June 18th, 2010

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Tony awards and stuff I saw

I watched the Tony awards Sunday and had actually seen a few shows (yay, "Memphis"). It was disturbing that so many awards went to Hollywood big names. I have not seen any of those performances so don't know for sure if the awards were well-deserved, but it just seemed fishy. I was pleased when the lesser-known "La Cage" star won.

For all I know, best leading musical actress Catherine Zeta-Jones was amazing. Still, I had to leave the room when she sang "Send in the Clowns." I heard Judy Collins do it live at Town Hall in March, and there was no comparison. I've loved Judy since high school and finally went to see her. I had a cold at the time and had to cough twice - sorry, rest of audience, I had water with me and tried to hold it in! One cough was during the opening act, Kenny White, who had some interesting and amusing topical material. Judy herself still sounds great. She opened with "Both Sides Now" in a slightly different rhythm (similar to this other recent performance; she was even wearing the same outfit). The sound was not too loud (my usual complaint), but a little echoey which made her voice seem even more ethereal. She chatted between songs about the '60s, Leonard Cohen, and other topics, making the large hall seem more intimate. The music gave me goosebumps, and she still sounds wonderful (unfortunately, the lady behind me singing along did not sound wonderful - yeesh). She played guitar at first with a piano accompanist, and took over the piano later on.

Back to CZJ, I did see her excellent competitors Montego Glover in "Memphis" (yay) and Sherie Rene Scott in "Everyday Rapture." The latter was the same afternoon as the Times Square bomb scare later that evening. The play is an almost-one-woman (with backup singers, band, and a memorable young man) autobiographical musical about Scott's journey from Mennonite Kansas to Broadway. Very entertaining.

I also saw best play actress nominee Linda Lavin in "Collected Stories." Her acting was so good that she aged and weakened before your eyes (or maybe it was the makeup). The play, about an eager-beaver student who learns fast (Sarah Paulsen), and her mentor-professor (Lavin), was pretty good, too. Another nominee was Valerie Harper channeling Tallulah Bankhead in "Looped" which was a total hoot about old Hollywood. Zingers like "I'm bisexual -- buy me something, and I'm sexual" came fast and furious. The second act bogged down a bit with a subplot about another character, but it was Harper's show all the way.

In the same theater as "Looped," I previously saw "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play" which got some nominations. I was in the second row far left, so could not always see that next room (and missed the full frontal male nudity at the end, though I did get a full backal view). The play, supposedly based on real technology at the dawn of the electrical age, felt hokey. I won't make jokes about buzz, but it was about a doctor who tried stimulating patients (both male and female) to cure hysteria. Meanwhile, in the next room, he never noticed his wife had needs, too. The wife was my pal (not really; we were once at the same small wedding and never spoke) Laura Benanti and while this wasn't a musical, she briefly sang as part of the plot.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine played a wet nurse in the vibrator play, and appeared again in "Family Week" recently at the Lortel. The color-blind casting was just confusing (Bernstine is black), and it took a while to realize she was not a friend but the sister of the main character Claire (played by Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel in the movie "Rachel Getting Married"). Claire is in rehab and the family's there for family week. There were some big names behind this play (written by Beth Henley, directed by Jonathan Demme), but it was mostly a downer. Reviewers agreed.

Another disturbing family drama was "Oliver Parker!" (why the exclamation point?) at the Cherry Lane (now closed). John Larroquette played the title character, a former chauffeur for a wealthy family now living in boozy squalor. The family's son takes care of him (for reasons I fail to understand, given what is revealed to have happened in the past), and the kid wants to get laid. There's a female senator and her aide, and while there were a few humorous moments, it was mainly dark and icky.

Continuing in that vein (maybe I should not see disturbing family dramas) was "That Face" at City Center. A schoolgirl prank goes bad, and Mia goes back to her really dysfunctional family in London. The family is not only disturbing (booze, insanity, maybe incest), but unlikable. Get me away from these people! In the same theater I saw Lynn Redgrave wonderfully channel her maternal grandmother in "Nightingale." The actress performed seated due to an unexplained illness, and has since died.

Another best play Tony nominee was "Next Fall" which I saw at a recent Wednesday matinee. Normally I have to keep Wednesdays free for NYT work, but we were early that week. The play was about a very different (mainly, in their religious outlook) gay couple and what happens when one is in an accident and his parents (who don't know he's gay) and friends converge at the hospital. Much is told in flashbacks and it's intelligent and surprisingly humorous given the premise.

"Lend Me a Tenor" got some nominations, including the hysterical (as in funny) Jan Maxwell (beat out by ScarJo). Actually, the whole play was pretty hysterical with fast talking, mistaken identities and slamming doors. I was there opening night, but from high up in the balcony never saw the Olsen twins and other luminaries later seen in the Wireimage pictures.

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Still running (not me, the shows)

I don't think anyone's reading this blog for theater tips, but here are some shows I saw (not mentioned in previous postings) that are still running:

"Fuerza Bruta: Look Up" - This is more a happening than cohesive show. The audience gathers in a large room and for the next 65 minutes looks up as action goes on above them. Actors jump, crash through barriers, and even "swim" as techno music blares. The whole thing felt much too young and "NYU" (the show is nearby in Union Square) - or maybe I'm too old and Barnard. As we were herded to different parts of the room with no idea what was about to happen, it almost felt like we were in a concentration camp moving toward the showers. Maybe that's extreme, but the atmosphere was like a particularly icky disco. Not for me.

"The Common Air" - Alex Lyras plays multiple characters linked in plot to a delay at JFK airport. This is a one-man tour de force, and Lyras gives his all. However, I wasn't riveted by the story itself.

"South Pacific" - I didn't see the original (though I think I saw the movie), but do know the score. When the full orchestra emerged from the pit, I knew this Lincoln Center revival (scheduled to close in August after over 2 years) was going to be special. Though some of the ideas about prejudice seem outdated (she's shocked that he has interracial children?), the show still works perfectly and the cast (with no big names) was wonderful.

"In the Heights" - That's Washington Heights, Nueva York. The play immediately establishes a sense of this neighborhood and its mostly hispanic residents. Vibrant and worth seeing.

"Love, Loss and What I Wore" - The cast of 5 women dressed in black, sitting onstage reading vignettes about life and wardrobe, rotates monthly. My performance had Katie Finneran, Monique Fowler, Judy Gold, Melissa Joan Hart, and Karyn Quackenbush. No matter who's performing, there's something for every woman to relate to. And maybe for men, too.

"Banana Shpeel" (Cirque du Soleil) - The stage at the Beacon Theatre is much smaller than Madison Square Garden where I saw Cirque's "Wintuk" so the acrobatics weren't quite as dazzling (no death-defying skateboarding). Still, the contortionists, balancing acts, and jugglers had room to do their thing. The plot about impresario Schmelky was corny (though not as corny as the kid-friendly plot of "Wintuk"), and the clowns were a little weird, but it had its moments. Unfortunately, the sound was way too LOUD (in went the earplugs).
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Movies I haven't blogged about

"Letters to Juliet" - IFP members were invited to a screening organized by NYWIFT (NY Women in Film & Television). I adored this movie. The scenery was gorgeous, Vanessa Redgrave was fab, and I was a sucker for the whole romantic story. I was surprised that the reviews were eh (Rotten Tomatoes score was only 43%), but for me this was on a rom-com par with "Sleepless in Seattle."

I had heard of WIFT and thought of joining. I met the work requirements, but you also needed 2 current members' recommendations and I didn't know if I knew anyone (to search their membership list, you needed to be a member - catch 22). To RSVP to this movie, I ended up in their system as a "pending member" so figured I would look into joining again. The rules have changed, and you now need recs from people in the industry (not necessarily members), and I know lots. So I arranged with a few people to use their names and filled out the app. Someone called me and said how it was rare to see someone from the research end, and we talked about research ins and outs, and I was in. When I got access to the directory, sure enough, a former coworker is a member (and probably more people, but I was lazy and just searched on the name of our show).

"Agora" - Rachel Weisz is a mathematician/philosopher/astronomer and apparently the only woman in ancient Egypt (you barely see women even in crowd scenes), as Christianity takes hold over paganism. A lot of violence and nastiness happened in the name of religion. This was a MoMA Film Plus event, and afterward, Weisz was interviewed onstage by Alan Alda, who seems like a great guy. A Columbia astronomy prof happened to be in the audience to answer a question about a scientific issue in the film.

The above movies are still playing, and the rest are long gone:

"Alice in Wonderland" - also MoMA Film Plus, but at the DGA Theater. I've never even read the book, but have a general idea of the story. Visually stunning and I'm always happy to see Johnny Depp, but fantasy is not my favorite genre (I'm a nerd, but not THAT kind of nerd).

"The Young Victoria" (MoMA Film Plus) - Emily Blunt is the young, somewhat sheltered Victoria who meets Albert and prepares to rule England. I don't know much about British history, but this wasn't hard to follow.

"Invictus" (yet another MoMA Film Plus event) - As South Africa emerges from years of apartheid, its rugby team becomes a symbol of hope and unity. Morgan Freeman is a dynamite Nelson Mandela, but Matt Damon with a South African accent just sounded wrong. There was a LOT of rugby.

"Big Fish" - also at MoMA, part of the Tim Burton series. Unfortunately, I never got upstairs to see the art part of the exhibit. Albert Finney is a father who tells many outlandish stories, and his son wonders how much is true. Charming, as you'd expect from Burton. I ran into the T's there.

"Up in the Air" - also saw the T's at this SAG/WGA showing (thanks to neighbor J). They saw us on line waiting to get in, and we were chatting until the line police made them go to the back. Everyone did get in. Loved the movie, which really caught the impersonal airport/hotel feeling. George Clooney is so appealing I sympathized with his corporate downsizer over the people he was firing. Anna Kendrick's character was annoying, and why did her employers even consider her terrible idea to fire via video? Vera Farmiga's storyline was interesting, too.

"This Is It" - I was able to go to the NYC IMAX premiere. The emcee claimed it was the world IMAX premiere, but later research showed it screened elsewhere earlier. I sat in the top row. Since it was IMAX, the sound was booming, but not ridiculously loud. Michael Jackson was skinny, but did not look at all sickly. He came across not as a meek waif, but a consummate professional, fully in charge of the concert plans. The dancing was spectacular, the singing less so, but these were rehearsals not meant to be widely shown. I read that he might be lip syncing in the actual concerts, which would be disappointing. Here, he was definitely really singing at times (there were imperfections) and other times seemed to be dancing to a backup track (but these were rehearsals), so I'm not sure what was planned. I left feeling buoyed, and also sad at the loss of a great performer.

"Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall" - This was a TV documentary that screened at the Paley Center before airing on the History channel. It showed the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall (well, duh), and the many ways people tried to escape. There were some reenactments and CGI, but they didn't detract from the powerful story. A panel discussed the film afterward.

"Bach & Friends" - I don't think this well-made documentary on Bach is in general release, but there is a DVD. I was at the NY premiere at Symphony Space which was followed by a concert featuring people from the film (some big classical names). That's a LOT of Bach. I like Bach, but maybe it was a bit much. Especially poignant was John Bayless, who had a stroke since the film was made and now plays (brilliantly) with just the left hand.