Saturday, February 28, 2009

'sNewz occasional series mentioning current events which held my interest this week...

Well, not actually THIS week, as several of these items have been lounging around my inbox while I go on and on about Ros and Guil, about which I seem unable to shut up. Ah, well...

Sarah Palin continues to be the gift which keeps on giving. I don't mind a bit if she remains in the national spotlight; the more she remains there, the more we learn about her ethically challenged lifestyle. Lately, she's been forced to reimburse the State of Alaska for various items which she charged to them, such as per diem payments made for nights she spent in her own home, and expenses for her children which she claimed were State Business Expenses. No wonder she's sometimes considered the Great Hope of the Republican Party; she already has their business practices down pat. So does her niece, according to EBay. A month or so ago, the famous pair of Naughty Monkey Double Dare high heels which the Pitbull wore to accept the vice-presidential nomination from the Republicans was sold at auction by Palin's niece. Some lonely soul bought those soles for a whopping $2,000 and change (they retail at less than 90 bucks). The Ebay auction included an autographed picture of Palin wearing the shoes, which were apparently given to this niece after the governor dumped her own wardrobe in favor of the lavish one the RNC provided. Oh, and regarding those designer togs which caused so much ruckus during the campaign, Palin insisted all the clothes were to be donated to charity after the election. According to the Washington Post, the wardrobe was recently spotted, stuffed into garbage bags and sitting in a corner of the RNC's Washington headquarters.

Here's another item which interests me, though it's probably past its expiration date by now. Everybody knows Michael Phelps was hit pretty hard by that unfortunate picture of him taking a hit off a bong at a party at the University of South Carolina (my alma mater! Those gamecocks know how to partaaaayyyy). He was suspended from swimming competition for three months, and Kellogg's yanked his picture from their Corn Flakes. (He didn't lose everything, though, as Subway kept him on to endorse their sandwiches. And why not? After taking several hits of the demon weed, Phelps and others are bound to get the munchies and head down to the local sandwich shop for a footlong). An extremely zealous law enforcement officer in SC raided two houses which were suspected to be Phelps's Columbia hangouts (this is, of course, many days after the party in which the incident happened. Nobody would have known about the incident had not some enterprising photo-journalist snapped the photo and sold it to a London tabloid for 100 grand). This SC sheriff arrested almost a dozen people, confiscating a few cigarettes worth of grass, and made noises about arresting Phelps, too, who had long since left his jurisdiction. A few weeks ago, Robo-Cop decided against attempting to charge Phelps, who has never denied his involvement but has issued the standard "I regret my behavior" apology in hopes of salvaging his endorsement career. He claims the incident was a one-time error in judgement, and everyone seems to conveniently forget that he made a similar "one-time error in judgement" a few months after the 2004 Olympics, where he won 6 gold medals but had yet to vault into the national limelight. At that time, he was pulled over and arrested for drunk driving in Maryland, at the age of 19.

The ongoing saga of the Mercury-infested Jeremy Piven seems to have reached its conclusion this week. It's a story which has caught my interest for months, though nobody else really cares much. I wrote about the details of Piven's sudden desertion of Broadway's Speed-the-Plow here. As a result of his action, the producers filed a grievance against him with Actors Equity. Piven's hearing this week was closed to the public and the press, but in true Hollywood style, our Jeremy gave an exclusive interview to the New York Times right after the conclusion of the hearing. Apparently, he broke down in tears while telling the horrible story of his poisoning, its side-effects, and his terrible mistreatment by the press, many of whom reported on Piven's wild night life during the run. He did not bolt from the show because he was bored and partying too hard, but because he was often disoriented onstage and sometimes could not breathe (this despite photos taken of Piven out on the town celebrating Britney Spears's birthday and other events). As for the hearing itself, the expected outcome was reached: with five producers representing the Broadway League, and five actors representing the union, the votes were split right down the middle, and no action will be taken against Piven by Equity. The producers still have remedies in court, but I have a hunch they will let the matter drop now that the show is long gone and they've insured that Piven's reputation is soiled. It'll be a while before another Broadway producer takes a chance on him.

(update 3/1/09: I spoke too soon. According to today's NY Times, "Speed-the-Plow" producers are proceeding with arbitration against Piven. So, the story goes on!)

This final item is brand new, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. The producers of the film versions of Chicago and Hairpray and the TV versions of The Music Man and Gypsy are prepping a new Damn Yankees feature film. The book is being rewritten by the guys who created the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, and the flick will star Jake Gyllenhaal and Jim Carrey. I think the idea of a new movie is a good one; I'm going against most musical lovers when I call the original Damn Yankees movie a disappointment. Though it creditably preserved the Tony-winning performances of Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston, those performances were far less dynamic onscreen. The movie was really sunk, however, by casting prettyboy Tab Hunter in the leading role of Joe Hardy, a role which requires singing and dancing, neither of which Hunter could do. (I don't know if Gyllenhaal can do those things either.) The original film is a weak imitation of the show, which holds a special place in my heart, and the fact that it failed to make major screen stars of either Verdon or Walston proves my point. Verdon returned to Broadway and Walston moved to television for the better part of their remaining careers.

As for Carrey in the role of Applegate (the devil), well, who knows? I really like his work in his quieter pieces such as The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (you know, his flops),but his wilder comic roles leave me pretty cold. Playing the Devil may encourage his baser impulses and turn the character into an over-the-top caricature. After all, remember the last time he reinvented a beloved character on screen?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Who Says Fat Men Can't Dance?

This week's dance is apropos of absolutely nothing. It just makes me smile.
...and my mother had an outfit just like that one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No Critical Favors

I finally sat down to watch the Oscarcast I had waiting on DVR (I can't bear to watch such things as they happen, I need the security of the fast-forward) and I thought Hugh Jackman did a bang-up job. He was charming, classy, and (as opposed to the usual Oscar host, who for 30 years has been a comedian) multi-talented. I thought his musical numbers were a hoot, and his camaraderie with the audience was fun and endearing.

Not everybody shares my opinion. Though the NY Times gave the broadcast a nice nod, the critics in the LA Times and the Washington Post fell over themselves with snarky comments. So what else is new? Since I read the Post daily, I am accustomed to the attitude which oozes from their two television writers, Tom Shales and Lisa de Moraes. Shales, for example, wished the hosting duties had been handled by Tina Fey and Steve Martin, who were hits during their introductory spot. This is nothing new from Shales, who wrote an exhaustive book about Saturday Night Live years ago, and since then, allows no opportunity to pass without plugging one of the show's cast members, past or present. Truly, there is rarely a week of his columns which does not include at least one mention of SNL, even in reviews of shows which have absolutely nothing to do with it. It's true, Fey and Martin were a success, but neither of them can be counted on to boost the TV ratings for the Oscarcast, as Fey cannot get her own highly regarded sitcom out of the ratings dungeon, and Martin's previous stints as Oscar host did not lead to improved ratings. Jackson, however, was clearly a ratings hit with viewers, who provided a large increase in ratings from last year (and this was a year which was predicted to be low-rated, lacking any blockbuster hits in the major categories). So while the LA Times TV critic complained brutally about Jackson's musical numbers, the audience disagreed. So did the LA Times film critic, Kenneth Turan, who loved the show and the clips and the recognition of the rich history of film (Shales at The Post hated all the clips, writing "people tune in the Oscars to see stars in the flesh, not to see clips of stars in roles they have already played." I'd like to see his research on this outrageous statement, as he's dead wrong).

Critics such as Sales and de Moraes at the Washington Post never seem bothered when the general public disagrees with their assessments, as they are sure their opinions are better informed and superior to those of common television viewers. And regarding de Moraes, I've wondered for years why her employers continue to pay her to write about a medium she so clearly despises. Every column she issues drips with sarcasm toward her subject; I wonder how she sleeps at night, when her days are spent writing about a topic she thoroughly hates.

I've been thinking about critics this weekend, as the local review of our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was published on Sunday. I'm new to the area, but I think, though am not sure, that this will be the only print review the show receives. The critic was enthusiastic about the production and the players, but issued one of those caveats which do not help increase attendance. Phrases like "the evening lengthens to three hours" and "don't worry if you don't understand it. It's not supposed to be easy" will hardly cause a stampede at the box office. I admit to a bit of frustration here, as, after a tentative start, the show has blossomed into a real crowd pleaser, from what I can tell. The laughs are plentiful and the surprises in the text are well played by our leading actors. With two well-placed intermissions, the show moves briskly and hardly seems like an experience which is "good for you," like attending the opera or the ballet. (This local critic even spent a paragraph discussing the intermission, railing against patrons who went outside to smoke.)

As the great Hans Meyer, playing our Rosencrantz (to the hilt), said, the review, while very positive, "did us no favors."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Dance Party: PIRATES!!

I love this clip from The Pirates of Penzance production in Central Park, a show so successful, it moved to Broadway for a multi-year run. They made a film of the show, too, but I've chosen the clip below to share, though it is grainier than the corresponding clip in the movie. I chose it because the presence of the audience is clearly exciting the performers to higher heights. Almost without exception, when I see a stage production taped live before an audience, then a film of the same piece taped in a studio, the stage production wins out. Though it necessarily has cheaper production values, the excitement generated by the audience infects the performers, and the viewers. I also enjoy this clip for the presence of Tony Azito (the chief policeman) and especially, Kevin Kline. I wrote a while ago about seeing Kline for the first time in On the Twentieth Century, and here, he's a dynamo.

Naturally, as I'm occupied this week with the preview and opening performances of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (see entry below), this clip came to mind because it includes pirates. Tom Stoppard has cleverly interpolated piracy into his riff on Hamlet, and they play a small but pivotal role in the proceedings.

Sort of.

Anyway, for this week's Dance Party (and finally, there is a bit of dance in this one, or at least, marching), enjoy Kline and Company as they belt the hell out of "With Cat-Like Tread" from Shakespeare In The Park's The Pirates of Penzance:

The Politics of the Preview

It's a good thing I'm not in charge of theatre administration, because I would never have come
up with the clever way the NC Stage folks are presenting our previews. Each day this week, a new incentive encourages audiences to pop in to see the new show. We had an invitational dress on Tuesday, attended by about 30 people who, I'm told, always come to this performance. The first time in front of an audience is often an awkward one, especially with a comedy such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a language-heavy piece with existential overtones. As a result, we started with a whimper rather than a bang. As the performance progressed, however, the audience warmed up a bit, and were quite nice by the time they got used to this odd world we were introducing. Wednesday's show
was Pay-what-You-Can, a enticement commonly used to beef up the house during the preview period. It was a large and friendly crowd, again, I'm told, made up of folks who always attend this event. They "got" the play from start to finish, and I have a hunch they were the various artists, performers, and literary loons who populate Asheville. Thursday night, the theatre hosted a Happy Hour before the show (actually, Hour and a Half), and the attendees were already lined up outside the lobby when I arrived at the theatre at 6. Sated with munchies and wine, they were another nice house. Tonight, Friday, is the Talk-Back performance, and no, that does not mean the audience is encouraged to shout at the actors during the show. After the curtain comes down, viewers are invited to hang around and ask questions, give feedback, etc, to the cast and director. I'm told that, here again, the same crowd tends to come to this performance during the run.

So NCStage has really come up with some creative ways to fill the houses before the show's official opening. It puts a lot of the pressure off the Big Night, which will seem like performance #5 to the cast, rather than #1. We've learned a lot this week from our audiences, and each night before the show, the cast has assembled to tweak certain moments and, hopefully, improve.

So far, so good!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Louie Bellson


Duke Ellington called him "the world's greatest drummer," and in a career spanning three quarters of a century, he worked with such Big Band giants as Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Harry James, as well as Ellington. When the era of the large orchestra gave way to smaller jazz combos, Bellson moved smoothly into the new genre, and played with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, James Brown and dozens of others. He was a gifted instrumentalist, percussionist, sideman, musical arranger, and composer. It was during his tenure with the Duke Ellington orchestra, in which he was the only white member, that he met and married singer Pearl Bailey. Their interracial marriage, highly controversial in the early 50s, lasted until her death 40 years later. He appeared on hundreds of recordings and was considered an expert on percussion and its instruments.

Bellson passed away last week from Parkinson's disease aggravated by a broken hip.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

R & G Gets Set

We've completed tech for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and are ready to put it all together. The weekend spent on technical matters was, while not really fun (are they ever?), pretty painless. The house is under a hundred seats, and in such a black box, scene changes amount to the rearranging of boxes and the hanging of ropes and stuff. The real technical challenges are with the sound and lights, which seemed to be solidly on the right track for our show.

I was surprised to have experienced a first this weekend. Several infants attended our technical rehearsals. This startled me, I suppose, because I am used to more formal techs, with hard-ass directors demanding the impossible from harried designers, and tension reigning supreme. Instead, several new parents in the company brought along the tikes, who were cared for by anyone who was around when needed. (I wonder what Michael Kahn of The Shakespeare Theatre Co. would have said about that, if such a thing ever happened during his nightmare Techs From Hell). But it reminded me of a couple of things. NCStage is populated with young adults early in their careers and just starting their families; the folks involved are eager to make their theatre a welcome place to work and live. It's all very warm and familial (I'm the only newcomer in the bunch), and I have not heard a single argument between anybody about anything.

I don't imagine that will change as the week progresses. Today's afternoon run will be our first, followed by the Invitational Dress, which is predicted to have an audience of about 30. I have very little responsibility in this production, which may mean I'm in for a lot of fun. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hugh Leonard


Leonard achieved great success as a playwright, adapter, and columnist. He provided the BBC with several teleplays of classics such as Nickolas Nickleby and Great Expectations, but found greater fame writing for the stage. The Au Pair Man was his Broadway debut, for which he won a Tony nomination in 1973, though the show was a flop running only 37 performances (its stars were Charles Durning and Julie Harris, who received one of her ten Tony nominations for her role).

He had greater success with his 1978 memory play, Da, which won the Tony as best play, and was turned into a film starring Martin Sheen and the show's undisputed star, Bernard Hughes. (I wrote about seeing the production here). He achieved yet another Tony nod for his 1980 play, A Life.

Leonard wrote a weekly newspaper column for which he became known as the Curmudgeon. He wrote of his experience working as an extra on Olivier's Henry V; the Agincort scenes were shot in Ireland. "I can find myself drowning in a French swamp. We were paid four pounds a day, but if you had a horse, it paid eight." With withering wit but a thin skin, his quips were legion. When a particularly nasty critic was hospitalized, he commented "It was probably something he wrote." Along with contemporaries Brian Friel and Thomas Murphy, he helped create the Irish Dramatic Movement of the 1960s and 70s, though he had little use for his colleagues. "An Irish Literary Movement," he once wrote, "is when two Irish playwrights are on speaking terms." His plays seemed more accessible than those of his contemporaries, and were regarded as shallow by the Irish arts world. Ireland, he once said, was "a country full of genius, but with absolutely no talent."

Leonard died last week at the age of 82.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Favorite Valentine

In honor of the day, allow me to share a clip of my favorite version of one of my favorite songs. It accompanies one of my favorite movies of all time, one which I feel is under appreciated. Psychologically menacing, emotionally complex, beautifully photographed, thrillingly acted by Damon, Paltrow, Law, Blanchette, and Hoffman, exceptionally written (and among all that, sexy), please accept "My Funny Valentine" from The Talented Mr. Ripley, as my gift to you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Couples Skate

This weekend includes Friday the 13th and Valentine's Day, so in an attempt to honor both, please enjoy this week's Dance Party, a tribute to unorthodox, sometimes horrifying, couples. Yes, I know it's just a bunch of clips set to music, with no dance whatsoever, but when has that ever stopped me?

Happy V-Day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blog Birthday, and the Hayzies

These pages are celebrating two years online today, so I've looked back a bit at some of the items I felt the need to write about. Well, I started to look back, then decided no good could come of such navel gazing (I do enough of that already). Hidden amongst the obits, the personal trials of the actor's life, the remembrances of things past, and my personal reactions to the various shows I attend as an audience member, I also noticed that I never finished my loooooong project of converting my vinyl recordings to digital files. I wrote ad nauseum about my collection, but never completed the task. I have a hundred or so albums cut by various artists which interested me, all of which still sit on my closet floor gathering dust. I am determined, therefore, to finish the task I gave myself many months ago. As soon as I complete the current run, I'll have a lot of free time (read: unemployed again), and will tackle this last portion of my collection.

You'll want to stay tuned for those riveting entries.

Another thing I noticed when checking my old archives was the fact that the week this blog was birthed, I wrote about the Helen Hayes award nominations (they had just been announced). Not coincidentally, this year's nominees were announced earlier this week.

The most striking aspect of this year's group is the rather lop-sided domination of Signature Theatre, with a whopping 39 nods. I'm not in a position to determine if all those scads of nominations were deserved, as I didn't see all of the shows in question, but I saw a few. I'm pleased that both the leads in Kiss of the Spider Woman were mentioned, as I thoroughly enjoyed their work. And David Margulies was a sprightly hoot as the grandfather in The Happy Time, but I wish the Hayzies had also nominated Michael Minarik, whose role was the pivotal one, and who gave a very strong showing (I wrote about it here.) I suppose the nominations of Chita Rivera and George Hearn were given; the Hayes folks have a long history of celebrating the performances of actors whose names they recognize. And as for Les Miz, well, I enjoyed the show, despite personally disliking the material, and Signature's production will probably win in their categories.

I was glad Arena's Next to Normal was recognized, though I'm not quite sure why it was placed in the "nonresident" category. It's true the show was cast completely with out of town actors, but that's nothing new at Arena, and though most of the cast were in the original NY production, two were not, and the authors themselves reworked part of their show for the Arena staging. Perhaps this particular production moved on to another theatre of which I am unaware...Anyway, I hope J. Robert Spencer, who played the father figure, wins in his category.

Of the other productions I saw, I agree that both Major Barbara and Twelfth Night were stunners at The Shakespeare Theatre, though I wish Veanne Cox had been mentioned for her luscious Lady Olivia. I also think one or two more of the cast of History Boys at Studio should have made the cut.

I suppose my biggest surprise is the explosion in the newish "Most Outstanding Ensemble" category. There are a whopping 18 nominees, six for musicals and twelve for plays. I'm happy that Olney's Rabbit Hole made the list, though my friend Deborah Hazlett deserved a singular nom for the depth of her performance, which was duly praised all over town. Yes, I know, she's my friend and all that, but I've already established the fact that my friends are always the best things in their shows, haven't I? At any rate, I have a hunch that Olney seems a little old hat for the Hayzies, and they rarely treat the old warhorse with much critical respect, even when Olney's productions deserve it.

Ah, well. Nobody is ever perfectly happy with awards of this kind, and the DC community is busy blogging away about the oversights and omissions. Happens every year, as I can attest since I wrote about the nominations two years ago in the first week of this site. We'll have to wait until awards night to see how it all plays out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Buchanans of Llanview

One Life to Live fans are reeling with the double loss of two long-time Buchanan cowboys. Phil Carey, who played Texas tycoon Asa Buchanan for over 20 years on the show, died last week from lung cancer. His death comes on the heals of that of Clint Ritchie, who played eldest son Clint Buchanan during the same period. Though both actors had left the show (another actor currently plays the role of "Clint" and the role of "Asa" died months ago), they left an indelible mark on the canvas of the program. Robert S. Woods, who plays younger brother Beau, remains with the show.
Frankly, I was never a fan of One Life to Live, though I don't doubt it when others proclaim the long-time star of the show, Erica Slezak, to be the best actress currently in daytime (she has six Emmys to prove it, more than any other actress in soaps).

The Buchanan clan was introduced to the show's landscape in the early 1980s as a direct rip-off of prime time's smash at the time, Dallas. Like JR Ewing, Asa Buchanan was a modern Texas oilman with questionable ethics and a killer bedside manner. His eldest son Clint became entangled with the show's heroine and remained central to the action for decades.

(If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Dallas creators should be blushing with pride, as several other soaps of the period introduced similar characters. "Cal Stricklin" was a knock-off character over on As the World Turns, and "HB Lewis" brought his two sons with him from Oklahoma to Guiding Light, where the brothers remain major players today).

Anyway, in honor of the Buchanan boys of One Life to Live, giddyup.

Phil Carey (Asa Buchanan), 1925-2009

Clint Ritchie (Clint Buchanan), 1938-2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

R&G on the move

I returned to North Carolina to rejoin rehearsals for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and found that the cast, particularly the three leads, had been working hard. The complicated wordplay is making more sense now, and it's obvious these guys have been doing lots of homework. There are whole scenes in which they are off book, which motivated me to get on the stick and accomplish the same. I have very little dialogue in this piece, and it does not look quite right for me to be carrying around the script while others with dramatically more to learn, are not.

We've had a few days off, and I am now ready to attack the piece free-handed. Tonight, we move into the theatre, with about a week to go before the first audience shows up. (This is earlier than usual for this group). I know I'm glad to be out of the depressive surroundings of the rehearsal hall, located in a run-down industrial complex along the poluted river. The room had a stuffy quality which prohibited both creativity and breathing. But it's not unusual, even for theatre companies with far more resources than this, to put a lot of those resources toward their playing space and their administrative offices, and to ignore the one area with which they cannot do without: a place to rehearse.

But for now, who cares? On we go...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blossom Dearie


Cabaret artist, influential jazz stylist, long-time Manhattan/London icon, chanteuse.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

James Whitmore

One of the most prolific actors of his generation, Whitmore's theatrical career was launched when twin knee injuries sidelined his college football career (he attended Yale on a sports scholarship and was coached by future President Gerald Ford). After a stint in the military during WWII, he landed on Broadway in Command Decision and won a Tony. The project took him to Hollywood, and though he lost his role in the film version to Van Johnson, he soon picked up his first Oscar nomination for his early film Battleground (his performance won the Golden Globe that year).

Whitmore was never out of work, appearing in countless films and television programs. He starred in several short-lived series in the 60s, and on film, appeared in a wide variety of genres. His contract to MGM placed him in the unlikely position of introducing the novelty song "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" in the film version of Kiss Me Kate, in a duet with another non-musical talent, Keenan Wynn:

In 1964, he took a rare starring role in Black Like Me, the filmed version of the non-fictional account of a white journalist who changed his skin pigment with medication and masqueraded as a black man in the south. The movie was his favorite film role:

His resonant voice and cinematic gravitas could not be buried under piles of make-up in the original sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes, in which he played the President of the Assembly. Recent audiences know him best for his soulful performance as "Brooks" in the prison drama The Shawshank Redemption, in which he played the librarian who could not face the outside world. This appearance late in his career propelled him to high-profile roles on television, including a three-episode story arc on The Practice, for which he won an Emmy in 1999. He later received another Emmy nod playing Josh Brolin's father on the political series Mr. Sterling.

As with so many actors, Whitmore was most proud of his stage career, to which he returned over and over. He became known as the King of the One-Man Shows for a trio of performances throughout the 70s. As Will Rogers in 1970:

His 1977 performance as Teddy Roosevelt was less successful, but he is most famously remembered as Harry Truman in Give 'em Hell, Harry, a stage performance which is preserved on film. It brought him a second Academy Award nomination in 1975, and placed him in the history books as the only solo-actor in a movie to receive an Oscar nomination.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer late last year, but continued to maintain a television presence as the spokesperson for Miracle-Gro plant food. He died this week at the age of 87.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Dance Party: I Don't Think I Got It

I wrote recently of my Split Focus, and this week has been more of the same. I have returned to NC to rejoin rehearsals for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which have been ongoing in my absence. There was certainly no need to suspend rehearsals while I was in DC, as my role is quite small. We are now nearing the end of our second week of rehearsal (out of only three and a half), and I have yet to rehearse any scene in which I speak. There aren't many of those, granted, but so far, I have been working on the "tragedian" scenes in which I take part. Limited action, no dialogue, and lots of what we used to call at The Shakespeare Theatre Co. "active listening." It's a fancy term for hanging around in the background and not looking dead.

The trip to DC was action-packed, to say the least. I returned for three days to help run the annual Liaison Committee Auditions, in which several hundred Equity and EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) actors presented their talents for several dozen theatre companies. My volunteer job, which I handled last year as well, was to coordinate the actors, gathering them into groups, giving a short orientation, and leading them to the slaughter. All with generosity of spirit and respect.

Why are you laughing?

I took the opportunity to audition myself as well, with my new, though temporary, "Polonius look." This is a substantial departure from my normal self, and those who knew me, to say the least. Oh well, maybe it will increase my chances of snagging a gig out of the audition. My three minutes went well, I thought, though only time will tell if the audition yields fruit. I did come away from the auditions a bit deflated, though not as a result of my work on The Day. With the childish naivete which only actors can muster in their adult years, I had hopes of being asked to return to the local production of Shear Madness again, having played in their "day company" the last two springs. Sadly, that will not be happening, and I was more disappointed than I had a right to be. In the past, there have been YEARS between my engagements with The Madness, so I really have no right to be surprised that I am being passed by this year. In addition, I had a remote hope that a buddy who now heads one of the nice summer stock theatres in the region might offer me some work this season, but that hope is dwindling as well.

Any wonder I'm having trouble focusing on the project at hand?

Regarding our Liaison Auditions, there is a musical component for those who wish to sing. It's hardly a full-fledged musical audition, but it reminds me of the most arresting "Audition Story" out there. I've already written of my admiration for the original production of A Chorus Line, which contains the single most dynamic opening sequence of any musical. The 1975 Tony Awards devoted their entire opening to it, and it contains all the performances which later became lore. It's a blurred copy included below, but even with poor quality, the excitement cannot be denied. The clip includes Donna McKecknie (in the red), who won the Tony, as well as Sammy Williams and Kelly Bishop ("I knew the routine when I was in front"), who also snagged awards. Keep an eye out for Priscilla Lopez (in the red jersey,dancing with her tongue), who lost her Tony bid to costar Bishop, but later won the award for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. And if your eyes are sharp, you'll glimpse Wayne Cilento, ("What happens now...?"), who later became a Tony-winning choreographer (Tommy) and is currently represented on Broadway by Wicked. By the way, the director/choreographer who takes center stage in this sequence is Robert Lupone, Patti's brother. But you don't have to know any of these people to be fascinated by this dynamic clip.

So, in honor of all actors auditioning everywhere, here is this week's Dance Party:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Duck and Cover

Patti Lupone has always been a showstopper, and she proved it several weeks ago in the final weekend of her celebrated turn as Mama Rose. She got very mixed response to her actions. During her climactic song in Gypsy, really only a few minutes before the final curtain, she stopped everything to complain about an audience member who was taking pictures. This, of course, is a big no-no, and apparently she had had enough. There are folks out there who wonder what the hell she thought she might accomplish by halting her own performance to insist the poor schnook be removed. Others, including the audience in attendance that night, applauded her actions.

Well, I wouldn't have done it, but I'm not Patti Lupone trying to scale that monumental breakdown number, "Rose's Turn." And the fact that this was the day before the show's premature closing probably weighed heavily with her. Lupone fought long and hard to play Mama Rose on Broadway, including having to convince author and director Arthur Laurents, who resisted the idea for years. Lupone finally proved herself during the New York concert staging of the show several years ago, and Laurents himself directed her in the revival. The show won lots of Tonys, for Lupone's performance and those of her two co-stars. As I wrote previously, the show was scheduled to conclude when the stars' contracts were up in March, but the tanking economy took its toll, and the production instead closed two weeks ago. I have no doubt Lupone was deeply disturbed by this, and I can verify (as can any stage actor) that the final few performances one gives of a beloved role are precious and personally valuable. To have one of her last shows marred by flashing cameras was apparently too much for the diva.

Frankly, I run hot and cold on Lupone. I have never seen her on stage in a musical, but have seen her in two straight plays, one of which (Master Class) she improved simply by her presence in it. (I wrote about seeing that show here). It's hard to find a subtle moment in any Lupone performance, on stage or screen, but who cares? I believe she gives her all to whatever she attempts.

Now that Gypsy is history, Lupone is hitting the road in a concert which should quite something. If there is a male counterpoint to the histrionics of Lupone's performances, it's Mandy Patinkin. Remember his performance of "Buddy's Blues" in the Lincoln Center Follies concert? Yikes. Here's a quick song which is very indicative of his musical performances these days. Get this guy a Valium...

I loved Patinkin's work in Sunday in the Park with George, a performance, preserved on video,which continues to make me weep. Nowadays, though, his singing makes me wince.

Lupone and Patinkin, who won twin Tonys for their performances in Evita decades ago, are joining forces for a concert tour. That may be a truly frightening evening. I'm serious here. Take this guy:

...and team him up with this gal:

...and all I can say is, TAKE COVER.

In an irony which theatre folk really enjoy, the very moment Lupone was going off on that audience member for snapping pictures , someone else was illegally audio-taping her performance. It is that audio tape which steals this clip:

With Lupone and Patinkin on the road together, nobody's safe.

Where can I buy a ticket?