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May 23, 2014

Presto, change-o

f05_05.jpgAssuming that all goes well, the blog that has occupied this space largely unaltered since 2003 will have undergone a radical change in appearance soon after or by the time you get around to reading these words. Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal, which hosts "About Last Night," has moved the main site and all of its affiliated blogs to a new platform and in the process has optimized them for viewing on handheld computing devices. This necessitated a dramatic redesign, and when Doug pulls the switch at some point today, you'll see what he's wrought.

Even as I was ArtsJournal's very first blogger, so am I the very last one to move to the new platform. I put it off for as long as I could, not wanting to have to stand on my head, technically speaking, while simultaneously finishing a Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington and moving my first play to an off-Broadway theater. But the time has come, so here goes nothing.

I've taken this opportunity to scrap most of the various modules in the right-hand column, which I no longer update with any consistency and so decided had become superflous. But all the other features of "About Last Night" remain intact. I hope you like what you see, and I hope you'll continue to visit me regularly.

Needless to say, various things will undoubtedly go wrong along the way. Bear with me as I grope my way into a brave new world--and do not adjust your set.

Posted May 23, 11:30 AM

More magic to do

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on two important out-of-town productions, a staging by Teller (yes, that Teller) of The Tempest and a Chicago revival of M. Butterfly. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

Teller, Penn Jillette's silent partner, has lately launched a parallel career as a theater director of considerable accomplishment and still greater promise. His 2008 "Macbeth," staged in collaboration with Aaron Posner, was one of the most memorable Shakespeare productions of the past decade. Now the two men have teamed up again for "The Tempest," to which Mr. Teller's special skills are, if anything, even better suited, and the results are no less winning. Fanciful, mysterious and full of cheerily broad comedy, this is a "Tempest" that will give equal pleasure to seasoned playgoers and novices who quake in their boots at the mention of iambic pentameter. It is--in a word--magical.

TheTempest_ART_201405_Calibans_New_21.jpgThe premise is obvious enough to have been tried before: Prospero (Tom Nelis) is a sorcerer, so why not turn "The Tempest" into a magic show? What makes this version stand out is the way in which it fuses the varied talents of its makers into a conceptually coherent whole. The staging is festive, the magic tricks breathtaking, the triple-tier set (designed by Daniel Conway) spectacular. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan have written a musical score that is by turns rough-hewn and eerily shimmery. Matt Kent, the associate artistic director of Pilobolus Dance Theatre, has contributed all sorts of eye-catching stage movement, including the brilliant notion of having Caliban, Prospero's monstrous servant-slave, be played by two actors (Zachary Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee) who speak in unison and move in the manner of conjoined twins....

"M. Butterfly," David Henry Hwang's 1988 Broadway hit about a French diplomat who slept with a Chinese opera star for 20 years without realizing that she was (A) a spy and (B) a man, hasn't been seen in New York since the end of its 777-performance run. It continues to be mounted by regional theaters, though, and the Court Theatre's commanding revival is more than good enough to withstand comparison to John Dexter's original production. Not only has Charles Newell staged it with a persuasive blend of theatricality and thoughtfulness, but Sean Fortunato and Nathaniel Braga both put excitingly personal stamps on the starring roles created by John Lithgow and B.D. Wong. Mr. Fortunato, one of Chicago's best actors, plays Rene Gallimard, the deceived diplomat, not as a haughty pseudo-gentleman with a transatlantic accent but as a painfully self-conscious ugly-American type (a characterization that gives his performance greater local immediacy) who wears his geekiness on his sleeve. As for the biracial Mr. Braga, he uses the fact that he doesn't look especially feminine to subtly underline the point of "M. Butterfly," which is that M. Gallimard is only too willing to believe in the racial and sexual stereotypes that inexorably bring about his final humiliation....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

To watch a scene from M. Butterfly as performed by John Lithgow, B.D. Wang, and members of the original Broadway cast on the 1988 Tony Awards telecast, go here.

To read a New York Times article about the real-life espionage case on which M. Butterfly was freely based, go here.

Posted May 23, 11:00 AM

High culture, movie-house style

In today's Wall Street Journal "Sightings" column, I take note of the coming to YouTube of British Pathé's archival newsreel channel, and what it means for culture buffs. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

newsonthemarch.jpgUnless you're a dues-paying member of the Greatest Generation, you might be momentarily confused by the second scene of "Citizen Kane," which cuts abruptly from Charles Foster Kane's shadow-shrouded deathbed to a stentorian screen obituary of the fictional newspaper magnate called "News on the March: Xanadu's Landlord." It's a parody of "The March of Time," a newsreel series shown in movie theaters in the '30s and '40s. And what, pray tell, was a newsreel? A film shown before the main feature that summarized the news of the preceding week. Such short subjects were hugely popular in pre-television days, especially during World War II. The London-based Pathé News, the first newsreel, was launched in 1910 and managed to hang on until 1970, when it was killed off at last by TV news and the demise of the double feature.

Now the entire 85,000-film collection of British Pathé, the producers of Pathé News, has been uploaded and is available for free viewing by anyone willing to go to YouTube, search for "British Pathe" and spend an idle hour panning for nuggets. You'll need plenty of patience--many of the clips are poorly labeled--but if you know what you're looking for, I guarantee a good time.

Pathé News, like its American competitors, pitched its wares to a mass audience of moviegoers, and so its newsreels rarely offered cultural fare. But when Pathé's cameramen did cover high-culture events, they not infrequently brought back priceless souvenirs of the now-distant past....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

From a 1932 British Pathé newsreel, Flannery O'Connor, identified by the narrator as "Mary O'Connor of Savannah, Georgia," shows off a chicken that she taught to walk backward. The sequence was filmed when O'Connor was five years old:

Posted May 23, 10:30 AM

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on going home

"Going home must be like going to render an account."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Posted May 23, 9:00 AM

May 22, 2014

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, nearly all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, closes June 29, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

IN EAST HADDAM, CONN.:
Damn Yankees (musical, G, closes June 21, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON IN WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Shakespeare, PG-13, playing in rotating repertory, closes June 7 and 8, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON OFF BROADWAY:
A Loss of Roses (drama, PG-13, closes June 7, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON ON BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)

Posted May 22, 4:57 PM

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on self-knowledge

"For it is my belief no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self-knowledge."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Posted May 22, 9:00 AM

May 21, 2014

Snapshot: Erroll Garner plays "Earl's Dream"

The Erroll Garner Trio plays "Earl's Dream" in 1972:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Posted May 21, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on ideas

"Hang ideas! They are tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back-door of your mind, each taking a little of your substance, each carrying away some crumb of that belief in a few simple notions you must cling to if you want to live decently and would like to die easy!"

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Posted May 21, 9:00 AM

May 20, 2014

Lookback: on abandoning series TV

From 2004:

When Our Girl told me what happened on the season finale of The Sopranos, I was mildly interested--perhaps even a bit more than mildly--but it never occurred to me to catch up on all the episodes I'd missed. (In fact, I don't even subscribe to HBO anymore.) Could it be that I'm through with series TV for good? I wouldn't be surprised. It's not that I'm a snob about TV. The problem is that I no longer care for the idea of committing myself to weekly installments of anything as repetitive as a dramatic series. I suppose it'd be melodramatic to say that life's too short to spend it watching the same set of characters each week--but melodramatic or not, I think that might be the best way to explain be how I'm feeling these days...

Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 20, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on ennui

"There are men here and there to whom the whole of life is like an after-dinner hour with a cigar; easy, pleasant, empty, perhaps enlivened by some fable of strife to be forgotten--before the end is told--even if there happens to be any end to it."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Posted May 20, 9:00 AM

May 19, 2014

Just because: Charles Laughton reads a Biblical parable

Charles Laughton reads the Biblical parable of the Burning Fiery Furnace on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960. Laughton's original TV performance of the parable, telecast by Sullivan in 1949, inspired him to spend the rest of his life touring in a one-man stage show in which he read from the Bible and other works of great literature:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Posted May 19, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on facts

"They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Posted May 19, 9:00 AM

May 16, 2014

Reclaiming William Inge

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on revivals of two American shows from the Fifties, William Inge's A Loss of Roses (done by the Peccadillo Theater Company) and Damn Yankees (done by Goodspeed Musicals). Here's an excerpt.

* * *

William Inge's half-remembered plays are finally making a slow but sure comeback. Witness the Peccadillo Theater Company's new Off-Broadway revival of "A Loss of Roses," which broke his four-show winning streak and plunged him into a creative slump that led to his suicide. This is the first time that "A Loss of Roses," now remembered only for having provided Warren Beatty with his lone Broadway role, has been staged in New York since it closed there in 1959 after 25 performances. Judging by the impressive 2013 TACT/The Actors Company Theatre revival of "Natural Affection," which followed "A Loss of Roses" and met with a similarly disastrous fate, I thought it likely that his fifth play would also prove to be better than its reputation. Sure enough, "A Loss of Roses" is a strong and serious piece of work, and Dan Wackerman's understated staging helps reclaim a fine play that should never have slipped from sight.

LOSS%20OF%20ROSES%20PHOTO.jpgUnlike "Natural Affection," which takes place in a Chicago apartment, "A Loss of Roses" is set in what you might call Ingeland, the same sort of nondescript Depression-era Midwestern village in which its author grew up and where "Come Back, Little Sheba," "Picnic," "Bus Stop" and "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" also take place. It's the home of Helen and Kenny (Deborah Hedwall and Ben Kahre), a widowed mother and her 21-year-old son who live together uneventfully but uneasily. Something is bound to blow, and it does so when Lila (Jean Lichty), who left town to become a small-time actor, returns to visit her old friend Helen, thereby arousing in Kenny rumblings of lust that can't help but lead to anguish.

The inevitable crisis is a trifle schematic, but Inge sketches it with his usual quiet intensity, and his sad characters, like the dusty town in which they live, lack nothing in believability. Your heart will ache for them, especially Helen, who can't figure out how to do right by her troubled son and whom Ms. Hedwall plays with simple grace....

"Damn Yankees" isn't a great musical, but it can be great fun when done really well. Goodspeed Musicals has filled the bill with a snappy staging in which Stephen Mark Lukas and Angel Reda are wonderfully well cast as Joe Hardy, who sells his soul in order to become a major-league ballplayer, and Lola, the demonic temptress whose job is to keep him from exercising the escape clause in his deal with the devil (David Beach).

Joe DiPietro ("Memphis") has rewritten the original George Abbott-Douglass Wallop book, turning the once-hapless, now-defunct Washington Senators into the Boston Red Sox, who were having a comparably tough time of it in 1952, the year when "Damn Yankees" is set. The switch is neatly managed...

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 16, 11:00 AM

Almanac: Simon Callow on comedy

"It may have been that worst of all possible things, a comedy in which the company shrieked with laughter during rehearsals. Laughter is a very serious business, a science. The important thing is to give the audience pleasure, not to have pleasure yourself."

Simon Callow, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu

Posted May 16, 9:00 AM

May 15, 2014

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, virtually all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, extended through June 29, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, many performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON IN WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Shakespeare, PG-13, playing in rotating repertory, closes June 7 and 8, reviewed here)

CLOSING SATURDAY IN WESTPORT, CONN.:
A Song at Twilight (drama, PG-13, reviewed here)

Posted May 15, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Alva Johnston and Fred Smith on celebrity

"A celebrity has a negative or an inverted sense of hearing; he can hear his name not being mentioned at forty paces."

Alva Johnston and Fred Smith, "How to Raise a Child: The Education of Orson Welles, Who Didn't Need It" (Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 27, 1940)

Posted May 15, 9:00 AM

May 14, 2014

Snapshot: Charles Laughton becomes a stage gangster

From a British Pathé 1930 newsreel, Charles Laughton explains how he makes himself up to appear on stage in Edgar Wallace's On the Spot, in which he played a character based on Al Capone:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Posted May 14, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Simon Callow on what actors do

"It is interesting to note that frequently actors most successfully project the thing they least are but would most like to be--to the confusion both of their loved ones and themselves."

Simon Callow, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu

Posted May 14, 9:00 AM

May 13, 2014

Lookback: is recorded sound a good thing?

From 2004:

It's no secret, for instance, that the rise of the phonograph basically killed off domestic music-making. My grandfather, who was born a century ago, played banjo, but neither of my parents played any instrument at all, and when I started making music, it was at school, not home; I am the sole member of my extended family who not only learned a musical instrument as a child but also continued to play as an adult. What's more, I majored in music in college, making me even less typical of my fellow baby-boomers: I have just one close friend who plays classical music on a purely amateur basis.

To be sure, I have a lot of other friends who listen to classical music, but I'm struck by how few of them go to concerts at all regularly: their participation in the culture of classical music consists mainly of buying compact discs. Indeed, I know thoroughly civilized people who actively disdain concertgoing, preferring to shovel money into the care and feeding of high-end systems. I don't mean to knock them--they love music as much as I do--but it seems to me that there is something fundamentally parasitical about their love...

Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 13, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Julian Bream on what musicians communicate

"As I've got older, I found that music for me is not just a question of music and then living; it's become more and more a question of living and then music, with the music expressing the living. What you do, what you feel, and the actions you take, is the essence of what you communicate through music."

Julian Bream (quoted in Tony Palmer, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road)

Posted May 13, 9:00 AM

May 12, 2014

Here, there, and everywhere with Satchmo at the Waldorf

SatchmoSCO12KSPRA.0068-199x300.jpgI rejoice to report the latest news about Satchmo at the Waldorf, which is that John Douglas Thompson just won the 2013-14 Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Solo Performance award. That is--if I do say so myself--a well-deserved honor for a great actor.

Satchmo, amazingly enough, continues to be reviewed two months into its off-Broadway run. The latest notice, by Elysa Gardner, appeared last Thursday in USA Today, and like most of its predecessors, it's a gratifyingly good one.

Here are some excerpts:

A "work of fiction, freely based on fact," Satchmo introduces us to its subject only months before his death. Armstrong has just finished a set at the titular hotel, which has become his home and workplace; and while Thompson is (and looks) more than 20 years younger, the superb actor manages to evoke his physical and emotional weariness.

In the following 90 minutes, Thompson will also fully serve the frustration, humor and fundamental decency that come through in Teachout's portrait of Armstrong-- and, under veteran director Gordon Edelstein's robust guidance, convey Glaser's very different but not entirely unsympathetic nature.

First-time playwright Teachout, a veteran journalist and author, knows his stuff--his credits include the biography Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong--but spins his fact-based story with both passion and an endearing sense of whimsy.

Of course, he and Edelstein are fortunate to have Thompson. Though it would be impossible for any mere mortal to fully capture the spirit and soul of Armstrong's music, it would be hard to imagine another trouper better equipped to give us at least a glimpse of the humanity behind it....

Read the whole thing here.

DUKE%20IN%20THE%20MIRROR.jpgEven more amazingly, Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington is also still being reviewed. The Times Literary Supplement, for instance, just published a lengthy review by John Mole of the British edition. It's not available on line, alas, but a friend sent me some excerpts:

A photograph, taken in London two years after Duke Ellington's celebrated "rebirth" at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, provides a telling frontispiece to this excellent, revelatory and, with eighty-one pages of source notes, copiously documented book. It shows the Duke regarding himself in a full-length dressing room mirror, adjusting his bow tie and--ever the model of sartorial theatricality--preparing to go out on stage to practise his familiar wry flattery, telling us that we are very beautiful, very sweet, very generous, very gracious and that he and all the kids in the band want us to know that they love us madly. On tour, he will open the show with Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" or his own "Rockin' in Rhythm," introduce new work, featuring his star soloists, and reprise his greatest hits in what Terry Teachout refers to more than once as "the dreaded medley," punctuated by the applause of recognition. This will be both the measure and the price of his achievement as composer and band leader. As Teachout forensically demonstrates, behind the smooth public face lay a complex, evasive personality...

As a drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, a playwright, an accomplished jazz bass player and a biographer of Louis Armstrong, Teachout is well placed to examine with equal authority Ellington's methods of composition and the individual contributions of many other great musicians who brought out the unique tone colour of his orchestration. Teachout integrates his analysis with a vivid exploration of character....

Teachout gives full attention to the range of Ellington's ambition and achievement, and the trajectory of his career....

The final chapter, which describes Ellington's seventieth birthday celebrations at the White House and his refusal to let up on touring, as well as his loneliness and decline, is a particularly moving last act, reminding us, as so often in this book, of Terry Teachout's ability to bring his experience of theatre to bear on the story he tells.

I especially like that last paragraph.

Posted May 12, 11:30 AM

Just because: Julian Bream plays Malcolm Arnold

Julian Bream plays Malcolm Arnold's Guitar Concerto in 1991, accompanied by Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Posted May 12, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Julian Bream on the spirit of music

"The spirit of music can reach people who are sensitive enough to receive it in such a way that the experience is a revelation both the spiritual and the mystical. Ideally the performer has a special function, which is to bring the listener to the edge of that experience and to open the doors of this perception in such a way that those who wish to enter can."

Julian Bream (quoted in Tony Palmer, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road)

Posted May 12, 9:00 AM

May 9, 2014

The secret of the master

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I review Westport Country Playhouse's revival of Noël Coward's A Song at Twilight and Second Stage's revival of Jon Robin Baitz's The Substance of Fire. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

Rarely seen in this country since it ran on Broadway in 1974, "A Song at Twilight" was produced earlier this year on both coasts, at Hartford Stage and Pasadena Playhouse. The Hartford Stage version, directed by Mark Lamos, has now transferred to another Connecticut theater, Mr. Lamos' own Westport Country Playhouse. Anyone who supposes that changing times have turned "A Song at Twilight" into a hoary period piece is in for a big surprise. Coward called it "far and away the best-constructed play I have ever written." That overstates the case, but it's definitely one of his best.

A%20SONG.jpgExplicitly based on the life of Somerset Maugham, "A Song at Twilight" is a portrait of Hugo Latymer (Brian Murray), a venerable novelist and sometime playwright who married his secretary (Mia Dillon) in middle age and now is wreathed in irascible respectability. Enter Carlotta (Gordana Rashovich), an angry ex-girlfriend who comes bearing a purseful of letters that Latymer sent in his indiscreet youth to the alcoholic male lover whom he dumped in order to live a straight life....

I last saw "A Song at Twilight" at the Berkshire Theater Festival in a 2008 production by Vivian Matalon, who had previously directed Coward himself in the London premiere. While that revival, which also featured Ms. Dillon, was impressive, it was accompanied by a Coward-penned curtain-raiser, a satirical playlet called "Come into the Garden, Maud" that was amusing but superfluous. "A Song at Twilight," which runs for 90 tightly written minutes, is far more effective when presented on its own, and Mr. Lamos' cast acts it with uncommon delicacy and poise....

Like "A Song at Twilight," "The Substance of Fire," directed by Trip Cullman, revolves around a cranky old litterateur, but the resemblance stops there. In "The Substance of Fire," the irascible gentleman in question, Isaac Geldhart (John Noble), is a Holocaust survivor who escaped to America, where he started a highbrow publishing house that is now in imminent danger of bankruptcy, much to the distress of his three children (Daniel Eric Gold, Carter Hudson and Halley Feiffer), who wrest control of the stock from their father at the end of the first act.

Up to that point, "The Substance of Fire" is your standard feuding-family play, tightly packed with glib retorts, and at intermission I expected to pan it. But things get vastly more interesting when Isaac, who has retreated to his book-lined apartment and is showing signs of what appears to be fast-encroaching senility, is visited by a briskly officious social worker (Charlayne Woodard) whose task is to determine whether or not he is competent to look after himself. They, too, spend the second act sparring, but in a wholly original and absorbing way...

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 09, 11:00 AM

Refreshing a great museum

I recently visited an important Phillips Collection exhibition, Made in the U.S.A., about which I hold forth in today's Wall Street Journal "Sightings" column. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

When art-loving tourists think of Washington's Phillips Collection, they usually think of Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," the museum's celebrated centerpiece, or its spectacular holdings of post-Impressionist paintings by Bonnard, Cézanne and Vuillard. But Duncan Phillips, who in 1921 turned his private collection into America's very first museum of modern art, started the Phillips (as everyone now calls it) to show his fellow countrymen that the American art he loved was good enough to stand up to direct comparison to the best work of Europe's then-contemporary masters....

tweetup_art-1.jpgOf the 2,000 works of art in the collection at the time of his death in 1966, fully 1,400 were by American artists, and it was his custom (as it still is at the Phillips) to hang their work in close proximity to European paintings. Yet it's been nearly 40 years since his museum last mounted a large-scale exhibition that sought to tell the story of American art as seen through the eye of its founder. Now, with "Made in the U.S.A.: American Masters from the Phillips Collection, 1850-1970," on display through Aug. 31, the Phillips has triumphantly reasserted the validity of its original mission. By simultaneously exhibiting some 200-odd paintings, works on paper, photographs and sculptures by such artists as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Helen Frankenthaler, Marsden Hartley, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Joan Mitchell, Alfred Stieglitz and John Twachtman, the Phillips leaves no doubt that long before the postwar advent of the New York School of American painting, the U.S. had come into its own as a font of world-class art.

Among the plethora of first impressions evoked by the show, two in particular stand out. The first is that it is an eloquent tribute to one man's imagination. As befits a collection assembled by an individual, it's taste-driven, not theory-driven--and Duncan Phillips' taste was unusually catholic....

Beyond that, though, "Made in the U.S.A." is a model of how a museum of a certain age can renew itself--and thrill its visitors--by making bold use of its permanent collection....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 09, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Somerset Maugham on the artist's life

"The artist produces for the liberation of his soul. It is his nature to create as it is the nature of water to run down the hill."

W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

Posted May 09, 9:00 AM

May 8, 2014

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, virtually all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, closes June 15, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, many performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

IN WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Shakespeare, PG-13, playing in rotating repertory, closes June 7 and 8, reviewed here)

CLOSING SUNDAY OFF BROADWAY:
The Heir Apparent (verse comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)

Posted May 08, 10:00 AM

Almanac: W.H. Auden on the drunkard

"His refusal to accept the realities of this world, babyish as it may be, compels us to take another look at this world and reflect upon our motives for accepting it. The drunkard's suffering may be self-inflicted, but it is real suffering and reminds us of all the suffering in this world which we prefer not to think abut because, from the moment we accept this world, we acquired our share of responsibility for everything that happens in it."

W.H. Auden, "The Prince's Dog"

Posted May 08, 9:00 AM

May 7, 2014

Snapshot: William Wyler's The Memphis Belle

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, a 1944 War Department propaganda film directed by William Wyler. Some of the aerial combat footage was personally shot by Wyler. The uncredited musical score is by Gail Kubik:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Posted May 07, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Michael Ignatieff on a mother's love

"She had given him that existential certainty, that confidence in his own judgement, which had allowed him to live his life and not merely inhabit it."

Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Posted May 07, 9:00 AM

May 6, 2014

Lookback: a random encounter with Lester Young

From 2004:

I came home from Broadway a little while ago and was too wired to go to bed, so I turned on the TV, started channel-surfing, and suddenly found myself watching a snippet from The Sound of Jazz, the famous 1957 show still widely (and rightly) regarded as the finest jazz program ever telecast. Ben Webster was playing a slow blues in F, with Gerry Mulligan nodding in the background, and as the camera panned to Billie Holiday, I realized that the song was "Fine and Mellow" and that the next face I saw would be Lester Young, sick unto death...

Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 06, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on the tragic nature of life

"If, as I believe, the ends of men are many, and not all of them are in principle compatible with each other, then the possibility of conflict--and of tragedy--can never wholly be eliminated from human life, either personal or social. The necessity of choosing between absolute claims is then an inescapable characteristic of the human condition."

Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"

Posted May 06, 9:00 AM

May 5, 2014

Some shall have prizes

plaque.jpgThe New York Drama Critics' Circle voted today on its annual awards. They are:

BEST PLAY: The Night Alive, by Conor McPherson

BEST AMERICAN PLAY: All the Way, by Robert Schenkkan (I voted for Family Furniture, by A.R. Gurney)

BEST MUSICAL: Fun Home, by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori (I voted for Nobody Loves You, by Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter)

We also voted to award special citations to the Shakespeare's Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III and playwright-director Richard Nelson and the company of The Apple Family Plays (I didn't vote for either citation).

The links are to my Wall Street Journal reviews of the shows.

Posted May 05, 6:36 PM

Same old same old

When I was a boy, I lived in an old-fashioned small-town neighborhood, the kind where your house is close enough to the school you attend that you can see the playground from your front door. From then on, though, I was forced to make do with an ever-changing string of dorm rooms and anonymous apartments. Only once did I stay in the same place long enough to feel that I had a neighborhood again. That was in Manhattan, where I spent two decades on the Upper West Side. I'd never expected to feel at home in an urban environment, and it took me by surprise when I realized that I'd come to feel much the same way about my part of New York City that I had about my part of Smalltown, U.S.A.

0612131247.jpgThroughout most of that time, I lived a block and a half away from Good Enough to Eat, the Upper West Side's best-loved comfort-food emporium, where you could always be sure of getting a tasty, unpretentious, and wholly satisfying meal. In due course it evolved willy-nilly into my hangout, the only one I've ever had. Never before--or since--has there been a restaurant where I was recognized by the staff whenever I walked through the door. I've taken just about everyone I know to Good Enough to Eat at one time or another, and tried just about everything on the menu, always with great pleasure. I even ate a solitary Thanksgiving dinner there a month before I met Mrs. T, and felt completely at ease (if a bit lonely) doing so.

After Mrs. T and I moved to our present home in upper Manhattan two years ago, I was flummoxed by the fact that I could no longer pop around the corner to Good Enough to Eat. What's more, our new neighborhood, love it though we do, is too far from the center of town for me to reasonably expect friends and colleagues to run up to my place for a quick bite. Nor did I have any reason to visit the old neighborhood other than sporadically, there being no theaters in that part of town. I'd lost my hangout, and it felt as though I'd broken a thumb.

Flash forward to 2013. Good Enough to Eat lost its lease that year, and for a time it looked as though my favorite restaurant might be forced to close its doors forever. Instead it moved to a larger space on Columbus Avenue just above 85th Street. I made a special point of going to the old place for lunch one last time, the day before the big move. I got a little weepy when I called for the check and was told that Carrie Levin, the boss, would be picking up my tab.

0504141235.jpgThat was in June, and I've been moving at a dead run ever since. What with the publication of my latest book, the premiere of my third opera, a two-month stint in Florida, and the off-Broadway transfer of Satchmo at the Waldorf, I haven't had time or occasion to set foot in my old neighborhood. So when I dropped our new Al Hirschfeld lithograph off at Amsterdam Art Gallery to be framed, I resolved that I'd have lunch at my former hangout on the day that I picked it up.

I kept that promise last Thursday. As soon as I collected the newly framed Hirschfeld, I walked three blocks north and one block west to Good Enough to Eat. Yes, the new place is bigger, but it still has the same homey decor and the same comforting menu. I ordered one of my trusty standbys, the ham-and-scrambled-egg sandwich, and soon discovered that it, too, was gloriously unchanged.

I grinned as I cleaned my plate, reassured to know that even in New York, a place where roiling chaos too often seems to be the only constant, you can still count on getting a good meal at Good Enough. I'm not even slightly embarrassed to admit how much that means to me.

Posted May 05, 11:00 AM

Just because: Sir Henry Wood records Vaughan Williams

From a British Pathé newsreel, Sir Henry Wood and the BBC Symphony make the first recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, a setting of an excerpt from The Merchant of Venice. This piece was written for and premiered by Sir Henry and the performers seen in this film. The recording was made on October 15, 1938, ten days after the first public performance:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Posted May 05, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on liberty

"Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience."

Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"

Posted May 05, 9:00 AM

May 3, 2014

WAR PICTURES

"The American film industry released hundreds of war-themed pictures between 1941 and 1945. A few, like Air Force (1943) and Objective: Burma! (1945), were passably realistic portraits of men at war. Most of the rest, like Casablanca (1942), were propaganda-tinged romances. But all had in common the fact that they were made not by the U.S. government but by commercial film studios. While their content was vetted by the Office of War Information's Bureau of Motion Pictures, the Roosevelt administration made no attempt to take over the industry or supervise its operations other than at a distance..."

Posted May 03, 2:19 PM

BOOK

Tony Palmer, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road. A vivid extended profile of the great British classical guitarist, who does most of the talking and proves himself in the process to be both highly intelligent and deeply thoughtful about his art. Originally published in 1983 and now forgotten, it's one of the most readable books ever written about a performing artist (TT).

Posted May 03, 1:39 PM

PLAY

Act One (Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, closes June 15). James Lapine's thrillingly well-staged dramatic adaptation of Moss Hart's theatrical autobiography, in which Tony Shalhoub plays both George S. Kaufman (Hart's collaborator and mentor) and Hart in middle age, has the open-hearted impact of a melodrama, one that has the advantage of being true. His was an old-fashioned American-dream-come-true tale, and it doesn't embarrass Mr. Lapine in the least to dish it up on a pageant-like scale reminiscent of the spectacular stage version of Nicholas Nickleby. You'll cheer--and cry (TT).

Posted May 03, 1:34 PM

CD

Julian Bream: My Favorite Albums (Sony, ten CDs). A stupendously economical way to acquire ten of Bream's finest albums for RCA (it costs less than $30). Included are his classic recordings of Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, and a pair of Bach lute suites, together with shorter pieces by Albéniz, Berkeley, Dowland, Granados, Roussel, Tárrega, and Villa-Lobos. If you aren't familiar with his playing, start here and revel (TT).

Posted May 03, 12:14 PM

May 2, 2014

Naughty Uncle John

In today's Wall Street Journal I file the first in a series of reports on my summer theater travels, a review from Washington, D.C., of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's new production of both parts of Henry IV. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

Sir John Falstaff is the sneakiest scene-stealer in all of Shakespeare. "Henry IV" isn't really about the fat and roguish knight, but no sooner does he make his entrance than the tablecloth is pulled out from under King Henry and Prince Hal. If the cast and director don't look sharp, those two characters, central though they are to the plot, will never manage to pull it back again.

HENRYIVPT2_073-a-333x500.jpgPart of what distinguishes the Shakespeare Theatre Company's new production of both parts of "Henry IV" is the scrupulous care that Michael Kahn has taken to ensure that all three men share the spotlight. Even though Stacy Keach has been cast as Falstaff, Mr. Kahn never yields to the understandable temptation to exalt him over Edward Gero and Matthew Amendt, who play the troubled king and his wastrel son. Indeed, the thematic integrity and high seriousness of Mr. Kahn's staging are impressive in virtually every way--which doesn't mean that his "Henry IV" lacks for laughter, just that it gets the proportions right.

The integrity starts with Mr. Kahn's decision to mount both parts of "Henry IV" in rotating repertory, rather than presenting only the first part (as is common in this country) or mounting a brutally abridged single-evening marathon staging of both parts (as Lincoln Center Theater did in 2003, with Kevin Kline playing Falstaff). To do it in any other way is to disserve the greatest and most complex of Shakespeare's history plays...

Mr. Kahn's production places Hal at center stage while simultaneously giving King Henry and Falstaff their due. The casting is the key: Mr. Gero gives a rich-voiced performance full of doubt and resolve, one of the best pieces of classical acting that I've seen in recent seasons. Mr. Amendt, by contrast, is a modern-sounding Hal--he might almost have stepped out of a romcom--who struggles to put away childish things and fulfill the awesome duties that devolve upon him with his father's death and his ascension to the throne.

And what of Falstaff? If you think of him as a flamboyant lord of misrule, you may be be a bit disappointed by Mr. Keach's low-keyed performance. Even when dandling a red-haired whore on his gouty knee, he never lets you forget that he's playing an old man: His manner is genial and avuncular, his gait slow and unsure, and when he recalls having heard "the chimes at midnight," he sounds less melancholy than nostalgic....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

The trailer for Henry IV:

Posted May 02, 11:00 AM

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on realism

"Those who heard him lecture never forgot the experience--how he once said, with memorable bite: 'whenever you hear a man speak of "realism," you may always be sure that this is the prelude to some bloody deed.'"

Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Posted May 02, 9:00 AM

May 1, 2014

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, closes June 15, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, many performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON OFF BROADWAY:
The Heir Apparent (verse comedy, PG-13, extended through May 11, reviewed here)

Posted May 01, 10:00 AM

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on how to live

"He loved quoting the stern admonition he had read on a grave in an English churchyard: 'Avoid shame.'"

Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Posted May 01, 9:00 AM

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May 2014 Archives

May 1, 2014

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on how to live

"He loved quoting the stern admonition he had read on a grave in an English churchyard: 'Avoid shame.'"

Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, closes June 15, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, many performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON OFF BROADWAY:
The Heir Apparent (verse comedy, PG-13, extended through May 11, reviewed here)

May 2, 2014

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on realism

"Those who heard him lecture never forgot the experience--how he once said, with memorable bite: 'whenever you hear a man speak of "realism," you may always be sure that this is the prelude to some bloody deed.'"

Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Naughty Uncle John

In today's Wall Street Journal I file the first in a series of reports on my summer theater travels, a review from Washington, D.C., of the Shakespeare Theatre Company's new production of both parts of Henry IV. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

Sir John Falstaff is the sneakiest scene-stealer in all of Shakespeare. "Henry IV" isn't really about the fat and roguish knight, but no sooner does he make his entrance than the tablecloth is pulled out from under King Henry and Prince Hal. If the cast and director don't look sharp, those two characters, central though they are to the plot, will never manage to pull it back again.

HENRYIVPT2_073-a-333x500.jpgPart of what distinguishes the Shakespeare Theatre Company's new production of both parts of "Henry IV" is the scrupulous care that Michael Kahn has taken to ensure that all three men share the spotlight. Even though Stacy Keach has been cast as Falstaff, Mr. Kahn never yields to the understandable temptation to exalt him over Edward Gero and Matthew Amendt, who play the troubled king and his wastrel son. Indeed, the thematic integrity and high seriousness of Mr. Kahn's staging are impressive in virtually every way--which doesn't mean that his "Henry IV" lacks for laughter, just that it gets the proportions right.

The integrity starts with Mr. Kahn's decision to mount both parts of "Henry IV" in rotating repertory, rather than presenting only the first part (as is common in this country) or mounting a brutally abridged single-evening marathon staging of both parts (as Lincoln Center Theater did in 2003, with Kevin Kline playing Falstaff). To do it in any other way is to disserve the greatest and most complex of Shakespeare's history plays...

Mr. Kahn's production places Hal at center stage while simultaneously giving King Henry and Falstaff their due. The casting is the key: Mr. Gero gives a rich-voiced performance full of doubt and resolve, one of the best pieces of classical acting that I've seen in recent seasons. Mr. Amendt, by contrast, is a modern-sounding Hal--he might almost have stepped out of a romcom--who struggles to put away childish things and fulfill the awesome duties that devolve upon him with his father's death and his ascension to the throne.

And what of Falstaff? If you think of him as a flamboyant lord of misrule, you may be be a bit disappointed by Mr. Keach's low-keyed performance. Even when dandling a red-haired whore on his gouty knee, he never lets you forget that he's playing an old man: His manner is genial and avuncular, his gait slow and unsure, and when he recalls having heard "the chimes at midnight," he sounds less melancholy than nostalgic....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

The trailer for Henry IV:

May 3, 2014

CD

Julian Bream: My Favorite Albums (Sony, ten CDs). A stupendously economical way to acquire ten of Bream's finest albums for RCA (it costs less than $30). Included are his classic recordings of Benjamin Britten's Nocturnal Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, and a pair of Bach lute suites, together with shorter pieces by Albéniz, Berkeley, Dowland, Granados, Roussel, Tárrega, and Villa-Lobos. If you aren't familiar with his playing, start here and revel (TT).

PLAY

Act One (Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, closes June 15). James Lapine's thrillingly well-staged dramatic adaptation of Moss Hart's theatrical autobiography, in which Tony Shalhoub plays both George S. Kaufman (Hart's collaborator and mentor) and Hart in middle age, has the open-hearted impact of a melodrama, one that has the advantage of being true. His was an old-fashioned American-dream-come-true tale, and it doesn't embarrass Mr. Lapine in the least to dish it up on a pageant-like scale reminiscent of the spectacular stage version of Nicholas Nickleby. You'll cheer--and cry (TT).

BOOK

Tony Palmer, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road. A vivid extended profile of the great British classical guitarist, who does most of the talking and proves himself in the process to be both highly intelligent and deeply thoughtful about his art. Originally published in 1983 and now forgotten, it's one of the most readable books ever written about a performing artist (TT).

WAR PICTURES

"The American film industry released hundreds of war-themed pictures between 1941 and 1945. A few, like Air Force (1943) and Objective: Burma! (1945), were passably realistic portraits of men at war. Most of the rest, like Casablanca (1942), were propaganda-tinged romances. But all had in common the fact that they were made not by the U.S. government but by commercial film studios. While their content was vetted by the Office of War Information's Bureau of Motion Pictures, the Roosevelt administration made no attempt to take over the industry or supervise its operations other than at a distance..."

May 5, 2014

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on liberty

"Everything is what it is: liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience."

Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"

Just because: Sir Henry Wood records Vaughan Williams

From a British Pathé newsreel, Sir Henry Wood and the BBC Symphony make the first recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, a setting of an excerpt from The Merchant of Venice. This piece was written for and premiered by Sir Henry and the performers seen in this film. The recording was made on October 15, 1938, ten days after the first public performance:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Same old same old

When I was a boy, I lived in an old-fashioned small-town neighborhood, the kind where your house is close enough to the school you attend that you can see the playground from your front door. From then on, though, I was forced to make do with an ever-changing string of dorm rooms and anonymous apartments. Only once did I stay in the same place long enough to feel that I had a neighborhood again. That was in Manhattan, where I spent two decades on the Upper West Side. I'd never expected to feel at home in an urban environment, and it took me by surprise when I realized that I'd come to feel much the same way about my part of New York City that I had about my part of Smalltown, U.S.A.

0612131247.jpgThroughout most of that time, I lived a block and a half away from Good Enough to Eat, the Upper West Side's best-loved comfort-food emporium, where you could always be sure of getting a tasty, unpretentious, and wholly satisfying meal. In due course it evolved willy-nilly into my hangout, the only one I've ever had. Never before--or since--has there been a restaurant where I was recognized by the staff whenever I walked through the door. I've taken just about everyone I know to Good Enough to Eat at one time or another, and tried just about everything on the menu, always with great pleasure. I even ate a solitary Thanksgiving dinner there a month before I met Mrs. T, and felt completely at ease (if a bit lonely) doing so.

After Mrs. T and I moved to our present home in upper Manhattan two years ago, I was flummoxed by the fact that I could no longer pop around the corner to Good Enough to Eat. What's more, our new neighborhood, love it though we do, is too far from the center of town for me to reasonably expect friends and colleagues to run up to my place for a quick bite. Nor did I have any reason to visit the old neighborhood other than sporadically, there being no theaters in that part of town. I'd lost my hangout, and it felt as though I'd broken a thumb.

Flash forward to 2013. Good Enough to Eat lost its lease that year, and for a time it looked as though my favorite restaurant might be forced to close its doors forever. Instead it moved to a larger space on Columbus Avenue just above 85th Street. I made a special point of going to the old place for lunch one last time, the day before the big move. I got a little weepy when I called for the check and was told that Carrie Levin, the boss, would be picking up my tab.

0504141235.jpgThat was in June, and I've been moving at a dead run ever since. What with the publication of my latest book, the premiere of my third opera, a two-month stint in Florida, and the off-Broadway transfer of Satchmo at the Waldorf, I haven't had time or occasion to set foot in my old neighborhood. So when I dropped our new Al Hirschfeld lithograph off at Amsterdam Art Gallery to be framed, I resolved that I'd have lunch at my former hangout on the day that I picked it up.

I kept that promise last Thursday. As soon as I collected the newly framed Hirschfeld, I walked three blocks north and one block west to Good Enough to Eat. Yes, the new place is bigger, but it still has the same homey decor and the same comforting menu. I ordered one of my trusty standbys, the ham-and-scrambled-egg sandwich, and soon discovered that it, too, was gloriously unchanged.

I grinned as I cleaned my plate, reassured to know that even in New York, a place where roiling chaos too often seems to be the only constant, you can still count on getting a good meal at Good Enough. I'm not even slightly embarrassed to admit how much that means to me.

Some shall have prizes

plaque.jpgThe New York Drama Critics' Circle voted today on its annual awards. They are:

BEST PLAY: The Night Alive, by Conor McPherson

BEST AMERICAN PLAY: All the Way, by Robert Schenkkan (I voted for Family Furniture, by A.R. Gurney)

BEST MUSICAL: Fun Home, by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori (I voted for Nobody Loves You, by Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter)

We also voted to award special citations to the Shakespeare's Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III and playwright-director Richard Nelson and the company of The Apple Family Plays (I didn't vote for either citation).

The links are to my Wall Street Journal reviews of the shows.

May 6, 2014

Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on the tragic nature of life

"If, as I believe, the ends of men are many, and not all of them are in principle compatible with each other, then the possibility of conflict--and of tragedy--can never wholly be eliminated from human life, either personal or social. The necessity of choosing between absolute claims is then an inescapable characteristic of the human condition."

Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"

Lookback: a random encounter with Lester Young

From 2004:

I came home from Broadway a little while ago and was too wired to go to bed, so I turned on the TV, started channel-surfing, and suddenly found myself watching a snippet from The Sound of Jazz, the famous 1957 show still widely (and rightly) regarded as the finest jazz program ever telecast. Ben Webster was playing a slow blues in F, with Gerry Mulligan nodding in the background, and as the camera panned to Billie Holiday, I realized that the song was "Fine and Mellow" and that the next face I saw would be Lester Young, sick unto death...

Read the whole thing here.

May 7, 2014

Almanac: Michael Ignatieff on a mother's love

"She had given him that existential certainty, that confidence in his own judgement, which had allowed him to live his life and not merely inhabit it."

Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Snapshot: William Wyler's The Memphis Belle

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, a 1944 War Department propaganda film directed by William Wyler. Some of the aerial combat footage was personally shot by Wyler. The uncredited musical score is by Gail Kubik:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

May 8, 2014

Almanac: W.H. Auden on the drunkard

"His refusal to accept the realities of this world, babyish as it may be, compels us to take another look at this world and reflect upon our motives for accepting it. The drunkard's suffering may be self-inflicted, but it is real suffering and reminds us of all the suffering in this world which we prefer not to think abut because, from the moment we accept this world, we acquired our share of responsibility for everything that happens in it."

W.H. Auden, "The Prince's Dog"

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, virtually all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, closes June 15, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, many performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

IN WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Shakespeare, PG-13, playing in rotating repertory, closes June 7 and 8, reviewed here)

CLOSING SUNDAY OFF BROADWAY:
The Heir Apparent (verse comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)

May 9, 2014

Almanac: Somerset Maugham on the artist's life

"The artist produces for the liberation of his soul. It is his nature to create as it is the nature of water to run down the hill."

W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

Refreshing a great museum

I recently visited an important Phillips Collection exhibition, Made in the U.S.A., about which I hold forth in today's Wall Street Journal "Sightings" column. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

When art-loving tourists think of Washington's Phillips Collection, they usually think of Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," the museum's celebrated centerpiece, or its spectacular holdings of post-Impressionist paintings by Bonnard, Cézanne and Vuillard. But Duncan Phillips, who in 1921 turned his private collection into America's very first museum of modern art, started the Phillips (as everyone now calls it) to show his fellow countrymen that the American art he loved was good enough to stand up to direct comparison to the best work of Europe's then-contemporary masters....

tweetup_art-1.jpgOf the 2,000 works of art in the collection at the time of his death in 1966, fully 1,400 were by American artists, and it was his custom (as it still is at the Phillips) to hang their work in close proximity to European paintings. Yet it's been nearly 40 years since his museum last mounted a large-scale exhibition that sought to tell the story of American art as seen through the eye of its founder. Now, with "Made in the U.S.A.: American Masters from the Phillips Collection, 1850-1970," on display through Aug. 31, the Phillips has triumphantly reasserted the validity of its original mission. By simultaneously exhibiting some 200-odd paintings, works on paper, photographs and sculptures by such artists as Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Helen Frankenthaler, Marsden Hartley, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Joan Mitchell, Alfred Stieglitz and John Twachtman, the Phillips leaves no doubt that long before the postwar advent of the New York School of American painting, the U.S. had come into its own as a font of world-class art.

Among the plethora of first impressions evoked by the show, two in particular stand out. The first is that it is an eloquent tribute to one man's imagination. As befits a collection assembled by an individual, it's taste-driven, not theory-driven--and Duncan Phillips' taste was unusually catholic....

Beyond that, though, "Made in the U.S.A." is a model of how a museum of a certain age can renew itself--and thrill its visitors--by making bold use of its permanent collection....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

The secret of the master

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I review Westport Country Playhouse's revival of Noël Coward's A Song at Twilight and Second Stage's revival of Jon Robin Baitz's The Substance of Fire. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

Rarely seen in this country since it ran on Broadway in 1974, "A Song at Twilight" was produced earlier this year on both coasts, at Hartford Stage and Pasadena Playhouse. The Hartford Stage version, directed by Mark Lamos, has now transferred to another Connecticut theater, Mr. Lamos' own Westport Country Playhouse. Anyone who supposes that changing times have turned "A Song at Twilight" into a hoary period piece is in for a big surprise. Coward called it "far and away the best-constructed play I have ever written." That overstates the case, but it's definitely one of his best.

A%20SONG.jpgExplicitly based on the life of Somerset Maugham, "A Song at Twilight" is a portrait of Hugo Latymer (Brian Murray), a venerable novelist and sometime playwright who married his secretary (Mia Dillon) in middle age and now is wreathed in irascible respectability. Enter Carlotta (Gordana Rashovich), an angry ex-girlfriend who comes bearing a purseful of letters that Latymer sent in his indiscreet youth to the alcoholic male lover whom he dumped in order to live a straight life....

I last saw "A Song at Twilight" at the Berkshire Theater Festival in a 2008 production by Vivian Matalon, who had previously directed Coward himself in the London premiere. While that revival, which also featured Ms. Dillon, was impressive, it was accompanied by a Coward-penned curtain-raiser, a satirical playlet called "Come into the Garden, Maud" that was amusing but superfluous. "A Song at Twilight," which runs for 90 tightly written minutes, is far more effective when presented on its own, and Mr. Lamos' cast acts it with uncommon delicacy and poise....

Like "A Song at Twilight," "The Substance of Fire," directed by Trip Cullman, revolves around a cranky old litterateur, but the resemblance stops there. In "The Substance of Fire," the irascible gentleman in question, Isaac Geldhart (John Noble), is a Holocaust survivor who escaped to America, where he started a highbrow publishing house that is now in imminent danger of bankruptcy, much to the distress of his three children (Daniel Eric Gold, Carter Hudson and Halley Feiffer), who wrest control of the stock from their father at the end of the first act.

Up to that point, "The Substance of Fire" is your standard feuding-family play, tightly packed with glib retorts, and at intermission I expected to pan it. But things get vastly more interesting when Isaac, who has retreated to his book-lined apartment and is showing signs of what appears to be fast-encroaching senility, is visited by a briskly officious social worker (Charlayne Woodard) whose task is to determine whether or not he is competent to look after himself. They, too, spend the second act sparring, but in a wholly original and absorbing way...

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

May 12, 2014

Almanac: Julian Bream on the spirit of music

"The spirit of music can reach people who are sensitive enough to receive it in such a way that the experience is a revelation both the spiritual and the mystical. Ideally the performer has a special function, which is to bring the listener to the edge of that experience and to open the doors of this perception in such a way that those who wish to enter can."

Julian Bream (quoted in Tony Palmer, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road)

Just because: Julian Bream plays Malcolm Arnold

Julian Bream plays Malcolm Arnold's Guitar Concerto in 1991, accompanied by Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

Here, there, and everywhere with Satchmo at the Waldorf

SatchmoSCO12KSPRA.0068-199x300.jpgI rejoice to report the latest news about Satchmo at the Waldorf, which is that John Douglas Thompson just won the 2013-14 Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Solo Performance award. That is--if I do say so myself--a well-deserved honor for a great actor.

Satchmo, amazingly enough, continues to be reviewed two months into its off-Broadway run. The latest notice, by Elysa Gardner, appeared last Thursday in USA Today, and like most of its predecessors, it's a gratifyingly good one.

Here are some excerpts:

A "work of fiction, freely based on fact," Satchmo introduces us to its subject only months before his death. Armstrong has just finished a set at the titular hotel, which has become his home and workplace; and while Thompson is (and looks) more than 20 years younger, the superb actor manages to evoke his physical and emotional weariness.

In the following 90 minutes, Thompson will also fully serve the frustration, humor and fundamental decency that come through in Teachout's portrait of Armstrong-- and, under veteran director Gordon Edelstein's robust guidance, convey Glaser's very different but not entirely unsympathetic nature.

First-time playwright Teachout, a veteran journalist and author, knows his stuff--his credits include the biography Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong--but spins his fact-based story with both passion and an endearing sense of whimsy.

Of course, he and Edelstein are fortunate to have Thompson. Though it would be impossible for any mere mortal to fully capture the spirit and soul of Armstrong's music, it would be hard to imagine another trouper better equipped to give us at least a glimpse of the humanity behind it....

Read the whole thing here.

DUKE%20IN%20THE%20MIRROR.jpgEven more amazingly, Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington is also still being reviewed. The Times Literary Supplement, for instance, just published a lengthy review by John Mole of the British edition. It's not available on line, alas, but a friend sent me some excerpts:

A photograph, taken in London two years after Duke Ellington's celebrated "rebirth" at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, provides a telling frontispiece to this excellent, revelatory and, with eighty-one pages of source notes, copiously documented book. It shows the Duke regarding himself in a full-length dressing room mirror, adjusting his bow tie and--ever the model of sartorial theatricality--preparing to go out on stage to practise his familiar wry flattery, telling us that we are very beautiful, very sweet, very generous, very gracious and that he and all the kids in the band want us to know that they love us madly. On tour, he will open the show with Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" or his own "Rockin' in Rhythm," introduce new work, featuring his star soloists, and reprise his greatest hits in what Terry Teachout refers to more than once as "the dreaded medley," punctuated by the applause of recognition. This will be both the measure and the price of his achievement as composer and band leader. As Teachout forensically demonstrates, behind the smooth public face lay a complex, evasive personality...

As a drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, a playwright, an accomplished jazz bass player and a biographer of Louis Armstrong, Teachout is well placed to examine with equal authority Ellington's methods of composition and the individual contributions of many other great musicians who brought out the unique tone colour of his orchestration. Teachout integrates his analysis with a vivid exploration of character....

Teachout gives full attention to the range of Ellington's ambition and achievement, and the trajectory of his career....

The final chapter, which describes Ellington's seventieth birthday celebrations at the White House and his refusal to let up on touring, as well as his loneliness and decline, is a particularly moving last act, reminding us, as so often in this book, of Terry Teachout's ability to bring his experience of theatre to bear on the story he tells.

I especially like that last paragraph.

May 13, 2014

Almanac: Julian Bream on what musicians communicate

"As I've got older, I found that music for me is not just a question of music and then living; it's become more and more a question of living and then music, with the music expressing the living. What you do, what you feel, and the actions you take, is the essence of what you communicate through music."

Julian Bream (quoted in Tony Palmer, Julian Bream: A Life on the Road)

Lookback: is recorded sound a good thing?

From 2004:

It's no secret, for instance, that the rise of the phonograph basically killed off domestic music-making. My grandfather, who was born a century ago, played banjo, but neither of my parents played any instrument at all, and when I started making music, it was at school, not home; I am the sole member of my extended family who not only learned a musical instrument as a child but also continued to play as an adult. What's more, I majored in music in college, making me even less typical of my fellow baby-boomers: I have just one close friend who plays classical music on a purely amateur basis.

To be sure, I have a lot of other friends who listen to classical music, but I'm struck by how few of them go to concerts at all regularly: their participation in the culture of classical music consists mainly of buying compact discs. Indeed, I know thoroughly civilized people who actively disdain concertgoing, preferring to shovel money into the care and feeding of high-end systems. I don't mean to knock them--they love music as much as I do--but it seems to me that there is something fundamentally parasitical about their love...

Read the whole thing here.

May 14, 2014

Almanac: Simon Callow on what actors do

"It is interesting to note that frequently actors most successfully project the thing they least are but would most like to be--to the confusion both of their loved ones and themselves."

Simon Callow, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu

Snapshot: Charles Laughton becomes a stage gangster

From a British Pathé 1930 newsreel, Charles Laughton explains how he makes himself up to appear on stage in Edgar Wallace's On the Spot, in which he played a character based on Al Capone:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

May 15, 2014

Almanac: Alva Johnston and Fred Smith on celebrity

"A celebrity has a negative or an inverted sense of hearing; he can hear his name not being mentioned at forty paces."

Alva Johnston and Fred Smith, "How to Raise a Child: The Education of Orson Welles, Who Didn't Need It" (Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 27, 1940)

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, virtually all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, extended through June 29, some performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, many performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, most performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON IN WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Shakespeare, PG-13, playing in rotating repertory, closes June 7 and 8, reviewed here)

CLOSING SATURDAY IN WESTPORT, CONN.:
A Song at Twilight (drama, PG-13, reviewed here)

May 16, 2014

Almanac: Simon Callow on comedy

"It may have been that worst of all possible things, a comedy in which the company shrieked with laughter during rehearsals. Laughter is a very serious business, a science. The important thing is to give the audience pleasure, not to have pleasure yourself."

Simon Callow, Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu

Reclaiming William Inge

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on revivals of two American shows from the Fifties, William Inge's A Loss of Roses (done by the Peccadillo Theater Company) and Damn Yankees (done by Goodspeed Musicals). Here's an excerpt.

* * *

William Inge's half-remembered plays are finally making a slow but sure comeback. Witness the Peccadillo Theater Company's new Off-Broadway revival of "A Loss of Roses," which broke his four-show winning streak and plunged him into a creative slump that led to his suicide. This is the first time that "A Loss of Roses," now remembered only for having provided Warren Beatty with his lone Broadway role, has been staged in New York since it closed there in 1959 after 25 performances. Judging by the impressive 2013 TACT/The Actors Company Theatre revival of "Natural Affection," which followed "A Loss of Roses" and met with a similarly disastrous fate, I thought it likely that his fifth play would also prove to be better than its reputation. Sure enough, "A Loss of Roses" is a strong and serious piece of work, and Dan Wackerman's understated staging helps reclaim a fine play that should never have slipped from sight.

LOSS%20OF%20ROSES%20PHOTO.jpgUnlike "Natural Affection," which takes place in a Chicago apartment, "A Loss of Roses" is set in what you might call Ingeland, the same sort of nondescript Depression-era Midwestern village in which its author grew up and where "Come Back, Little Sheba," "Picnic," "Bus Stop" and "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" also take place. It's the home of Helen and Kenny (Deborah Hedwall and Ben Kahre), a widowed mother and her 21-year-old son who live together uneventfully but uneasily. Something is bound to blow, and it does so when Lila (Jean Lichty), who left town to become a small-time actor, returns to visit her old friend Helen, thereby arousing in Kenny rumblings of lust that can't help but lead to anguish.

The inevitable crisis is a trifle schematic, but Inge sketches it with his usual quiet intensity, and his sad characters, like the dusty town in which they live, lack nothing in believability. Your heart will ache for them, especially Helen, who can't figure out how to do right by her troubled son and whom Ms. Hedwall plays with simple grace....

"Damn Yankees" isn't a great musical, but it can be great fun when done really well. Goodspeed Musicals has filled the bill with a snappy staging in which Stephen Mark Lukas and Angel Reda are wonderfully well cast as Joe Hardy, who sells his soul in order to become a major-league ballplayer, and Lola, the demonic temptress whose job is to keep him from exercising the escape clause in his deal with the devil (David Beach).

Joe DiPietro ("Memphis") has rewritten the original George Abbott-Douglass Wallop book, turning the once-hapless, now-defunct Washington Senators into the Boston Red Sox, who were having a comparably tough time of it in 1952, the year when "Damn Yankees" is set. The switch is neatly managed...

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

May 19, 2014

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on facts

"They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Just because: Charles Laughton reads a Biblical parable

Charles Laughton reads the Biblical parable of the Burning Fiery Furnace on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960. Laughton's original TV performance of the parable, telecast by Sullivan in 1949, inspired him to spend the rest of his life touring in a one-man stage show in which he read from the Bible and other works of great literature:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

May 20, 2014

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on ennui

"There are men here and there to whom the whole of life is like an after-dinner hour with a cigar; easy, pleasant, empty, perhaps enlivened by some fable of strife to be forgotten--before the end is told--even if there happens to be any end to it."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Lookback: on abandoning series TV

From 2004:

When Our Girl told me what happened on the season finale of The Sopranos, I was mildly interested--perhaps even a bit more than mildly--but it never occurred to me to catch up on all the episodes I'd missed. (In fact, I don't even subscribe to HBO anymore.) Could it be that I'm through with series TV for good? I wouldn't be surprised. It's not that I'm a snob about TV. The problem is that I no longer care for the idea of committing myself to weekly installments of anything as repetitive as a dramatic series. I suppose it'd be melodramatic to say that life's too short to spend it watching the same set of characters each week--but melodramatic or not, I think that might be the best way to explain be how I'm feeling these days...

Read the whole thing here.

May 21, 2014

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on ideas

"Hang ideas! They are tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back-door of your mind, each taking a little of your substance, each carrying away some crumb of that belief in a few simple notions you must cling to if you want to live decently and would like to die easy!"

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Snapshot: Erroll Garner plays "Earl's Dream"

The Erroll Garner Trio plays "Earl's Dream" in 1972:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

May 22, 2014

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on self-knowledge

"For it is my belief no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self-knowledge."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

So you want to see a show?

Here's my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Bullets Over Broadway (musical, PG-13, reviewed here)
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, nearly all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
Casa Valentina (drama, PG-13, closes June 29, reviewed here)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (serious comedy, PG-13, reviewed here)
A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Of Mice and Men (drama, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)
A Raisin in the Sun (drama, G/PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Rocky (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

IN EAST HADDAM, CONN.:
Damn Yankees (musical, G, closes June 21, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON IN WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Henry IV, Parts One and Two (Shakespeare, PG-13, playing in rotating repertory, closes June 7 and 8, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON OFF BROADWAY:
A Loss of Roses (drama, PG-13, closes June 7, reviewed here)

CLOSING SOON ON BROADWAY:
Act One (drama, G, too long for children, closes June 15, reviewed here)

May 23, 2014

Almanac: Joseph Conrad on going home

"Going home must be like going to render an account."

Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

High culture, movie-house style

In today's Wall Street Journal "Sightings" column, I take note of the coming to YouTube of British Pathé's archival newsreel channel, and what it means for culture buffs. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

newsonthemarch.jpgUnless you're a dues-paying member of the Greatest Generation, you might be momentarily confused by the second scene of "Citizen Kane," which cuts abruptly from Charles Foster Kane's shadow-shrouded deathbed to a stentorian screen obituary of the fictional newspaper magnate called "News on the March: Xanadu's Landlord." It's a parody of "The March of Time," a newsreel series shown in movie theaters in the '30s and '40s. And what, pray tell, was a newsreel? A film shown before the main feature that summarized the news of the preceding week. Such short subjects were hugely popular in pre-television days, especially during World War II. The London-based Pathé News, the first newsreel, was launched in 1910 and managed to hang on until 1970, when it was killed off at last by TV news and the demise of the double feature.

Now the entire 85,000-film collection of British Pathé, the producers of Pathé News, has been uploaded and is available for free viewing by anyone willing to go to YouTube, search for "British Pathe" and spend an idle hour panning for nuggets. You'll need plenty of patience--many of the clips are poorly labeled--but if you know what you're looking for, I guarantee a good time.

Pathé News, like its American competitors, pitched its wares to a mass audience of moviegoers, and so its newsreels rarely offered cultural fare. But when Pathé's cameramen did cover high-culture events, they not infrequently brought back priceless souvenirs of the now-distant past....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

From a 1932 British Pathé newsreel, Flannery O'Connor, identified by the narrator as "Mary O'Connor of Savannah, Georgia," shows off a chicken that she taught to walk backward. The sequence was filmed when O'Connor was five years old:

More magic to do

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on two important out-of-town productions, a staging by Teller (yes, that Teller) of The Tempest and a Chicago revival of M. Butterfly. Here's an excerpt.

* * *

Teller, Penn Jillette's silent partner, has lately launched a parallel career as a theater director of considerable accomplishment and still greater promise. His 2008 "Macbeth," staged in collaboration with Aaron Posner, was one of the most memorable Shakespeare productions of the past decade. Now the two men have teamed up again for "The Tempest," to which Mr. Teller's special skills are, if anything, even better suited, and the results are no less winning. Fanciful, mysterious and full of cheerily broad comedy, this is a "Tempest" that will give equal pleasure to seasoned playgoers and novices who quake in their boots at the mention of iambic pentameter. It is--in a word--magical.

TheTempest_ART_201405_Calibans_New_21.jpgThe premise is obvious enough to have been tried before: Prospero (Tom Nelis) is a sorcerer, so why not turn "The Tempest" into a magic show? What makes this version stand out is the way in which it fuses the varied talents of its makers into a conceptually coherent whole. The staging is festive, the magic tricks breathtaking, the triple-tier set (designed by Daniel Conway) spectacular. Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan have written a musical score that is by turns rough-hewn and eerily shimmery. Matt Kent, the associate artistic director of Pilobolus Dance Theatre, has contributed all sorts of eye-catching stage movement, including the brilliant notion of having Caliban, Prospero's monstrous servant-slave, be played by two actors (Zachary Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee) who speak in unison and move in the manner of conjoined twins....

"M. Butterfly," David Henry Hwang's 1988 Broadway hit about a French diplomat who slept with a Chinese opera star for 20 years without realizing that she was (A) a spy and (B) a man, hasn't been seen in New York since the end of its 777-performance run. It continues to be mounted by regional theaters, though, and the Court Theatre's commanding revival is more than good enough to withstand comparison to John Dexter's original production. Not only has Charles Newell staged it with a persuasive blend of theatricality and thoughtfulness, but Sean Fortunato and Nathaniel Braga both put excitingly personal stamps on the starring roles created by John Lithgow and B.D. Wong. Mr. Fortunato, one of Chicago's best actors, plays Rene Gallimard, the deceived diplomat, not as a haughty pseudo-gentleman with a transatlantic accent but as a painfully self-conscious ugly-American type (a characterization that gives his performance greater local immediacy) who wears his geekiness on his sleeve. As for the biracial Mr. Braga, he uses the fact that he doesn't look especially feminine to subtly underline the point of "M. Butterfly," which is that M. Gallimard is only too willing to believe in the racial and sexual stereotypes that inexorably bring about his final humiliation....

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

To watch a scene from M. Butterfly as performed by John Lithgow, B.D. Wang, and members of the original Broadway cast on the 1988 Tony Awards telecast, go here.

To read a New York Times article about the real-life espionage case on which M. Butterfly was freely based, go here.

Presto, change-o

f05_05.jpgAssuming that all goes well, the blog that has occupied this space largely unaltered since 2003 will have undergone a radical change in appearance soon after or by the time you get around to reading these words. Doug McLennan of ArtsJournal, which hosts "About Last Night," has moved the main site and all of its affiliated blogs to a new platform and in the process has optimized them for viewing on handheld computing devices. This necessitated a dramatic redesign, and when Doug pulls the switch at some point today, you'll see what he's wrought.

Even as I was ArtsJournal's very first blogger, so am I the very last one to move to the new platform. I put it off for as long as I could, not wanting to have to stand on my head, technically speaking, while simultaneously finishing a Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington and moving my first play to an off-Broadway theater. But the time has come, so here goes nothing.

I've taken this opportunity to scrap most of the various modules in the right-hand column, which I no longer update with any consistency and so decided had become superflous. But all the other features of "About Last Night" remain intact. I hope you like what you see, and I hope you'll continue to visit me regularly.

Needless to say, various things will undoubtedly go wrong along the way. Bear with me as I grope my way into a brave new world--and do not adjust your set.

About May 2014

This page contains all entries posted to About Last Night in May 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2014 is the previous archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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