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The Glorious Corner

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G.H. HARDING

ELTON AT DODGER STADIUM — I just finished watching Disney’s global live-stream of Elton John’s final US and North American show from last Sunday. First off, Elton and the band did “Take Me To The Pilot,” “Have Mercy On The Criminal” (from 1972’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player) and “Border Song” – three Elton/Bernie songs that have been criminally neglected over the years.

As I’ve said I first saw this farewell tour in 2018 and it was just brilliant. 179 shows later, everyone looks a bit weathered. Now, they’ve got some European dates to go and when the tour is over, Elton will be 76.
But, that said, its still an astonishingly good show. When I saw it, “All The Girls Love Alice” was a concert highlight; tonight it was not played.
The Disney show was tremendous and just hearing all the songs one last time was mesmerizing for sure.
Elton, before he introduced the band, noted the passing of three key musicians he had played with over the years: original bassist Dee Murray; drummer Roger Pope and bassist Bob Birch. Terrifically bittersweet; it was a great moment. He also acknowledged all the fans who bought the vinyl, CDs, cassettes and 8-tracks. Again, beautifully delivered.
That said, who has a songbook like Elton.? He then brought out Bernie Taupin and the crowd went crazy.
Elton’s an icon and it’ll be interesting to see what he does next because you know he’s not done by a long-shot.
Take a read at Melinda Newman’s story from Billboard: 
MACY’S MUSINGS — Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at Macy’s was an odd one for sure. As the faithful know, they usually start the whole shebang off with a proper ribbon cutting on Central Park West. This year it came almost two hours into the show with the ribbon cutting in-front of the their Herald Square mainstay.
Per usual, the show was filled with many performers who I had never heard of. Gloria Estefan; Jordin Sparks; Maria Lopez and his daughter riding atop a turkey float (add in your own joke here); and Mariah Carey were the featured performers for sure.

Mariah Carey

Mariah’s kids with Nick Cannon (Monroe and Moroccan) danced alongside their mother. There was also a salute to Disney’s Lion King, which just celebrated 25 years, and a musical number from Broadway’s Some Like It Hot which was rather fantastic. I’ve heard almost nothing about this show, but after this, I’d love to see it.

There was also Ziggy Marley Jimmy Fallon and the Roots doing a song which Jimmy sings with Dolly Parton. On my TV it sounded like it was auto-tuned to death.

Al Roker

It was also the first Macy’s parade in 27 years without NBC’s Al Roker who is recovering from a blood clot.

Joe Mantegna

SHORT TAKES — We were never fans of CBS’ Criminal Minds till the very end. We just watched the re-booted version, Criminal Minds: Evolution and just loved it. Joe Mantegna was terrific. We first fell in love with Mantegna during the 1988 run of David Mamet’s Speed The Plow (with Ron Silver) …

Alaska Daily

Turns out that ABC’s Alaska Daily toplining Hilary Swank and Jeff Perry is the big winner in the Fall  TV Season so far. Created by Tom (Spotlight) McCarthy; it’s just sensational. Congrats. Just a brilliant, brilliant show … That Naked Lunch podcast with Micky Dolenz is pretty revealing. Especially so when host Phil Rosenthal admits that he used to tell girls he was Dolenz’s cousin! Wow … HAPPY BDAY Danny Fried!

NAMES IN THE NEWS — Amanda Charney; Steve Leeds; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Scott Shannon; James Ryan; Keith Girard; Jane Berk; Lush Ice; Teddy Thumper; Jacqueline Boyd; Mark Bego; Cory Robbins; Steve Plotnicki; Bill Adler;  Steve Walter; Charley Crespo; Buddy Blanchard; Alan Parson; Peter Abraham; and ZIGGY!

G. H. Harding is a four decades insider to the entertainment world. He’s worked for record companies; movie companies; video-production He’s worked for record companies; movie companies; video-production companies and several cable outlets. His anonymity is essential in bringing an unbiased view to his writings on pop culture. He is based in NYC.

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Off Broadway

Vineyard’s “Scene Partners” Gets Stuck Between Floors

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This is exactly how it happened “ we are told, followed by a big wide screen opening that descends upon us, but it does not quite land where it, and our leading lady’s character, most likely intended it too. Finally escaping the 11th floor on a folding chair and faulty pulley system, Meryl Kowalski, as portrayed as only the magnificently gifted Dianne Wiest (Broadway’s All My Sons; “Purple Rose of Cairo“) could, finds flight and falter inside this fascinating exploration of some sort of demented dream. Giving the “correct response“ to abstract questions and assignments, Wiest delivers a befuddled and determined performance that elevates a play that fractures realities every chance it gets. As written with a wild wandering spirit by John J. Caswell, JR. (Wet Brain), the play is an absurdity of utter invigorating complexity, playing with and sometimes delivering itself forward in a fascinating but distancing dementia. Is it a post-traumatic disassociation of epic proportions or a fractured descent into grief and mental illness, played for a laugh or a tug at the heart? Or is it something quite else that was lost on this avid fan of this Oscar-winning actress? And I don’t even know if there is a clear correct answer to this. But that is half the fun in this half-fun exercise in abstractionism and determination.

It’s big on ‘concept’, directed with a strong forward vision by Rachel Chavkin (Broadway’s Hadestown), obviously enjoying the ride and the wandering with glee. The visuals ride and slide in and about, thanks to the incredibly detailed and smooth work of video and projection design by David Bengali (Broadway’s The Thanksgiving Play), lighting designer Alan C. Edwards (Vineyard’s Harry Clarke), and scenic designer Riccardo Hernández (Broadway’s Indecent), giving depth and clarity to this otherwise meander into fractured and fantastical thinking. Supported by clever extravagances by costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo (Broadway’s The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window), the effect is a fevered dive into the mind of a woman beaten down hard to the ground by a now-dead husband whose death has freed her to her desire; her dream and determination to be a big famous movie star, and she’ll point the barrel at anyone who might stand in her way or say otherwise.

Josh Hamilton and Dianne Wiest in Vineyard Theatre’s Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Scene Partners feels anything but safe and secure, as we join Wiest’s 75-year-old widow from the Midwest as she steadily abandons her needy mess of a daughter, played with clever calculations by Kristen Sieh (Broadway’s The Band’s Visit), to jet, train, or sled herself off to Hollywood to become a big gloriously famous movie star even before her now-dead violent abusive husband has been buried six feet under. The framing is slanted, with efforts to keep us off balance. Finding a flavor in its madness and splitting. The name of Wiest’s woman is Meryl Kowalski, and she’s not to be ignored. She is told quite clearly and quickly that she must change it if she really wants to be an actress, as that first name of hers has already been taken by that other, already famous and award-winning actress with the same first name that we all know and love. But this Meryl holds firm, inside and out of her first acting class somewhere out there in Los Angeles. It’s there, when confronted by her over-the-top acting teacher, played with wild abandonment by the perfect Josh Hamilton (Broadway’s The Real Thing), that she reveals another level of strong abstractionism. This particularly twisted Meryl’s dead husband was named Stanley Kowalski, and her Streetcar husband made Tennessee Williams’s character seem like quite the gentle nice guy.

At this point, the play stands shakily in some abstract parallels that are fun, clever, complicated, and a bit distancing, playing with fragments of trauma and grief that don’t fully come together. It pulls and pushes at about the same level of conflicted engagement, until Johanna Day (Broadway/MTC’s How I Learned to Drive) as Meryl’s half-sister comes into play, shifting the formula with a centered grounding that makes us sit back and question what’s really going on. When a doctor also enters the picture, played well by Eric Berryman (RT’s Primary Trust), a medical diagnosis once again adds a different framework that could alter the whole process. Where are we with these two half-sisters and their shared knowledge of a non-collaborated trauma of abuse? Especially after a (pre-recorded) interview with a very well-positioned Sieh asking pertinent questions that illicit praise from Hamilton’s pompous character and a disappearing act of a half-sister who might never been. It plays with the head, in both an engaging and disassociating manner that works, and doesn’t.

Johanna Day and Dianne Wiest in Vineyard Theatre’s Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Scene Partners doesn’t play easy with our unpacking, leading us down blind endless alleyways decorated with an abundance of movie imagery that either leads us to brick walls or bottomless pits to fall into. Wiest’s Meryl has necessarily immersed herself in these vintage cinematic panoramas, probably to unconsciously avoid the abusive reality she found herself trapped in, and in that trauma response, Wiest has found the perfect embodiment for Mrs. Kowalski, bringing feisty and forceful complexities to the forefront as she shuffles and stabs herself into frame. And even if it doesn’t, in the end, add up to much, this Vineyard Theatre production is flavorful in its twisted construction and projections. The “Doctor Zhivago” impressions and pop-culture references overwhelm, not just our heroine, but also our connections to emotional clarity and authenticity, leaving us hanging halfway down and in between floors waiting for something to fully make an impact.

Dianne Wiest in Vineyard Theatre’s Scene Partners. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Off Broadway

Make Me Gorgeous Tells Of One Man’s Authenticity

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Make Me Gorgeous! playing at Playhouse 46 in a nut shell is about the life and times of LGBTQ+ trailblazer Kenneth Marlow. Embodying Marlow is Wade McCollum, who tells us how he was born in 1926 in Des Moines, Iowa, and how he became a hustler, private hairdresser, stripped in mob-controlled nightclubs, became a female impersonator, a madam of a gay prostitution ring, until in the 70’s when he became Kate, throwing a “Ball to End all Balls” to fund gender-affirming surgery. We learn how she documented her life in books. In between he was a private in the U.S. Army; a Christian missionary; a mortuary cosmetologist and a newspaper columnist.

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

In a sense Marlow was raised to be who he was dressed in girls clothes as a child, then became drawn to feminine clothes and his female relatives encouraged him. In high school he ran around in drag. in Iowa in the 30’s took some kind of guts. His father never showed him love and left, his mother was a raging alcoholic. He took to the cinemas populated by men to find what was missing in life, then to the church. When he is shipped off to California, he meets and hangs out with the transgender prostitutes finding feeling at home. He ends up with a sugar daddy who is unattractive, ends up in Chicago, ends up as a hairdresser and then a stripper in Calumet City as “Mr. Keni Marlo, Exotic Queen of the Boys” and that takes us to the 40’s.

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

In the end he ended up becoming the hairstylist to Phyllis Diller, Lucille Ball, and Gypsy Rose Lee, among others. His side job need up being documented in Mr. Madam: Confessions of a Male Madam, Cathouse Mother, Male Oral Love, and Around the World with Kenneth Marlowe.

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

I have loved McCollum’s work ever since Ernest Shackleton Loves Me. This man is a consummate actor, whose rich voice and glamours gams make him perfect to tell this story. He brings everyone he is talking about to life. You feel as if you know each character. McCollum’ has oodles of charisma, so the tawdry tale he is telling comes off less crass. With lines like “I liked that men paid to have sex with me. And those who appealed to me usually didn’t have any money…so I did a lotta pro-bono work” if you are not exactly open this may not appeal to you. A couple walked out the night I went. McCollum is a natural with Sally Rand’s Fan Dance and glorious performing a song Marlow wrote with jazz pianist Reggie DuValle. The most pignut part of the story comes when he is drafted and is raped by 14 men. There is however a disconnect as on a book cover he wrote “He was raped by fourteen men in his barracks — and enjoyed it!”

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

The theater is styled like a cabaret, with velvet curtains and bistro tables. Black and white photographs of drag queens hang on the walls. On the stage Walt Spangler’s set looks like a cross between Barbie’s house and cotton candyI really want the black dress designed by Jeffrey Hinshaw and the lighting by Jamie Roderick’s and sound by Ien DeNio’s really help to enjoy the evening

Wade McCollum Photo: Maria Baranova

Smartly directed and written by Donald Horn, I was on the edge of my seat the whole performance and definitely learned a thing or two or three about this culture.

Make Me Gorgeous! Playhouse 46, 308 W 46th Street, through Dec. 31st.

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Music

Essential Voices USA, Judith Clurman and Christmas Joy

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Essential Voices USA, Judith Clurman, Music Director and Conductor, announces the release of Christmas Joy,a new collection of holiday music that was all recently commissioned by Essential Voices USA. The centerpiece of the recording is “Christmas Joy,” a through-composed work, scored for chorus and string quartet. The arrangement and text adaptation are by Josh Clayton and Judith Clurman. The carols heard are Silent Night; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Angels We Have Heard on High; O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; O Come, All Ye Faithful; and Joy to the World. The two other pieces are “Illumination” by Pierre Jalbert (music) and William Schermerhorn (lyrics) and “The Snow” by Bill Cutter (music) and Lewis Carroll (lyrics).  The recording on Albany (Troy 1955) can be streamed on all platforms. The recording was produced and engineered by Silas Brown, who was assisted by Doron Schacter and Michael Schwartz. The recording can be streamed on all major platforms. The published scores will be available in 2024.

Members of Essential Voices USA: Phillip Cheah, Paul D’Arcy, Olivia Sue Green, Chloe Holgate, Heather Jones, Linda Jones, Helen Karloski, Enrico Lagasca, Elizabeth Lang, Steven Moore, Neil Netherly, Nicholas Prior, Gregory Purnhagen, Elisa Singer Strom, Jason Weisinger with Apprentice members – joining on Christmas Jo y- Michael Douris, Roberson Keffer, Marie Schwab, and Norman Schwab; The Essential StringsSuliman Tekali and Yu-Chie Wang violins; Caeli Smith viola; and Coleman Itzkoff cello.

TRACKS

I Illumination                                       3:13

II The Snow                                          2:06III Christmas Joy                                   13:48

STREAMING LINK on all platforms 

The premiere performances  Judith Clurman will conduct her Essential Voices USA in A Concert and Family Carol Sing-Along on December 16, 2023 at St. Malachy’s – The Actors’ Chapel (239 West 49 Street), New York City, at 7:30PM. The chorus will be joined by The Essential Strings (Suliman Tekalli & Rita Wang violins, Caeli Smith viola, Aaron Wolffcello), Organist Stephen Fraser, and David Chase and Paula Leggett Chase, who will read beloved Christmas poetry. The event is part of EVUSA’S The Community Project, a program which provides concerts and sing-alongs and is free of charge to the NYC community.

The evening will include the World Premieres of the three new works that are featured in the ensemble’s recent holiday recording “Christmas Joy” (Albany Records): “Christmas Joy” – arranged, with text adaptation by Josh Clayton and Judith Clurman; “Illumination” – by Pierre Jalbert (music) and William Schermerhorn (lyrics);and “The Snow” – by Bill Cutter (music) and Lewis Carroll (lyrics). The poems that will be read include “The Night Before Christmas” (Clement Clarke Moore), “little tree” (E.E.Cummings), and “Love Came Down at Christmas” (Christina Rossetti). Organist Stephen Fraser will play an organ fantasy on the beloved carol “O Holy Night,” and the audience will sing-along with EVUSA on traditional carols, with newly arranged accompaniments for string quartet by Bill Cutter.

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Music

Here We Are Or The Search For The Meaning of Life

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Let me just state that I love the Stephen Sondheim/David Ives musical/play Here We Are. It’s as if the genius, known as Sondheim was trying to resolve his life. The first act is cynical and the characters are hypocritical, while the second act is about coming to with grips with life’s choices and surrendering to the inevitable.

Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Steven Pasquale, Bobby Cannavale, Rachel Bay Jones and Jeremy Shamos Photo by Emilio Madrid

The music is like playing Sondheim jeopardy. His motif’s from other shows are blended into new songs that make you want to have a pen and paper to play the game. I can’t wait until the CD comes out. I’ve been told that it is being recorded in January.

The cast and Rachel Bay Jones Photo by Emilio Madrid

The show is highly surreal, with life’s journeyIn question. Think “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone,” very Rod Serling.

Jeremy Shamos, Tracie Bennett, Amber Gray Photo by Emilio Madrid

Based on two Luis Buñuel films “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) and “The Exterminating Angel” (1962). Act one has Leo Brink (Bobby Cannavale) a entitled tycoon whose opinion is the only one that matters, his wife Marianne (Rachel Bay Jones) who lives for beauty and is a bit on the vaped side, their friends Paul Zimmer (Jeremy Shamos), a plastic surgeon celebrating his 1,000th nose job, his wife, Claudia (Amber Gray), an agent who lives for the celebrity of it all, Raffael Santello Di Santicci (Steven Pasquale), an ambassador from  Moranda who lives for the number of notches on his belt and Fritz (Micaela Diamond), Marianne’s younger sister, who wants a revolution, while also wanting to live the good life, searching for brunch. It turns out Leo, Paul and Raffael run a drug cartel. As the day goes down the hill Marianne keeps asking Leo to “buy this perfect day for her.”

Amber Gray, Jeremy Shamos, David Hyde Pierce, Bobby Cannavale, Steven Pasquale Photo by Emilio Madrid

Act two is a little more dark. While they finally find food,  the consequences of their choices keeps them trapped in purgatory. Enter a colonel (Francois Battiste) whose parents were killed for $26.15, a soldier (Jin Ha) who has feelings for Fritz due to his dreams and a bishop (David Hyde Pierce) who wants another job, has a shoe fettish, and plays piano, until there is no more music. This act is very reminiscent of Steambath. I love the homage to “The World According to Garp” and the bear.

Jin Ha, Micaela Diamond Photo by Emilio Madrid

Playing butlers and maids and assorted restaurateur’sare the incredible Tracie Bennett and Denis O’Hare. Kudos has to go out to the wigs by Robert Pickens and Katie Gell and the neon various establishments. white box set and costumes by David Zinn.

Jeremy Shamos, Amber Gray, Bobby Cannavale, Denis O’Hare, Rachel Bay Jones, Steven Pasquale, Micaela Diamond Photo by Emilio Madrid

Joe Mantello’s staging is exquisite, allowing for each of these brilliantly talented performers to take center stage. This is true ensemble acting and I hope when the Drama Desk is giving out awards this wins.

Where many have criticized the lack of music in the second act, it makes perfect sense. The music stops. The concept very much reminds me of Davids Cromer’s Our Town, when Emily dies and suddenly things are in color and have smells. It makes complete sense that once you are trapped the music would die.

Natasha Katz’s lighting really helps the shinny set take shape, Tom Gibbons’s sound makes the inner world come to life and Sam Pinkleton’s choreography is just enough to make this move seamlessly.

Alexander Gemignani, and Jonathan Tunick, make Sondheim’s music an art and I for one appreciate the subtlety and musicality. Many may not know that Sondheim was a game master and in this it is like he won the final game of “putting it together”.

Here We Are, is intelligent, witty with so much to say and if you ponder the meaning of life you to will walk away extremely fulfilled.

Here We Are, The Shed, 545 West 30th through January 21st

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Book Reviews

The Glorious Corner

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G.H. Harding

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.

Rob Reiner

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 …

Pablo Guzman

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  …

Freda Payne, Mark Bego

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!

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