Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
One year ago, I sadly reported a full quarter century without her.
A few months ago, when my mother would have turned 80 years old, I wrote about her music.
I wonder if I write too often about my mother?
Today is Mother's Day for me, as it is the 26th anniversary of her death. Sounds pretty gloomy, and it has its melancholy elements. But I know I'll spend most of the day remembering the good stuff. After 26 years, the very sharp pains of loss have dulled. I'll surely enjoy a large plate of what we call "Mama's Spaghetti", with homemade sauce which she occasionally served. The recipe is in her hand, and lives above my refrigerator. Naturally, I'll be dining on her china, given to her on her wedding to my father, way back when people did such things. The day will have some sadness, mixed with some regret, too, but that can't be helped. (And shouldn't be.)
If you still have your mother with you, don't wait 'till May 10, the official Mother's Day, to call. Give her a buzz today. You're very lucky.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Stephen Sondheim must be having a pretty good week. He had a birthday (79! wow) and the major revival of his first Broadway show, West Side Story, got a nice nod from the NY Times. It's being directed by the show's librettist Arthur Laurents (in his 90s! Double wow), who adjusted some of the dialogue to be spoken in Spanish. Well, it makes sense that the Puerto Ricans at the heart of the story would not be speaking English when they are alone together. That aspect of the revival is getting mixed comments, most of them agreeing in principle, but noting that theatre-goers not already familiar with the story may be a bit lost. Are you kidding me? Who doesn't know West Side Story??
I bet Sondheim is pleased that one of his songs, "I Feel Pretty," is now being sung totally in Spanish. Perhaps the translated lyrics do not commit the same sins which Sondheim believes the original words do; he's complained for years that the song's lyrics are too sophisticated for a character such as Maria (a girl right off the boat from Puerto Rico would not be using interior rhyme). Relax, Steve, nobody cares. Instead, revel in the knowledge that a piece written a whopping 50 years ago still holds some interest. That interest has been maintained, at least partially, due to the hugely successful film version from 1961. West Side Story the movie is still considered one of the finest film adaptations of a stage musical, and was nominated for 11 Oscars. It won all but one, losing Best Adapted Screenplay to that other tunefest, Judgement at Nuremberg.
WSS is one of those chestnuts which I thoroughly admire and yet never had a desire to perform. I appeared in an abridged, one-hour version in college, as a directing project for my friend Judy, but would never have landed a role in a professional production (I had dark hair, so I was cast as one of the Puerto Ricans, pretty laughable, as I am the whitest guy anybody ever met). I suppose I could play poor Glad Hands now, the adult schnook who arranges the dance at the gym which gets the love story going. In the film, John Astin took the role, and gave no evidence that he could play that lothario Gomez Addams a few years later. Honestly, I don't know how he was able to stand at the sidelines, listening to this dynamic music by Leonard Bernstein, and fight the urge to join in.
Anyway, in honor of Sondheim's birthday, and the current revival of his first hit, and because George Chakiris looks so suave in his lavender shirt, and because I couldn't find any dance numbers in Judgement at Nuremberg (even with Judy Garland in the cast) please enjoy the Dance at the Gym. Sock Hops at my high school never looked like this...
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Here's another tale that is old news, but worth repeating. Censorship remains alive and well in our nation's public schools. The rock musical Rent has been released for amateur production, and a school in California's Orange County (a region notorious for its right-wing attitudes) planned a production. The principal banned the show without reading the script, after having heard it deals with prostitution, homosexuality, and AIDS. She recently rescinded her ban, and the show will go on next month. Her about-face may have something to do with the lawsuit which the California ACLU slapped on the school and its officials. They are not concerned with the Rent production, per se, but with the rampant bullying of gay students. A female student involved in the Rent production received threats of death and rape, and the administration has done little to counter sexist and homophobic behaviour in the school. Security officers even cracked down on a grass-roots effort on the part of the students to signal their support of the Rent production by wearing rainbow-colored buttons; the buttons were confiscated. It was only after the ACLU filed suit in Superior Court that the production was reinstated.
No such luck for the school in Oregon which wanted to produce Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapine Agile. A petition with 137 names was presented to the school board, who then halted rehearsals for the show, which the petition complained had "adult content." What? Martin himself offered to fund the production off-campus because he wanted to keep the show from "acquiring a reputation it does not deserve.” I'll say. The play's concept is a meeting between Einstein, Picasso, and Elvis, in a Parisian bar; for the life of me, I cannot imagine what the hell problem the parents had with the thing.
And speaking of death, the theatre community continues to mourn Natasha Richardson. In Sunday's NY Times, Charles Isherwood writes admiringly of the special discipline of the stage actor, and cites the Redgraves as perfect examples of actors who always show up, and always do the work. He attributes such professionalism to the "dailyness" of stage acting, as opposed to the rather contrary, sloppy aspect of Hollywood fame.
It's a nice article, but I was much more moved when I read about last Thursday night. It was the night when all the lights on Broadway were dimmed for a minute, in tribute to their lost star. Broadway.com reported that, among the regular theatre-goers in Shubert Alley, there were some surprises. Members of Richardson's stage and real family had gathered to watch the tribute. Liam Neeson, who met and fell in love with Richardson while debuting on Broadway together in Anna Christie, was joined by Richardson’s sister, Joely, and her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, as they stood outside the Booth Theatre to see the Broadway community dim its marquees for one minute, a traditional honor saved for stage greats. Seen comforting Neeson with hugs and condolences were friends Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Ralph Fiennes (Richardson’s co-star in the movies Maid in Manhattan and The White Countess, and Neeson’s friend since the two co-starred in Schindler’s List), Laura Linney (who starred with Neeson in the 2002 Broadway revival of The Crucible), and Richardson's costars from the Cabaret revival, Ron Rifkin and John Benjamin Hickey. At 8pm, the lights of the theater district began to dim, theater by theater, and mourners, onlookers and passersby began to respectfully applaud, at times even shouting Richardson’s name.
As the lights returned, Neeson shielded his eyes with his cap, and ducked into a waiting car with his family.
That image makes me cry.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
She leaves behind two sons by her husband Liam Neeson, and of course, her extended family of Redgraves and Richardsons, probably comprising the most acclaimed theatrical dynasty of the late 20th century.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Never heard of him? Me neither, but he died the other day at the ripe old age of 92. He was a longtime screenwriter with two Oscar nominations to his credit, for movies of which I have also never heard: Take the High Ground and Bad Day at Black Rock. He was considered a terrific script doctor at MGM, and also wrote a bit for television. He attached his name to the 1950 script of Gun Crazy, the film noir classic which was actually written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, as a favor to their shared agent. In 1992, he officially requested that his name be removed from the film's credits and be replaced with its rightful author. His first novel ("Bowl of Cherries"), which he wrote in his late 80s, was an unexpected smash, and his second book is due out this fall.
So, Millard Kaufman seems to have been an upstanding gent and worthy of recognition, but you may wonder why he is receiving an obit in these pages. I do not, after all, write about everybody who dies, just about folks who hold some interest for me. (It is why I did not report on the death of radio pundit Paul Harvey, who died a few weeks ago. I'm sorry he's gone, of course, but am not all that interested in him or his work.)
Well, here's why. Back in 1949, Kaufman penned the script for a short animated film called Ragtime Bear, and included a character based on his near-sighted uncle. A year later, Kaufman wrote Punchy de Leon for the same character, and a star was officially born: