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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Groundhog Day-Great Movie Dud of a Play

The movie "Groundhog Day" (1993) starring Bill Murray & Andi McDowell has become a comedy classic that is hilarious every time you watch it.  The move from movie to Broadway musical is a bust; a missed opportunity.  Phil the weatherman (Andy Karl) is an obnoxious, pompous asshole that is assigned to cover Groundhog Day in the small town that has become infamous & synanomous with this charade of a holiday.  It's meant as a harbinger for spring & new beginnings but Phil wakes each morning stuck in purgatory in this small, depressing town.  Anita (Rita Hanson) is the unflappable producer who comes with Phil to town from NYC.  She doesn't perceive the dejavu dilemma tormenting Phil.  The town has its fill of eccentric & likeable folks but the jokes fall flat. The musical numbers feel identical & soon forgettable.  The theme song "Small Town, USA,"  "...1 bar, 1 block, 1 bank." stank.  It all seems tired.  There were numerous tedious numbers like "Nancy"; the town's glam girl who never gets the guy for good.  Karl replaced the original lead who won the Olivier for this role but injured himself in previews.  Karl does an admirable job but the clever comedy Murray brought to this curmudgeonly role on screen is overshadowed here by the banal book that drones on & irritates.  In Act 11 Phil has his epiphany on life & joie de vie but the energy for enthusiasm has ebbed.  Not everyone in the audience shared by snarkyness for this sophomoric production.  A high school drama group hooped with laughter.  I'm a fan of the film, but I didn't share the love for "Groundhog Day the Musical."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dance Theater of Harlem at City Ctr-What's the Point of Choreography on Pointe?

The Dance Theater of Harlem was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mithcell; the first African American classical ballet company.  Mitchell (b NYC 1934) studied with the NYC Ballet school & performed under Balanchine in the 1950's.  The Dance Theater of Harlem has returned after an unstable financial history & 6 year hiatus.  It's under the artistic direction of Virginia Johnson, a former principal dancer for the company.  The mission of The Dance Theater of Harlem is to provide classical ballet training & performance opprotunities for black dancers.  The program Saturday afternoon had 3 pieces:  "Brahms Variations" choreographed by Robert Garland "Change" 2016, by Dianne McIntyre and "Return" 1999 also by Robert Garland.  "Brahms Variations" was an appropriation of Balanchine's "Variations"  choreography.  The golden ballet costumes with sparkling embellishments help lift this classical ballet.  However, the footing was unsure, and the dancers' extensions fell short.   "Change" was an amalgation, part Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" & Robert Battle's "Hunt." Three female dancers performed admirably  on pointe what orignated for male dancers.  The music was both gospel and tribal.  The dancers on pointe felt at odds with the intense tribal aesthetic.  Garland's "Return" was the oldest piece on the program (1999) but most modern in style & song.  Music of James Brown & Aretha Franklin were used.  The dancing was a combination of soul, including a down the line Soul Train montage and rock & hip hop.  "Change" was a huge crowd favorite.  The adoring audiences cheered & applauded throughout; not what you'd typically find watching a classical ballet company.  The boisterous outbursts made the performance celebratory and empowering.  The dancers held a meet & greet after the performance in the lobby.  The youngsters in the audience were dressed to impressed and excited to be there.  I didn't agree with the artistic choices to put the dancers on pointe in "Change" or "Return."  I found the juxtaposition of classical ballet & modern dance morphed incongruously.  However, if the point was to bring ballet into a broader & younger audience, mission accomplished.   Audiences feeling free to express their appreciation was liberating.  However, flash photography remains crass & is a hazard to the dancers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finnish FIlm "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki" is Boxing Bio Bore

"The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki" is a biopic boxing movie about Finnish boxer, Olli Makki (b 1936) which takes places in the days leading up to his boxing match for the world championship boxing match against American champion Davey Moore.  The movie is a bore. The days are more or less the same; train, sweat, rain.  This fighting film is contrary to form.  It's about a small town baker whose also a boxer.   He doesn't wants more from his provincial life than to marry his hometown sweetheart, Raija.  Maki won the Euorpean lightweight title in 1959 and is being heavily promoted for a fight against the reigning world champ.  Maki's trainer/promoter, Elis, is an unctuous wheeler dealer with his own self-interests at heart.  Maki's heart isn't fully driven to get in the ring.  Maki mainly wants to put a ring on Raija's finger.  The power in the film comes from the blossoming love story between the humble fighter and charming country girl.  The rich black/white cinematography gives the movie an appealing real life sense, drenched in moisture.  Maki only lasts 2 rounds against Moore.  The film drags its feet.  I don't know why I went the distance.  Maki tell's the reporters when asked how he'll do, "I'll fight and we'll see what happens."  Nothing exciting or interesting happens.  There's little punch to this slow paced film.  I was knocked out from boredom.

Making Space: Women Artists in Postwar Abstraction at MoMA

This collection is so vast, international and sensational, I find it hard to believe that women were pushed to the back during post WWII through the mid 1960's.  The exhibition contains so many prominent & established female artists from an expansive international group it makes it circumspect to consider that these women were subjugated to male artists of the same period.  It's understandable that Lee Krasner & Elaine de Kooning were overshadowed by their husbands, Jackson Pollack & Willem de Kooning but the works by these two formidable & acclaimed artists seen in this exhibit &  them to be on par with the top echelon of postwar abstraction artists.  There are forceful works by Brazilian artist Lygia Pape whose has her own retrospective currently at the MET Breuer.  Women from varying countries represented are:  Elsa Gramcko (Venezuela),  Eva Hesse of (Germany) Louise Bougeois (b France), Etel Adnan (Lebanon), Maria Freir (Uraguay), Bridget Riley (Britain), Hedda Sterne (Romania) and Yayoi Kusama (Japan).  Plenty of American artists were represented:  Helen Frankenthaler, Alma Thomas, Lynda Benglis, Joan Mitchell and Alice Neel to name but a few.  An abundance of art forms are represented: paintings, sculptures, photography, prints, etc.  The majority of these works & artists will be familiar.  I particularily liked the works by Adnan, Thomas, Pape and Benglis.  I don't like to think women were 2nd class citizens in the art world.  In retrospect, this may be valid but I'd like to think moving forward the artists work speaks for the work itself, not for gender, race or nationality for that matter.  The exhibit of Postwar Abstraction is only by women artists.  The term "only" is limiting and this extraordinary exhibit should co-exist with male artists of the same epoch.    

Thursday, April 20, 2017

NYPhilharmonic Timo Andres The Blind Banister: Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orch

Composer Timo Andres (b Amer 1985) had his NY Philharmonic premier of "The Blind Banister: Conerto for Piano & Chamber Orch today.  Andres, a Julliard alum is an accomplished pianist but is garnering recognition for his composing.  Pianist Jonathan Bliss performed Andres's work and Beethoven's Piano Concerto #2 on the program.  Interestingly, Andres's work had echoes of Beethoven's classical majesty and intricate piano solos woven into the orchestration.  "The Blind Banister" begins with a piano solo of descending scales that become layered throughout the work.  The orchestration falls away leaving the piano solos to carry on the intensity of the piece.  The 2nd movement, Ringing Weight-Cadenza had an unusual percussive sound from the simantra (mounted wooden plans) that had a jazzy sound  I found surprising & pleasing.  It stood apart from the 1st and 3rd movements and yet drew them together.  The piano solo in the 1st movement, Sliding Scale, had an airy, suspended quality.  The 3rd movement, Coda Teneramete, had a rushing, powerful orchestration that mirrored Beethoven's Rondo: Malto allegro movement.  This is the first work I've heard by Andres. I hope to hear more from him in the future.  I think his concerto for piano & chamber orchestration was remarkable.  

Alec Baldwin in Conversation with Janet Maslin at 92ndY-Why? Promoting His Auto-Bio

Alec Baldwin is a well established film, television star & stage actor.  He's well known for his Emmy winning role on 30 Rock and he's recurring role as host & guest of SNL.  His Trump imitations are hilarious & highly regarded by everyone, except Trump himself.  Baldwin has just published his 2nd book a memoir (the 1st a diatribe against the courts regarding father's parental rights in divorce cases.) "Nevertheless" is Baldwin's broader, candid reflection on his life.  Janet Maslin, former NYTimes film & then book critic & personal friend was his friendly interviewer.  Although Alec switched to being an interviewer of Janet at times.  I expect Maslin's critique of Baldwin's book to be flattering as she was fawning.  Why now? she asked.  The answer was he didn't think he'd remember everything if he waited to his later 60's.  He just turned 59.  Alec claimed it was a painful process writing the book as it took him away from his family & other work.   He was asked by the publisher to submit a writing sample before signing a deal.  It was sealed writing about his cocaine addiction.   He said intended his book to inspire other actors not to not chase the $ but pursue the art of acting.  A bit lofty for actings trying to break into the business, I would think.  I did think Alec was entertaining, candid, funny & charming.  Alec admires Sean Connery and did a hilarious impersonation of their fraternization.   He harobrs resentment towards Harrison Ford & the Hollywood movie industry, Columbia Pictures in particular.  Alec said he was in awe of fellow actors DeNiro & Pacino & humored us with his funny antics & impersonations of them.  He explained how he parodies Trump "He's got a glossary of about 100 words.  That's all he's got."  Alec's dream ambition would be conducting the symphony. Baldwin is a lover of classical music & spokesperson for Lincoln Center.  As talented & entertaining as Alec Baldwin was last night, too much more was made about Maslin.  Nevertheless, I don't expect to read Baldwin's book.

Irving Penn Centennial at the MET-A Phenomenal Exhibit of Penn's Extensive Photos

Irving Penn (b Amer 1917-2009) is a world renown photographer known for his iconic fashion photos that elevated both haute couture to a higher caliber and guided towards broad cultural awareness & admiration.  The admiration was not only for the exquisite clothing & beautiful models it was for the art of the photograph itself.  Many of his iconic shots of fashion models wearing designer clothing are on view.  His photos graced the cover & pages of Vogue mag. more than any other photographer.   His photos of these gorgeous women in stunning outfits are engaging as they share a common thread of bravado, wit, composition and allure that is inviting.  The cunning combination of structure with movement, fluidity with power and enticing composition provide the viewer an intelligent interaction to his photos. The Dior & Balenciaga couture illustrate Penn's grasp of design, fabric and structure. His favorite muse, Lisa Fonssagrives, whom he married was a former dancer.  Penn photographed a plethora of famous people from the worlds of art, dance, literature & theater.  These photos capture an explosive essence of these remarkably gifted individuals.  Penn used a simple muted backdrop or put the subject in a corner which enhanced their intensity.  These famous portraits are enthralling & enough reason to visit this marvelous exhibit.  I was taken with them all.  Those that particularily prodded an amplified interaction were:  Picasso, Balanchine, Ailey, DuChamp, Colette, Capote, Miro, Dali, a dour Hitchcock, a pensive Le Corbusier and a barely recognizable young Richard Burton. "I recognize it {the camera} for the instrument that it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel." (IPenn)  Penn's "Small Trade" series captured riveting photos of workers of various, unglamorous vocations in NYC, Paris & London.  The subjects pose with wares of their profession (bakers, butchers, sewer cleaners, etc.)  There is a pride and joy Penn captures.  There's engrossing photos of people from Peru & the tribes of New Guinea exposing us to exotic & unfamiliar worlds and are mesmerizing.   One gallery contains a series of nudes.  These were not accepted in the 1950's when first shown.  The nudes expose skin with folds, drapes and a tactile aesthetic found in the oeuvre of his fashion shoots.  Penn was prolific & experimentive throughout his long career.  His earlest works were still lifes displaying his talent for composition & intrigue.  He returned to still lifes towards the end of his career.  These vivid florals & images are luscious with color & beauty.  This expansive exhibit offers so much to relish it requires another look.  "To me personally, photography is a way to overcome mortality."  (I Penn)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The FInal Surrender of the Civil War? Johnston v Sherman NY HIstor Soc Talks

The slated topic for discussion at the NY Historic Soc was the final surrender of the Civil War;  Gen Johnston v Gen Sherman.  The highly animated discussion on these 2 Generals part in ending the Civil War was between American historians, professors & authors John Marszalek and Craig Symonds.  Symonds is also the Chairman of the Dept of US Naval Acad.  The two men informed us of their long friendship which stemmed from their first panel discussion together on these opposing generals. The two speakers were so familiar with each other, they amicably finished the other's sentences.   Johnston & Sherman were prominent commanders & largely responsibly for ending of the War.  The 1st surrender came from Robert F Lee to Ulysses S grant on April 9th, 1865.  Pres Lincoln was assisnated less than a week after this momentous event.  And, Johnston surrendered the rest of the Confederate army to Sherman 2 weeks after Lincoln was killed.  The discussion focused on their battle strategies & their relationship with each other post-war.  Sherman received the glory of praise for his flanking stratagem through VA & GA.  Johnston was sagacious to realize should Sherman surround his flailing army it would be catastrophic.  Johnston consistently ordered his troops to fall back.  The Union army is credited with Sherman's Atlanta campaign along with his successfully cutting off the south's access to the railroads, his military planning & providing for his troops and the north's industrialization & steel production.  As both speakers agreed, "An army moves on its stomach," and Sherman was lauded for his planning & patience.  It's fascinating to know that a mutual loathing of Confederate Pres Jefferson Davis united the warring generals.  Davis was being advised by many that Johnston's military retreats were cowardly.  Confederate Gen Hood wrote to Davis criticizing Johnston.  Davis replaced Gen Johnston with Gen Hood despite his having lost a right leg & left arm in battle.  Hood's full-on attack mode resulted in serious casualties against Sherman's men and severely depleted the waning Confederate army.  Davis then took Johnston out of retirement and ordered him back to relieve Hood of his command.   Soon after being reassigned Johnston surrendered the remaining Confederate army to Gen Sherman at Greensboro, SC in April '1865.  It was during their meetings that Sherman informed Johnston of Pres Lincoln's assassination. Afterwards,  Sherman received his share of critics for ushering in "a soft peace;" thought to be overly generous.  A friendship ensued between the former rivals who met with each other's families and discussed their war strategies with each other.   At Sherman's funeral, Johnston was a pall bearer.  Johnston who refused to cover his head during the cold, rainy procession fell ill and died two weeks later.  The opposing Generals who brokered peace was a lively topic from 2 fast friends who share a keen knowledge of the Civil War.   Note:  Johnston's surrender to Sherman in April 1856 was did not preclude further skirmishes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Romanian Film "Graduation" by Dir/Writer Chritian Mungiu -Moral Decay is Rampant

The Romanian film "Graduation" with English subtitles is by writer/dir Chritian Mungiu (b Romania 1968.)  The film is set in Romania today which has an overall pall of gloom & oppression.  The movie deals with social corruption & eroding morality.  Everyone appears on the take; leveling the playing field justifies cheating.  The protagonist, Romeo Aldea, is a physician whose only daughter, Eliza is about to graduate high school.  She's a bright student & has been granted an opportunity to study in the U.K.  First, she must qualiy for scholarship through additional exams.  Romeo is a loving & devoted dad (albeit cheating husband) who feels that Eliza's entire future relies on excellent exam scores.  The movie begins with a rock being thrown through the family's apartment.  Romeo chases outside into the bleak & empty streets in a futile attempt to discover the culprit.  He returns to take Eliza to school on the way to work. Running late, Eliza tells him to drop her off near a construction site & she'll walk. Romeo is running late to have sex with his mistress, Sandra. He's there when he receives an urgent call Eliza's  been assaulted. Romeo rushes to the hospital where a distraught Eliza has escaped with a sprained wrist requiring a cast.  The cast is a perfect metaphor for everyone's hands being tied up and tit for tat illicit favor granting which is further eroding the morality of corrupt country.  Eliza cast bars her from taking the exam.  The exam is her gateway into the U.K.; a civilized country with abundant opportunities.  The chief of police with whom Eliza is reporting the attack, is a friend of Romeo's.  When Romeo explains Eliza's dire situation, the officer offers to connect him with his friend who can be of help. This friend is in need of an organ transplant & Romeo manages to move him up on the waiting list.  All kinds of wheeling dealing & cheating ensue.  It's hard not to stay above the fray of the lawless jungle and the ends justifying the means assuages doubt.  Everyone has their weak spot.  Romeo's wife Magda is morose, his mistress wants a speech therapist for her son & wetting someone's palm is the way to get things done.  Mungiu intelligent & credible movie making has a tenable assumption of social decay.  Romeo's hypocrisy in lecturing Sandra's young son on proper behavior casts the final stone that smashes through our senses.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

PHOTOS - Making Faces: Images of Exploitation & Empowerment in Cinema at the MoMA

Take a detour off the main floor to the back gallery located just above the bottom floor cinema.  There is a fascinating collection of large black & white photos of iconic images & actors in films from the silent era through the 1970's.  The intriguing images are culled by the curator for aestheticizing ethnic  & gender expectations & exploiting actors.  There were some incredible photos to support this view.  The photo from "Guess Whose Coming to Dinner" shows the debonair Sidney Poitier with Isabel Sanford in an ironic, iconic image.  Sanford is giving Poitier a piece of her mind for overstepping his bounds & getting engaged to her white employer's daughter.  Sanford goes so far to say "And for a black man, you're not all that good looking anyway."  A groundbreaking film for its time (1967) when interracial marriage was controversial & illegal in 17 states.  The film also starred Spencery Tracy & Katherine Hepburn as Poitier's perplexed futures inlaws.  The extremely handsome & impressive Poitier, his lovely color blind fiancee, Hepburn & Tracy defused the ugliness of interracial condemnation.   Actors who were "exploited" or chosen to play blantant stereotypical "Uncle Tom" characters were Hattie MacDonald as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind," and Bill Robinson in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." These are powerful images to reconcile with.  Both incredibly talented actors are portrayed as exploited slaves.  McDonald is the first black performer to earn an Oscar which was for this role.  Poitier is the 1st black actor to win an Oscar in a leading role ("Lilies of the Field.")  A quote from Katherine Hepburn to Dorothy Arzner, the 1st American film director (1928-43) is represented.  "Isn't it wonderful that you've had such a great career, where you had no right to have a career at all."  Hepburn & Arzner had a very adversarial relationship while filming together.  Arzner & Hepburn both went on to film & portray women in very empowering & inspiring roles.   This collection of black & white photos is worth seeking out at the MoMA.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

John Leguizamo's "Latin for Morons" at the Public-A Comedic Blending of Parenting & Latino History

John Leguizamo (b Columbia 64) is an American/Columbian actor, comedian, writer known for his energetic, Tony & Emmy winning one man shows.  Older & wiser & perhaps even wackier, Leguizma takes on a biographic roller coaster ride navigating his blundering parenting and Latino pride.  Now in his 50's and "too old for this shit" the multi-talents of this rapid fire comedic actor show no signs of slowing.  Perhaps, a more mellow side is revealed in his overbearing attempts at protecting his son from bullying.  He also inserts himself into his son's major history assignment.  John's son" Buddy," is allotted a term paper reporting on a heroic figure.  Buddy is failing miserably academically & socially.  It becomes John's mission to mentor Buddy on heroic Latin leaders & Latino contributions to the world that have been flagrantly overlooked.  All the stage is a classroom to enlighten the audience & amass admiration for John's indefatigable talents.  His greatest strength comes from his softer, vulnerable side seen when trying to connect with his son.  He shares his own colorful personal & family history.  John is a constant chameleon, changing into multiple characters convincingly & adds  clever choreography to his perpetual motion.  Two favorite characters are his worldy wise daughter & pompous, Garrison Keillor sounding psychiatrist.  Analysis teaches him to deal with his "ghetto rage" & incessant need for approval.  He wishes he had quick snappy comebacks for tormentors.  John learns a valuable lesson from  his son about dignity, perseverance & restraint.  Lequizma's doesn't hold back revealing his impressive physical prowess or endearing intelligence.  I bet "Latin for Morons" becomes the teacher's pet.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Hamilton Spoof "Spamilton" at the Triad-Hamilton is the Best Making It Hard for the Rest

The phenomenal juggernaut "Hamilton," rapping with our founding fathers lends plenty of fodder for parody.  Forbidden Broadway's creater, writer & musical director Gerard Alessandrini has been spoofing Broadway shows & actors since 1982.  Alessandrini was granted a magical wish with a musical genius to dish.  Lin-Manuel Miranda is the thespian star who outshines all other artists by far.  Alessandrini could not resist knocking Miranda whose on the top of list.  What sets "Spamilton" apart from his previous irreverent forays of others plays is the comical tone that hones in on Miranda.  The farcical biographical fantasy is filled with fawning glee.  How could it be, someone as young as he,  win a Tony for "In the Heights" (written while at Welsley) and then creates Tony, Pulitizer Prize winning "Hamilton;" an indomitable Broadway legacy.  "Spamilton" spreads the satire fast with a Broadway caliber cast.  My favorite spots from a medly of lots: the old man who wants to know what he missed and I'm not gonna be in the film when it happens.  Alessandrini did take aim at a mishmash of other Broadway musicals and composers.  Disney got the lion's share of mockery.  Miranda along with other great composers/lyricist grant permission to use their songs for parody; a testament to the  clever hilarity.  "Spamilton" is fun for those who revere musicals and those who do not.  You do want to be in the room as it happens.  And know, the moderate priced tickets do not include a 2 drink minimum which brings the price above an average off B'wy show.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pulitzer Prize Winning Playwirght Paula Vogel's INDECENT at the Cort Theater

"Indecent" by Paula Vogel is a poetic production surrounding the blasphemous & litigous reactions Sholem Asch (b Poland 1880-1957) received for his play "God of Vengeance."  This play was first produced in 1907 in Europe and made its B'wy debut in 1923.  The show on B'wy lasted a few weeks before it was forced to close on charges of indecency.  In "God of Vengeance," a Jewish man runs a brothel of Jewish prostitutes.  He seeks to counter balance his immoral activity by commissioning a Torah and arranging a marriage for his daughter with a Yeshiva student.   His daughter falls in love with one of the prostitutes.  "Indecent" gives us a glimpse into Asch's life & marriage within its historic context.  It also portrays the luminescent, illicit lesbian affair onstage amidst a soft falling rain. The scene enraptures the love the women find for each other.  The original production met with condemnation from the Jewish community for desecrating the Torah & rousing anti-Semitism.   The play made its way to B'wy in 1923 but was forcibly closed for obscenity shortly after opening.  The brilliant staging of "Indecent" is lyrical & profound.  The actors play multiple roles fluidly.  The musicians & choreography add a mystical quality of timelessness.  Projections in English & Hebrew offer translations from the German & Yiddish spoken.  The projections also cover the actors given an added syntax of time passage. All the parts add up to a remarkable & unforgettable work of art. "A blink of an eye," is an oft seen projection.  The stage manager (Richard Topol) sets the play by telling us he remembers how the play begins but not how it ends.  As the actors line up to face us, fine grains of sand flow from their sleeves.  Ashes to ashes - dust to dust.  Asch and several of the actors return to Poland & Germany in the 1930's where productions of the play are staged with actors wearing the Yellow Stars of David on their clothes.  The ephemeral beauty of this brilliant staging is a rasping  juxtaposition of man's indecent inhumanity.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The British Import on B'wy "The Play that Goes Wrong" I'm the Wrong Audience for this Wacky Slapstick

The Play that Goes Wrong was not my cup of tea.  For me, it was as distasteful as drinking paint thinner; one of the multitude of running sight gags where expectorating was expected.  Adding to this calamity of a play were props  that continuously flopped, lines get dropped & pronunciations are mashed.  Most painful to endure were the physical catastrophes.  The leading lady was rendered & unceremoniously dragged off set & missteps that kept the corpse from staying dead.   The melodrama of a murder mystery was a ruckus romp that began pre-show with stage hands on stage attempting to fix the perpetual opening door and the loose board in the floor.  Sitting through the first act was a dreadful chore.  Intermission granted me permission to bail.   Alas, the audience seemed to regale heartily the honed British humor.  "The Play that Goes Wrong" won the Olivier Award in 2015.  It's making its B'wy debut with a cast making their first foray on the B'wy stage.  The one redeeming cast member was Max (Dave Hearn.)  He was winsome as he couldn't contain his own glee with any adulation.  The audience seemed to love to get in on the act & the more the cast chastised the crowd the more they roared with laughter.  This outrageous production was entirely outlandish.  There is a real kind of snobbery in the UK.  I admit to feeling snobbish towards this low brow humor.  But screw it!  Like what you like.  "Laughter would be bereaved if snobbery died."  (Peter Ustinov)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Brazilian Artist Lygia Pape A Multitude of Forms at Met Breuer

This is the first retrospective of Lygia Pape's (b Brazil 1927-2004) work in the US.   This dynamic show is so expansive, explosive and it's not possible for my observations to be inclusive of the expanse of her work.  It's important to have some background on Pape who was self-taught.  Her curiosity & experimentation was continuous.  She ventured into performance arts, filmmaking, sculpture, print making, engraving, photography, painting, paper structures, installations, poetry & much more.  She also explored the Amazon's rain forest to study & photograph  indigenous tribes.  Pape, never traveled outside her native country.  She worked during Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985.)  Many of her contemporaries exiled themselves or served time in prison.  Pape was imprisoned for a short period. Regarding her work, there is a strong reliance on geometric structures.  Pape often utilized boxes & square shapes.  Her thinking is outside the box.  The numerous references to squares & cubist forms show similarities & disparities. "Livro do Tempo" (Book of Time) covers an entire wall with 365 equal but diverse squares; varying in color & arranged shapes.  This reads as a data printout, a passage of time or as just another cog in the wall.  These rigid yet variable geometrical formations are found elsewhere.  Note the 3 large white squares with varying configurations of identically shaped black cubes.  There is also an installation with 2 rows of equanimous squares of the same grey, yellow, white, black palette with varying patterns.  Pape work reflects the multitudes of racial & cultural ethnicities that shape her nation.  The entrance to the exhibit is a massive, photograph mural of children of various race.   Just their faces poke through slits in a large, connected white sheet.   A video of young adults are seen connected in the same manner  with only heads extruding.  Here the film shows the configuration moving backwards & forwards in an undulating unity.  The most magnificient piece in the show is a staging of "Divisor."  An entire darkened room contains iridescent golden threads from floor to ceiling.  This ephemeral  work radiates as rays of light shimming through a dense forest.  Look closely at the base and you'll notice that they all stem from a square shape.  Lygia Pape's conceptual asks a lot of the viewer and provides plenty for  you to consider.

Brit Floyd Immersion Concert at Radio City Center - Pink Floyd Thrives in Older Concert Goers' Lives

The rock group Brit Floyd was formed in Liverpool in 2011.  The group appropriates the music, sound and visual effects of the iconic rock group Pink Floyd for a virtual incarnation of the original group's concerts.    Brit Floyd's psychedelic, progressive rock experience was an indistinguishable audio, visual & visceral performance complete with special effects & similar aromas.  Radio City Music Hall was an excellent venue to revisit some of the most sophisticated rock music of the 20th C.  The subversive anti-war, anti-establishment content still resonates with clanging decibels.   Pink Floyd's founding 5 formed in 1965.   The videotron posted the year & album cover for the number about to be performed.  The years spanned 1971 - 1994.  "The Dark Side of the Moon" (1973)  and "The Wall" (1979) were predominately featured with fan favorites "Another Brick in the Wall," "Money," and "Us and Them." The haunting & dystopian storytelling with combined music & video were eerie & hypnotic.  The video for "Us and Them" contained footage of the Viet Nam Conflict & protests along with news footage showing political leaders from the US & UK including the Bushes, Reagan, Thatcher, Blair, May, Assad, Putin & Kim.  Two of the original band members passed away not long after a reunion performance at the Live 8 Benefit Concert in Hyde Park in 2005.  The band had a decades long contentious (litigious) split but came together, if not awkwardly, at least significantly and for the final time.  Sadly, 2 original band members have since passed away in their 60's.  The revolutionary Pink Floyd Band & their music will continue to thrive & legacy survive with their recordings & touring of Brit Floyd.  The audience's average age had to be in the mid 60's.  It was a time warp again to see an older crowd rocking out & having a great time.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Perversion at the 13th St Rep-An Absurdist Anti-War Play that is a Bomb

Perversion playing at the 13th St Rep. Theater is an ambitious attempt to parody contempt for mankind's futile search for meaning & self-immolation.  The prescient production parallels poisonous attacks against innocent civilians which invokes devastating continual counterattacks.  The aim of this misbegotten play should be commended for its intellectual intention.  Tragically, the entire staging is so repugnant as to discredit the loftier aim of a creative correction to the insanity in searching for humanity.  The play is laden with obvious cliched commentaries "The bombings are on the other side of the world so it doesn't matter here," are cringeworthy.  The two "meat inspectors" Quibble & Scar are so onerous & irritating that their pontificating on absurdism resounds as pointless.  Their twisted double-talk becomes extremely irritating.  Vardaman, a young boy with brutal behavior (played by a ridiculous Irina Kaplan) is repulsive.  The other characters in the play, including Major Importance a non-plussed omnipresent video recorder (played by an earnest Robert Lewis) are mostly resigned observers of the perpetual mayhem.   The program notes writer/dir Judson Blake extrapolated this from a novel he's hoping to publish.  There are worthy soliloquies that can be sorted from his play for their erudite nihilist & solipsistic philosophies.  Needless, these moments are deeply buried under a terribly flawed absurdist wasteland.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Jazz at Lincoln Center The Centenniel Celebration of Buddy Rich

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Buddy Rich's birth.  Rich passed away in 1987 leaving a resounding legacy of jazz.  His omnipotent technical prowess & innovation on percussion have influenced & inspired great jazz artists & impact a whole new generations of musicians.  The Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orch performed a two part tribute to Buddy Rich.  The first set on the program contained jazz standards where Rich's drum playing generated the combustion of the composition.  The music was by greats Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Gershwin.  Other than the Gershwin's lovely ballad, "Somebody Loves Me," the entire set was lively & upbeat.  Guest artist Mike Rodriguez was featured on trumpet and returned in the 2nd set to play percussion.  Set II was a world premier, "Living Grooves: A World of Jazz Rhythm" all compositions & arrangements by Ali Jackson, drummer for the Jazz @ Linc Ctr Orch.  Jackson's music paid homage to Rich's strong & varied impact on numerous jazz styles.  The music carried Brazilian, Afro-Cuban & Detroi jazz cadences.  Jackson's incredible compositions highlighted the propulsive percussive beat of drums.  Wyton Marsalis had high praise for his talented musicians and for their compositional & arranging skills.  The triangle was dropped while being banged which didn't dent the energy & added a little levity to the enjoyment.  Jackson was the host for the evening sharing his knowledge & admiration of Rich.  Jackson let the 2nd play through after introducing their order & describing their styles.  Jackson's percussive sound came through and he wisely composed incredible trumpet solos for both Marsalis & Rodriguez.  The concert was an exceptional blend of Rich's 20th C sound and exciting new compositions.

Ronna and Beverly - Two of the Funniest Women in Showbusiness


Have you heard of Ronna & Beverly?  Ronna & Beverly are the funniest comedy duo since Abbot & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and Martin & Lewis.  In fact, these gal pals are funnier than all three duos plus the Marx Brothers combined.  Ronna & Beverly are 50 something Jewish, life long friends from Boston who host their own Podcast.  Their bi-weekly podcast airs live on Earwolf.  These two brainy, bawdy dames banter & bicker while their B list celebrity interviewee is put in a corner.  Their hilarious, spontaneous shtick is LOL funny.  Don't believe me?  I dare you to listen to their Podcasts without laughing out loud.  These 2 gal pals are comic geniuses.  No, you don't have to be Jewish to love their routine or middle aged.  Their smart, sassy incessant chatter has universal appeal for anyone who possesses a semblance of humor.   For those who don't find them funny - there is something seriously wrong with you people? 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ronna and Beverly at the Bell House in Brooklyn-A Comedic Dream Team

I'm sure many of you can name famous male comedy teams:  Abbott & Costello, Lewis & Martin and Key & Peele.  If you can't think of a female dynamic duo, then you haven't heard of Ronna & Beverly (and shame on you.)  But I won't do the blame game - you just need to tune into these smart & hilarious dames.   Their podcast "Ronna & Beverly" is phenomenal.  Their schtick is personifying 2 middle aged Jewish women, lifelong best friends since childhood from Boston.  Ronna is the savvy, sensible voice of reason & Beverly, although sharp-witted can be volatile, easily distracted and unpredictable.  Combined, the two comedians are a consumate, indefatigable pair.  They're clever, irreverant, provocative, socially relevant, sagacious and always hilarious.   And, at the core, their friendship & love for each other is heartwarming & admirable.  They're like siblings who irritate each other, regardless,   they've got each other's back.  Love keeps them together.  Last night, Ronna & Beverly played to two sold out, adoring audiences at the Bell House in Brooklyn.  Just seeing the life size photo of them on the curtain with Beverly's wide open smile & Ronna's s owlish grin, is enough to lift your spirits.  Once on stage, these two light-up a room.  Their bickering banter is flooded with laughter.  They shared their salacious, outrageous scenarios from recent events.  Seems Senator Schumer was attempting to seduce Ronna in D.C. while Beverly's shenanigans at security screening resulted in a White House lockdown.  These gals know how to bring the house down.  They brought out to celebrity guests, comedians Chris Gethard "Don't Think Twice" & Rachel Dratch (SNL alum.)  The guests are always second best but  laugh along with the rest.  Sam, their sidekick assistant is pressed to answer any query in a hurry.  After the show, both ladies were incredibly gracious.  They stayed to individually greet & take photos with their fans.  Laughter & love will keep us all together.  Ladies, we'll be thinking of you, hoping you'll be there to share with us forever.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fidelio - Beethoven's One & Only Opera at the MET

Going to the MET Opera is an exceptional occasion for it's grandeur and high-level of entertainment.  Except at last night's performance of "Fidelio" where did all the people go?  I was seated in the grand tier where there were rows upon rows of no shows.  The clement weather wasn't a factor in whether people attended.  The evening's program, "Fidelio," should have been an added incentive.  I felt a alone in Beethoven's lone opera.  Beethoven's musical genius is in an elite echelon.  Beethoven mastered & revolutionized all musical forms he endeavored.   Perhaps, opera posed some unique barriers that made returning to operatic composition unpalatable for him.  Beethoven misanthropic nature may have made staging a theatrical production onerous.  His hearing loss which which lead to total deafness in 1818, has been ascertained as early as 1801, 4 years prior to the premiere of "Fidelio."  Beethoven continued to compose & create some of his greatest works spanning the last ten years of his life despite being completely deaf.  But, Beethoven never again ventured into composing for the human voice.   Perhaps, a combination of disdain for frivilous & risque theatrics and the indeterminate capability to register vocals made any further time spent creating operas undesirable.  "Fidelio" is a dark opera that is staged within a prison.  Leonore, of a male prisoner courageously disguises herself as male to gain access inside to find him.  The story has a misdirected love story, the reuniting of the married couple and the releasing of fellow prisoners.  The music, particularily the overture, embody Beethoven's powerful & majestic qualities.  The marvelous soloists:  Leonore/Fidelio (Adrianne Pieczonka) and Marzelline (Hanna-Elisabeth Muller) offerred a lighter more sublime contrast to the deep male choruses.  Greer Grimsley as Pizarro was sublime.  Beethoven chose not to compose another opera.  But, his one & only. "Fidelio" highlights his superb musical talents.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"War Paint" Patti Lupone/Christine Ebersole as Cosemetics Competitors Helena Rubinstein/Elizabeth Arden

"War Paint" was put on hold with a major technical gaffe that took hold bringing down the curtain & the house lights up. The audience was told there was a temporary technical problem.  The 25 restless minutes got long in the tooth which brought the 4 leads out on stage & in the floor booth.  The actors improvised a distraction recounting awkward anecdotes moments while performing.  This was disarming, especially Lupone's story of a bomb threat during "Evita" with police/fire dept backstage unsure of how to proceed.  On with the show indeed - back to the beginning of the 2nd musical number "Behind the Red Door."   "War Paint" is the new musical that tells the duo biopic story of 2 grand dames of the cosmetic industry Helena Rubinstein (Patti Lupone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole.)  The ingredients are labled in bold print: 2 titans of the Broadway musical stage, multiple Tony winners Lupone & Ebersole and the Tony winning musical pair; Scott Frankel and Michael Korie ("Grey Gardens".)  Adding to the sparkling mix are Broadway veterans & Tony winners John Dossett (Tommy Lewis, Arden's husband) and Douglas Sills (Harry Fleming.)  The costumes were charming, the make-up, perfection and a live orchestration contributed to helping the show put it's best face forward.   However, not all the flaws in the show could be concealed.  The lives of these 2 mavericks who made their way into a male dominated business world to make women look & feel their best, and yes, to make their own fortunes, laid down a nice track to bet on ir being a great show.  The plot spanned the mid 1930's - 1960's  & showcased the innovative strides these rivals made running side by side.  Their stories paralleled each other as they strove to outdo the other.  Their shared histories shared more in common than their drive to succeed.  The musical numbers were quaint with clever lyrics that kept things moving at a clipping pace.  Until, the final solos "Pink" (Elizabeth) and "Beauty in the World" (Rubinstein.)  These incredible singers/actresses are first class thoroughbreds, but they got dragged through the mud on these overly long, legacy solos.  The last scene where the 2 senior women now retired are unexpectedly united is very touching and makes for a winning finale.  I would say "War Paint" wins a recommendation by a nose; preferably one that is powdered

"Hudson River School Paintings" 1st Time Seen Next to an Audobon Collection of N Amer Birds

The NY Historic Soc was bequeathed 15 Hudson River School Paintings from the Eileen & Arthur Newman collection in 2015.  These majestic & breathtaking oil paintings are being seen outside the Newman's residence for the first time.   These magnificient works of vibrant colors and light are a significant legacy of the 1st ever indigenous American artist group.  They reflect the natural splendor of our the unspoiled landscape.  The founder of the Hudson River School Painting Movement, Thomas Cole, although British born, is known for his exquisite capture of natural landscape and light.  Influences on this movement stemmed from British painter Turner known for his mastery of light and the Dusseldorf School which focused on finely detailed countryside.  A Euroepean Romanticism influence is also notable in these 15 paintings.  These comprise a glorious representations of the natural scenery in the mid-late 19th C along the Hudson and eastern seaboard.  Frederick Church, a deciple of Cole became a leading figure in this movement after Cole's early death.  Regardless of these paintings foreign influences, these majestic & rare oils are a testament to the unspoiled natural beauty of the American landscape by American artists.  I was drawn to the isolated winter scene of a boy dragging logs over the ice.  This group of artists were known as advocates for protecting the environment and promoting urban parks.  The artists moved westward as the countrysides were being over populated.  The gallery containing watercolors of the Hudson and the construction built to tap into its industrial power are anticlimate in comparison to the rich hued oils and their splendor.  Needless, these paintings can be credited with depicting the landscape's transformations.  Before entering the "Hudson River School" gallery, you pass through the hallway with another amazing natural treasure belonging to the NY Historic Society; a massive collection of Audobon's watercolors.  John James Audobon (b 1785 in what is now Haiti) moved to the US and became widely acclaimed for his detailed drawings & paintings of indigineous birds (after receiving recognition in the UK.)  From the extensive NYH Society's collection, the life sized watercolors of North American birds are standout features. The owls with their haughty glares were my favorites. His pictures are incredibly lifelike and striking.  Audobon painted between the late 18th - mid 19th C.  These two glorious exhibits melding into each are a tribute to the beauty of our nation's native birds, landscapes and treasures belonging to the NY Historic Society.

"The Framers' Coup: The Making of the US Constitution"-Fascinating History to Constructing the Constitution

Michael Klarman was at the NYHistoric Soc to disucss his new book which gives an interesting & indepth look at the clandestine Philadelphia Convention in 1786 that over threw the Articles of Confederation (AOC) drawn up in 1776 & ratified in 1781.  This is a major momumental revolution occuring a  mere decade after the Declaration of Independce & just 5 years after the Ratification of the (AOC.)  It was becoming apparent early on that our founding fathers were faltering with what the Continental Congress (CC) outlined for our nation.  It became self-evident, the follies that needed to be rectified in order for a unified system of laws to maintain a unification of the newly formed independent states.   Klarman was extremely erudite & gregarious.  Benno Schmidt the moderator did an excellent job posing direct questions to help clarify the major flaws were with the AOC.   Schmidt, former pres of Yale Univ & dean of Columbia Law school also steered Klarman to expound on the indiscretions, compromises & strategic negotiations that led to the US Constitution; our Founding Father's crowning achievement.  Succinctly, the flaws becoming problematic stemmed from the failures to establish a court system, powers to levy taxes, abilities to regulate trade; basically enforcing authority was futile.  It was very interesting to learn the Philadelphia Conv was held with a locked door policy.  No one other than state representatives were allowed into the hall and nothing was released publicly until the Constitution was signed by all 13 states.  Of course, therein lied the inherent problems - opposing views of those states wanting omnipotence and states leaning towards a necessity to form a strong federal govt.   Individual states had differeing needs, laws, populations & ideology.  A major compromised solution was the formation of the Senate with 2 representatives & the House of Congress with representatives determined by population.  As was counting slaves as 3/5 of the population of the southern states and refraining from restrictions of slavery or slave trade.   Our Constitution, the consumate construct of our founding fathers was in itself a major coup on the heels of the Revolutionary War.  Of course, there were serious contentions remaining that would lead to the succession of the south in the decades ahead and our nation's Civil War.  A covert convention in 1786 resulted in the brilliant construct of our pillar of government that was a stopgap solution up until the uncivil, devastating war between the north & south.  

Monday, April 3, 2017

"Unfinished Conversations" at MoMA- Social Unrest & Protest Yaddah Yaddah

"Unfinished Conversations" at the MoMA features works by more than 12 international artists with the underlying themes of worldwide social unrest.  Suffice to say, there is a lot to be said for art's powerful impact on society.  So, it would seems - without subtitles, artists like American born Kara Walker's recognizable works, victimized blacks are portrayed in her large black & white triptych.   Walker's oversized sugar coated female sphinx (2014) at the now dismantled Brooklyn Domino sugar building was an exhibit that engaged me, provoked me and made me think.  Walker, along with the other artists represented, used their art to represent historic conflicts, struggles and leaders of civil unrest.  The impact of the combined works numbed my umbrage for any specific events or cause.   Art is often a significant historic protest.  Too many socially themed works proved overbearing.   The intent to provoke was undermined from its sense of purpose.  "Unfinished Conversations" were too garrulous causing me to care less.  On the 2nd floor, there was an art performance with a great vantage from the top floors.  There were several musicians; a pianist, a trumpet & flutist and several people dressed in identical white frocks.  All the performance artists (including the pianist) were in continuous stop/motion on a floor with large concentric circles.  The discordant music & unimaginative performance was eccentric without further purpose.

MTA Poetry "A Name" by Ada Limon

With the spring, the MTA Poetry is sprouting new poems to bloom & brighten the gloom of winter's waning days.   Ada Limon (b Amer 1976) is an award winning poet.  In 2005, two collections of her poems were honored:  "Lucky Wreck" the Autumn House Poetry Prize and "The Big Fake World," the Pearl Poetry Prize.  The poem I spotted yesterday by Limon was on a poster with various animals prowling along the ground.  It was called "A Name."  It seems innocent, childish and tender and yet it embeds a curiosity & sense of wonder:

A Name

When Eve walked among
the animals and named them
nightingale, redshouldered hawk,
fiddler crab, fallow deer -
I  wonder if she ever wanted them to speak back, looked into
their wide wonderful eyes and
whispered, Name me, name me

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"On the Exhale" An Anti-Gun Stun also Aims to Explain the Absurd Appeal of Lethal Power

The public has become innured to the daily death tolls tallied by shooters.  Note:  it's the person not the gun that wields the killing.  Martin Zimmerman's blazing play "On the Exhale" at the RoundAbout is a 1 ACT, 1 Woman (Marin Ireland) stunner that is a shot in the arm wake-up to end the senseless destruction of so many lives.  Ireland gives a rousing performance as a bereaved, single mother whose only child, Michael, is gunned down along with his teacher & 1st grade classmates: a Newtown scenario that is not named because it's anytown on any given day.  The mother, the nameless Woman gives a very close & personal account of her life, her grief, her disbelief "{you} can't begin to imagine the sea of mourning parents."  The succinct storytelling shares her persistent paranoia that proves prophetic & far more painful than feared.  The Woman feels judged by her peers & psychiatrist for being too preoccupied with her narrow, all consuming focus on Michael & for perseverating on safety precautions against an armed phantom aiming for her.  Many issues are banged about:  the NRA, lack of mental health care, liberal gun laws, unmitigated grief & fatal shootings despite being unarmed with hands held up in supplication.    The Woman's grief drives her to the gun retailer where her son's assailant legally purchased his assault weapon.  Her mission to confront the guilty arms seller gets turned around.  She ends up purchasing the weapon & becomes obsessed with firing the gun.  The omnipresent bruising on her shoulder from the gun's pushback is her red badge of penance which keeps Michael alive.  The playwright takes a hard edge against the impact of gun violence & death.   He also gets us to perceive the powerful, compulsive drive firearms maintain over a massive population.  The simple solution is to demand action for gun sense in America.  Alas, common sense has succumbed to Americans' seduction with firearms.   "On the Exhale," has the markmanship of a sharpshooter and should serve as a clarion cry to reduce the madness & mayhem.  Nonetheless, innocent victims will continue to be killed with every breath.  

"Joan of Arc Into the Fire" a Musical by David Byrne is a Misfortunate Misfire

The Public Theater is famously & fortunately renown as the launching pad for Lin Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical sensation "Hamilton."  The odds of sparking another sure fire hit on par with this predecessor are rare, but arousing of temptation.  For Joseph Papps' Public Theater, the biopic "Joan of Arc," book, music & lyrics by David Byrne (b UK 1952) must have seemed like a bright idea on paper.  On stage, the production is a fiasco.  Byrne, leading singer/songwriter for "Talking Heads" (1975-19991) is an Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe winner & inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for song.  What could possibly go wrong?  Everything; including the unispired story, messy score, cluttered staging and stumbling choreography.  The battle scene between the French & British soldiers was cringeworthy.  The French soldiers faced the audience with their blue capes & fleur-de-lis emblems. brandishing their swords.  The same soldiers turned their backs on stage to attack their phantom selves as British fighters in black leather jackets with red diagnol crosses.  Joan of Arc (Jo Lambert, a young Alan Cummings doppelgänger) maintained her staunch position brandishing the French banner.  The play was a shoddy nod to Les Miserables with its flailing banners..  Lambert was lame in both her acting & singing.  I confess, she was also condemned by the misguided script which was soulless, shallow and silly.  The plotting relied heavily on the French & British determining whether Joan's hymen was intact.  The British Religious Dioscese did a campy number coercing Joan to confess.  This was completely out of step with the intended solemnity.  The musical's gravitas was never ablaze.  There were beacons of talent: a brilliant trumpet solo, excellent guitar playing and a terrific Terence Archie as Warwick with a resounding tenor.  The final number sung by Joan's mother (Mare Winnigham) seeking sainthood for her daughter "Send Her to Heaven" did not provide redemption.  It was the final coup de grace to a smoldering shambles.