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 31, 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).