Which overflowed the soul was passed away,
A consciousness remained that it had left,
Deposited upon the silent shore
Of memory, images and precious thoughts,
That shall not die, and cannot be destroyed.
William Wordsworth, “Excursion”
William Wordsworth, “Excursion”
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New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre has pulled off another green-screen miracle with its soul-warming webcast of a scaled-down “Meet Me in St. Louis,” Hugh Wheeler’s 1989 stage adaptation of Vincente Minnelli’s justly beloved 1944 screen musical. Last produced by the company in 2007, this revival has been reconceived by Charlotte Moore, the show’s director, for performance by a cast of 13—all taped separately in their homes—and a masked seven-piece chamber orchestra that assembled in the Irish Rep’s Manhattan theater to record the score.
Leading the cast are Shereen Ahmed, Melissa Errico, Max Von Essen and Kylie Kuioka in the roles created onscreen by Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Tom Drake and Margaret O’Brien. None of them makes any effort to mimic the performances of their Hollywood predecessors: Instead, they go their own ways, with superbly impressive, gleamingly well-sung results….
Melissa Errico, who is also a nonpareil cabaret singer, has a fine show of her own streaming this month. Mostly taped on the stage of Long Island’s Bay Street Theatre, “Season of Joy” is her home-cooked version of one of the old-fashioned meet-the-kids celebrity Christmas TV specials with which my generation grew up…
If you’re searching for a darker alternative to the usual holiday fare, look westward to California’s North Coast Repertory Theatre. The company is webcasting “An Iliad,” the 2012 Lisa Peterson-Denis O’Hare two-hander—one actor, one cellist, in this case Richard Baird and Amanda Schaar—that uses Robert Fagles’s translation of Homer’s epic poem as the point of departure for a colloquial retelling of the Trojan War myth. It’s a show with an eternally relevant message, which is that war has the evil power to seduce men with “the smell of blood and bronze.…Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time.” It is also eerily timely (I actually jumped when Mr. Baird told us that a fire he saw on the beach consisted of “men and mules and dogs…infected by the plague”)…
* * *Read the whole thing here.
A video trailer for Meet Me in St. Louis:
Francis Grier and the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, perform Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols on TV in 1982. The harpist is Frances Kelly:
(This is the latest in a series of arts- and history-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
John Keats, “To Hope”
Satchmo at the Waldorf, my one-man play about Louis Armstrong, has been produced numerous times from coast to coast since its Florida premiere in 2011. I’ve seen eight stagings, two of which I directed and in all of which I was personally involved. But that leaves many more that I never got to see, and prior to last night, I last saw the play two years ago when I directed it for Houston’s Alley Theatre. Moreover, none of the theaters that produced Satchmo without my assistance bothered to let me know they were doing it: I found out about their productions through my theatrical agent.That may sound odd to you, but it’s the way theater works. Once a play is made available for licensing, it can be produced without consulting the playwright (unless, like Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett, he insists on exerting control over the production). So long as the licensing fee is paid and the text of the play is performed as written, it’s my policy to let anyone who wants to stage Satchmo do so, and now that the pandemic has shut down live theatrical performances, I make a special point of saying yes to companies that want to stream it. As I’ve previously written, I regard Satchmo as a grown child who has left the nest: he’s on his own now, for good or ill. On the other hand, it’s nice to be able check from time to time on how my child is doing, and so when PURE Theatre, a company in Charleston, South Carolina, announced that it would be streaming Satchmo this winter, I decided to take a look at the production, not to give advice—the show had already been taped when I watched it last night—but out of pure curiosity. How would Douglas Scott Streater, the actor, and Sharon Graci, the director, bring to life the three very different characters who are portrayed in Satchmo? No less interesting, what would the show look and sound like in the hands of Richard Heffner, the set and lighting designer, and Miles Boinest, the sound designer?
I hasten to say that this isn’t a review. I was watching for fun, though I was also watching—and listening—from the point of view of a playwright who has also directed two productions of Satchmo. Speaking as a director, there were certain things I would have done differently, as well as a couple of nifty details that I plan to steal should I ever stage Satchmo again. Most important of all, I thought that Douglas Scott Streater was terrfic. He’s young for the part, but he has just the right energy, as well as the sense of humor that I regard as indispensable, since Satchmo plays like a comedy for much of its length. I was especially impressed by the latter quality because this production was taped in an empty theater, without the immediate audience feedback on which a comic actor feeds under normal circumstances.
All in all, PURE Theatre’s production was good enough that I was able to lose myself in Satchmo all over again. On more than one occasion I found myself completely “outside” the play, feeling as though I were watching a show written by somebody else, and a couple of scenes—especially the one in which Armstrong remembers his very first Christmas tree—moved me to tears. When it was over, I told my roomie, “It’s a damned good play, isn’t it?” She agreed.
Another thing about PURE’s Satchmo that made me cry was that Hilary wasn’t there to watch it with me. It was her boundless faith in my talent that gave me the courage to try writing a play of my own, and the two of us saw the results together in Orlando, Lenox, West Palm Beach, and off Broadway. Alas, she was too ill to see my second staging of Satchmo in Houston, and union regulations forbid making copies of archival videos, even for the personal use of the playwright. She was as proud as ever, but it wasn’t the same.
I wish Hilary could have sat on the couch with me and watched PURE’s Satchmo on TV. It would have given her great joy to see my child—our child—one last time. That is part of what it means to lose a partner: I can no longer share anything with her. All I can do is remember how good it felt to be holding the hand of my life’s companion the first time the lights went up on Satchmo at the Waldorf, and miss her all the more powerfully and poignantly as my first year as a singleton spins to a close.
At my age, of course, you have no choice but to accept the increasingly obtrusive presence of death in your life. The fact that it has come so often around Christmastime, though, is a thing I find hard to tolerate. Something had to give, and what gave was my ability to celebrate Christmas. It’s not entirely gone: I still love A Christmas Carol, Meet Me in St. Louis, and all the wonderful seasonal songs. But there is no tree in my home, nor is my heart light, and both of these things were true last year as well.
I suspect that’s why my favorite Christmas song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which speaks forthrightly of the sadness that so many people feel at this time of year, perhaps never more so than in 2020:Someday soon we all will be together
As it happens, I’m muddling through surprisingly well—I feel much better than I did a couple of months ago—but I know the next couple of months will inevitably be full of sadness. So if you incline the same way, try to keep on muddling the best way you know how, and hold in your bruised heart the second line of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.
May it be so, and may love get us all from here to there in one piece.
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James Taylor sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on NBC’s Sunday Today in 2016:
“It is necessary to hope, though hope should always be deluded; for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations, however frequent, are yet less dreadful than its extinction.”
Samuel Johnson, The Idler (May 26, 1759)
In my latest Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column, I talk about how good plays get turned into bad movies—and who’s to blame. Here’s an excerpt.
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The universal critical acclaim that greeted George C. Wolfe’s superlative Netflix screen version of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is rare. First-rate plays, after all, almost never get turned into equally good films, and on occasion the result is a duck-and-cover disaster. What’s more, virtually all such disasters are caused by the same fatal error in judgment: Somebody in Hollywood thought he knew better than the playwright, and so decided to rewrite the very play whose excellence is the main reason people thought it should be made into a film.
In such fiascoes, the question, then, is not so much what went wrong as who deserves the blame. Since filmmaking is a collective art, it can be tricky to tag the guilty party, but in most of the truly ignominious cases, you can pin the tail on the donkey with embarrassing ease.
Here are four of the most notorious offenders, categorized by culprit….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
The original theatrical trailer for Arsenic and Old Lace: