a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Opera’

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Josh Groban Makes Musical Theater History on Bway in Spectactular “Natasha, Pierre…”

Can you believe that schlump is  handsome rock star Josh Groban???

natasha-pierre-1How to describe what is certainly one of the best musical theater experiences I’ll ever have in my life? There are no words. Only superlatives, and they can’t even begin to do justice to the transformative, shocking, heart-breaking, bravura performance Josh Groban gives in the pop-opera “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comic of 1812” now on Broadway at the Imperial Theater. The Imperial is the former home to “Les Miserables” which ran there for decades, and I’m predicting this will, too.

Josh Groban will win Best Actor in a Musical and every other Tony in the book. Move over “Hamilton;” there’s a new masterpiece in town! ( And it’s right next door to “Hamilton” too! )”Natasha, Pierre...” is a tiny sliver of Leo Tolstoy’s 1000 page epic Russian novel “War and Peace” and is as unlikely a musical comedy blockbuster as “Hamilton.” The war that’s “going on out there somewhere” is the Napoleonic War against Russia. But in Moscow, the decadent aristocracy is partying like it’s 2016.

They sing “Chandeliers and caviar! The war can’t touch us here!” But, of course, it can. It is led by Napoleon. And, as it gets closer and closer, the  aristocrats & the party crowd are becoming more and more frantic.

 

natasha-pierre-5Those who’ve been following the career of pop-star Josh Groban will be stunned by the absolute 360 he’s done with “Natasha, Pierre…” which is as innovative and spectacular a musical, and risky, too, as the astounding performance Groban gives in it. You see, “Natasha, Pierre…” is not your ordinary musical comedy. It’s hardly a comedy at all. You do feel like you’ve been in the midst of a drunken Russian party that turned into a wild, thumping troika ride.

As a handsome young man, who is now unbelievably only 35, one did wonder what Groban, a brilliant musician, lyricist and composer as well as a platinum selling recording artist with four world tours and seven albums under his belt, and millions of fans to boot, would do with this role, his first time on a Broadway stage. Sexy, and angelic at the same time, one wondered what he was going to do, when his teenaged good looks and youth appeal began to wear off. Not that it has, but Groban was open-minded and daring enough to take on the completely incongruous and daunting role of Pierre Bezukov, Tolstoy’s depressive, over-weight, bespectacled alter-ego in “War and Peace.” It’s proving to be the role of his career.natasha-pierre-4

At first entrance,  flanked by a blinding bank of rock star lighting ( by Mimi Lien, whose contribution  is inestimable), Groban enters as Pierre with an accordion, then makes his way almost lumbering  way to center stage, down several stair cases (director Rachel Chavkin has carved up the Imperial into a brand-new, almost intimate cabaret-like space and puts the audience onstage, too!) and you think that middle-aged, almost-fat man CAN’T be Josh Groban, but it is!  josh-groban

Heavily bearded with long-grown out, almost greasy, dark, curly locks, he looks nothing like any iteration we’ve seen of Josh Groban  before. He’s almost unrecognizable!  He’s totally transmogrified himself into this hulking Russian bear of a character, but that’s exactly what Tolstoy wrote his hero. He’s the symbol of pre-Napoleonic Russian aristocracy.

He’s depressive. He’s unattractive and he drinks and drinks and drinks.

“I drink and read and drink and read and drink,” he sings in a confused clarion of voice that is less than happy about this inactive plight.

He’s married to a completely inappropriate wife, the witchily attractive Helene, who is referred to in the opening number simply as “Helene’s a slut.” Amber Gray plays Helene with exactly the right blend of nastiness, sexuality and charm, as she sashays  her way through the night seductively telling our heroine, the virginal Natasha (Denee Benton) that she is “Charmante, Charmante.” She is hissing at her like she was Cleopatra’s asp.amber-greyHer brother, who turns out to be a dastard of the first water, Anatole, is portrayed with a devil-ish  blend of blond good looks, rock star pompadour hair, and VERY tight military pants by Lucas Steele. “Anatole’s hot” the opening chorus sings. And who are we to disagree?natasha-pierre-2He’s out to elope, or basically kidnap, Natasha. He’s already married and clearly an irresistible and untrustworthy slime-ball. Anatole’s seduction of Natasha, who thinks he’s going to marry her, forms the plot that is as wildly complicated as the novel itself. But don’t be scared of Tolstoy. You can follow him.natasha-pierre-6

 

Dave Malloy, who I saw play Pierre originally three years ago, wrote the music, lyrics and adaptation. It is all sung-through, so yes, it is indeed an opera, but it’s only a tiny sliver of Tolstoy. Volume 2, Part 5, to be exact. I saw it first in a circus tent in the Meatpacking District of the West Village, where they served a Russian meal to you while seated at cabaret tables (see above.) It was dazzling, even then.

Phillipa Soo was astounding as Natasha, and went on to become a Broadway star as Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton.” But Denee Benton, who plays Natasha now, just glows and glows and grows on you, too, the absolute picture of willful innocence and stubbornness as she falls in love with, then insists on her ill-advised elopement with bad boy Anatole.

A core of miraculously agile, vocally and physically, actors continued with the show from the tent  they called Kazino, to Broadway, including Amber Gray, Brittain Ashford and Grace McLean. In that cast I first saw, Josh Canfield was a sexy Anatole, before is “Survivor: San Juan del Sur” fame. He was equally charismatic as Anatole.

But it’s Groban that kicks this show upstairs and into theatrical history with his astonishing performance and perfect voice. To hear someone who has been called a choir boy for years with his perfect pitch and miraculous lyric baritone, tear into the gutsy, difficult, challenging, sometimes discordant vocals of “Natasha, Pierre…” is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Drunken, depressed, over-weight, near-sighted and scruffy though his Pierre convincingly is, his golden tones ring out in the night(and twice weekly at matinees.) His respect for the other actors is evident as he also blends seamlessly into their tight ensemble.

Josh Groban, genius that he is, has perspicaciously plunged himself into the midst of an equally amazing group of fellow-artists, who are geniuses, too, in their own ways. Did I mention Mimi Lien’s lighting? She’s the recipient of a MacArthur Genius grant. So it’s official. And of course, there’s a killer solo that composer Malloy newly wrote just for Groban that they call “Dust and Ashes”, but I would call “This is how I die?” as Pierre berates himself for his intellectual inaction as “there’s a war going on out there somewhere.” The show is bracketed by another tour de force Groban soul-searching solo called “The Great Comet” as the grand Grande Finale.

I’ve seen “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” three times now and I can’t wait to see it again!

Groban has committed an entire year to staying in this historic production and helping it thrive. It’s been making a million dollars a week! Long may it run!

#Josh Groban

# Broadway musicals

#Natasha, Pierre…

#Tony Awards

# Broadway

 

 

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“A Little Night Music” in Brooklyn

Judith Roberts

I find myself lately wandering more and more out to Brooklyn, which to this Native New Yorker, a Manhattan-dweller, is equivalent these days of traveling to a foreign country. And I always get lost. The weather was with me, but the subways weren’t.

This time the trains weren’t helping. The “F” subway line was on a weekend schedule where it skipped the stops that I had to take to see the Gallery Players production of “A Little Night Music.” So I ended up getting out at an earlier stop (before the skips started) and ended wandering around a deserted, desolate, rather intimidating moon-scape of storehouses and warehouses, all shuttered for the weekend. It went on and on. For blocks upon blocks. Pot holes everywhere. Thank goodness the sun was up!

New York has been suffering through one of the worst winters on record but this day, a Sunday, was unseasonably warm and bright, so I took the chance for going alllll the way out to Brooklyn to see the Gallery Players for the first time. It was a Matinee Day and the sun was up or I would’ve been REALLY daunted.

Now the Gallery Players’ mandate is to serve its’ community in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. “Broadway in Brooklyn” its’ ads proudly proclaim, and I’m sure the residents nearby its’ location delight in the idea of attending an enterprising theatrical mainstay that is in walking distance.

The Gallery Players are a sort of semi-professional group. An Actor’s Equity Showcase, it boasted an afternoon of excellent singing actors, some giving stand-out, blazing Broadway-style turns, like Judith Roberts as Madame Armfeldt, whom I’ll get to in a minute, and then others who were embarrassingly amateurish. They could sing, but they couldn’t act. But it was lovely hearing that great score once again. It always enchants.

Nevertheless “Little Night Music” was a wildly uneven, seemingly under-rehearsed production. And any production of one of Stephen Sondheim’s best-ever musicals has to compete in my mind with memories of the blazing Broadway original, directed by Harold Prince. Both he and Sondheim were at the heights of the respective careers when “A Little Night Music” exploded on to Broadway in the 1970s.

I remember Glynis Johns, who could barely sing a note, being just wonderful as Desiree Armfeldt. She was so vivid, so sensual, so charismatic as the Swedish actress, all these men keep chasing after madly in Stockholm at the turn of the last century. Based on an Ingmar Bergman movie “Smiles of a Summer Night,” to which it is, in my mind, far, far superior, Sondheim wrote “A Little Night Music” completely in waltz time. It’s one of his best scores, if not THEE best.

I remember so well the shock of the five-person quintet of aristocrats bursting into the semi-operatic “Remember? Remember?” at the beginning of the show.

Then having it settle down to this opulent, melodic score that just soared, although the two central female characters played by Glynis Johns, and, as her mother, Hermione Gingold, couldn’t sing a note.

Rita Rehn, as the vixen/actress Desiree Armfeldt, here was bouncy and charming and really wow-ed me with her unexpectedly poignant rendition of “Send in the Clowns”, the song that some consider Sondheim’s best. And certainly the most popular.

As I heard it for the first time on Broadway, I knew it was an instant classic, but it was ironically(or perhaps cynically) being croaked by an actress Glynis Johns who could barely hit the one of two notes required for it. But here in Park Slope, Rita Rehn moved me quite unexpectedly by her “Send in the Clowns.”

And it couldn’t have come soon enough. The pace of this production was REALLY slow.

But the other saving grace of “A Little Night Music” was Judith Roberts towering turn as Desiree’s sensible courtesan mother, the wheel-chair bound Madame Armfeldt, who bemoans the present state of amour in “Liasons”. Ms. Roberts is giving what can only be described as a legendary interpretation of this terrific role and ranks right up there with Gingold and Elaine Stritch and all the other great ladies who have played this iconic role.”Fire opal pedants!” being one of my all-time favorite lyrics. M. Armfeldt exclaims this mid-song describing one of the great gifts, a long-ago lover bestoyed upon her.

She, unlike the others I’ve seen. chose to sing “Liasons” standing up, and not in a wheel chair, which added to her and its’ power as a show-stopper immeasurably. She brought down the house. And I would venture to say that her performance alone is worth the trip out to Brooklyn to see the Gallery Players before the run of this production ends on Feb. 16. Her Madame is right up there with Gingold and Stritch, who played the part previously.

I would be remiss if I didn’t cite others in this large cast who are also doing yeoman jobs that are worth seeing. Main among them, Ron Langeder, as Count Karl Magnuss, the bristling, jealous dragoon lover of Desiree,Emily Stokes, as Anne, the inguenue, who here is a quite montrous still-a-virgin very young wife of the lawyer Egerman and
Scott Vicari, showing in the small role of Frid, a servant, Stanislavski’s great maxim, there is no such thing as a small part, only small actors. And Vicari shows that he is not a small actor by any means. He glows like a jewel in the background with focused intelligence and the presence of a star, whether he is pushing Madame Armfeldt’s wheel-chair, or seducing the servant girl in “I Will Marry the Miller’s Son.”

So in conclusion “A Little Night Music” by the Gallery Players is a mixed-bag of baubles indeed, but one you should definitely look in to. You might find a diamond, like Judith Roberts.

The Gallery Players are located at ~
199 14th St, #2, Brooklyn, NY 11215
Cross Streets: Between 5th Ave and 4th Ave
Neighborhoods: South Slope, Brooklyn
(718) 832-0617
galleryplayers.com

“Downton” goes dark. As in Serious.

Dear Cineastes, dear readers,and fans of great television everywhere, I must put up a sort of spoiler warning in that Episode 2 of Season 4 is going to take the whole series in a serious direction and that none of you will have seen coming.

Episode One is all tea cakes and roses compared to what’s happened now that we’ve seen Episode Two.

If you thought the sadness of Lady Mary and her mother-in-law Isobel Crawley and sad-sack Mosely’s reactions to their grief over Matthew’s death was tough stuff, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, folks.

Ladies and gents my hat is once again off to the great writer Julian Fellowes for throwing us a curve ball of well, WRECKING ball proportions.

I’m not going to say what happened tonight. It spoils it if you know it’s coming. I knew SOMEthing was coming and it was soooo big and sooo bad that no one who’s seen the show (in England) would reveal it. So I will continue on in that silence.

But let me just say it was ANOTHER masterfully written scene, or series of scenes, where there is a great house-party, the likes and size of which we’ve not yet seen on “Downton.” Sumptuous. And it’s because Dame Nellie Melba has come to Downton Abbey to give a recital. I’m not quite sure why she came, but embodied beautifully by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, it’s an episode that will never be forgotten.
Because, well, it’s not Dame Kiri’s fault…but no. I’ll say no more.

However EW did let something slip in its Downton Abbey Special Issue, about Episode 2, so I knew SOMEthing BIG was about to explode. And they let slip WHO it was happening to. But I won’t even go that far. You’ll just have to watch it online or on your PBS local station that may not yet have aired it.

Like for instance, in NYC, WLIW is not airing til tomorrow night. And I won’t be home in time to watch it AGAIN.

It’s something abrupt and unexpected. Coming completely out of the blue. And well, it’s shattering and VERY disturbing and beautifully played by all involved.

I guess you COULD say if you think that the excellent actress who plays Mrs. Hughes has not been sufficiently challenged so far, trust me, from now on, SHE IS. Oh god! What is her name???

Holt on a minute! I’ll go look it up!

Phyllis Logan! It’s PHYLLIS LOGAN! And it doesn’t happen to HER, but she becomes dreadfully involved in the event, and this is going to play out FOR THE WHOLE REST OF THE SEASON. Mark my words. THIS is now the main story line. It will overwhelm everything else.

Until of course, the wild mind of Julian Fellowes comes up with something equally amazing. Which I’m sure he will.

Well, done! Kudos to all! And it just means you CAN’T MISS AN EPISODE!!!

Helen Hanft (1934-2013) A Great Actress Passes. She was my Muse.

It is with great grief and shock that I am saddened to report the passing of one of America’s great actresses, Helen Hanft. She was 79 and it was very sudden.

I had the great good fortune to have had known and worked with Helen for nearly 40 years. She was the greatest of inspirations to me as a playwright and actor and director, too.

I wrote nearly a dozen plays for Helen including “Reety in Hell”(1973) at the WPA , “The Kitty Glitter Story” (1974) at La Mama E.T. C., “Stoop” and “London Loo” two one-woman one-acts which she performed together as a one woman show (1977) at the Van Dam Theater, “The Blonde Leading the Blonde” at the Theater for the New City(1982) and “Bambi Levine, Please Shut Up!” in 1996 also at La Mama. Among others.

Renowned for her great comedic sense, I was always trying challenge her as a dramatic actress as well. She had the chops.

She was always acting from an early age, having attended the Performing Arts High School where classmates included Dom DeLuise, Rita Gam, and the artist Shelley Estrin, whom she remained friends with through the years.

Helen always remembered Sidney Lumet spending more time on Dom De Luise. Although both clearly future comedians, Lumet called Helen “too happy-go-lucky.”

She and I met in early 1973 when we appeared together as actors at the WPA Theater in a production of Sardou’s original play of “Tosca” on which the Opera was based. The play differs from the Opera in that there is an entire Second Act that Pucinni deleted when he musicalized it. And Helen and I played characters that do not appear in the opera. She was Marie, Queen of Naples. And I was the Marquis D’attavanti.

A little nervous upon meeting her I said, “Are you the legend Helen Hanft?” and she rolled her eyes delightedly and said “Yes….” drawing out the word for dramatic emphasis as only Helen could.

Many people are surprised to find that Helen and I were married by the Rev. Al Carmines at the Judson Church, where he also lived. It was circa 1975 and Sweet William Edgar, with whom she was appearing Off Broadway at the time in “Women Behind Bars” was one of the two witnesses.

Al Carmines, a legend himself, said to us, at the time, ” This is a religious service. I am a clergyman but you have to go down to City Hall and get the license and the blood tests.” Helen and I never did.

And Al said, “But this a spiritual marriage. In the eyes of God, you are forever united.” And it was true.

She was my Muse.

“Les Miz” in IMAX! My Third Time! Bliss to the Max!!

“Les Miserables,” which is my #1 film of the year, can also be seen now in IMAX, which I didn’t know about until director Tom Hooper mentioned it in an interview. And so I HAD to see it for a THIRD time in a Whirlwind month of “Miz.”

There’s so much to say, and so little time…before I see “Les Miz” AGAIN! Yes! It’s THAT good! And THAT addictive!

FINALLY! Tickets were available for purchase by ordinary movie-goers. It has been sold out in NYC, since its’ opening Christmas Day, when it broke B.O. records, and it’s taking off to be a record-breaking hit all over the world! It may even go over $100 million internationally by the end of this weekend!

And they said musicals weren’t popular with the masses any more!

Well, “Les Miz” is bringing out a certain type of movie-goer those who’ve been STARVED for a great movie musical.

Since I was a kid, it was always the movie musicals that got me into movies in the first place. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” being run over and over and over again on Million Dollar Movie on televisioni on Ch.9. Every single day, maybe even twice a day, when I was a bespectacled, red-headed kid growing up in the Bronx. Then came “Les Girls” and that little boy thought all movies were SUPPOSED to sing.

So it’s grand, just grand that “Les Miserables” returns movies to its’ rightful place, right near OPERA. Opera used to be mass entertainment in its’ time, and I just love that “Les Miz” onscreen is totally sung through. And what wonderful,stirring, powerful music it is!

From those first three thrilling chords of “Look Down” “Ah-huh!” Klang! “Ah-huh” Klang! And the spectacular wreck of a ship hulk that gets hauled into view by literally hundreds of dirty, grimy slaves of the state, Jean Valjean main among them. Well, it shakes you and just takes your breath away at the same time!

Audiences for “Les Miz” come PRIMED now to applaud, it seems to me. At an invited (non-critics) screening I saw(my second time)(many Academy members in attendance) there was applause at least four times and cheering and standing and MORE applause at the end. And this was without any of the talent present, which ups the applause meter even more. Hugh Jackman’s name onscreen got applause at the end as did Anne Hathaway’s and Eddie Redmayne’s and strangely Helena Bonham-Carter’s.

Well, last night this paying, weekday night audience applauded at least EIGHT times!

Of course, Anne Hathaway’s brilliant, blistering, unforgettable solo “I Dreamed a Dream” got applause. And she’ll probably get an Oscar, too.

And then they didn’t really applaud again til “On My Own”, which had not gotten applause at the previous two screenings I attended. That’s Eponine’s rain-soaked solo essayed here by Samantha Barks.

Then, of course, after that, “One Day More” got a rousing hand, and it continued virtually unabated five times more til the magnificent ending! I was losing count in the glory of it all as the suspense mounted, and of course, the wonderful Eddie Redmayne got his hand in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” and the Thernadiers (a super oily Sasha Baron Cohen and the equally slimy Helena Bonham-Carter) even got applauded when they got thrown out of Marius and Cosette’s wedding.! Cheers, too! Amazing!

The involvement of the audience was like at  Broadway show. But no Broadway show gets stopped with applause EIGHT times! At least! But this being a high-paced film, “Les Miserables” never paused for a moment. I don’t think the stage version ever got this much applause. Maybe the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts did. But they were EVENTS. This is just a blockbuster musical. Incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life as a film critic.

“Les Miserables” never fails to disappoint. But I have to say that IMAX isn’t really necessary to see it in. Everything gets magnified and since the film is shot in extreme close-ups most of the time, it really is excessively CLOSE in Imax.Dizzying. I was counting the warts on Russell Crowe’s face. And then the hairs on the warts. I REALLY didn’t need to be THAT CLOSE. Too much information.

But his Javert is meant to scare. And he does. He’s the villain, and his strange, thunderous, bellowed singing is the film’s one discordant note, but it works, because he’s the one who’s out of sync with the melodious singing of the rest of the cast, as his character is out of sync, at war, with the rest of the world.

Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean wows me every time! The demands that are placed on him are literally Herculean, and utterly Oscar-bait-y and Oscar – worthy. And then he has to drag the wounded, half-dead, Eddie Redmayne through the sewers of Paris! Saving his life, in  yet another one of Victor Hugo’s novel’s great set-pieces, that is rendered impossibly odious and odoriferous in these tremendous close-ups. Oh yes, Jackman’s “Bring Him Home” sung to the sleeping Redmayne got a spontaneous round of applause, too.

“Les Miserables” is setting audiences free in a wonderful way. They seem FREE to applaud. And VERY free to cry. At the end, with the incredibly moving climatic scenes, there’s not a dry eye in the house. My eyeglasses were salted up with tears. But I was happy. The Greeks has a word for this effect. They called it “Catharsis.” I call it Oscar.

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