When I was a senior in high school, I had the great pleasure of playing Freddy Eynsford-Hill in our spring production of My Fair Lady. The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the school’s performing arts center. It was a thrilling experience for the principal cast; an experience we still recall with each other fondly. It seemed to us that no expense was spared to make the production as thrilling as possible, including fully realized sets, costumes and the presence of the entire licensed orchestration in the pit (including harp!). Much was made of this weekend in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Walter Panas High School’s performing arts center, and I have to say it was a special experience to see these kids take on this American classic with such brio.
Kudos to Jim Filippelli, who has been directing shows at the school since 1978, and without whom the Panas Players wouldn’t be what it is today. At intermission, the normally unflappable Mr. Filippelli was stunned by the senior class’ announcement that they were going to petition the Lakeland School Board to put his name on the school’s performing arts center. I can’t think of a greater honor for the man who made that building a reality, and for the man who makes sure that these kids put on two musical productions each year and insists that any student who wants to be involved is involved.
SarahB was officially endorsed by The Best Man and part of her responsibilities included seeing the show currently in revival at the Schoenfeld Theatre. I was quite fortunate enough to attend with her, and see Gore Vidal’s staggering play in this volatile election year. The most amazing thing about the play, and something I’ve heard from many people, is how relevant this text – written in 1960 – is today. James Earl Jones seems to be having the time of his life as the old school ailing former President, Angela Lansbury gives a master class in how to steal a scene with nothing but a bottle of Coke and a newspaper. Candice Bergen offers a fascinating portrait of a candidate’s wife who is uncomfortable with the entire process (and gets one of the best lines), while Kerry Butler plays a Southern tart who’ll do anything to help her husband get elected. Angela Lansbury proves once again she’s one of our treasures with the rather small role as party dowager (and manages to steal a scene with nothing but a bottle of Coke and newspaper). Leave it to Gore Vidal to have a conclusion that is simultaneously inspiring and cynical. (Also, sending my best wishes to the always-excellent Michael McKean for a speedy recovery).
I find I’ve been listening to one new score more than any others. One Man, Two Guvnors. I loved the play when I saw it in April but didn’t expect to fall for the music. The skiffle band which plays a set before and during the show consists of entirely new songs, all of which were written by Grant Olding (who also functions as the lead singer in the UK production, and is featured on the original cast album of the score. It’s tuneful, entertaining with some clever lyrics. Mr. Olding is a Tony-nominee for Best Score Written for the Theatre. The general consensus is that Newsies will win because it’s an Alan Menken Disney hit and a musical. However, with apologies to Mr. Menken and Mr. Feldman, I think Mr. Olding takes the cake this season.
Picked up Maureen Stapleton’s biography at the Strand and devoured it. A Hell of a Life was published in 1995 and offers the Tony, Oscar and Emmy winning star’s usual candor and straight talk. She’s ferociously funny, salty and compelling. Her observations of the Actors Studio are fascinating, including the scene she did with Marilyn Monroe in the mid-50s. When she won her Oscar she famously quipped in her thank yous, “…and to everyone I ever met in my life.” When she won her second Tony for The Gingerbread Lady, she was asked how it felt to win her reply was, “What the hell, it’s better than getting hit with a wet fish.” Those are just some of the choice one-liners that appear throughout. Pulling no punches, Stapleton (who died in 2006) openly talks about her successes and failures with equal abandon. When not filling us in on fun anecdotes from her storied stage and screen career, she is also not afraid to talk of her alcoholism, failed marriages and the insecurities and problems that plagued her life. A hell of a life, indeed.