James Franco and Chris O’Dowd in the revival of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” | RICHARD PHIBBS
BY DAVID NOH | Every year, we give out the Agnes Moorehead Awards for outstanding live and film performance, realizing full well that despite her mammoth body of excellent work, she is probably best known as Endora on TV “Bewitched.”
So, it’s appropriate to introduce this year’s Aggies with memories from two of her co-stars on that unforgettable 1960s sitcom.
Interviewed by Reminisce.com, Erin Murphy (Tabitha) said, “My favorite was Agnes Moorehead. She was nothing like people may think. Everyone thought she would be scary to me, but she wasn’t scary at all. To me she was like a grandma. I loved visiting her dressing room, which was all purple. She was smart and funny and she would draw me little cartoons. I just loved her so much. She was such a colorful and amazing person.”
The best in live performance and film for 2014
Dick Sargent, the second of the series’ Darrins, interviewed by Owen Keehnen, recalled, “I can always tell someone is gay when they ask [about her]. She was very set in her ways and I had to really make her my friend. About the third or fourth show I was in, she said to people in front of me, ‘They should never meddle with success.’ Meaning Dick York should never have been replaced, which I thought was a very cruel and unthinking thing to say in front of me. But that was her. She came to rehearsals with a Bible in one hand and her script in the other. She was certainly the most professional woman in the world… and she was so good. Thank God we became friends eventually.”
However you remember her, Aggie must have been smiling down from thespian Olympus on the wealth of good stuff on New York stages and screens in 2014. This is the first Aggies edition I’ve done where I had to seriously edit my number of choices.
And so to the Aggies, in alphabetical order:
Ten Best Live Performances
“The Belle of Amherst”'
The single most luminous performance of the year was given by Joely Richardson in this one-woman Emily Dickinson play. An uncanny fluidity and grace were the hallmarks of her thrilling performance. There was no one else on the stage with her and that’s exactly what you wanted. I’ve seen her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, live many times, and Richardson was the superior performer, stage-wise, the equal of her aunt Lynn Redgrave when she did her own staggering one-woman turn in Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.”
Daniel Radcliffe in Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” | JOHAN PERSSON
“The Cripple of Inishmaan”
The whole school of boggy, dreary, edgy Irish plays largely eludes me, but Michael Grandage’s revival of Martin McDonagh’s lovely, quirky work wove complete, often hilarious enchantment. Superstar Daniel Radcliffe was terrific but admirably always strictly a part of the magnificent ensemble, which included the brilliantly fiery Sarah Greene and a raft of delicious Irish biddies.
“Gypsy” at the University of Connecticut at Storrs
Why? Two words: Leslie Uggams. Defying age and all else, this should-be living legend poured a lifetime’s rich experience into the musical role of roles, in a happy production that also featured a hilarious Steven Hayes and gorgeous Alanna Saunders, who just played Tiger Lily in CBS’ “Peter Pan.”
My favorite Off-Broadway company is Alex Roe’s marvelous, cozy, and rewarding 23-year-old Metropolitan Playhouse, which specializes in reviving obscure American work. He did himself especially proud this year with Owen Davis’ still powerful 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winner, dealing as it does with hardscrabble New England family economics. “Within the Law,” another cash-driven play, written in 1912 by Bayard Veiller and later turned into “Paid,” one of Joan Crawford’s strongest early vehicles, brought added glory for wonderfully acted and designed work to the company.
Joyce DiDonato’s recital for Loft-Opera at the Gowanus Ballroom
Just one of those rare, magic Manhattan… er, Brooklyn nights where everything –– star, material, venue, weather, pizza –– conjoined to make one lasting memory. DiDonato, one of the LGBT community’s biggest supporters, especially on the issue of bullying, was in rapturous form and voice, performing gorgeous bel canto selections from her CD “Stella di Napoli,” transforming Gowanus into Venice for an evening.
Leslie Uggams with David Noh after the opening of “Gypsy” in Storrs, Connecticut. | COURTESY: DAVID NOH
Nellie McKay in “A Girl Named Bill — The Life and Times of Billy Tipton” at 54 Below
The most brilliant cabaret act of the year was the ever-astounding McKay’s imagining of cross-dressing musician Tipton. With minimal props and costumes and a very game backup band as her supporting cast, McKay created a hypnotically haunting movie, exquisitely playing and warbling 1930s gem after gem in her invaluable, ineffable style.
“Of Mice and Men”
Anna D. Shapiro helmed a pitch-perfect interpretation of John Steinbeck’s classic, which still packs an elemental, nigh-Biblical punch after all these decades. Chris O’Dowd was the ideal Lenny, while I confess to being in James Franco’s bratty corner re Ben Brantley’s obnoxious Times review. Yes, this handsome hyphenate is over-exposed, especially of late, but, when it comes to getting down and acting a part like this, he retains his James Dean burning empathy and intensity.
“A Raisin in the Sun”
At 60, Denzel Washington had zero problem playing the 20-something Walter Younger and it was a master class in acting just to see the panther-like grace with which he moved across the stage, not to mention the incisive passion he brought to this warhorse. Director Kenny Leon was smart to just stay out of his way and that of the three ferociously strong women backing him up –– Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose, and the fabulously redoubtable LaTanya Richardson Jackson.
Keilly McQuail and Michael Labbadia in Preston Sturges’ “Strictly Dishonorable.” | LEAH CADDIGAN
Preston Sturges’ career-making play was given the most delightful revival by the estimable Attic Theater Company. Full value was given by director Laura Braza to this greatest of writer’s canny wit and heart, and the romantic chemistry of its adorable leads, Keilly McQuail and Michael Labbadia, was the most convincing seen on a New York stage all year.
“The Threepenny Opera”
I felt virtually alone among my critic colleagues in adoring Martha Clarke’s mesmerizing vision of the venerable Brecht-Weill piece. The fluidly transitioning stage pictures she created evoked dark Weimar geniuses like George Grosz and Otto Dix, and her (budget-driven) use of a bulldog as Queen Victoria was a true stroke of genius. Clarke gave riveting new life to the show, just as did Richard Foreman’s legendary production for Joe Papp.
Justin Simien’s “Dear White People.” | LIONSGATE/ ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS
To Toris Amos at the Beacon Theatre
This was the best rock concert of the year, where this total artist captivated a sell-out following of old and young, straight and gay with her utter magic on the keyboards and vocals. She sang a rapturous plethora of dearly beloved anthems, and visually it was the most beautiful and elegant concert I’ve ever seen, with gorgeously organic, superbly timed lighting changes.
Phil Geoffrey Bond for his very special 54 Below nights
Bond recreates Broadway shows with his own scrupulously researched, delightful narration, and amazing array of talent that, for me this year, consisted of the likes of Marilyn Maye, Mimi Hines, Lee Roy Reams, Len Cariou, Cady Huffman, Penny Fuller, Terese Genecco, Molly Pope, and the effervescent Carole J. Bufford marvelously performing “The Act,” “Applause,” “Funny Girl,” and “Mame.”
Ten Best Films of 2014
For me, it will always begin with the screenplay, and every one of these features had script in spades. As for the two docs, their accounts of the miraculous power of music for dementia patients and of a band of Latina women selflessly making a mission of feeding impoverished migrant workers are simply stories everyone should see.
Elisabeth Moss in Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up Philip.” | TRIBECA FILM
“Alive Inside,” directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett (documentary)
“All of Me,” directed by Arturo González Villaseñor (documentary)
“Belle,” directed by Amma Asante
“Blackbird,” directed by Patrik-Ian Polk
“Dear White People,” directed by Justin Simien
“The Imitation Game,” directed by Morten Tyldum
“Life Partners,” directed by Susanna Fogel
“Listen Up Philip,” directed by Alex Ross Perry
“Love is Strange,” directed by Ira Sachs
“Mommy,” directed by Xavier Dolan
To all my wonderful, deeply appreciated readers, have the happiest, gayest city –– and country –– holidays imaginable!