I don’t understand why so many of those very smart people who write about the stage in New York waste so much time and space analyzing the Tony nominations every year.
In a city where much of the best theatre is not produced on Broadway, a media spotlight continues to be turned on a crassly commercial prize that is restricted to the relatively small number of productions that appear in Broadway houses each season.
Efforts have been made to include off-Broadway and off-off Broadway shows in the Tony race, but the real estate operators and producers who control Broadway don’t want to lose the box-office “bump” from the annual Tony PR bonanza. If the field was opened to include any professional productions in New York City, non-Broadway shows playing downtown or crosstown would probably steal away many of the prizes on the nationally telecast awards show every June.
With only several dozen new shows opening each season on Broadway, the nominators are so desperate to fill out categories that crazy flops like “Cry-Baby” get nominated in the best new musical category, and the best revival category includes this season’s umpteenth staging of that 1972 warhorse, “Grease.”
No one would take a movie or book award seriously if the voters could only choose from 100 or so titles released by the most powerful companies, but this is exactly what happens every year when Tony season rolls around.
The Tony Award made some sense 50 years ago, when the Broadway theatre was humming with new musicals and plays — and the commercial and non-commercial off-Broadway sectors were not as strong as they are today — but to continue to pretend that winning a Tony represents the best that New York theatre has to offer is ridiculous to anyone who ventures to non-Tony eligible venues such as Second Stage, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons and many more.
As the number of new musicals and plays produced on Broadway dwindled in the 1970s and ’80s, the organization behind the award had to cook up the “best revival” categories, since revivals now outnumber new productions most seasons.
Because of the dearth of great new musical parts for performers, next month Patti LuPone will probably become the third actress to win a Tony for playing Rose in “Gypsy” (indeed, every actress who has ever played this part on Broadway has been nominated for a Tony — originator Ethel Merman and recent revival star Bernadette Peters lost in their races, but both Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly won Tonys in the years they headlined revivals).
The Tony voters lump the stars of revivals in the same categories as the actors who originate new roles so you get such grossly unfair situations as Kerry Butler’s brilliant comic performance in the charming but fluffy diversion “Xanadu” (above) going up against LuPone in “Gypsy,” Kelli O’Hara in “South Pacific” and Jenna Russell in “Sunday in the Park with George.”
I don’t understand why so many of those very smart people who write about the stage in New York waste so much time and space analyzing the Tony nominations every year.
After a series of preview mini-fests — including one in Trumbull a few weeks ago — the Connecticut Film Festival kicks off its official six-day run in Danbury today.
These are difficult times for theatrical movies — with grosses slightly up so far this year while the number of tickets sold continues to decline — and film festivals face the added challenge of generating interest in little-known independent movies.
Because of the declining art house market, festivals have sprung up all over the country in recent years, but Connecticut has seen a number of them come and go in the past ten years (remember Film Fest New Haven and the Director’s View Film Festival in Stamford?).
Connecticut Film Festival executive director Thomas Carruthers has had a hard time finding one town in which to base the festival. Many people have been confused over the past few years by the way the festival roamed from theater to theater in this part of the state. The CFF also has been plagued by technical glitches involving its website and scheduling (a few years ago I was mortified when the private judges’ ballots popped up on the festival website, including my own not so nice comments about a few of the entries!).
So, here’s hoping the festival finally clicks into gear in Danbury this week and is able to remain there in years to come.
Unlike the popular gay and lesbian festival in Hartford every June — which has a clearly focused mission — the CFF is offering 130 fiction and non-fiction films dealing with a wide range of subject matter and storytelling styles.
The line-up includes a wonderful new documentary, “Uncounted” (above), about the looming horror of paperless computerized voting machines spreading across the country. The movie digs into the disaster in Ohio during the last national elections and ends with a stirring call to arms demanding paper copies of every vote cast (in case someone calls for a recount).
One of the late night attractions will be the striking sex drama, “Leave You in Me,” by Stamford filmmaker Dutch Doscher which I recently had the privilege of screening with “Last Tango in Paris” at the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford. Doscher has had a hard time getting the award-winning film publicly shown due to the casual frontal nudity and blunt langauge, so it’s great that the festival has agreed to include the short film.
Tonight’s opening festivities will center around “The Flyboys” starring Stephen Baldwin and Tom Sizemore.
The six-days will be packed with special parties and networking events for aspiring moviemakers and there will be a festival awards ceremony Sunday night.
For complete schedules and ticket information, go online to www.ctfilmfestival.com
Vanessa Redgrave was already a star of the London stage in 1966, but she became an international movie star that year as a result of her breakthrough performances in “Morgan!” and “Blow-Up.”
It was a double-barreled triumph similar to the one-two punch Julie Christie scored a year earlier in “Darling” and “Doctor Zhivago.”
England was as much a center of pop culture as New York or Los Angeles in those wonderful days of The Beatles, James Bond and “Tom Jones” (the 1963 Tony Richardson film that startled some Hollywood folks by winning the best picture Oscar).
“Morgan!” is one of the most fondly recalled pictures of that fervent era, a mix of satire, romantic comedy, politics and fashion about the free-spirited Londoner of the title, Morgan Delt (played by David Warner), a would-be artist and devout believer in Karl Marx who is dismissed as being crazy by some people. (In England, the film was subtitled “A Suitable Case for Treatment”).
Redgrave plays Morgan’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Leonie, a woman who adored her husband but wants an easier, more conventional life among the rich people she was raised with. The actress faced the challenge of playing a rather shallow society type who might have been repellant (and unbelievable) if played by a less charming and talented performer.
Because we can see Leonie’s doubts about her new beau (a rich rotter played by Robert Stephens), we root for Morgan as his romantic quest becomes crazier (and even violent).
The picture is in the same spirit as another ’60s inmates-running-the-asylum cult classic, “King of Hearts.” These days, Morgan probably would be diagnosed and medicated and wouldn’t even think about winning his wife back with over-the-top theatrics.
As the times changed, David Warner went from being a romantic icon to a villain in countless films of the subsequent 40 years, but Redgrave was launched on one of the great film careers of our time (“Morgan!” earned the actress her first Oscar nomination).
Tomorrow night I’m hosting a free “Martini and a Movie” screening of the Karel Reisz-directed film at 7 p.m. It will be interesting to see how this “Swinging London” classic holds up after 44 years.
(The Fairfield Theatre Company is at 70 Sanford St. For more information on the Tuesday screening call 259-1036.)
I had a nice chat a few days ago with Sharon Malane, the New Canaan native who has been on tour with “Hairspray” for the past year-and-a-half, and who arrived at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre this week.
The show has already taken Sharon to Japan and at the end of the summer the John Waters-derived hit will be playing Shanghai and Beijing in China.
The actress was cast in a smaller part in the show when the chance to take over one of the leads — Penny — came along. After just a few rehearsal sessions, she went on.
“It was hard but I knew the show. I never felt, ‘Oh, I missed out on a long rehearsal…It’s like a story being passed down from a mom to her daughter. You just find your own way with it,” she said.
One of the surprises for everyone connected with “Hairspray” has been the way family audiences all over the world have responded to the show despite the fact that it is derived from a film by the notorious creator of “Pink Flamingos.”
“It’s true, we get all ages,” Malane said. “I just think the show is honest about the way people feel and this girl (Tracy, the chubby best friend of Penny) who has nothing.”
With the rise of “American Idol” and other competitive music and dancing TV shows, Tracy’s burning desire to become one of the regular dancers on a 1960s era Baltimore teen TV show has connected with contemporary audiences of all ages.
“It’s about being creative and being free,” Malane said, adding that the tight mother-daughter bond between Tracy and Edna also tickles and touches the family crowd.
“The secondary story about civil rights is still something audiences relate to. Look at our election and everyone wondering whether the country would elect a black president,” she added.
Malane got the performing bug at New Canaan High School when she played Little Red Riding Hood in the Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods.” She was hooked and went on to “Carousel,” “Anything Goes” and “Hello, Dolly!”
Thrilled to be working so steadily so soon after she graduated from college — she saw the Broadway version of “Hairspray” while she was still in school — the actress feels like she is working in musical theatre at a particularly fervent time.
“There have been a couple of breakthrough shows like ‘Rent’ and ‘Spring Awakening’ that are opening things up to new people and new talent — there are a lot of interesting things happening on Broadway,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sharon is looking forward to lots of New Canaan family reunion time this weekend before “Hairspray” hits the road again.
(“Hairspray” is being presented tonight at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Shubert, 247 College St., New Haven. For more information call 562-5666.)
The astute Washington Post film reviewer Stephen Hunter wrote a funny review of “What Happens in Vegas” last weekend in which he quickly gave up trying to analyze the appeal of leading man Ashton Kutcher.
Hunter’s conclusion — basically — was, like it or not, Kutcher is a genuine movie star of the ’00s.
“Vegas” was trashed by many critics, but I found myself warming up to it as it went along, mostly because of the genuine sexual and romantic chemistry of Kutcher and Cameron Diaz.
The movie starts off very badly, with both stars overdoing their distress at losing a job (Kutcher’s dilemma) and being dumped by a boyfriend (Diaz’s shock).
They go to Vegas — separately — meet not-so-cute in the midst of drunken carousing and wind up getting married in the middle of their stupors. Shame-faced the next day, they agree to split, until he wins $3 million out of a slot machine, and she decides — since he used her quarter — that half of the money is hers.
Back in New York, a judge forces them to stay married (and live together) until they’ve gone through a series of counseling sessions.
If you can make it through the first 20 or 25 minutes, “What Happens in Vegas” starts to fall into place as a sort-of-remake of “The More the Merrier,” the 1943 farce in which Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea fell in love after being forced to share a tiny Washington, D.C. apartment (during the World War II housing shortage).
I’m not suggesting that “Vegas” is in the same league as the George Stevens classic, but the situation is similar and the two stars share Arthur and McCrea’s ability to downplay their good looks and to pull off physical comedy bits as well as sexy clinches.
Kutcher is a very attractive guy, but he never acts as if he knows it — the woefully underrated Joel McCrea had the same trait — so he can get away with playing the slobby anti-hero who wishes the uptight businesswoman played by Diaz would simply go away.
By the end of the movie, I was rooting for both characters, and believed in their hard-won love match. If the script got them together faster and without such low-brow antics in Lost Wages, the movie could have been wonderful rather than a near-miss.
It was 10 years ago today that Frank Sinatra died and the occasion is being marked with a multi-media explosion that includes a U.S. postage-stamp issued yesterday.
Even though Sinatra never took acting very seriously, 22 of his movies are being reissued on DVD by Warner Home Video in various sets (including a “Rat Pack” collection you don’t want to buy unless you are yearning to see “4 for Texas” and “Sergeants 3” again).
The Sinatra I love is the perfectionist singer-musician who revolutionized the recording industry in the 1950s with a series of “concept” albums for Capitol Records that still sound freshly recorded today.
On movie sets, Sinatra was famous for telling directors that they would only get one take out of him, but in the recording studio he demanded time and the best from everyone (including himself).
The albums — such as “Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely,” “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Come Fly with Me” — were sequenced by Sinatra and his arrangers (most often Nelson Riddle) to have the dramatic arc of a movie or play.
At a time when most long-playing records were randomly assembled tunes, Sinatra began creating stories out of carefully chosen songs — old and new.
“Come Fly With Me” is a buoyant ode to travel and movement, taking the listener from the introductory title tune through “Moonlight in Vermont,” “London by Night” and “Brazil.” If you’re in a dark state of mind, listening to this CD is a surefire mood elevator.
I tend to agree with the Sinatra fans who believe “Only the Lonely” might be the singer’s greatest recording, but it is such a melancholy collection that it isn’t really designed for casual listening (Sinatra was said to call it “the suicide album” only partly in jest).
I don’t think there has ever been a simpler or more beautiful arrangement for a pop song than the one Nelson Riddle wrote for “One for My Baby” — the last cut on the original vinyl “Only the Lonely” (the CD version tacks on two extra tracks including a great version of the Rodgers and Hart standard “Where or When”) . Riddle cited “Only the Lonely” and “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” as his two best Sinatra collaborations.
Sinatra did produce and star in one of my all-time favorite movies “The Manchurian Candidate,” but his film work pales in comparison with the recordings he left behind.
Will Friedwald — author of the peerless Sinatra-in-the-studio tome, “The Song is You” — captured the essence of the singer’s unique and timeless form of musical performance when he wrote, “Where other singers, at best, work with lyrics and melodies, Sinatra deals in mental images and pure feelings that he seems to summon up almost without the intervention of composers, arrangers, and musicians, as vital as their contributions are.”
Sinatra’s best “movies” were the ones he created in his listeners’ minds as he sang.
Mercedes Ruehl is giving a very sly and very funny performance as sculptor Louise Nevelson in Edward Albee’s bio-play “Occupant,” running at the Signature Theatre in Manhattan through July 6.
Although the production is being billed as a “world premiere,” an earlier version of the play was set to open in 2002 at the Signature, but was forced to close only a week into the run due to the illness of Anne Bancroft (she died three years later).
I caught an early preview of “Occupant” last weekend — the official press opening is June 5 — and thoroughly enjoyed Ruehl’s virtuoso performance alongside the work of Larry Bryggman as an oily interviewer in the Charlie Rose vein.
It is a bit of stretch to call what Albee has written a “play.” “Occupant” doesn’t have the suspense or the dramatic momentum of the writer’s great work — it is a deliberately slight mock interview in which Nevelson (who died in 1988) is brought back from the hereafter to discuss her life and work.
Although the set-up is supernatural — how did the interviewer pull Nevelson back from the other side? — what Albee gives us is nothing more than a two-hour Q&A in which the artist ignores her flat-footed interrogator much of the time to charm us with anecdotes drawn from her 89-year life.
Those who go into “Occupant” expecting some big moment of resolution or even an explosive dust-up between the artist and the interviewer will be sorely disappointed.
But the two hours are good light fun in which Albee satirizes the whole celebrity interview process and shows how entertainment value almost always trumps “truth” when a famous person agrees to be questioned in a public forum.
Ruehl goes so deep into her character that we forget we are watching the star of “Married to the Mob” and “The Fisher King” on screen and “Other People’s Money” and Albee’s “The Goat” on stage. The illusion that we are observing and listening to the real Nevelson expounding on art, New York City and her elusive search for “love” is maintained with scarcely a false note by a terrific actress who appears to be enjoying every moment on stage.
(The original May 6 to June 29 run of “Occupant” sold out weeks ago, but extra performances have been added through July 6. For more information, go to www.signaturetheatre.org.)
We are all used to the notion of semi-autobiographical movies in which writer-directors act out variations on their own life experience — Woody Allen has spent much of his career doing just that and others who have worked the same genre include Ed Burns and Frenchman Yvan Attal.
But, it isn’t common for a playwright to act on a New York stage in one of his own plays, so David Grimm is exposing himself in “Steve & Idi” — his new comedy-drama at the Rattlestick Theatre in Greenwich Village — in a way that Richard Greenberg and Tony Kushner have not attempted.
Grimm is one of my favorite contemporary theater writers. He received superb productions of “The Great Osram” and “The Learned Ladies of Park Avenue” at Hartford Stage in recent seasons and I’ve enjoyed his off-Broadway shows “Kit Marlowe” and “Measure for Pleasure,” too.
The playwright has a tough, cynical sense of humor that has been restrained a bit in some of his period pieces, but “Steve & Idi” is a angry, confrontational contemporary play about a theater writer on the verge of a nervous breakdown — partially the result of the precarious position of any young and serious American playwright today and partially due to his self-destructive romantic and sexual relationships.
Just as it is probably wrong to assume Woody Allen is all of the characters he’s played in his own films, the Brooklyn writer Steve in Grimm’s play might not be all that much like the “real” writer behind the piece. The writer might be having some fun at the expense of his most tortured artiste friends and acquaintances.
But, with Grimm acting for the first time in 18 years, you can’t help but believe there are strong parallels with Steve that made him feel he should play the part.
To Grimm’s credit, Steve is viewed in a much harsher light than the other characters in the play. He pushes friends and potential lovers away in an often unpleasant manner and the quality of the work Steve is doing is never romanticized either — indeed, we are left with the impression that the play Steve is writing about Idi Amin is probably unproduceable and a symptom of his emotional deterioration.
The device of Idi — or rather the spirit of Idi — marching into Steve’s apartment right after the writer tries to kill himself is used for much sharp humor but the ghost (so well played by Evan Parke) also works as a literal depiction of the writer’s violent imagination.
Director Eleanor Holdridge has assembled a first-rate cast of five for “Steve & Idi” and it is a credit to Grimm that he holds everything together with his witty but harrowing portrait of an artist in melt-down mode.
Some of the reviews of “Steve & Idi” have been savagely negative, so Grimm is working in the face of formidable New York media opposition. Unlike most playwrights who can go off somewhere and lick their wounds, Grimm is up on that stage working out Steve’s demons at every performance. “Steve & Idi” is often as messy and as unstable as the protagonist’s psyche, but it is quite a show.
(“Steve & Idi” is running through May 24 at the Rattlestick Theatre. For more information, call 212-868-4444 or www.rattlestick.org)