The best time I had during a week away from work was at the 18th annual “Broadway Bares” show at Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom on June 22.
The sexy spectacle raised a record-breaking $874,372 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and featured some of the best talent on Broadway. Producer Jerry Mitchell was just a chorus boy when he came up with the idea for the show in 1992 and has since gone on to become one of the most successful choreographers and directors on Broadway.
Mitchell’s dance card is too full these days for him to stage this one-night only event, but he left the show in the very capable hands of director Denis Jones and associate director Peter Gergus.
“Broadway Bares” seems to get bigger and more elaborate each year; “Wonderland” was the theme of the June 22 benefit, with the best costuming and scenic design in recent years (if someone was able to move the show to a Broadway house, you wouldn’t really have to improve the production values).
When I talked to Mitchell a few years ago about the benefit, he said BC/EFA had talked about extending the run of “Broadway Bares” for more than the current two performances on one night, but the logistics make it impossible.
Almost everyone who works on the benefit is recruited from shows running on Broadway and Sunday night is the only evening the dancers and actors are all off.
On June 22, for instance, “South Pacific” Tony nominee Matthew Morrison (above) was the star attraction in a terrific “Humpty Dumpty” number in which he slowly shed a giant egg costume to the tune of Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” The fact that Morrison was willing to rehearse and perform such an elaborate piece of choreography while doing eight shows a week of “South Pacific” says a lot about the young star.
Although “Wonderland” will never be seen again, lots of promotional goodies tied in with the show, including posters, T-shirts, and coffee mugs, are available on the BC/EFA Web site at www.broadwaycares.org
Archive for June, 2008
The best time I had during a week away from work was at the 18th annual “Broadway Bares” show at Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom on June 22.
Your faithful blogger is taking some R + R to recharge those old pop cultural batteries and will be back next week. See you then.
In one of the saddest movie ironies of the moment, the dreadful new Hollywood remake of the 1960s TV sitcom “Get Smart” is receiving a very wide national release today while a brilliant French comedy that spoofs 1960s international spy films — “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” — has yet to open in our area.
The French film is on the “coming soon” list at the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford, but business elsewhere in the country has been so tepid that you can’t blame programmer Adam Birnbaum for postponing the engagement.
The alternative movie business has been terrible this summer, with art house managers praying that some foreign or independent release will spark interest in the manner of last summer’s “La Vie en Rose.” So far that hasn’t happened and the churn rate of new releases at the Avon and the Garden in Norwalk has been scary.
“OSS 117” features an amazing performance by the rising French star Jean Dujardin who both embodies and parodies the way Sean Connery played the role of James Bond in the early films in that phenomenally successful series.
Dujardin is a comic actor with real charisma so it is not surprising to learn that he has quickly become a major box office draw in his native country. “OSS 117” was so successful that a sequel is now being filmed in Brazil.
Dujardin’s performance as agent OSS 117 was so widely admired that he received a Cesar nomination last year — the French equivalent of the Oscar — a tribute that rarely goes to comic work.
The actor, who turned 36 yesterday, moved into film after achieving great popularity as a stage performer somewhat in the vein of Eric Bogosian or Lily Tomlin — one of the characters he presented in his stage act, the surfer Brice from Nice, served as the basis for a hit 2005 film that was never theatrically released in this country.
In “OSS 117” Dujardin manages to sustain a parody performance for a whole movie — an achievement that sadly eludes Steve Carell in “Get Smart.” I haven’t seen anything quite like it since the glory days of Peter Sellers who was able to erase the line between “comic” and “actor” in films like “Lolita,” “Dr. Strangelove” and the Inspector Clouseau series.
The Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater has had a devoted cult following for many years, but never the break-out commercial hit he deserves.
Linklater’s 2003 film-for-hire, “School of Rock,” made lots of money, but it wasn’t really in the spirit of the director’s best work.
Back in 1993, many of us thought “Dazed and Confused” would do the trick, because it is one of the best high school comedies ever made — much more realistic than “American Graffiti” (1973) and just as funny.
Set on the last day of school in Austin, Texas, in June 1976, the movie ambles in a very entertaining manner, taking in jocks, nerds and everyone in between as they celebrate the end of classes. Linklater had the guts to present ’70s drug use in a frank and low-key manner that neither condemned nor celebrated Bicentennial potheads.
Sadly, the movie was distributed by a subsidiary of Universal Pictures that decided to dump the movie in multiplexes for a quick and wide release that didn’t give “Dazed and Confused” the time it needed for word-of-mouth to build. In 1993, the names of cast members Matthew McConaughey (above), Ben Affleck and Parker Posey didn’t mean anything to most moviegoers so the picture was sorely lacking in star appeal.
Thanks to video and cable screenings, “Dazed and Confused” has gathered a huge following (and a prestigious Criterion Collection special edition DVD).
But, a movie this lively and funny should be seen with an audience and I am thrilled to be hosting a free “Martini and a Movie” showing next Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Fairfield Theatre Company.
I will be joined at the screening by one of the savviest movie minds in the area — Drew Taylor — who writes for The Fairfield Weekly and holds down the fort at Media Wave in Fairfield. Drew also happens to be from Austin and is something of a Linklater scholar, so we should have a terrific discussion after the movie.
(The Fairfield Theatre Company is at 70 Sanford St. For more information, visit www.fairfieldtheatre.org of call 259-1036.)
Is it the production or the play?
That’s what I always wonder when I am underwhelmed by a new staging of a play that I once thought was terrific.
Current case in point — Christopher Hampton’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” which knocked me out when it debuted on Broadway in the 1980s, but left me ice-cold at the Roundabout Theatre last Sunday.
The play’s portrait of two French aristocrats who, for social sport, like to seduce and abandon prudes and virgins seemed diabolically evil and sexy as played by Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan in the 1980s.
The 1988 movie version was fun, too, with what might be Glenn Close’s best film performance ever and Michelle Pfeiffer so poignant as the married religious woman destroyed by John Malkovich’s seduction.
On Sunday, however, the antics of Laura Linney and Ben Daniels in the same roles seemed almost silly.
Wouldn’t their friends (and enemies) catch on to the obvious manipulations of this dastardly duo, I thought to myself, as I sat through close to three hours of sexual chess-playing. And who would fall under the spell of such an obviously two-faced woman (as played by Linney)?
It’s hard to base a whole play on the machinations of evil manipulators, but Rickman and Duncan pulled it off all those years ago and Close was a spectacular monster in the movie version.
Laura Linney is a wonderful actress, but I never got caught up in her character’s dangerous games — her heart didn’t seem to be in it, so she wasn’t really scary or funny. Linney’s work reminded me of Meryl Streep’s performance in the remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” — a pale echo of that horrifying woman Angela Lansbury played in the original movie.
Do American actresses try to “understand” evil and then wind up softening it?
Or, is “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” just one of those stories that becomes tiresome when you’ve heard it a few times before?
The 2007-2008 Broadway season ended officially with Sunday night’s Tony Award ceremony, but the unofficial finale will be this Sunday night’s presentation of the 18th annual Broadway Bares show for two performances only at the Roseland Ballroom.
The show started as a 1991 brainstorm by then chorus dancer Jerry Mitchell who had a number as a scantily dressed American Indian in “The Will Rogers Follies.” He decided that the theatre world charity, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, could use a jolt of sexy show dancing to raise dough. The dancer went to the Chelsea nightclub Splash with a few friends on their off-night and hauled in $9,000 for the charity.
The hastily assembled evening of stripping for a cause turned into a full-scale show that has gotten larger and more elaborate with each passing year.
For several weeks prior to the big night, more than 200 Broadway dancers — male and female — rehearse about an hour’s worth of high class erotica. They are joined by some of the biggest stars on Broadway for special comedy material that is presented in between the strip numbers — Harvey Fierstein appeared in last year’s show along with David Hyde Pierce (Nathan Lane is expected to be among the guest stars Sunday night).
The dancers rehearse in between their Broadway performances and then the show is presented on their one night off — Sunday at 9:30 p.m. and midnight.
Mitchell attributes much of his current success as a Tony-winning choreographer on Broadway to the work he did on the early “Broadway Bares” productions.
In addition to the increasingly elaborate and spectacular dance numbers, “Broadway Bares” has pushed the envelope with more provocative sexual elements in recent years, but Mitchell and director Dennis Jones never go over the edge into vulgarity.
Last year, “Broadway Bares 17” raised $743,787 and this year the gross potential has been increased with the introduction of a slick coffee table book charting the entire history of Mitchell’s fantastic brainchild (all of the proceeds from the Rizzoli publication will go to BC/EFA).
It’s a terrific one-of-a-kind show and ticket prices start at only $55.
(For more information, go online to broadwaycares.org.)
Lee Child’s 12th Jack Reacher thriller “Nothing to Lose” (Delacorte Press) debuted in the number one spot on The New York Times bestseller list yesterday.
In a very crowded field, Child’s thrillers stand out for their lean and mean approach to character and story. I’ve talked to more than a few mystery and thriller writers who admire what Child does, but are completely mystified as to how he does it.
Many popular crime novel series present highly detailed settings and protagonists with lots of personal and professional baggage — the more we read Sue Grafton or Patricia Cornwell the more we feel we know about their characters Kinsey Milhone and Kay Scarpetta.
Reacher is a deliberately sketchy man — a retired military policeman who chooses to live a nomadic and largely isolated existence, without a permanent address or a significant other.
Reacher carries an ATM card, a portable toothbrush and little else — we assume there is quite a bit of money in his bank account but our hero lives day-by-day without any of the consumer touchstones of 21st century American society.
The man is neither a hero nor a thug — he simply wants to be on his own living the ultimate in “in the moment” lifestyles.
The stories generally start as simply as possible and then build quickly into complex and thrilling adventures (few of which Reacher enters into deliberately).
“Nothing to Lose” finds Reacher hitching in a leisurely fashion from Maine to California. In the second chapter, the character enters a restaurant in a Colorado town with the unlikely name of Despair simply looking for a good cup of coffee.
Our hero waits patiently at the “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign, but when it becomes clear the waitress will not be seating him anytime soon, he sits himself at a table only to find four goons joining him, who insist that he “get going.”
“Going?,” Reacher asks.
“Out of here.”
“Out of where?”
“Out of this restaurant.”
“You want to tell me why?”
“We don’t like strangers.”
Before we know it — and just eight pages into “Nothing to Lose” — Reacher is off on one of his strangest and scariest adventures (fueled primarily by his escalating annoyance with the weirdly anti-social people in this odd little town in the middle of nowhere).
For the next 400 pages, we join Reacher on a wild ride that becomes crazier — but never unbelievable — with each new chapter. The story expands to include “end of times” religious crazies, a possible military cover-up of dark deeds in Iraq, and a potential terrorist attack on a major city.
Reacher is part James Bond, part hard-bitten Western anti-hero (particularly Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”) and part Charles Kuralt .
Child happens to be one of the funniest deadpan comedy writers in his field. The central joke here is that our whole country might have been plunged into political chaos if Reacher had been served a cup of coffee in that Despair greasy spoon.
One of the marvels of the series — and one of its biggest selling points — is that each book stands alone. You can start with “Nothing to Lose” or in the middle of the 12-book series with no diminishment of the pleasure you will find in the hands of this master entertainer.
William J. Mann’s 2006 book, “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn” (Henry Holt) is one of the best movie star biographies I’ve ever read. On Sunday at 2 p.m. the writer will be talking about the book at the Stratford Library.
Mann cuts through the fog of “legend” and PR bull that surrounds every Hollywood celebrity — present or past — to try to get at the woman underneath. The 600-page volume reads like a shot and acts as a corrective to almost every other biography of the Connecticut-born movie icon.
As Gore Vidal put it in his pre-publication endorsement, “William Mann has produced a truly significant biography of a woman whose complicated personality has never been fully captured. He has presented not only an intriguing portrait of Hepburn but also an accurate picture of her Hollywood and the difficult business of stardom.”
Most Hollywood bios tend to fall into one of two categories — overly respectful fan puffery or a knives-out assault on a performer’s “secret” life. Mann walks a very fine line that respects Hepburn’s amazing talent and durability while poking holes in much of the mythology the star herself used as a smokescreen.
The author is especially strong in his analysis of the legend surrounding Hepburn’s supposed decades-long affair with her frequent co-star Spencer Tracy. Mann shows how both performers used the legend to disguise their much more complicated private lives that many of their friends and co-workers believed included same sex relationships.
Mann quotes the late, great Hollywood novelist and screenwriter Gavin Lambert on Tracy’s homosexuality: “It was one of those very deep, dark secrets of Hollywood. It always seemed so odd, because I never felt any gay vibe watching Tracy on-screen. But the stories were told by people in George (Cukor’s) circle I trusted. I think it’s really the only way to fully understand why Tracy was so troubled.”
“Everyone at Metro knew the truth about Kate and Spencer,” Mann quotes another member of the Tracy and Hepburn circle. “They knew that they were together but that it wasn’t a sexual thing. I always laugh when I hear people say, ‘Oh, wasn’t it good of Hollywood not to gossip, to be so respectful of their affair.’ But nobody was gossiping because they knew there was nothing to gossip about. Everyone knew they were just good, devoted friends.”
In a paragraph that is characteristic of Mann’s compassionate, thoughtful tone throughout the book, he comments, “Of course, it was difficult for people to understand — then as well as now — that a relationship could be intense and passionate and important without being sexual. The love story of Tracy and Hepburn should not be minimized just because sex (at least for much of the duration) was not a defining characteristic.”
(William J. Mann’s free talk and signing will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Stratford Library is at 2203 Main St.)