After having the good fortune of watching The Old Vic production of Endgamethe other night, I wandered around digitaltheatre.com and excitedly saw several shows that I just had to find the time to watch (it’s getting harder and harder to find the time for all the streaming theatre out there). My buddy and I had tickets to see Endgame in person last month, and when the whole trip to London was canceled, we donated one of the Endgame tickets to The Old Vic rather than getting a credit voucher for the both of them. With that donation, I soon discovered that not only did I get the chance to watch Beckett’s Endgame, but I was also was granted permission to many other productions available on digitaltheatre.com, including the wonderfully fun West End revival of Funny Girlstarring Sheridan Smith (tonight’s viewing), Regent’s Park’s production of Into the Woods (maybe on the weekend?), and the West End revival of Private Lives at the Gielgud Theatre, a play that I have some fun design history with.
Back in the day, when I was a theatre set design major at York University, Toronto, my final project for design class was NoëlCoward’s Private Lives. I was able to pick from a variety of theatre spaces to stage my design for, and against the recommendations of my wonderful professor, I went with a more open-spaced theatre, rather than the standard proscenium. Traditionally, the play is structured to be laid out much like it was done at the Gielgud. A backdrop of french doors behind the railings at the edge for Act One set the scene of two adjoining balconies at a luxury hotel in France. For the rest of the play, those design pieces disappear to reveal a spacious Art Deco Parisian flat rotating into view for the remaining battleground needed for Act Two and Three. I had decided to try something else, utilizing the same acting space for all three with rotating walls and windows to change the exterior into an interior, enhanced with bold art deco flower prints. My professor, who I adored, never was able to see past my flaunting of tradition, but I persevered. I loved my design, but she just ‘liked’ it. You can’t win every battle, I learned, so I was looking forward to watching this production to take in what they did with the set, and see if they flaunted tradition as I had once done so many years prior.
Probably wisely, they did not follow my revolution, staying true to tradition, and gifting us with a gloriously produced production. Playing first at the Chichester Festival Theatre before flying into the West End, Anthony Ward’s deliciously decadent art deco design is both handsome and elegant, billowing in the ocean’s air with effortless charm. Private Lives is exactly that kind of play; breezy and delightful sharp. It’s clear that Noël Coward loaded up a lopsided battle between fiery destructive passion and silly and boring strait-laced propriety. Naturally, in true Coward form, passion is the rightful winner, but we also know that from the start. It’s a perfect set-up he creates to examine this romantic conflict. On a beautiful summer’s night, a divorced couple forcefully collides with one another while on honeymoon with their new unknowing partners. At first, horrified to see the other and desperate to escape, the two, Amanda and her ex-husband, Elyot, find they can’t ignore the music below and that fire inside that draws them together. They must embrace it and run with it to the bitter end.
They also can’t deny the fact that they have both married for possibly the wrong ‘right reasons’, such as security and stability, two things Coward obviously can’t bear. The pretty but insipid Sibyl, Elyot’s new wife, and Amanda’s new husband, the decent but dull Victor don’t stand a chance in this relentlessly jagged but sophisticated world of wit and charm. Nervous but enlivened and every so British, the two exes fly into each other’s arms as quickly as fine cocktails downed when fueled by moonlight and ocean air. Deep down in their Private Lives, their passion for one another is as impossible to ignore as their tendency to bicker, an obvious stance where the playwright’s sympathies lie. “It’s strange how potent cheap music” can be, they observe, as they throw themselves madly together on those impeccable adjoining balconies, discarding rational thought for explosive desire.
Toby Stephens (National/West End’s Oslo) as Elyot, stands strong and handsome on the balcony looking out at the yachts in the harbor, irresistibly charming in his perfectly tailored tux, courtesy of designer Ward. He manages to exude impeccable sophistication while also displaying subtly the wounds in Elyot’s obvious facade. We are drawn to him, but aware that there is danger in attachment with this type of man. And we wonder if it is worth the risk. As Amanda, Anna Chancellor (National’s The Seagull, “Downton Abbey“) shines smart and bright, giving us a droll wise thoroughbred of a woman just anxiously waiting in the stalls to be ridden thrillingly and dangerously through the elegant countryside. She’s a needy fireball, saddled with a spikey restlessness in regards to polite convention. It borders on testy but never steps over into that territory, wisely keeping us on her side while also seeing the trouble ahead. She’s excitingly good at her quick sly remarks, even when the jabs are somewhat mean, but it’s clear from the beginning that she will have little patience for her new husband’s dull upright kindness. It’s a wonder the needy newlywed Sibyl, somewhat flittingly played by the lovely Anna-Louise Plowman (real-life wife of Toby Stephens; Oxford Playhouse’s Three Tall Women), and the blustering proud Victor, strongly portrayed by Anthony Calf (Broadway’s King Charles III), don’t catch on more quickly to their distant coolness. Mischief seems to hang in Amanda and Elyot’s sighs as they both look out over the ocean dreamingly, and it’s clear that these two “violent assets” will undoubtedly come crashing together with an unbridled force, regardless of the pretty pass it will all come to.
Kent’s production was a clear favorite at the Chichester Festival Theatre in the fall of 2012, transferring lock, stock, and barrel to London’s West End. The chemistry between Chancellor and Stephens is somewhat elusive on the balcony, but dramatically clear in the privacy of the Paris apartment. Their body language registers every pinch and punch delivered to one another as the friction of these two wildly stubborn sticks rubbing together waits for the sparks to fly. Fired up, these two spar entertainingly well, but the outcome always remains obvious from the moment they met on the balcony to their sit down beside one another for their post-apocalyptic breakfast with their newly discarded spouses, served up reluctantly by the not-as-funny-as-she-should-be French maid, played by Sue Kelvin. We see it in her annoyed eyes as she looks out over the war zone with frustration, wanting them all to get it together, get a grip, and leave her to her work. She has no patience for these Brits.
“I had no idea that people behaved like that. It’s disgusting,” declares a shocked and appalled Sibyl, but we can’t join her in that arrogant stance. The tables are imbalanced towards the two ex-partner lovers. One of the clever concoctions created by director Kent’s revival is that it’s utterly obvious that the stuffy Victor and the silly Sibyl are as ridiculous to us as they are disgusting to Coward. In a 2005 article, Penny Farfan, from the point of view of queer theory, believes that “the subversiveness of [Coward’s] sexual identity is reflected in his work,” and that Private Lives puts forth the idea that “the conventional gender norms on which compulsory heterosexuality depends.” John Lahr in a 1982 study of Coward’s plays writes, “Elyot and Amanda’s outrageousness is used to propound the aesthetics of high camp – an essentially homosexual view of the world that justifies detachment.” Interestingly, the two are equals in their absolute ambiguity to a standardized tortured conscience of what they have done to their newly married partners, but they don’t really care. The inequality of spirit within their new marriages speaks volumes about the doomed nature of those unions. We want them to find a way to work it out together, even though we see their predetermined argumentative stance as a tact that will never fully go away, even with a safe word used often and regularly. They will fight and love until the day they die. And Private Lives believes that is a far better union than one that is safe and sound, equating that ideal to boredom, dullness, and empty of all charm. This production, although not perfect in the sexual chemistry, reminds us of the passion we all want, without the slaps and explosive flying glassware. In a time of self-isolation, a little fire is more exciting now than it ever has been. So sign up to digitaltheatre.com, and check yourself into Coward’s Private Lives, and all the others that are being offered up. I’ll be lapping up another fiery couple in Funny Girl tonight. Come join me in my streaming glory!
For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Glorious Corner
TREE LIKE ME — Monday morning, gossip-sites were ablaze with this missive from one Tree Paine – Taylor Swift’s publicist – about swirling rumors about the singer’s love life: Travis Kelce’s sister-in-law, Kylie Kelce, subtly supported Taylor Swift after the “Anti-Hero” singer’s publicist clapped back at rumors about her love life. Eagled-eyed fans noticed that Kylie “liked” a post from the Today Show about Tree Paine slamming celebrity gossip blog DeuxMoi for spreading “fabricated lies” about Swift’s relationship with ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn.
Ms. Paine’s PR-firm is called Premium PR and by all accounts, the Nashville-based mistress has had a great ride with Swift. As we go to press, Time Magazine just named her their person of the year.
Back in the day, ZZ Top and Michael Jackson had Howard Bloom; Debbie Gibson and Run DMC had David Salidor; Elton and the Rolling Stones have Fran Curtis; and Billy and Alexa Joel and Christie Brinkley have Claire Mecuri … all stars in our book, but Ms. Paine has Swift.
BRENDA LEE — (from People) Brenda Lee has a reason to celebrate the holidays early this year.
On Monday, the singer’s 1958 classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time, 65 years following its debut.
In claiming the top spot, Lee broke many records — including those held by Mariah Carey and her mega hit “All I Want for Christmas is You” — as her hit became the third holiday No. 1 ever to be featured on the Hot 100, per a press release.
This marks Lee’s third No. 1 hit in her career. She earned her first No. 1 with her 1960 single “I’m Sorry.”
Lee was just 13 years old when she recorded the Johnny Marks-penned hit debut, and at 78, she’s now the oldest woman to top the Hot 100, surpassing previous record-holders Cher for “Believe” when she was 52 and Carey for “All I Want for Christmas Is You” at 53.
In a press release statement, Lee called the song’s latest achievement “amazing. “I cannot believe that ‘Rockin’’ has hit No. 1 65 years after it was released, this is just so special!” she said. “Thank you to the team at UMG/UMe who worked so hard to celebrate the song’s anniversary this year. But most importantly, thank you to the fans who keep listening.”
Lee continued: “The song came out when I was a young teenager and now to know that it has resonated with multiple generations and continues to resonate — it is one of the best gifts I have ever received. Keep on Rockin’ and Merry Christmas!”
Last month, Lee released the first-ever music video for her Christmas classic, which features cameos from Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood. Here’s the link:
In addition to the music video, she shared the EP, A Rockin’ Christmas with Brenda Lee, in November featuring “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and other holiday favorites including “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Jingle Bell Rock” “A Marshmallow World” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” reimagined by Filous.
For record aficionados: The song was originally released on Decca Records in 1958. Dub Allbritten became Lee’s personal manager in 1956 and remained in that position throughout her formative years. In May 1956, Lee signed with Decca and two months later had her first recording session, supervised by Paul Cohen with the assistance of Owen Bradley
SHORT TAKES — RIP Denny Laine – best remembered from The Moody Blues (“Go Now”) and Paul McCartney’s Wings – and their best album Band On The Run. I loved “Go Now” btw. Here’s Roger Friedman’s take via SHOWBIZ 411: https://www.showbiz411.com/2023/12/05/rip-denny-laine-79-original-member-of-wings-and-the-moody-blues-wrote-the-hit-go-now …
I didn’t see any reviews from Debbie Gibson’s 2 shows last week at NYC’s Gramercy Theater but Yahoo did run a headline that she had 5 costume changes! They were in support of her 2022 holiday Winterlicious album …The Kennedy Center Honors had their event this past weekend. Congrats all. Can’t wait to see the show next week. Here’s Deadline’s take: https://deadline.com/2023/12/kennedy-center-honors-joe-biden-robert-de-niro-billy-crystal-1235650306/ …
Here’s celebrity-biographer Mark Bego’s interview with NEWHD’s Zach Martin: https://www.spreaker.com/user/bigfatamerican/mark-bego-copy … RIP Norman Lear; Happy Bday Anthony Noto … On the mend: Jerry Lembo!
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Kimberly Cornell; Joe Lynch; Victor Kastel; Peter Shendell; Eppy; Kent Kotal; Roy Trakin; Melinda Newman; Tyson Terror; Vincent D’Onofrio; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Sasha Peres; Jacqueline Boyd; Cairo; Tanya Tenor; Jonathan Wolfson; Brad LeBeau; Wayne Rosso; Thomas Silverman; and ZIGGY!
The Glorious Corner
TAP 2 — (Via Rock Cellar) Doubling down after a May 2022 report that indicated everything was a go for a sequel to 1984’s classic comedy/music industry satire This Is Spinal Tap, filmmaker Rob Reiner has now confirmed that plans are taking shape in a big way.
Not only is the sequel on tap (pun intended) to begin filming in early 2024, but Reiner recently told comedian/podcast host Richard Herring that “everybody’s back” for the sequel. This no doubt refers to principal cast members Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest, though Tony Hendra (who portrayed the band’s manager, Ian Faith, passed away in 2021).
The U.K.’s Guardian notes that the plot will reportedly center on Faith’s death, after which his widow inherits a contract that requires the band to do one last concert. Reiner is also due to return in the character of film-maker Marty DiBergi, a figure supposedly based on Martin Scorsese, who had directed celebrated music documentary The Last Waltz in 1976.
What’s more, Reiner also spilled the beans that appearances from Sirs Paul McCartney and Elton John and Garth Brooks are in the works too, among what one must assume will be a million other amusing cameos. After all, a film as beloved and influential as the original This Is Spinal Tap counts pretty much every living musician as a fan (give or take), so you know the sequel will hold nothing back when it comes to the entertainment factor.
In the podcast, Reiner also talked about This Is Spinal Tap’s remarkable afterlife, culminating in selection for the National Film Registry in 2002, after its initially unfavourable reception on its first release. “To wind up in the National Film Registry, that’s bizarre,” Reiner said. “We previewed it in a theatre in Dallas, Texas, and the people didn’t know what the heck they were looking at. They came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I don’t understand, why would you make a movie about a band that no one has ever heard of, and they are so bad? Why would you ever do that? Why don’t you make a movie about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?’ I would say, ‘It’s satire,’ and I tried to explain. But over the years people got it, and started to like it.”
Personally, I found the 1984 original movie just hilarious. Aside from a great send-up of the music biz, the cameos were just fascinating: Paul Shaffer as PR-man Artie Fufkin; Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal as ‘mime’ waiters; Fred Willard; Anjelica Houston; Russ Kunkel; Danny Kortchmar and Fran Drescher as promo-gal Bobbi Fleckman … all just inspired.
Reiner’s on a roll – his Albert Brooks doc Defending My Life is sensational. A must-see.
Maybe an update of The Monkees’ HEAD next?
SHORT TAKES — Mark Bego’s Joe Cocker tome hit #4 on theAmazon charts this week. Here’s a great review from Goldmine on the book by their Lee Zimmerman: https://l.messenger.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goldminemag.com%2Freviews%2Fjoe-cocker-book-shines-light-on-unfortunate-undercurrents-of-a-stars-career&h=AT2zaG2QKuxuHdpJO1nPHKaiO7IWkbAHCBRAeq3m4-J45axSc_wBott7ABve8Wcd7GpQC13gybDWb2Hale6D809pTdtqqmpDoxC4u6FLA7SNNJ2jHbVKKpSaH1kxX4Ide1AyXDJXSZL2idNWvOch4A
… Micky Dolenz sang “Silly Love Songs” at Monday’s Troubadour benefit for Denny Laine and our spy said he really rocked it. Maybe a Dolenz Sings McCartney album is next? … So, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is authentic? Interesting choice for sure …
Writer and reporter Pablo Guzman passed this last weekend. An original member of The Young Lords, Guzman was a fierce fighter and brilliant writer. On Fox 5/Good Day NY for decades, he most recently was a reporter at WCBS. Here’s the Daily News take: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12799071/Legendary-NYC-news-anchor-Pablo-Guzman-dies-aged-73-Big-Apple-veteran-reporter-dubbed-son-Bronx-founded-Puerto-Rican-activist-group-Young-Lords-journalist.html …
And it’s official, the NY-launch for the Mark Bego Joe Cocker book will be Tuesday, January 9 at Steve Walter’s Cutting Room.
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Sara Gore; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Daryl Estrea; Tony King; Ace Shortly; Kjersti and Jeremy Long; Debbie Gibson; Van Dean; Liz Skollar; Maude Adams; Robert Vaughn; Steve McQueen; Zach Martin; Coati Mundi; Avery Sharp; Steve Walter; Gary Gershoff; Jane Blunkell; Kimberly Cornell; Paul Iorio; Lee Jeske; MArt Ostrow; Peter Shendell; Sharon White; and ZIGGY!
Avengers Tower Sets Meet And Greet With Signing
C. B. Cebulski, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, and The LEGO Group Senior Graphic Designer Mark Tranter will be at the Fifth Ave LEGO Store this Friday, December 1st from 5pm-6pm signing the Avengers Tower set—the most iconic building in the Avengers Universe, with 5,201 pieces and an all-star cast of 31 figures.
The Avengers Tower, formerly known as Stark Tower, was a high-rise building complex located in Manhattan. Constructed by Tony Stark, the tower was powered by an Arc Reactor that made it capable of running itself for over a year. The top ten floors housed the research and development initiatives.
Following the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark Tower became the main headquarters of the Avengers. However, after the Ultron Offensive, Stark refurbished a Stark Industries warehouse upstate into the Avengers Compound to use as their primary base while Avengers Tower was repurposed for Stark Industries’ use. In the aftermath of the Avengers Civil War, Stark sold the tower and moved all of its equipment to the Avengers Compound.
By 2024, the tower, under its new ownership, had gone through extensive construction and renovation.
The Glorious Corner
A CHER STEAL — This year’s 97th edition of the Macy’s Day Parade was a rather underwhelming one, save for Chicago – inexplicably singing “Your My Inspiration” – and the always, indefatigable Cher, singing a track “DJ Play a Christmas Song” off her new holiday-themed album. The first few bars will terribly auto-tuned, but that seemed to disappear and Cher’s vocals rang full and bold.
She was, typically, a pro. Mixing effortlessly and emotionally with the dancers in a terrific set. Some pundits reported the clip was shot days earlier, but she was live and, just sensational. I wish more of today’s performers possessed her vigor and skills. That’s why most of the current acts, here today, will be gone tomorrow.
As we went to press, we learned that this parade was Macy’s most-watched edition ever! Congrats.
HALL VS. OATES — Some terrible news appeared in Wednesday’s media that Daryl Hall had taken out a TRO against partner-John Oates. I’ve loved what these two have done for decades and I loved Hall’s solo albums; especially the one he did with Robert Fripp in 1977 Sacred Songs. His record company at the time (RCA) hated it so much, they held up its release for three years.
I also well remember them in the 80’s when it seemed you could’t turn on a radio without hearing their music. 29 of their 33 singles were major chart hits on Billboard. But I do go back to them even in the 70’s, with their terrific “She’s Gone” which basically launched them. And, my favorite album of their War Babies, produced by Todd Rundgren. Quick note: That album sounds as good and relevant as it did when it came out in 1974.
The problem seems to arise from Oates wanting to sell his portion of certain songs to Primary Wave Artists – which ironically owns several of their songs already. It’s a small point, but that seems to be the issue. In all actuality, it’s another case of a classic-rocker selling his music.
In Oates’ book several years ago (Change of Seasons: A Memoir), he hardly mentioned Hall and regrettably that animus has apparently reared its angry head. They’re Philly boys, I’m from Philly and it’s just an awful coda to what was one of music’s major success stories. Sad all around.
SHORT TAKES — Terrific article in this week’s Closer on Micky Dolenz. Check it out here: https://www.closerweekly.com/posts/micky-dolenz-on-telling-stories-on-stage-and-in-his-book/
btw: Dolenz tapes KTLA’s Countdown To 2024 this week in LA …
I first met Phil Quartararo in the lobby of the old Mondrian Hotel in LA with John Sykes and we struck up a friendship that lasted until he passed last week. He was at Virgin for a time and worked with the artists there including The Spice Girls and Paul Abdul. In these fast-changing-times in the music business, he remained somewhat behind the scenes of late, but admitted he missed working with the artists. Phil was a guy you never ever heard a bad word about. Huge loss. Here’s Billboard’s take on Phil:
… As you’ve not doubt read, there is trouble in the Marvel-comic kingdom. The latest Captain Marvel movie (The Marvels) didn’t perform nearly as well as everyone hoped for and their newest star, Jonathan Majors as Kang, is tied up in several court matters.
So, we hear that Kang is out and Doctor Doom is in. Stay tuned …
And Forbes’ James M. Clash has released Amplified; culled from his terrific interviews with the icons of rock ‘n roll; including Grace Slick; Art Garfunkel; Ginger Baker; Micky Dolenz; and Roger Daltry. Here’s the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CNJZYW2J?ref_=cm_sw_r_apan_dp_WKCSH7AC0ZTK18RZF4ED&language=en-US NAMES IN THE NEWS — Steve Leeds; Kate Hyman; Bono; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Peter Abraham; Bobby Bank; Dina Pitenis; Frank DiLella; Donnie Kehr; Steve Leber; Don Wardell; Anne Adams; Billy Smith; John Boulos; Kimberly Cornell; Sam Rubin; Nexstar; and ZIGGY!
Midnight Moment For December: Doku: Digital Reincarnation
The shape-shifting protagonist in this five-channel work is Doku – the name derived from the phrase “Dokusho Dokushi,” which translates to “We are born alone, and we die alone,” and references a canonical Buddhist scripture. While sharing Lu Yang’s facial expressions and features, the nonbinary character was generated from an amalgamation of various dancers and musicians, and created in collaboration with a team of scientists, 3D animators, and digital technicians using the latest in motion capture technology. Through this repeated incarnation, the artist is reborn as an ever-present avatar, endowed with talents surpassing physical limitations – uniting ancient concepts such as reincarnation with the latest technological innovations.
Lu Yang is a Shanghai-based artist who creates work exploring themes and formats, inspired by both traditional Chinese medicine and contemporary digital cultures. Through the medium of video, installation and performance, Lu Yang explores the fluidity of gender representation through 3D animated works inspired by Japanese manga and gaming subcultures. With a fascination with the human body and neurology, Lu Yang’s work bridges the scientific and the technological with aesthetics drawn from popular youth culture creating new visions of China in the face of modernity.
Born in 1986 in Shanghai where they are currently based, Lu Yang prefers to play with pronouns and insists she “lives on the internet” to further confuse fixed notions of identity. They attended the China Academy of Fine Art in Hangzhou, BFA and MFA, under the tutelage of Zhang Peili, the godfather of Chinese video art. A 2019 winner of the BMW Art Journey award, she has shown internationally including the M Woods Museum in Beijing, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, and in many other shows, including the Asia Society Triennial in New York.
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