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Ossia Symphony Orchestra Christmas

On Saturday, December 18th, 2010, I attended the enjoyable Ossia Symphony Orchestra concert at the Kaye Playhouse, conducted by Orlando Alonso and sponsored by the Cuban Cultural Center of New York.

The highlight of the program was the first work played, a magnificent, sensuous performance of Mozart's gorgeous, thrilling Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488, played by outstanding soloist, Orlay Alonso but excellently complemented at every turn by the orchestra in superb form.

This was followed by an effective account of Robert Schumann's Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra, with the fine violinist, Heesun Shin, while the concert concluded with an agreeable reading of Chopin's lesser Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in F Minor, with skilled soloist Juana Zayas at the piano.

Ossia Symphony Orchestra
December 18, 2010
Kaye Playhouse
695 Park Avenue #5
New York, NY 10065

Cabaret Review: Carol Channing [Not] in Concert

Sweeping onto the serviceable if petite stage of the St. Luke’s Theatre (West 308 W. 46th Street), lovely Richard Skipper, with Channing's signature platinum hairdo, Skipper as Carol Channingwide crimson smile and glittering deep-red, sparkly dress greets the audience with the quavering vibrato of the fabulous Ms. Channing. On each of her fingers is a sizable bauble the size of golfballs, which she flings, one at a time, as she belts out, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Regrettably, we sat too far back to reap any of the diamonds from the throws.

After a lifetime of friendship with the original -- and 18 of them performing this enormously sweet and pleasing tribute impersonation -- Skipper has the tropes down pretty accurately.

In a 90-minute performance that includes all the beloved classics from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello Dolly, as well as other movies and plays not as well-remembered but whose songs linger rhapsodically in the collective unconscious, Skipper/Channing provided a full-throated, boffo evening without intermission -- beginning December 22, 2010, with an opening on January 12, 2011.

Cheery beyond measure (as is the original), comic above expectations (ditto), Skipper handles the imperfect and often nutty tourist and resident attendees’ questions/comments with aplomb and unfailing charm. In the audience were some famed TV and radio and stage personalities, all of whom were graciously and kindly introduced to the crowd.

Not once in the evening did she slip into the voice of the man inhabiting the woman inhabiting the stage. Behind her, posters and photos of the immortal La Channing -- pictures from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s -- dazzled the audience's eye. The audience pre-filled in questions that Ms. Channing answered, which is where the wheat separated from the chaff. Comic timing and hilarious put-downs -- always with a smile -- wowed the listener.

The mission of the production in addition to entertaining, according to Associate Producer Edmund Gaynes, is to present show biz “as it used to be.”  Good-natured, lilting and cherished show tunes (accompanied by a gifted musical ensemble), wrapped-up cabaret history in a cerise sheath dress. Nothing interferes with the painless hark-back to a few decades ago.

Treat yourself to winning speculations on the vagaries of talent, marriage, and  the nature of succeeding on Broadway. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, enjoy them guiltlessly -- and slightly off-Broadway.

P.S.: Carol knows and adores this guy, and loves what he does with her life and stage.

Richard Skipper as Channing
308 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 246-8140

Beginning December 22, 2010, with an opening on January 12, 2011 and a closing on January 26th, 2011

Theater Review: "Brief Encounter" -- Hokey, Charming Takeoff on Noël Coward’s iconic film

I can’t remember when I’ve seen a play as hokey and charming and full of fun as “Brief Encounter.” Okay, I take that back. It was “The 39 Steps.” But not surprising, it is also a spoof of an iconic British film, that one by Alfred Hitchcock. This one is by Noël Coward. If you want to have a very good time, go to this production. But notice the deeper meaning underneath it all.

Brief Encounter was a one-act play before it was a film, so Emma Rice has done a good turn by bringing it back to the stage, this time as a musical! We are in Milford Junction, in Surrey, England, in 1938.

By chance, two people meet at the train station café when Laura (Hannah Helland), a housewife, gets a speck in her eye, and Alec (Tristan Sturrock), a doctor, takes it out. From there grows true love.

But they are already married. We see Laura’s husband Fred (Joseph Alessi), older and rather boring. We never know Alec’s wife. The lovers meet from time to time at the station, at lunches in London, and in a borrowed apartment during an affair that seems as much consumed by anguish and guilt as by joy.

Laura wants to be free, to have a life that is exiting and fulfilling, not to be stuck in the humdrum middle class home we see ruled by her husband.

Pretty hokey in our time, no? So adapter/director Emma Rice goes with the hokey. We hear the movie’s overdone style of their dialogue, from her “Please we must be sensible?” to his, “I love you and you love me too. There’s no use pretending this hasn’t happened, because it has.”

We see the characters push through a screen to appear in the real film. The video of a toy train gets pulled along a clothes line of hanging sheets. We see and hear films of waves crashing on rocks during unseen moments of passion. (When did crashing waves come to symbolize sex?)

Helland and Sturrock are perfect in the roles, with just the right level of controlled ardor and overwrought speech. They could have been cast in the original film.

A couple of other romances play out with the excellent cast: the over-the-top tea shop owner (Annette McLaughlin) and her railroad employee boyfriend (Alessi) and a very erotic couple, the tea shop worker (Dorothy Atkinson) and her suitor (Gabriel Ebert).

A first-rate band featuring accordion, trumpet, bass, banjo and piano presents a host of Coward treats, including a satiric, sexy “Mad About the Boy.” And that gets most directly to what is agreed to be Coward’s underlying, unspoken theme of the play, which was the difficulty of having gay relationships in the 1930s. They were as forbidden as sex outside marriage.

Then, desire and disappointment in love is universal. It is to Rice’s credit and the audience’s great enjoyment that she turns this very serious drama into a lark.

Brief Encounter
Written by Noël Coward
adapted and directed by Emma Rice
Kneehigh Theatre of London production
Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54
254 West 54th Street
New York City
Opened Sept. 28, 2010 and closes Jan. 2, 2011.

Kevin's December Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week Knight And Day
Knight and Day
Those who aren’t fans of Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz may find their repartee in this labored James Bond spoof forced. Director James Mangold sets up  many outlandish action sequences in this comic adventure that end up blending together. If you can get excited over Tom and Cameron in a motorcycle chase alongside the running of the (obviously CGI) bulls, then you might find this entertaining, even though there’s too much smugness and tasteless casualness as people are routinely killed.
It all looks gloriously slick on Blu-ray, with genuinely atmospheric location shooting in Boston, Brooklyn and Jamaica, but the two stars are simply cashing checks here. Extras include on-set featurettes and a Black Eyed Peas video which I won’t be watching.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
(Disney) Sorcerer's Apprentice
The famous Fantasia segment is brought to life in an homage about halfway through this convoluted, entertaining but finally exhausting adventure about an immortal sorcerer (a hammy Nicolas Cage) who reluctantly joins with a New York City teenager to fend off an evil sorcerer (a hammy Alfred Molina). Jon Turtletaub’s sledgehammer directing (the same as in National Treasure) gleefully drives through the huge plot holes, and on Blu-ray, everything looks so magically strange that it doesn‘t matter, especially for its target audience.
Extras include deleted scenes, making-of featurettes and a gag reel, along with cast and crew discussing the original Disney short, from Paul Dukas’ music (which Trevor Rabin, the score composer, wisely quotes.)

DVDs of the Week
The Boys, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Walt and El Grupo
These fascinating documentaries give viewers valuable insights into three separate periods of the Disney company’s storied if checkered history. Walt and El Grupo follows Walt Disney on a wartime trip to South America in 1941; The Boys chronicles the close but rocky relationship between the Sherman brothers, composers of immortal songs in Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book; and Waking Sleeping Beauty shows how Disney shook off the ‘70s and ‘80s doldrums to retake the animated world by storm in the ‘90s.
All of the documentaries are well worth watching in their own right, but numerous bonus features (commentaries, deleted scenes, even the original 1943 release of Saludos Amigos) make these discs a must for anyone with an interest in Disney...meaning anyone.Restrepo

(Virgil Films)  
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s look at a group of American soldiers in the worst area of Afghanistan is 94 tense minutes of sheer visceral terror, as close to actual war anyone should ever want to get. Restrepo records the day-to-day lives of men in the platoon the directors were imbedded with. Although the Korengal Valley is deep inside the belly of the beast—where the most lethal fighting occurs in this endless war—there’s not a pointedly political comment made by anyone.
There are statements about the nearly impossible task given to these brave young men, some of whom look barely old enough to drive, let alone fight in a war. Restrepo singlemindedly places us in the midst of the fighting, showing off its (and its subjects’) integrity.

CDs of the WeekTerfel
Bryn Terfel: Carols and Christmas Songs
(Deutsche Grammophon)
The Welsh bass-baritone’s first holiday CD shows off his powerful voice on carols like “Silent Night” and “What Child Is This?”, along with less obvious candidates like two German-language carols, “Still, Still, Still” and “O Jesulein zart.” A less than felicitous posthumous “duet” of  “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby is an obvious low point, but his “live” duet with Rolando Villazon (“El Nacimiento”) is charming.
For good measure, a second disc of carols sung in Terfel’s native language includes Welsh versions of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Away in a Manger,” and he also sings “To Bethlehem,” “Christmas? Who Knows?” and “The Baby’s Day.” Terfel sounds engaged throughout, and you can hear the grin on his face as he relives winter nights back in Wales, singing carols with his family.

Wagner’s Ring: Clemens Krauss Wagner's Ring
Among the greatest of all recorded Ring cycles, conductor Clemens Krauss’s 1953 live recordings from Bayreuth, with what’s by all accounts one of the best casts ever assembled, have been remastered and re-released. The 13-CD set omits the libretti which are readily available elsewhere; more important is that this stunning, dramatic interpretation of Wagner’s still-potent 16-hour saga is available once again, sounding cleaner and fresher than ever.
Krauss takes fairly quick tempi, which some might dislike, but it undeniably makes the drama more urgent. And what voices: Hans Hotter (Wotan), Astrid Varnay (Brunnhilde), Wolfgang Windgassen (Siegfried) and Regina Resnik (Sieglinde) are peerless throughout the four operas.

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