Friday, January 15, 2021

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. January 2021.THE CROWN, WALLY FOR QUEEN, THE WINDSOR FOLLIES

 


I hope you are all enjoying this fascinating series even though there’s been some criticism over the image of members of the Royal family. Happily, viewers are not deterred and in fact, seeing this secluded family as real people, with distinctive personalities, is obviously part of the charm. I myself, being British born and raised, spent many years living under the mythical Royals which adds to my enjoyment. However, I’d like to add a personal experience that strangely parallels the hubbub surrounding the depictions in “The Crown”.

It started in the 1980’s when my literary agent, the legendary Bertha Klausner, gave me a short play by another of her clients to read. It was titled, “Wally For Queen” and written by the illustrious Upton Sinclair. He was a distant cousin to the infamous Mrs. Wallis Simpson for whom King Edward the Eighth gave up his throne in 1936. This delightful short play described the human relationship between her and the Prince of Wales during their affair.

There was interest in the subject at this time, and Bertha arranged for me to work with a noted Broadway director on a full-length adaptation. As I expanded the script, Upton’s dialogue inspired me to show two very real, and perhaps eccentric people, unlike the pompous waxworks figures so often seen as Royalty onstage. Well, the director and I didn’t see eye to eye as he wanted the more respectful (to me cliché) image of these two famous people. So, the project landed entirely in my lap.

Bertha sided with me and, by the time my “Wally For Queen” was finished, she had an important Broadway woman producer eager to read it. I was surprised to learn she sent back the script saying, “The dialogue is all wrong. Members of the Royal Family don’t talk like that!” Happily, the Off-Broadway group, Works by Women, eagerly accepted it and it opened to excellent reviews that seemed to prove that they do.

After another OOB production, retitled “Wally and Davy” with a male actor playing Wallis, I decided to adapt it into a Cabaret Book Musical. With a score by my composer-lyricist husband Ralph Martell, and a new title, “The Windsor Follies”, and starring British actor Keith Benedict.  Before its scheduled Off-Broadway opening on 42nd Street, we were invited to premiere it at The Royal Suite in The Waldorf Towers. This was a gala event with NYC theater luminaries attending and a write-up in Cindy Adams prestigious column.

To our surprise, in spite of this good publicity, attendance at the West Bank Café was light and the enthusiasm for the subject seemed to have waned. Then a Jewish friend who came to the show, took me aside. “Morna,” she said gently, “People aren’t coming because these two were Nazi supporters and you are glamorizing them.” Huh! Suddenly I had written a romance for two despised people who no one would find charming, even with songs.


I now realize that there is a risk when one writes characters based on famous figures. People have an image of them and do not want you changing it for better or worse. My interpretation, taken from Upton Sinclair’s version, was of two delightful if superficial people, in an unusual lifestyle, who fall impossibly in love.  Not pompous statues, not secret fascists, not pitiful misfits, but just plan Wally and Davy! See THE WINDSOR FOLLIES video on You Tube and let me know what you think:  http://youtu.be/WIHdzGISakc

 

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. December 2020. A Christmas Carol 1951, Charlie Brown Christmas, Barbara Morrison, Covid Fan Tutte

 



  A CHRISTMAS CAROL – 1951 – You Tube

Having seen many incarnations over the years, I must admit this b/w version of Charles Dickens masterpiece is simply the best ever on stage or film. Alastair Sim is marvelous as the miserly businessman who views Christmas as a waste of time. He is the bitterest, meanest Scrooge you’ll ever see, as he grudgingly allows his timid clerk to spend only one day with his family, even though his little boy, Tiny Tim, is lame and dying from TB. When alone, Scrooge is visited by ghosts and given a glimpse into his sad past, cruel present and tragic future, with a final revelation that brings a joyous conclusion.

The roster of fabulous British performers include Mervyn Johns as clerk Bob Cratchit and Hermione Baddeley (who I toured with in 1961) as Mrs. Cratchit; Michael Hordern as Scrooge’s dead partner; Kathleen Harrison as his charwoman, and George Cole as the young Scrooge when Spirit of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan) takes him back in time. Screenplay by Noel Langley uses dialogue from the original book. Produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst.

 

  A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS – PBS

Christmas will look vastly different for millions this year due to the coronavirus, but PBS has announced that one tradition will remain intact. The Charlie Brown holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will air on PBS and PBS Kids on December 13. This annual holiday tradition was thrown into question in October when Apple TV+ made a deal with Peanuts Worldwide and Mendelson Film Productions to be the sole home of all Peanuts’ holiday specials. When people learned that the Peanuts characters would only be on Apple TV+ thousands signed a petition to bring back Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, and the rest. Also on Apple TV+.


BARBARA MORRISON - Beverly Hills

This nightclub series at The Wallis Annenberg Center has gone virtual with all programs presented digitally on Saturday evenings at 8 pm. “Standing on Their Shoulders” on Dec. 5, brings jazz and blues singer Barbara Morrison with her musical tribute to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and other greats. “A Night of Holiday Magic” on Dec. 12, is a magical holiday surprise when four local magicians delight and amaze the entire family with awe-inspiring holiday-themed illusions. “Songs of Joy and Peace” on Dec. 19 is for those who love to sing along. Singer Audra Mae, great grandniece of Judy Garland, performs from classic holiday films, along with keyboardist Dylan Meek. All shows run approximately 45 minutes.

Info: (310) 746-4000 or Tickets@TheWallis.org

COVID FAN TUTTE – You Tube

For opera lovers here is a wildly imaginative comedic adaptation of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”, created and produced by the Finnish National Opera. It depicts life in the spring of 2020 as disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea came when they had to cancel the planned production of Wagner’s “Die Walküre” and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen conceived the idea. Journalist-novelist Minna Lindgren created the libretto, selecting music from Mozart’s original and an aria each from his “Don Giovanni “and “The Magic Flute.” My opera-loving friend, playwright Anibal Aprile, advises “Do not miss this!” You can view the entire show, with English subtitles, on You Tube through March 30. Soprano Karita Mattila plays a parody of herself as a renowned opera diva trapped in Finland because of the pandemic. Ironically, both she and conductor Salonen reside in the U.S., but found themselves unable to leave Finland when the international borders were closed.

Friday, November 20, 2020

 

NBY. November 2020 – RICHARD BURTON’S HAMLET - 1964 - Broadway.




Legend has it that when Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole were filming “Becket” they each decided they wanted to play “Hamlet”- in either New York or London - under the direction of either John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier. They tossed a coin and O’Toole won London and Olivier, while Burton got Broadway and Gielgud. Burton himself approached producer Alexander H. Cohen about the project that we all now know was a smash hit.


Gielgud, the renowned Shakespearean actor, conceived of this production as a final rehearsal, with the actors appearing in street clothes. This pleased Burton who said he always disliked wearing period costumes. Following in the tradition that Shakespeare himself portrayed the Ghost (Hamlet’s dead father), Gielgud depicted him as a shadow against the back of the stage wall and voiced the character himself on tape. Eileen Herlie repeated her role from Olivier’s 1948 film as Queen Gertrude; Hume Cronyn got a Tony Award as Polonius, and Alfred Drake was King Claudius.

This became the longest run ever on Broadway for “Hamlet” with 137 performances and a number of Tony Awards. However, the shows popularity was also due to the public’s fascination with the romance between Burton and superstar Elizabeth Taylor that started during “Cleopatra.” While the Hamlet production was in Toronto, on its pre-Broadway tour, they married, and every night huge crowds gathered outside the Lunt Fontanne Theatre to catch a glimpse of Burton and Taylor, after the show.

The filmed record was created using a process called “Electronovision,” that used 15 cameras during three performances, then edited the footage into a single b/w 191-minute film. Now on DVD at your local public library.



MORNA MURPHY ON BROADWAY - 1964

In 1964 I was a NYC actress with two Broadway shows accomplished (“A Taste of Honey” and “Semi-Detached”) and a passion for live theater that has never left me. So, of course, I went to see Richard Burton in “Hamlet” and bought a seat in the orchestra right in the center of the tenth row. I had never seen Burton perform onstage and I’ll never forget how sublime I found the first half of his Hamlet. The following is my explanation of why I dared not go back in after intermission.

I see a lot of shows and have a tendency, when I’m in the theatre, to get quite emotional and a tickle starts in my throat that can grow into a cough. I usually have a bottle of water and some cough drops in my purse to quell this before it can erupt. However, unfortunately, on this occasion I had neither. Therefore, when the great Burton began to recite the most famous Shakespeare aria of all – “To be or not to be, that is the question...” a great surge of joy and ecstasy overcame me and I began to cough.

Not a quiet little tickling cough – oh, no – this moment inspired my deepest emotional trauma and I coughed and croaked and gasped loudly and uncontrollably. Hardly able to breathe, I rose to my feet coughing, I clambered along the packed seats, over people’s laps and feet, to the aisle. Coughing, gasping for air, I staggered up the slope, through the doors into the lobby. There I stood, still choking so loudly, I’m sure the entire audience, let alone the star onstage, could still hear me. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure Burton never forgot me and maybe, ever after, he approached that famous soliloquy with a tinge of trepidation.

NBY. October.2020 - JEREMY BRETT AS SHERLOCK HOLMES * DRIVING MISS DAISY * DEATH OF A SALESMAN.


This month I have found two more great stage plays brought to you live, on film, via
BroadwayHD. However, I must confess, I am also hooked on the BBC-TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” starring Jeremy Brett, with 41 hour-long episodes available on You Tube for Free!



DRIVING MISS DAISY. – 2014 – Australia 

In 1987, when I was Theater Critic for The Hollywood Reporter, I reviewed this gentle play when it opened Off Broadway, with Dana Ivey and Morgan Freeman, then went on to win The Pulitzer Prize for Drama. There have been countless productions worldwide, and an excellent film with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, but this stage production, recorded in Australia, is not to be missed.

Why? Because it stars Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones! Yes, they are what makes this so special. As Lansbury, 88, commented at the time, “The great thing about theatre, you see, is that it’s all about illusion. At my age, I’m too old to play a 72-year old in the movies. But on stage with makeup, I can!” Said Jones, “I have two favorite characters, Lennie in “Of Mice and Men” and the chauffeur in “Driving Miss Daisy.” They’re both men without language: they have to start from scratch when it comes to communicating. As a result, what they say comes from deep within.”

Inspired by the actual long-term relationship between playwright Alfred Uhry’s Jewish grandmother and her African American chauffeur, this classic play is timeless, and an ultimately hopeful meditation on race relations in America. It’s told through the complex relationship between a 72-year old woman, and a 60-year old man, in Atlanta, throughout the Civil Rights Movement. It’s over 30 years since it was written but its examination of issues around race still resonate.



 DEATH OF A SALESMAN – 1966 – CBS

“For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the Law or give you Medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.” This is dialogue from Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning play, that I have seen with numerous actors in the lead role, and even acted in once in Summer Stock. If you’ve never seen this deeply moving play, now you can see a live performance with the stars from the original Broadway cast.

When CBS presented a filmed adaptation of Miller’s classic drama, they brought back the two original leads: Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman and Mildred Dunnock as his loyal wife Linda. This version of the play was adapted by Miller himself, and runs 100 minutes, with no substance lost in the changes. Directed by Alex Segal, it was filmed live after several weeks of rehearsals and still has the powerful effect of the original.

In the play, Willy, who has been a salesman for 34 years, is forced to face the crushing disappointments of his past, especially the loss of the respect of his son Biff. George Segal gives a strong dramatic performance as this favored son, and James Farentino is his cynical brother Happy. One surprise is young Gene Wilder, comical but sensitive as the goofy Bernard.

This production received 11 Emmy nominations with the result of winning three Primetime Emmys, as well as Director’s Guild of America and Peabody Awards. In addition to being Emmy nominated for their awesome performances, both Cobb and Dunnock were also both nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of “Best Spoken Word Drama Recording.”

Thursday, September 17, 2020

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. Sept. 2020. Boys in the Band; Billy Elliot the Musical; Les Miserables in Concert.

Dear Theater Lovers: In my search to find live recordings of brilliant stage plays from the past to share with you, I came across the following three that I still recall, with emotion and admiration, their original New York Productions.

  

BOYS IN THE BAND (1968, Off Broadway)

Once regarded as shocking, this play is about a group of gay men in Manhattan who get together for a birthday party and spend much of the evening hacking away at each other’s submerged emotional truths. When each one is challenged to phone some-one they once loved, the results are sad, revealing and sometimes hilarious.

Laurence Luckinbill is a schoolteacher who, when he realized he was homosexual, left his wife and family; Cliff Gorman is a flamboyant interior designer who flings campy jibes at Reuben Greene, a soft-spoken book-store clerk. Frederick Coombs, (who was on Broadway in “A Taste of Honey” and I toured with in that show) is Donald, a self-described “underachiever” who has fled New York. The party is thrown into turmoil when sexy “Cowboy” Robert La Tourneaux arrives as a present for the Birthday Boy!

The play was never recorded, but in 1970 William Friedkin directed a movie version that stays true to the original production. With screenplay by original playwright Mart Crowley, this film conveys with singular brilliance the way “Boys” played on stage. The nine actors in the film, who by then had performed together onstage a thousand times, give performances so bold and fearless that it captures the original dynamic that I remember from so long ago. On You Tube: https://fando.trosck.com/ywmi3sq and Amazon.

 

 BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL (2014, London)

This beautiful show, with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall, won 10 Tony Awards in New York and, after it closed on Broadway in 2012, the London West End production was filmed live for worldwide distribution. In case you missed the movie version, it’s about a young boy from a coal mining village in England who wants to become a ballet dancer. This is during the 1980’s miner’s strike that created tension and poverty throughout the country. As his coal-miner Dad is against the idea, the boy takes his boxing lessons money and uses it secretly for dancing lessons. Realizing that Billy is a prodigy, his dancing teacher gets him an audition with The Royal Ballet School in London. The confrontation with his disapproving father, and the outcome of the contest, makes for a highly emotional yet persuasively honest revelation about artistic passion and family love that will bring tears to your eyes. On BroadwayHD, Google Play and iTunes.

LES MISERABLES IN CONCERT: THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY (2010, London)

On the anniversary of the original West End production of this dynamic musical, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, an ensemble of over 300 performers and musicians, that had appeared in its various incarnations worldwide, came together to perform. Tenor Alfie Boe is the noble Jean Valjean; Norm Lewis is the relentless Javert, and Lea Salonga is the tragic Fantine. For a surprise encore, four stars sing “Bring Him Home” – Colm Wilkinson from the original London and Broadway cast; John Owen-Jones from the touring company; Simon Bowman from the current London cast, and Boe. Producer Cameron Mackintosh introduces composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and librettist/lyricist Alain Boublil. The concert was shown live across the UK, Ireland and around the world, and, on March 6, 2011, aired on United States television as a PBS special. Available on BroadwayHD and DVD.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. August 2020. Live Theater on BroadwayHD


ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY 

(2002 Broadway)

Stritch was as famous for her onstage performances as she was for her offstage person - and here she takes you from childhood to Broadway, in Noel Coward’s Sail Away and Stephen Sondheim’s Company - where she stole the show singing The Ladies Who Lunch! She does this Tony Award winning show wearing nothing but a white blouse and black semi-sheer pantyhose. 

So, if you love backstage anecdotes, show tunes, and dry wit, don’t miss this one!

PRESENT LAUGHTER. (2017 Broadway)

In this revival of Noël Coward’s zany comedy, Kevin Kline earned his 3rd Tony Award playing a jaded matinee idol in his 50s who is estranged from his wife (an elegant Kate Burton), needled by his secretary (a delightful Kristine Nielsen) and irked by his vacuous work. He fills the time by sleeping, griping, and bedding silly debutantes who claim to have lost their latchkeys. This busy schedule is interrupted when his business partner’s wife (a predatory Cobie Smulders) attempts his seduction.

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1982 Broadway)

Charles Dickens’ novel, about a young man who has to support his mother and sister following the death of his father, was brought to the stage in sections that added up to 8 hours. Engrossing theater but not an experience for the faint of heart. The show started in London, and, when it transferred to Broadway, won Tony Awards for Best Play, and Best Leading Actor for Roger Rees. Given the play’s immense length, home viewing might be the best way to watch because you can take an intermission whenever you like.

THE KING AND I (2018, London)

Set in 1860s Bangkok, this Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite is based on British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens’ presumed romance with King Mongkut of Siam. After opening on Broadway in 2015, the production transferred, with all its New York leads, to the West End, where it was filmed for a limited cinematic release. Starring Kelli O’Hara, Ken Watanabe, and Ruthie Ann Miles, this show features a memorable score that includes Getting to Know You, Shall We Dance, and We Kiss in a Shadow.


SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1986, Broadway)

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, by Georges Seurat, is one of the great paintings of the world, and book writer James Lapine, and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, created a story to illustrate the work and bring it to life. Starring Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, while the painting depicts people gathered on an island in the Seine, the musical goes beyond simply describing their lives. It is a visual exploration of art, of love, and of commitment. Seurat connected dots to create images; Lapine and Sondheim use connection as the heart of all our relationships.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (2017, London)

Starring Robbie Fairchild, Leanne Cope, and Haydn Oakley. Filmed live from London’s Dominion Theatre in 2018, An American in Paris follows Jerry Mulligan, an American GI who moves to Paris to pursue his dreams of becoming a painter. After a chance encounter with Lise, a young dancer, Jerry finds himself caught up in a complicated love triangle. Featuring music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, the New York production was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.


Friday, July 17, 2020

NOT BORN YESTERDAY. July 2020


Dear Readers: I hope you are able to watch some live theater from home this month, as YouTube and Facebook are serving up numerous challenging theatrical experiences. However, if you feel the need to get out of the house for a bit, there is a benefit concert series starting in Ventura that you can attend in your car - and children under 12 are FREE!

LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY: THE MUSICAL - on YouTube.
If you are locked down at home with the grandkids, here is a charming 45-minute show, taped live at the Staten Island Children’s Museum in 2007, that will be fun for all. Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett (“The Secret Garden”) this is about 7-year old Cedric, a gentle kind-hearted boy, living in New York City in 1901, who learns he is heir to the Earldom of Dorincourt in England.  When he meets his grandfather, the Earl, his challenge is to melt the heart of this crotchety old man who doesn’t like children! Music and lyrics are by Ralph Martell, and I wrote and directed this production, with David Yourke as Cedric, Nancy Yourke (who really is David’s mother) as his Mother, Richard Bartels as the Earl, Diane Fisher-Flores as the Solicitor, and Staten Island favorite Kevin Lobat as Mr. Hobbs. This show was made possible by a grant from the Arts Council of Staten Island and funding from the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs. Go to: https://youtu.be/NmLnz_Jejug

DEAL – also on You Tube
Here is a delightfully funny and surreal 10-minute play where a housewife (Sarah Drew) is addicted to watching “The Price is Right” and imagining herself a super winner. Meanwhile her husband (Sean Astin) patiently humors her, until she actually makes it on to the show with startling results. This was originally a published short story by award winning journalist Barbara Isenberg, and director Sonia Malfa cleverly brings it to life without changing a single word. In fact, even while keeping safe distancing, the actors perform the story, word for word, in a creative new way that infuses it with an infectious vitality. Produced by L.A. Theatre Works with support from Good Company. Enjoy at: youtube.com/watch?v=o8xe86id40w&feature=youtu.be.

SAFE-DISTANCE DRIVE-IN THEATRE CONCERT SERIES – LIVE!
Rubicon Theatre Company patrons will be able to enjoy live 75-minute concerts from the safety and comfort of their cars (parked 6’ apart) in the parking lot of the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Performers from Broadway, Pop and Rock, will perform on an elevated stage with live video projected on large screens. All CDC guidelines are observed for attendees, singers and musicians. Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns says it will be “…a cross between a drive-in theatre experience and a live concert.”
July 6-8. Christian Hoff and Travis Cloer celebrate the era of Drive-Ins, Muscle Cars and Music in ‘DRIVE-IN HITS’ with songs from icons such as Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson, Little Richard, the Beatles, Frankie Valli and The Four seasons –for example there’s oldies - “Sherry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
July 20-22. Baritone Andrew Samonsky sings Sinatra favorites in “2 AM AT THE SANDS” with a humorous musical trip back to Las Vegas in the late 60’s when the Rat Pack ruled. He’s backed by a nine-piece swing band performing arrangements by Quincy Jones with songs such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” “Fly Me To The Moon” and “Amore”!
At The Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor, Parking Lot A, Ventura. To buy tickets: (805) 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org - they will not be available for purchase onsite.