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Stage-Related Film, TV and DVD Talk at
By Elyse Sommer
Updated December 3, 2014
(For previous edition of this page go here)
Royal Shakespeare Company: Live From Stratford-Upon-Avon by Deirdre Donovan
The Royal Shakespeare Company's collaboration with Picturehouse Cinemas has allowed the renowned company to broadcast their live stage presentations from the Bard's hometown to local cinemas in Argentina, Australia, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom and the USA. This artistic partnership sparked to life with the RSC's Richard II in November 2013 and has been followed up with Henry IV Part I in May 2014, Henry IV Part II in June 2014 as well as the early comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona in September 2014. While I unfortunately missed their first two broadcastings in New York, I did manage to get tickets to their subsequent screenings of Henry IV Part II and, most recently, a spicy Two Gentlemen. Okay, I actually would have preferred to see the stage productions at Stratford-Upon-Avon itself, preferably a front row center orchestra seat. But given my personal budget and time constraints, I found watching it on the big screen the next best thing to an authentic theater experience.
The Two Gentlemen screening included Artistic Director Gregory Doran's preview of RSC's next few seasons. The 2016 season, which marks the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare's death, will include will see a newly minted A Midsummer Night's Dream.. Whila trip to Shakespeare's home town would be great, but clicking on the Live From Stratford-Upon-Avon website for the next RSC broadcasting is far more affordable and much better for your wallet. Upcoming broadcasts for 2015 will feture Love's Labour's Lost in February and Love's Labour's Won (a retooled Much Ado About Nothing) in March 2015. The RSC website is ttps://onscreen.rsc.org.uk/cinemas-and-tickets/
How to Get Away With Murder h
I'm not sure even the incredibly gifted stage and screen actress Viola Davis can keep me turned in for this over-plotted serial about a dynamic lawyer and law professor and the weekly mix of case histories and pot-boilerish personal dramas. Davis deserves a money-making star turn but I can't help keeping my fingers crossed that she'll make time for serious movies and dramatic roles. I seem to me pretty much on my own page with my so-so response to this new weekly serial.
Broadway Plays to the Big Screen
The National Theatre is introducing more audiences to live theater productions with a big screen production of the past Broadway hit, Of Mice and Men starring James Frnco and Chris O'Dowd. It will go live at the NYU Skirball center 11/13/14 at 7pm. On 11/11, also at 7pm, the headed-for Broadway production of David Hare's Skylight with Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan.
House of Cards, Continued
Okay, so I made it through with some past the witching hour watching. the second season ended as was inevitable — that is, for the Underwoods. The minor surprise was seeing the icy Claire burst into tears. And the big suspense is less about whether the Underwoods will continue to prove that politics is a bloody sport, than whether the creepy Stamper is actually gone but will return to season 3, his in the woods encounter with Rachel not as final as it looks.
Fans of the series now have a chance to binge on the BBC series of the same title. That's the one with the riveting Ian Richardson playing a nasty Francis, with the surname of Urqhart initially hides his ambition for Britain's top political post with "Me? Well, I'm just a backroom boy." When the mini series ran you had to content yourself with seeing it a week at a time, and then waiting for the follow-up season. But Netflix, apparently confident that making the series on which the Beau Willimon DC based House of Cards was based, now opens this up for another binge fest. I've only had time to re-view the first part, and while memories of the original made this surprise free, but it was fascinating to see just how close Willimon stuck to the characters and their excursions into evil doing.
Actually, theater goers now have a chance to watch another small screen series star, Brian Cranston of Breaking Bad, as a real life Washington pol, President B. Johnson, in a live Broadway play by Publitzer prize winner Robert Schenkkan. Johnson, known to many as "the accidental president" certanly was no stranger to politics as a bloody sport. He knew how to manipulate to get desired results, but doing whatever was needed to get the Civil Rights Act passed makes him more anti-hero than out and out villain like Francis Underwood, and certainly Lady Bird Johnson was no Lady Macbeth. Still Johnson threw Hubert Humphries under the bus, at least figuratively — and he andd other presidents like George W. Bush are guilty of murder when you think of the many Americans they sent to their deaths during questionable wars.
House of Cards' Francis Underwood is more than a killer role, literally so!
This snowy winter has been a terrible time with theaters constantly forced to offer snow deals to fill the many cancelled seats. It's certainly not the best of times for opening a new show. But for season 2 of Netflix's super popular House of Cards, opening just as many theater and movie goers are snowbound and entertainment hungry. And so having House of Cards launch its second season of 13-all-at-once episodes on Valentine's Day is the ultimate in unplanned timeliness.
Newbies to the series can still watch Season 1 (and given the dense plotting, those who saw it, will probably need to replay at least a few past episodes in fast forward mode to refresh their memories for who's who). For the comparison minded, there's also the original BBC series from which it was adapted. Playing all these "Cards" even without the many other Netflix offerings, is likely to keep even who signed on for the free month start-up deal, are likely to hang around after their free time is up.
Since I was homebound with a broken ankle during season one, I took advantage of the opportunity to binge and watched the whole thing in two big gulps. Having seen Spacey's riveting Richard III not long before, following his truly bottled spider of a Congressman Francis Underwood was enough to keep me hooked.
Now that Season 2 has gotten off to a much publicized start, Spacey is back. He's got the coveted Vice-President's post and as he puts it in an aside at his swearing in he's now "One heartbeat away from the presidency and not a single vote cast in my name. Democracy is so overrated." Spacey is still watchable enough but with a second murder out of the way (while the pre-post critics were forbidden to give away any plot details, their own publicity outings ——including script writer Beau Willimon's interview with Charley Rose— gave away that Zoe Barnes would be absent from the rest of Season 2, thanks to Underwood's pushing her in front of a subway train. In case you never saw the British House of Cards, a similar incident occurs in that series, not in the subway but from the House of Parliament's roof.
And so, unsurprisingly, Spacey and Robin Wright are more than ever a case of the evil Richard III married to Lady Macbeth. To be honest, besides not having the time, it's all not great enough to take advantage of the binge watching opportunity. One or two as late night snacks is all this viewer can take.
I look forward to watching other stage regulars pop up. New cast members in the first two episodes included Larry Pine and Jayne Atkinson. The latter plays the easily manipulated President Garrett Walker's Secretary of State, but is Gill's real life wife.
With season 3 already okayed, if the unredeemably immoral Underwood is ever to get his comeuppance, it won't be before he causes plenty of other mischief — and perhaps even get the top prize. I've got my fingers crossed for Sebastian Acelus's Lucas Goodwin to finally do him in.
J. D. Salinger Documentary
Shane Salerhno's book co-authored by David Shields, and Movie about J. D. Salinger got yet another life on January 21st as one of PBS's always worth watching American Masters series. It ran a somewhat too hefty two and a half hours. But, as a long time fan of the reclusive author's work, especially his iconic best seller, The Catcher in the Rye I wouldn't have missed it.
While I was familiar with much of the material, I didn't know about his World War II experiences and the heavy toll it took on his nerves and just how much it influenced his writing. Nor did I know about his marriage to a woman with a Nazi past which struck me as even more bizarre than the well publicized relationships with young women. On the latter subject, while the piece included lengthy interviews with two of those young women, it steered clear of implying pedophelia. No question though, there was a creepy-crawly side to the man.
As for the famous refusal to do book tours, give interviews, and, except for one incident, reject Hollywood, the film reinforced my sense that this was a case of smart marketing. Who needs all that fuss and tampering with one's work for stage or screen, if you can create an aura of mystery that keeps your books selling to this day.
I doubt Salinger would be pleased with all these talking heads analyzing his life and ouevre. And yet the Salinger "aura" worked once again. I hear Catcher in the Rye which still sells 250,00 copies a year, had a big jump in sales right after the broadcast. And no doubt, the books revealed to be in his archives with permission for release in 1915 will sell like the perennial hotcakes — even if they're not on a par with Catcher and his other stories.
While it's intriguing to contemplate the possibility of reading never before published Salinger work, it's unlikely that I'll ever get a chance to review a stage version of Holden Caulfield's trip to New York city. That said, Holden's sojourn did not ignore the theater, which brings me to an essay I wrote back in 1998 and which watching the TV piece prompted me to repost: Holden Caulfield, Theater Aficionado .
Stage Actor Heavy Big Movies In the Works
The film adaptation of Philip Roth's novel The Humbling will feature a whole bunch of actors with big marquee clout on Broadway: Al Pacino, Billy Porter, Nina Arianda, Dianne Wiest. . . Barry Levinson is the director. While there's no word on the release date, here's a nugget as to what it's about: It's te story of a declining stage actor (Pacino) who retires to his upstate New York farmhouse and has an affair with a much younger woman who happens to be a lesbian.
Favorite Stage Actor Heavy TV Series:
The Good Wife
HBO's The Newsroom
Small Screen Watching Notes From a Sidelined Theater Critic - Part Two: Lively If Not Live Theater on my IPad — House of Cards via Netflix and Kenneth Lonergan's Film Margaret at HBO
Les Miserables -- A very Special Review from Curtainup's London Critic
Jersey Boys the Movie by Elyse Sommer
Clint Eastwood adaptation of the super successful juke box musical Jersey Boys has been eagerly awaited, and has now opened to mixed reviews. While it's likely to do okay at movie theaters, it's also likely to have a very positive ripple effect at the August Wilson Theater box office where the show is in its tenth year . To bear me out on this, I met some neighbors in the elevator the other night who saw the movie recently and all said that they now really wanted to see the live show or what one fellow referred to as "the real thing."
Since the film is written by its original original book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice team, the Eastwood film certainly can't be faulted for ignoring the source show. If I had to sum up its pluses and minuses side in a single sentence: Less Broadway pizazz offset by greater emotional depth.
Ultimately, the movie proves that this genre of musical's long life and adaptability from stage to screen or screen to stage is as dependent on a good book as a hot catalogue. Perhaps Holler If Ya Hear me , the latest variation of the jukebox genre to arrive on Broadway would have been better served by being true to Tupac Shakur's story than trying to fictionalize it to give it more universal audience appeal
The production designer, Santo Loquasto, who is also a preeminent stage designer, has created a rich scenic panorama. And Allen's segues between present and past are amazingly seamless.
Apparently Blue Jasmine has gathered enough praises to be one of Woody Allen's most successful ticket sellers and the film is slated for much wider than usual distribution. Don't miss it. (reviewed by Elyse Sommer, October 6, 2013)
Last Tango in Halifax
The romance begins in a timely enough manner, the two senior citizens who's teenaged potential romance was sabotaged by another girl (who became Jacobi's wife) reconnnect through the internet, meet for tea and it's love at first-second sight. Their romance is stretched over six hours (the first season, possibly future seasons to follow?) by the problems of the couple's children and grandchildren resilience. If you liked the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you'll love this one as well. The entire cast is excellent, and I especially liked Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire, who play the daughters-- but for me the big draw is Jacobi. On screen or live on stage, he was and is a superb actor.
In April 2012 the wonderful site of the Royal Naval College on the River Thames which now houses the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music was turned into Paris for the riots of 1832. One of the sparks for the riot was the death of the Napoleonic General Lamarque, long time an opponent of the restoration of the French monarchy, and these huge funeral carts were ready on site for the filming of Lamarque's funeral procession. The sculptural mock up of a large (78 feet high) elephant had been placed in the Place de la Bastille and it had been intended to cast it in bronze. This elephant, which features in Hugo's novel as a hiding place for the street urchin Gavroche, formed a part of the set and next to it was created the barricade built by the rioters.
So a January weekend saw the opening in Britain of the eagerly anticipated film of the musical. The opening scene on stage is of prisoners breaking up rocks as Jean Valjean laments that his identity is a number, "24601". In the film the opening is a computer generated scene of a prison galleon ship wreck with convicts pulling on ropes and Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is ordered by Javert (Russell Crowe) to lift the broken flagpole with the tricoleur. When the casting was first announced, as Crowe is the thicker set of the men, it was assumed that he would play Valjean with Jackman as the taller thinner inspector but people had forgotten how built Jackman is and that his singing voice earned him the lead as Curly in the National Theatre's production of Oklahoma! way back in 1998.
But the real delight for me was spotting English stage actors in the smaller roles. In the Mayor's factory in Toulon, years later where Valjean is a successful businessman, Kate Fleetwood (Patrick Stewart's Lady Macbeth) is magnificent as Fantine's Nemesis, Factory Woman Number 1. Fleetwood bullies Fantine and then with mock humility manipulates the foreman (Michael Jibson, no stranger himself to the London theatre stage) into sacking Fantine. As Fantine hits rock bottom, and Anne Hathaway gives a heart breaking performance, her last client who gets her arrested is the fop Bamatabois, Bertie Carvel, the lead, Headmistress Miss Trunchbull, in another Royal Shakespeare Company successful musical Matilda. Trevor Nunn and the Royal Shakespeare Company first staged this version of Boublil and Schönburg's musical in 1985 after the French version had failed to take off.
Some of the original actors have been offered a part in the movie and theatre buffs will be thrilled to spot Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean, as the kindly bishop. Daniel Evans now Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres plays a pimp and Hannah Waddingham, a former Spamalot Lady of the Lake and Christine in Phantom, is Factory Woman number 2 for the first rendition of "At The End of the Day". Two other British actors who I've never seen live on stage, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter play the comic innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thenardier and, as their daughter Eponine, Samantha Barks who was a runner up in a BBC talent contest to find the Nancy for a revival of Oliver. The Eponines are always dark haired girls with wide set eyes and square faces, I wonder why? I do need to read Hugo's novel someday! Frances Ruffelle is the other actor from the original cast. She played Eponine as a child in 1985 and in 2013 takes the role Whore 1.
Patrick Godfrey as Gillnormand and Richard Corderey as the Duc de Raguse are veterans of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Linzi Hately, John Dankworth and Cleo Laines daughter Jacqui Dankworth have small roles. Even the Gavroche, Daniel Huddlestone is a veteran of the West End stage having played Gavroche in the theatre having launched his acting career as "Nipper" in Rupert Goold's Oliver! in 2009.
Tom Hooper, director of The King's Speech has concentrated on camera close up so the main difference in the experience of the film is this; seeing the emotion on the faces of the singers and the context is allowed to interfere with the vocal delivery and so gives a more realistic impression than the volume and delivery required to fill the theatre, be it the Barbican, The Palace or The Queen's. Carrying Marius, Eddie Redmayne through the Parisian sewers doesn't make the impact in the film that it does on stage with clever lighting and projection, and I had the impression that quite a lot has been cut from the ballroom scene, which is just a vehicle for the social climbing Thenardiers who like turds will rise. Eddie Redmayne has the facial angst of the student protester left behind in "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" and graces the London stage regularly, last having been seen as Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. The original Marius was Michael Ball
I was less sure about the aesthetic of computer generated Mansard roofs onto Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital Greenwich, now called the Old Royal Naval College, to imitate the Parisian skyline but it was fun recognising some of the less well known shots of the Greenwich architecture. The original inspiration for the Royal Hospital, a home for retired and infirm sailors was the French initiative, Les Invalides, in Paris.
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway thoroughly deserve the acting awards already bestowed. Russell Crowe is less of a powerful singer but a menacing presence as Inspector Javert in this story which was said to have inspired the series and film, The Fugitive. We see Javert in the Painted Hall before quelling the student revolution. Ironically the paintings on the ceiling in the Painted Hall are allegorical propaganda against the English Navy's traditional enemy, the French.
I've lost count but I think I've probably seen the West End theatre production of Les Miserables six or seven times and I also saw and reviewed the slimmed down 25th anniversary production at the Barbican in 2010. I'd happily see it again! And the film . . . I think I'd notice other people who have crept into the cast. I've a long way to go to catch up with Sally Frith the Gloucestershire woman reported this week as having seen Les Miserables 957 times since her first trip in 1988.
Footnote: A few days after the film crew moved out in April 2012, the Queen was due to reopen the Cutty Sark, Greenwich's old tea clipper, which was restored after a fire destroyed much of it in 2006. As the film crew moved out the Naval College lawns which had been covered with barricades, marching soldiers and straw and mud were brown and yellow. As the Queen was due to ride through the Naval College grounds a decision was taken to spray paint the grass. Apparently everywhere the Queen goes, it always smells of fresh paint. But whoever chose the shade didn't get grass green but blue green so that areas looked turquoise. Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
News for Downton Abbey Fans-2/24 update . The season ended with lots of the lavish scenes that the show excels in: Ditzy Rose's presentation, her debutante ball with a surprise visit from the Prince of Wales, grateful for the family's cover up of his affair with Rose's friend. That cover-up plays like one of those old caper movies about some charismatic jewel thieves. The Dowager Countess got a chance to to recharge her feud with Cora's rich but too outspoken American mother. And Cora's brother whose Teapot Dome scandal involvement forced Lord Grantham to travel to America, is also on hand with hints that he may end up in a relatonship with the daughter of the pennyless Lord who fails in his attempt to win over the rich American Widow w"nna's rapist continues, and Edith had her baby girl in Switzerland but is having second thoughts on giving her to a Swiss couple. It turns out the paper she signed made her the missing lover's heir and that his disappearance involved "brown shirts" -- indicating that the Nazi peril will be further explored, and that Edith's little girl will be part of Downton Abbey-- but on the periphery, as the adopted daughter of, you guessed it, the man in charge of the pigs. My prediction is that the show will continue into the second world war period with a few fast forwards.
2/16 update The next to the last installment. Too many threads to juggle through-- but rest assured, none will last long enough for you to get bored. But with Julian Fellowes juggling so many balls it's unlikely that he'll tie up all the loose ends next week. What we do know is that Shirley McLane will be coming back. What we hope for: that the the relationships between Baxter and Mosely, Branson and the town schoolteacher, the widowed Lord Merton and Isobel Crawley will blossom. Lady Mary seems to enjoy having all those suitors too much to bite the bullet and marry one of them. And finally there's the bombshell we've all been waiting for: Will Bates avenge Anna? Clearly, Zoe Barnes of Netflix's House of Cards isn't the only one to get pushed into the arms of the Grim Reaper. My prediction: Bates will get away with it, at least in terms of being arrested and sent to jail. But Julian Fellowes will punish him by having him lose Anna. Speaking of losing things, I also wouldn't be surprised if Edith had a miscarriage to makes it unnecessary for her to go to Switzerland — not a bad place since according to the Dowager Countess the only thing it lacs is conversation.
With handsome, loving and smart Matthew killed off at the end of last season and O'Brien, the Mrs. Danvers of the series deserting Lady Grantham for a new and more adventurous job in India, the season gets off to a rather dull 2-hour start. Too many boring and unnecessary sub-plots and characters (an old vaudeville friend of Carson's, the rather silly Lady Rose, the new-old lady's maid for Lady Grantham). The grief-stricken Lady Mary only abandons that glassy, more dead-than-alive stare towards the end, and Lord Grantham is prodded into doing the right thing by his tell-it-like-it is mom, the dowager countess who's still the play's most reliably entertaining character.
The continually changing times are foreshadowed by the arrival in the kitchen of an automatic mixing machine and Lady Edith on the verge of finalizing her affair with her married publisher-- alas, courtesy of his opting to move to Germany where divorcing an institutionalized mate is permitted. Maybe script writer Julian Fellowes needed all this as a setup for this new season-- and maybe not really changing anything is exactly what the ever increasing audience of this amazingly audience pulling franchise wants. With Sybil and Matthew putting an end to the series' two happy marriages, we're left with Anna and Bates, who prove once again that happily marrieds tend to be repetitiously boring (ditto for Lady Grantham and her well-meaning but pompous and Lord who still hasn't accepted his lack of managerial skills). With Mary back among the living and ready to save Downton from going down by learning about things like crop rotation, here's hoping things will pick up. But don't count on any in-depth character changers. The gowns are gorgeous as ever!!
The Good Wife.
April 28 2014 Update: Not too much to report with everyone, both in the show and those watching it, adjusting to Will's death. The april 27th segment brought back a stage actor who's been a favorite GW guest before-- Dylan Baker as the creepy rich guy who, it turns out has a torture chamber in his mansion. If it sounds a bit like <50 Shades of Grey, they probably ARE piggy backing on this amazingly shhlocky, badly written and edited phenomenon. After all, it's sold umpteen millions of copies, seeded two sequels, a forthcoming movie and even a spoof musical at the Electra Theater in Times Square where it's a draw for "girls night" outings. A popular musical theater star, Laura Benanti, played Baker's girl friend and Jane Alexander was the judge of the weekly trial involving Benanti. It's fun to watch the gray-at-the-temples Eli Gold on screen, while he's back with pitch black hair, rouged nipples and suspenders as the Emcee of the great musical, Cabaret.
The show's Eli Gold is also back on stage. He's shed his suit and tie and gone back to the bare chest and suspenders of the Emcee in Kander and Ebb's Cabaret. It's the role that turned him into a star. Review of that after the offical opening.
April 14 Like the rest of you Good Wife fans I've been too shocked and saddened by the latest turn of events-- from a practical point of view, having Will killed was brilliantly done and rekindled the spark that the show lacked for a while. The episode following the big, jump out of the seat event was also extremely well handled. It actually had me choked up for a bit. Since Josh Charles is a seasoned stage actor, I'm sure he'll have plenty of offers. Maybe will come up with a play that could star Charles and Dan Stevens, another prematurely killed romantic lead from another hit TV series, Downton Abbey..
News too about Allan Cumming (His Ely Gold had to relay the sad news to Alicia and then deal with the effect of Will's death on the Governor. The Scottish born actor was a Broadway newcomer when he riveted audiences as the Emcee of Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret. Several decades have passed but I think it's a safe bet that this older Emcee will bring the original sizzle as well as something new to this musical with its ever potent story and music. Watch for my review later this month.
January 7, 2014 Update: Will and Alicia are now bitter enemies in and out of court. Diane, her judge dreams dashed, is back with Will and company-- and yes she's married. The guests with notable stage credentials continue to appear and make this the best employment opportunity for New York based Stage actors
Finally, since you're going to have to wait until Fall to see Alicia's move to aw firm works out and how being the First Lady of the State plays out, here's a British 3-parter about another political wife's finding herself faced with her mate's bad behavior. It's called The Politician's Wife and British stage actress Juliet Davidson is brilliant as the disillusioned wife. Here's a link to the DVD from Acorn Media:
Downton Abbey is back with star players either killed off (Dan Stevens who wanted to pursue other acting opportunities), Lady Grantham's nasty Lady's Maid flown to India to serve a new Lady.
Once This little engine that could turn into a huge stage hit has earned back its investment and continues on Broadway with a replacement cast, as well as crossing the pond to London. To read my review of the production go here. Back to Index of Topics
© 2012-2014 Elyse Sommer.