Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Lousy Street

I'm a little behind on the Dance Parties this month, with no excuse other than the fact that I simply have not sat down to do my research.  But I shall do my best to catch up, beginning with this week's entry, which actually references some events of LAST week.  It was good news/bad news for our stars.

There was good news for Carol Burnett, who has been chosen to receive the annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. 
Mark Twain Prize winner Jonathan Winters, under a Big W.

The award, given by the Kennedy Center, has been around for a while, and was originally created to honor folks who had contributed a lifetime of humor to the American landscape.  Sort of a Kennedy Center Honor for comics, the early recipients were indeed people who had spent full lives on the comedy frontier: Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Lorne Michaels, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, and the like. 
Ellen Degeneres is one of a handful of comics to receive the Mark Twain prize mid-career.  She is the reigning queen of daytime chat, and her earlier sitcom made history when both Ellen and the character she played came out.  Ellen Morgan announced her homosexuality over the paging system of the airport, and Ellen herself came out on the cover of Time magazine.  "The Puppy Episode" was the highest rated of the sitcom's run, and won two Emmys and the Peabody.
She saw it in the window and just had to have it.
If she never did anything else, Burnett's variety
show would qualify her for the Twain.

In recent years, however, the award has been given to younger performers who are arguably in the peak years of their careers;  Will Farrell, Ellen Degeneres, and Tina Fey have all received the prize.  Last week's announcement that Carol Burnett will be awarded returns the prize to its roots as a "lifetime achievement" recognition.
Carol Burnett is no stranger to the Dance Party.  Her performance on Gomer Pyle USMC, with her best gay boyfriend, appeared here, and only a few months ago, she shared an energetic number with her mentor, Lucille Ball.
This week's Dance Party features another star who did not have such a great week.  As everyone knows by now, Tim Curry recently suffered a major stroke.  We have been assured (by his agent, so who knows if it's true?) that he has already begun recovery, and is speaking.  It is to his agent's benefit to leave the impression that her client is still employable, so we can only hope her description was the truth.
They're ready for their close-up. Burnett as Nora Desmond and Curry as Frank-N-Furter are practically twins.
Curry appeared in his own Dance Party only a month or so ago, and as he is not one of my alltime favorites, it may seem odd that he returns to these pages so soon. 
Planet Shmanet, Janet, Curry could play more than a
sweet transvestite.

But I have a lot of respect for the man, and his health concerns are serious.  I covered his career and his most famous performance last month, you can read all about it here.  I have run across quite a few younger folks who are not familiar with his performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, if you can believe it.  They know Tim from another high-profile role, and I'm not talking about that creepy clown.
Lots of younger folks grew up with the video of Annie, and recognize Curry from his performance as Rooster.
The film version of Annie had a lot going for it, not least of which was its allstar casting. 
I am not a big fan of Annie, so it's odd that this particular number from the show has popped up so often on my Dance Party.  "Easy Street" is a classic showstopper (or ought to be), with the above cast, headed by the Tony winning Dorothy Loudon, giving the definitive version.  They appeared in these pages here.
As opposed to the disastrous casting of another famous musical, Mame, about which I wrote last time, this stage-to-screen transfer seemed ontrack.  While I would very much have wished that original star Dorothy Loudon could have recreated her unforgettable stage performance (I wrote about seeing that here), I understand why Carol Burnett was chosen to replace her. 
This TV remake of Annie is more satisfying than the big screen version, and its "Easy Street" is dominated by Alan Cumming's quirky performance as Rooster.  You can see it here.
Burnett should have been a knockout in the role of the comically wicked Miss Hannigan, having cut her teeth in musical theatre, and having the star power to sell tickets.  The casting of Bernadette Peters, Ann Reinking, Geoffrey Holder, and our Tim Curry could not be faulted.  Even the small roles had some juice;  Edward Herrmann knew his role of FDR quite well, having earned two Emmy nods playing him in earlier projects.  Pamela Blair, the original "tits and ass" girl from A Chorus Line, played a maid, and game show host Peter Marshall was perfect casting as a smarmy radio show host. 
Annie is the show that will not die. The current
revival (its SECOND) features Jane Lynch as
Miss Hannigan. Look for a clip at next week's
Tony Awards.

The only major misfire seemed to be Albert Finney, whose previous experience with a musical was playing Scrooge.  Sadly, his Daddy Warbucks had more than a passing similarity to old Ebenezer. 

But Finney's miscasting aside, Annie the film musical seemed like a swell idea, except for one problem, and it was a big one:
John Huston earned an astonishing 15 Oscar nominations during his career as a director and screenwriter.  He won twice.  He is in the history books for this accomplishment:  in 1948, he directed his father, Walter Huston, to an Oscar for The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and almost 40 years later, he directed his daughter Angelica in her Oscar-winning turn in Prizzi's Honor.  Despite being part of the first family to win Oscars in three generations, he had no business attempting to direct a musical.
John Huston was coming to the end of a long and distinguished career as a film director, and occasional actor, but despite his reputation as one of Hollywood's finest directors, producer Ray Stark made a mistake giving him Annie
Why wasn't Carol Burnett funnier as Miss Hannigan?
Nobody knows.

He was in poor health, and was on oxygen throughout the shoot.  Despite 4 decades as a film director, he was not qualified to direct a musical, and this week's Dance Party proves the point.  The song, once again, is "Easy Street," and Huston made a major blunder with the number. 
Ann Reinking had the thankless role of
Grace Farrell. Her chemistry with Albert
Finney never materialized.

Initially, he saw the song as a great opportunity to "open up" the stage play, and he can be forgiven for considering it.  A song called "Easy Street" which takes place in an office seems at odds with itself.  Huston determined that the number should take place outside, and an entire depression-era NY street was constructed to do so. 
Peters, Curry, and Burnett had all
carried shows on their own.
Why didn't this work better?

The street was to be populated with all the usual suspects, plus carnival performers and all sorts of background actors.  In a word, the segment was HUGE.  They even shot the thing, and it was only after the final product was screened did Huston decide he had made a mistake in placing the song outside.  After principle photography was completed, they went back into the studio and filmed the version of the song which appears in the final film, and which is showcased below.  We can only take Huston's word that it is an improvement, but it is definitely the least satisfying rendition of this showstopper that I have seen.  But in honor of Tim Curry and Carol Burnett, it's this week's Dance Party!