As a theater goer I found the heavy-d “Brothers & Sisters” creator and all-star cast make for provocative storytelling NBC miniseries “The Slap” is impressive on the performance side and provocative in story. The premiere plants enough seeds to get viewers to return. Veering from its long-standing tradition of Thursday night comedies, NBC premieres the new drama written by playwright Jon Robin Baitz (creator of ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters”) and starring an ensemble cast comprised of actors from theatre, film and television: Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton, Zachary Quinto, Brian Cox, Thomas Sadowski, Melissa George (the only holdover from the original Australian cast) and Uma Thurman. The impressive auspices of the drama are what attracted me to it in the first place, but I have to make a disclaimer: I’m a single gal, and as such I’ve never had children (though I’m happy to be an aunt to a handful), so I tend to be very careful whenever I talk about parenting. I’ve learned that parents do not like to be questioned or criticized about the way they parent their children. OK, moving on. See photos: 18 Real-Life Scandals That TV Ripped From the Headlines You’ve probably heard by now that the inciting incident on the opening episode involves a young child misbehaving at a backyard gathering of friends and family. And when one of the adults at the gathering goes to handle the situation, he reprimands the child verbally and with a slap on the face. It’s a jarring moment, but one that doesn’t seem horribly wrong given the child’s behavior. Many people who watched early screeners of “The Slap” premiere episode thought the kid deserved the slap. So is there a show here or not? Yes, there is. As the premiere episode quickly establishes, “The Slap” is about more than that one disciplinary act toward a child. It’s about the circle of friends and family involved, some well off financially, some not. It’s about class status, values and codes of conduct. For the slapper, it’s also about anger management and his particularly entitled worldview. I don’t want to spoil any of the drama for you. I will say that “The Slap” may have limited appeal, because it’s easy to see it as yuppies whining because they’re still not satisfied with their lives – see Peter Sarsgaard’s Hector. See video: ‘The Slap’ Cast Tackles Corporal Punishment What the show does well in the opener is give us a quick peek into each of the character’s headspace and most of the characters are easily identifiable types (hippie-ish mom, driven businessman, artist, to name a few), so you know what you’re dealing with and the tension lines are drawn. You’re not guaranteed to care about all of them at the outset, but the acting kept me interested. The show also uses a voiceover that doesn’t strike me as necessary, even though it’s the voice of Victor Garber, and it’s always nice to hear his dulcet tones. It’s only minimally distracting from the storytelling. Where “The Slap” gets more involved (I’ve watched the first two episodes) is in how quickly the incident divides the group into warring factions. The show’s promos ask “Whose side are you on?” and while it looks like it might be easy to choose, you quickly realize that because of the way Baitz has drawn his characters, it’s not a clear-cut choice. It’s in this gray area Baitz excels, as the members of the group talk to the slapper and each other about the potential outcomes of the incident’s fallout. It quickly becomes apparent that this one explosive moment can and will have serious and damaging impacts on the entire group. Also Read: ‘Heroes’ Star Zachary Quinto, ‘Deadwood’s’ Brian Cox Join NBC Miniseries ‘The Slap’ It has to be said that “The Slap” is not an eight o’clock broadcast network show; it’s a 10pm show and the drama has much more of a cable feel. It seems like a show NBC chief Bob Greenblatt would have ordered when he was the head of Showtime. If you were thinking “The Slap” might be something along the lines of the late, lamented “Parenthood,” that’s not true either. So why watch? In the end, it’s all about the stellar cast and the insightful and sharp writing. Peter Sarsgaard never has false moments and he’s a solid center to the show. There’s a lot going on with Sarsgaard in scenes even when he’s not speaking. Zachary Quinto is also particularly strong in a pivotal role. Thandie Newton, star of the DirecTV original series “Rogue,” has a very different type of role here and her chemistry with Sarsgaard is nuanced and interesting. Melissa George is also intriguing in an entirely offbeat way – to say more would be giving too much away. Overall, “The Slap” is a solid effort, even if it doesn’t blow you away from the outset. Additional note: it’s part of NBC’s new strategy of building a Thursday night drama lineup: Note that “The Blacklist” has its new home at 9pm, between “The Slap” and new series “Allegiance.” Personally, I’d rather see NBC develop new comedies. But as an avid TV watcher, I try to sample everything. I plan to stick with “The Slap” for at least a few more episodes to see where they take the story. Stage, Film and TV Talk, at CurtainUp CurtainUp
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By Elyse Sommer

Updated February 14, 2015
New: The Last Five Years - Jason Robert Brown's musical 2-hander comes to the screen

Into the Woods - Disney's fairy tale magic applied to Stephen Sondheim's grimmer view of the Grimm stories
Olive Kitteredge, a potent theatrical experience on the home screen
Jersey Boys, the Movie
News for Good Wife fans


last 5 years
The Last Five Years
The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown's 2-person musical about a failed marriage has had a remarkable history. Though not a major hit in its off-Broadway debut it was well staged and a triumph for Sheree Renee Scott and Norbert Leo Butz . The countless professional and amateur regional productions that followed turned this into one of those little engine that could and did hit that led to a well cast, well attended return engagment in New York

What carried the day for this surprise money maker was Brown's lovely songs as well as the novelty of the story telling — the male character (a stand-in for Brown who had just come out of a toxic marriage) telling his story moving forward in time . . . his once beloved moving backwards through her journey of disillusionment . . .and just one meeting in the middle for a marriage proposal.

Now The Last Five Years has been adapted for movie audiences by Brown, and directed by Richard LaGravenese. The director Brown's songs and and the show's chamber musical feel and cast two actors with genuine star power — Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan— to sing their zig-zaggy way through Cathie and Jamie's failing marriage.

Both have great voices and and charisma so no complaints there. And Brown's songs, with some minor updates to the lyrics, hold up very well. Unfortunately even the probably necessary expansion doesn't do much to make the film as effective as the stage version. In the stage version, only the story relating half of the unhappy pair was seen on stage. Having the other half of the pair silently on scene doesn't so much prevent the film from being too stage bound, but tends to make it a bit too confusing to know just where in the back and forth time line we are.

That said, the inclusion of cameos appearances by other actors will give fans of the live theater productions the fun of spotting both Sheree Renee Scott (the initial Cathie) and Betsy Wolfe (the 2013 revival's Cathie). Scott is in the audition scene and Wolfe appears as a stripper.

For more details about the songs and the plot see Curtainu's review of the (
Off-Broadway premiere and the( 2013 Off-Broadway revival. News for Good Wife fans
Mary Beth Peil
Mary Beth Peil, this time as a Russian mother-in-law
The series that's the best friend to stage actors is back. Even though Allan Cumming continues to reprise his iconic role as the MC in the wonderful
Cabaret, he's very much on scene as Eli Gold. Sarah Steele who plays is daughter also recently found time to appear on broadway in Country House. The fellow running Alicia's campaign for Stage's attorney is Stephen Pasquale. No, he doesn't sing as he did in The Bridges of Madison County , but he's mighty charismatic. As for Alicia's meddling mom-in-law, Mary Beth Peil is currently doing her meddling in a new adaptation of a 1928 Russian farce, Dying For It at the Atlantic Theater Company. This flow between home screen and live screen will continue when Chris Noth takes time out from his Governor's duties to take on Dr. Faustus at the prestigious off-Broadway Classic Stage Company. (watch for my review.

a name="Into the Woods"> Into the Woods, the Movie
by Miriam Colin



Sondheim à la Disney. An impossible marriage? Not really!

The iconic composer-lyricist's two-sided mashup of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales has been fashioned into an entertaining, visually exciting film. Yes, it's been Disney-ized to make it more acceptable as a family entertainment but with director Rob Marshall (he also successfully transferred Chicago from stage to screen) and James Lapine doing the adapting, the Sondheimian darkness has not been ruinously over sugarcoated. There's plenty of Sondheim's scintillating score and devilishly witty lyrics to keep even musical theater purists from quibbling too much about no more "No More" and the too lite version of "No One Is Alone." Best of all, this isn't Disney in its usual cartoon mode but Disney respectfully presenting the 1987 stage musical with a large and stellar ensemble of stage luminaries.

For starters there's the witch played Meryl Streep who's as successful at every role she takes on as Disney is at producing musical fairy tales Disney is great at both musicals and fairy tales. Her witch is no exception.

But Streep is just the tip of the ensemble treats: James Corden who won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for One Man, Two Guvnors is a sure-fire Oscar contender for his touching Baker. Emily Blunt is equally impressive as his lovely but infertile wife and Simon Russell Beale as his father. And what would this cornucopia of Grimm characters be without Cinderella (a lovely Anna Kendrick) and a charming Prince (Chris Pine), Jack of the famous Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel of the golden tresses (MacKenzie Mauzy) and her rescuing prince (Billy Magnussen).

Some of the things the movie gets especially right is casting Tracey Ullman as Jack's mother and letting a real youngster, 13-year-old Lilla Crawford play a sassy Little Red Riding Hood. And yes indeed, that's Johnny Depp playing the big bad Wolf who terrorizes her and the Giant is none other than Frances de la Tour (best known to theater goers for her terrific gig in The History Boys).

Director Marshall and this versatile ensemble ably handle the Sondheim-Lapine atypical interpretation of these storybook characters. They shift comfortably from the treasure hunting style first part with its seemingly happy ending, into the more realistic world where there's no guarantee of a happily ever after life but the real traumas of our jet and cyber propelled world must be faced. And so a witch can and does lose her powers and Cinderella's Prince Charming sings "I was raised to be charming, not sincere!" Fortunately the humor and music insure that it's all more entertaining than pitch-black scary.

Unlike the stage musical which ran almost 3 hours, the movie clocks in at a trim 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Editor's Note: For a less starry but unique live revival of the show by the inventive the Fiasco Theater Company is playing at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre through March 22nd. I'll be reviewing it when it opens officially. For an idea of what to expect, see our New Jersey critic's review of the 2013 Mc Carter Theatre Center Production .


Olive Kitteredge, a potent theatrical experience on the home screen
I wouldn't recommend binge-watching the HBO adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteredge. It's so good that it deserves to be savored slowly, an episode at a time. With a cast including live theater favorites like Frances McDormand, Zoe Kazan and Peter Gallagher Jr., this is an ideal way to enjoy a high quality theatrical experience without leaving home.

What makes it such truly essential watching is the quality of the source content, character and place linked stories about the lives of the residents of a Maine coastal town, stories in which Olive and her husband Henry at times play only peripheral roles. The overall excellence of the four one-hour installments also owes much to the brilliant way tele-playwright Jane Anderson and director Lisa Cholodenko have transferred the thirteen stories of Strout's this modern human comedy has been transferred from page to screen by .

With Frances McDormand playing the caustic, tough to love but even tougher to not ultimately sympathize with title character, this is one of the most memorable performances — stage or screen — I've seen all year. Masterfully subtle and complex as McDormand portrait of the depressed, repressed and yearning for connection retired math teacher is, there are other richly expressive performances. Chief among these comes from Richard Jenkins as Olive's more sunny-natured husband Henry.

Even the actors making only occasional appearances make strong impressions; for example, Zoe Kazan as a young widow who works in Henry's pharmacy, and Peter Mullan as a teacher with whom a less uptight and proper woman than Olive would have had a passionate fling. Devin Druid and John Gallagher, Jr. are also affecting as Olive's teen-aged and adult son.

The overarching darkness shadowing Olive's life and the flashes of her inherent kindness, are beautifully established in a poignant scene between her and a similarly haunted former student (Cory Michael Smith). There are other often humorous glimpses throughout of the Olive beneath the sourpuss who greets any complaints from others with an impatient "Oh, for God's sake." She's most touching as her 30 year marriage ends with Henry's slow death from a stroke and as a tragic ending turns bittersweet courtesy of a delightful cameo from Bill Murray. Thanks to terrific make-up and camera work, McDormand, is a most convincing 74-year-old even though she's only 57.

As Olive Kitteridge is set in the fictional coastal town of Crosby, Maine, so Elizabeth Strout's first and most recent books, Amy & Isabelle and The Burgess Boys, are set in another fictional Maine town: Shirley Falls, Maine. Olive Kitteredge, evoked memories of Sherwood Anderson's long-ago ground breaking Winesburg, Ohio but also the theater world's much lauded Annie Baker. Strout, like Baker, keeps returning to the small town New England of her youth. Interestingly, Baker's favorite town is Shirley, Vermont.

Olive Kitteredge puts the kibosh on talk about stage actors wasting their talents on TV series. Good acting and good stories are powerful no matter where seen.
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

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