Some men just don’t get old: Dark glasses do not hide JohnLloyd Young’sprom date good looks. He may be hiding from his girly fans’ swoons, but on the night we attended his Café Carlyle run, the audience was passionate about another side of this Jersey Boys’ career, his efforts to lobby for arts education. So when this dimple chinned crooner who hearkens back to your coming of age tells you he has serenaded Karen Pence, Lynne Cheney, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden,his bipartisan activism has meaning, as he launches into “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
The wild party at the Imperial Theater known as Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is not your usual samovar affair. This entertainment, referencing 70 pages of Tolstoy’s masterpiece War & Peace, has its own backstory: two downtown versions had the performers mingling among the guests, diners at a banquet. While that novelty is not repeated on Broadway, the audience is privy to the gesture. The Imperial Theater is converted to a kind of supper club, music at center, with tables all the way to the stage, although the staging is not distinctly separated from the theater’s ample front area. Ramps just about everywhere allow the company to enter and exit, and dance, offering—throwing-- boxed knishes to those strategically seated. Small bars serve vodka at intermission. A coffee table sized book describes the journey of this new musical to Broadway.
Bradley King, Dave Malloy, David Bowie, Denee Benton, Diane Paulus, Howard Kagan, Josh Canfield, Josh Groban, Lucas Steele, Mimi Lien, Paloma Young, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Rachel Chavkin, Sam Pinkleton, Scott Stangland, Steven Suskin
Sting and J. Ralph composed the song, “The Empty Chair” for the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story. As you see the clip of Sting performing that song at Bataclan, the historic Paris theater, for its opening one year after ISIS terrorists gunned down 89 people there, you cannot help but register that in “The Empty Chair—Live from the Bataclan,” his empathy is so overwhelming, Sting puts himself in the place of the man who was so brutally murdered by ISIS terrorists in 2014, singing, “Keep my place in the empty chair/ Somehow I’ll be There”/ “Vive la Bataclan!”
James Foley, was a photojournalist committed to bringing news from war zones. He was taken captive as he was documenting civilian casualties of war, specifically the Syrian refugees. You may remember him best from a widely seen photo of Jim kneeling beside “Jihadi John,” the man who would behead him. The film was made by his childhood friend, Brian Oakes, and features Foley’s family, friends, fellow journalists in the field, and fellow captives, speaking about the life, integrity of this man, and his final days.
Just before the Grammy’s, I had a chance to speak to Sting, on tour with his new album, 57th and 9th, and J. Ralph about their work on “The Empty Chair,” now nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar.
A musical of outsized passions as only AndrewLloyd Webber could compose, Sunset Boulevard trades in hyperbole. “The greatest star of all,” in the words of Max, her homme d’affaires, Norma Desmond is camp drama queen extraordinaire. With Glenn Close in the role, reprising her Tony-winning performance of 22 years ago at the Palace Theater, Norma is petit as she is large. Need dominates her manipulations so acutely, only the powerhouse chops of the actress who put the word fatal in Fatal Attraction could pull off this tour de force of fragility and grand delusion.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bernadette Peters, Bob Balaban, Don Black, Fred Johanson, Gabriel Byrne, Gayle King, Glenn Close, Lena Hall, Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, Sunset Boulevard, William Ivey Long
David Oyelowo, so brilliant in a recent theater production of Othello, playing the king against Daniel Craig’s Iago, is now a king again in Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom. Groomed to take the throne of Botswana, Seretse Khama is studying in London where he meets an office girl, Ruth Williams (the lovely, angelic Rosamund Pike). They fall in love. Let us just say, in this period drama based on a true story, the racism works both ways; and the colonialism is in-your-face exploitative. Some lines in this movie had the audience cheering: one wag, predicting the white woman would not last as the king’s wife in dusty Africa opines, “Wait till she finds out, there’s no Buckingham Palace in Botswana.” And when Ruth Williams is picked out of the typing pool, she asserts, “I’m no office girl.” Every time a British official condescends to the king, he offers a sherry, a double dig as in Botswana the blacks are not allowed to drink.
It’s a given: boys left to their own devices can come to no good. In the fine MCCTheater production of YEN, a British import, at the Lucille Lortel Theater, the unformed men in question are brothers by the same mother, one static, almost comatose in front of a tv when we meet him, the younger bouncing off walls in paint peeling squalor. Then a wasted mess of a woman comes to visit, as an unseen character barks from a distance, disturbing, and a testament to the power of the drama we create in our imaginations—if we are trusted by good writing, as we are in Anna Jordan’s script. Praise to Lucas Hedges as the taciturn Hench in his theater debut just as he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in Manchester By the Sea, and to his foil Bobbie (Justice Smith). And to the women in this story: Ari Graynor as Maggie, their neglectful mom, dead drunk on first appearance, and Stefania LaVie Owen as Jennifer, a neighboring girl from Wales whose nickname is the play’s title, and wistful hope, as a yen might suggest.
After you have seen more of Lena Dunham’s body than that of any other serious actress, there’s always the question of how you will greet her in the flesh, clothed and social, as at the spectacular HBO party thrown for the dynamic Girls quartet at Cipriani 42nd Street this week. Guests had just come from Alice Tully Hall, from a preview of an opening double episode, and a second, the first featuring Dunham’s Hannah sunbathing her most private part in Montauk. That moment gave pause to a more demure Maggie Gyllenhaal who revealed that she shows skin in her new series, “The Deuce,” in which she plays a prostitute. “I come from an older generation of women,” said Gyllenhaal with regard to Dunham’s unashamed nakedness and frank display of sexuality. No matter, everyone applauds Dunham’s brilliance as a writer and actress: her brave approach to normalizing the female image in every perfect imperfection is simply groundbreaking.
Calling his Cafe Carlyle show, “Does This Song Make Me Look Fat?” Isaac Mizrahi signals surreal leaps of fancy from music, to looks, to insecurities. Who could ask for more from an evening? Multitalented, the fashion designer/ entertainer croons cabaret standards backed by a great band, his act sprinkled with self-mocking quips recalling Joan Rivers at her most cheeky! Really, what’s not to love?
Isaac Mizrahi, Ben Waltzer, Benny Benack III, Bernie Taupin, Cafe Carlyle, Cole Porter, Eartha Kitt, Elton John, Jack Segal, Joan Rivers, Joe Strasser, Kander and Ebb, Marvin Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore, Neal Miner, Stefan Schatz
Elie Wiesel wrote Night, you could say, for an evening such as Sunday night’s marathon reading of his Holocaust era memoir at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: To Remember. He knew that the history in concentration camps—Auschwitz was just one of many-- was so bad, so bleak, so dark, so beyond belief, he had to try to make testimony for generations to come. Moreover, perhaps he knew there would always be those who, out of the racism and hate that spawned the Holocaust and the systematic and specific murder of the Jewish people in the first place, would want to deny such a thing actually happened. The Trump administration’s tepid acknowledgment of Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 is a variation on this theme, never mentioning the targeting of Jews for mass annihilation. That controversy hung in the air, relieved only by poetry.
Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann gesticulates wildly talking about Ohad Naharin, a much-awarded choreographer, the artistic director of the Tel Aviv based Batsheva Dance Company. In town in early January with his exceptional, evocative documentary, Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance, a highlight of this year’s Jewish Film Festival, Heymann exudes, “Ohad is an amazing character, perfect for a movie. I met him 25 years ago when I was a waiter; here was a sexy man with a beautiful Japanese woman, his wife, dancer Mari Kajiwara, a very unusual couple. They gave me a big tip.”
“I knew a “hora;” said the filmmaker who made Mr. Gaga with his producer and brother, Barak, “that’s what I knew of dance. When I was offered a free ticket to “Kyr,” a Batsheva Dance Company performance, it changed my life forever.” Eight years in the making, Mr. Gaga will premiere this week at Film Forum and the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in tandem with Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company’s premiere of “Last Work” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Just prior to these openings, I had a chance to speak to Ohad Naharin, indeed handsome, with a quick and ironic wit, about the film, the birth of Gaga, Natalie Portman, and the vagaries of politics and art.