The New Friends of Rhythm: 1939-1947 Performances (Hep). This delectable CD contains the complete commercial recordings–never before reissued in any format–of one of the wittiest chamber ensembles ever to cut a 78. Alan Shulman, a cellist with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony and a part-time composer of no small accomplishment, penned a series of lightly swinging versions of such familiar classics as the Marriage of Figaro Overture (“The Barber’s Hitch”) and the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (“Fable in Sable”), all scored for harp, string quartet, and jazz rhythm section, with clarinetist Buster Bailey sitting in on three sides. Now they’re available on a CD, augmented by five 1939 radio broadcast performances. Even if you don’t usually go in for jazzed-up classics, these ultra-rare recordings will charm your socks off (TT).
Archives for August 12, 2007
Kate Christensen, The Great Man (Doubleday, $23.95). The latest from the author of Jeremy Thrane is a smart, sly tale of two would-be biographers who duel over the corpse of a famous painter, aided and abetted by his wife, mistress, and sister. Some of the trompe l’oeil effects (like the introductory New York Times obit) are a little out of focus, but the book proper is an impressive and entertaining piece of storytelling that adds further luster to Christensen’s reputation as one of New York’s most interesting young novelists (TT).
They Live by Night. At long last, Nicholas Ray’s 1948 feature-film debut, a sensitive screen version of Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us, has made it to home video in a meticulously remastered version. The cast–Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell, Howard Da Silva, and Jay C. Flippen–is impeccable, but it’s Ray’s intensely personal direction that makes this rural film noir so memorable. The DVD also includes another Granger/O’Donnell pairing, Side Street (TT).
Luciana Souza, The New Bossa Nova (Verve). The great Brazilian jazz singer teams up with producer-husband Larry Klein for an album of soft, smooth, infinitely subtle bossa-nova versions of pop songs by the Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen, Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Sting, Steely Dan, and James Taylor, with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March” thrown in for good measure. Don’t be fooled by the easy-listening patina–this is Souza at her most delicate and appealing, and if it should happen to bring her to the attention of the same mainstream listeners who flipped over Madeleine Peyroux’s Klein-produced albums, so much the better for everybody (TT).
I was in transit on Friday and couldn’t post the usual weekly Wall Street Journal drama-column teaser. My column, filed from the road, featured a pair of shows I saw in New Hampshire. The first was The Man Who Came to Dinner, performed by the Peterborough Players and starring James Whitmore:
Sixty years ago, a 25-year-old ex-Marine named James Whitmore made his acting debut at a summer theater in New Hampshire. From there he went straight to Broadway, won a Tony, got snapped up by Hollywood and became a familiar face, appearing in “The Asphalt Jungle,” “Planet of the Apes,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and countless other films and TV shows. But Mr. Whitmore never forgot where he came from, and in recent years he’s been performing once again with the Peterborough Players, the much-admired troupe that gave him his start. This month, at an age when most actors would be content to sit back and let the kids strut their stuff, he’s playing Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” It’s a long, tough part, and I wondered as I drove up to New England whether an 85-year-old actor, however talented, could possibly summon up sufficient energy to make it work. I didn’t need to worry. Mr. Whitmore sailed through it like a youthful trouper, gleefully nailing each and every punch line to the back wall of the converted 18th-century barn in which the Players have been performing since 1933….
The second was Damn Yankees, performed by the Seacoast Repertory Theatre:
Ninety miles east of Peterborough, the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, whose home is a charming harbor town just across the Piscataqua River from Maine, presents a year-round schedule of familiar musicals and straight plays. Resort-town theater can be a dreary affair, but the Rep’s bare-bones revivals are unpretentiously engaging, in part because of the 230-seat basement auditorium in which they’re performed. The amphitheater-style seating is unusually intimate, and John McCluggage, the company’s new artistic director, makes the most of it. The young actors in his production of “Damn Yankees,” which is currently playing in repertory with “West Side Story” (more about that musical next week), do without microphones, scaling their singing to suit the size of the house. You wouldn’t think that a big, brash ’50s musical about a baseball team would work in such close quarters, but it comes off quite neatly….
No free link, and Friday’s Journal will already have vanished from most newsstands, so I suggest the smart option if you want to read the whole thing: go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you instant access to my drama column and all the rest of the Journal‘s excellent and extensive arts coverage. (If you’re already a subscriber to the Online Journal, my column is here.)