Oscar E Moore

From the rear mezzanine theatre, movies and moore

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M. BUTTERFLY – why tinker with perfection?

November 5th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

In this uneven and unbalanced revisal of the 1988 multiple award winning production of M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang you may find yourself as confused as its leading character Rene Gallimard – a courageous and charming Clive Owen giving a compelling performance as a French diplomat in 1960’s Beijing dealing with his childless marriage with Agnes (Enid Graham) his awkwardness with women in general and his repressed sexuality.

But you will leave the Cort Theatre humming tunes from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and some soothing jazz from Chet Baker’s ironic “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”

Based on a hard to believe true story this revisal is even harder to swallow under the heavy directorial thumb of Julie Taymor who has somehow tipped the scales to favor her talents, and not trusting the words and story of its playwright and his original intentions.

M. Butterfly is not a musical – hard as Ms. Taymor tries to make it one – with her elaborate Peking Opera production numbers and a most silly Act II ballet of Communist Comrades led by a most annoying Celeste Den.

The tragic love story of Rene and his Chinese mistress Song Liling (an acceptable Jin Ha) who turns out to be a Chinese spy and a man portraying a woman fights for attention.  Perhaps Ms. Taymor was inspired by Victor/Victoria.  Jin Ha’s live singing is much preferable over Murray Bartlett’s lip syncing Pinkerton.

For twenty years this affair went on without Rene discovering that Song Liling was a he posing as a she.  Lots of denial going on there.  Rene is arrested for treason and begins to unweave this saga from his jail cell.  Trying to explain to us and himself what happened.  He is tormented.  Attempting to make sense of all this confusing role playing.  And we wonder if he is a repressed gay man.

We see his uneasiness with women from the onset.  However he is married to Agnes (Enid Graham) an older woman but searches (mostly in vain) for “the perfect woman” a fantasy until he hears Song sing from Madama Butterfly at a cocktail party at the Ambassador’s residence.  His perfect woman turns out to be a man.

As we all discover when in a courtroom he strips down naked and explains the details of their long affair – including graphic sexual acts.  It is merely crude.

What should be an intriguing, fascinating and intimate story has been blown up to operatic proportions with floating screens, elaborate costumes and noisy percussive music.

The tragedy of these two lovers is lost in Julie Taymor’s self-propaganda and masks.

Through Feb. 25th


NOTE:  Have you ever noticed and wondered about the period after M in M. Butterfly is all about?  In French it is the abbreviation for Monsieur.  Is this a reference to Rene’s sexuality or Song’s?  Or both?

Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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TORCH SONG – What is this thing called love?

November 1st, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

It’s virtually impossible to fill those bunny rabbit slippers worn so majestically and confidently by Harvey Fierstein in his original production of TORCH SONG TRILOGY some 35 years ago which garnered him awards for writing this breakthrough openly gay saga and for being its openly gay star.

The torch has been passed along to Michael Urie who as hard as he tries is still chasing Harvey to the finish line in this slimmed down, revised version known as TORCH SONG directed by Moises Kaufman.  I admire Mr. Urie’s immense talent.  He is a master of physical comedy and has a way with those zingers that Mr. Fierstein has written but he is not right for the part.

Harvey Fierstein is a force of nature so strong – both in body and spirit and wit – that it is hard to erase him from being Arnold – the lonely, needy drag queen of the sharp comeback and astute observations otherwise known as Virginia Ham.  Not to mention his unmistakable and raspy voice that is immediately recognizable.

Case in point:  one of the biggest laughs in Act I occurs in the International Stud – a notorious gay back room bar.  Arnold has met the handsome Ed (Ward Horton) who turns out to be bi-sexual.  As they are leaving together Ed says to Arnold “Is this your normal voice or do you have a cold?”  Instantly the audience thinks of Harvey and it gets a huge laugh.  But for the wrong reason.

After all Mr. Fierstein wrote this three part opus for himself about himself.  Taking place from 1971 through 1980.  Post Stonewall and pre AIDS.  The International Stud (1971).  Fugue in a Nursery (1974) and Widows and Children First (1980).

Looking around the audience packed with gay couples of various ages – some holding hands – one thinks back to when this play first opened.  It would have been unheard of for gays to be this confident and comfortable in their own skins as they are now.  Thanks to Harvey we now can.  But the fight isn’t finished.

In part two of Act I Arnold in invited to the open love nest relationship of Ed and his girlfriend Laurel (Roxanna Hope Radja) with his new gorgeous boyfriend Alan – a model.  Ed puts the make on him while Arnold and Laurel do the dishes.  This all takes place in an oversized bed – the staging is quite clever as the characters pop in and out from under the sheets.

Arnold with an underlying sadness is still looking for love in all the wrong places.  Not just great sex but love and commitment.  He is desperate for respect, trying to be just like Ma (an excellent Mercedes Ruehl) – who arrives from Miami in Act II blazing verbal bullets and wearing her own pair of bunny slippers.  Like Ma like Gay Son

Arnold still has Ed in his life and a gay foster child David (Jack DiFalco) who has been bullied with a black eye to prove it.   Arnold and Alan had decided on starting a family before he had a tragic accident which isn’t fully fleshed out.  Ma and Arnold try to understand each other.  Much to our amusement and horror.

Most interesting is the bisexual Ed (a terrific Ward Norton who almost steals the spotlight) – a gay closeted man who needs a woman in his life as proof of his normalcy even though he cannot stay away from being with and loving Arnold.  That’s how it was back then and in some respects still is.

2 hours – 40 minutes at Second Stage.  One intermission. www.2st.com

Extended through Dec. 9th.  Tony Kiser Theater

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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DESPERATE MEASURES – The taming of the lewd – a marriage of the Bard and the bawdy

October 29th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

At the Wednesday evening performance that I attended (10/25/17) James Morgan (Artistic Director of The York Theatre Company) in his opening remarks in his own inimitable style announced that this already extended production of “Desperate Measures” – a rowdy, tuneful and somewhat sentimental mixture of the Bard and the Old West – will be extended for at least another month (through November 26th) due to popular demand and raves from the critics – “Even the Times gave us a good review!”

Very loosely based on Shakespeare’s “problem comedy” MEASURE FOR MEASURE Peter Kellogg (Book & Lyrics) and David Friedman (Music) have found a fresh and unique voice set in late 1800’s Arizona – land of cacti, sheriffs, corrupt politicians, nuns, banjos, loose women and loose morals.

Along with director Bill Castellino (who was seen still taking notes to tighten the production) have concocted a clever, calculated crowd pleaser with a little bit of everything to make just about everyone happy or at the very least be entertained.

There’s Nietzsche espoused by a drunken priest (Gary Marachek) for the high brows and a saloon gal strip tease (Bella Rose – a broad broad – Lauren Molina) for those brows a bit lower.

A marriage of the Bard and the bawdy.  Very pleasant tunes – from heartfelt ballads to up-tempo songs that set your feet a tappin’ and dialogue that has rhythm and rhyme that elevates the tone of the production immensely.  It works beautifully enacted by a terrific cast of six full throttled vocalists.

The dim witted but charming Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) is in jail waiting to be hanged for a crime that he committed in self-defense – to protect his love, Bella Rose (Lauren Molina).  His sister Susanna (Emma Degerstedt) is days away from officially becoming Sister Mary Jo.

The stalwart Sheriff Martin Green (a tall, lanky and handsome Peter Saide) comes up with a plot to save Johnny Blood from the noose that involves his sister (whom Sheriff Green has more than an eye for) approaching the cruel and lecherous Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman with a heavy German accent; enjoying every lecherous moment to the hilt and more) to grant Johnny a pardon.

Aye.  There’s the rub.  The Governor will grant the pardon IF would-be in a few days Sister Mary Jo sleeps with him – losing her chastity but gaining her brother’s freedom.  Tit for tat so to speak.

Clever Sheriff Green gets Bella Rose to pull the old Shakespearean switcheroo in the dark bedroom of the Governor.  All’s well and good but we are unintentionally reminded of all that horrifying alleged lewd behavior of Harvey Weinstein.

But this is tame musical comedy land and we soon move on to further amusing complications in Act II ending with a Lucy and Harpo sight gag and a double wedding that leads to the off into the sunset uplifting finale.

James Morgan has designed another fine set with clever sign posts.  Costumes by Nicole Wee are character perfect.  The music direction and orchestrations by David Hancock Turner enhance the lively and almost retro score.  How refreshing to hear melodies and lyrics that fall wonderfully on the ear – caressing rather than bombarding.

If music be the food of love – play on!  And on.  And on.  2 hour 15 minutes 1 intermission


Photos:  Carol Rosegg

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TIME AND THE CONWAYS – an adequate all in the family adventure

October 18th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore


This Roundabout revival of J. B. Priestley’s three act drama is just adequate.   And seems longer than it actually is.  There are some high points and an equal amount of low as directed by Rebecca Taichman who does her best with the static script that has not been produced in New York for 38 years.

It’s in the tradition of a well-made three act play with a slight variation:  Beginning.  End.  Middle.

It takes time for the Conway family saga celebrating the 21st birthday of would be novelist Kay (a lovely albeit distracted Charlotte Parry) to take off in the upper class neutral living room set by Neil Patel which has the look of old money carefully decorated so as not to flaunt its wealth.

The set itself takes off after the misfired first act which takes place in 1919 as we are transitioned into Act II when the same but different room drops in from the rafters.

It is now 1937 and Kay’s family once again is summoned to meet.  Not merely to celebrate her birth but to bemoan the fact that Mummy (an unimpressive Elizabeth McGovern giving a superficial portrait of Mrs. Conway; at times over the top) has squandered all their wealth and future inheritances on having fun.

Is she being brutally honest or is she just a bitch?  Has Mr. Priestley fashioned her after another beautiful spendthrift Madame Ravnevsky of The Cherry Orchard?

Act III (here at the American Airlines Theatre Act II) has us return to the party of 1919 to witness what went wrong with each of the characters – of which there are many.

We are led from a naturalistic drama to a metaphysical one that tries to explain that the past and present and future co-exist and that life should be an adventure and that some can innately tell what will happen or remember what did happen.  According to Blake and J.W. Dunne.  That’s great if you believe all that stuff.

The British accents are all over the place.  And that first half hour of sisters Hazel (Anna Camp) Carol (Anna Baryshnikov) the Socialist bent Madge (Brooke Bloom) chirping away as they put on parts of costumes to do whatever in the next room is enough to have you scurrying up the aisle.  But they are young and we need to get some exposition out of the way.

Thank goodness for Gabriel Ebert as the awkward and shy and levelheaded Alan their eldest brother and Matthew James Thomas as the handsome uniformed brash and strutting Robin – Mummy’s favorite.

Into the mix arrives the financial advisor Gerald Thornton (an excellent Alfredo Narciso) who brings along an arriviste (an impressive Steven Boyer) who wants to wed Hazel who dislikes the “creature” intensely.

Last but not least is Joan Helford (portrayed beautifully by Cara Ricketts) who has her eyes on Robin while Alan has his eyes on her.

It’s an uneven production where the set will be probably remembered above all.

Through November 26th.


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Photos:  Jeremy Daniel

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MARY JANE – a young mother copes, along with the audience at NYTW

September 28th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

This newest play by Amy Herzog and directed by Anne Kauffman features a cast of five women spearheaded by Carrie Coon as Mary Jane.  You wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.

She is strong, cheerful and most probably in denial – afraid to actually face the horrors that she deals with so matter-of-factly.  She is thankfully healthy.  She has decided to lovingly take care of her three year old son who from a premature birth has been stricken with what amounts to an incurable disease.

Alex needs constant care.  He is monitored by a machine in what used to be Mary Jane’s bedroom.  She now sleeps on a pull out sofa bed.  The beeping machine alerts her to any problems from an unseen Alex in the other room– even in the middle of the night.  He is also on a feeding machine.  He likes his goldfish.  And music.

Mary Jane has had to forego her teaching career and now works for a real estate company.  Her husband has abandoned them.  Her superintendent (Brenda Wehle) is attempting to unclog her kitchen sink as we meet her.  Mary Jane is a good listener.  Others have problems too.

They include the home healthcare nurse Sherry (Liza Colon-Zayas) and Brianne (Susan Pourfar) a friend who shares a similar situation with her child and is having a tough time navigating how to go about solving her problems.  Our pleasant steadfast heroine deals with them all.

Even the niece of the nurse Amelia (Danaya Esperanza) who arrives to visit. When an emergency occurs we are transported to the hospital from Mary Jane’s living room (the set design by Laura Jellinek threatens to overtake the proceedings – and must cost big bucks for such an intimate play) In any event we are now in the hospital where the actresses other than Carrie Coon take on new personas.

The best scene in the play is between Mary Jane and Chaya (a terrific Susan Pourfar) an Orthodox Jewish woman.  It is tender, compelling and amusing.  Chaya has seven children one of whom is in the hospital and these two women bond immediately.

Brenda Wehle becomes a Buddhist chaplain where the sex of the goldfish is explored.  The play ends ambiguously.  This gets people talking about what happened or what didn’t happen as they leave the theatre.

All this brings me to my pet peeve that it is sometimes extremely difficult to hear these actresses.  Maybe it’s the acoustics of the theater.  Maybe my hearing – although others agreed with me.  More likely they are used to close-ups and amplification.  Not projection.  And sometimes it is the director who has someone speaking upstage so we miss vital information.  To make matters worse the sound therapist for a short while wears a hospital half mask.  She then sings Alex a song…

Second pet peeve:  Have you ever wondered how reviewers are so specific with quoting lines and details?  They have the script available to read.  Audiences do not.  If you don’t understand and get the play without reference material to check – that’s not as it should be.  The audience is at a disadvantage when clarity in the vocal department could help remedy the situation tremendously.

MARY JANE is produced in association with Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut.  95 minutes – no intermission.  Just extended through October 29th


Photos:  Joan Marcus

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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – the beautiful face of terror

September 27th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

Welcome to the dystopian world of Anthony Burgess as seen through the eyes of Alexandra Spencer-Jones set in England – Today.  It might be better set in 1984.

This ultra-violent, unpleasant, homoerotic world (with all those half naked males) that began as a novel by Mr. Burgess in 1962 (supposedly written in three weeks as a Jeu d’espirit – a light hearted display of cleverness) and then a Stanley Kubrick film in 1971 and then a theatrical adaptation in 1987 and now – the acclaimed Action to The Word “event” imported from across the pond has landed at New World Stages through January 6, 2018.

While watching this alienating, stark and menacing production on a black bare bones tiered set where the lighting and sound designers (James Baggaley and Emma Wilk respectively) take precedence there are nine very fit men playing a variety of roles headed by an Adonis – Jonno Davies as Alex deLarge – a violent “droog” (one of the many made-up words that will at first baffle) who is fixated on his looks (as you will be) as his wickedness runs rampant until he is caught and reprogrammed by being forced to watch people being tortured.  He is reduced to being a number 6655321 which might very well become a popular passcode in honor of Mr. Davies.

I started thinking about dark, underground S&M porn movies.  That led to Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.  And guess what.  They were involved with Mr. Burgess in a very loose adaptation of Clockwork in a 1965 experimental film – VINYL.

It’s fascinating that so many find violence entertaining.

This Clockwork is done stylistically with a lot of robotic movement that you might grow impatient with.  Alex is obsessed with Beethoven and Ludwig Van’s music is omnipresent.  The props and some costume accessories are appropriately orange.   The teen droogs (thugs) drink milk.  Spiked with drugs.  The music blares.

To say that this production is a mesmerizing wonderment would be an exaggeration.  The acting is fine – especially of Jonno Davies whose physique is unparalleled and who passes this physical endurance test with phenomenal flying colors as the beautiful face of terror.  He even enunciates beautifully while you may not understand some of the made up Russian influenced language that somehow sounds Shakespearean.

I particularly thought Timothy Sekk outstanding in his four portrayals.  Others in this Charles Atlas ensemble are:  Jimmy Brooks, Matt Doyle, Sean Patrick Higgins, Brian Lee Huynh, Misha Osherovich, Ashley Robinson and Aleksander Varadian.

No intermission.  1 hour 45 minutes.  Seems longer – all that pumped up near nakedness and testosterone notwithstanding.  It dulls the senses.  Through January 6, 2018


Photos:  Caitlin McNaney

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FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70th BIRTHDAY – Sarah Ruhl’s homage to her mom

September 14th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

Sarah Ruhl’s mom Kathleen grew up playing Peter Pan in Iowa. As in why oh why oh why-o?  Excuse me that’s Ohio.  In any event she played Peter in Community Theater in Iowa.


Now Kathleen Chalfant is portraying Sarah’s mom portraying Peter as the character Ann – one of five siblings gathered for the any-minute-now death of their Father (Ron Crawford) who lies in state in his hospital bed having his feet massaged by Wendy (Lisa Emery) as we all wait for him to succumb to cancer.  It takes quite a while.  Actually the whole of the first part of three in this one act play, Off Broadway production at Playwrights Horizon – which could be labeled Waiting for Death.  They pray.  They snack.  They sleep.  He finally dies.

The second part is a celebration of his life – drinking and conversing around the affable family’s dinner table with the ghostly spirit of dad floating around.  The only conflict, it seems, to be over politics.  I won’t go there.

They remember dad’s bad puns and what a good old time they all had as a close knit Irish- Catholic family.   A little bit of this a little bit of that.  More drinking.  They do have differing views but they come across as part of one egg and one sperm.  They have a problem with growing old and dying.  Don’t we all.

One of the Big Questions pondered is – When did you feel you were a grownup?

It isn’t until part three – a fantasy of the sibs as the characters in Peter Pan that we find some enjoyment despite it being a bit ridiculous.  I particularly liked Keith Reddin as Michael and David Chandler as Hook.  Nicely staged by Les Waters.

Kathleen Chalfant seems to have been waiting throughout her illustrious career to finally Crow! As Peter Pan.  She is terrific.  As usual.  Despite some flying this Peter peters out as a play.

I have never been a fan of Ms. Ruhl – with all due respect to her many productions and accomplishments.  I remain in that corner.

There is a musical interlude as we go from hospital bed to dining room table of When The Saints Go Marching In.  Kudos to set designer David Zinn who gives this production a Broadway sheen.

The distinction between Broadway and Off seems to be diminishing.

There is a wonderful dog – Macy – who either is adverse to applause or forgot to take a curtain call.

It’s a nice gesture to her mom – but really?  90 minutes.  No intermission.  Through Oct 1st


Photos:  Jessica Fallon Gordon/Joan Marcus

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PRINCE OF BROADWAY – Hal’s Hit Parade – with some misses

August 30th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

You know, he’s the guy with the glasses perched atop his mostly bald pate.  Prince.  Hal Prince.  Producer.  Director.  Visionary.  Twenty one count ‘em twenty one Tony Awards – and counting.

At 89 he’s not finished yet.  You can see samples of his work at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in PRINCE OF BROADWAY where a retrospective revue of his work in on view featuring a cast of nine, 36 musical numbers from 16 musicals including Cabaret, Follies, Showboat, Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me etc.  Quite an achievement if he doesn’t say so himself.  Co-directed by Susan Stroman.

Ed Sullivan would have loved it.  For those of you youngsters who don’t remember Mr. Sullivan  he would feature numbers from hit Broadway shows on his Sunday night TV variety program that gave everyone who had a TV the opportunity to see live performances of the most recent Broadway season.

The numbers recreated from Hal’s catalog of shows is the next best thing to seeing the originals – in most cases.

It’s a sweeping panorama of Hal’s hits and some misses.  Mostly mega hits.  After 30 years The Phantom of the Opera is still crashing its chandelier nightly.

By his own admission he’s been one lucky duck.  And smart!  He’s worked with some of the greatest writers and composers.  Especially Stephen Sondheim.  It helped that Prince Hal was extremely hungry and determined to be a part of the best of Broadway.

However. you will learn more from his “NOTES” in the PLAYBILL than you will from the sparse intros (Book) by David Thompson – where the nine member cast each speak in turn as Hal wearing his trademark distracting glasses that get lost mostly in the hair of the mostly excellent performers.

PRINCE OF BROADWAY is a Reader’s Digest version of memorable (and some not so memorable) songs/scenes from the incredible resume of Hal’s productions.  But without proper lead-ins some might be lost as to what is going on at times.  No matter.  Enjoy the songs and performances.

Especially those of Tony Yazbeck who shines in whatever he does, Karen Ziemba, Chuck Cooper as a magnificent Tevye, Brandon Uranowitz and Emily Skinner with able support from Michael Xavier, Janet Dacal, Kaley Ann Voorhees and the bombastic Bryonha Marie Parham.

Some segments work much better than others but I’ll leave the final voting up to those who see the show for themselves.  There are spurts of brilliance but also some low points as well.  PRINCE OF BROADWAY is less than the sum of its parts.

The sets and costumes are by Beowulf Boritt and William Ivey Long respectively.

Jason Robert Brown has written an original number that ends the two act, two and a half hour show for the ensemble “DO THE WORK” – It’s very good and I wish it had opened the show and then bookended it as its finale.  His overture could be called “Name That Tune.”

Limited engagement through Oct 22nd.  Manhattan Theatre Club production


Photo:  Emilio Madrid-Kuser

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Jerry Lewis starred in Damn Yankees on Broadway: Mitchell Maxwell remembers working with the icon

August 26th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

Jerry Lewis passed away last week.

If you are of a certain age, that is a notable item for throughout his long and public life he was a man of consequence. He was indeed worthy of a “front page obit” and if you were of that certain age or wished to revisit another time, another era you may have taken a few moments to read about that life.

True he was a polarizing figure.  He had nearly more enemies than fans yet whatever one felt about him it was always infused with passion.  He caused you to feel!  Good or bad he was only capable of provocation.  He was not beige.

I have nothing to add to the hundreds of obituaries that have fueled the papers and news outlets since his death.  They were accurate and told of both the bright and dark sides of Jerry.  They painted him as the man he was, brilliant, quixotic, driven and defined by chaos.

Yet, in all that I read there was no point of view or understanding about this great and deeply flawed man.  The dissemination of his life was practically void of feeling offering no sense of loss.  It was simply news.  And that is more tragic than his passing.

I met Jerry Lewis out of a mutual need dealing with commerce.  I was the lead Producer on a wonderfully received revival of the Broadway Musical DAMN YANKEES, I needed a replacement for the star part of “The Devil” and Jerry was in need of a job.  In show business that makes for a perfect match.

When I mentioned to my partners, associates and our director the idea of Jerry Lewis the response was varied to put it mildly. Passionate? Indeed.

Some thought it brilliant, others a train wreck, while one person on the project of great import refused to work with him if hired, stating “Jerry Lewis is an idiot, his humor is that of an idiot . . .” and then he got even more uncomplimentary from there on.  And yet as the man in charge I offered him the part and subsequently I hired him. From that day on my life changed.

Meeting Jerry for the first time was tantamount to an old western gunfight.  Two gunslingers sizing one another up before the draw followed by one poor soul laying dead in the dirt.

We met in a conference room at Lincoln Center during a matinee of CAROUSEL and in turn our meeting was accompanied by the glorious score from that classic show.  Apropos I guess.

He was dressed in a dark expensive suit, sunglasses (indoors) spit polished back mini boots and a scowl.  A few steps behind him were three callow cowed Junior agents from the William Morris Agency. Lewis looked like a mobster the three young agents searching for an exit.

We talked.  And then some more.

He had seen the my show the night before and offered high praise.  I was grateful.

He then said “Jerry would do the show if the price was right.” I wondered whether referring to himself as Jerry was an attempt at mirth but there were no smiles in the room and I realized it was simply weird.

The price Jerry quoted for “Jerry” was an absurd number and the meeting took a sour turn.  In a moment of irony as I spoke the words “if that is Jerry’s bottom line I will have to pass”  CAROUSEL ended and the cast was taking their bows to tremendous applause.  I was certain they were cheering my resolve.  It was a mirage, the applause was indeed for the show upstairs and Lewis walked out calling me a “putz”.

I sat in the now silent and empty conference room for a long while and wondered what I would tell my partners of the meeting.  I had taken a stand to hire this legendary actor and there was to be no deal.  I felt a bit the fool.

Late that night I received a call from “Jerry”.  He was hostile asking if I knew “who he was” and that he was the “biggest star in the history of movies.  That the fallout of my error in judgement would end up closing my show and ruining my career.”

Respectively, I replied.  “Mr. Lewis, you may be all that and more but my nine year old son never heard of you.”

The phone went dead.

The next morning turned out to be a snow day and my son had the day off.  We went to the park and slid down the mountain at least ten thousand times.  We returned home red faced and hungry.  Waiting for us with the doorman was a box from Jerry with a card inside that said  “for your son, my of introducing him to Jerry”.  The card sat nestled in dozens of VHS tapes of movies starring Jerry Lewis.

I have said meeting Jerry Lewis changed my life and that change began on the that snowy afternoon as my son and I watched “The Jerry Lewis Film Festival” while eating pizza.

Jerry Lewis was in fact brilliant.  He was also an idiot. In many ways he was contemptuous of his audience.  He refused to not get a laugh and was shameless in his pursuit of that laugh or frankly any laugh.  It was both sad and glorious.  His ambition leapt from the screen and it was exhausting.

We spent hours with Jerry that day, VHS after VHS were punched into the tape player and we watched him on the TV screen.  We laughed often and stayed up way past my son’s bedtime, after all Jerry was a big star and it was a snow day.

I learned something from him that at times served me well and allowed us to have a productive and loving relationship for some ten years.  What I learned (and had never behaved in such a manner in my life before or since) was that he didn’t care about anybody or anything except himself.  I was frightened by this, it was born through his insecurity and I was struck in awe by his hubris.

Obviously we made a deal or I would have no story to tell.  And in doing so I stared him down and got my price and he got his job. I never worked harder on any show than I did over the next few weeks getting him into DAMN YANKEES.  He would call all hours of the night.  Hostile, cajoling, frightened and with endless ideas of how to change the show for the better.  He was kind and professional with everyone else involved with the production yet with me he was always angry except when scared, which was an often and welcome respite.  At those times I talked him “off the ledge” and assured him he was funny.  Imagine having to convince this man, the comic genius of a generation that he “was funny”.

Jerry loved to lecture, tell stories, jokes:  to hold court.  We would sit in his dressing room post curtain, drinking expensive red wine with Sinatra wailing on the boom box and he would often say, “Comedy is a man in trouble” or “comedy starts with pain” and as I grew to know him, to help birth his Broadway debut and protect him from doubt I too owned his pain.  He couldn’t hide it behind the goblets of red, or the stories of the icons he knew or behind a facade of manic humor.  I saw he was terrified.  All day every day.

Jerry missed three shows in the four plus years he worked for me.  He often performed in terrible pain when his back went out and his salve was the applause as he walked downstage for his electric bow at the end of the show.  He behaved poorly and often, spending the show’s money without consent and causing conflict.  He also showed unbelievable kindness to his cast members that I am sure they will hold in their hearts forever.

For me it ended some ten years after our first meet.  The cause is mine to own, to take to my grave but suffice it to say it was because of his petulance, his need to create chaos, to hurt others in order to wield “his power” and I was no longer of use to him.

I felt more relieved than sad.  I had lived with his demons for almost a decade and frankly I had my own which needed attention.

Now that he is gone I choose to remember only the good.  I was the man who brought Jerry Lewis his dream to play Broadway and at great cost to me.  I was told (between hostile diatribes) that he loved me and that I was brilliant and visionary and who doesn’t want to hear that?  I saw him hold an audience in his hand and own them, bring them joy and forget their troubles but unable to forget his.

He was magic.

Yet like all clowns he hid his sadness behind a mask.  His was one of anger and discontent keeping everyone at safe distance.   I wish he passed away without the pain but rather still embracing the adoration he was given seventy years ago when he exploded on America, all crazy pratfalls, silly voices and pleading underneath it all for an unconditional love.

He will be missed and remembered.  I can only hope for a very long time for comedy is “pain cleansed by the passage of time”.

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GEORAMA – a lively musical lesson in art appreciation

August 9th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore

Chances are there are not too many people who have heard of the American artist John Banvard who found his fifteen minutes of international fame painting a three mile long “moving” panorama of the Mississippi River circa 1850.

As a struggling portrait artist he hooked up with Chapman (Nick Sullivan) an operator (entrepreneur) of a Mississippi showboat and impresario Taylor (Randy Blair).

With the assistance of his musical accompanist who later became his wife, he traveled far and wide with his original and unique idea – even presenting it to Queen Victoria.

So successful was he that many copied his idea least of all his friend Phineas “Taylor” Barnum who kind of pulled the wool over Banvard’s eyes and swept the canvas right from under his feet.

Also tintype photography came into vogue and moving panoramas were no longer popular with the fickle paying public.

Banvard quickly became a millionaire and then just as quickly lost it all – save for the love of his life – his wife – Elizabeth Goodnow.

Which brings me to the radiant Jillian Louis who portrays this feisty and adventurous woman opposite the handsome, naive and charming P. J. Griffith in the just closed New York Musical Festival production of GEORAMA – An American Panorama Told on Three Miles of Canvas which was first presented at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre.

The 1 hour and 30 minute production (without intermission) has just received a slew of NYMF “Outstanding” Awards of Excellence which should compel someone to continue its stage life so that many more can enjoy its merits.

Which are many.  First off the beautifully painted and projections of the panorama as backdrop by Scott Neale and Jason Thompson.

Then we have the story itself by West Hyler (who also directed) and Matt Schatz who wrote the music and lyrics (additional lyrics Jack Herrick).  The songs are perky and tuneful.  Skillfully played by Jacob Yates and Ana Marcu who also partake in the action.

The lyrics are witty and propel the story forward fleshing out the characters albeit with a sometimes repetitious three rhyme scheme.  Queen Victoria’s number, while amusing, seems a false fit for the show.

Nick Sullivan has his multi characters (including Queen Victoria) down pat.  And Randy Blair (a combination of Dom DeLuise and Jackie Gleason) as P.T. Barnum is delightfully manipulative.

And of course my favorite actress Jillian Louis who continues to enchant and amaze with her performances.  Along with a charismatic and dynamic P.J. Griffith they give heart to this quite entertaining artistic enterprise.

Photos: Jagged Edge Arts




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