Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Given the (understandable) fuss that’s being made over the new Lisa Kron-Jeanine Tesori musical version of Fun Home, it strikes me that those who haven’t read this powerfully poignant 2006 comic-book memoir about the suicide of the author’s closeted gay father should do so at once and see what they’ve been missing. The dry, detached candor and jagged emotional edges of Bechdel’s first-person narration are a big part of what made Fun Home so distinctive, and they’re largely missing from the softer, sentimentalized stage version. The real Fun Home is a much tougher and far more impressive piece of work (TT).
Archives for November 16, 2013
John Marin: The Breakthrough Years (Meredith Ward Fine Art, 44 E. 74th St., up through Jan. 11). Subtitled “From Paris to the Armory Show,” this exhibition of twenty-eight watercolors painted between 1904 and 1914 by the pioneering American modernist shows with breathtaking clarity how he broke free from received ideas about representation, assimilated the language of European cubism, and forged his own distinctively American style. Once again, a Manhattan gallery does what one of New York’s art museums should have done–and gets it exactly right (TT).
The Leonard Bernstein Letters (Yale, $38). A collection of 650 letters to and (mostly) from the conductor-composer. The list of correspondents is spectacularly wide-ranging–it includes everyone from Aaron Copland to Harpo Marx–and the contents shine an unsparingly bright light on Bernstein’s ever-complex interior life. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in American music in the twentieth century (TT).
Passion (PS Classics, two CDs). The original-cast album of John Doyle’s 2013 small-scale Classic Stage Company revival of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, featuring a piercingly poignant star turn by Judy Kuhn and rescored for a nine-piece chamber ensemble by Jonathan Tunick. Would that the production had been taped for telecast, but this complete recording is far more than a mere souvenir of an unforgettable night at the theater. To quote my Wall Street Journal review, “It will be a long time before we see another staging…that speaks so eloquently of the black mysteries of the human heart” (TT).
Gary Burton, Learning to Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton (Berklee, $27.99 paper). A great jazzman tells his fascinating story with appealingly unselfconscious directness. It’s quite a tale: Burton, who ranks alongside Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, and Red Norvo as the most influential of all jazz vibraphonists, more or less invented fusion and is one of a handful of openly gay top-tier jazz soloists. He’s played alongside plenty of other heavy hitters, including George Shearing, Stan Getz, and Pat Metheny, and sketches their personalities as clearly and honestly as he does his own. One of the most readable jazz memoirs ever written (TT).
Leon Fleisher: The Compete Album Collection (Sony Classical, 23 CDs). A compelling case can be made for calling Fleisher the greatest American classical pianist of the postwar era, and you’ll find that case made with comprehensive eloquence in this brand-new boxed set of his complete commercial recordings for Columbia and Epic. It includes concerted works by Beethoven, Brahms, Britten, Franck, Grieg, Hindemith, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and Schumann, plus solo pieces and chamber music by Brahms, Copland, Debussy, Liszt, Mozart, Ravel, Rorem, Schubert, and Weber, all played with Fleisher’s signature blend of virtuosity, and intelligence. The price is ridiculously right–$56.50 on Amazon (TT).
Hamlet/Saint Joan (Lynn Redgrave Theatre, 45 Bleecker St., closes Feb. 2). Bedlam Theatre Company’s brilliantly original four-person small-scale stagings of two of the greatest of all English-language plays are now being performed in rotating repertory in an off-Broadway house. I raved about the original productions in The Wall Street Journal, as did ever other critic in town. Go, repeatedly (TT).