Gerald Nachman, Right Here on Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan’s America (University of California, $29.95). A lively anecdotal history of The Ed Sullivan Show, the TV program that put Louis Armstrong, William Inge, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Van Cliburn, John Gielgud, Edward Villella, and Richard Pryor (among many, many others) in prime time, in the process defining the now-lost, insufficiently lamented middlebrow culture of the Fifties and Sixties. This book would have profited greatly from the ministrations of an editor with a sharp blue pencil and an eye for repetition, but it’s still readable and informative (TT).
Archives for January 2010
I finally got around to updating the Top Five and “Out of the Past” modules of the right-hand column after an unfortunate but understandable spell of delinquence. You’ll find plenty of new picks there, all of which are guaranteed to wet your aesthetic whistle.
First Drama Quartette, Don Juan in Hell (Saland Publishing). Charles Boyer, Cedric Hardwicke, Agnes Moorehead, and Charles Laughton perform the “Don Juan in Hell” scene from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman with stupendous verve and elegance. This celebrated 1952 Columbia Masterworks recording, which has never before been reissued in any format, is now available as an mp3-only download for the unbelievable price of $1.98. What on earth are you waiting for? Grab it right this minute before somebody at Amazon figures out that they ought to be charging ten times as much (TT).
Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall–The Private Collection: Haydn and Beethoven (RCA Red Seal). The latest installment of RCA’s ongoing series of previously unreleased concert recordings contains versions of Haydn’s E Flat Piano Sonata and Beethoven’s “Moonlight” and “Waldstein” Sonatas made at Carnegie Hall between 1945 and 1947. As usual with Horowitz, these commanding live performances have a nervous, sometimes unsettling edge not always present in his studio recordings. Given the age and nature of the source material, the sound is surprisingly good (TT).
Todd London with Ben Pesner and Zannie Giraud Voss, Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play (Theatre Development Fund, $14.95 paper). This is the book that everybody in the theater business is talking about, with good reason. Based on a survey of playwrights and other theater professionals, it offers a detailed and dismayingly candid portrait of how new American plays get produced–or, more often, don’t. Can a professional playwright really hope to make a living today without teaching or writing for TV? Who decides what plays get on stage? Are playwrights and producers talking past one another? All these questions are answered in Outrageous Fortune, and the answers are both provocative and disturbing (TT).
Creole Rhapsody: Duke Ellington in the Thirties (ASV Living Era, two CDs). An unusually well-chosen 2007 collection of key recordings from a decade in Ellington’s long career that in recent years has come to be overshadowed by his extraordinary studio recordings from 1940-42. In addition to the title track, it contains “Mood Indigo,” “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” “Echoes of the Jungle,” “Reminiscing in Tempo,” the original studio version of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” and 39 other essential performances. The engineering is a bit spotty but generally good. This is the grab-and-go Ellington album that I currently pop in my bag before embarking on a road trip (TT).
Preston Neal Jones, Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter (Limelight, $18.95 paper). This 2002 oral history of the making of Charles Laughton’s haunting 1955 screen version of Davis Grubb’s novel about an itinerant preacher-murderer (played to nightmarish perfection by Robert Mitchum) is essential reading for anyone who loves the film. It is also one of the few books I’ve read that gives the layman a clear and illuminating picture of exactly what a director does–and why it matters. No matter whether film or live theater is your main interest, you’ll learn things from Heaven and Hell to Play With that most people only find out by taking part in working rehearsals (TT).
The Orphan’s Home Cycle (Signature Theatre, 555 W. 42, closes May 8). Horton Foote’s three-part condensation of his great nine-play cycle about American family life in the first part of the twentieth century has just been extended through May 8. This means that there will now be five single-day marathon presentations of the complete cycle, on February 6 and 27, March 6, April 3, and May 8. Having seen all three parts separately, I suspect that seeing them in a single day is likely to be the best way to experience this not-to-be-missed theatrical event. Get your tickets while you can (TT).
Yeah, I know, I’m the guy who dumped on Arthur Miller when he died, but exceptio probat regulam, as they say, and the new Broadway revival of A View from the Bridge, as I explain in today’s Wall Street Journal, is something to shout about. Not so, alas, Time Stands Still, Donald Margulies’ new play. Here’s an excerpt from my review.
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Theater offers few pleasures so immediate as the joy of watching a show in which absolutely everything works, all the way from the first line to the final curtain. Gregory Mosher’s revival of “A View from the Bridge,” Arthur Miller’s 1955 play about love and death on the Brooklyn waterfront, is that kind of show, a flaw-free production of a well-made melodrama. The play itself isn’t even slightly profound, but it is, almost alone in Mr. Miller’s oeuvre, largely devoid of pseudo-poetry and wholly to the dramatic point, and Mr. Mosher, who has returned at last to Broadway after a decade-long absence, has staged it with a lean, clean, deceptively soft-spoken intensity that pulls you straight to the edge of your seat and keeps you there until you get up to go home. Fold in the dead-center acting of a first-string cast led by Liev Schreiber and you get a production so hard-hitting that you’ll want to see it twice–assuming that you can get tickets, which I very much doubt.
Regular readers of this column will know that I don’t have much use for Arthur Miller, but I’m happy to make an exception for “A View from the Bridge,” in which he tells the tale of Eddie Carbone (Mr. Schreiber), a middle-aged Italian-American longshoreman who lusts after his young niece (Scarlett Johansson). Unable to sleep with his wife (Jessica Hecht) and tortured by his dark longing for his niece, Eddie informs on her fiancé (Morgan Spector), an illegal immigrant, then finds himself frozen out by his fellow longshoremen, for whom ratting on a buddy is the ultimate, unforgivable sin….
All this is the stuff of old-fashioned verismo opera–so much so that William Bolcom wrote a highly effective musical version of “A View from the Bridge” a decade ago–but Mr. Mosher and his colleagues have opted for understatement instead of red sauce and garlic, in the process vastly strengthening the punch of the play’s bloody climax, a shockingly believable-looking knife fight. It had never occurred to me that you could perform “A View from the Bridge” in a subtle way. Nothing is exaggerated, nothing italicized, nothing blown out of proportion. Instead of being shoved in your face like a pie, the terrible things that happen in the play are simply allowed to happen, the way they do in real life….
I wish I could say something nice about a play that stars Laura Linney, Alicia Silverstone, Eric Bogosian and Brian d’Arcy James. No can do: Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still” is a predictable piece of middle-of-the-road Pulitzer bait that has nothing to recommend it beyond the cast, Daniel Sullivan’s staging and Mr. Beatty’s set, all of which are exemplary.
Mr. Margulies, it seems, has reached the decadent stage in a playwright’s life when he starts writing plays about writers. In “Brooklyn Boy” he told us how hard it is to be a best-selling novelist. Now we get a play that revolves around a pair of tough yet sensitive journalist-lovers (Ms. Linney and Mr. James) who exchange one-liners in a really cool-looking loft (much obliged, Mr. Beatty) and care about the human race so much that they can’t stop covering wars, even though their last visit to Iraq left one of them half-crippled and the other half-crazy….
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Read the whole thing here.