Saturday, January 24, 2009

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

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery hung its newest presidential portrait recently, and quickly found its caption in dispute. Every portrait allows 140 words, summing up the subject's presidency. The original caption included the phrase: "the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . . ." A senator from Vermont was not pleased with the inference that there was a causal relationship between 9/11 and the Iraqi quagmire into which President Bush engulfed the nation. "When President Bush and Vice President Cheney misled our nation into the war in Iraq, they certainly cited the attacks on September 11, along with the equally specious claim that Iraq possessed vast arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The notion, however, that 9/11 and Iraq were linked, or that one 'led to' the other, has been widely and authoritatively debunked." The Smithsonian agreed, and changed the wording on the caption to read, ". . . Bush found his two terms in office instead marked by a series of cataclysmic events: the attacks on September 11, 2001; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina; and a financial crisis during his last months in office." This adjustment sounds reasonable to me. Bush's tenure was indeed cataclysmic, and we will not be recovering from his presidency anytime soon.

The Obama Inauguration has stirred up a couple of brouhahas, one a lot nastier than the other. In his speech, the new president included "non-believers" in his description of the patchwork of America, and many right-wing black clergymen have protested. Though over 16 % of Americans describe themselves as "non-believers," those conservative men of God do not want these heretics included in any mention of American heritage. Of course, these are the same sort of bigots who raised a whole lot of hell, and a whole lot of money, to pass California's Prop 8, removing the marital rights of same-sex couples. Yet another example of how so many leaders of Organized Religion feel justified in trouncing the civil liberties of those who do not share their beliefs.

I wonder when it was, exactly, that Christianity became EXclusive, rather than INclusive...

I got a giggle over the revelation that classical performers Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman had pulled a Milli-Vanilli at the Obama Inauguration; they had pre-recorded their piece and were just "string sync-ing" for the cameras. (It reminded me of the production of Opus I did several years ago; we did the same thing, but never hid the fact.) The frigid weather was blamed in this case, and everyone agreed that keeping the piano in tune would have been impossible under the circumstances. But then, why the charade? Why not just pipe the pre-recorded selection through the speakers without the pretence? Or use those jumbo screens to show a video of the performers recording the piece?

Aretha Franklin certainly was not lip sync-ing, but even she admits perhaps she ought to have been. She was quoted immediately following her performance that she was very disappointed in her own work. The cold took a toll on the Queen of Soul, and she took an unfortunate breath at the very top of her rendition of "America," right between syllables: "My count-(breath)-try 'tis of thee..." Sing it aloud yourself, and you'll discover the misfortune.

On the bright side, her performance seemed to be upstaged by her hat.

(update, 2/6/09: Aretha has made a quick trip to the studio to record a "preferred version" of her inaugural song, which will soon be available as an alternative to her live take)

I wrote a while ago about Jeremy Piven bolting from his Broadway commitment to Speed-the-Plow. More of the story has now come out. The show opened in early October to good reviews, but according to the producers, Piven immediately started making noise about leaving the show before its scheduled closing in late February. The production schedule was adjusted to accommodate Piven's attendance at the Golden Globes in Los Angeles. As soon as those plans were finalized, Piven informed the producers that he would not be returning to the show after the awards. Arrangements were made for William H. Macy to replace Piven during the show's final few months. Many weeks prior to his departure to attend the Golden Globes, with no notice whatsoever, Piven bolted from Speed-the-Plow, citing a dangerous level of mercury in his system. Too much sushi between shows or something. Macy was not available to take over the part that early, so the understudy played Piven's role while the producers scrambled for a higher profile replacement. Norbert Leo Butz, a Tony-winning Broadway favorite, assumed the role, giving several performances carrying the script. But the box office dropped dramatically in the absence of the Emmy-winning Piven.

This week, the show's producers filed a grievance against Piven with Actors Equity.

I don't get HBO, so I do not watch Piven's show Entourage, but I enjoyed him as a regular on Ellen Degeneres's sitcom a decade or so ago. But he's giving the "TV Star Turned Broadway Actor" group a bad name, if it ever had a good one (remember Kelsey Grammer's disastrous Macbeth?). Recently, Katie Holmes, Christina Applegate, and Jennifer Garner have all graced the New York boards, and have acquitted themselves well. I'm not the first person to guess Piven was unpleasantly surprised by the challenge of 8 shows a week, requiring vastly more energy and focus than a TV series. Kristen Chenoweth, one of the rare stars who moves easily from TV to stage, warned other film stars who consider hitting Broadway during their downtime that the stage will "kick your ass."

The story of Piven deserting his stage commitment is probably not getting much traction in middle America (you know, those people who think Muslims, Hindus, and non-believers should not be included in a presidential speech), but it's getting lots of attention among theatre folk. Here's an hilarious parody aimed directly at Piven, to the Pal Joey tune, "Zip."