I Rise Again!

After a precarious week, I am back online and rarin’ to go. On Wednesday evening, my computer shut down in some sort of fatal error that froze the system and begat the ruination of my week. Upon my restart, instead of a general start-up, I was face to face with the nefarious Blue Screen of Death. The BSD, which isn’t anyone’s friend, continued to pop up as the system refused to access Windows and start-up. My laptop is relatively new, so needless to say, I was bitchy, twitchy and manic. Enough, anyway, to contact tech support at 3 in the morning (which proved useless as she never called me back – I decided to pass out and try again, thankfully receiving an individual of actual competence who was very helpful and decidedly sympathetic. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say there was the obligatory wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garment.

So I got a new hard drive to install and I’ve been building myself back up. Many of you know that I have an enormous collection of music; theatre and otherwise. Fortunately I had about 80% of it backed up. I’ve also been working toward getting back the other items that were lost along the way. Needless to say this has taken an impact into my blogging time…

In happier news, I returned to the revival of A Man for All Seasons on Tuesday night as part of my Roundabout subscription. I’ve gotta give it to them, everyone at Roundabout is nothing short of wonderful (especially my dear old friend Tova Heller, with whom I went to high school) and were very accomodating in switching my ticket. (I was supposed to see this on November 23, but shows were canceled because, presumably, Frank Langella had to fulfill press obligations for the upcoming Frost/Nixon film. My only complaint with the relatively intimate American Airlines Theatre is with the desing of its mezzanine. I have no issues with the sightlines or the seating (I was in the center front mezz, not bad all things considered), but the lack of any center aisles does leave things wanting, especially since it’s practically inconvenient to everyone. Those in the middle go on safari through a sea of limbs to get to their seats while those on the aisle find themselves sitting and standing like they were at Mass.

The show onstage is considerably stronger than it was when I saw it on the fourth preview in September. Langella is magnanimous, and the supporting cast is, for the most part, doing strong work (though the inconsistency with the accents is still a sticking point). The audience this time around was a remarkably more responsive crowd, appreciating the understatedly dry wit and humor of More and finding themselves incredibly moved during the more devastating parts of the second act, as we watch the man’s physical decline in his imprisonment. (Langella’s physical transformation, within a span of seconds, is stunning).

As someone who has always been fascinated by the Tudor period of English history (all those wives! all those outcomes!), it’s satisfying to see historical figures dramatized. When I was ten, I went to England for the first time and was able to visit the Tower of London and Hever Castle (where Anne Boleyn’s family resided), reading about the different figures, wanting to divest myself in their history and know as much as I could about them and their incredibly melodramatic existence. (Of course, we still have such sensational figures in our society, but on a more laughable level; they’ve sure cut back on the beheadings). Court intrigue, conflicts, heightened emotional intensities, etc etc. It has to be said that our entertainment world has a great fascination with the era on stage, on screen and on television: Anne of the Thousand Days, Mary of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth, Elizabeth I, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Young Bess, The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth R, The Tudors, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Private Life of Henry VII, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, A Man for All Seasons, The Other Boleyn Girl, Rex, etc. The actors who have played these noted figures: Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Laughton, Bette Davis, Florence Eldridge, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Penny Fuller, Nicol Williamson, Richard Burton, Charlton Heston, John Gielgud, Genevieve Bujold, Paul Scofield, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jean Simmons, Rex Harrison, Judith Anderson, et al. There will be many more adaptations and incarnations of these same stories to come, though I have to say, why not something about Sir Richard Rich, considered one of the top historical villains of all-time and the man who betrayed Sir Thomas to his ultimate death. I think there’s an interesting story waiting to be told.

Seasons ends its extended limited run next Sunday, so if you haven’t had the chance, run to the American Airlines to see one of America’s finest stage actors giving a superlative star turn. Trust me, he’s worth it.

I shall now resume a more regular blogging schedule… Gee, but it’s good to be here!!

Observation of the Day

Peter Filichia commenting in his October Leftovers column. I had to share it:

Saw A Man for all Seasons with a most unresponsive audience. How I remember experiencing the tense feeling in the house back in the early ‘60s when the same play unfolded. I suspect that back then, people had a better sense of honor and a feeling that “A man must stand up for what he believes is right.” After decades of our increasingly becoming jaded — assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate, Enron, Lewinsky, steroids, and plenty of other scandals — today’s audiences may not have as noble a mindset. Instead of being impressed that Thomas More is standing up to Henry VIII and won’t sign his loyalty oath, they may well be thinking, “Oh, just put your name on the thing, will you, and don’t ruin your life, not to mention your wife’s or your daughter’s.” Whatever the case, the cast is terrific in the Roundabout revival.

A Man for All Seasons

“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning; I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness, and affability? And as time requireth a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes; and sometimes of as sad gravity: a man for all seasons.”

-Robert Whittinton, on Sir Thomas More, 1520

Get thee to the Roundabout revival of A Man for All Seasons! I had the great fortune to attend the fourth preview on Sunday with Sarah and must say it’s well on its way to being one of the highlights of the season. There is one reason and one reason alone that makes attendance mandatory: Frank Langella as Sir Thomas More. When Langella is onstage, which is for almost the entire running time of the play, the combination of Robert Bolt’s prose and Langella’s formidable talent provides an affecting lyricism, as we watch a man of such integrity refuse to compromise his morals and ideals for political reasons.

Sir Thomas More is a fascinating individual. He was noted as an author, lawyer and statesman. He insisted that his daughters be educated as well as his sons, especially rare in the 16th century. In Robert Bolt’s play, the playwright gives us a human portrait of one of the most respected statesmen in the history of England. More, who was one of King Henry VIII’s favorites, would meet his end when he couldn’t compromise his own moral beliefs and integrity and swear allegiance to Henry, who so desired a male heir that he would split from the Church in Rome, starting the Church of England. When More refused to take the mandatory oath of allegiance to the Act of Succession, which recognized Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn as his wife and their children as heirs to the throne of England, he was tried for treason and was executed by beheading on Tower Hill at the Tower of London. More was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and also has a feast day on the Anglican calendar.

(It should be mentioned that while the play portrays the man as being born with a halo, he was vehemently against Protestant Reformation, leading a violent scourge of Lutheranism in England which included the burning several people at the stake for heresy. Well… nobody’s perfect).

Bolt, a noted agnostic, was not so much interested in the religious implications surrounding the character of More, but moreso as a man of conscience and integrity, who refused to bend to the whim of the King. The play had a moderately successful run in London in 1960 and later opened on Broadway in 1961, where it was an even bigger success winning the Tony award for Best Play. The play was made into a film in 1966, directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Paul Scofield, who had originated the role of More in London and on Broadway to Tony-winning effect. The film would prove an overwhelming success, winning six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor for Scofield and Best Screenplay for Bolt. A second film adaptation with Charlton Heston (who also directed) would follow in 1988.

Patrick Page has a fantastic cameo as Henry VIII in the first act, a scene that lasts only several minutes but makes a lasting impression, as see both the lighter and darker sides of Henry. Tony winner Maryann Plunkett makes a return to Broadway after a twenty year absence as Alice More, Thomas’ second wife. Zac Grenier proves a powerful foil in Thomas Cromwell, who does everything in his power to bring down More. Richard Strong is Richard Rich, the commoner who would become Chancellor of England before his death, and who is considered one of the great political villains of all time. Rich is responsible for ultimately selling out More to Cromwell under what is widely considered to be perjured testimony.

However, it all comes back to Langella, especially in his second act decline from nobleman to prisoner. The second act, really, is where the play truly takes off. There is a great deal of exposition to be learned in the first, where we are given a full introduction to the period, era and political-religious implications of the time. But it is in the second act when More refuses to take the oath and loses everything he has that the play truly soars. Most notably in the heartbreaking scene in which he says goodbye to his family (both on film and onstage this scene can reduce an audience to tears) and the trial scene that immediately follows in which More makes his final statement before the court. His performance is of such definition and quality, I can’t help but be excited by the fact that I get to see it again towards the end of the run.

Catherine Zuber provides elegant period costumes, a celebration of earth tones and with such exquisite detail, she will most likely be in the running for her fifth straight Tony win this year. Santo Loquasto’s set is simple, yet most effective in use of the space, complementing the staging of the director quite nicely. Hughes has eliminated the character of the Common Man, and really, he isn’t missed. The Common Man was a Brechtian device that narrated and commented on the play to the audience, while also appearing as More’s servant, the executioner, a boatman, etc. Really, he’s not much missed. (And yes, the Bolt estate approved the changes).

I couldn’t help but think of the relevancy this historical drama has in our own society. What it says about leadership and remaining true to oneself. There is much to be admired about Sir Thomas More, in not bending to the King’s will against his own ideals to the point of losing his life so as not to compromise his moral fiber. My God, what our politicians and statesman could learn from More, as an example on how to govern with integrity, gravitas and conscience.

Random Thoughts on This & That

One of the things I enjoyed best about “It’s a Business” from Curtains was that we were getting yet another fantastic auteur vamp from John Kander. It’s especially prevalent in the jubilant exit music that was unfortunately not recorded on the original cast album.

The complete cast for the Roundabout revival of A Man For All Seasons was announced today. Over which name do I get the most excitement? Maryann Plunkett!! A Tony-winner for Me and My Girl, she hasn’t been on Broadway in fifteen years and it’s wonderful to see that she’s to make a triumphant return as Alice More. (For those Sondheim-philes out there, she was also a replacement Dot in the original production of Sunday in the Park With George).

There has been much hoopla made over the selection of Bailey to replace Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde. To quote a great literary/cinematic (and occasionally musical theatre) hero: “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.” I will never align with the ideas of casting professional musical theatre productions on any side of the pond based on a reality show. Thankfully the LB show didn’t allow the audience to decide (oh the humanity!), but still, there are too many qualified individuals pounding the pavements looking for a chance that have to audition along with all the rest. The determined ones who are in the closed room with the deadpan (dead?) casting director or assistant, minus the immediate criticism. You know, the old-fashioned way… So let us hope this lunacy is just a trend. (Though sadly it appears to be becoming a West End phenomenon, though you should check out Seth Rudestky’s recaps on playbill – they are brilliant, insightful, honest and HILARIOUS).

As promised, I was at The Dark Knight on July 18 at 12:01. The film is one of the most remarkable achievements of its genre, with much-deserved praise for the performance of Heath Ledger. It’s one of iconic stature, and not just because of his unfortunate and untimely death this past January. The boldness and bravery of an actor making such fantastic choices, and making them work brilliantly is a testament to the talent we, the world, have lost. Like so many other great artists we’ve lost at an early age, from George Gershwin to James Dean to Michael Bennett, we lament the greatness we will never know from Ledger’s woefully premature death.

And no, I will not be seeing Mamma Mia! Truth be told, I’ve not seen Hairspray, Dreamgirls, The Phantom of the Opera, or Rent, so it’s not really a big surprise that I wouldn’t be seeing a big-screen adaptation of a musical. I saw Sweeney Todd, but since that’s one of my all-time favorite shows, I was chomping at the bit to get there. For some reason I don’t take as well to the stage musical adapted for screen like I once did, though I still appreciate them immensely.

With Daniel Day-Lewis now signed for the role of Guido Contini in Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of Nine and rumored for the film remake of My Fair Lady, do you think he’s going to become a full-fledged musical theatre star? The only actor I know who has played both of these uniquely different roles is Jonathan Pryce in a London concert of the former and the 2001 Cameron Mackintosh revival of the latter. I only hope the actress cast as Eliza Doolittle will do her own singing, do it well.

Long-rumored negotiations over the film adaptation of August: Osage County are now officially under way. The show has settled in nicely for what appears to be a decent run, with Amy Morton continuing to tear up the stage as Barbara and Estelle “I can stand on my head” Parsons as Violet. Though we’ve discussed the play here often enough, I can’t get enough of it. The experience I’ve had as an audience member each time has knocked me for an adrenaline-rushed cathartic loop. However, that said, I feel a film adaptation may lessen the impact experienced when seeing the play when its alive with its electric intensity. Ideally, a taped for PBS version with the original cast would have been the best bet, preserving the legend for all-time, but I’m still intrigued at the prospect of the film. And everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood is interested – and rightly so. Thank God Tracy Letts is writing the screenplay.

There’s been a huge release of Jerry Herman music on itunes, amazon (digital) and at arkivmusic.com (CD issue). Most notably, they are reissuing the 1967 cast recording of Hello, Dolly! with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, which for my money is the best Dolly recording out there. (Pearlie Mae’s sass on “So Long, Dearie” is worth the price of the disc alone). But also, the Original London Cast Recording of the show with Mary Martin is getting its first-ever digital release. I’ve heard the album from an LP rip I received a couple years back. What’s most amusing is Martin’s yodeling “ole!” on the second pullback in the title song. I practically fell out of my chair laughing. It’s a cute album.

I love my blogging. I love the people I’ve met taking up this little venture of mine and am grateful for their kinship. Too many people have told me I should be a theatre critic as a result. But if anyone recalls my very first post, waaaay back in October of ought-7, I specifically stated that I refuse to be a critic, and I find that I really must stick to that gun. My blog is my hobby and I daresay, I doubt I will ever write an official “review” for anything ever again. In the meanwhile, I’m also finding myself simultaneously pulling back toward the creative individual I was when I was eighteen; dabbling in opera performance, musical theatre, acting, directing, creative writing, etc. Right now I find myself working on a project that came to me over the weekend. I won’t elaborate yet as the sperm has yet to penetrate the wall of the egg. (Wow, how’s that for graphic imagery?) Hopefully what I come up might be something of interest to all you out here in Blogsville, 😉 For the occasion, I’ve purchased my very first laptop, so I can have my writing and blogging accessible to me wherever I may go. This venture here has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve undertaken in a long time and am glad that I can continue to share my thoughts and information with you all. Oh, and of course the youtube/bluegobo videos…