The Tonys are life. They are our Super Bowl. They are our Oscars. And even though no one took us to New York this year to see all the Broadway Shows and so we know nothing, we know enough to fill out our Tony ballots and we’re here to help.
As big theater & Disney Geeks, there’s little better than a Broadway-bound Disney musical and so The Tweeks couldn’t miss the U.S. Premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the La Jolla Playhouse. Before it hits the East Coast at The Paper Mill Playhouse this Spring, on it’s way the Great White Way, find out what to expect from this Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Newsies, Beauty And The Beast, we could go on for days with this man’s composer credits) & Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Enchanted) collaboration based on the entertaining, but hardly classic 1996 animated film. With a story split half and half between the cartoon feature and the Victor Hugo book, this is a more serious, dark and depressing Disney venture definitely made for a more mature audience. It’s like Maleficent compared to Sleeping Beauty. We like to call it Les Mis starring Flynn Ryder. Lots of Disney “Prince” smoldering and a delusionally obsessive villain-y type who thinks he’s on the right side of justice. If you appreciate musical theater just a smidge or at least can appreciate Disney quality, you need to keep this show on your radar.
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.
“There is a savage beast in every man, and when you hand that man a sword or spear and send him forth to war, the beast stirs.”
George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords
So today is Memorial Day, which is the wind-up of Memorial Day weekend, which is the unofficial start of summer. Which means that if, like me, you’re from the part of New Jersey that’s north of Exit 11 on the Garden State Parkway, you “go down the shore.” For those of you not from the Garden State, the translation of “down the shore” is “to the beach.”
This also means spending most of the weekend stuck in traffic on the aforementioned Parkway before you get to Belmar or Seaside Heights or Long Beach Island or Wildwood and places in-between, but The Boss’s Born To Run will be rocking out through your car’s speakers, so it’s cool and anyway it’s all just part of the Weekend. Capiche?
Memorial Day is also the day we as a country are supposed to remember and honor the men and women who have died while serving their country in wartime. It was started as a way to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War – the North “borrowed” the South’s custom of decorating the graves of dead soldiers with flowers, ribbons, and flags, and so was called Decoration Day. It was held on May 30th, regardless of which day of the week it fell. It wasn’t until after World War II that Decoration Day became Memorial Day, and it wasn’t until the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed in 1968 that it became attached to the Monday of the last weekend in May as part of the government’s desire to create three-day federal holiday weekends. However, it took another three years (1971) for all the states to universally recognize it.
War movies are a conundrum – War is hell, as General William Tecumseh Sherman said, but in telling stories of war the writers, the actors, the directors and the producers can portray great tragedy, great comedy, great conflict, and great drama. Some war movies are outright jingoistic, others are totally anti-war, but all say something about armed conflict.
Here’s a short list of some of my favorites, with dialogue and/or quotes that have stuck with me through the years:
Stalag 17 (1953): Directed by Billy Wilder. Starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves, Don Taylor, Harvey Lembeck, Robert Strauss, and Neville Brand. Based on the Broadway play, it is the story of American POWs in World War II Germany who start to realize that there is an informant planted within their bunk.
Duke: (referring to Sefton’s safe escape with Dunbar) Whadda ya know? The crud
Shapiro: I’d like to know what made him do it.
Animal: Maybe he just wanted to steal our wire cutters. You ever think of that?
The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957): Directed by David Lean. Starring William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and Sessue Hayakawa. From the book by Pierre Boulle, it is loosely based on historical fact. British prisoners of war in a Japanese prison camp in 1943 Burma are sent to work building a bridge for the Burma-Siam railroad. The British Colonel is horrified to discover that his men are sabotaging the construction, and persuades them that bridge should be built properly as a testament to British honor, morale, and dignity under the most brutal of circumstances. Meanwhile a team of Allied commandos is planning the destruction of the bridge.
Colonel Saito: Be happy in your work.
Major Clipton: Madness! Ma, madness!
Apocalypse Now (1979): Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Robert Duvall with a young Laurence Fishburne and a cameo by Harrison Ford. During the Vietnam War a special operations officer is sent on a mission to find and terminate, without prejudice, another special operations officer who has gone renegade.
Willard (voice-over): “Never get out of the boat.” Absolutely goddamn right! Unless you were goin’ all the way… Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin’ program.
The Great Escape (1963): Directed by John Sturges. Starring Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, Angus Lennie, and others. Based on the true story of the mass escape of Allied POW’s from Stalag Luft III in Germany, and adapted from Paul Brickhill’s first-hand account. All the characters are either real or composites of several POWs.
Hilts: How many you taking out?
Bartlett: Two hundred and fifty.
Hilts: Two hundred and fifty?
Hilts: You’re crazy. You oughta be locked up. You, too. Two hundred and fifty guys just walkin’ down the road, just like that?
Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949): Directed by Alan Dwan. Starring John Wayne, John Agar, Forrest Tucker, and Adele Mara. The film follows a group of Marines from basic training to the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Sergeant Stryker: Saddle up.
Coming Home (1978): Directed by Hal Ashby. Starring Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, and Bruce Dern. The story of three people affected by the Vietnam War – a wife, her Marine career officer husband who is serving in Vietnam, and a paralyzed veteran of that war whom she meets while volunteering in a VA hospital.
Captain Bob Hyde: (Yelling at Sally after discovering her infidelity) What I’m saying is! I don’t belong in this house, and they say I don’t belong over there!
Catch-22 (1970): Directed by Mike Nichols. Starring Alan Arkin, Jon Voight, Martin Balsam, Bob Newhart, Charles Grodin, Art Garfunkel, Anthony Perkins, Paul Prentiss, Martin Sheen, and Orson Welles. Based on the book by Joseph Heller, Catch-22 is the satirical anti-war story of Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier stationed in the Mediterranean during World War II who is expecting to be sent home after completing his required number of missions until he discovers that the commanding officer is continually raising that number. Desperate to go home, Yossarian tries to get out by claiming to have gone nuts, but there’s a catch was sane and had to.”
Yossarian: Is Orr crazy?
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: Of course he is. He has to be crazy to keep flying after all the close calls he’s had.
Yossarian: Why can’t you ground him?
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: I can, but first he has to ask me.
Yossarian: That’s all he’s gotta do to be grounded?
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: That’s all.
Yossarian: Then you can ground him?
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: No. Then I cannot ground him.
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: There’s a catch.
Yossarian: A catch?
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: Sure. Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat isn’t really crazy, so I can’t ground him.
Yossarian: OK, let me see if I’ve got this straight. In order to be grounded, I’ve got to be crazy. And I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I’m not crazy anymore, and I have to keep flying.
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: You got it, that’s Catch-22.
Yossarian: Whoo… That’s some catch, that Catch-22.
Dr. “Doc” Daneeka: It’s the best there is.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970): The story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Directed by Richard Fleisher. Featuring an ensemble cast including Martin Balsam, James Whitmore, So Yamamura, Joseph Cotton, E. G. Marshall, Takahiro Tamura, Tatsuya Mihashi, Jason Robards, Richard Anderson, and others.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
Saving Private Ryan (1998): Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, and Giovanni Ribisi, with a cameo by Ted Dansen. After landing in Normandy on D-Day in 1944, an army squad is ordered to find and bring back the last survivor of four brothers.
Old James Ryan: (addressing Capt. Miller’s grave) My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.
Ryan’s Wife: James?…
(looking at headstone]
Ryan’s Wife (looking at headstone): Captain John H Miller.
Old James Ryan: Tell me I have led a good life.
Ryan’s Wife: What?
Old James Ryan: Tell me I’m a good man.
Ryan’s Wife: You are.
Old James Ryan: (stands back and salutes)
So while you’re lazing on the beach this weekend, or in the park or in your backyard grilling up some dogs and burgers, or at a ball game or just hanging around the house, try to remember, if even for a moment, those who never returned home from those bloody fields of glory.
“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
Best known for his work as editor of Mad Magazine from 1956 to 1984, Al co-created, wrote and drew for most of the classic EC comics, including Tales From The Crypt, Weird Science, Panic and Shock SuspenStories. Prior to signing on with EC, Feldstein was a prolific comics artist with work appearing in comics published by Fiction House, Fox, and ACG, among many others.
Taking Mad over from co-creator Harvey Kurtzman, Al introduced many of the magazine’s most popular features, including Don Martin’s irrepressible pages, Antonio Prohias’ Spy Vs. Spy, Dave Berg’s Lighter Side, and Al Jaffee’s fold-ins. He also increased the visibility of company mascot Alfred E. Neuman.
A man of strong progressive political beliefs, he was the subject of an FBI investigation following his publication of satirical criticism of notorious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. According to USA Today, two FBI agents demanded an apology for “sullying” Hoover’s reputation by using his name in Mad. No such apology was issued by Feldstein.
Over the years, Feldstein’s work at EC Comics inspired quite a number of movies, television shows, cartoons and Broadway musicals. The level of outrageousness set by the editor and his staff inspired later satirists such as Mike Judge, Matt Groening, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Al devoted his retirement years to western painting, as well as the occasional “flashback” painting of the EC horror hosts, 1950s science-fiction themes and his late EC/Mad boss, Bill Gaines. He also appeared at numerous comics conventions where he signed autographs and sold prints of his painted work.
Last August, IDW published Grant Geissman’s definitive autobiography of the cartoonist, Feldstein: The Mad Life and Fantastic Art of Al Feldstein!
That final exclamation point in the title tells it all.
You may not have seen A Chorus Line but most everyone knows the song “One” thanks to its endless use in other productions (think Treehouse of Horror V, Phineas and Ferb, Scrubs) throughout the years. Since the play debuted Off-Broadway in 1975, it has gone on to become one of the best known musicals of the latter 20th Century. One reason it endured a run of 6137 performances on Broadway was its emotional honesty, bare bones set, and soul-bearing songs. As conceived by Michael Bennett, it was brought to life by Marvin Hamlisch (music), Edward Kleban (lyrics), and James Kirkwood Jr. (book) at a time when everyone was doing a little soul searching.
By the time the 1985 film adaptation from director Sir Richard Attenborough arrived, it was heralded as a return of the musical to the movies. Unfortunately, the so-so movie failed to ignite that revival and was mostly rejected by those who adored the film.
The main reason the movie, out now on Blu-ray from 20th Century Home Entertainment, doesn’t work is that the presence of film acts as a barrier between audience and performer. In live theater, you see the ensemble audition, you see them sweat and struggle and can see them in your personal field of vision. With the variety cinematic techniques brought to bear, it becomes less about a class of people (performers) and about a series of individuals all vying for a chance at stardom. Their interactions with the direct, Michael Douglas, is more intimate than it should be.
Bennett was resistant to a film adaptation and didn’t participate and eyebrows were raised when a British director was hired rather than someone who would appreciate the nuances of American theater. He also instituted a series of changes that brought down deep criticism from theater-goers, notably the substitution of the lesser songs “Surprise, Surprise” and “Let Me Dance For You” in place of “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” “Sing!,” and “The Music and the Mirror”. Whereas the stage production had raw language in its lyrics and had Gay members of the ensemble, the film scrubbed the later elements away, weakening its realistic feel.
Attenborough claims he rejected Madonna, who auditioned to be in the film and instead with a cast filled with largely unknown singers and dancers although today we know Audrey Landers and Janet Jones from the ensemble. They do a fine job but are ill-served by Attenborough, who attempts to replicate the raw stage setting, shot at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, but fails to translate it to film. What he needed was a radical reinterpretation or something to make the story hold up as a feature. Instead, this is a mildly entertaining muddle.
In addition to the desperate performers is the romantic story of Cassie (Alyson Reed), a dancer who left for Hollywood a year ago and failed. Back and hoping to start over, she’s auditioning for her former lover. As a result, Attenborough disastrously repurposes “What I Did for Love” from a story about sacrifice to perform to a paean from dancer to director. What worked as a spine for the stage production has been turned into soapy subplot.
The film is beautifully transferred to high definition so the performers dazzle amidst the stage gloom. This is well matched with the lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track so the music and lyrics are sharp.
Despite a wealth of available material about the show’s legacy, the disc comes without a single extra feature, not even the Marvin Hamlisch feature that was including on the initial DVD release in 2003.
The Spider-Man show goes down in history as one of the most overwrought, over-hyped failures in Broadway history, not to mention the biggest money loser in Broadway history. Meanwhile, Fun Home is one of the surprise hits of the Off-Broadway season.
There haven’t been many theatrical hits inspired by comic books. The Superman musical didn’t make any real money. There was talk of a Batman musical, but it never happened (unless you count this http://www.batmanlive.com/#/. The closest successful adaptation since World War II was Li’l Abner, from a newspaper strip. The movie remains a favorite of mine.
Why did Fun Home succeed when Spider-Man didn’t? I hadn’t seen Spider-Man. Tickets were really expensive, and the Broadway audience is frequently boorish, talking and taking photos throughout a performance. The reviews weren’t good, and it seemed that they took the story in a camp direction. That seemed lazy and predictable to me. Certainly not something I’d pay several hundred dollars to experience.
In contrast, Fun Home makes few references to the medium of its source material. The narrator, a grown-up Alison, will occasionally use the word “Caption” to set up a scene. At the end, a frame from the graphic novel is projected onto the stage.
The play is not the book. I guess that’s obvious, but the ways in which they differ are actually quite striking. The story on stage is much more linear. Lisa Kron and Jeanne Tersori, who wrote the book and music, focus almost entirely on the relationship between Alison and her father. Understandable, but I missed seeing a more fully rounded dramatization of her mother, her siblings, and Joan, her first lover. At one point, I wondered if the show could even pass the Bechdel Test. Then Alison had a conversation with Joan about the gay student union at Oberlin, so they got that out of the way. (And also, I was amused at how well they captured the tone of political groups at the time. God, we were insufferable.)
The most interesting aspect of the show, to me, was the way they used three different actresses to portray Alison as a child, a college student, and an adult. The kid, Sydney Lucas, who plays the young Alison is remarkably good. She conveys the delight of discovering those first hints of her sexuality with a knowing glee.
The music and choreography are terrific. I’m curious to see how this show will travel. The staging at the Public Theater was relatively simple, so that it’s easy to imagine local theater groups able to adapt it to their situations. The cast is only nine people, three of them children (Alison and her two brothers).
Will the success of the show bring a new audience to the graphic novel? I don’t know. Will it make the media consider comics as something other than superheroes? I don’t know that either. In the meantime, I wonder if anyone is working on a show based on Stuck Rubber Baby? Because I would see that in a heartbeat.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell
I have a list of movies that is as malleable as a rubber band. Okay, certain movies, such as The Bridge on the River Kwai or The Searchers or The Best Years of Our Lives are always on that list, but their positions- 1, 2, 3, and so on- tumble around in my mind like clothes in a dryer. Other movies appear and disappear like the crew of the Enterprise on the transporter pad.
Gone With the Wind, for instance. This is a movie that hops on and off my list all the time. On the list because of the incredible “brought to full life” performances and spectacle, and off the list because, as a devotee of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning novel, in which all the characters are given full, rich personalities, I can’t stand the way Scarlett is portrayed in the second half of the movie; this is a product of Victor Fleming’s direction, who was brought in after George Cukor, the original director, was fired less than three weeks into filming, and of Fleming’s rewrite of the script so that Rhett Butler became a more sympathetic character and Scarlett O’Hara much less so.
There are two explanations for Cukor’s firing. The first is that that Clark Gable— who supposedly wasn’t enthusiastic about playing Rhett Butler, and only agreed to do it after producer David Selznick agreed to help Gable obtain a divorce so that Gable could marry Carole Lombard — was not happy with the choice of Cukor as director. Cukor was known as a “woman’s director,” and Gable was worried that Cukor’s attention to Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland as Scarlett and Melanie would overshadow any direction that Cukor gave Gable in playing Rhett. The second, and probably true, reason is that Cukor knew that Gable had worked as a gigolo in the gay Hollywood scene before breaking out into stardom, and that this, understandably, made Gable very uncomfortable working with him. So the actor threatened to walk off the set unless Cukor was replaced. But just as Cukor as known as a “women’s director,” Fleming was known as a “man’s director;” he gave very little advice and just shot the movie, wanting no dilly-dallying or investigation into a character’s motivations and he was not in the least respectful of either Vivien Leigh or Olivia de Havilland and their talents- oh, and by the way, for you GWTW fans, Leigh and de Havilland continued to secretly meet with Cukor at his home when off the set to investigate their characters’ motivations and how to play them.
Gone With the Wind was on Turner Classic Movies a couple of weeks back, and of course I watched it. And it’s on my list again. It also made me pick the book and start reading it again.
And then there is The Sound of Music. The movie is based on the true story of the Von Trapp Family, escaped from the 1938 political annexation, or Anschluss, of Austria into the Third Reich. Directed by Robert Wise (who directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture), the movie stars Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp. It was filmed on location in Austria, including Salzburg and the Nonnburg Convent, where the real Maria was a postulant. The music, of course, is unforgettable and iconic- in fact, midnight sing-alongs of The Sound of Music, a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show have become quite the thing- but more than that, and it’s something that makes the movie more than just a beautiful travelogue of the Austrian Alps, it’s the Nazi threat and the looming-on-the-horizon beginning of World War II that underscores what could have been just a “sappy” love story.
By the way, Carrie Underwood got a lot of grief from critics and non-critics, i.e. “pundits” on the Web, last week for her performance in NBC’s live broadcast. Okay, she was a little stiff and a bit ingenuous, but that lady can sing. There were also complaints that the teleplay “messed with the script,” moving songs around, leaving out the gazebo, and not having Captain Von Trapp engaged to “the Baroness.” Which annoyed the hell out of me, because the teleplay was based on the original Broadway show which starred Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain Von Trapp and ran for 1,443 performances, from 1959 to 1963. Which means that it was the movie that played with the original script. Jesus, people, know your musical theatre history before you complain!
Anyway, it’s not a movie that appears on my list, but when I do watch it, I am enchanted and captivated, delighted, thrilled, and yes, just a bit weepy at the ending as the Von Trapps “climb every mountain” and “ford every stream” to escape the Germans’ every-tightening noose into Switzerland.
And then there’s Mary Poppins.
I remember going with my family to see it. I also remember my father not being entirely willing, but doing it because, well, that’s what fathers do. And I also remember my father really enjoying himself. Starring Julie Andrews (hmm, is there a theme here?) as the magical, mystical nanny and Dick Van Dyke as her friend Bert, the one-man band player, chalk painting drawer, chimney sweep Cockney, and deliverer of wisdom to sacked-from-the-bank Edwardian fathers, the film is based on English writer P. L. Travers’s series of books. Believe it or not, I never read the books, and I didn’t know what to expect on this family outing, except that I had a girlhood crush on Dick Van Dyke (or Rob Petrie) and my mom told me he was in the movie, so I was looking forward to it.
We all came out of the theatre singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and it became a badge of honor at school and at sleepaway camp that year to be able to spell it backwards (s-u-o-i-c-o-d-i-l-a-i-p-x-e-c-i-t-s-i-l-i-g-a-r-f-i-l-a-c-r-e-r-p-u-S and if you think I can do that without looking at the word while typing it out you’re giving me a lot of credit!)
And I still find myself singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” while cleaning the house and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” when seeing kids play with them in the park and singing “Feed the Birds” when I see pictures of St. Paul’s in London. And after watching previews of Saving Mr. Banks (which I’m definitely going to see) I downloaded the score to my playlist on iTunes.
That puts Mary Poppins on my list of top movies…
For a while at least.
Next week: …AND CHECKING IT TWICE. My favorite Christmastime movies.
TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark will end its Broadway run on January 4, with expected losses of $60 million, the biggest loss ever in Broadway history. New York Magazine has a breakdown on the show’s costs, both financial:
$1,300,000: Weekly production budget
$2,940,000: Gross for the week of December 25, 2011, the highest one-week take for any show ever
$621,960: Gross for the last week in September 2013
and human (five people with major injuries, including one person who required amputation).
Most disturbing to me: they spent more money on props and puppets for the show than Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko has ever seen from the creation of Spider-Man.
Tickets are available now, heavily discounted if you know where to look and are willing to brave Christmastime crowds in Times Square.
He’s big, green, loud, obnoxoius, and is like an onion. He also sings, dances, and saves the princess. And now, there’s a DVD and Blu-Ray edition of the Broadway musical based on the Dreamworks animated movie based on the book by William Steig. (Whew!) This week, the Tweeks review the musical version of Shrek. Take a look…