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Monday, December 26, 2011

Make an appointment to see Hairspray at Signature!

I have really come to treasure seeing plays in smaller theaters. Even when I go to New York, I try to see off-Broadway shows for that more intimate experience.  Of course, Washington has its share of smaller venues and once in a while, the experience can be amazing - like Ruined at Arena last year, Woolly's Bright New Boise or Constellation's Three Sisters.  I can safely and enthusiastically add Hairspray, currently at Signature Theater, to that list. This is a show that slowly buiilds with a wonderful score by Marc Shaiman and a serviceable book by the great Thomas Meehan. By the time it hits its stride in the second act, your realize you're about 5 rows away from an amazingly talented and diverse cast singing hummable songs. The plot - about integration in Baltimore in the early '60s by way of a kids music show - feels important. And then Nova Y. Payton blows us away with her big number. And then Can't Stop the Music finishes things up in an all-out party.  Please go see this show if you can.  Signature puts on many new works that hit and miss - they should be commended - but this is what they, namely director Eric Schaeffer, do best. Oh, and Robert Aubry Davis should be commended for playing the mother (why doesn't AroundTown have a place to play every week?).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Week With Marilyn Showcases The Best of Britain

Interestingly, My Week With Marilyn starts in the same way that the starting-to-be-acclaimed movie The Artist does: with a film within the film. The device works in both pictures as a way to admire the stars whose story we will see unfold - yet also give us that distance that stars demand. In Marilyn, we see young Colin watching a Marilyn Monroe film - and then get stylish shots of Michelle Williams actually singing the number in the film. I enjoyed the movie. I would call it style over substance. There are so many great English actors in the film: Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Simon Russell Beale, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond. And Williams is able to carry it with a sexy, intuitive performance. No, she does not have the curves of the real Marilyn, but she's able to show a few sides of her. It's a difficult role - she has to be Marilyn, be Marily acting, be Marilyn cooing, be Marilyn crazy. And sing. So while it's not a great film - there's just not enough plot really despite a nice supporting job by Emma Watson as a woman Colin's age - director Simon Curtis (he's married to Elizabeth McGovern) does a pretty good job of holding it all together. It's just a fun movie to watch. Branagh gives Olivier a kind turn, as does Ormond with Vivian Leigh. Eddie Redmayne, who I liked with Kristen Stewart in The Yellow Hadkerchief, also holds his own among the many luminaries. I regret not seeing him on Broadway last year in Red.  I would guess a couple Oscar nominations come out of this film, perhaps for Williams and Branagh.

Friday, December 16, 2011

US Botanic Garden Features Concerts During Holiday Nights

I had not been back to the the U.S. Botanic Garden since July 3, when they graciously opened the doors during an incredible storm that canceled the Capitol Fourth Rehearsal concert. I enjoyed our personal tour then and I loved it last night as well. I cannot imagine a more beautiful setting for the holidays. The klezmer group Lox and Vodka performed and offered a little bit of everything. They will be having four more evening concerts on the next two Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8 pm: Dec. 20, Project Natale, jazz; Dec. 22, Samovar, Russian folk music; Dec. 27, Hot Club of DC, gypsy jazz and swing; and Dec. 29, 40 Thieves, Irish rock music. The concerts take place in the beautiful gardens, decoreated with poinsettias, a lighted tree and many ornaments. In the next room an incredible series of toy trains choo choos around another holiday-themed room.  You can also just walk through the maze of plants and trees and get a little of that tropical high right in the middle of DC. This place - with no annoying security gates either - is a gem. Take advantage of these wonderful concerts. Oh, they're free. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Artist Gives Us a Gilmpse of the Grand Way It Was

I was fortunate to see the wonderful new film The Artist at a packed house at New York's famed Paris movie theater. About halfway through this mostly silent film - both a tribute to the films of the past and a history - I took a look at the heads below the screen and the black and white images on them and thought that this is what it was like: a huge screen in a big cinema with a balcony (and $13 prices!). French writer and director Michael Hazanavicius has crafted an age-old story of boy-meets-girl and aging star loses luster and added so many clever wrinkles that the result is incredibly smooth and heart-tugging. Kudos to the casting director for using Jean Dujardin (of the OSS 117 spy spoof films) and finding Berenice Bejo to team with him. They are both athletic and graceful, and look good together. John Goodman shows how to bluster without any sound, James Cromwell admirably plays the good chauffeur - I still shiver when I think of him in LA Confiudential - and Penelope Ann Miller (wow where has she been?) plays the unloved wife. It is amazing to see how a story can be told so well without sound - although there is a beautiful original score by Ludovic Bource which is crucial to the film. So I don't know if you can find an old theater to see this in. Let's hope either the Avalon or the Uptown shows it. If they do, please see it there. It's such an original film, which is so odd to say considering it's a silent. There must be a lesson there.