a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘English’

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How I Adore “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”!

Seeing “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” for the SECOND time, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it ~ more! I saw it when it first opened this past winter, and I adored how tuneful, how witty and how inventive it was and how ingeniously staged and performed it was by all hands on deck. I thought it was too rich, too lushly melodic, too good, too period perfect(It’s 1908), or too perfect. Period. For Broadway in this loud, flat day & age, but guess what?

It survived the long, horrid winter we’ve had and has come up this Spring blooming with Award nominations! So the SECOND time I saw it, “A Gentleman’s …” was even more delightful, if that’s actually possible, because you just relax and luxuriate in its’ glorious excesses of gorgeousness. malevolence,melody & wit!

WIT! How many musicals on Broadway have this, my most prized delectation! And how I miss it!

Not since Lerner & Lowe have we heard this wealth of sharp lyrics, luxuriant melodies and the rebirth of patter songs. I kept thinking of Rex Harrison’s immortal Henry Higgins all through this juggernaut of tongue-twisting fun. It harks back to the best of George Bernard Shaw, too, in its spot-on depiction of life high and low in Edwardian England. And it’s also thoroughly British, which I love, Anglo-phile that I am.

The opening tableau of a grim, gleeful, rain-soaked chorus all in black sets the tone with “A Warning to the Audience” that “you’d best depart!” at once, if they don’t like murder and mayhem. They re-unite merrily in Act Two’s Opening asking “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?”

You see, our redoubtable hero, Monty Navarro (the stupendous Bryce Pinkham) is impoverished and grief-stricken at the outset. He is reeling, coming from his beloved mother’s funeral. A strange old woman named Miss Shingle,(pictured above^) whom he doesn’t know from Adam, turns up to comfort him in his Dickensian, down-at-heels bed-sit in a grimy, smoke-stack spewing part of London (kudos to scenic designer Alexander Dodge) to tell him that “You’re a D’Ysquith!” And consequently the heir to a vast fortune, but unfortunately there are eight other D’Ysquiths in the way to his ascendancy to the Earldom of Chislehurst.

The marvelous Jane Carr (the apple of Maggie Smith’s eye in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”) turns up here as Miss Shingle, evincing a perfect Cockney accent, and a twinkle in her mischievous eye, to set the plot a-rolling and the pots a-boiling.

She quickly transfers that deadly twinkle to the bereft down-and-outer Monty’s big baby blues and hence a dastardly, dashing, handsome devil of a villain is born.

I.E. The plot is to bump off the eight people standing in his determined way. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a social-climber quite so much!

Monty sings: I am standing here with poison in my pocket,
One eye on the target, one eye on the clock. It
Better happen soon before I lose my nerve and run.
If I had a knife I could have grabbed him,
Then discreetly knocked him on
The head and stabbed him,
Not to mention what I would have done,
If I had had a gun.

And one after the other, in one hilarious set piece after the next, each one a knock-out, literally. (Kudos again to the inventive Mr. Dodge. His back-projections are as hilariously apt as his front-projections) The D’Ysquiths all begin to fall like nine (or rather eight) pins in an East End bowling alley. That they all are played by the incredible Jefferson Mays is simply beyond astounding. And each one of the doomed D’Ysquiths are meticulously differentiated from the other. He’s a one-man cast of thousands ~ of dead people.

In case all of this is sounding a tick familiar, “A Gentleman’s Guide…” is based on the book “Kind Hearts and Coronets” that the famous movie starring Alec Guinness is also based upon. And Jefferson Mays fills the bill quite, quite well.

Mr. Jefferson Mays is, of course, the esteemed Tony recipient of “I Am My Own Wife,” where once again he showed his chameleon versatility playing multiple roles in a one-man show. Though sweating and spitting up a storm in Act One, he nevertheless engages the audience’s affection and admiration as the bodies pile one upon the other in seemingly endless succession, all them bodies his. And who knew he could sing and dance like that?

D’Ysquithian highlights abound as we await the next deliciously daffy dispatch of one dastardly aristocrat after the other. Without spoiling just how hilariously they all go to meet their maker, there’s one patriotic, and also homo-erotic, number called “It’s Better With a Man” that both Mr. Pinkham and the inevitable Mr. Mays seem to take particular purple relish in.

Bryce Pinkham, Broadway’s newest, hottest leading man, has a lilting tenor, arched eye-brows and chiseled cheekbones. Plus he has the difficult job of making all the many murders of Mr. Mays, be sympathetic, and also empathetic, as well as sexy, as he slashes, and stabs and poisons his way to the top. You root for him to be the sociopath that he becomes. Pinkham has been seen before buried in the chorus of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” and also playing the third lover in the musical “Love’s Labour’s Lost”in the park this past summer. You’ll remember him as the hot guy in silver lame hot pants, and on roller-skates. An agile triple-threat, he.

Keeping the sex count as high as the body count are the beauties battling for his affections, the pink-obsessed blonde Sibella (Lisa O’ Hare) and the brunette soubrette Phoebe(Lauren Worsham). The brilliant director of all this madness is the meticulous Darko Tresnjak and the bloody good music & lyrics are by the two and only Steven Lutvak and Robert L.Freedman(who also penned the tart, smart book). All of these are the gentleman, who will guide you through love and murder, and all are astonishingly making their auspicious Broadway debuts!

And they’ve all been nominated for Tonys! And Drama Desks! And the Outer Critics Circle Awards, too! Ten or eleven! Almost as high as the count of murders! And surely on the way to topping and copping all the awards for “Best Musical of the Year”! Sometimes quality is rewarded on Broadway! T</em>hank the Theater Gods! YAY!

“Twelfth Night” on Bway ~ One of the Best I’ve Ever Seen!

How can I begin to describe the joys of the impossibly wonderful “Twelfth Night” now on Broadway? It’s simply one of the best productions I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE!

The two-time Tony Award winning genius Mark Rylance is probably on his way to another award (or awards) for his astounding performance as Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Not usually considered a memorable role in Shakespeare’s comedy, which is usually played, as always by a woman, and as a sort of wan, sad, elegant lady,who is mourning the death of her brother. Olivia is usually the straight person in a cast of characters who are off-the-charts loony.

And here the masterstroke is Rylance plays Olivia as the looniest toon of the lot. He seemed to be channeling Margaret Dumont of the Marx Brothers movies. His  love-struck Olivia becomes the absolute center of this production, and the play, too, and it seems absolutely right. AND HILAROUSLY so.

The audience, some of whom were seated on the stage, was absolutely getting EVERY SINGLE Elizabethan joke and laughing so much, it made this marvelous “Twelfth Night” the longest “Twelfth Night” I’ve ever sat through.

With a half-hour pre-show added, wherein you get to see the actors get into their costumes and make-up right on stage and the musicians tune up their authentic, period instruments, this un-cut version was heading to the four-hour mark. But I didn’t mind one bit. I was in theatrical heaven!

One always wishes, if  one is a bardolator, that one could travel back in time to Elizabethan England, and see just what it was that made Shakespeare so great. And the brilliant thing that Rylance and his director of many productions, Tim Carroll have done is that they are so exact in a replication of how this comedy of Shakespeare’s was probably done, you absolutely believe you are in Elizabeth’s England, and that you’re discovering this great play for the first time and finding it  to be one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable. In the hands of Rylance and co., all of whom are on their Elizabethan A-Game, “Twelfth Night” really ranks among one of Shakespeare’s greatest.

It’s an absolute delight from start to finish. All four hours of it.

And we, the press, were warned off coming to see it last night, because the light-board failed, and so we were not going to see it as it was meant to be performed, I was told, by the worried press agent. I decided to go anyway. And we discovered, when we entered, the stage was flooded with candle-light!

And that just made it magical! We were time-traveling!

There did seem as the play went on to be more and more stage lights focused on it, so perhaps the lighting board was being repaired as the show went on, but they were all white or a very pale blue lights

But of course, Shakespeare’s King’s Players DID perform by candle light.

And the stage at the Belasco was full of candles. There were six or eight chandeliers that were dropping candle wax on the actors, and an upstage set piece with more and more candles on it. sort of in the shape of a Christmas tree. So the stage was ablaze with honey-colored light. Which had a warming, charming, and totally disarming effect, which was just right.

And all the female parts are played, as they were in Shakespeare’s time, by men. Rylance’s Olivia dominating every scene, as we watch the character go from a very demure, lady-like, mournful royal in widow’s weeds atop a small tiara,  to a hyped-up matron who is hiking up her skirts and losing her beads, as she falls head-over-heels in love with the young Cesario, who is really a girl Viola, dressed, in disguise as a page-boy. Rylance,who usually blows everyone off the stage, he is such a strong performer, but here he is matched quite evenly by the great Samuel Barnett as Viola, equally convincing as a man or a woman. Tony Nominee and Drama Desk Winner, Barnett will be familiar to Broadway audiences from “The History Boys” a few years back.

I knew he had greatness in him, and the promise he showed in “History Boys” comes to full fruition as this glorious beautiful Viola/Cesario, who matches Rylance’s antic, love-crazed Lady Olivia, beat for comic beat.

And he’s not blowing the great Stephen Fry off the stage as Malvolio. Oh no! Making his American and Broadway stage debut, Fry a major stage, film and television star in England is simply magnificent as Lady Olivia’s simpering steward.

Fry is a towering figure. He’s a huge man, and he makes Rylance’s Lady Olivia seem dainty by comparison.

Also, the large and bosomy Maria of Paul Chahidi, a maid servant of Olivia’s, who is also daintiness personified, as well as the mischievous mischief-maker, who sets much of the plays comic stratagems in motion. Chahidi and Rylance, who are both wearing floor-length gowns, move with such humorously mincing small steps they seem to be floating across the stage, or on roller skates! Hysterical!

The men, who actually play men in this cross-dressed production are at a kind of comic disadvantage, you’d think, against Rylance’s Olivia, Barnett’s Viola, and Chahidi’s Maria(or Mariah or Mary as she’s variously called), but Rylance has wisely peopled the supporting cast with very strong character actors who are as funny as the “women.”

Colin Hurley is a pint-sized Falstaff as Sir Toby Belch, who has to play all manner of drunkeness throughout, and his extremely tall co-hort Sir Andrew Aguecheek is perfectly matched by Angus Wright. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria form the toxic trio of tormentors who want to bring down  the supercilious steward Malvolio, leaving a letter supposedly from Lady Olivia that tells him “Some are born great, Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Well, “Twelfth Night” itself is having greatness thrust upon it by this astonishing, laugh-riot of a production. Sub-titled “Or What You Will,” which is the Shakespearen equivalent of saying “Whatever”, or “This play is just a trifle. Don’t pay any attention to it. Don’t take it seriously.” And “Twelfth Night,” or as the bill-boards are spelling it “Twelfe Night,” was a name just tacked on to it at the time, because it was performed for Queen Elizabeth I as part of the twelfth night after Christmas celebrations. As if Shakespeare didn’t know what to call it.

The words “Twelfth Night” are never mentioned throughout the play. But I did catch, I think it was Viola saying “What You Will”.

This historic production is a dream come true, and is thrusting a greatness upon “Twelfth Night” as one of the best comedies ever written. It will now always be referred to by all who attempt to match this magic. It’s an impossiblity.

NYFF ends…with a Sneak Peak at Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”

Yes, it’s finally over! The Best-It’s-Ever-Been 49th Edition of the New York Film Festival! The high points were really high – Centerpiece “My Week with Marilyn” totally blew me away & is probably going to net star Michelle Williams her first Oscar &  Closing Night’s Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” is probably going to get George Clooney his second. They are both launched, in any case. Ditto “The Artist” also playing here. And Pedro Almodovar’s super superb “The Skin I Live In.”

Yes, if you’re looking to see Oscar fare FIRST from the comfort of your NY-adjacent home, then the NYFF is your cup of tea. And apart from Oscar seekers, there are also films that you get to see in the exciting, glamorous, cinema-loving situation that seem just that more special because you’re viewing them in this unique setting on a big screen, my favorite way to see films. Period.

Like for instance, you could see TWO brand new films, in two entirely different genres, by one grand master of cinema, Martin Scorsese’s 4 hour documentary on George Harrison “Living in the Material World” which is one of the best films he’s ever made. Totally joyous, celebratory, informative, transportive.It’s length not a problem, and coming soon to HBO., where it will be seen in two parts, Beatles and post-Beatles.

Also, there was the thrill of seeing a sneak peek of his new full length feature film “Hugo” which is in 3-D. We, the press, were warned it was still a “work in progress” and not for review. So I will say no more at this point, but that is was very exciting to be allowed to be there. And Scorsese was there himself, in person, to introduce the film.

Sometimes this Business of Show makes me feel outside of things, sometimes, but that night I felt as “In”as In could be, and thank you for including me, NYFF.

I, a Native New Yorker, finally felt like I was being given the keys to the city, albeit for just one brief night.

And the addition,  the two brand spanking shiny new smaller screens across the street from the Walter Reader Theater, the Beale and the Bunin, and the intimate new restaurant between them all, provided  much-needed new spaces that were just a delight to eat in, to watch films in or to just hang out with other festival-goers.

And then there’s the amazing things that happen at the NYFF  – apart from the films, if you can imagine such a thing. Like for instance, “My Weekend with Marilyn” being so tumultuously received that its’ distributor the Weinstein Co. MOVED its’ opening date back three weeks to THE SAME DAY in late November as its’ other Oscar-bait-y film “The Artist”!?!? Now, THAT was stunning development. And not only that. It’s the same day in November that “The Descendants” and also “Hugo” are opening!!?!?!! OMG!

What does all that mean????? Yikes!

Well, it will be a very busy day for the newspapers, the few newspapers, that are left to cover the movies in their movie sections. That are losing readers and advertising EVERY DAY in the Internet. But as you may have noticed not to this particular section of the Internet “The Stephen Holt Show”s blog, which is still AD FREE.

And It’s going to make for a  very, VERY interesting weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, BTW, at the box-office! Yikes!

But “The My Week with Marilyn” reaction was so overwhelming and so positive, this move gives The Weinstein Co. three more weeks to mount a MAJOR Oscar campaign in all categories, something it may or may not have been planning before. IOW, not only for Michelle Williams, brilliant as ever, but also for Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier(a slam-dunk, methinks), Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike and Eddie Redmayne as the beguiling “My” of the title. Ditto the director Simon Curtis, the screenwriter Adrian Hodges, the cinematographer Ben Smithard, production designer Donal Woods, the costume designer Jill Taylor, the score(Conrad Pope & Alexandre  Desplat) and everything else you, and Harvey Weinstein can think of.

Heat Wave in New York today! Ugh! Tomorrow, James McAvoy of “X-Men” Yay!

Ok, it’s going to go into the 90s again today in New York City! I have been reluctant to write about just how bad the heat gets here, because heat effects me greatly. The cold, not so much. Guess I’m a true Celt in that sense. With an ethnic background of Irish-English-Scottish-German, I’ve always been better in cooler climes and weather. And New York in the summer is a bummer

Me, I prefer the blizzard we had this winter. Worst winter in NYC in my memory and I hope this summer doesn’t match last summer which was a 90 degree heat wave through almost all of July and August!

I got drenched by stupidly misjudging the rain one day on my way to tape my Tony show. You can see it here www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow

I was soaked, then had to sit in the air-conditioning for four hours or more at the lovely Bombay Palace Restaurant while we were filming. Then got sick from it and developed what was probably Walking Pneumonia.

I wonder if people realize how strenuous it is to keep doing a weekly TV show? Esp. when you’re sick.

Also for the first mega-heat wave last week, which lasted five days, I didn’t have any air-conditoner. I thought I was going to die. And got sicker. But fortunately, I went to the doctor, got the right antibiotics AND a brand-new air-conditioner and am fine now.

The doctor said “Rest and lots of liquids” so basically what that amounts to in New York is staying IN ALL DAY. Or at least til the Sun begins to set.

I’m getting ready to do Editfest this weekend, which is this really neat two-day festival of all Editors, mostly film, but TV, too, talking about Editing.

As someone who does a weekly show, I have a new mantra “You can never know enough editors!”

Fortunately, it doesn’t begin til after the heat wave is supposed to be over. But we’ll see. I basically don’t trust the weather men, anymore. They almost always seem to get it just a bit WRONG. So I hope this heat wave will be over by Friday. And Editfest.

I’m interviewing James McAvoy via Satellite tomorrow. I think he’s in London. For “X-men: First Class” which is very exciting, esp. since I liked and actually SAW the movie!

This franchise will put James in the multi-millionaire category. Where he belongs. And he’s so good in this film, too. Never your typical leading man, he’s so right for the good guy, Professor Xavier. Can’t wait for that moment!

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