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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Menzel and Hamlisch Defy Gravity

I've regaled the talents and accessibility of Marvin Hamlisch on these pages before. So when I saw that he was leading the NSO with guest artist Idina Menzel I jumped on it. And he would be speaking to us after. It lived up to its billing on Thursday night. Menzel gives you two shows - one as an incredible singer of ballads from Rent, Wicked (the show-stopping "Defying Gravity"), Annie and ones that she wrote herself ("Gorgeous" is gorgeous); and one as a standup comedian (what a funny and lovely person!). If you ever get a chance to see her, please take it. Hamlisch has to be the nicest big talent around. So he saunters out on the stage after the show to talk to about 100 of us. "Can you play The Way We Were?" came quickly. "Can you sing happy birthday to my friend?" "Can you make up a song like you usually do?" His answers: "Ok, at the end." After he answered about 20 questions, not one of them involving The Sting music he wrote or soundtrack from Informant (movie is worth it just for that), he went to the piano. And there came a beautiful Way We Were, followed by a song he just invented called "Oh Boy" (suggested by Idina Menzel's young son who was offstage), and then, sure enough he asked if the woman had her recorder on and then led everyone in "Happy Birthday" to Veronica. Oh, he also apologized for being late on stage afterward. Joe Torre came backstage and Hamlisch is a huge Yankees fan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Off the Marks

So Peter Marks blasted Signature's Fox on the Fairway. I'm not surprised. But I don't think I agree. Just who is he writing for? He writes a rave review for Studio Theater's Songs of the Dragon, a play that's hardly even watchable - and you can't escape from because it's 90 minutes and no intermission. Half the plays he reviews are on Broadway. I have a place to stay in New York and I hardly get to see that much there! Does the average person in DC? And when I do go, I usually end up at something off-Broadway where the fare is more interesting. So now he takes Ken Ludwig, Holly Twyford and everyone else to task for Ludwig's golf farce. It's not a great play, it may not even be a very good one. But it's enjoyable and deserved better.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Odd Couple Shines at Theater J

Just back from opening night of The Odd Couple at Theater J. They've made the very wise decision of drafting Rick Foucheux as a company member this year, and it immediately paid dividends with Something You Did and even moreso with The Odd Couple. This is one funny play, and Foucheux gets the ornery/lovable Oscar Madison pretty much right. (My Mom recalls seeing the original Odd Couple on Broadway with Art Carney and Walter Matthau, and says she never laughed so hard as in the opening poker scene.) The scene here lives up to expectations as the six actors in this production do a terrific job - just watching Delaney Williams shuffle the deck is fun. Is it still a great play? It's a very good play. The TV show has become so entrenched in at least my mind, that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. Tony Randall (TV's Felix) was an incredible actor - as nauseating as Felix was, you still felt for him. It's harder to say that here, escpecially with J. Fred Shiffman. I'm not sure he makes the part his own. But is that the script? I'm not sure. So I don't know if we care as much as we should later on. An early scene showing the other four poker players coming back in to check on Felix tells me that a little more warmth might be in the script. But this is a small criticism. Nothing wrong with a thoroughly entertaining show these days from a terrific company. Kudos to director Jerry Whiddon. Go see it - there are plenty of half-price deals out there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson Are 'Fair Game' at AFI

After the Washington premier showing of Fair Game ended at AFI Tuesday night - after the audience was obviously elated by this real-life Mata Hari-plus tale - Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson glided down the aisle to assume center stage (with Bourne director Doug Liman and NPR's Neil Conan). Joe started by saying, "I'm not an asshole, maybe just a tough mean son of a bitch." Valerie, glamorous in a shouldery yellow blouse, said to the audience, "I loved how you laughed - you get the inside jokes here!" And so it went for the next half hour or so. Liman said that because Plame Wilson could not divulge everything about her CIA past, he had to piece together some of the big picture. "It was actually the opposite of what this sort of film usually does," said Liman. "Where you have the big parts of the story but have to kind of make up what was said in the smaller moments. Here, they gave me those moments but I couldn't have the facts."
Liman said he was fortunate in the casting of Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. The screenwriter, Jez Butterworth, knew Watts and brought her the script - "days after she gave birth. Just read 10 pages," Liman pleaded. Her was right. Watts knew Penn from two movies they did together and Liman asked her to approach him with the same 10-pages deal. That was enough for him as well.
Plame Wilson explained that prior to her husband sending the famous op-ed to the Times that put everything in motion - writing that Niger did not sell uranium to Iraq - he tried his darnedest to get people to listen to him. The op-ed was not a rash decision, she said. We need to stand up and hold our governement accountable." She welcomed an accusation by a questioner that she was no longer covert well prior to being outed by the White House. "{I was a covert spy when this was perpetrated."
Liman urged people to tell their friends to see this film. "Word of mouth means the world to us."
Plame WIlson said she was able to speak to students from her alma mater, Penn State, the previous night. "I encouraged them to do public service, get a Eurail pass and just go."
Joe WIlson said what he did was not partisan. "Brent Scowcroft has been a good friend of mine for many years and he said that I would have done the same thing to a Democratic president."
It was a special evening to see two larger than life people. Go see Fair Game.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In Person Tuesday Night, the Wilsons and Director Doug Liman!

Let's talk movies. Very quietly, AFI in Silver Spring has added quite a roster of celebrities to its showing of the new film Fair Game Tuesday night. That's the story of glamorous real-life CIA agent Valerie Plame-Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson, directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers). They will all be there Tuesday.

The Avalon Theater is showing Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today for one more week. This film has incredible footage from the first famous Nuremberg Trial after World War II. We see all the Nazi criminals and the prosecutors putting their case against them. There are atrocities from the war, be warned.

Landmark E Street Cinema is still showing Heartbreaker; it's an entertaining movie about a guy who is sent in to break up relationships. Hard to describe, but it's carried out in a fun way and has great shots of Monte Carlo.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ludwig Lends His Signature Form to Signature Theater

Last night, I was fortunate enough to sit behind Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (Crazy for You, Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo) at a dress rehearsal for his new farce, "A Fox on the Fairway" at the Signature Theatre. The play stars the always wonderful Holly Twyford, following up her incredible turn at Signature last year in The Little Dog Laughed. First of all, I have to say that I miss the huge chessboard and pieces outside Signature. That seemed to be a great crowd gatherer and would still be even without Chess playing on stage. (I'm still humming music from that.) Anway, Ludwig has to be one of the nicest "major talents" that I have ever met. I was just helping out there and he introduced himself to me so kindly. He still lives in Washington, despite his many travels to New York and London. It's not fair to review the play at this point in the process. But Ludwig proves again that he is a master of farce, throwing everything in there--numerous doors, mistaken identity, crazy timing, physical pratfalls, unknown relatives, neatly tied together ending--to create an entertaining evening. He told some audience members that he was playing golf with his friend Harry Teeter when the friend suggested that golf could be a pretty funny subject for the play. There was a great "in joke" towards the end when a character started naming members of their golf club. Teeter was one of them, Eric Shaffer, head of Signature another. We're fortunate that Ludwig and Twyford contribute like this to the Washington stage scene. This may not be his best play, but it's original, new, fun and wonderfully acted.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's a Nice Day for This White Wedding

Movie recommendations: Saw a premier of White Wedding last night with the South African meetup group, thanks to Peter Herman. The director was supposed to be there but couldn't make it. The South African ambassador took her place. The film is a funny and extremely well-done road movie of two friends trying to get to a wedding, which happens to be for one of them. It really plays with our stereotypes in a fun way. At times it reaches the far points of farce but never exceeds it. It stays within the boundaries of believability. It opens Friday and I hope everyhone supports it.

Very sad about the death of Carla Cohen, co-founder of Politics and Prose. She was a person who really made a difference in our quality of life. There is a lot to be said for that.

Did you see that Campbell Scott was in the audience for a recent performance of Circle Mirror Transformation at Studio Theater? His wife Kathleen McElfresh is one of the five stars of the excellent play. Rent Roger Dodger if you've never seen it to see Scott at his best.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Free Tickets for Arena Stage Opening Up for Grabs on Friday

Went to Arena Stage's usher orientation/tour last night - wow, it's quite a place! They will have a big grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 23, with music and tours. Tickets are free but must be obtained this Friday, Oct. 8. Go here NOW and register your account so that Friday you can get tickets quickly. They told us last night that E Faye Butler will play Aunt Eller in Oklahoma as just one part of the multi-racial casting. (We were told that additional research done by Arena revealed a pocket of ethnicity in Oklahoma at the time.) Butler is one of the most electrifying singers in the area and has appeared in numerous productions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Vibrator Play Once Again Shows Ruhl Is Among Our Best

It only has this weekend to go, but In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play would be worth the visit. Woolly Mammoth has $15 tickets that they sell two hours before curtain. Sarah Ruhl is one of the country's most important playwrights right now. I don't know if this is a great play, but some of her mechanisms and what she is trying to get at makes her pretty unique these days. Some of the play borders on farce with two doors in constant action - and the climaxes taking place in one room, while the other stays pretty sedate. The wall is an invisible one that disappears in the last act, similar a little bit to Stoppard's final scene in Arcadia, when the wall of time disappears so the characters can connect. We do care about Ruhl's characters. And the play is incredibly entertaining - witness the pleasure of the audience I was a part of. (Woolly is getting an amazingly young crowd these days - all the kudos go to them. Other theaters are very jealous.) Maybe the play just takes its time too much to get there, to the important conversations - and how many orgasms can we listen to. Interesting that after the Post criticized the Mexican ballet yesterday for frontal nudity on the women and not men - saying it's old hat -Ruhl goes the other way in the last scene. That's why she is so important right now. She is breaking rules and going her own way. We have a lot to look forward to from this playwright - and Woolly; their production looks and feels right on, with a terrific performance from newcomer Kate deBuys. Aaron Posner  is THE man in town now, directing-wise, having moved here this year. We are fortunate for that too.