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TURNER DOES TOWN HALL

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2021 at 10:08 pm

Just as I knew she would after seeing her slay at the Cafe Carlyle, in her new show entitled Finding My Voice, Kathleen Turner gave a triumphant one woman display of showmanship, a true performer’s instinct, formidable smarts, desert dry wit and liberal political outspokenness, at Town Hall tonight. She is formidably versed in popular music of the past century and her song selection was pristine: I’d rather be sailing, Any place I hang my hat is home, Moonshine Lullaby, On the street where you live (for her now-grown daughter, as a baby), her unofficial theme song, It’s only a paper moon, and one I once swore I could never hear again, but since Sondheim’s death have fallen in love with again, whensung by soeone who has earned the right, Send in the Clowns.

Musically, her voice – at best – may possess the range of half an octave But her sense of pitch is nonetheless unerring and she used it with a good actor’s masterly skill and knowledge of its limitations and capabilities, so its effect was not only powerful but quite supple in sensitively conveying a multitudinous range of emotion. She was helped, most rewardingly, by her impeccable choice of songs and a spiffy trio of piano, bass and guitar with an orchestral resonance to it. Produced by Ken Davenport, this is a rich full experience, an education in what it means to survive in a tough, crazy and unpredictable world, as a woman, a mother, an actress, a victim of cripplingly painful arthritis, and a staunchly liberal political activist.

About that last, lest you should worry, she has cannily gauged the amount of mordant and, these days especially, very necessary, sage observation she can get away with, and does it with a blithe, never oppressively angry, approach. “I still remain an optimist,” she assured us, but “to interfere with a woman’s right to choose, who the fuck do they think they are?” I was glad that she reminded us that Town Hall has long been a haven for individual voices speaking truth to power: “Margaret Sanger spoke here.”


Make no bones about it, she is and remains a star, witnessed by a packed house of adorers – NYC always loves a true diva – and in what she sings and says represents the very best kind of cabaret, informed by a rich, fully lived life, perfect comic timing and stunning communication skills.My favorite moment was when she described being in the West End of London for The Graduate. She dispatched the loneliness of being an unmoored American in Blighty with the always welcome A Foggy Day, and then went on to describe how she solved that problem. Her stage door area was corralled by police barriers to keep her after show fans at bay but she couldn’t help but notice how ‘the Queen’, Dame Maggie Smith, just simply walked out her stage door after her performance to head home, no fuss no muss.


One night she received a note from Dame Maggie, “Mayn’t I please borrow a barrier?” That was all it took for Turner to run next door, note in hand, which resulted in regular, hilarity-filled Thursday night dinners for this essential pair. Between the two of them, they must know everyone in the profession for the last 100 years, practically, and oh to have been a fly on that wall!

One Radiantly Imperishable Folkie

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2021 at 4:03 am

The great Judy Collins is performing at Town Hall this Friday night- if you have never seen her live, that should be on your bucket list, so GO. Her voice is as thrillingly silvery-clarion as ever, and her survivalist, outspoken spirit inspiringly undiminished. At her gigs, the talk is always just as richly rewarding the music.

That instantly riveting, sweetly melodic voice of hers should be credited with first drawing attention to the music of Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now) and Leonard Cohen (Suzanne), and helping Stephen Sondheim become known to the mainstream with her haunting rendition of Send in the Clowns. Everyone but the notoriously redoubtable Mitchell was grateful. Collins was not invited to be part of the all-star cast who celebrated Mitchell’s 75th birthday in 2018 and, as Collins later remarked:

“Joni has nothing nice to say about anyone,” Collins said, sotto voce. “I’m never on her invitation list. I made her a star, yet Both Sides Now makes her mad as hell. It’s always shocking with Joni. She has crafted her life to make people mad and insult them. I’ve put in a lot of hours making phone calls, sending her notes, flowers. And I’m so in awe of her writing that I don’t care!”

No one admires Mitchell more than me, but it is apparent that she is not the easiest person in the world. My cousin and high school bff, film producer Bonni Lee and I would listen to her albums endlessly, but when Bonni finally met her in L.A., she said she was a major disappointment, drinking heavily and completely self-involved.

Anyway, here’s the much more easy to deal with Collins in an interview I did with her a few years ago:

from Gay City News, Nov. 19, 2016

COLLINS, IN ALL HER CANDOR

BY David Noh

As reassuring, endlessly rewarding, and lovely a New York presence as the Statue of Liberty herself — whom she somewhat resembles today in her classic profile — Judy Collins is returning to the Café Carlyle to bewitch us with her ever-uncanny voice, which seems to possess all the vast plains and mountains of this great, if crumbling country of ours.

Her new show will feature a bold first step for her that she described in an interview with Gay City News.

“Of course I sing some of my hits and some from my new CD, ‘Silver Skies Blue,’ my new CD I did with Ari Hest, who will be performing with me. Ari and I have written all the songs together. It’s very exciting, a first for me. I have written songs in the past but never a whole album, a big step. I met Ari a few years ago, and he wrote the lead song for my duets album I recorded with Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Jeff Bridges, and Jimmy Buffet. We decided to work together and spent a year writing songs, and here we are. You know, I have to keep myself excited and interested, and these are great songs, all important.

Judy Blue Eyes’ timeless talent and her vision of what keeps us around

“Ari really impresses me. I wouldn’t have done this work without him. He’s a career musician and wonderful singer, been around for about 15 years. He had a contract with Columbia and did a couple of albums for Sony. I’m very picky and wouldn’t go near someone if I didn’t think they were cooking on all burners. I just think he’s dazzling and his work is first-class.”

I told Collins that, for me growing up, her voice was a beautiful, inescapable presence in my life and, miraculously, its silvery, crystalline timbre and elemental force seem unchanged decades later. Collins laughingly replied, “Well, it’s good luck, good health, a lot of good training, and, I think, just in general a fortunate combination of a number of things. I was a classical pianist, playing Mozart, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff as a young person before I found folk music. Then, when I started singing in concerts and touring, I started to lose my voice. In 1965, I was lucky enough to find a great teacher named Les Margulies, a genius, whom I worked with for 32 years. He knew what he was doing — not a lot do — and I was lucky.”

If nothing else, Collins will always be known as the artist who gave Stephen Sondheim his first and only real pop hit, with her recording of “Send in the Clowns.”

“Yes! And I just made a new Sondheim special for PBS with orchestra, which will come out during the November-December pledge drive, as well as a record, with just piano, of 10 of those songs, coming out in February. I finally accomplished a dream I had for 25 years of doing that. I hope to do the same for these songs that I did for ‘Send in the Clowns,’ so people will hear them in a different way and make a huge difference in their lives.

“I had been nosy about Sondheim in 1973, when a friend brought me the cast album of ‘A Little Night Music.’ When I heard ‘Clowns,’ I just flipped out — ohmigod, I have to do this song! I was lucky because my record company, Elektra, was poised to do good work. I had certainly built my relationship with them, having huge hits with ‘Both Sides Now,’ ‘Some Day Soon,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ and ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes.’ They were poised, with the album I was working on, to make the best out of it and they certainly did. I was with Elektra for 25 years and then went back and recorded more, which I still do, and I still get a check from them every six months. Fifty-five years. Amazing! I still see Sondheim in town, and I’m always so glad to know him. He appreciates what I do, which is very nice. ”

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes” was memorably featured on the soundtrack of the film “The Subject Was Roses,” lending an extra layer to Patricia Neal’s poignant Oscar-nominated performance.

“Yeah, it’s a wonderful song, which Sandy Denny wrote, and I was lucky to find it when I did. The director, Ulu Grosbard, called me just after I recorded it in 1968. He said, ‘I’m making this movie, and I’m downstairs editing it, while my kids are upstairs, playing your album. I keep listening to the song “Albatross,” and it fits right into the scene where Patricia takes this bus ride out to Montauk and I’d like to use it. What else are you doing?’

“I told him about ‘Who Knows,’ and played it for him. He said, ‘I’d like to add a few things to it, make it more upbeat at the end,’ so we rerecorded it for him, which people usually don’t do, but we had a little time.”

The other songwriter inextricably linked with Collins is Joni Mitchell, whose “Both Sides Now,” was a seminal 1960s anthem.

“I was so lucky, because it was 1967 and, again, I was preparing an album. I had already discovered Leonard Cohen [with ‘Suzanne’] and helped to make him famous, for which he’s always been grateful and helpful. I had heard her name, and her song ‘The Circle Game,’ and one night, at 3 a.m., I got a call from my friend, Al Kooper. He put Joni on the phone and made her sing ‘Both Sides Now,’ and I said, ‘I’ll be right over,’ and that’s how that happened. She’s a wonderful artist, and what a writer!”

As if the ageless beauty of her voice weren’t enough, Collins is even more physically striking today than in her youth, with a superb personal style sense, not to mention her gorgeous mane of silver hair and laser-blue eagle eyes.

“You have to keep it simple, learn to stay healthy, exercise. I have to be an athlete to do this, 130 shows a year all over the place. I have to be up for it at all times. “

The Collins candor is also impressive, whether it’s her delightfully revealing patter in her stage shows (“I love to talk and tell my stories”) or her admirably public sharing of experiences with alcoholism, depression, and suicide [her son, Clark, took his own life in 1992, at age 33]. These topics, once kept so hush-hush, seem to affect everyone these days, on some level.

“I’ve always been an activist. These were the secret things we couldn’t talk about and now we have to. I had tried for a number of years to write about suicide, then finally found a publisher, a great guy who was running an imprint at Penguin.

“I found a place to write a book about suicide, and then one on creativity, and then one on surviving tragedy. I’d intended it to be for suicide survivors but they convinced me that it was really about survival in general, which I actually still don’t believe. I think suicide is very different, but it was okay. I don’t mind losing a few.

“The world is a very difficult place to live in, and art and music and writing and painting are the things that we do so we can stay on the planet. I truly believe that, otherwise I think people would leave in droves. One of my favorite stories about 9/11 is about my friend, Emily Rafferty, who was president of the Metropolitan Museum until a few months ago, when she retired. Giuliani — you wouldn’t believe he had this much sense — called her on 9/12 and said, ‘Everything is closed. You have to open the museum!’

“There were no cellphones or email, so it was a lot of calling land lines and running over to people’s houses, but she did it. They got hold of everybody in this sort of handmade event, and the museum opened the next day and thousands of people came. Because they needed to see art and be reassured that people for centuries, ever since time began, have been going through terrible things and survived. Artists tell us that there’s more than what’s going on and what we’re seeing. That’s the only thing I give Giuliani credit for. He was a helluva prosecutor I must say, but he lost his mind along the way. A sad, sad man. A dangerous, sad man.”

Although many of her contemporaries are holed up in California, Collins has always been the staunchest of New Yorkers, always lending a special glow to the many cultural events she attends in private life.

“Oh, I love New York! I get to come home and, like last night, go to a lecture at the New York Historical Society where my friend Harold Holzer talked about Abraham Lincoln. He’s a wonderful scholar. A lot of my friends are writers and historians. It’s funny how that worked out.

“I recorded in California but never lived there, except from 1943 to ’49, as a child. I go there for business and concerts, so I certainly am there on a regular basis. I had a very good experience doing ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” It was a good time to be in LA.”

I’ll say. It was the late 1960s, and Collins was one of the gorgeous, free-floating muses and queens of the scene, the lady of rocker Stephen Stills, who wrote “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for her.

“That was really something. I know, it’s very touching, that song. When he played it for the first time, we both cried. And I said, ‘Well, it’s not going to work. I’m not coming back. But it sure is beautiful!’”

So, who does Judy Collins listen to?

“Hugh Prestwood just put out a new CD, ‘I Used to Be the Real Me,’ which I love. He wrote ‘Hard Times for Lovers,’ which I recorded. Yes [laughs], the ‘naked’ album [because of her revealing cover]! He’s had a lot of big country hits recorded by other people, but isn’t actually well known as an artist. And, of course, I listen to the new albums by my peers to see what they’re doing. I heard Leonard’s new CD, which is amazing, and I always try to keep up with the new artists and find out what they’re doing. And the old classics, like Joni’s work.”

Oscar Night, 1962

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2021 at 9:28 am

as told to me by Rita Moreno, ultimate comeback kid, who turns an inspiring 90 today:

“I was doing a World War II B-movie [‘Cry of Battle’] in Manila. I was back to doing the same crap again, playing a Filipina guerilla girl in the army. It was so depressing and then I got nominated, to my amazement. So when the time came, I flew in to LA. They literally gave me only two days off, which was a shame as I missed all the great hoopla that happens after you win – the flowers, telegrams, phone calls – all that attention which to this day I feel so robbed of.“

George Chakiris, who remains a great friend, and I were each other’s dates. On the way to the theater we were making up ‘sour grapes speeches’ in case we didn’t win – ‘Oh, I know she slept with him…’ – making up these terrible stories. Up until ‘Titanic,’ our film set records for the most awards, just piling them up.“George was the first to win and I didn’t come until very near the end of the program, which was just breaking me, the suspense was hideous. And then I got it, and I remembered when my name was called, saying to myself, ‘Don’t run to the stage, it’s not dignified. If the applause stops before you get there, so what.’ But the applause didn’t stop because the movie was such the favorite.“My speech was the shortest in Oscar history, the shortest and most uninspiring speech, but what can I say, I’m stuck with it. I just said, ‘I can’t believe it!’ and then there’s a pause and I was trying to think of something to say and I just repeated, ‘I just can’t believe this,’ and there was one more time to think of something and I said, ‘I leave you with that!’ It really is an out-of-body moment and even though you’re almost certain you don’t have a chance because so-and-so is the hot contender, you should have something in your head.“

“The funniest part was that Joan Crawford was co-hosting that night and she had her Pepsi-cola cooler in her dressing room, filled with vodka, and the lady was bombed. I went into the wings and only then did I burst into tears. And she grabbed me, and there was one lone photographer in the wings, not in the press room, and she put her arms around me and pressed my face to her chest while he was taking pictures. She was built like a linebacker and I couldn’t get out of her grasp. She kept saying, ‘There, there dear, don’t feel bad!’ And I kept saying, ‘I don’t feel bad! I don’t feel bad!’ And the photographer kept saying, “Oh, Miss Crawford we need to see Rita’s face!’ ‘But the poor dear is upset,’ she said, and in my muffled voice I kept saying, ‘I’m not upset!’ “Finally the man came to get me, and they had to wrest me out of her hold and take me to the press room.

“The best part is a week later, in Manila, I get this note in her famous blue stationary: ‘Darling Rita’ – I never met the woman in my life – ‘how generous and kind of you to come visit me in my dressing room’- we weren’t in her dressing room, we were in the wings – ‘at the most important moment in your life. How dear and sweet of you. Love, Joan.’”

“That’s my funny story but the sad story of that night was that at the Governor’s Ball, Natalie [Wood] never came over to say hello or congratulations. Wasn’t that odd? I was very hurt and astonished. We’d gotten along during the filming although we weren’t best friends. In fairness to her, she was kind of cool to most of us, but she was certainly never rude. I read her biography and I didn’t realize what a really sad life she had.

“My friend, actress Liz Torres, told me the most wonderful story, which always makes me teary. She was living in Spanish Harlem, which is a very noisy place, and she said, ‘It was no different Oscar night. But when the Best Supporting Actress category came up, that whole neighborhood suddenly just shut up. And when your name was called out, there was such cheering and whistling and people yelling at each other through windows: She won!’ Isn’t that marvelous?”-

________________________________________

Rita’s gown, which she had made in the Philippines by their greatest designer, Pitoy Moreno, I believe to be one of the most beautifully elegant ever worn by any contender. She wore it again in 2018 but I think it was a mistake to alter its superbly original trapezod top into a strapless when the original more modest bodice was so much more soignee.

ME AND DA MAN

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2021 at 9:22 am

I have so been loving, nay, devouring all the Sondheim tributes, memories and stories all over the Internet. I’m old so mine is particularly lengthy. Bear with me, if you care too. Here goes:

For most of us – boomers in particular – we get it wrong when we say that our very first exposure to him was in some production of his we saw performed live, whether it was on Broadway or the local community theater.Wrong? Yes, because I think if you really go waay back and concentrate on your earliest past, the album of West Side Story might have been playing on your living room stereo console or the radio, or else you may have caught a TV telecast of the 1962 movie, Gypsy.

In so many ways, both random and carefully selected, this composer arrived and remained ever-present on the soundtrack of all of our lives, practically from infancy.Gypsy set me off, for I was a tot when I saw it at the magnificent Art Moderne Waikiki Theater, now sadly demolished. One of my three earliest movie-going memories and the only one which – like the sight of Gregory Peck, impaled to that great white mammal in Moby Dick (his attempt at Ahab fully deserving of the fate), or the beyond creepy lepers in Ben-Hur – did not scare the bejesus out of me.I guess it was also the very first film I loved, what with the aching prettiness of Natalie Wood -the closest we in Hawaii had to an “Asian” female movie star, her gorgeous Orry-Kelly costumes -the unforgettable blue of that satin “Mama, I’m pretty!” gown, and that pop of Xmas-y red of the bow on her white, fox-trimmed negligee. The music delighted me, in all of its elemental accessibility and you just try to name me one little kid – straight, gay, bi, cis or sissy – who isn’t positively convulsed by “Gotta Have a Gimmick” – insanely effective ‘kiddie entertainment’ I would venture, if not exactly the most appropriate subject matter. And, to this day, I don’t think any movie line has ever struck me with the reverberatingly portentous gravity of “You know what they say when a vaudeville act plays burlesque…” I was probably nodding my sage seven-year-old head at this at the time, although I barely knew what those words meant.

Puberty arrived and with it my first trip to NYC, a family cross-country drive with the usual Philly Liberty Bell, D.C. White House tour, Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone stops ending in El Lay. I got to choose the Broadway shows for the week we were here, so that was how the original production of FOLLIES became my first Great White Way experience. My other picks were the sheer delight that was A Funny Thing (the revival with the magnificent Phil Silvers, funniest ever), No No Nanette, Hair, Grease (were Travolta, Barbeau and Walken all in that as unknowns?) and a wonderfully spirited and sexy matinee, by myself, of The Beggar’s Opera at the McAlpin, with Kathleen Widdoes and Marilyn Sokol, two favorites I would one day befriend. I was already steeped in Classic Hollywood, so seeing Alexis Smith and Yvonne DeCarlo really had me stoked; it took a while for star-struck me to realize that with movie stars on stage, less was often just that, less. Besides, it’s been a long time since any movie star had any kind of marquee value in my mind.

Although of course I see its considerable worth now, I remember feeling then, that, as beautiful to look at (Loveland!) as it was, FOLLIES kind of left me cold – “Weak book” was my overall impression – get the baby Brooks Atkinson, will ya? And for all the starry glamour, the cast member I recall most vividly was Ethel Shutta, so unexpectedly unique and Borscht Belt real, with the seasoned, sandpapery one-of-a-kind voice of a cartoon hound dog and what somehow looked to be 12-size shoes. Utterly adorable.

Back in Hawaii, I thrilled to a road company Gypsy with Margaret Whiting and Jesse White as Herbie, with the Gotta Have a Gimmick SLAYING me and my two brothers. A move to Los Angeles to attend USC film school gave me the divine A Little night Music, a privilege to see Jean Simmons – a very special favorite since childhood as she was always in period films for the little costume freak I already was – be the ideal Desiree although Margaret Hamilton as her fabulous, retired courtesan mother was a stretch – but how rarely has that role ever been played by a courtesan-level looker (only Claire Bloom at NYCO springs to mind)? The sheer, spine-tingling exhilaration of A Weekend in the Country, how the staging fractured the ensemble, rambled all over the place and then so brilliantly came together, with all approaching the footlights, gorgeously en masse, was a thrill I still feel to this day.

When the scarcity of Asian actors THEN, sent scouts hunting all over the country to fill roles, I auditioned for Pat Birch, but I was so young, clueless and green, having never performed on a stage before, just for my audience of one in my bedroom, nothing came of it. But the acting bug hit me, simultaneously with L.A. beginning to pall, so with two Punahou schoolfriends, I drove cross country to move – and stay – here. I switched majors to theater and found myself living that dream of studying with Stella through NYU at City Center, right next to the Joffrey Ballet. Well before there was Jeffrey, Angels in America, The Normal Heart or Love Valour Compassion, aside from Boys in the Band, a lot of gay actors like myself dreamed one day of playing Bobby in Company, whom we all assumed had to be gay. There are so very many reasons I look back at that time now, with dance exploding as never before or since, with Tharp, Ailey, Balanchine, Misha, Natalia, Suzanne, GELSEY, Nuryev hanging in there, A Chorus Line, Chicago (when giants with names like Fosse and Bennett walked the earth and Shubert Alley) and The Turning Point explaining it all for you – such a jewel of a 1970s time capsule.

I now so wish in hindsight that I’d been more aware of what a final golden age I was living in, simultaneously joyously fleeing the closet in a kaleidoscopic, ebullient, pre-AIDS period of too brief gay triumph and influence, which echoed Ancient Greece and the Renaissance, set to a disco throb. For me, unable to afford theater regularly – although I always saw what I needed to, somehow – Sondheim was, even back then, already a mythic presence. Not yet the great grey eminence, the relative scarcity of his output, with its inevitable high quality, added to the mystique, along with, given his looks, as well as genius, a definite undeniable sexual intrigue. My bff Musto habitually referred to him as “NY’s highest paid sadist” to a me who was then almost as innocent as Andrea McCardle jumping on a sling in Jerry Herman’s attic and exclaiming “Oo, I wonder why Uncle Jerry has THIS??” Dorothy Loudon: “Stupid kid!” (true story told to me by La McCardle). I was in a cab on a Saturday night in the east village where we were waiting for a light change on 2nd Avenue and 2 feet away, saw Da Man himself, sauntering nonchalantly into The Saint, the biggest, most opulent disco in history. Ceaseless questions have tormented me over the years: Did he like disco music? Was he just wearing ear plugs? Did he dance back then? – everyone did. You had to – that music! Or did he just head directly up to the balcony in the rafters high above the dance floor where such abandoned mass licentiousness went on that some labeled it Ground Zero for AIDS?

The years went by, as did his shows, on Broadway and in other iterations. I recall crawling out of Cinema Village and the stultifyingly filmed A Little Night Music, muttering,‘Liz really CANNOT act (let alone sing).’ I am sorry I missed that original Pacific Overtures, but have caught three New York revivals of it, and my older brother reached the pinnacle of his aborted acting career in Hawaii, playing strictly female roles in a quite decent Honolulu production of it. I agree with the Sondheim assessment of Someone in a Tree as his favorite song, probably my favorite of his, as well.

I was of course impressed but also depressed by the brilliant Sweeney Todd which then struck me as two-ton heavy and ghoulishly sophomoric in its desire to shock you into recoiling, accompanied by that always slightly noxious, too-knowing sniggering among hard-core musical queens during Try a Little Priest, those arch too-soon laughs, proving they’re cognoscenti and ‘get it,’ before anyone else, which definitely resurfaced for Wicked. (It’s like all of these hirsute know-it-alls who disconcertingly could squeal with delight like little girls at everything Chenoweth did, had been hibernating up until then.) The tone of Sweeney Todd itself – brutally cold and clinical, was not that innovative back then, we should remember, for, especially after Chicago and the film Cabaret’s success, shows were increasingly cynical and metallic in aura, with Fosse’s Dancin’ being particularly devoid of any kind of human warmth. A very anti-Rodgers and Hammerstein period and rather too blase for its own good. All of Sweeney’s ceaseless brutality made me inordinately grateful for the enchantment of By the Sea, a momentary audience respite from all the heavy work we and the actors had to do. For years, Joanna disconcerted me with its slightly cheesy AM radio easy-listening vibe, until it was really sung – not ruinously crooned – so beautifully at NYCO by Keith Phares.

I was part of the legions of admirers of Sunday in the Park, and enjoyed the British revival as well both here and London, in which at least back in the naughts, I discovered to be a town which was not always as worshipfully enraptured by Sondheim as New York, with a number of theater people I know deeming him pretentious and too self-consciously clever. I did notice that time around, the thinness and dated trendiness of the book’s second act, so reliant on whatever passed for avant garde visual pyrotechnics any production might come up with. This was somewhat redeemed in the last revival by the strength of the performances by Annaleigh Ashford and the quite astonishing surprise of Jake Gyllenhal, who was born for musical comedy. The fact that both were just as wonderful in the roles as the original cast, elevated to mythic status by what they had done back in 1984, justified my claim that we are living in a new golden age of musical performers (if only they had new musicals to match and feed their brilliance.)

And here I have to thank Sondheim for a rare and special moment of bonding I had with my father. He was a diamond in the rough, by which I mean to say he was dazzlingly handsome with a unique mind which could be illumined with lightning flashes of brilliance that made him a rich man with just a public high school degree. His passions were cooking, golf, Las Vegas and the ladies – and he was forever involved with one of them. He was also a Korean macho alpha to the max and although he also loved playing the trumpet (Edelweiss and Lara’s Theme were his go-to’s), he eschewed anything classical as “long hair music”and nearly killed my mother for getting tickets to CATS, an animal he detested with a passion, anyway.He and my mother, especially who never understood leisure, were Asian workaholics, rarely coming home to this big pile they built on the back slopes of Diamond Head before 10 pm. All of my life, I never spent much time with this guy, eternally on the go, and we had an on and off again detente with my being gay.

But one night we did spend a couple of rare hours together, just we two, in that house. I was home for my regular, enchanted summer sojourn during which I was blissfully left to my own devices, which consisted largely of recovering from a hectic year here. A&E was showing Sunday and, happily sunbaked from another full day at the beach, I was settled into watch it. My Dad came in alone and, instead of heading straight to the bedroom to read National Geographic and crash, he heard this ineffable music, an instant bug in his ear, and sat down to watch it, too. I was wondering if it all would prove to be too ‘long hair’ for him, what with all the artistic angst, but he was fucking hypnotized, eyes bright, following everything, enthralled. Even my mother’s sudden, noisy intrusion, with her arrival accompanied by clattering keys and chatter did not break his concentration. She looked at the Sondheim-conjoined two of us and, honoring the moment, but uninterested as well, left us. At the end, my Dad said, “Oo, good show!” It’s one of my cherished memories of him, sharing that magic which had us both bewitched, so, again, deep thanks to the composer/lyricist who made it happen.

One of my biggest regrets was blowing my chance to attend the opening night of Into the Woods. I did see the original production and I must confess that I’ve never been overly fond of this show. I hugely enjoyed Bernadette Peters hugely enjoying herself in a character rather than heroine role, being so very nasty as the Witch and some of the startling sick humor made me giggle but, coming as it did in the depths of the AIDS era, with this emphasis on children, and nurturing family – involving only heterosexual characters – I then referred to it as a yuppie musical. Sometimes it seemed to me that Sondheim, with this sudden embrace of elements he’d mostly eschewed in the past, had gone along with Calvin Klein trading in the boys of The Pines for a wife in Easthampton and the likes of Elton John, Bowie and Jagger dashing back into the closet and slamming the door shut, after trumpeting their bisexuality in the 70s. AIDS coincided with Reaganism and the most Republican money grubbing antics of the 1980s and a lot of decidedly non-ally ‘breeders’ as we called them, for that possibility for gays was largely way in the future, seemed insufferably smug to me. Time has not really mellowed my attitude towards the show, in any of its myriad revivals, especially without the bracing, perverse energy of Peters and Joanna Gleason’s distinctive, fully expressed, deeply affecting ambivalence about everything, which humanized this incredibly arch and chilly romp with all of the depth of, well, the fairy tales it was based on. Last Midnight has always struck me as a particularly weak song.

I have now seen three productions of Assassins, and really need never see it again. It’s more a provocation than an actual show with a glacial precocity about it, as if he and John Weidman were perversely determined to take the most unlikely upsetting subject they could and make up this big-ass affront to their audience. Its own incessant irony sinks it. There is an actor’s law that says even if the character you play is despicable you yourself cannot play it completely that way and must somehow challenge yourself to find the inner humanity and vulnerability. I think this should also apply to shows, as well, and Assassins completely ignores the fatal taboo of cleverly commenting on itself, for that is the entire premise. There are some good songs in it, like The Ballad of Booth, as well as a slew that could be filed under Clever but Beyond Annoying, while the book is tirelessly brittle, pure Strictly Weisenheimer. Basically a hate letter to America, and quite deserved on many levels, but that does not make it any easier to take, making true George S. Kaufman’s immortal statement “Satire is what closes Saturday night.” At its latest revival, being in the house while the actors pointed guns at us, always a discomfiting factor, was particularly unsettling in light of Alec Baldwin’s recent tragedy.

Some day perhaps I will warm to Passion, although I doubt it, and I find it ironic that the composer wrote it when he was in the blissful throes of the first time he ever fell in love, because it has always been a frigid, strictly alienating experience, devoid of anything resembling romance . Plus, I think Uniforms is the worst Sondheim song ever. His final Road Show was an uninvolving slog, years aborning in various iterations and unfortunate, as this was the single one of his works to have gay protagonists as the leads, but at least they were given his last memorable song, the lovely duet “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” which, in its artful simplicity and deep romance evokes Kern for me.

I had but one personal encounter with Mr. Intimidating, himself. I went to see Lypsinka’s The Passion of the Crawford and there was this drunken old leather bear type, flannel-shirted, in dirty jeans, swigging straight vodka from a large paper cup, and cackling in hysterics over the show, which was the Lyp’s reenactment of Crawford’s famed personal appearance, interviewed by John Springer, at Town Hall. “Ach, she’s SO funny!” this drunk kept repeating. It was Sondheim.I found myself in close proximity with him after the show, as we were waiting for our respective escorts to fetch coats. I thought ‘Now or never,’ steeled myself and grabbed the opportunity to address him. “Did you know or ever have anything to do with Crawford, yourself?” I asked.His response was abrupt: “Um, nope. No – never met her!”End of convo. Those were all the words I was going to get from him. I suppose I might have said, “But wasn’t ‘I’m still here’ somewhat inspired by her?” Or, had I been smarter I would have made an abrupt switch to “Okay, but I heard you adore Margaret Sullavan…” And that might have inspired an effusion. But, as Bette Midler was wont to say in the 1980s, “Eh, why botha?”

When TCM host Robert Osborne passed, there was a sale of his memorabilia collection at Bonhams, and the item that intrigued me even more than Claudette Colbert’s scarab jewelry from my favorite 1934 version of Cleopatra was a Tiffany blue little gift box from the store filled with dozens of personally addressed notes to Osborne on Sondheim’s stationery. Although I knew that Sondheim loved old Hollywood movies, I wondered if there might be more of a connection between these two very different men. At the auction viewing, I sat down with that box and went through every note. Without exception, they were all personal requests from the composer for dvds to be burned of certain rare movies he’d missed when they were shown on the channel, and delivered to him. Sondheim made artful if brief conversational greetings before his movie requests, sometimes including a brief anecdote pertaining to a film or star, so the requests aka commands had a more friendly than imperious air to them. It was an intriguing and rare insight into his use of ‘star prerogative,’ which mere mortals could never dare.

I am finding myself, in these days following his death, forever going on Youtube to hear/see just one more number or bracingly intelligent, always informative interview with the man. I realize I have turned into one of those slightly annoying Sondheim freaks who eat, drink and sleep him, or maybe I always was. One thing we did share in common were truly difficult mothers (a special club which includes Albee and Streisand) and in I believe the Secrest biography of him there’s the most revealing and saddest anecdote about this. When she told him she wished he had never been born he cut off all relations with her for 25 years and did not attend her funeral. He did go to her apartment to deal with her belongings and discovered every single one of the cast albums he had sent her over the years – unopened. That lack of any real maternal love leaves a huge black hole in one’s no one should ever have to live with, so I am glad he was hopefully able to fill it, even somewhat, with the work, his love of teaching and maybe even the love all of that inspired in us.

Let me end this by mentioning the greatest performance of a Sondheim song I ever saw live. It was not even given in any show, revue, concert or cabaret. It was at a memorial service, for Nora Kaye, Duse of the Dance, prima ballerina, modern dancer, film producer (with her husband Herbert Ross). It was 1987 and attended by the true elite of show biz, Baryshnikov was sitting next to me.

The stage was emptied with a single chair in the center, towards which walked Bernadette Peters, at the gleaming pinnacle of her beauty and myriad gifts. She plopped herself onto that chair, slumped over the back of it which was turned to the audience, her mane of curls tumbling onto the stage. And then, with her head still down, face unseen, she proceeded to sing, very quietly and slowly at first, an absolutely drop dead devastating ‘Children and Art.’ The song describes the lover of Georges Seurat, Marie, and is sung by their daughter to her great grandson, but, somehow Peters made every word seem as if it were written especially for Nora Kaye, who became the “Mama” of the song and the art became the ballet (with all those children in toe shoes), instead of painting, quite seamlessly. It was said that it was Sunday in the Park which really elevated Peters into legendary musical diva status, and in that moment she certainly justified that title in every imaginable way. She was genuinely mournful without being mawkish, and utterly magnificent.

SEXLESS (AND WITLESS) IN THE CITY

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2021 at 8:30 am

,Walking into the Daryl Roth theater, we noticed the Cosmopolitan cocktail, which had been set up right near the entrance. My escort insisted we have some, and forked out the cabbage for two, at $18 apiece, served in those plastic containers, bearing the infantile name of sippie cups which would seem, in themslves, to defeat the glamorous intent and aspect of a Cosmo, itself. Oh well, they were good and strong.

But we should have had three more to weather this sad, tone-deaf would-be party, featuring, alone on the stage, this 63-year-old automaton named Candace Bushnell, in a much too short skirt, who behaves like a manic 20-year-old, rendering utterly pointless her highly questionable, twisted fairy tale account of arriving in NYC at 20 in the grimy 1970s and pursuing a writing career that began as a column and somehow burgeoned into an era-defining TV series. Not a word she said all evening bore any resemblance to any known New York reality.

The problem is that that era has long passed. It’s been 20 years since the first deathless girl power iteration of her ethos debuted , which now reads like mutton dressed like lamb, still clamoring to be heard – about pretty much the exact same fluffily presented concerns they had at the turn of the last century. And if that sounds dated to you, you should see this show, which might have worked better in 2001. On second thought, nah.We first walked into the Darryl Roth theater, expecting some light camp fun, much like the better episodes of Bushnell ‘s show, only to find it depressingly much less than half-full on a Saturday night in Union Square. “Oh, well,” I thought, her presumed hilarity would bond this little group of mostly female with an obvious spattering of gay Sex and the City fans in the house. But no such lively communal linkage happened because there was simply no hilarity.

In the lamest opening salvo ever, Bushnell went for audience participation early, questioning us about her real life (as if we were supposed to be steeped in its facts) vis-a-vis how it was portrayed on the show. Example: Did I really interview Matthew McConaughey? (‘Yes!” someone lackadaisically responded.) And did he say to me, “I really want to @#%$ you, baby!”? (“No!” shouted a few more.)That was all this supreme narcissist needed to complacently remark with satisfaction, “You really know your stuff, don’t you?” I realized afterwards that, even with this interchange, Bushnell, obviously and woefully inexperienced on a legit stage, never once made any real contact with her – I can’t say crowd – meager assembly, but just kept going, like a desperate Energizer – or attenuated Playboy- bunny, with more completely inane observations or bogus-seeming recollections from her salacious urban past. Like a millionaire who engages her in a threeway with a prostitute soon after she moves in with him, presenting herself as such the wide-eyed and, of course, blonde, innocent, that she asks, “What happened to that $100 bill on the coffee table?”

Don’t expect anything really bad to ever happen to our would-be modern day That Girl, for that is really how she presents herself, from the 1970s to the Millennium, as an even perkier Marlo Thomas who gives the odd blowjob when pressed. Oh, and that reminds me, none of the sex mentioned here bears any relation to sweaty, lustful and impassioned reality. Bushnell’s infernal, eternal chipperness ironically makes any mention of sex profoundly sexless. I am now very happy to admit that I never read anything by her, ever. (Had I, I assuredly would not have subjected myself to one of the truly most pointless evenings I have had in any theater, ever.) The two or was it three dreadful films were basic washouts for their all-too eager and eager-to-be-pleased target audience (with the exception of camp-defining Liza’s “Put a Ring on It,” of course). Even the TV show, itself, I came to late, although how they transformed this would-be Pulitzer Prize winner’s (yup, she’s that delusional) crap material into the momentarily glistening, commercial bauble that it was, was indeed, rather miraculous, the series reaching its apex for me with the fecklessly fun Fleet Week episode (as Sarah Jessica Parker danced with the delectable Daniel Sunjata to “I Can’t Get Next to You.”).

This show’s title, IS THERE STILL SEX IN THE CITY? is even fraudulent because Bushnell only addresses the present state of her – and the City’s – affairs at the very end of what has been nothing but a misbegotten nostalgia for her singularly unmagical past. And her report from today’s sexual front lines is basically that the real-life prototypes for the I guess I have to describe them as iconic Miranda, Charlotte , Samantha and Carrie (Bushnell, of course, who actually seems more like the failed cartoon character of her ) are all now divorced and have moved to Sag Harbor. The numbskull blind entitlement of that faked reveal – as if it’s something everyone can and would want to relate to – when I’d just like to extinguish them all, plus the missed joke of her not playing on their new local’s name (with its all-too telling “Sag” were all she had – her parting bon mots – for her enslaved, homeward-bound army of some fifty fans.

Stay home; watch the reruns…and that advice is the same if you’re planning to catch that terrifying reboot of the show.

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2021 at 5:58 pm

happy birthday Judi Dench, such a delight in Belfast!
Many feel this is definitive – with the greatest “well” ever (her primacy as the actress of our time is encapsulated in that choice and that delivery)…she also somehow uncannily reminds me of Jean Simmons who I saw do it in Los Angeles.

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2021 at 4:19 pm

THE GREATEST OF EPITAPHS

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2021 at 10:15 pm


I consider this moment to be the absolute Sondheim Summit, encompassing as it does, EVERYTHING we love about musical theater. You got an array of the top divas in the field, all at the peak of their power and talent, an adoring audience creating an electrifying atmosphere of savvy, tumultuous enthusiasm for each (with Da Man, himself, in attendance) and, best of all, that MUSIC.
I forgot one key element to this – the genius showmanship which conceived of this moment, in the first place, who well could have been Sondheim, himself. I mean, who else could have had the genius and access to think up a virtual corrida of our top divas, all of them dressed in red, the appropriate hue for this surpassingly intense blood sport of loving competition, with each of them individually setting the performance bar higher and higher for the next lady to try to match or even better, as the audience (US) goes berserk with joy?
At first blush, it would appear that Lupone, with her hilarious and utterly devastating re-do of a standard she has the additional nerve to perform before its redoubtable originator, Stritch, walked away with the night…But, as I have watched this more times than I care to admit, I realize how each singer is equally extraordinary in her own way. There is no clear winner – what with La Murphy investing Leave You? with the uncanny perfect amount of drama and bile-filled elegance, La McDonald lighting up the whole of Lincoln Center with her incandescent, ageless ingenue eyes and voice on The Glamorous Life, La Peters’ searing, touching Not a Day Goes By, demonstrating why she has been His essential muse for decades, Stritch anthemically inhabiting I’m Still Here in what would really be her public swan song, and Marin Mazzie, hopefully now with the composer as we speak, working out a melodic line together, radiantly looking/sounding like the absolute angel she was, and is now.
This is no less than a modern moving, aural masterpiece of epic painting by some Renaissance master, endlessly watchable, richly filled with a myriad surfeit of detail: the way La Murphy cocks her hand to her hip in perfect time to the thunderous last note of Beautiful Girls – and – really the supermodel of the Great White Way who best understands the importance of attitude – RETAINS the pose forever; Stritch’s staunchly deadpan reaction to Lupone’s uproarious hat query which you realize is the perfect – and only -response she could have chosen; Sondheim’s delighted audience reaction shot to this, as obviously delighted as a kid in a candy store, just like us; how La McDonald seems to almost levitate as her song builds to its ecstatic finish, and, best of all, the silently appreciative, awe-filled, deeply supportive and moving sisterly reactions of each singer, waiting for their turn, to their peers, with their surnames preceded, as I have, by the French determiner which their individual divine-ness fully merits, true goddesses, each.

Happy birthday Geraldine Page!

In Uncategorized on November 23, 2021 at 5:33 pm

It was said she had trouble dealing with the flamboyant and glam diva aspects of her great role of the Princess Cosmonopolis née Alexandra del Lago, in Tennesse William’s Sweet Bird of Youth. It was unnerving to try being all of that- so decidedly not her, that great big , slightly fading movie quen – for the film version in 1962, until she was told to watch Bette Davis movies. I’m thinking that for her, watching that attractive but not earth shatteringly beautiful great actress literally will herself into beauty and Surpassing glamour in films like Mr. Skeffington, Jezebel and All about Eve gave her Some definite clues especially about entering a room and how to then command it. The fact that Davis’ most important costume designer Orry -Kelly in her career was doing hers as well here for her Princess doubtlessly helped. Added glamour was added when Sydney Guilaroff, the dean of Hollywood hairstyle, who had worked with all the goddesses, was tasked with her coiffures. From when he first gave Claudette Colbert her lifelong trademark bangs in 1932 and a hairdo he developed for Crawford called Park Avenue Madonna in Letty Lynton, to Garbo in Ninotchka and Two Faced Woman and Dietrich’s outrageous hair hats in Kismet, all the way to Ann-Margret’s flaming mane in Viva Las Vegas, he knew them all, and largely kept his own counsel for which they were grateful.

Makeup man William Tuttle, who’d been in the business about as long as Guilaroff, beat Page’s soft and rounded, bone structureless face, within an inche of its life. Tinseltown’s go-to jeweler, Joseff of Hollywood, came up with bling for her to wear and keep out of sight from her hustler pickup of an escort, Chance Wayne (a young Paul Newman, at his most neo-classically juicy, in the role it seemed that every other handsome gay man of that era claimed to have been the inspiration for. The late artist Kris Kersen was the one I knew lol ). Page emerged onscreen as looking more the elegant Park Avenue matron than internationally idolized movie love goddess, with acting cops to boot. (A softer, longer hair style, maybe a pageboy, would have been preferable to the conventional, bourgeois windswept bouffant Guilaroff gave her, methinks.)

But you know what? Page could have worn a hula skirt for all it mattered, for here was a great actress given a succulently juicy great big role to sink her teeth into, relishing every bite of Williams’ bawdily inspired, Rabelaisian speeches and louche yet imperial attitude. You could tell that, better than actually looking like the most desirable woman in the world, Page truly FELT that she was- a vastly experienced sensualist who looked at the whole business between a man and woman with clear-eyed bemusement, alive to the sense of absurdity that could arise, especially given the nature of her present menage.

The Princess may well have been inspired by-among others, Merle Oberon, a friend of the playwright, who, all her life, always went her own idependent way. Whether it was conceiving early on a plan to pass herself as a white woman for a career that would have been a relative nothing compared to what it was in a bigoted world where miscegination could still be a crime – and verboten on Hollywood screens, to divorcing the biggest producer in Europe, Alexander Korda, whose being knighted, conferred a title of Lady upon her, and then marrying a camerman (Lucien Ballard) who perfected a device that instantly retouched her scarred complexion for the screen, after him a Mexican millionaire and finally an attentive boytoy. Cecil Beaton described her daily youth-restoring ritual of having a studly masseur come to service her every day, observing how she went about arranging sexual assignations for herself with the directness and efficiency of men in similar situations.

What really sets Page’s Princess above and apart from all other interpretations of the role – even Irene Worth’s greatness paled by comparison- was the fact that not only did she embody William’s vision, in acting it, she often WAS Williams. Originating the role on Broadway with him and Elia Kazan, she got to be intimately involved with him during rehearsals and, as much as she took from Bette’s flamboyance in her films she watched, she took even more, I believe, from the playwright’s personality. It’s there, especially, when she lets forth a raucous laugh that is part cackle, part delighted roar, as well as in her numerous, loftily expressed, however earthy, pronouncements on love and sex, which were the eternal mea culpa of him who remains our greatest playwright, and who also was very capable of beng our worst, as well.

See This Show RIGHT NOW

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2021 at 10:12 am

Written, composed and performed by AJ Holmes, a solid Broadway actor who was in Book of Mormon for five years, his solo show, YEAH BUT NOT RIGHT NOW, at the Soho Playhouse, is an often brilliant reveal of himself as a love-starved musical wunderkind from birth, practically, in a musical-loving home, and a sometimes unmitigated asshole, as well, like all of us have been, at one time or another, if we are being honest with ourselves.

To describe this show as narcissistic would be like calling the Pope sorta religious, but fear not: Holmes’ bright, melodic songs, all of which more or less center around his personal angst help make his self-analytical medicine go down, in a truly most delightful way. I found myself humming his “I’m That Guy,” amidst the happy audience, leaving the theater. That had not happened with any new show music since hearing Dear Evan Hanson’s “Waving in a Window,” and I cannot remember when before that. And such is Holmes’ delicious fecundity, that unlike that show, this show is no one song wonder, for nearly everything he writes seems to have a rock-solid, utterly pleasurable hook that stays with you, made all the more impressive by his infinitly expressive vocals, which can soar with operatic resonance, drolly mince out patter with pointed wit or leave you breathless from the ardor of the unmistakabe tone of a lover. His superior kind of sound and fury are matched by his jaw-dropping musicality. Seated center stage at the keyboard, his swiftly flying fingers make it seem an entire, very rich and full orchestra. And then he literally almost becomes one of those, as well, through his effective virtuosity on swiftly snatched guitar, various percussion elements, and smooth-ass technology that enables him to be his own backup and vocal counterpoint.

His insane vocal, instrumental and technical range, seamlessly blending as they do, might still impress as merely a delightful entertainment, instead of an electifying one, were it missing just one more element that lifts this externally small and modest show and, indeed anyone watching it, into the realm of musical comedy heaven. That would be his diabolically good comic timing which is essential to putting over some of his spoken-word diciest and darkest passages between the songs, which I confess were highly relatable.

“I WISH someone would fuck my Mom” made me personally howl, for one thing.

You had to be there. So GO! AJ Holmes is madly talented.

And now I know exactly what Darren Criss meant in the quote used for his publicity.

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