The Little House Books: The Library of America Collection. The Library of America has just reissued Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiographical novels of frontier life on the American prairie, originally published between 1932 and 1943, in a two-volume slipcovered set edited and annotated by Caroline Fraser. These “children’s novels” are permanent classics of American literature. If, like me, you first encountered them when young but didn’t read them again until middle age, you’ll be astonished by how good they are–and how poetic. I miss Garth Williams’ lovely illustrations, but you don’t need them to appreciate Wilder’s gifts (TT).
Archives for October 5, 2012
Children of Paradise. Marcel Carné’s exquisite 1945 backstage romance about the world of nineteenth-century French theater, one of the few movies that aspires to the richness of a great novel, is now available from the Criterion Collection in a two-disc set larded with bonus features. The film itself, which is presented in a freshly struck, meticulously restored print, has never looked better. Says David Thomson: “It is the simple truth that Renoir or Ophüls would have been proud to sign this film.” See it now (TT).
The Richard Burton Diaries (Yale, $35). Most of the entries were made between 1965 and 1972, and they reveal Burton to have been an acerbic, formidably well-read man with strong opinions about literature–and everything else. Yes, there’s plenty of gossip, especially about Elizabeth Taylor, but eggheads will also find much to like and ponder (TT).
Marry Me a Little (Keen Company, Clurman, 410 W. 42, closes Oct. 27). A 70-minute jukebox musical–one set, two actors and a pianist–about two young apartment dwellers who live on adjacent floors of the same building and dream of finding romantic partners. The score consists of little-known songs by Stephen Sondheim, most of which were cut from his shows prior to their New York openings. Short, smart, and sweet, and Lauren Molina, who plays “Her,” is extraordinarily good (TT).
Damsels in Distress (Sony). Now out on DVD, Whit Stillman’s poignant little low-budget romcom about college life whose protagonists, a band of invincibly innocent young women led by Greta Gerwig, endeavor to socialize and redeem the young men they love by starting an international dance craze. (Well, sort of.) Fey, whimsical, talky, and quintessentially Stillmanesque (TT).
Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club (Storyville, two CDs). This hugely important release contains cleaned-up transfers of all surviving radio broadcasts made by Ellington between 1937 and 1939. Most of them have circulated for years, but this is the first time that they’ve ever been made available in a single package. Listening to these performances is like spending a blissful evening in the Wayback Machine. First-class liner notes by Andrew Homzy (TT).
Nell Blaine: A Glowing Order (Tibor de Nagy, 724 Fifth Ave., up through Oct. 13). A gorgeous little show of paintings and watercolors by a Hans Hofmann pupil who broke decisively with abstract expressionism, then spent the rest of her life turning out boldly colored still lifes and landscapes that portray the visible world imaginatively but never literally. Not to be missed (TT).
In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Keen Company’s off-Broadway revival of Marry Me a Little and the Broadway premiere of Grace. Here’s an excerpt.
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First performed in 1980, “Marry Me a Little” is a 70-minute-long miniature musical–one set, two actors and a pianist–concocted by Craig Lucas and Norman René. The plot, in which two young apartment dwellers who live on adjacent floors of the same building (Lauren Molina and Jason Tam) dream of finding romantic partners, is as simple and ingenious as is the musical concept. The score consists of little-known songs by Stephen Sondheim, most of which were cut from his shows prior to their New York openings. Neither character speaks a word: Mr. Sondheim does all the work, and does it with his customary virtuosity. It’s quite a trick to uproot his impecccably theatrical songs from their original context and transplant them into a new one, but “Marry Me a Little” pulls the feat off so skillfully that you’d think they’d been written to fit together.
Mr. Tam is an affable, nice-looking gent who makes a pleasing onstage impression. Ms. Molina, who played Johanna to perfection in the 2005 Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd,” is something else again, a quirky, angular beauty with a sharp-edged sense of humor whose limbs look as though they’re made of taffy. I last saw her on stage four months ago in the San Diego premiere of “Nobody Loves You” and delighted in her comic energy. She’s just as funny in “Marry Me a Little,” but what you’ll remember here is the intense wistfulness with which she puts across Mr. Sondheim’s famously ambivalent ballads (“Keep a tender distance/So we’ll both be free/That’s the way it ought to be”). Not only does she nail the title song, but I’ve never heard a more affecting performance of “There Won’t Be Trumpets.” Might Ms. Molina be poised for musical-comedy stardom? It certainly looks that way.
The world has changed greatly since 1980, of course, and Jonathan Silverstein, the director of this revival, has changed “Marry Me a Little” accordingly. In addition to moving the action of the show into the age of smartphones and sexting, he’s toyed with the score, dropping three songs and adding four others, in all cases to excellent effect….
Like “Marry Me a Little,” Craig Wright’s “Grace” takes place on a single set that is meant to represent two identical apartments. That, alas, is all that the two shows have in common. Mr. Wright’s play, which bounced around the regionals for years before reaching Broadway, is a complacent, toothless jeremiad that seeks to skewer modern-day Christians who think that Jesus died to make them rich (“Dear Lord, we just come before you now to thank you for bringing us this amazing opportunity”). It’s the kind of play in which these benighted Babbitts are portrayed as sexually inhibited fatheads who say “heck” a lot….
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Read the whole thing here.