brooklynn Kimberly Prince. Florida Project 1They nominated another six-year-old and quite recently, too. Quevezhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern WIld.” Hey, even in a crowded year for Best Actress , like this one, powerhouse charmer Brooklynn( that’s with two “n”s thank you very much.)could surprise.

A complete unknown still is Kate  Winslet’s performance  in the still unseen “Wonder Wheel” of Woody Allen. It closes the Festival and absolutely no one has seen it yet. But the buzz is deafening and the production photos look awesome.

Someone who is NOT getting in to the crowded Best Actress race is octogenarian Dame Judi Dench, who I’ve admired and loved all my life. But “Victoria and Abdul” is the worst thing she’s ever done. Sad to say. Long, slow, and although she’s her usual great self in the funny first half, in the second more serious half, she had sooooo many death scenes, I couldn’t WAIT for her to die. Which is an awful feeling for a potential Best Actress nominee. She’s been to the Queen Victoria well one too many times now. She’s been there, done that, and quite frankly her failure to carry this film through to the end, just sickened me. Yes, even Judi Dench is human. She just doesn’t know when to stop.

Can’t wait for “Wonder Wheel” this Friday and for “Wonder Struck” by Todd Haynes tonight at the NYFF. Their Opening Night film was “Last Flag Flying” and “Wonder Struck” is their Centerpiece and “Wonder Wheel” closes it.

A superb film that is none of those things but “Call Me By Your Name” is Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece and a gay love story to end all gay love stories. Timothee Chalament, is the teen in THIS coming of age story. He’s also playing a bad boy rock musician in “Lady Bird. ”

Army Hammer is the other half of this lovely gay love duo, and BOTH performances are so powerful, they could BOTH get nominated. Chalamet in lead and Hammer in Supporting.

As bizarre as it sounds all these films could get nominated for Best Picture. That’s how good the New York Film Festival has been this year.Call Me By your Name 1

The Great Barbara Cook Passes at 89

The great, legendary chanteuse Barbara Cook has just passed at 89. The news also came yesterday that “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell passed away the same day. And I am equally saddened to report that none of the New York Television News Programs reported on her death, while they sure reported on his. But we, her fans, and they are legion, will never forget Barbara Cook, and her lilting, great coloratura soprano. She brightened many lives…

Coming back in mid-life to a monumental career as a solo singer, Barbara Cook was a symbol of her surviving her
own demons, even her constant battles with the bottle and her weight. In mid-life, she began to live.

Originally known as the Broadway ingénue to end all ingenues in the 1950s, I did not realize for quite a while that she was that same, slim person, who  immortalized Marian in the Librarian in 1957 and won a Tony too.

The Music Man” had a huge impact on my life because it was the first Broadway show I ever saw. And I can remember every single minute of it to this day. It was branded into my mind. It was unforgettable. And Marian’s solos “Til There Was You,” “My White Knight,” “Being in Love” were just the sine qua non of romance. That’s what I thought life was going to be like.

Of course, the great lie of “The Music Man” was that love was nothing like that, but the fantasy of this romance has stayed with me forever.Barbara Cook 2

Barbara Cook’s triumphant return career symbolizes all that. She sang those signature songs in later life, and showed that her heart was broken by them too.

I saw her concertize more times than I can recall, but each performance was a jewel, and very, very touching. Coming back as she did right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic and coming to symbolize to so many who survived it, all their loved ones who were gone, was something I think she was very proud of.She became an icon to the AIDS-ravaged GLBT community.

Barbara Cook and her great beautiful all-encompassing voice and soul will be sorely missed. R.I.P. Barbara.

#Barbara Cook, #The Music Man

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