Paul Moravec, Cool Fire/Chamber Symphony (Naxos, out Sept. 30). Two new large-scale pieces of chamber music by my Pulitzer Prize-winning operatic collaborator, performed to perfection by a group of instrumentalists from the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival and now available for pre-ordering from amazon.com. I wrote the liner notes: “Pure Moravec from first bar to last, full of heart-lifting melodies and enlivened by the proliferating rhythmic energy which propels the light-footed, almost Mendelssohnian scherzi that are to be found in most of Paul’s multi-movement works. Note, too, the ingeniously wrought small-scale instrumentation, whose luminous transparency reminds me at times of Ravel.” Yes, he’s that good (TT).
Archives for August 2008
Act of Violence. A hard, unrelenting 1949 film noir about a World War II vet (Van Heflin) who made a bad mistake and the crippled ex-friend (Robert Ryan at his tortured best) who means to make him pay for it. Directed with exceptional skill by Fred Zinnemann, this tough tale of postwar angst also features strong supporting performances by Janet Leigh (as Heflin’s innocent young wife) and Mary Astor (as an aging hooker) and a memorable score by Bronislau Kaper. Noir wasn’t MGM’s strong suit, but this film is an exception to the rule (TT).
When Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans three years ago, OGIC and I temporarily turned this blog into an online clearinghouse for Web-based hurricane-related news and comment. We were–amazingly–the first and only bloggers to think of doing such a thing. Fortunately, the Web and the mainstream media have both changed greatly since 2005, and so I don’t think our services will be needed this time around.
I do, however, want to post a link to Ridin’ Gustav, a blog by an ex-Marine who’s decided to hunker down in New Orleans and ride out the storm instead of joining in the evacuation:
I’d rather be on hand to help with the immediate aftermath if it’s bad. Think of me as an unofficial First Responder. Rather be a sheepdog than a sheep.
So, I figured while I’m here, I might as well post an eyewitness account of the festivities. I’ve got still and video cameras, and will post what I can for as long as the power, and then my UPS, holds out.
I plan to keep an eye on this blog in the next few days. So should you.
The dogs bark, the caravan moves on. A week after I wrapped up my furious circuit of New England summer theater festivals, today’s Wall Street Journal drama column is devoted to the last of my reports on the shows I saw, the Ogunquit Playhouse’s My Fair Lady in Maine and Goodspeed Musicals’ Half a Sixpence, both of which delighted me. Here’s an excerpt.
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Could it be that “My Fair Lady” is a better work of art than “Pygmalion”? Heresy! Heresy! Yet such things, after all, do happen. Many theatergoers, myself among them, believe that “Falstaff,” Verdi’s last opera, is a distinct improvement on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and the musical that Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adapted in 1956 from George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play is at the very least better loved than its source, containing as it does such gilt-edged standards as “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” You can’t go wrong with a score that good, and while “Pygmalion” has a satirical edge that is dulled in “My Fair Lady,” Lerner’s book was faithful for the most part to both the spirit and the letter of Shaw’s great play.
Comparisons between the two shows were inevitably encouraged by the Roundabout Theatre Company’s lively 2007 revival of “Pygmalion,” but it’s been a decade and a half since “My Fair Lady” was last seen on Broadway. So when the Ogunquit Playhouse announced that Jefferson Mays, the Henry Higgins of the Roundabout’s “Pygmalion,” would be playing the same role in its revival of “My Fair Lady,” I decided at once to head north to Maine and check out his performance. It turned out to be exceptional, as did the rest of the production. Strongly cast and sharply directed by Shaun Kerrison, who also restaged the road-show version of Trevor Nunn’s West End “My Fair Lady” revival that recently ended a 24-city U.S. tour, this modestly scaled staging is an immensely appealing piece of work that pleased me no end….
Pop quiz: What other musical about class warfare is based on a celebrated piece of Edwardian literature? Answer: “Half a Sixpence,” now being performed to exhilarating effect by Goodspeed Musicals, was adapted by David Heneker and Beverley Cross from “Kipps,” H.G. Wells’ once-popular 1905 novel about a working-class draper’s apprentice who inherits a fortune and is catapulted into the ranks of medium-high society. Needless to say, Cross’ book retains little more than the bare outline of “Kipps,” a 500-page socialist tract disguised as a Dickensian romance in which the author of “The War of the Worlds” railed against “the great stupid machine of retail trade,” but the musical still manages to hint at Wells’ righteous anger, albeit in much-blunted form….
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Read the whole thing here.
Leonard Bernstein would have turned ninety years old on Monday. Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic have decided to mark the occasion by putting on a four-month festival called Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds that kicks off on September 24 with an all-Bernstein gala concert by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, followed by a whole lot of this and that.
I am, to put it mildly, skeptical about the motives behind such a celebration, which strike me as rather more commercial than artistic (why not wait until the centenary year?). But I’m not skeptical at all about Bernstein himself, who was by any imaginable standard a great artist–even though much of his work was a good deal less than great. So it seemed appropriate for me to take note of his ninetieth birthday by writing a “Sightings” column, and the results will appear in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.
I invite you to take a peek. I’ve written a fair amount about Bernstein over the years, but I think this column is a pretty good summing-up of what made and makes him enduringly important.
UPDATE: Read the whole thing here.
…there’s a very good chance that your e-mail got deleted. My blogmailbox gets crammed with press releases and spam, and I’ve been so busy traveling that I wasn’t able to clean it out. Alas, it got cleaned out automatically, as I discovered last night. So if you wrote me and I didn’t reply, please try again. I’ll try to do better next time!
“Silence and tact may or may not be the same thing.”
Samuel Butler, Notebooks
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.
Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (comedy, G, suitable for bright children, reviewed here)
• August: Osage County (drama, R, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
• Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
• Boeing-Boeing (comedy, PG-13, cartoonishly sexy, reviewed here)
• Gypsy (musical, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
• The Little Mermaid * (musical, G, entirely suitable for children, reviewed here)
• South Pacific * (musical, G/PG-13, some sexual content, brilliantly staged but unsuitable for viewers acutely allergic to preachiness, reviewed here)
CLOSING SUNDAY IN SANTA CRUZ, CALIF.:
• All’s Well That Ends Well/Bach in Leipzig/Burn This (Shakespeare/Moses/Wilson, PG-13, playing in festival repertory, reviewed here)