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Archive for 2021|Yearly archive page

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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HAWAII”S OWN WINI SHAW

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2021 at 9:50 pm

THE DIVINE POWER OF JOLIE LAIDE

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2021 at 9:49 pm

Of all the prominent jolie laide actresses – Rossy de Palma, Yootha Joyce, Judith Anderson, Flora Robson, Ruth Gordon – who have graced the screen, large or small – the absolute Queen of them all has to be Sarah Jessica Parker. Not only has she managed to convince international audiences, huge beauty product conglomerates, the fashion world and almost every gay man on the planet that she is an absolute icon of beauty, glamour and uber-chic style in front of or away from the camera, she has also most enviably managed to commingle with some of the hottest men on the planet for the last 23 years on her show Sex and the City.

From Daniel Sunjata to Ron Livingston to John Corbett to Mikhail Baryshnikov to Chris Noth to Craig Bierko to Jon Bon Jovie to David Duchovney to John Slattery to Bradley Cooper to Bill Sage to Vince Vaughn to Timothy Olyphant to Justin Theroux, she has rocked ’em all. But she may have outdone even herself with the boys – at least on a visual level – in the movie sequel she’s currently filming, AND JUST LIKE THAT, right on her very doorstep as my Village eighbor on Charles Street.

Hope this doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

A Questionable POSE

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2021 at 7:04 pm

Let me make this clear: I have absolutely nothing against the trans community, and I am thrilled that there are productions who employ its members in all capacities. All of this and them I fully support.

But POSE? Gurl, please. The cards are so stacked in this scene, for example, and its execution so heavy-handed – the awful cue-ing music, the gratuitous reaction shots, the emphatic, predictable final fillip which made me wonder and hope that the assistant who takes that courageous, supportive stand, will be able to find another job in these times. It was so overdone that I found myself feeling sorry for poor Eddie Korbich, playing the transphobe – who is gay, and the sweetest most wonderful guy in the world in real life, although I know that’s not supposed to count here – while fearing for his life from those terrifying nailsI

In her “reading to filth” – how I love seeing old skool black gay slang in a headline from the BBC – Elektra’s diatribe consists of misanthropic insults to this white man, surrounded by ethnics, including his assistant, that are ageist (referring to his presumed repulsively low-hanging testicles), height-ist and anti-heterosexual, as she is operating from the assumption that his wedding band signifies that his partner is a woman. Meanwhile, one of her trans coterie has to be held back from physically attacking him, they steal a bottle of champagne and she slaps him (however lightly, the contempt with which she does it carries a sting, as she crosses that physical line). When she thrusts a champagne flute in his face, you half expect things to get bloody, as here, trans people are shown to be violent, off the mark in their thinking process, presumptuous and thieves. Not really helpful, showing you can dress “them” up and give them credit cards but civilized behavior in a public place of business is another matter, altogether, which rather plays right into transphobic hands, reinforcing evil stereotypes.

Some have told me that I shouldn’t post this because “everyone” will come for me, but, again, it is this program, not the reality it tries to represent in such an over-the-top unreal fashion which I am criticizing. Others have expressed this opinion to me as well – like those who think Amanda Gorman’s poetry ain’t really all that, not by a longshot, yet are afraid to publicly say so – but the present-day climate has made everyone terrified to express themselves. Being potentially cancelled, oneself, is everyone’s biggest concern right now, as we tiptoe on eggshells around hot button topics, with new ones seeming to crop up every day. It has really become this “Empress has no clothes on” kind of thing. It’s fear of the Thought Police, which has become oppressively repressive, which is not healthy.

POSE is an undeniably important first step which I do recognize and applaud, happy that a transgendered person from my home state of Hawaii, Janet Mock, has been given such a first-time opportunity to produce, write and even direct it. But I cannot applaud the off-putting overkill with which it presents its message. If I was a judge at a ball, reading somebody’s walk, for example, it’s not the person I hate, it’s the technique, or lack thereof. And I absolutely know it could be better, that’s all.

As I would say to Janet if we were home in Hawaii, “Shoots, tita*, make um mo real, lidat.**

“*Hawaiian for “sister”

**local Hawaiian pidgin slang for “like that”

Active

Happy birthday Ginger Rogers!

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2021 at 7:23 am

From her be-monocled appearance as wise-cracking Anytime Annie in the iconic 42nd Street, the smash hit which singlehandedly brought movie musicals back into audience favor, the same year she sang We’re in the Money in Gold Diggers of 1933, few stars ever gave so much pleasure to so many for so long, through her fabled series of dancing epics with Fred Astaire and non-musical establishment of herself as one of the screen’s brightest and most thoroughly likable comediennes (Stage Door, Vivacious Lady, Having Wonderful Time, bachelor Mother, Tom, Dick and Harry and billy Wilder’s ever sparkling The Major and the Minor), as well as an often very effective dramatic actress (Primrose Path, Kitty Foyle).

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a24795632/howard-hughes-ginger-rogers-affair-seduction-book-excerpt/

OSCARS #93

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2021 at 7:54 pm

Makeup artist Sergio Lopez-Rivera, hair department head Mia Neal, and Viola Davis’ personal hairstylist, Jamika Wilson, making history at the 93rd Academy Awards presentation.

You know what? Even with all the changes and the straitened circumstances engendered by the pandemic, I actually enjoyed the Oscars, maybe more than at any time since I was a kid and thrilled to watching Streisand and Hepburn tie in 1968, or hearing Audrey Hepburn’s uniquely stirring cadence when she announced “A Man for All Seasons!”, or rejoicing when it seemed the Academy was finally getting hip the night Isaac Hayes blew the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion apart, performing Shaft, nearly naked and hung with gold chains (and presenter Sammy Davis Jr. having a conniption, right after).

Taking the right cue from the surprisingly delightful Grammys, the scaled-down dinner party effect was both agreeably intimate and elegant, and the collegial feel among the nominees felt authentically warm, preferable to the synthetic, alienating vastness of former Oscar venues, requiring the ridiculousness of ‘seat fillers’ to convey an empty, worthless illusion akin to that delusional Trumpian boast about his crowded inauguration. In any previous Oscar telecast, I would have been lucky to find just one moment to which I could really relate and have my heart touched, and those were usually generated by the sight of some dear old icon, who’d managed to survive, gratefully back in the spotlight again.

But last Sunday night was full of them, partly the result of the truly revolutionary lack of time limits on speech, almost as if the Academy was saying “Yeah, it’s been a brutal year for us all – you’re allowed to show your humanity, so tell us about you.” And to a woman and man, they did, speaking their truths in speeches, which – going against all formerly vehement Oscar protocol – were almost universally political, and not just political, but defiantly and gloriously so. It strikes me as nothing less than ironic – among other things – that so many people online who are so vehemently “Black Lives Matter” dissed this year’s Oscar ceremony as “unwatchable,” “boring,” “I turned it off,” etc. However, life-changing and invigorating it may be to march alongside fervent comrades for an assuredly worthy cause, is it so difficult to just sit there and listen to the real stories of black lives, being lived NOW?

Hair & Makeup winner Mia Neal set the tone for the night with I think the greatest acceptance speech ever, mentioning her forebears and their involvement with the Tuskegee airmen, historic college racism, professionally breaking the glass ceiling and so much else, that, if you’re human at all, tears were unavoidable, listening to her, with maybe the addition of a “Shaft” era-approving, “Right on!”After her, the emotional intensity just continued, from beautiful Daniel Kaluuya’s words which also invoked important history, as well as hilariously mentioning parental sex which drew the most divinely priceless reactions from his mother and sister, to Tyler Perry who, however much his movies suck to me, proved himself to be so very admirable as a person, to our now new senior version of irresistible adorability a la Ruth Gordon, Yuh Jung Youn, who both delights and instills me with pride as a fellow Korean. The ebullient richness which kept overflowing throughout the night had nothing to do with couture or borrowed Cartier, and everything to do with being gorgeously creative, human and honest.

I was quite disappointed that the best film of the year, the superbly real family portrait, “Minari,” only triumphed in the Best Supporting Actress category. It should have swept all the major awards in the way that “It Happened One Night” did, including screenplay and the omission of Han Ye-Ri as a Best Actress nominee, not to mention cinematographer Lachlan Milne, was criminal. “Nomadland,” for me, was a terrific, important premise that Chloe Zao was unable to render dramatically, being more of a random tract or outline for a documentary that, however, poignant the plight of its heroine may have been, never really moved me once. And the next time I want to see Frances McDormand, she better be wearing something slinky and a fascinator, playing maybe a madcap heiress, because all of these perpetually deglamorized, salt of the earth characters she plays, each of them filled with the feisty confidence of their own exhausting self-righteousness against the System, are beginning to pall.

Set squarely in center frame of all of these recent vehicles, muttering and busily bustling away in each of them, McDormand for all of her avowed unpretentiousness, can seem just as much of a spotlit diva in a vanity project as in anything more glitzy, regardless of how grimly serious she wants to present herself. I never felt I really got to know any of the other arc-less characters in the film, only their various disenfranchised plights which introduces them. Hey, but look! here comes good ole Frances in the trailer park again, waving a sparkler and – very out of character – vivaciously calling out “Happy New Year!” to whoever.

Ain’t she just a stitch?

And don’t you want to just know her?

Not really.

The thing about some of this year’s so-called smaller crop of indie efforts was that, however universally worthy their intentions might have been, the same could not always be said about their execution. For example, I stopped watching The United States v. Billie Holiday when Andra Day found it necessary to doff all her clothes when she was arrested for drugs. It begged the question: How high WAS Billie Holiday? I’m sorry – call that singing legend fucked-up and a loser as much as you want, but I choose to believe in – and wish Lee Daniels had left her – her dignity. Making his actress do that was not all that removed from the gratuitous exploitation Halle Berry had to undergo to win her (undeserved) Oscar, at the behest of this same, ironically gay-identified director. At that point, I just turned the film off, dreading the further undoubted and excessive victimization of the character to come.

Note to filmmakers: Lady Day has been done to death, btw, like Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge. There’s a wealth of other embattled but transcendent dark divas you can cover. Stop being so damn lazy. Think about – or Google if you must – Fredi Washington, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Bessie Smith, Florence Ballard, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara McNair, Florence Mills, Aaliyah, Lisa Lopez, Nina Mae McKinney, Mahalia Jackson, Leontyne Price, Lorraine Hansberry, Diana Sands, Ntozake Shange, etc., etc. Hell, wouldn’t Marian Anderson’s life – even just a moment-by-moment re-telling of her immortal D.C. concert appearance – surely make some kind of movie?

Then there was that other filmization of a legendary black singer, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And no, I don’t believe Chadwick Boseman deserved the Oscar. An absolute tragedy that he’s dead, but there’s no reason for Anthony Hopkins to be remorseful or vilified in any way, because he won as the choice for Best Actor.

What do they say? It all starts on the page? Well, Boseman’s unfortunately belonged to August Wilson, to me the most unaccountably acclaimed playwright of his time. I am well-versed in his work and my opinion is he does not write plays, so much as windy yet empty onstage nervous breakdowns for actors. Simplistic, almost primitive in exposition and as numbingly redundant of the worst of the also overrated Eugene O’Neill, his productions are always arid chores to sit through. Nobody ever seems to want to admit this, because, as America’s most long-lauded black playwright, people feel they must dutifully attend to him. But his melodramatic writing – always dry, never juicy – does not truly fire the imagination, however many histrionic pyrotechnics the performers must pull out in the attempt to make his inert dramaturgy MOVE. His productions are rife with illogical behavior, upsetting physical convulsions and wild acts of sudden violence, followed by their inevitable aftermaths of bereft, remorseful wallowing. Wilson’s theater is a blowhard’s amassing of loud effects with little connective real human logic, presented in a hushed ambiance of portentousness – “THIS is what it’s like to be black in America” – that is sure to blow impressionable, often Caucasian, critics away, followed by all kinds of inevitable awards. For my money, I’ll take the seldom-revived oeuvre – apart from For Colored Girls – of Ntozake Shange, any day.

Despite its 1984 Tony nomination and win as Best Play by the New York Drama Critics Circle , Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, for me, was like watching paint dry, with the added, excruciating annoyance of the continual delay of the actual recording – when she finally sings – where the audience could at least enjoy a momentary musical escape from the dull, repetitive dialogue. (And the film cut great swathes of the play, thankfully.) Here, director George Wolfe tries to enliven the proceedings with much frantic camera movement, a surfeit of period art direction and 89-year-old Oscar winner Ann Roth’s wonderful, richly layered and telling costumes, the best aspect of the movie.

The strenuous performances did not redeem the material or make you particularly warm to the characters. Boseman was practically doing gymnastics all over the place to give some life to the senselessly lurid and combative cartoon he was handed to play, while Viola Davis – Our Lady of the Body Fluids – was sweating like crazy, all fired up and fierce with crazy prima donna entitlement – the angriest black woman who ever walked. But never once did you get any sense of the musical genius which truly made Ma the mother of the blues, i.e., what made her a real artist, instead of just the explosive diva Wilson and Wolfe hand us. A lot of people are always impressed by obvious hard work up there on the screen, thinking that all the effort must constitute a kind of genius. But what I have found with great singers, a few of whom I have been lucky enough to meet in my lifetime, is that singing- to them- is usually as mysteriously effortless as their daily conversation.

All that acclaim for these sloppy presentations of two important black women rudely edged out what was the best female-driven American movie of the year, Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth. Covering the annual Fort Worth, Texas scholarship pageant for black girls and how it affects obsessive former winner, penurious Turquoise (Nicole Behari) and the rebellious daughter (Alexis Chikaeze) whom she is determined to win, it had authenticity, engaging conflict and a goddam ton of heart. Beautifully lit by the chemistry and deeply human performances of the actresses – one of cinema’s great mother-daughter duos – it proved that, while the Academy this year definitely displayed a diversity long missing which I hope will not just be be a COVID-engendered phenomenon stemming from the dearth of the usual big studio releases this year, it can still be definitely lacking in real aesthetic discernment. And I say this, with the rueful realization that, given the ubiquitous commercial bottom line and never-ending political elements of the industry, itself, this may may well be something the Academy will always lack.

happy birthday Carolyn Jones

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2021 at 5:15 pm

when she was Mrs. Aaron Spelling

happy birthday Ann- Margret

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2021 at 5:11 pm