Monday, February 18, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Going Papal

Tallullah Bankhead attended a Catholic mass, during which the priest passed by, swinging his orb of incense.  In her signature raspy purr, she remarked, "Love the gown, Dahling.  But I'm afraid your purse is on fire."
I have less than zero interest in who the next pope will be, but as the current guy's resignation was big news this week, welcome to the Dance Party. 
Father Guido Sarducci got a peep at the pope, and became a
fixture in the early days of Saturday Night Live
I vote for him.

I'm most interested, I suppose, in the historical significance of Pope Bennie's abdication.  Lots of notice was taken that he is the first pontiff to take a powder in almost 600 years.  Out of curiosity, I did a bit of research on that subject, and there's a bit more to the story.
House of Blue Leaves put Swoozie Kurtz, John Mahoney, and playwright John Guare on the map.  A visit from the pope figures heavily in the plot.
Gregory XII was the most recent pope to poop out, back in those swinging days of 1412. 
Celestine V was the most recent pope
to voluntarily resign.  The poet Dante
was so pissed, he placed him as a
resident of hell in his Inferno.

He did not willingly step down;  he was forced out.  The Western Schism was finally healing, bringing to an end the 67 year period when the papacy had been relocated to Avignon, France.  During that period, all the popes elected were French and under the thumb of the French monarchy.  When the papacy returned to Rome, Gregory XII was installed, but he quickly became unsuitable, and a second pope was installed back in France.  There followed a period of dueling popes (isn't this fun?), but all was mended when it was decided that Gregory and his French rival would both be forced out, and a third guy would get to wear that hat.
14th Century Catholics were plenty confused by the Western Schism, which afforded duplicate popes. 
None of this has any significance, really, except to remark that today's Bennie seems to be retiring voluntarily, and a pope has not done that since 1294.  Why is the current pontiff quitting? 
Benedict will continue to live in the Vatican to avoid
prosecution for his mishandling of his church's sex abuses.

Old age and lack of physical strength are being tossed about by the curia's court, which claims that the pope is being very brave to step down in favor of a younger, more vibrant contestant.  Others, though, are suggesting that Benedict is ducking the growing scandal and subsequent recriminations surrounding the European clergy and sexual abuse.  (That scandal rocked this country in the last decade, but is still gaining traction in Europe).

I've read some sources who claim that Benedict himself may be embroiled in the scandal, dating back to his days as a younger cleric.  He most certainly is being blamed for covering up Catholic abuses during his rise within the ranks of the Church.  As such, he plans to remain in the Vatican during his retirement, where he will be immune to prosecution for "crimes against humanity."
Like all German boys, Joseph Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth.  He claims to have been conscripted, and to have later deserted the group.  That may be revisionist history;  his more recent Crimes Against Humanity include stubborn resistance to the use of condoms to slow the spread of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
I'm hardly going out on a limb here by suggesting that Bennie is culpable for such crimes.  I suppose we'll never see a pope who will be accepting of homosexuality, even as the rest of the world makes strides to grant full legal rights to gays.  But Benedict XVI's most egregious crime against humanity remains his absolute intransigence regarding the use of condoms.  I really don't care what the Church doctrine says about contraception, most Catholics ignore it, but when the pope refuses to approve the use of condoms in the attempts to halt the AIDS epidemic, he really is causing lives to be lost.

White smoke will signal that a new pope will begin to
spout the same old same old.
I don't guess his successor will be any more progressive on the subject.  In order to rise to the College of Cardinals, those old coots have to remain solidly in the right wing column, so the next pope will be elected by a group of men as intransigent as Benedict himself.  Bennie is responsible for elevating many of the current crop to the cardinalship anyway, so it's very doubtful anyone with a more progressive stance will be electing the new guy.

Which brings us, finally, to this week's Dance Party. 
The Nunsense gals do not star in this week's Dance Party.

Eschewing the obvious catholic choices of guitar-strumming novices or tap-dancing nuns, the clip below is both funny and creepy at the same time.  It seems a troop of acrobats are performing for the pope and his retinue.  The homoeroticism of the act is obvious, and the huge ovation these studs get from the priests is telling.  Pope Ratzinger's own reactions are priceless as well.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Red And Green For The Color Purple

There's an interesting kerfuffle happening on the DC theatre scene this week. A local musical is causing some to see red, and others to feel green. 

The annual Helen Hayes Award nominations were announced last week, and a local production of The Color Purple made the biggest haul. 
The Color Purple at Toby's Dinner Theatre

I'm not sure why, but the musical nominations, and ultimate awards, seem to cause a whole lot more consternation than the straight play categories.  Perhaps that's true everywhere, I don't know.  But the big concern this year seems to be that The Color Purple was produced at a dinner theatre.
Located well out in the Maryland suburbs, Toby's produces lots of "comfort theatre," interspersed with fare a bit more unusual.  For every Oklahoma or Sound of Music, there may also be a Jekyll and Hyde or The Color Purple.
Toby's Dinner Theatre has a long history of Helen Hayes nominations, which seems to cause chagrin for the other musical houses in the area.  Particularly when they win.  This year, for example, they are in direct competition with a production of Dreamgirls over at DC's premiere musical theatre, Signature.  Dreamgirls received only one less nomination than did The Color Purple, so in essence, they are competing neck-and-neck.
The critic in question is a big cheerleader for DC theatre, unless dinner is served.  He was properly asked if he had actually seen The Color Purple at Toby's Dinner Theatre. No, he hadn't.
Earlier this week, the leading theatre critic from DC's newspaper of note tweeted a rather snarky comment:  

"You cannot credibly make claim to being America's no. 2 theater town if most nommed musical comes from dinner theater."

It should be noted that the critic in question, a former writer for the NY Times, has often been accused of being too NY-centric in his theatre coverage here.  He does seem to care a great deal about how DC is viewed, as a theatre town, by the rest of the country (or at least by Manhattan).

Linda Levy Grossman, the president and CEO of TheatreWashington, who sponsors the Helen Hayes Awards, responded with a very well-considered blog, which I encourage you to read here
Linda Levy-Grossman defends
the multiple HH noms awarded
to dinner theatre.

She suspects that it really doesn't matter where art is made, that the building does not influence the quality of the work.  On that point, no one can really disagree.  It seems that our critic's comment was concerned with how our region is perceived.  I think it's time our region stopped trying so hard to impress New York and got on with making our own kind of theatre.  Hell, our region is home to THREE theatres which have won the Regional Theatre Tony Award;  we've already been recognized by the New York theatre establishment for our own homegrown work.  I think we can agree that DC theatre has arrived.
Signature Theatre, one of our Tony-winning theaters, had its beginnings in very humble surroundings.  For years, they produced award-worthy work in a converted garage with faulty plumbing, bad floors, and a neighborhood which smelled of gas and oil.
I mentioned last year that I felt the Helen Hayes Awards are guilty of this obsession with national perception, at least a bit.  Several of our Helen Hayes Awards are reserved for productions which only visit the area.  This made sense decades ago, when DC was struggling with its own theatrical identity and it was beneficial to recognize productions which appeared here but originated elsewhere.  These days, though, I think those awards are a waste of time, and deflect the true reason for the Hayzies, which is to honor our own theatrical excellence.

Our story does not end with Ms. Grossman's note.  Others in the local community have piped up, some pointing out that, as Toby's Dinner Theatre is non-union and a dinner theatre, its credibility as a producer of award-worthy work is questionable.  Others have pointed out that Toby's has always been, and continues to be, a great training ground for musical talent which has gone on to higher profile venues (several former performers are currently on Broadway).  The aforementioned Signature Theatre has a close-knit stable of musical actors which they use over and over again in their productions, actors who spent time and gained exposure at Toby's.  Are we to suggest that those actors were not talented enough to create worthy theatre until they left the dinner theatre?
Toby's productions are in the round.
It's an interesting discussion which will probably continue as long as this competition survives.  I did not see the show which ignited this year's controversy, in fact, I've only seen two shows at Toby's Dinner Theatre, plus a performance for kids. 
The Purple gang may be disappointed. The original film
earned a whopping 11 Oscar nominations, losing them all.

There is a pretty lousy clip out there of The Color Purple in rehearsal, which I bet does not do the finished product much justice, so for this week's Dance Party, we turn back to the source material for the musical, the acclaimed Spielberg film which introduced us to Whoopie Goldberg.  That film was not a musical, but as it includes a musical sequence, let's take a look.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Theatre Droppings: Princess Puffer Takes A Powder

I popped up to the New York Branch of my life last week, as I had not been there in almost a month.  My current Neil Simon gig in Annapolis has kept me too busy to take care of Big Apple Business.  But last week, I had more than a few days off, and took the opportunity to return to Manhattan Plaza.  There was success and failure there.
I'm crying too. My Les Miz screener never showed.
My mailbox was pretty full, but not at all overflowing, as one might expect from being unattended for so many weeks.  In particular, I was looking forward to receiving my SAG Award screeners, since SAG thinks I live in New York full time. 
I dislike Les Miz, but nevertheless was looking forward to
seeing it, with the luxury of a fast-forward button.

I received Argo (which I had seen in the theatres) and Silver Linings Playbook, but did not receive the third film which my union was sending: Les Miserables.  I have a hunch that the inefficient postal employee who spends so many hours sorting the mail for the 800 apts in my building made a mistake, and delivered my DVD to someone else.  And that someone else decided to keep it.  FAIL.

Though I am thoroughly incompetent to do so, I once again assembled a piece of furniture. 
I've used this tall director's chair to enjoy
my NY view for over a year. It's now
been replaced by a leather model.

Since taking possession of my apt on Halloween, 2011, I have enjoyed sitting in my huge picture window, gazing out the 29th floor.  I have a new stool with which to indulge my prying eyes;  I ordered a leather barstool from Costco, and uncommonly, put it together in about half an hour.  It is quite comfy and is a welcome addition to my limited decor.  SUCCESS.
This new stool will afford me countless hours of Jimmy Stewart-type Rear Window viewing.

My old friend Caitlin O'Connell is appearing on Broadway, in The HeiressHer limited run has been well-attended, due to the presence in her cast of Jessica Chastain (garnering lots of awards right now for her work in Zero Dark Thirty) and Dan Stevens, who is the swoony romantic lead in TV's current Brit hit, Downton Abbey
My buddy Caitlin, far left, shares the stage
with a Downton dude and an Oscar nom.
Tix are hard to come by.

I tried to see the show Wednesday, schlepping up to the theatre's box office as soon as it opened.  The line for tickets was hanging out the door, so I gave up.  FAIL.

But I had a big success with my next attempt to see something on the boards.  I remembered that I had an online coupon for a discounted ticket to the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  I snagged a seat for only 40 bucks, which is a steal for any show on Broadway, let alone a musical.  SUCCESS.
I was thrilled that Jesse Mueller was in the cast, as I saw
her Broadway debut only a year ago in the eviscerated revamp
of On A Clear Day... I wrote about that here. SUCCESS.

The show is one about which I have been curious for years, though I have never seen a production nor heard any of the music.  But knowing it takes place in a British Music Hall was enough for me to finally hunt down a production to take a look.
The biggest celebrity in this revival is not one of the leading characters, though she is billed as such.  The role of Princess Puffer, madam of a den of iniquity, is solidly supporting, but as Broadway legend Chita Rivera is playing the role, it's been given the star treatment, with the final curtain call and such. 
I saw Rivera decades ago in the first
Chicago, and hoped to see her again.
She was a no show for her matinee.

I was surprised, considering Chita's work ethic, that she was absent on the Wednesday matinee, so I saw a perfectly acceptable understudy.  I'm never disappointed with an understudy's performance, so I settled in to enjoy the show.
I acted as The Chairman (the MC) in a Christmas show taking place in a British Music Hall, so The Mystery of Edwin Drood's framing device of a British Music Hall held interest for me.
Edwin Drood contains two aspects of shows which I generally dislike, because they are often mishandled.  First, the audience is "warmed up" by the actors, before the play itself begins. 
Ensemble member Eric Sciotto was our "warm-up guy,"
and he was terrific. I later discovered he is one of
Broadway's leading dancers, and has worn the Gypsy Robe
several times, reserved for the most experienced of
Broadway's chorus members.

Since this is a fairly large Broadway theatre, with a balcony and such, this process takes all the ensemble members, who each take a section of the house and work the crowd.  I was surprised that I enjoyed this;  the actors were genuinely excited about the show and were able to translate that to the onlookers.  SUCCESS.

That second aspect of certain shows which I dislike also concerns forced audience participation.  One of the things which sets Edwin Drood apart from other musicals is the fact that the audience is polled to determine the ending.  I know how very smoothly such a thing can go, as I spent some time in the granddaddy of all audience participation shows, Shear Madness.  But I also know how such things can go terribly awry (there's a story of one of the great Dorothy Loudon's many flops, during which she was forced to auction off a chicken during the show).  Once again, this revival confounded my expectations, as the voting process was handled with great humor.
The voting process is handled with aplomb, humor, and swiftness. SUCCESS.
This production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is scheduled to close in about a month, before the Tony nominations are announced.  It will surely receive a few.  I was fully charmed by the production, and returned to the DC Branch pleased that I had spent several of my NY hours enjoying the Music Hall at Studio 54.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Don't Tell Lou Ann

Lou Ann Poovie was Gomer Pyle's girlfriend in
the series. We now know why they never got
further than holding hands.
Coming short on the heels of the "so what?" coming out of Victor Garber, this week's Dance Party star finally confirmed the rumors he's been ducking his entire career.
Don't ask, don't tell.
Jim Nabors has faded from view in recent decades;  it seems like no one has seen nor heard from him much since he was a part of Burt Reynolds's ad hoc rep company, appearing in several forgettable films in the 1980s. 
Nabors worked with Burt Reynolds in Cannonball II,
Stroker Ace, and Best Little Whorehouse... in the mid-80s.
They ended Jim's film career.

He has spent most of the past few decades living quietly in Hawaii, with his partner of 38 years, a former firefighter who is 15 years his junior.  But back in the 1960s and 70s, Nabors was a recognized celebrity with what must be described as an open secret.
Their gay-themed prank exploded. The annual party of middle-aged gay men of Huntington Beach announced the planned wedding of Rock Hudson and "Gomer Pyle," after which Hudson would become known as Rock Pyle. Somebody blabbed about the gag, and rumors circulated that the two were actually a couple.  Both men scurried back into the closet and never spoke to each other again.
I remember the rumors which were repeated about Jim and Rock Hudson, as a couple no less!  There doesn't seem to be much evidence that those two stars ever had a relationship (we now know Hudson was into blond boytoys), though they lived close to each other at the beach and apparently were friends.  
Hudson, Nabors, and flame dame Burnett, before the
glitter hit the fan.

The story goes that, as a joke, Jim and Rock invited all their gay friends to a mock wedding between Hudson and Gomer Pyle.  The stunt did not remain as private as the two stars may have wished, and it gave way to those rumors of an actual romance between the two stars.  Nabors now claims that he never hid his homosexuality, but that does not ring quite true to my memory of the time.  No matter, it's terrific that he has now married his partner.
Certainly best known for his title role in Gomer Pyle, USMC, the show was one of a number of rural-themed sitcoms of the mid-60s.  Producers were granted use of military sites and equipment, in hopes the show's upbeat tone would improve the image of the Marine Corps.  Despite taking place at the height of the carnage in Vietnam, the war was never mentioned.
I confess that Jim Nabors was not a particular favorite of mine, but I certainly watched him during his sitcom years. 
Nitwit Gomer first worked at "the fillin' station"
in The Andy Griffith Show's Mayberry.
Somebody smelled a spinoff.

Gomer Pyle, USMC showcased his downhome persona quite well, but I never got used to the occasions when his country hick accent would give way to the operatic singing voice. 
When goofball Gomer started to sing, it was a bit

Jim had a rich baritone voice, but seeing that voice come out of the Gawlee facial expressions of Gomer Pyle gave me the willies.
Carol Burnett and her good luck charm, who guested on her first show every season.
This week's Dance Party comes from Gomer Pyle, but it just as easily could have come from the TV series helmed by the other star of this clip.  Carol Burnett maintained a lifelong friendship with Nabors;  he appeared as a guest on the first episode of her variety series, and she considered him a good luck charm, resulting in his appearing in the first episode of all eleven seasons of her show. 

She guested on his sitcom several times, in episodes which always included musical sequences.  Despite the annoying choice of songs in this medley (I'm not a fan of rounds), I enjoy the easy chemistry between the two stars.  In honor of Jim Nabors and his recent marriage, enjoy!