Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS’ Gypsy of the Year competition (December 6) was a sensational success, breaking previous records by taking in nearly $4.9 million.
The unquestioned star of the day was Hugh Jackman, whose one-man show, running for only three weeks, alone raised a jaw-dropping $857,740. Much of this cash has come from Jackman’s nightly auctioning off of his sweaty wardrobe. The man himself was present at the competition, towering over co-presenters Daniel Radcliffe and Bernadette Peters, and giving full impressive physical proof why theatergoers are happily forking over hundreds of dollars per seat just to see him in the flesh, nasal voice notwithstanding.
Performance-wise, little Brigid Harrington, who plays one of the children in “Mary Poppins,” got the biggest applause. In that show’s contribution to the competition, kids played adult roles, and Harrington, wearing a gray-streaked wig and pearls, hilariously impersonated Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
It was touching to see original cast members from “Grease” –– including Barry Bostwick, Adrienne Barbeau, and Walter Bobbie –– reunited for the opening number. I also cracked up over “Mamma Mia”’s new slogans to advertise this indefatigably long-running cash cow: “‘Mamma Mia’ –– When tickets to ‘Perfect Crime’ are unavailable”; “‘Mamma Mia’ –– Buy our entire mezzanine for less than half the price of a single ticket to Hugh Jackman”; “‘Mamma Mia’ –– Because we’re whores.”
Christine Pedi was a riot, with her spot-on, sibilant Liza impersonation, alongside Amy Griffin, portraying, as “Liza” hysterically called her, Lady Ga-gà. Gaga had to explain to Liza that “LuGBuT,” as she kept saying it, was really the LGBT community. “Oh!” “Liza” exclaimed. “Thoshe are all my friendsh! And I’m glad shomebody else is finally doing shomething for them. I married half of them!”
Another favorite gay diva, Kristine W. –– whose talent Lady Bunny extols in her unmissably obscene show at La Esquelita –– made her cabaret debut at the Metropolitan Room on December 8, benefiting Miracle House, which provides housing to patients and caregivers visiting New York for treatment. Despite that night’s pissing rain, the place was excitingly packed with a hot fresh crowd of A-List boyz, all come to worship this enduring club muse, who rewarded them with a sizzling set, amped by her gloriously soulful voice, formidable saxophone chops, and welcome campy humor. “Hey there, in the audience, I recognize those nipples!” was her greeting, and, later, “You boys stop it over there in that dark corner. This ain’t the Roxy!”
Backed by a dynamite band, including certain cabaret veterans on drum and bass, who proved they could get down to disco as well as to Sondheim, she killed, doing her familiar anthems, especially a tasty, sinuous makeover of “Feel What You Want.” Check out her wonderful jazzy CD, “Straight Up With a Twist” (kristinew.com), perfect fun for any holiday party.
Earlier that evening, I enjoyed Jean Brassard’s Yves Montand tribute show, “The Kid From Paris,” at the Triad. I first saw Brassard do this in 2005, and am overjoyed to report that the show, and his talents, have only gotten richer through the years. His mellifluous baritone sounds more like Montand than ever and, like his inspiration, he is a formidable showman, delighting a crowd that included Robert Cuccioli, Karen Akers, and Steve Ross. Brassard’s rendition of “Sanguine” (“Blood Orange”), by Henri Crolla and France’s great poet Jacques Prévert, oozed sensuality on the (translated) lyrics:
“The zipper slid down your back/ and the whole beautiful storm of your loving body/ contained in darkness/ suddenly burst out./ And your dress, in falling to the polished floor,/ made no more sound/ than an orange peel falling on a carpet./ But under our feet/ its little pearl buttons crunched like pips./ Blood orange/ pretty fruit/ the tip of your breast/ drew a new line of fortune/ in the palm of my hand./ Blood orange/ pretty fruit./ The sun of the night.”
Whew! Brassard, who is gay, made these words ring sizzlingly true, proving how formidable an actor he is, just as he does in J.C. Khoury’s delightfully funny, just-released indie film, “The Pill” (Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St.; quadcinema.com), where he hilariously plays the obnoxious French father of its wacky heroine.
As for Yves Montand –– aaah! Where are the real men like him these days, I wondered, after seeing him in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s suspenseful masterwork “The Wages of Fear” at Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.; filmforum.com). Here was a devastatingly sexy guy who could not only act and sing beautifully, but was a committed liberal political activist his entire life, married the fabulous Simone Signoret, had a hot affair with Marilyn, and could probably fix your car, as well.
I missed him particularly after seeing the disastrous Broadway revival of “On a Clear Day” (Christopher Byrne offers a different view), recalling how he starred in the 1970 Streisand film, which too many observers, particularly those involved with this new turkey, unfairly dismiss. I find it Barbra’s most endlessly watchable entertainment and one of Vincente Minnelli’s triumphs, and Montand’s contribution was a major factor, both musically and histrionically. Unlike poor, woefully miscast Harry Connick, he’s a convincingly authoritative shrink, and so much of the film’s humor stems from his intense revulsion toward Streisand’s goofy Daisy Gamble character, romantically leavened by his ardor for her Regency-elegant, reincarnated Melinda persona.
And praise be to Clouzot! I can’t think of a better holiday treat than MoMA’s current retrospective (11 W. 53rd St.; $8-$12 at moma.org) of this important auteur who dealt in suspense and the darkest side of human nature. His “Manon” (1949) was a fascinating retelling of the L’Abbé Prévost classic, set post-World War II, that featured the fabulously handsome Michel Auclair and began with its bad girl heroine (pie-faced Cécile Aubry) nearly getting her head shaved by angry villagers for her dalliances with Nazi boyfriends. Coming up: “La Vérité” (1960; Dec. 21, 7:15 p.m.), featuring Brigitte Bardot’s greatest dramatic performance, which she hated doing but later appreciated, as an amoral, self-destructive accused murderess; “La Prisonnière” (1968; Dec. 22, 7 p.m., Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m.), about an SM-obsessed gallerist, filmed during the height of Op and Pop Art; “La mystère Picasso” (1956; Dec. 22, 4:30 p.m., Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m.), one great artist’s collaboration with another, as Picasso’s process is documented; and “L’Enfer,” Clouzot’s reconstructed film maudit (2010; Dec. 23, 7:15 p.m., Dec. 24, 2 p.m.), with its mesmerizing account of a filmmaker at his literal wit’s end, not to mention hypnotically indelible shots of gorgeous Romy Schneider on water skis.
Predictions for an early close already surround “On a Clear Day” as well as “Bonnie and Clyde,” but I truly hope that’s not true in the latter case. I saw it on December 10 and –– critics be damned –– found it rather wonderful. Yes, the greatly reviled composer Frank Wildhorn’s “Wonderland” was pretty awful, but here, with a largely country-laced score, he hits many a right, and even graceful, note. People were actually humming the tunes during intermission –– how often does that happen with new musicals these days? –– and, even better, wiping tears away, as I did, at the tragically mounting events of its second act and heartbreaking finale.
I thought the musical improved on the undeniably groundbreaking 1967 film, which, for all its innovative, shape-shifting violence and the glamour of Beatty and Dunaway –– the most gorgeous screen couple of their time –– was a pretty cursory treatment of these lawbreakers’ fraught lives. Jeremy Jordan (Clyde) is a born star, looking like an erotic Cocteau drawing come to life, with a marvelously natural stage assurance and charisma, while Laura Osnes, unmemorable in “Grease” and “Anything Goes,” beautifully makes Bonnie a fully realized, poignant, and feisty character.
The critics who said they had no chemistry probably wouldn’t recognize true romance if it slapped them upside, and such show-destructing heresy will only further the practice, much-decried by these same pundits, of hiring mediocre movie/ TV “names” for future shows, instead of blazingly talented unknowns like these.
The show has really haunted me since seeing it –– with its moments of real emotional delicacy, so rare on crass Broadway, many of them offered by the leads, as well as by Melissa Van der Schyff, who, as Blanche, takes the role Estelle Parsons won an Oscar for doing so cartoonishly and sensitively humanizes her, with a wry Bible Belt humor and voice that evokes Dolly Parton’s in its sweet purity. Claybourne Elder seemed nearly inept in Tennessee Williams’ “One Arm” earlier this year, but, as Buck Barrow, is pitch-perfect, funny, and moving.
Please don’t miss this show. I can almost guarantee that, by the end, you will rise to your feet, as did my audience, in a standing ovation that felt truly earned for once, and not a rote response to seeing some sorta celebrity taking bows. (Alicia Silverstone, anyone?)
Another must-see is the Pearl Theatre’s “Richard III,” at City Center through December 24 (pearltheatre.org). Without the splashy star names or hipper status of, say, BAM or Classic Stage Company, the Pearl consistently does the classics with often far more real conviction and perception, and their latest effort triumphantly delivers Shakespeare’s not-easy historical epic with intelligence, speed, and emotive illumination. The modest but beautifully serviceable set and evocative lighting are a boon, as are J.R. Sullivan’s wonderfully lucid direction and perhaps the strongest acting ensemble of the entire year.
The excellence of Sean McNall, one of our city’s finest actors, as Richard was unsurprising, but I found Dan Kremer’s John of Gaunt one of the finest interpretations of the Bard I’ve ever seen, superbly declaiming that deathless ode to England, with which our president recently came a cropper trying to deliver it to an “unamused” Queen Elizabeth.
“Private Lives” has, sadly, already put up its early closing notice, on December 31, and just might, given the state of current audience taste and intellect, be the very last revival of this Noel Coward masterpiece on Broadway. Yes, Kim Cattrall pushed too hard as Amanda in both accent and interpretation, where just doing a lightly Mayfair version of her Samantha Jones “Sex and the City” character would have worked just fine, and the show was blighted by unappetizing design elements, but Paul Gross’s Elyot was a master class in sophisticated high comedy. The ability to handle this type of playing is all but nonexistent today, and the killer-handsome Gross was as charismatically funny and full of surprise as Cary Grant at his peak.
Very much in this mode, too, was the ultra-stylish John Windsor-Cunningham, who stole outright “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (seen December 4) as the very Coward-ish character Beverly Carlton. Despite Jim Brochu, who was born to play the title role (originated by Cole Porter’s best gay cruising buddy, the insufferable Monty Woolley), and Cady Huffman, wonderfully amusing as movie star Lorraine Sheldon, it was Windsor-Cunningham I wanted so much more of, and look forward to enjoying in the New York theater future.
Finally, holiday films worth plunking down 12 bucks for (or whatever it’s up to now): Dee Rees’ breathlessly good, cinema history-making “Pariah” (see Gary M. Kramer’s review and interview) about all those crazy gals who make Christopher Street life so interesting for residents like me; David Fincher’s sleekly entertaining “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” in which Rooney Mara is as perfectly cast as Vivien Leigh was as Scarlett O’Hara; “Fanny, Annie & Danny,” the perfect dark holiday family saga for Scrooges like moi; James Westby’s “Rid of Me,” even darker and sicker, and quite terrific, and Madonna’s “W.E.,” a chic, ultimate chick flick exploration of the Windsor legend, with an exquisite Andrea Riseborough portrayal of the duchess, which proves definitively that Madge is a better film director than actor.
Not all that: The unaccountably overrated “The Artist,” which is maybe brilliant to anyone who has never seen a silent film. I found it incredibly derivative and trite, complete with corny adorable mutt. Another pooch to coo over appeared in Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which was gorgeous to look at, but directorially way too self-conscious, with a thin script and relentlessly obtrusive Howard Shore music score. There was yet another pup in Spielberg’s “Tintin,” done in that unwatchably off-putting, expressionless motion capture animation.
Musts to avoid: the nauseatingly cutesy-poo “We Bought a Zoo”; irritatingly pretentious “We Need to Talk About Kevin”; and “The Iron Lady,” which is more obsequious Anglophile groveling from the Weinstein Co. Do we really need to glorify a right-wing monster like Maggie Thatcher? Yeah, sure, and Reagan was a great president, too.