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Superb! Superb! Superb!Laura Linney & Cynthia Nixon On Bway in “Little Foxes”

When theater is this good, it’s a joy! And something as good as the current revival of “Little Foxes” on Bway at MTC with two of our absolute best actresses, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney alternating  roles is an evening to be treasured. And treasured again because you can see it a second time with the parts of the villainous Regina and the flibbertigibbet Birdie played by these two towering woman of the American Theater reversed. The critics were given a choice of who to see in which role first and I chose Nixon as Regina and Linney as Birdie. And I’ve never been happier! I can’t wait to see it again with the roles reversed! It’s a win-win situation. And to my knowledge this is an historic first. Actors have switched roles before, but not actresses.

And how smart of Artistic Director Lynn Meadow to allow this to happen on Bway! This is something we never see! Men have been switching up historically, since as long as I can remember. “Becket” is one example. “Othello” is another.  But women? Never! All the more cause for rejoicing. And with one of America’s great stage directors Daniel Sullivan doing the work of HIS career, too! Why I just want to tear my program up and throw it into the air like confetti! Except I won’t because it’s too precious to me as a memory of a theatrical experience that was just about perfect!Of course, I saw Bette Davis do Regina in the movie, and she was pure evil. And she got ANOTHER Oscar nomination. I saw Elizabeth Taylor, of all people, doing the last revival of “Little Foxes” to be on Bway back, when I was in high school. So I felt I knew what I was going to see when I went in to the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on W.47th. But this “Little Foxes” was a total revelation. Never before have I see Regina played as more than a two-dimensional witch of a woman. Nixon added intelligence. I’d almost say compassion to Regina’s bitchy mix.

She seemed torn, for a second, just a tiny second, as her ailing husband (a very good Richard Thomas) climbed to his death on their staircase, like perhaps she considered going to help him. But of course, she does not. She resolutely stared into the audience as he chillingly dies, crying out for her help. Shivers. It gives me shivers just to write about this.

And never also has the character of Aunt Birdie been played as anything except pathetic and bonkers. When I saw Felicia Montealegre play it opposite Elizabeth Taylor, she was totally mad, and sad. And I thought “What hell it must’ve been for her to be married to Leonard Bernstein,” which in real life,   she was.

Laura Linney has none of that. Birdie is her Hamlet. She’s feigning madness to shield herself from the blows that life and her husband (a frightening oaf, Darren Goldstein) is dealing her. When the hulking Goldstein hits her across the face, you could hear the audience gasp as well as scream. Otherwise, the production was so taut and tense, you could hear a pin drop. This superb “Little Foxes” has preserved playwright Hellman’s original three-act structure, which is kind of refreshing.  Act One and Act Two ending with curtain lines that punch you right in the gut. It’s a well-made play. Remember them?

And it’s an astonishment to see that in Laura Linney’s hands, playwright Lillian Hellman has written not one but TWO famous scenes. Of course, there is the staircase scene where Regina lets her husband die. But there’s also a staggering scene at the beginning of Act Three, where Birdie fiercely charges to her niece Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini)”Don’t be like me!” because she has never had “a happy day, a whole happy day” in her life. Birdie is a symbol of the aristocratic south that is truly gone with the wind. And Regina is its’ frightening, mercenary 20th century future.

And both actresses play these juicy roles with such smartness that we are unavoidably reminded its the repressive, male dominance of their patriarchal society that have driven them to madness(though perhaps feigned here) and murder, for real.

Cynthia Nixon, Laura Linney, director Dan Sullivan are all here to remind us that there is greatness in living theater and that “Little Foxes” is a tremendously underestimated American play. Lillian Hellman would be turning cartwheels were she still with us. Brava, Divas!

I would also lastly like to note that come the Tonys (the nominations are to be announced shortly), Ms. Linney will be considered in the Leading Actress in a Play category for her Regina and Ms. Nixon in Supporting for her Birdie, because that’s how they appeared on Opening Night.

#Little Foxes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon, #Lillian Hellman, #Broadway (more…)

Kate Burton Wows Kevin Kline in “Present Laughter” on Bway

That supremely under-rated British American actress Kate Burton is really holding her own against her over-blown. self-absorbed actor-husband played by Kevin Kline  in Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” on Broadway now . Its’ modest charms seem lost in the cavernous St. James theater.

Not one of Coward’s top drawer plays like “Blithe Spirit”, Coward tossed it off(and I mean that in more ways than one) while on tour during WWII with his war play “This Happy Breed.” He must’ve been very bored because the soignee part of Garry Essendine is partially based on his own self.present Laughter 4 As a vehicle, I suppose it can’t be beat, and it certainly is a big, juicy part, and Kline absent from the stage for far too long, makes the most of it. Or makes too much of it. really. I didn’t think you could overact this part of the always acting actor of the Old School Garry Essendine, but Kline comes dangerously close.

I missed Frank Langella is his ’96 production of “Present Laughter.” It was much faster and much funnier and had the great Alice Janney in the part of the no-nonsense, soon-to-be ex-wife Liz, that the Great Kate, is now essaying so elegantly. Liz Essendine, really, I’ve now come to think is the back-bone of the play, and Coward wrote it for Joyce Carey, his almost constant cohort and muse. And wrote a better part for her than he wrote for himself. Liz has to stand up to Garry and she’s the one who is really holding his household and Himself together as all hell breaks loose, as it always would and SHOULD in a comedy.

Garry is doing nothing more than swanning about in glamorous dressing gowns and ascots and acting, ACTING, and OVER-ACTING all the time. Coward himself would have no problems with this and Frank Langella certainly hit the right note, but oddly Kevin Kline doesn’t. Too many years in movies has dulled his panache. He seems huffing and puffing and sometimes breaking such a sweat running from schtik to schtik that he is a tad, dare I say it? Too old for the role.

But “Present Laughter” wouldn’t be on Broadway at all if it wasn’t for Kline’s movie star rep and his making all those films. His ex Patti LuPone is having no problem with holding the stage and playing and singing and ringing the rafters just down the Bway block as Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint” But more on Patti later.Kate Burton has quite a history with “Present Laughter” herself having originally played the part of the over-sexed ingénue Daphne Sillington, who has famously “lost her latch key”, in Act One in 1982, opposite George C. Scott. You see, actors keep wanting to revive Garry Essendine, but Kline barely makes it to Act III.

I also don’t remember “Present Laughter” being so long and so slow, especially in Act I. Another factor that defeats Kline. He has to do too much heavy lifting and is really having to put Act III energy into Act I trying to make it more madcap than it is really meant to be.

Someone who really lifts the level to the right manic place is Bhavesh Patel as the demented, obsessed playwright wannabee (read fan) Roland Maule. Patel is so fanatical that he rightly suggests the gay sub-text that we’ve known is there. If only the latch-key losers who keep hiding themselves in Essendine’s guest bedroom were male, the play would seem more relevant and less dated. But alas, in Blackpool, in 1942, when the play premiered in the U.K., Coward could not have done that. So what we’re left with is half-baked piffle. And you know what that tastes like.

 

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.

Viola Davis Wins Best Supp. Actress, Gets Another Standing O

viola-at-oscarsViola Davis, the most expected and predicted winner of the night Best Supporting Actress for “Fences.” In a beautiful red off-the-shoulder gown with a train, she looked like she was really levitating as she give one of the greatest speeches she has ever given. Again. She always gives great speeches. viola-davis-fences-1

Kimmel joked “She just won an Emmy for that speech.” She is a great, great actress, one of the greatest on this planet. I’m in awe of her. And she’s from Rhode Island, which is where my mother was from.

This was her third nomination. She’s the first woman of color in history to have three nominations.  She should’ve been in the lead category. I wish she hadn’t switched. It was her choice, they say. I think she would’ve won whatever category she was placed in.

“The Salesman” wins Best Foreign Film for Ashghar Farhadi. A woman accepting for the absent filmmaker, who is Iranian, who was not present, protesting the recent travel ban on people from his country.

Sting sings one of his songs, this one “The Empty Chair” for the documentary on the slain journalist James Foley. Very short, but touching. Very political evening.

And it’s important to note that for the first time two African-Americans have won both Best Supporting Acting Awards in the history of the Academy and it’s about time, too, isn’t it?

“Zootopia” wins Best Animated film. There’s been no surprises tonight, unless you want to say that Mahershala Ali was a surprise. Although just about everyone else predicted him.

“La La Land” FINALLY wins something its been nominated for Production Design.la-la-land-seine

Can Meryl Parlay Her Golden Globes Speech Into Oscar #4?

meryl-streep-oscarHer Unforgettable Speech at the Golden Globes last Sunday was fiery, brilliant And she reminded us all that she is the greatest there ever was and certainly deserved her Lifetime Achievement Award. I certainly agreed with every word she said, but was she doing something more? Was she going for the Gold? Was she consciously or unconsciously trying to secure her Oscar Number Four? This time it would be for “Florence Foster Jenkins” which she is currently nominated for both SAG and BAFTA?

It could happen.

She effectively upstaged every one and everything that night at the Globes and ended up on the front page of every newspaper and magazine world-wide, looking like she had just one something BIG. Like an Oscar. The nominations are going to be announced on Tuesday morning, Jan. 24, albeit in a new format. They are going to be  shown as a live feed to all and sundry, not a live announcement in front of an audience of press at 5am PST as always before. So it can be shown as part of GMAmerica. We’ll see how this gambit works out.

But Meryl will be nominated again, you can take it to the bank, for her astonishing star turn as the worst opera singer who ever lived Florence Foster Jenkins in the hilarious, touching movie of the same name.florence-foster-jenkins-2-jpg

And in a tumultuous year where she was one of the bravest possible making the political statement that she did, SAG may decide to reward her courage first, when it holds its’ ceremony this week. And that may set the stage for her to win her fourth Oscar, too, tying her with all time winner Katherine Hepburn. Although Young Emma Stone seems a slam dunk at SAG. Best Actress is the only place SAG members can vote for the” La La Land” juggernaut.

The 67 year young veteran has some stiff competition this year.Perhaps her stiffest ever, as she is looking at her 20the Oscar Nomination! 20th! That’s already a record breaking honor.meryl-streep-2

The Best Actress race is the tightest in Oscar history. We have front-runner and Golden Globe winner Emma Stone, closely followed by BFCA winner Natalie Portman as Jackie, and now French icon Isabel Huppert, who just won ANOTHER Best Actress trophy at the Palm Springs Film Festival for the French language film “Elle.” Huppert also just won the New York AND LA film critics, so she’s on a major role. Meryl could upstage them all. Once Again. The power and anger and eloquence behind her Globes speech is something SAG, then the Academy might want repeated on their stages, too. It made headlines.

Supposedly going to be the lowest rated Oscar broadcast in years, industry voters may just want La Streep to put it back on top. and needless to say, her Florence was a fine, fine award-caliber performance. She’s got stiff competition with Stone and Portman and Huppert, but they’ve got stiff competition, too. And with Taraji P. Henson’s “Hidden Figures” suddenly trouncing “Star War: Rogue Nation” at the box-office this MLK long weekend. It’s going to be quite a jam-packed category. Stay tuned.florence-foster-jenkins-3#Meryl Streep

#Oscar Number Four

#Florence Foster Jenkins

#Meryl Streep

#Hugh Grant

#Best Actress Oscar

#Acceptance Speech at Golden Globes

#Golden Globes

#Natalie Portman

#Emma Stone

#Isabelle Huppert

#La La Land

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Globe Winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson on “The Stephen Holt Show”

aaron-taylor-johnson-winning-golden-globeThis video is from a few years back when I interviewed a then-unknown(in the US) Aaron Taylor. At the time that was the entire name he was using. He then took his wife’s last name Johnson and hyphenated it. Into Aaron Taylor-Johnson. And he was the first, and perhaps biggest surprise upset of last night’s Golden Globes in Best Supporting Actor, right at the start of the show. He’s playing a serial killer btw in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals.”aaron-taylor-johnson-3

#Aaron Taylor Johnson

#Nocturnal Animals

#Golden Globe Winner

#British

#Best Supporting Actor

# John Lennon

# Beatles

# Nowhere Boy

#Liverpool

 

 

 

 

 

“La La Land” Best Picture NYFilm Critics, Isabelle Hupert, Michelle Williams Best Actresses

michelle-williams-1The New York Film Critics finished their annual announcement of winners with “La La Land” named as Best Picture and Isabelle Hupert as Best Actress for “Elle”& “The Things to Come.” Michelle Williams was cited as Best Supporting Actress for “Manchester by the Sea” and also her role as a bemused house-wife in one part of the three-part “Certain Women.”la-la-land-1isabelle-hupert-1By honoring both “Elle” and “The Things to Come”, the NYFCA is really acknowledging Huppert’s towering career in French films, where she is an icon. Both films are in French. This definitely gives her a leg up in the very competitive Best Actress race at the Oscars.

She’s also among the nominees for Best Actress for the Broadcast Films Critics. I’ll get to them later today. It’s an avalanche of nominees. But off the top of my head, Best Actress of course is Emma Stone for “La La Land”, Natalie Portman for “Jackie”, Amy Adams for “Arrival” and Annette Bening for “20th Century Women.” The BFCA had six slots to accommodate all these talented ladies, but the Oscars only have five so one of them will be left out.

I can also quickly note that once again “La La Land” lead the field with 12 nominations. Meaning this year is going to be a very “Slumdog Millionaire” year where one film just walks all over everything else, and never misses a beat on its’ road to the Oscar for Best Picture. More later.

Got to see a Broadway show tonight. “Oh Hello.” Until then Oh, good-bye!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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