Oscar E Moore

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NANCY OLSON REMEMBERS SUNSET BOULEVARD

April 24th, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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April 19, 2020 11:48pm PT by Scott Feinberg HollywoodReporter.com

‘Sunset Blvd.’ Turns 70: Nancy Olson on Wilder, Holden and Why She Walked Away From Stardom

The 91-year-old, who was Oscar-nominated for her portrayal of a script reader who falls in love with a kept man, looks back on the film that she says “haunts my entire life.”
“I have lived a very long time, as you know, and I have never experienced anything like this,” Nancy Olson, the actress best known for her work in the Hollywood classic Sunset Blvd., says of the novel coronavirus crisis, which has forced us to speak by telephone even though we live just minutes from each other in the Beverly Hills area. “There’s uncertainty every single day!” But pandemic be damned, a movie only turns 70 once, and rarely with any of its stars around to celebrate the occasion, so Olson, who is 91 and Sunset’s last survivor, is kind enough to set aside some time to look back.
“It is something that haunts my entire life,” she says of the 1950 film — one of the most celebrated and imitated examples of film noir — which was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder and also starred William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim, all of whom have been dead for decades. “I don’t mean in a bad way. It’s just a presence in my life that will stay with me long after I’m gone.”
The older of two children born to a Milwaukee doctor and a schoolteacher, Olson was an all-American girl — nicknamed “Wholesome Olson” by classmates — who partook in drama, music and speech while in high school. She started at the University of Wisconsin, where as a freshman she landed the lead in a Wisconsin Players’ production, before heading west and transferring to UCLA, where an uncle had recently become a dean. She stayed with her uncle and aunt in the Pacific Palisades while attending school as a theater arts major and harboring dreams of a career on the stage.
Then, one night after Olson — not yet 21 — had performed in a Bruins production of The Play’s the Thing, a Paramount talent scout who had been in the audience asked her to come by the studio for a screen test. Shortly thereafter, she read opposite George Reeves, later TV’s Superman, and was signed to a seven-year contract that permitted her to continue to attend college part-time, placating her parents.
Her first assignment was Canadian Pacific, in which she starred opposite Randolph Scott, “who was old enough to be my father.” She made promotional appearances alongside other starlets, including one Marilyn Monroe of Fox. And she learned to navigate men of the industry who expressed an interest in the stunning brunette newcomer: “If I walked on the set and somebody said, ‘Oh, God, you look great today,’ I loved that,” she admits. But when things went over the line? “I had a technique of dealing with anybody who came too intimately. I just handled it so straight — Wisconsin-straight — and that would put them off.”
One person whose interest in her was not romantic, but was hard to decipher, was Wilder, who would frequently catch up with her when she was on her way to or from the studio commissary to inquire about her life and thoughts. “I surmised years later,” she says, “that what he was doing was auditioning me.” Indeed, unbeknownst to Olson at the time, “He was writing about a young woman who was an aspiring writer, and therefore the actress playing that part could not be just one of the little starlets on the lot; you had to somewhere believe that writing was of interest to her. And so I think it was the way I articulated myself that got me the part.”
She eventually got a call from the studio’s talent office telling her that she would next be appearing in a Wilder picture called Sunset Blvd., and was sent the screenplay. “I read that script and realized that this was not the usual, that this was daring,” she recalls. She was to play Betty Schaefer, a script reader who wants to be a screenwriter and, though engaged to another man, falls in love with a struggling screenwriter by the name of Joe Gillis, who turns out to be the kept man of Norma Desmond, a faded star of Hollywood’s long-ago silent era.
Holden, who played Gillis, was also appropriately cast — like his character, the actor was down on his luck, having never fulfilled the star potential he had demonstrated in 1939’s Golden Boy. “He was now playing male second-leads, he was drinking too much, he was in a bad marriage and he was desperate about his career,” Olson explains. “He was losing it. It was brilliant casting because Joe Gillis is losing his career and his life and his dreams.” As for Swanson? “I had no idea who she was,” Olson confesses. “I asked my mother and she told me.”
Sunset Blvd. was shot almost entirely on the Paramount lot, and Olson visited its set numerous times in the days before she was to shoot her own scenes. Edith Head would sometimes costume her in outfits Head wanted Wilder to approve for the film — only to have Wilder tell Head that he preferred Olson in her own humble wardrobe.
As for the shoot itself? Olson enjoyed every moment of it, from her scenes in the studio’s second-story readers department offices (which are still there) to the one at Norma’s mansion (which was not actually at 10086 Sunset Blvd., as the film suggests, but rather at the corner of Wilshire and Irving, and was demolished in 1957). One, however, stands out to her above the others: “I felt the scene on the backlot” — when Schaefer and Gillis stroll the alleyways together, she tells him she once harbored aspirations of being an actress and had a nose job to try to make it possible and he then kisses her nose before telling her to keep her distance from him, lest he be tempted — “was written so beautifully.”
Hollywood legend has it that Sunset Blvd. was privately screened for an audience of industry insiders prior to its theatrical release, at which point MGM chief Louis B. Mayer and Wilder had an altercation. Olson says she was not present when this happened, but had friends who were and told her what happened: “Louis B. Mayer sat there and watched the film, and when it was over he got up and marched over to Billy Wilder and said, ‘How could you do this to us [the industry that had made Wilder rich and famous]?!’ And Billy got up and said, ‘Go fuck yourself.'”
After Sunset Blvd. was in the can, but before it was released, Olson, working for $300 a week, shot a handful of other films including Mr. Music opposite Bing Crosby (“I was much too young for Bing”) and three more with Holden — Union Station, Force of Arms and Submarine Command — who, she says with a chuckle, had made a romantic pass at her in his trailer during the shooting of Sunset Blvd., but graciously accepted her rejection, after which, she says, “We became really good friends.”
However, before any of these films were released (in 1950 or 1951), Olson made a major decision: to walk away from Hollywood. Several things factored into her thinking: She would no longer be able to continue her education — “I could not go back to UCLA and be with all my friends and have them treat me exactly the way they used to,” she realized. She had become engaged to someone whose career was in New York — the writer Alan Jay Lerner. And, most important, she had already begun to see through the veneer of stardom. As Sunset Blvd. had illustrated, movie stars are disposable commodities — and even when one is in the thick of stardom, it’s just an illusion. “There’s a distortion that isn’t real,” Olson emphasizes. “You are not treated like who you really are. You are exaggerated.” So, she recalls, “I said to Paramount, ‘I’m not interested in being a movie star,’ and they just took me off their list. But then when Sunset Blvd. opened [Aug. 10, 1950, and became a critical and commercial hit], the pressure on me to return was unbelievable.”
Sunset Blvd. was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, second that year only to another film about an aging actress, All About Eve, which landed a record-setting 14 noms (a figure since tied by Titanic and La La Land, but never bested). Sunset’s haul included a nom in all four acting categories, something only four films previously had — and 10 films since have — achieved. Olson flew back to attend the Oscars ceremony, and ended up losing to Harvey’s Josephine Hull — “Not one of us [four performers] got an award,” she marvels — though the film did win for its writing, art/set decoration and musical score. In the best picture race, All About Eve prevailed. “That was a great film,” she acknowledges. “However, Sunset Blvd. is way ahead of it.” (She was back at the Oscars a year later accepting a screenwriting award for Lerner’s work on An American in Paris, while he stayed with his dying father.)
Olson sporadically returned to filmmaking over the ensuing years — most notably in Big Jim McLain (1952) opposite John Wayne; Robert Wise’s So Big (1953); The Boy From Oklahoma (1954), directed by Michael Curtiz; Raoul Walsh’s Battle Cry (1955); and four Disney films, Pollyanna (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Son of Flubber (1963) and Snowball Express (1972). But, she emphasizes, “My life has been far more expansive than just making movies.”
The author of a just-completed memoir, A Front Row Seat, she also starred in three plays on Broadway, The Tunnel of Love (1957-1958), Send Me No Flowers (1960-1961) and Mary, Mary (1962-1964). She was twice married to distinguished Alans — first Lerner, from 1950 until their divorce in 1957 (he wrote the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” for the 1956 Broadway production of My Fair Lady after making a similar remark about Olson), and then Alan W. Livingston, a top music industry exec, from 1962 until his death in 2009. And she is the mother of three children — two girls with Lerner and a boy with Livingston — who have since made her a proud grandmother.
Every once in a while, she is reminded of her time in the movies. Still strikingly beautiful, she recently went into the beauty department at Saks and, to her amazement, was recognized immediately. She received a postcard not long ago from a fan who ended his missive by somewhat creepily paraphrasing a line that Gillis said to Schaefer: “P.S.: You still ‘smell like freshly laundered linen handkerchiefs.'” She is occasionally asked to participate in Q&As following screenings of Sunset Blvd., and her presence has helped to pack screenings at the TCM Film Festival and elsewhere. And, back in February, her most celebrated film was even referenced in a questionable remark by President Donald Trump, who, at a rally following the best picture Oscar win of the South Korean film Parasite — which he had not seen — said he preferred films like Gone With the Wind and Sunset Blvd. (Olson, for her part, says, “If he is re-elected, I’m not sure what is going to happen to our democracy and to our country and to the world.”)
Most of the time, though, she quite happily goes about her life as just another face in the crowd — which she told me she would do after our phone call, when she planned to head to Whole Foods. “Don’t worry,” she reassured me when I expressed concern. “I have a mask and gloves.”
Photo courtesy of Photofest

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JOEL GREY on CARONAVIRUS & THEATER

April 23rd, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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OPINION
Before Coronavirus, Theater Was My Salvation. Where Do I Turn Now?
The live-streamed performances and online group chats have been useful, but I miss the joy that comes with being in a theater.
By Joel Grey
Mr. Grey is an actor and director.
• April 22, 2020

Recently, I quietly (and socially distantly) celebrated my 88th birthday. Some people might say that, even in good times, looking toward the future at my age is an act of optimism. But a life in the theater is built on exactly that kind of blind confidence, and I’ve spent my life pretty much always looking forward to whatever was the next thing: the next role, the next milestone, the next great show to see.
Now, because of the coronavirus, we’re facing a future that sure feels more tenuous and fragile than ever. Projects have been canceled, milestones have already been missed, and all the shows have gone dark. These are hard times, for sure, and in hard times I, like so many others, have always turned to the theater for comfort. Where do we turn now?
To non-theater lovers, lamenting the closing of Broadway in the face of so much widespread suffering may seem, at best, frivolous. But for many of us, this tragedy has been made that much more devastating by having to face the nightmare without the laughter, tears and sense of community that a night in the theater delivers.
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The darkened Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on West 45th Street, home of the musical “Come From Away.” Broadway theaters have been closed since March 12 because of the pandemic.Credit…Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times
When politicians talk about the power of Broadway in tough times they often speak in purely economic terms. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made his interest clear when he told the nation: “If you really want to help New York City, come to New York. Go to a play. Spend money in New York City.”
It is big business, to be sure. It’s a point of pride that Broadway is New York City’s top tourist destination, drawing more ticket buyers in the 2017-18 season than all of the tristate area’s sports teams combined.
But by focusing solely on “money, money, money,” we diminish playgoing’s deepest value. When the theater reacts in real time to current events, it has a unique ability to comfort and lead us through difficult times.
The only other public health emergency in my lifetime that recalls this pandemic, both because of the terror surrounding it and the failure of our elected officials to contain it, was AIDS. When “The Normal Heart,” Larry Kramer’s dramatization of the early days of that crisis, premiered at the Public Theater, it was 1985, near the height of paranoia about AIDS. Shortly after the play’s opening night, the actor playing the role of Ned Weeks, Brad Davis, found out he was positive and fell ill.
Joe Papp, the producer, called and asked me to take over the role, which called for an onstage kiss between Ned and his lover. My doctor — who did not yet know exactly how the disease could and could not be transmitted — advised me not to take the job because of it. I’ve never been particularly good at following doctors’ orders, and in this case, for me, the notion of backing out was unthinkable; I was already committed and felt an urgent need to be a part of telling this story. But the fear that came from that misinformation was there nightly.
The fact that “The Normal Heart” was chronicling these horrific events more or less in real time made it so much more than a play. It was a coming together of the actors and the audience to to talk about it, cry about it, cry some more about it — to connect. Up until then, I had never been in a play where the audience’s weeping would become part of the mise-en-scène.
Every single night, there was a palpable sense of catharsis in the theater before, during and after the performance. The production was a release for a community in mourning, and also managed to infiltrate popular culture in a way that created much wider awareness about a largely misunderstood disease. (A few years later, Tony Kushner would dramatize the horrors of AIDS to an even wider audience with his epic “Angels in America.”)
I can’t think of any significant national trauma during my life to which dramatists haven’t held a mirror, from the Vietnam War (“Hair,” in 1967) to the Sept. 11 attacks (“The Guys,” December 2001). It’s what we do. The theater provides a fundamental way in which we process pain and learn to heal. And now, in this moment of such great loss and confusion, where do we go?
Privately, we are keeping our community intact through video chats and telephone calls. When one of us falls ill, the other members of our community rally around. While the “Moulin Rouge!” actor Danny Burstein was hospitalized and recovering from the coronavirus, I spoke to him numerous times every day. Right now, as another actor who has been infected, Nick Cordero, battles the illness, a group of his friends hold a daily online gathering to pray, commune and dance to his original music.
Publicly, our analogue art form has gone digital — play readings over Zoom, musical performances via Instagram Live and the proliferation of new podcasts. Theater people are nothing if not resourceful when it comes to reaching an audience.
Our ability to connect with audiences and one another through technology is useful, but I miss the real thing. I long to hail a cab, head to Midtown, hand over my ticket, grab a Playbill and settle into my seat, as a thousand strangers and I breathlessly wait for the lights to go down and the curtain to go up.
Until then, I’m taking comfort in the thought that at hundreds — maybe thousands — of desks around the world right now, great playwrights with too much free time on their hands are unleashing their wisdom, their fury and their boundless compassion upon the challenges we face. We may just have to wait a little longer than usual for the relief and understanding that all of that important work will provide.
And when that important work arrives, I’ll be ready. As the entertainer George M. Cohan, who I had the honor of portraying in the 1968 musical “George M!” once wrote, “Whisper of how I’m yearning/ To mingle with the old-time throng/ Give my regards to old Broadway/ And say that I’ll be there e’er long.”
Maybe, at 88, I’ve finally learned a little patience. Here I am, as optimistic as ever, looking forward to those eventual opening nights, and so much more.
Joel Grey is an Academy and Tony Award-winning actor and director.
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FOLIES BERGERE – 1935 musical an unexpected delight!

March 29th, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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Starring Maurice Chevalier, Ann Sothern & Merle Oberon

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THE BROADWAY CARONAVIRUS MEDLEY

March 22nd, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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As performed by Zach Timson

 

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IVO van HOVE’S WEST SIDE STORY WILL LEAVE YOU BREATHLESS

February 29th, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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The torch has been passed.  WEST SIDE STORY will never be the same.  The JETS and the SHARKS have evolved in this daring, audacious, re-imagined, multiracial, up-to-date, timeless, violent yet beautifully touching phenomenal production now playing at the Broadway Theatre – hopefully for a very long time – directed by Ivo van Hove who has taken over the creative reins from Jerome Robbins who conceived, directed and choreographed the original in 1957.

In the words of Stephen Sondheim the lyricist of West Side Story then and now – “having the vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution – putting it together that’s what counts.”

This quote from SUNDAY IN THE PARK is what really matters.

And Ivo van Hove has put together an altogether impressive production with some most original and controversial choices.  Somehow it all works to evoke the tragic love story of two young people from opposite sides of the raging gang wars of the upper west side of Manhattan trying to stay together as they are torn apart by prejudice.

Tony (a mesmerizing Isaac Powell – his “Maria” is sensational) and Maria (a totally realistic match for him) both with astounding voices make us truly believe in their love for one another.  Perhaps their first love.  The playfulness, the tenderness the wonder of young love and their tragic outcome due to circumstances beyond their control.  You will weep at the explosive outcome.

The new vibrant street-wise choreography has been created by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker with great success.  It’s not easy to make us momentarily forget the great Jerome Robbins.

But she accomplishes just that with her ensemble of terrific triple threat actors.

Of course the penultimate star is Leonard Bernstein with his majestic, timeless score that has been retrofitted with new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.

How impressive to hear it live with a full orchestra in the pit led by Alexander Gemignani with lyrics by a young Mr. Sondheim.  Listen closely to some of the foreshadowing words in “One Hand, One Heart” and chills will race up your spine.

Now for the extensive use of videos (design by Luke Halls) directed by Quinn Matthews.  They work.  Sometimes you have to work at what to focus on – as there are many – but in the long run they are so smoothly integrated into the production that they are a marvel to behold.  Giving you multiple perspectives of the action.  Sometimes live action video, or filmed.  Close ups and long shots that add just the perfect details.

Jan Versweyveld (scenic & lighting design) has also done a superlative job – leaving the mammoth stage wide open for the dancers yet having smaller spaces at the rear of the stage for Doc’s drugstore and the shop where Maria works with her best friend Anita (a fiery Yesenia Ayala) who is the girlfriend of Maria’s brother Bernardo (a fierce Amar Ramasar) who is Tony’s antagonist.

Resulting in an avalanche of events to the explosive rumble, with bare chested tatted men fighting it out.  In the rain.  Lots of rain.  And violence.  And death.

The original production was way ahead of its time.  WEST SIDE STORY has now caught up to itself.

When was the last time a show left you breathless?

“Daddy-o” (book Arthur Laurents) might even become cool again.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

1 hour 45 minutes NO INTERMISSION – NO LATE SEATING

www.westsidestorybway.com

Photos:  Jan Versweyveld

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A SOLDIER’S PLAY – the madness of racism in America

February 1st, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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At 80 years of age, playwright Charles Fuller is finally seeing his 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning drama A SOLDIER’S PLAY on Broadway.  At the American Airlines Theatre – a Roundabout Theatre Company production.  ONLY through March 15th.  I highly recommend a visit.

Originally premiering Off-Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1981 this powerful, raw and still pertinent play that resonates like a tsunami is done proud by director Kenny Leon, his creative staff and the casting of an excellent ensemble of actors.

Sometimes, most times unfortunately, the authors of fine work have to be extremely patient to reap their rewards.

And so here we are at Fort Neal, Louisiana, 1944 a U.S.A. segregated Army base where a company of black baseball players/soldiers await deployment overseas under the leadership of Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (David Alan Grier) a loud-mouthed, tyrannical, drunken lout who in the opening scene is murdered by an unknown assailant.

Captain Richard Davenport (a calm, confident and persistent Blair Underwood) has been summoned to investigate the murder much to the dismay of Captain Charles Taylor (a hyper Jerry O’Connell) who is shocked that a Negro could also be a Captain and does his best to thwart Davenport’s investigation.

Who killed Sergeant Waters?  In a riveting and tense two acts we get the surprising answer.  But not before Davenport, as our narrator, investigates and interviews the other soldiers who all had good reason to get rid of Waters.  Particularly the smiling guitar strumming Private C. J. Memphis (a fine J. Alphonse Nicholson) who Waters has a particular disdain for.

Mostly in flashback with some beautiful staging and singing of the blues by the soldiers in their bare bones barracks (Derek McLane) where they joke around and display their admirable bodies we are faced with racism not only of the whites for the blacks, but the vicious and vindictive black Waters for his black soldiers.

Originally deemed too revolutionary for Broadway because of its prophetic last line – “You’ll have to get used to Black people being in charge.” A SOLDIER’S PLAY has finally arrived in all its glory.  Fierce acting from everyone.

1 hour 50 minutes including one intermission.

www.roundabouttheatre.org

Photos:  Joan Marcus

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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GRAND HORIZONS – Divorce Sit-Com Style

January 31st, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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The more I think of this newest offering by playwright Bess Wohl at 2nd Stage – The Helen Hayes Theater – the less I like it.  The underlying themes are easy enough to digest but the premise is hard to swallow.  Perhaps it might help if were subtitled – a fable.

Taking place in the here and now.  In a retirement community Grand Horizons – where all the house are alike – Monopoly cubes reminiscent of Levittown Long Island.  Where the walls are paper thin and the plants artificial.  Realistic breakaway set design by Clint Ramos.

Nancy and Bill have been married for fifty years. Their life together has become routine.  As they prepare their breakfast and set their table director Leigh Silverman has staged it as though they could do this with their eyes closed; in their sleep.  The most excellent and elegant Jane Alexander in wonderful dead pan delivery asks for a divorce.  James Cromwell agrees.  Fadeout.

It’s mostly downhill after that.

We meet their two offspring:  The hyper/gay unable to commit dramatic instructor Brian (Michael Urie) and his more rooted brother Ben (Ben McKenzie) whose very pregnant wife Jess (Ashley Park) a therapist, have come to the rescue to forestall the inevitable divorce.

Dad will soon face the audience to tell of his desire to be a stand-comic whose jokes to not amuse his soon-to-be-ex-wife.  And have never amused her it appears.  She also has never had her own bank account.  Really?  She is an intelligent, well informed woman and this is 2020.  It’s impossible to believe that she has never heard of Women’s Lib of the late 60’s early 70’s nor has ever seen the terrific Virginia Slims ads featuring women “free from oppression” – Nancy still has a long way to go and so now she wants out.  Finally.

As the ad campaign continued – “Used to be every man’s wife was entitled to an opinion.  His.”  Man ran the world.  Women ran the household.  And so it has been for Nancy and Bill.  But that is about to end according to Bess Wohl in what used to be called a Boulevard Comedy a la Neil Simon.  Ms. Wohl is no Neil Simon – although there are lots of jokes and some amusing situations and monologues – that border on the raunchy and/or ridiculous.

Nancy’s confession to her gay son about her tryst with a guy named Hal and Carla’s instructions on how to order a vibrator on the internet are borderline cringe worthy.

Carla shows up in Act II (which fares much better than the first after its absurd cliffhanger) – Carla is the secret girlfriend of Bill whom he has sex-texted to and is portrayed by the still wonderful Pricilla Lopez who has a tete-a-tete with Nancy (who views this mistress as her salvation from Bill) regarding the aforementioned vibrator.  Audience chuckles all around.

The gay son, at one moment, brings back to the home a casual would be sex partner.  A trick into role playing that fizzles faster than Alka-Seltzer.  A scene better off cut.  This thankless role of Tommy is played by Maulik Pancholy who does his best under the circumstances.

Take away:  Tell it like it is.  Be honest with each other.  Be open.  No secrets.  This is how it should be in the real world.  Then maybe people, couples could communicate with each other and their children.  Being stuck in a relationship would not be so prevalent.  Do it, before it’s too late.  And have your own bank account.

2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission.  Through March 1st.

www.2st.com

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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ROMEO & BERNADETTE – Delightful! Shakespeare and gangsters like you have never seen

January 24th, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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Imagine Romeo (a spectacular Nikita Burshteyn) if you will (as in William Shakespeare) finding himself in 1960’s Brooklyn chasing a girl he believes to be his beloved Juliet.  Actually the girl he thinks is Juliet is dead ringer Bernadette Penza (Anna Kostakis) – a spoiled rotten, potty-mouthed, always late albeit beautiful shopaholic daughter of crime boss Sal Penza (Carlos Lopez) who along with his trying to be more sophisticated wife Camille (Judy McLane) are vacationing in Verona with body guard Lips (Viet Vo) when Romeo first lays eyes on her after he awakens from the famous double death potion scene that wasn’t a double death scene at all – it just put him to sleep – for centuries.

This is hilariously explained by Brooklyn Guy (Michael Notardonato) to his date Brooklyn Girl (Ari Raskin) at a performance of Romeo & Juliet by the Brooklyn Community Players as he tries to stop her from crying over the very elongated demise of Romeo (he just wants to get her in bed) so he comes up with this nutty version that Romeo didn’t die and continues to sporadically narrate their saga throughout.

Actually this nutty and very funny mashup – which is like a breath of fresh air – a smart, melodic breath of fresh air is the brainchild of Mark Saltzman who wrote the book and lyrics.  The character driven and plot driven (oh, what a plot!) lyrics have been brilliantly fitted into some of the most lovely pre-existing Italian melodies – a little Rossini, a little Bellini and lots of Francesco Paolo Tosti – all brought up to date by Steve Orich (arrangements and orchestrations) and sung to the hilt by the entire ten member cast.

All this fast paced tomfoolery is exceedingly well directed and choreographed by Justin Ross Cohen who somehow makes this unbelievable love story with gangsters – believable.

And that’s just for starters. There’s more.  Lots more.

Romeo saves the life of Dino Del Canto (Michael Notardonato aka Brooklyn Guy) son of Don Del Canto (Michael Marotta) – a dapper John Gotti type.  Dino is attacked by Tito Titone (Zach Schanne) who is engaged to Bernadette whom he treats like a doormat.

Dino and Romeo become buddies and I won’t spoil this delicious show by explaining it any further you have to go see it for yourself.  Probably twice so that you catch all the jokes and details you might have missed the first time around.

One more thing Bernadette’s best friend Donna Dubachek aka Brooklyn Girl is a riot.  She and Dino might remind you of Andy Karl and Orfeh!

One last item.  Troy Valjean Rucker plays Usher, Bellhop, Enzo Aliria, Father Keneely, Arden (a florist) Viola (wedding gown designer) and Roz – cha cha cha instructor.  Each one a master cameo.  What a find he is!

Your face will ache with smiles and laughter.  And that’s a good thing.

Another terrific discovery is Nikita as Romeo.  He is handsome with a strong lyrical voice.  He speaks his Shakespearean lines trippingly on the tongue with a European charm and is very amusing as he tries to incorporate a Brooklyn accent into his comic delivery.  His regal bow is quite memorable as is his codpiece.

The pitch perfect vintage period costumes are by Fabio Toblini & Joseph Shrope.  Lighting by Ken Billington and set by Walt Spangler are first rate.  All in all it’s a wonderful entertaining evening where you don’t have to know any Italian – just enjoy the Brooklyn accents and Romeo & Bernadette.  In a word, delightful!

2 hours.  One Intermission.

At A.R.T./New York Theatres 502 West 53rd Street through February 16th.  For tickets 212 352 3101 OR www.amasmusical.org. Produced by Amas Musical Theatre in association with Eric Krebs.

Photos:  Russ Rowland

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MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON – Laura Linney remembers

January 21st, 2020 by Oscar E Moore
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O ye of little patience.  Ye who do not appreciate the written words of Rona Munro who has adapted Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 bestseller My Name is Lucy Barton featuring two extremely complicated characters – Mother and daughter Lucy.

Both portrayed by the outstanding Laura Linney who seamlessly with a change of voice or mannerism creates the illusion of becoming one and then the other.  It’s a fascinating and complex performance, beautifully directed by Richard Eyre.

O ye of little faith in what theater can accomplish with a simple set (Bob Crowley) consisting of a hospital bed, an empty chair and some projections (Luke Hall) of some corn fields in Amgash, Illinois and the Chrysler Building in New York City – be forewarned.  This may not be for you.  You may find it slow.  Even boring.

How this is possible I do not understand.  It is an in depth examination via Lucy’s scattered memory of the relationship or lack thereof between herself – a successful writer – and her opinionated and full of what-she-thinks-of-everyone-else stories mother.  It’s the “Old lack of communication” bit told beautifully.

Lucy had to get out of her abusive environment with her dad – who suffered from war trauma.  She had to deal with a friend with AIDS.  Her brother liked to dress up in mom’s dress and heels and she hated the cold.  So much so that she had to stay at school to read and to keep warm.

These memories float around and it’s a wonder that Laura Linney could learn all her lines and learn to jump around from one idea to another.  And make it all real and believable.  She is alone onstage for 90 nonstop minutes.  Not really.  There are some audience members seated onstage to make it more intimate.

Does she remember exactly how things happened or did not happen?  Should she have questioned – connected more with her mom?  What is most important, however, is that she escaped.  Escaped from Illinois and made a new life for herself in New York developing a ruthlessness necessary for being a successful writer.

Estranged from her parents and relatives – especially her mom until mom shows up at the hospital where Lucy eloquently describes it all – over her nine week stay (infectious complications arise) – her poverty, her trying to understand her mom and her loneliness.  Her longing for love despite being married with two daughters of her own.

Her mom’s stories are bitter, resentful and amusing.  But they both still can’t talk honestly with one another.  As the lyric from Superstar states “Loneliness is such a sad affair.”  We listen.  Some with empathy.  Some without.

At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre – a Manhattan Theatre Club presentation and The London Theatre Company in association with Penguin Random House Audio that will soon be releasing an audio version of this production with Linney who is at the top of her game.  Live through February 29, 2020

www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com

 

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

Visit www.TalkEntertainment.com

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SING STREET – Beyond the sea Off-Broadway at NYTW

December 24th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore
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Were they just lazy or simply in a rush to adapt John Carney’s 2016 motion picture “Sing Street” into a stage musical that has just floated into the New York Theatre Workshop on East 4th Street via the Irish Sea?  Both Mr. Carney and Enda Walsh (book) – were partially responsible for the huge success of ONCE.

But being connected to ONCE is not enough.  This production is a good first draft.  There’s lots to develop here.  It’s just not there – yet.  Can it be salvaged?

Even with the fine director Rebecca Taichman helming the musical, whose credentials are superb, it seems that there are two shows at odds with one another.  The plot is scattered and unfocused.  The characters sketched in.  Act I about the formation of the band.  Act II (the better act) focusing on the back story of the family and the developing love between the two leads.

It somehow falls short and is disappointing.   Despite some catchy tunes and excellent portrayals.  Especially Brenock O’Connor who is the frustrated 19 year old musically inclined rebel living with his family in a depressed Dublin circa 1982.  He is Conor.  He is adorable.  And wildly talented.

Forced to leave his private school because of the economy he is bullied by an abusive, arrogant, chain smoking Christian Brother on Synge Street who has this rule of wearing only black shoes in the all boy’s school.  And poor Conor has only a pair of brown shoes.  This so infuriates Brother Baxter (Martin Moran) that we wonder why he just doesn’t supply Conor with the requisite black shoes.  Much stage time is wasted on this detail.

Conor notices Raphina (a bland Zara Devlin) as she awaits a phone call from her older boyfriend at a pay phone seductively posing for Conor with bright red dark glasses.  He is immediately infatuated with her.  He asks her to be in a music video with his band even though it does not yet exist.  And writes a song in his notebook and faster than you can say Blarney Stone we see the formation of the band and her involvement.

The band members, conveniently from school, are an odd assortment right out of central casting and SCHOOL OF ROCK with outfits and makeup to match.  They play the instruments that hang on the side walls.  Exceptionally well.  The drums roll on.  On a set piece.  Everything is on wheels.  Even the video cam is attached to a double skateboard.

Director Taichman and choreographer Sonya Tayeh keep up a frenetic pace.  Although there are some poignant quiet moments.

Meanwhile Conor’s sister Anne (Skyler Volpe) who wants to be an architect like her now unemployed dad Robert (Billy Carter) sulks and fumes.  Older brother Brendan (Gus Halper) dispenses his pot infused advice while getting stoned – having given up; opting to sleep his life away as his mom Penny (Amy Warren) argues with dad, drinks lots of wine and has an affair.

As our two would be lovers kiss at the end of Act I we wonder where this is all going.

Act II fares much better and we get to know these characters and their desires.  Breathing space at last.

All this on a bare stage with the dark and gloomy omnipresent Irish Sea projected on the back wall (Bob Crowley) – the sea that has isolated them all and yet could be their route to freedom – and the fulfillment of their dreams beyond the confining and dreary sea.

There is a long awaited uplifting ending “GO NOW” that sort of erases much of the lesser aspects of the production.

A video of the film is supposedly available for free at IMDBTV.  I hear it is far superior to the stage presentation.

2 hours 15 minutes One Intermission.  Through January 26, 2020

www.nytw.org

Photos:  Matthew Murray

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