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By Elyse Sommer
Updated October 23, 2013
(For previous edition of this page go here)
Live Sound of Music -NBC brings back made-for-tv musicals
According to Nielsen's ratings, some 18.5 million viewers tuned to NBC's live telecast of the 3-hour "Live" version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved musical The Sound of Music. Clearly the powers that be at NBC weren't wrong to go up against memories of iconic Marias and Captain Von Trapps, and believe that there was an audience for a "live" TV musical despite regular revivals, the still available DVD with Julie Andrews and even sing-alongs.
Carrie Underwood had the needed new audience drawing appeal. But she's is unlikely to erase memories of the original stage Maria (Mary Martin) or Andrews, the movie Maria. Her singing isn't bad but it's hardly glorious and the last part of her name best describes the American Idol born star's acting. In fact, in a clever bit of casting, the most memorable and charismatic performance in this production was by Laura Benanti as Maria's rival, the glamorous older woman Elsa. You see Benanti, a recent high school graduate, made her Broadway stage debut in the 1998 revival when she realized the understudy's dream and took over for Rebecca Luker opposite Richard Chamberlain. Her acting and singing was impressive enough for me to see another Julie Andrews in the making (Review of 1998 production ). Now, a mature and sophisticated star who's lived up to my prediction she's made Elsa the most interesting to watch and listen to character.
Another reason that brought the home screens to life with music was Audra MacDonald as the Mother Superior. MacDonald's gorgeous voice did indeed "Climb Ev’ry Mountain" thrillingly.
As for Stephen Moyer's Captain Von Trapp, he was okay but unlikely to eclipse predecessars like Theodore Bikel and Chamberlain. Still, given that this Sound of Music was NBC's most successful evening since the last episode of Frasier in 2004 or the 2007 Golden Globe broadcast. It was also the first musical staged live for the home screen since the '50s, complete with lavish set and costume changes, live orchestra and everything timed to coordinate with the commercials.
Though I prefer my musicals live, I also yearn for more and better live for TV programming so maybe this Sound of Music will be a first step in this direction. it's a first of more and better such shows to come. half-century.
Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen's homage to the poet of the Contemporary American theater, Tennessee Williams
Blue Jasmine is different from other Allen's films. For one thing it spends lesstime in his favorite city, New York, but takes place mostly in San Francisco. And yet it's very much an Allen film in that it rounds out a whole gallery of memorable but troubled female characters.
For anyone familiar with Streetcar Named Desire (and most people are, given the many productions and available DVDs that include the original with MarlonBrando and Vivien Leigh) this may seem like an adaptation more than an Allen original. Indeed, the film does does follow the basic story of a middle-aged beauty who's fallen on hard times and must, per one of Williams's most famous lines, "rely on the kindness of strangers." Nonetheless Blue Jasmine is a completely original enterprise that manages to evoke the characters and scenes from a classic play as well as the real life perpetrators and victims of the Bernad Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal.
Even without the link to one of the contemporary theater's most lauded and well-known plays, Blue Jasmine would be a treat for theater lovers since the cast features a number of actors with outstanding stage resumes; most notably Sally Hawkins, Bobby Canavale, Alec Baldwin, Peter Scarsgaard Michael Stuhlbarg
Sally Hawkins, who like the Australian Blanchett, speaks in a flawlessly American accent. More important, she's terrific as Ginger, the sister whose lower class life style and choice of men Jasmine disdains but whose cramped San Francisco apartment is this financially and emotionally bankrupt woman's temporary haven of last resort. Also outstanding is Bobby Canavale, one of the theater's dynamic and prominent young actors, as Ginger's current sexy but lower class boyfriend Chilli. He doesn't rape Jasmine as Stanley Kowalski does Blanche but there's plenty of hostility between them. Max Casella is well cast as one of Chilli's noisy pals, Michael Sthlbarg delightfully creepy as the dentist for whom Jasmine temporarily works to pay for the skills needed for a career more to her still deluded sense of being above the more humble jobs held by the people in her sister's world. of grandeur. This is as much a portrait of the class divide as that of a woman not just on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but in full-fledged over-the-top mode.
As the original white knight who caused Jasmine to drop out of college to become a trophy wife, Alec Baldwin embodies the slick personification of greed is good, and cheating as easy to do as knotting your expensive ties. Unlike the not very appealing Mitch who Blanche DuBois is willing to settle for, Jasmine lucks out by finding another rich and attractive man, this one played by Peter Saarsgard. The trouble is that Saarsgard's Dwight isn't a crook, but a man of honor and political ambition and only a madwoman would imagine that she wouldn't get tripped up by her false identity and pretenses. If the way this happens is a bit too contrived, so what, it's a mere quibble given the overall quality of the film.
The production designer, Santo Loquasto, who is also a preeminent stage designer, has created a rich scenic panorama. And Allen's segues between present and past are amazingly seamless.
Apparently Blue Jasmine has gathered enough praises to be one of Woody Allen's most successful ticket sellers and the film is slated for much wider than usual distribution. Don't miss it. (reviewed by Elyse Sommer, October 6, 2013)
Last Tango in Halifax
The romance begins in a timely enough manner, the two senior citizens who's teenaged potential romance was sabotaged by another girl (who became Jacobi's wife) reconnnect through the internet, meet for tea and it's love at first-second sight. Their romance is stretched over six hours (the first season, possibly future seasons to follow?) by the problems of the couple's children and grandchildren resilience. If you liked the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you'll love this one as well. The entire cast is excellent, and I especially liked Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire, who play the daughters-- but for me the big draw is Jacobi. On screen or live on stage, he was and is a superb actor.
Tales of the City
At 83 Olympia Dukakis is still an imposing presence on stage. However, her always somewhat raspy voice was strained in her recent appearance at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox as that survivor of survivors, Brecht's camp follower known as Mother Courage. ( Her performance, the fifth in this role, was somewhat disappointing so it was a welcome coincidence to be able to see her in one of her most memorable roles, as the mysterious San Francisco landlord in the 1993 mini series based on Amistead Maupin's Tales of the City. The 20th Anniversary edition from Acorn Media features six episodes on 2 disks. Besides its serendipidous arrival just as the Lenox Company's revival of Mother Courage and Her Children began its run, it also tied in with another Berkshire production, this one Southern Comfort a musical about a transgender community in Georgia at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield.
Dukakis is indeed terrific. She brings nuance, warmth and charm to the mysterious Anna Madrigal. It takes a bit to get used to the way the episodes jump back and forth between the large cast of fascinating characters. Large and small screen and live theater film buffs will be enchanged by an adorable young Laura Linney as the Ohio girl who visits San Francisco and stays to experience life in Mrs. Madrigal's boarding house that's decidedly different from life in Cleveland. Fellow residents include Acorn best selling Slings and Arrow star Paul Gross, as a gorgeous, pot-smoking young womanizer. Prestigious stage actors making brief appearances include Ian McKellen and Rod Steiger.
The name Michael Gabon above a title makes it a must see for any theater enthusiasts. And so, even if you're not one to regularly dip into the seemingly bottomless well of mystery series, you'll want to have a look at the series based on author George Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels. Gambon came aboard for the second round of the series that's available from Acorn Media.
Forget about lots of action and technological wizardly. This is Paris and its outlying villages with Maigret and his small, loyal staff solving murders using psychological and leisurely deliberation. The stories are awash in the atmosphere of long-ago Paris and rural French villages.
Gambon, with droll charm and great flair blends Maigret's intuitive detection style with a sympathetic and very Gallic sensibility.
In April 2012 the wonderful site of the Royal Naval College on the River Thames which now houses the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music was turned into Paris for the riots of 1832. One of the sparks for the riot was the death of the Napoleonic General Lamarque, long time an opponent of the restoration of the French monarchy, and these huge funeral carts were ready on site for the filming of Lamarque's funeral procession. The sculptural mock up of a large (78 feet high) elephant had been placed in the Place de la Bastille and it had been intended to cast it in bronze. This elephant, which features in Hugo's novel as a hiding place for the street urchin Gavroche, formed a part of the set and next to it was created the barricade built by the rioters.
So a January weekend saw the opening in Britain of the eagerly anticipated film of the musical. The opening scene on stage is of prisoners breaking up rocks as Jean Valjean laments that his identity is a number, "24601". In the film the opening is a computer generated scene of a prison galleon ship wreck with convicts pulling on ropes and Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is ordered by Javert (Russell Crowe) to lift the broken flagpole with the tricoleur. When the casting was first announced, as Crowe is the thicker set of the men, it was assumed that he would play Valjean with Jackman as the taller thinner inspector but people had forgotten how built Jackman is and that his singing voice earned him the lead as Curly in the National Theatre's production of Oklahoma! way back in 1998.
But the real delight for me was spotting English stage actors in the smaller roles. In the Mayor's factory in Toulon, years later where Valjean is a successful businessman, Kate Fleetwood (Patrick Stewart's Lady Macbeth) is magnificent as Fantine's Nemesis, Factory Woman Number 1. Fleetwood bullies Fantine and then with mock humility manipulates the foreman (Michael Jibson, no stranger himself to the London theatre stage) into sacking Fantine. As Fantine hits rock bottom, and Anne Hathaway gives a heart breaking performance, her last client who gets her arrested is the fop Bamatabois, Bertie Carvel, the lead, Headmistress Miss Trunchbull, in another Royal Shakespeare Company successful musical Matilda. Trevor Nunn and the Royal Shakespeare Company first staged this version of Boublil and Schönburg's musical in 1985 after the French version had failed to take off.
Some of the original actors have been offered a part in the movie and theatre buffs will be thrilled to spot Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean, as the kindly bishop. Daniel Evans now Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres plays a pimp and Hannah Waddingham, a former Spamalot Lady of the Lake and Christine in Phantom, is Factory Woman number 2 for the first rendition of "At The End of the Day". Two other British actors who I've never seen live on stage, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter play the comic innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thenardier and, as their daughter Eponine, Samantha Barks who was a runner up in a BBC talent contest to find the Nancy for a revival of Oliver. The Eponines are always dark haired girls with wide set eyes and square faces, I wonder why? I do need to read Hugo's novel someday! Frances Ruffelle is the other actor from the original cast. She played Eponine as a child in 1985 and in 2013 takes the role Whore 1.
Patrick Godfrey as Gillnormand and Richard Corderey as the Duc de Raguse are veterans of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Linzi Hately, John Dankworth and Cleo Laines daughter Jacqui Dankworth have small roles. Even the Gavroche, Daniel Huddlestone is a veteran of the West End stage having played Gavroche in the theatre having launched his acting career as "Nipper" in Rupert Goold's Oliver! in 2009.
Tom Hooper, director of The King's Speech has concentrated on camera close up so the main difference in the experience of the film is this; seeing the emotion on the faces of the singers and the context is allowed to interfere with the vocal delivery and so gives a more realistic impression than the volume and delivery required to fill the theatre, be it the Barbican, The Palace or The Queen's. Carrying Marius, Eddie Redmayne through the Parisian sewers doesn't make the impact in the film that it does on stage with clever lighting and projection, and I had the impression that quite a lot has been cut from the ballroom scene, which is just a vehicle for the social climbing Thenardiers who like turds will rise. Eddie Redmayne has the facial angst of the student protester left behind in "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" and graces the London stage regularly, last having been seen as Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. The original Marius was Michael Ball
I was less sure about the aesthetic of computer generated Mansard roofs onto Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital Greenwich, now called the Old Royal Naval College, to imitate the Parisian skyline but it was fun recognising some of the less well known shots of the Greenwich architecture. The original inspiration for the Royal Hospital, a home for retired and infirm sailors was the French initiative, Les Invalides, in Paris.
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway thoroughly deserve the acting awards already bestowed. Russell Crowe is less of a powerful singer but a menacing presence as Inspector Javert in this story which was said to have inspired the series and film, The Fugitive. We see Javert in the Painted Hall before quelling the student revolution. Ironically the paintings on the ceiling in the Painted Hall are allegorical propaganda against the English Navy's traditional enemy, the French.
I've lost count but I think I've probably seen the West End theatre production of Les Miserables six or seven times and I also saw and reviewed the slimmed down 25th anniversary production at the Barbican in 2010. I'd happily see it again! And the film . . . I think I'd notice other people who have crept into the cast. I've a long way to go to catch up with Sally Frith the Gloucestershire woman reported this week as having seen Les Miserables 957 times since her first trip in 1988.
Footnote: A few days after the film crew moved out in April 2012, the Queen was due to reopen the Cutty Sark, Greenwich's old tea clipper, which was restored after a fire destroyed much of it in 2006. As the film crew moved out the Naval College lawns which had been covered with barricades, marching soldiers and straw and mud were brown and yellow. As the Queen was due to ride through the Naval College grounds a decision was taken to spray paint the grass. Apparently everywhere the Queen goes, it always smells of fresh paint. But whoever chose the shade didn't get grass green but blue green so that areas looked turquoise. Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
The Good Wife. October 20th update: The current season is filled with intrigue about Diane becoming a judge, Alicia and Perry leaving the firm-- no easy exits for any of them and the creative team is doing their best to make the secret meetings, suspicions and and squabblings last as long as possible. The popular Eli Gold is now the elected Governor Peter Florick's chief in house operative, and he's got his plate full to keep problems to a minimum.
The Show Continues to be a showcase for New York based stage actors. Last week's case had Tracee Chimo, one one of the hottest young stars of one of the hottest off-Broadway shows,Bad Jews , file a sexual harassment suit. The wild hair which plays a rather big role in Bad Jews was neatly coiffed, not a curl in sight. As in the play, but in a different way, Chimmoo's character was once again a not very nice person.
The stage actors, both regulars and guests, continue to be the creme-de-la creme. Its three main legal eagles — Juliana Margulies, Josh Charles and Christine Baranski— are all seasoned stage thespians. That's also true for key regular players: Chris Noth is Alicia's Peter who was responsible for the whole good wife issue and who has now been elected Governor is still greatly helped by his campaign manager and now chief trouble shooter Eli Gold, a favorite character played by Alan Cumming. Another favorite,Mary Beth Heil as Alicia's mother-in-law Jackie, made a brief appearance last week..
The weekly legal case also continues to open the door for terrific stage actors to be tabbed for guest spots as defendants, case instigators, lawyers and judges. Some of these guest players were so popular that they were brought back so that this year's new and old familiar to theatergoers included T.R. Knight, Denis O'Hare, Ana Gasteyer, Martha Plimpton, Dylan Baker and Estelle Parsons and Mamie Gummer.
Finally, since you're going to have to wait until Fall to see Alicia's move to aw firm works out and how being the First Lady of the State plays out, here's a British 3-parter about another political wife's finding herself faced with her mate's bad behavior. It's called The Politician's Wife and British stage actress Juliet Davidson is brilliant as the disillusioned wife. Here's a link to the DVD from Acorn Media: The Politician's Wife
Smash -- Much to some fans'regrets, the show didn't make it into a third season.
The Newsroom I've only recently gotten around to catching up with the closest thing to The West Wing. Yet as a series just about 100% cast with terrific stage actors, it can't be beat. The story's lead, anchor man Will McAvoy is very well portrayed by Jeff Daniels (one of the stars of the Broadway hit God of Carnage. While Emily Mortimer as MaKenzie McHale, Will's new executive producer and ex-girlfriend is know to US audiences mostly for her big and small screenwork, she has played Shakespeare in London. A secndary romance involves Mac's producer John Gallagher who first lit up the New York Stage in the musical Spring Awakening and associate producer Allison Pill who has had some terrific stingts on and off-Broadway. To give that sub-plot a triangular twist there's Thomas Sadoski, last seen in Other Desert Cities. Another key player is Sam Waterston as the ACN news diision's president Charlie Skinner. The guest slots so far have included a number of stage as well as screen regulars: Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing: CEO of Atlantis World Media (AWM), the parent company of ACN, Chris Messina as her sun and ACN's president, Daid Harbour as Elliot Hirsch: the anchor for Don's new program on the network; Hope Davis as goossip columnis. There are and no doubt will be more. While more than a bit talky, the show is nothing less than timely and intelligent-- and since it's HBO, no commercials.
While the series' creator Aaron Sorkin is known to most people for his TV scripting, he's also the author of the play A Few Good Men, which opened at Broadway's Music box in 1989 for a 497-perfrmance run and was also made (script by Sorkin) into a popular movie.
August: Osage County Meryl Streep has taken on the role of dying dowager Violet Weston; Julia Roberts plays daughter Barbara Fordham; Chris Cooper is. Violet's Brother-in-law; Margo Martindale is Mattie Fae Aiken; Abigail Breslin last seen on Broadway in the reival of The Miracle worker and is Barbara's Daughter.
News for Downton Abbey Fans
Broadway theater goers had a chance to see Dan Stevens, Downton's romantic lead on Broadway where he courted another heiress, this one the American spinster Catherine Sloper (film actress Jessica Chastain) in a new revial of The Heiress, the stage adaptation of the Henry James novel Washington Square.. Directed by Moises Kaufman, a director not usually associated with golden oldie vehicles like this. Stevens was a big hit in this less than heroic role and has decided to pursue new adventures. That means he had to be written out of Downton Abbey-- and so he was, via a fatal auto accident.
Once This little engine that could turn into a huge stage hit has earned back its investment and continues on Broadway with a replacement cast, as well as crossing the pond to London. To read my review of the production go here. Back to Index of Topics