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Archive for November, 2021|Monthly 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.