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Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

CITY OF (DEAD) ANGELS

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

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June 26, 2009
The Hollywood freeway was bumper to bumper yesterday, putting the kibosh on our visiting the Queen Mary for an orgy of Deco on the (once) high seas. An alternative plan struck me as tour guide for my L.A. newbie companion: the equally Deco edifice of the Observatory in Griffith Park, like an impossibly sleek, inviting remnant of some ’30s ancient world epic such as ROMAN SCANDALS or the DeMille 1934 CLEOPATRA, as well as the futuristicly moderne THINGS TO COME.

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Griffith Park Observatory

A slight haze slightly obscured a perfect aerial view of the city, yet I marveled once more over how Los Angeles has somehow gotten its clean air act together from the ’70s, when the smog was so densely filthy and interfering that you couldn’t keep your contact lenses in your eyes. We were sitting in the cafe area, basking in the blazing 3 o’clock sun and enjoying the delightful breezes which have made for perfect cool summer weather this week. A group of four early-twenty-somethings sat down at the table next to us and I heard one of them say, “Wow, I guess Michael Jackson thought he would live forever…” There were subsequent murmurings “sad,” “what a surprise,” etc….which led me to lean over and ask, “Pardon me, but did you say that Michael Jackson died?” I was answered in the affirmative and then immediately became aware of how everyone sitting on that sunny cafe lookout was chatting or scribbling on phones about it. The heavy traffic on the freeway – more intense than usual for the pre-rush afternoon – I learned was caused by crazed throngs headed towards Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, UCLA Medical Center where the body was taken, or Hollywood Boulevard to publicly mourn in that singular, celeb-obsessed El Lay way.

Being on vacation is a funny thing – one is so busy creating one’s own divine memories that you’re thrown out of your normal routine of daily newspapers and TV and become out of touch, oblivious to real breaking news. This news, however, managed to infiltrate one’s consciousness with no real need of any media. Earlier, we had been happily oblivious all morning, as we tried to explore the footprints in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which turned out to be closed off for that evening’s premiere of, of all things, BRUNO (and what kind of camp damper for that event was the double-death news of Jackson and Farrah?) (UPDATE, ADDED JUNE 28, 2:30 AM: MORE THAN A DAMPER, actual lines from an interview with Latoya Jackson were excised from the print shown at the premiere – the studio scrambled to make these edits in the hours between the Jackson news announcement and red carpet arrivals).

The first sign of the event for many unknowing Angelenos was the swarms of news helicopters hovering over Westwood, specifically UCLA Medical Center, ghoulishly trying to grab a shot of the corpse being removed from the ambulance, like some eerie equivalent of those crows in Wagner’s GOTTERDAMMERUNG, flying up after the death of another legend, Siegfried.

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Driving pass the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard, part-owned by Johnny Depp, where River Phoenix died of an overdose one Halloween night, I noticed their sign, which read “Michael Jackson: R.I.P.” (UPDATE, ADDED JUNE 28, 2:35AM: AND NOW the L.A. radio stations have gone totally berserk, with a particularly noxious one endlessly repeating their initial announcement, “Michael Jackson is dead,” ad nauseum, between endless playings of his songs.)

Dinner conversation with friends that evening was dominated by the subject, as every other dinner in the world must have been.

I saw Jackson live once, in 1973, when he and his brothers came to Hawaii. My friends and I loved his music, although he was not considered high school hip enough, like Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” and the oeuvre of Elton John (before it all turned to mush), Leon Russell or Santana. My dementedly silly, insecure friends and I, equally guilty, threw sweaters over our heads at the Honolulu International Center arena where The Jackson 5 performed that night, so as not to be seen by anyone we knew at our (and subsequently Barak Obama’s) alma mater, Punahou School.

Michael appeared and did his amazingly adept 12-year-old stuff, with his no doubt slightly resentful but nevertheless grateful brethren backing him up manfully. He sang all of his (even then) considerable catalogue of hits: “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” “Ben,” “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and the treasurable “Got to Be There”. But, even as far back as 1973, with my imperious adolescent bullshit detector in overdrive, I was struck by the essential Vegas-y synthetic quality of performance, further marred by a cheap God-awful sound system. Jackson and his brothers were full of “I love you’s!” and “We love you, Honolulu!”, which had all the heartfelt sincerity of similarly rote declarations from his idol, Diana Ross, Queen of the Manufactured Emotion. (Remember how, during her performances of “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” she’d go into the audience for personal interaction, accompanied by a bodyguard, exhorting the crowd to “not get too close!”?) Throughout, Michael’s talent was not to be questioned, but the too-slick, perfunctory, wholly unspontaneous presentation of it certainly was.

I was reminded of this when news coverage of his death featured his final interview, announcing what was to be, “irrefutably,” his farewell tour. There were all the requisite “I love you’s” once more, delivered to faithful fans who’ve stuck by him through fame, failure, and facial work, but it all sadly felt like one last greedy shill. And wasn’t that the fascination of the conundrum he represented: a quivering hypersensitivity, which made you want to protect him, aligned with a Motown-induced, ubiquitous consciousness of the bottom line.

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Bettie Page, with Paula Klaw, of Movie Star News

I do remember the time he came into the film photo shop I worked at in the ’70s, MOVIE STAR NEWS, owned by the legendary Paula Klaw, who once tied up and took pictures of Bettie Page (and was played onscreen by Lili Taylor in THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE). He wore his then trademark Civil War cap and was accompanied by a humongous bodyguard, as he leafed through files of photos of child stars like Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney, et al. He had just come out with OFF THE WALL, which had upped his solo fierce factor no end with its driving dance rhythms, but he was, surprisingly then, to me, anything but a swaggering pop star. He was soft-spoken to the point of inaudibility but sweet, sweet, sweet, and I found this particular interest of his to be particularly endearing, like a searching for clues regarding his own singular existence. Even then, he also seemed terribly isolated, his only friend being that employee he was with. (Nothing like, say the pre-adolescent Tatum O’Neal, every inch the star and Oscar winner, whom I saw a few years earlier, shopping at Fred Segal, seriously appraising her designer-jeaned image in a threeway mirror, accompanied by nannies and a then very tiny toddler, Chastity Bono.)

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Lili Taylor as La Klaw in THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE

“Man in the Mirror” has already become Jackson’s official requiem, and it has been nice to hear this stirringly beautiful song again…so far, that is…before it starts to pall by its 2,000th replay. There will, of course, be monotonous playings of “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” and “Thriller,” but I hope two other, lesser-known but wonderful songs of his will be remembered, as well. “Heartbreak Hotel” prefigured the mega-selling “Thriller” album in its intriguing mix of dark desperation, and is my personal favorite of all his dance jams. (How DJ Larry Levan used to work that one at the legendary Paradise Garage, the only Jackson song I ever heard there.)

And then there was the matured elegaic loveliness of “Remember the Time,” the very hearing of which should force a tear from anyone’s eye.

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The all-star video of “Remember the Time”

UPDATE, added June 27, 5:10 PM: BUSINESS AS USUAL – just seen: a Venice Beach street performer dancing to “Billie Jean,” wearing the world’s ugliest imaginable Michael Jackson rubber mask, before a wildly applauding crowd.

UPDATE, added two hours later: AND IF THAT WASN’T BAD ENOUGH, at Trunks Bar on Santa Monica, THE most hapless ancient white queen – who evidently does celeb impersonations for some kind of a living – showed up in full, yet terrible, approximating Jackson drag (his famous glove was white and beaded, not silver and mylar) and proceeded to dance – not like Jackson, but the way old hippies used to writhe in front of Jefferson Airplane concerts – to whatever random music emanated from the jukebox. Only in L.A. could one get away with such clueless vulgarity; in NY he woulda been mincemeat in five seconds had he dared.

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As for the passing of that other ’70s icon, Farrah, all I can say is thank God we will be spared the nauseating sight of a “deeply caring,” weepy Ryan O’Neal cravenly using that poor woman to rehabilitate a career trashed by years of publicized drug and uncontrolled physical abuse. (“Her hair was real, and now it’s gone…”) A petite black female movie publicist once told me about the rage he once flew into when his limo was not immediately waiting for him outside a New York hotel: “The veins were popping out of his neck, steam was coming out of his ears and he looked at me with such hatred. All I could think was ‘Oh, PLEASE just try to hit me, once! I’ll sue your ass and be able to retire for the rest of my life!'”

PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

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COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

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CROWD PLEASER

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2009 at 6:47 pm

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Tichina Arnold, working it to utter filth, as Evilene

Those are the two best words to describe Encores! revival of THE WIZ, with Thomas Kail’s zippy, febrile direction and Andy Blankenbuehler’s spirited, street-flavored choreography propelling the show for a new generation of theatergoers. Factor in Paul Tazewell’s clever, often jaw-droppingly visual costumes and David Korins’ innovative, spare sets (with the best band stage I’ve seen since the one Tony Walton designed for the original production of CHICAGO) and you already have a recipe for success without even a mention of the cast.

One dissatisfied reviewer snarkily observed that you leave this show “humming the sets,” which is pure bullcrap, as Charlie Smalls’ songs have always impressed me as wondrously melodic and varied in their influences of jazz, funk, and pure Broadway. Musical director Alex Lacamoire was alert to their every nuance and his sensitive conducting, worlds aware from your basic Broadway pit blaring, was one of the loveliest jobs I have ever heard in musical theater. Ashanti, as Dorothy, may be no Judy Garland, histrionically, but she has a fluently powerful set of pipes to match, as well as a fetchingly demure stage presence (almost reminiscent of the young Ruby Keeler in her eagerness to please and jump right into the fun). She’s convincingly your basic not-quite-present adolescent in the initial scenes, and, surrounded by as many more experienced, true stage animals as she is here, she will doubtlessly get more at ease and into character as the run continues, gaining invaluable performing experience.

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Emerald City arrivals

Aside from Orlando Jones rather uninspired Wiz, there are no quibbles with the rest of the cast. Joshua Henry brought a sexy, James Brown edge to Tinman (usually the most thankless of Dorothy’s famous, antic trio of Oz companions), while James Monroe Iglehart had the perfect combination of swaggering bravado and affecting pathos as Lion. But it was Christian Dante White who singlehandedly possessed more charm than anyone else, providing his ever-floppy Scarecrow with an enchanting cluelessness as well as some killer dance moves. (If Dorothy had said anything akin to the movie line, “I think I’ll miss you most of all,” which always struck me as needlessly insensitive to poor Lion and Tinman, here, you would have totally believed her.)

Dawnn Lewis, sporting Tazewell’s splashy melange of Kinte cloth, was delightfully airheaded as Addaperle, that most hapless of witches. (Where has this talented gal been since A DIFFERENT WORLD?) Tichina Arnold had a campy field day – very wisely, I thought – channeling Bette Davis, with her bug eyes and enunciatory attitude, as Evilene. Kail staged her big number, “No Bad News” as a dressing up number to make RuPaul drool, and Arnold, first seen amusingly in her wig cap, worked it six ways from Sunday in her Mugler-esque drag. (Although I hope, by now, the production has given her at least a real puff of smoke to finally disappear into at her demise.) LaChanze was properly deglamourized as Auntie Em, but reappeared as Glinda, with sparkling charisma to rival Diana Ross – whom she so resembles, wafting her arms sensuously in Nerfertiti turban and clouds of sky blue chiffon.

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LaChanze, Ashanti, Dawnn Lewis and Tichina Arnold: the fierce ass Women of THE WIZ

I happily note the gratifying presence of four such strong female presences – such a vital part of this show – as well as its devastating, unprecented one-two punch of double eleven o’clock numbers. Glinda’s “If You Believe” and then Dorothy’s “Home” were delivered with such ferocious intensity by Mesdames La Chanze and Ashanti that the roof of City Center probably rose by an extra few feet, at least. The crowd – deliciously dotted with black children gotten up in their Emerald City finest by doting, equally fabulously turned out parents – went wild, as they say.

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LaChanze and Ashanti

Oh, and Toto (played by Cairn terrier Nigel, in his stage debut) was freakin’ adorable.

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Postscript:
I admit this was the first time I have actually seen the show, being more familiar with Sidney Lumet’s much maligned 1978 film version, set in a Recession-beset Manhattan, with the then sparkly new Word Trade Center standing in for the Emerald City. LaChanze told me she shares my affection for this fascinating mess of a film, which veered from the scarily dark and intense (with Lumet giving his urban all to the Poppy scene hookers, flying monkeys like leathery Hell’s Angels on Harleys, and an utterly repulsive Evilene ruling a sweat shop) to the tinselly sappy (Lena Horne singing Glinda’s song encased like a blue Christmas tree, surrounded by sickmakingly “adorable” babies) It was a megaflop which forever scuttled Diana Ross’ movie career – the hubris of her, at 34, lusting to play this most iconic of roles, which she did in a mesmerizingly wrong jittery, strung-out way – Dorothy in rehab – replete with bizarre, intense vocal inflections. The total feyness of the now sadly deceased Michael Jackson was here once and for all exposed with his peppily danced Scarecrow, who definitely seemed to be missing a pair, forget about a brain. And then there was the “surefire” casting of Richard Pryor as The Wiz, a total misfire, as he way overdid the quaking pathos.

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“I could STILL play Dorothy!”

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

“IT’S A SMALL WORLD” – SATAN’S THEME?

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 6:32 am

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Richard Sherman, Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews and Robert Sherman on the set of MARY POPPINS, 1964

For any lovingly indulgent parent who has suffered through the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland for the benefit of their avidly repetitive toddlers, a wave of recognition will sweep over them while watching THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS STORY. In it, several interviewees, including John Landis and Ben Stiller refer to the song as akin to the Anti-Christ, some demonic plot to infiltrate the mind and drive one mad. One brother even recalls the time the “boys” took their wives for an early test ride and the mechanism broke down, making it necessary for g them all to merrily sing those insidious lyrics for the delectation of the other passengers.

It will then come as a shock to discover in this film that the the tale of Shermans, Robert and Richard, the only permanent staff song writers at the Disney studio, who were rare intimates of old Walt himself (who liked to have them play for him in his office every Friday) and who suffused the world with cheery ditties for MARY POPPINS, CHITTY-CHITTY BANG BANG, THE JUNGLE BOOK, THE PARENT TRAP, et al., is one of lifelong enmity and darkness, right up to the present day. Even at the recent Broadway premiere of CHITTY-CHITTY BANG BANG they barely spoke a word to each other. This doc was made by their sons, Gregory and Jeffrey, as both a tribute and attempt at understanding, who, in the film, both recall their families not seeing each other for years, although they lived mere blocks apart in Los Angeles.

The Disney studios have poured a lot of time, energy and resources into this which is a very classy affair and extremely absorbing. It’s lavishly lacd with film slips – including Robert‘s personal favorite song from my largely forgotten childhood favorite SUMMER MAGIC, the lovely, mellow “On the Front Porch.” The creation of Disneyland is covered, with the Shermans’ songs for the various rides like “Pirates of the Caribbean” cited as essential to its fantastical appeal. As a kid in the 60s, you dreamed of going there, and every Sunday night was special for that music and splashy, sparkling image of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY on the tube. (I remember when color television first came to Hawaii, my 7-year-old self refused to believe that our black and white set wouldn’t somehow be magically transformed to emit every hue of the rainbow and I rushed my Dad through his dinner to dash home for it. Sadly, he, of course, turned out to be right: no magic happened, but it was nice of him to let me hope.) You also see the brothers acknowledging their songwriting papa, , who wrote forgotten hits for the likes of Bing Crosby and Eddie Cantor in the Tin Pan Alley era, and the establishment of their basic characters early on.

Robert was the more serious of the two, while Richard was a blithe sort, whose hail fellow-well-met, unfailing can-do attitude evidently seriously rankled his brother throughout his life. Robert’s experienc during WWII, as one of the first US troops to see the devastation at Dachau, naturally, did nothing to lighten him up. Another clue to their estrangement – which is tantalizingly never fully explained- is an observation made by Turner Classic Movie host, Robert Osborne, who says that Abbott and Costello told the Sherman brothers something Laurel and Hardy had once told them: “Never let your wives become too friendly.” In this tell-all age when people Candy and Tori Spelling just can’t seem to keep their mouths shut about each other, it is refreshing and, indeed, very moving, to see these two guys from another, more reticent era, simply say, “I can’t discuss that,” albeit with a palpable pain in their eyes and voices.

Hayley Mills, Dick Van Dyke and other important Disney stars are interviewed, basically backing up each other’s impressions of the brothers, with Robert emerging as this handsome, ultra-sophisticated artist-gentleman, while Richard was, to bring up another Disney character, more Goofy. Julie Andrews reminisces about MARY POPPINS, the Oscar-winning [for the song, “Chim Chim Cheree”) highlight of the Shermans’ careers, after which, one of they said “Every maitre d’ in town suddenly knew who we were.” “Feed the Birds” also has a special place in their hearts, and Walt Disney’s, too – it was his favorite song and he never tired of having them play it for him.

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

FEW VIRTUES HERE

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 6:02 am

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An over-parted Jessica Biel and a just-right Ben Barnes in EASY VIRTUE

Elegance and wit are key elements in the work of Noel Coward, so what the hell is Stephan Elliott doing writing and directing an adaptation of the Master’s EASY VIRTUE? Elliott’s previous films include THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT and the wholly over-the-top, migraine-inducing WELCOME TO WOOP WOOP. Let it be said that he does bring some flair to this project, largely through Martin Kenzie’s often strikingly inventive cinematography, but Elliott’s hand remains ever-heavy when it comes to farce, as well as the genteel sort of sentiment at which Coward was so adept. He’s laced his movie with period songs, some by Coward, others by Cole Porter, but tips his hand when he incorporates Jazz Age reinterpretations of more modern ditties like – yes – “Car Wash.” It’s that warped, tiresomely subversive notion of “outrageous fun,” also shared by fellow Aussie Baz Luhrmann,, that other hallucinatory Diaghilev.

Some quirk of casting has Jessica Biel playing Larita, the American upstart who marries into a stuffy Brit aristo family, complete with the kind of country seat we Yanks are meant to drool in unison over. She’s definitely blonde and brassy enough to be appalling to her new in-laws, the Whittakers, but she’s also direly lacking in the requisite high comedy skills. The Cowardian lines are not blithely tossed over a shoulder, but enunciated by her with torturous precision, especially one certain riposte, “I’d wring your neck if I could find it,” which actually was a real-life threat Coward once uttered to an obstreperous Claudette Colbert during a BLITHE SPIRIT rehearsal. (The unnecessary, jarring inclusion of this line, so maladroitly delivered, says just about everything about the lowness of Elliott’s basic taste level, as does his thwackingly unfunny emphasis on the death of unfortunate dog Larita happens to sit upon.)

As Larita’s adoringly feckless, pop tune-crooning young husband, John Whittaker, Ben Barnes brings the only fresh note to this affair. Kristen Scott Thomas here, and recently on Broadway in a maladroit THE SEAGULL, is rather resting on her histrionic laurels these days, and hammily shows nothing new in the too-easy-for-her role of his hideously snobbish mother. Colin Firth is also too easily typecast, although he is at least subdued, in his role of ineffectual, sad Dad suffering the after-effects of WWI and allowing wifey to run roughshod over him and his estate. Kimberley Nixon and Katherine Parkinson as John’s two sisters, under Elliott’s guidance, are unable to even approximate anything like glitteringlyamusing bitchery, resulting in two wholly unappetizing, indistinguishable screeching harpies.

Charlotte Walter’s costumes are lovely, although she has dressed in Biel in sleek Jean Harlow 1930s style, while the other ladies sport the more shapeless silhouettes landed gentry wore in the 1920s. I guess this is meant to underline Larita’s bracing modernism in this dying world of decaying privilege, but subtle it ain’t. To experience how this sort of thing can and should be done, get hold of Stephen Fry’s delicious, unsung Evelyn Waugh adaptation, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS, which proves that, even in these beknighted times, so lacking in sophisticated class, it can occasionally be brought off properly by the right people.

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Isabel Jeans as Larita in EASY VIRTUE (1928)

Talking of elegance and wit seems the right time to bring up an actress who starred in the 1928 Alfred Hitchcok version of EASY VIRTUE, Isabel Jeans (1891-1985). She trod the West End board for decades, the personification of glamorous elan. A special favorite of that supreme arbiter of all things soignée, Cecil Beaton, she was dressed by him on the stage and also in the role for which she is best remembered today, Aunt Alicia in GIGI (1958). The scene in which, as an aging, reclusive courtesan, she instructs the innocent Gigi in the subtleties of her trade, including lessons in cigar choosing, eating ortolans and jewel selection is the highlight of that film, a perfect illustration of the deft light comedy technique Jeans possessed in spades.

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in GIGI, with Leslie Caron: “With teeth like that, I could have devoured all of France, and half of Europe, too!”

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with Hermione Gingold, GIGI

She had a brief sojourn in Hollywood in the late ‘30s, at Warner Brothers, and put light comediennes like Claudette Colbert (in the charming, underrated TOVARICH, 1937) and Carole Lombard FOOLS FOR SCANDAL, 1938) on their mettle. In TOVARICH, she was entrancingly airheaded as a Parisian matron who becomes besotted by all things Russian, particularly her butler (Charles Boyer), as well as a pair of wolfhounds who replace her yapping Pekinese. In FOOLS FOR SCANDAL, she plays a manically gossipy friend of the heroine, who receives a witheringly funny putdown from Lombard: “Do get some rest, dear. You look SO tired!”

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with matinee idol, Ivor Novello, of whom Noel Coward once said, “The two most beautiful things in the world are Ivor’s profile and my mind.”

Hitchcock was particularly fond of her, casting her in DOWNHILL (1927), as well as SUSPICION (1941). She crowned her stage career with a definitive Lady Bracknell in the 1968 revival of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, which had a nine-month ssold-out run, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, with Pauline Collins, Daniel Massey, Helen Weir, Robert Eddison and Dame Flora Robson.

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Her brother was actor/boxer Desmond Jeans and her sister was Ursula Jeans, who delightfully sand “Twentieth Century Blues” in the 1933 film of Coward’s CAVALCADE, and who married my current favrotie actor, the enytrancingly voiced Roger Livesy.

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Sister Ursula

Jeans’ private life was at times stormy. She was the first of the six wives of Claude Rains, who separated from her three times from 1913-15, finally filing for divorce when she miscarried the baby of actor Gilbert Wakefield (whom she subsequently married), during an adulterous affair.

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Claude Rains

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COPYRIGHT:davidnoh2009

MARIAH CAREY, HASH-SLINGER SINGER

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 5:24 am

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Adam Rothenberg, Ethan Peck and Mariah Carey, who shines, in TENNESSEE

In Aaron Woodley TENNESSEE, Mariah Carey presents herself as a decidedly real, as opposed to reel, person. She’s put on some pounds and looks and seems absolutely okay with it in the role of Krystal, a Texas coffee shop waitress with aspiring musical ambitions,, stuck in a dead end job and an abusive marriage to a macho jerk of a policeman Ellis (Lance Reddick). When she encounters Ellis (Ethan Peck), who is dying of leukemia and travelling with his adored, but troubled older brother Carter (Adam Rothenberg) to Tennessee to see their alcoholic, abusive, estranged father who may be able to provide them with some necessary bone marrow, she takes pity on their sorry, cash-strapped fates and blows town with them to seek her fortune in Nashville.

Peck and Rothenberg are both okay – attractive guys ready to give their all to the lost, sensitive souls they’re called upon to portray here. Unfortunately, Russell Schaumburg’s script is a sentimental morass of clichés, and Carey brings the only real spark to the material, with her down-to-earth, bittersweet cynicism. This, at least, is not the glossy, laughably trashy campfest that marked her film debut, GLITTER – which will assume roughly the same place in her career that MAHOGANY has in Diana Ross’. She’s probably never slung hash in a greasy spoon in her entire life, but you believe she could have. As the story unfolds, and the chase is on, with Ellis in enraged pursuit of his AWOL wife, Carey builds up such pure and resolute audience empathy that you find yourself rooting for her as surely as anyone did for Lillian Gish when she was imperilled in her D.W. Griffith glory days. It’s just a shame that the one song she has “written” and is given to sing is a lackluster, country affair. It’s pretty enough, but too bland, giving her no chance to set those uncanny pipes of her soaring into the stratosphere. All told, it’s rather fascinating to see her, so subdued, and, although playing a key role, not grandstanding as the big star all over the place, which is rare, indeed, for any diva.

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

COPPOLA’S CREATIVE CHASM

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2009 at 4:57 am

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Alden Ehrenreich, the best reason to see TETRO, with Maribel Verdu and Vincent Gallo, , the worst reason to see it

TETRO

It’s been thirty years since Francis Ford Coppola last wrote an original screenplay and it certainly shows. In this Cain and Abel tale of two fractious brothers, Tetro (Vincent Gallo) and Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), set in Buenos Aires, everything which happens occurs at a certain remove from actual life. The fraternal conflict seems an empty, writerly conceit as does the backstory of the men’s abusive, scar-inducing conductor father (Klaus Maria Brandauer) who, himself, was ever at war with his own more successful brother (also played by Brandauer, a stale idea which doesn’t help matters).

Coppola has set the film in the Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires to which the impossible, willfully alienated writer Tetro has repaired with an attractive but unbelievably understanding doormat of a girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu), but even this rings false, at least from this writer’s own personal experience of this specific nabe. Although celebrated as one of those heart and soul areas of the city because of its deep connection to the country’s fanatical soccer culture, I found it a scarily raffish tourist hellhole, where one couldn’t enjoy an outdoor café without being constantly bothered by beggars and worse types. In TETRO, these same cafes are presented to be as idyllic as anything in Tuscany or the Cote D’Azur.

A major, seriously off-putting problem here is the casting of Vincent Gallo. The apperal of this self-declared Renaissance Man – actor/writer/designer/musician/etc./etc. – has always eluded me. His self written/directed/starring film, THE BROWN BUNNY, was an unwatchable, stultifying mess, culminating in that infamous scene in which – ever the Svengali with all-too susceptible nubiles – Gallo had poor Chloe Sevigny performing fellatio on him. (It was said afterwards that a penile prosthesis was used, which only revealed that even his shock value, like his vaunted talents, was bogus. Gallo possesses the glum look of a Biblical prophet which some may find attractive in a post-cool Byronic way, but his nasal whine of a voice and oh-so predictable neuroticism in his every film appearance merely repels far more than it attracts. (You really have to take the supposed brilliance of his Tetro purely on faith.) Sure, James Dean made a career out of being young, beautiful and misunderstood, but he had a real, innate charisma, brought inventiveness to Method acting and, cannily, died young and an instant legend.

American films have become so stupid, shallow and commercial that I’d hoped, with TETRO, Coppola, would resume the seigneurial mastery of the medium, which began to elude him after APOCALYPSE NOW, and, once more, make something akin to art. Mihai Malaimare’s poetically evocative black and white photography is TETRO’s only artful element, unfortunately, for the storyline is stale, laced with eccentric characters like a theatrical diva named “Alone,” played by Carmen Maura, who seems to have wandered in off a very lesser Almodovar project. (We know we’re in creatively impoverished terrain when a director resorts to campy cabaret sequences featuring “outrageous” cross-dressing performers plying absurdity as obvious padding to a thin exposition.) Baby-faced Ehrenreich has a natural, winning boyish appeal – like the very young DiCaprio, and does bring a modicum of freshness to the proceedings but Coppola, like daughter Sofia in LOST IN TRANSLATION, really needed to get out of himself and the rather privileged, claustrophobically arty cage he’s created in a fascinating new country – just as she did with Tokyo, although she never really got out of that 5-star hotel – and make a movie about real people dealing with real issues which would fully engage the viewer. Maybe he should just get out of that ivory tower of a California vineyard of his and really mix it up again with the hoi polloi to get some real human feeling going again.

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2009

FAN EXTRAORDINAIRE

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2009 at 4:25 pm

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There are fans, and then there are fans, but there were few who could match the late Scott Schechter, who really put his money, as well as heart, soul and full energy, where his mouth was, in his all-abiding devotion to Liza Minnelli, and her Mom, Judy Garland. Schecter’s book, THE LIZA MINNELLI SCRAPBOOK, is the definitive work about the star, and he was instrumental in many re-releases of Liza and Judy’s work. At the time of his death, he was spearheading the upcoming release of the CD, JUDY AND LIZA LIVE AT THE PALLADIUM.

Scott died of a sudden heart attack on May 15, a sad and shocking reminder of just how tragically short and unfair life can be, but, he won’t be forgotten by all who found such pleasure and enlightenment through his work, and he will doubtlessly be discovered, as well, by generations of future young Liza-Judy worshippers who will find his efforts absolutely indispensable.

Scott was anything but the weird, obsessive fan/collector/stalker, always overwhelmingly generous and gracious. I’ll always remember his excitement when I interviewed him with Billy Stritch on the occasion of THE LIZA MINNELLI SCRAPBOOK release, at a publication party held in the beautiful home of Liza impersonator (and my former Stella Adler classmate), Rick Skye. With the cloche hat Rosalind Russell wore in GYPSY “watching” over us, he was just as enthusiastic and inspired by the star as he must have been when he saw her for the very first time, as a child.

Liza Minnelli wrote the following:

Hi Everybody,

It’s me, Liza May Minnelli. I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear that my dear friend, Scott Schechter, had passed away. I was in Paris recording a song with my mentor, Charles Aznavour, for a DVD/CD compilation for charity when I heard about Scott ‘s passing. Ironically, the last time I saw Scott was just a few weeks ago at the Bistro Awards in New York City at which both Charles and myself were being honored. Scott had a great time that night and I am proud that I was able to contribute to his happiness in some small way.

Over the years, Scott has been instrumental in keeping my music and performances current, relevant and accessable to my fans. Scott was my self-proclaimed biggest fan and he proved it time and time again in the tireless dedication and care he brought to my website and in the preservation of my work. I could always count on seeing Scott whenever I performed in New York. His presence always brought me great comfort and joy.

Scott will be truly missed. Because of the suddenness of his passing, it is still very difficult for me to fully comprehend and my heart goes out to Scott’s friends and family. Scott was a kind and gentle man and was well loved by everyone who knew him, including me. I will miss him dearly. I was recently asked for my thoughts regarding the passing of Beatrice Arthur, and I replied that heaven just got happier–sadly for us, it is even more so now.

With fond memories of Scott,

Liza
——————-

The below link details Scott’s many Judy/Liza projects and includes his bio.

http://www.thejudyroom.com/newsletter/scottschechter.html

A celebration of his life will be held on:

Saturday, June 13 – 1PM
The Wonder Bar
1213 Ocean Ave
Asbury Park, NJ
732-502-8886
——————
THE LEGACY OF SCOTT SCHECHTER (1961-2009)

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GARLANDS FOR JUDY, Scott’s beautiful magazine was published four times a year, keeping the legend alive for devoted subscribers.

MORE TONY NOMINEE COVERAGE, JULIE HALSTON’S CABARET, YOUSEF CHAHINE

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2009 at 5:19 am

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Hayden Gwynne and David Alvarez in BILLY ELLIOT

READ ALL ABOUT ‘EM IN MY COLUMN ‘IN THE NOH’ IN GAY CITY NEWS

http://www.gaycitynews.com/site/index.cfm?newsid=20322363&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=8

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Chita Rivera, Arthur Laurents and Karen Olivo – opening night of the WEST SIDE STORY revival

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David Bologna, Tony nominee for BILLY ELLIOT and Katrina survivor

THE TONYS – A RUNDOWN

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm

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Karen Olivo, most deserving winner of the night, for WEST SIDE STORY (Reuters)

The Liza Minnelli Show, oops, I mean the Tony Awards show this year proved to be quite entertaining. Actually, it was a lot more diverting than the Broadway season itself, which, despite all the ballyhoo about it being so exciting (i.e., profitable), consisted largely of shows which I found excruciatingly dull, obnoxious or some combination of the two.

The Tonys started off well with the three young Billy Elliots choreographically spinning their chairs, seguEing into into the gangs from WEST SIDE STORY and the underrated GUYS AND DOLLS (one of the few shows on Broadway I’d gladly see again). This felicity was then intruded upon by the crew from the abysmal ROCK OF AGES, whose presence among the Tony-nominated Best Musicals completely called into question the exact worth of the awards, themselves. SHREK, with its totally noxious pandering to the lowest common inappropriate denominator of snarky “family entertainment,” full of immediately dated topical references, fart jokes, et al., was another honored bummer. Where was TITLE OF SHOW, undoubtedly the cleverest Broadway musical of the season, or 13, a winsome, winningly authentic teen musical, with one of the best set changes in Broadway history: when the adolescent hero, used to the roiling kaleidoscope of Manhattan life, finds himself suddenly plunked into the spacious, unpopulated desolation of the Midwest? I’ll tell you where these shows went – into the oblivion of any production with the bad luck to have opened and closed earlier in the season. The Tonys hate an “old show” almost as much as a box office failure, artistic merit be damned. Later in the evening, the shamefully non-nominated Frank Langella, who gave his greatest performance to date, completely humanizing the windy pieties of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, wryly pointed these facts out while brandishing a “For your consideration” ad his producers had unsuccessfully run.

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Herewith, are my impressions of the show, in order of occurrence.

A rather frowzy looking Stockard Channing from the dreary revival PAL JOEY (one more reason why Graciela Daniele should retire, following her uninspired work on Chita Rivera’s A DANCER’S LIFE), made an unlikely appearance during that opening musical montage, trying to sing “Bewitched” with no voice. In her Bob Mackie-looking gown, she rather represented everything the so-called “new audience” the Tonys are so desperately eager to attract fear and loathe about musicals.

Not helping matters, really, was Liza, in the first of several appearances, struggling through “The World Goes Round,” inserting a lot of Vegas-y “yeah-yeahs!” and such in lieu of notes she couldn’t sustain. I’d love to do a makeover on her, starting with lowering everything she sings to a lower range more comfortable with her present register and proceeding to a new wardrobe. That black sequined top has become very familiar from her numerous recent NY public appearances, like the Astaire Awards a week ago.

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Liza Minnelli, at the tryouts for BATWOMAN – THE MUSICAL

The Internet sharks had their fangs bared in readiness over Neil Patrick Harris’ presumed disaster as the evening’s host, but he was charming and adept, reminding me of how Bob Hope guided all those years of Oscar telecasts, with a fetching light touch that didn’t need to rely on overblown production numbers or torturously elaborate sight gags.

Was there any particlar reason for the orchestra to play “Someone to Watch Over Me” as Jane Fonda’s entrance music to present Best Featured Actor in a Play? A reference to daddy Hank, in heaven, perhaps? It was great to hear winner Roger Robinson (for JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE, an overrated play by the abysmally overrated August Wilson) thank the late, great important actress Diana Sands in his touching speech. (Catch my GAY CITY NEWS interview with Robinson’s fellow nominee, John Glover, who talks about the revolting, running mucus which somehow got him the nod for WAITING FOR GODOT. Stella Adler always said, “Your talent lies in your choice”; in this case, it was his nose.)

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Mr. and Mrs. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini (really terrific in, and the best reason to see, GOD OF CARNAGE, especially for that one brilliant moment when, utterly broken, he suddenly peeks through one face-hiding hand with piquant sexual interest at Hope Davis, who has just given him a friendly caress) looked profoundly bored sitting in the audience, with his lovely Asian wife, former model, Deborah Lin.

ANGELA

Angela Lansbury won Best Featured Actress in a Play, a case of sentiment and star power more than anything else. Like everyone else, I truly adore this actress (as I do Liza, really), who managed to gleam with such versatility in films starting with her Oscar-nominated 17-year-old debut in GASLIGHT, followed by THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, NATIONAL VELVET, STATE OF THE UNION, THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT and her utterly genius THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE as possibly the greatest villainess in screen history. This is not even to mention all her fine stage work of the past, but her BLITHE SPIRIT performance was to me a mere retread of her wacky, more effective turn in DEATH ON THE NILE. It was too cutes-y by half and I have to confess a momentary scary moment when, seeing her unconscious on the sofa, I couldn’t help thinking, “Please, God, don t let her be dead – or asleep.”

Lansbury seemed genuinely surprised, saying, “Who knew?” Well, everyone in the audience, as all this actress has to do is show up – as she did for Terrence McNally’s DEUCE (where she had line memory trouble) – to be nominated if not win. Broadway seems to live in constant fear that MURDER, SHE WROTE will be revived, sweeping Angie back to the Left Coast.

In lieu of “unnecessary” presentations, like Best Book of a Musical, Choreography and all the technical awards, the first of several questionable numbers from touring companies of past musicals had MAMMA MIA’s cast belting “Dancing Queen,” the most ubiquitously obnoxious song e’er written, and whoever that actress was in the terrifying red jumpsuit I once teased Judy Kaye about wearing, well, she was truly terrifying-looking.

Tepid applause followed this, as it did all the bus and truck numbers to follow. With the exception of JERSEY BOYS, the singing in all of them was noticeably flat (what WAS that note they all hit at the end of LEGALLY BLONDE?). As for JERSEY BOYS, when all the various Frankie Valli’s joined their honeyed nasal imitations of Valli’s voice together, all I could think of was Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Brevity is the soul of wit, a fact proved by Will Ferell’s appearance, in which this always too over-the-top comedian (from Robin Williams College) made me laugh for perhaps the first time ever, preening over the “grueling” 36 performances he’d struggled through in THANK YOU AMERICA.

It was downright mean to show Dolly Parton right after she lost Best Original Score for 9 TO 5 to NEXT TO NORMAL. (I mean it was Elton John’s reaction to losing for BILLY ELLIOT we really wanted to see, right?) Parton, I think, could have used a collaborator to help shape her tunes into more dynamic, show-worthy stuff, and 9 to 5 was, admittedly, a disappointment. It should have been a no-brainer fun theatrical time, but it stayed too slavishly close to the original movie (as if it was LA GRANDE ILLUSION, or something) and the book sorely could have used some sassy updating along with more real period ’70s flavor. Joe Mantello’s direction lacked spunky originality and, somehow, a real love of the material, and none of the talented cast were really able to shine.

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Did she really care that she lost the Tony?

As treacly and obvious as I found John’s BILLY ELLIOT music (as I do everything he’s written since the ‘70s), at least it was real music, as opposed to NEXT TO NORMAL’s migraine inducers with catchy lyrics like

“Do you wake up in the morning and need help to lift your head?
Do you read obituaries and feel jealous of the dead?
It’s like living on a cliffside not knowing when you’ll dive.
Do you know, do you know what it’s like to die alive?”

Draws you right in, doesn’t it?

The ensuing excerpt from WEST SIDE STORY had all the electricity anyone could want, with Karen Olivo’s Anita absolutely on fire in the gym dance and Bernstein’s music like manna from heaven after everything which had preceded it out of the orchestra pit. Nerves must have caused Josefina Scaglione – the best Maria imaginable – to crack on her high note in her duet, but Matt Cavenaugh sang with melting gorgeousness.

Presenter Susan Sarandon looked terrific in her Madame X gown and fierce vintage bracelets, proving that she, unlike Jessica Lange, who came on later, can still do unforgiving bias cut satin.

Just askin’: Does that singer’s protracted singling out of Liza during the ROCK OF AGES number constitute elder abuse? Even she seemed a little loss for words in the spotlight, for once.

One nominee for Best Theatrical Event begged more questions: Doesn’t SLAVA’S SNOW SHOW run every year? Was this award created merely to bestow another Tony on Liza? SOUL OF SHAOLIN??? (Well, my civilian lawyer date at least enjoyed this hopelessly cornball, cheaply produced excuse for kung fu pyrotechnics.)

Liza won, of course, and it was rather a shock to see her, tall, bald and besuited running up the aisle to collect her award. No, wait, that was her producer, John Shear, whom the cameras caught immediately after the announcement.

I couldn’t help noticing that she got a more gracious nudge from the orchestra when her speech ran long: melting violins, instead of the brassy sound-obliterating noise which abruptly cut the NEXT TO NORMAL composers off short.

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Marcia Gay Harden in Herve Leger

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Hope Davis

Marcia Gay Harden – and no, we won’t tackily refer to her this time as Marcia’s Gay Hard-on, oops we just did – has great taste and was the most elegant woman there in her emerald Herve Leger gown and delicate chandelier earrings, but the unfortunate juxtaposition of her standing next to fellow presenter and Best Actress nominee Hope Davis in her too-youthful bouffant short skirt had a risible near-Laurel and Hardy effect. Or was it some talk show episode of “My Mom Dresses Like a Slut?”

The musical numbers suffered from myriad sound problems and it’s a tribute to Titus Burgess’ trouping skills that, after the mic caught him asking “Am I going on? I’m going on!,” he effortlessly sailed right into a blisteringly soulful reinvention of “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” culminating in Mary Testa’s hilarious Salvation Army booty-spanking (“I’m a bad, bad girl”) which should send ticket buyers hopefully rushing to GUYS AND DOLLS’ boxoffice.

More bad sartorial juxtaposition: the nepotistically advantaged pair of Kate Burton, in her matronly black mother-of-the-corpse gown, with Lucie Arnaz’s utterly wack MY FAIR LADY striped bow-bedecked column.

I was sorry to see Gregory Jbara, who I usually enjoy, win Featured Actor in a Musical for his overdone, bathetic turn, as Billy Elliot’s papa, over David Bologna’s delightful cross-dressing performance from the same show, and Will Swenson’s HAIR, in which he provides the fearless, sexy soul of the show. And how the hell is he considered a Featured Actor when he opens the show and is in so much of it, at least as much if not more than Gavin Creel, who got the Best Actor nom nod? Marc Kudisch was also up, for 9 TO 5, but so suffocatingly synthetic is that show’s entire concept and execution that even this theatrical treasure, who has singlehandedly saved more nights than I can recall, was smothered in the lastic morass.

Jbara’s dragging his wife up on stage to receive the award with him is something which I hope doesn’t start a trend, like thanking God.

I may be the only person who considered Best Featured Actress in a Musical to be the evening’s one really exciting category, as Karen Olivo, Hayden Gwynne who brilliantly provided Billy Elliot with some much-needed real vinegar, and the extraordinarily versatile Martha Plimpton who, in her scenes, lifted PAL JOEY into musical heaven, all equally deserved to win. (Plimpton, no doubt feeling the effects of the recent death of her uncle, David Carradine, mouthed “Hello Mom and Dad” to parents, actress Shelley Plimpton, who raised her as a single Mom, and Keith Carradine.) At the Astaire Awards last week, we were all lucky enough to see Plimpton joyously reprise her “Rainbow” number from PAL JOEY backed up by a Sapphic chorus line of cross-dressing femmes.

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Martha Plimpton

Olivo dressed with elegant understatement and gave an affecting speech – citing the angelic Scaglione and how “a lot of people said I couldn’t do this” (WHO? I want names: after her blazingly sexy appearance in IN THE HEIGHTS, this was a total no-brainer) – before she was completely overcome by emotion. What is there about the role of Anita which so slays any actress who wins an award for playing it? When Rita Moreno got the 1961 Oscar for the movie of WEST SIDE STORY, all she could say was the briefest, gob-smacked “Thank you,” surely the shortest speech in Academy history.

Then Carrie Fisher came out in her admittedly singular idea of formal attire (a friend said, “She’s studying to play Hope Emerson”) and made me laugh more than anyone else, introducing NEXT TO NORMAL’s number, with her self-referencing description of “a woman struggling with mental depression and the toll it takes on her family.”

The number ensued, in all of its screeching indulgence, reminding me of exactly why wild horses couldn’t have dragged me back to catch it on Broadway, despite whatever changes everyone assured me were wrought in the transfer.

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Jessica Lange

Jessica Lange, in the aforementioned unflattering satin gown, presented Best Actor in a Play which went, as everyone predicted, to Geoffrey Rush for EXIT THE KING, a play which merely proved that absurdist theater is largely for the birds. (How much booze did Ionesco and Beckett consumer before scribbling any old shit which got praised for its revolutionary quality back in the “well-made” play-dominated 1950s; in certain ways theater has aped the worse excesses of the art world’s conceptualism.) Rush’s final, quiet moments were indeed impressive and expressive of his actorly savvy, but what a lot of self-indulgent, unfunny mugging and excess one had to endure before that. Susan Sarandon and Lauren Ambrose cluelessly played their roles sans a single vestige of wit, while Andrea Martin did her familiar antic, hammy thing. The only freshness in the whole production came from Brian Hutchison who, as The Guard, invested his largely silent, mimed background performance with more creativity and charisma than all the braying and cavorting going on downstage.

Gandolfini, as mentioned, was the best thing about GOD OF CARNAGE, while Thomas Sadoski actually managed to humanize Neil LaBute’s hateful, tiresome REASONS TO BE PRETTY. God, I wish LaBute would get over being the ugly kid in school once and for all: his themes inevitably smack of unresolved adolescent issues, playground anger issues he forces audiences to endure.

Rush’s acceptance speech was a tad self-serving, and his translations of his competitors’ plays into French I don’t think helped take the sting out of losing for them, when a simple, graceful acknowledgment of them would have more than sufficed.

Hallie Foote! I adore you and think you deserved to win Featured Actress in a Play over Lansbury for your funny, acerbic work in your late ther, Horton Foote’s DIVIDING THE ESTATE (I have greedy aunts just like you in Hawaii). But please, let me take you shopping for your next Awards experience! You have a lovely figure and can do “serious actress” a lot more imaginatively.

Bebe Neuwirth introduced the Death Montage of all those the theater community has lost in the past year. Here, the Tonys stupidly aped the Oscar telecast by having showy camerawork totally obliterate the sequence. With all the tricky angles and neurotic movement,it was at times hard to make out who exactly was in the various photos projected onscreen and did we really need to see the orchestra and the choir bleating out a sappy version of “What I Did fo Love”?

During the announcement of Best Actress in a Play, Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer, both up for MARY STUART, were misidentified, a lapse graciously corrected by winner Marcia Gay Harden, whose GOD OF CARNAGE performance I would have enjoyed more had she not overdone the pouting six-year-old aspects of the character at moments.
MARY STUART was a grave disappointment for me, suffering from Phyllida Lloyd’s wrongheaded trendoid direction, replete with bad ideas, like having all the men in modern dress (they’re anonymous enough to begin with), the bare brick-walled stage to represent royal courts (who out there isn’t sick to fucking death of minimalism at $125 a seat?), the clichéd, clangorous sound effects to evoke “DRAMA,” all that fake rain which soaks Mary, unnecessarily underlining her martyrdom, while Elizabeth I stays dry and protected (oo, deep!). McTeer overacted throughout and I hated the shorn hair she wears from the first scenes, as if already preparing for execution. Walter, who somehow was given Frida Kahlo’s coiffure, gave the far superior, more nuanced performance, her Elizabeth somehow emerging as gentler, more ambivalent and less overweaningly dominating than Mary. John Benjamin Hickey was woefully lacking in magnetism as an unlikely Earl of Leicester, the object of both ladies’ affection.

A number from BILLY ELLIOT followed, which confirmed my feeling that the solo choreography by winner Peter Darling was hopelessly banal, filled with strenuous isolated movements jarringly paired with sudden flights of clichéd balletic lyricism. And then there was the wholly unnecessary, cheeseball device of having Billy fly with the use of an all-too visible harness. Much better were the exciting ensemble pieces, like “Solidarity,” Grandma’s reminiscence of the men in her life and all those vividly awkward girls in ballet school.

Presenter Gina Gershon’s Mickey Mouse hairdo was strange.

During Lifetime Achievement winner Jerry Herman’s tribute sequence, those clips of Angela Lansbury in MAME were mouthwatering, a tantalizing souvenir of a time when Broadway had real class and glamour, no special FX, grotesque cartoonishness or pandering to children or die-hard rock fans in a misguided effort to dumb down the genre for mass consumption.

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Kristin Chenoweth

Along with all of her other considerable talents, Kristin Chenoweth is the best-dressed actress in the theater – look her up if you don’t believe me. She never makes a wrong move and always does designer to perfection, whether on the red carpet or at a post-show Q & A.

The HAIR number suffered a bit, I thought, from the faulty sound, but it certainly was a crowd pleaser, with the cast working the audience six ways from Sunday. That interaction is a huge part of the show’s undeniable appeal – I got a fun hair muss from Gavin Creel at the performance I attended and he later told me that on critics’ night he unknowingly terrorized, of all, people, Times critic Ben Brantley. Some of the ‘60s spirit of generosity was lost on this one Bergdorf Blonde woman audience member at the performance I attended, who, instead of passing the flowers handed out by the cast to the rest of the people in her row, merely took the whole bunch and stuck them into her designer purse.

I found the male actors in the cast far more effective that night than the women. Caissie Levy as Sheila, lacked an essential innocence, belting out her numbers with a self-conscious, self-serving fervor I felt more appropriate to AMERICAN IDOL than the peace and love generation. The Tribe, however, provides believably youthful energy – their pure joy onstage is irresistibly contagious, as it was on Tony night. You had to love tousle-haired Public Theater producer Oskar Eustis citing Marriage Equality in his acceptance speech for Best Musical Revival, juxtaposed against the totally open emotions running across the face of Tribe member Anthony Hollock, who really epitomizes the spirit of this revival. (Hollock was the recent winner of the Mr. Broadway title at the Broadway Beauty Pageant for his incredibly original presentation. His hilarious choice: Irene Cara in FAME, complete with stick on black bangs, warbling “Out Here on My Own,” followed by that humiliating scene in which she/he is made to remove her/his top by an insensitive, rapacious photographer (played by Seth Rudetsky). Side-splitting!)

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Mr. Broadway: Anthony Hollock, who paid tribute to

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Irene Cara in FAME

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(PHOTO BY PETER FOLEY)

I think the Billy Elliot boys should have been given a special award rather than been nominated for a single. They are, after all, three different actors who do give different performances, albeit in the same role. Kiril Kulish, for example, is a demonically good dancer, but a stiff actor, while Trent Kowalik completely outshone him in the dramatic moments. (And, for consistency’s sake if nothing more, why wasn’t Frank Dolce, who adorably alternates in the role of Michael, also nominated for Featured Actor along with David Bologna?) The boys also don’t put in that full eight performances a week schedule which grown-up actors have to give.

That said, their win certainly made for great TV, and their genuine shock and awe at their moment of triumph was especially moving. I predict a huge enrollment in dance school among little boys, not seen since maybe that moment of Baryshnikov’s film, THE TURNING POINT back in 1977

GOD OF CARNAGE won best play and the whole crew and cast trouped onstage to accept. Playwright Yasmina Reza thanked everyone profusely and you could never tell that there had ever been a problem with her criticizing that the cast was “too American,” her objections only ending when, as a cast member put it, she happily went back to Paris. The play is an undeniable audience pleaser and actor’s field day with a great initial premise. However, it degenerates into sub-sitcom obviousness, with poor, nauseous Hope Davis having to vomit repeatedly onstage while you think “Anyone in her situation would just stay in the damned bathroom,” and everything devolving into sandbox tantrums. Director Matthew Warchus’ decision to have the actors stop at regular intervals to strike silent tableaux of hopelessness and dejection also has the subtlety of a hatchet.

The doubly nominated Warchus won Best Director of a Play not for this, but for the unbearable, unfunny, protracted NORMAN CONQUESTS, this year’s winner for the COAST OF UTOPIA Audience Torture prize. And, as with that play, the NORMAN audiences, abject Anglophiles all, roar with laughter at the slightest prompting to prove just how with it they are, in terms of Brit wit, even for a thing like this written in 1973 by Alan Ayckbourn, a playwright – the Neil Simon of the UK – I have suffered through previously and will avoid in future like the plague. Most of the actors did what they could with the shallow, obnoxious characters they were required to play, but Jessica Hynes, nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play, gave the year’s single most gratingly annoying performance, filled with twitches and mannerisms, her hand always fiddling around her mouth, indicating, indicating, indicating in a way to make Strasberg spin in his grave.

Alice Ripley seemed to bear more than a passing resemblance to her NEXT TO NORMAL Tony-winning character in her Best Actress in a Musical aceptance speech, shrieking those inspirational JFK lines she found at the Kennedy Center, and this award was, I think, also sentimentally given to her for her long up-and-down career. I would have preferred the more quiet yet intensely believable power of Scaglione in WEST SIDE STORY, but here you have the difference between simply being the character, and, like Ripley, giving one of those Gena Rowlands WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE virtuoso, look at me-damn you! performances. It would have been a more interesting race had the Tonys seen fit to nominate Lauren Graham, who was able to make the hoary role of Miss Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS completely her own, touching and funny with killer, slightly delayed comic timing. Surely she was superior to Allison Janney in 9 TO 5, who cannot sing and offered few surprises, acting-wise. I would have gone with Megan HIlty from that show, instead, who actually managed to fill formidable Dolly Parton’s bra – oops, shoes – with a sweetness and impressive set of pipes all her own. Surely, both Graham and Hilty were superior to Sutton Foster’s shallow, campy SHREK turn – she’s become the new Angela Lansbury, nominated for everything she does, regardless.

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Lauren Graham with the beautifully dressed Piper Perabo

I was relieved to see David Furnish sitting with husband Elton John in the audience, as there had been someone else in his seat earlier in the telecast. I want them to stay together and keep shopping, especially, because at that huge fire sale of all their cast-offs at Radio City a few years ago, I replenished my wardrobe for the next decade with Furnish’s Chalayan, Yohji, Miyake and Versace – we wear the identical size in everything!

The Liza – I mean Tony – Show came to an end with BILLY ELLIOT’s win as Best Musical, presented by Minnelli who made sure she was all over the Radio City stage, where her daddy, Vincente, once designed the holiday extravaganzas which brought him to Hollywood. Elton mentioned the NEXT TO NORMAL composers, exhorting them to be loyal and true to each other. The name “Bernie Taupin” irresistibly flashed across my mind.

Doogie Houser finally got a chance to charmingly sing at the very end, a clever song which must have been whipped up fast backstage, as its lyrics managed to take in all the evening’s highlights while mentioning all of its inescapable, myriad gay aspects.

Final mystery: who were those two bored kids sprawled in the front row? What a waste of precious real estate!

Copyright: davidnoh2009