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A Classic Reborn: "Swan Lake" Performed at Lincoln Center

 Isabella Boylston as Odette, photo by Gene Schiavone

A terrific season at the American Ballet Theater at Lincoln Center reached another peak on the evening of Tuesday, June 19th, with a thrilling performance of Kevin McKenzie’s production of the immensely popular Swan Lake, set to the glorious score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with exhilarating choreography after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The handsome sets and costumes were designed by Zack Brown while the effective lighting is by Duane Schuler.

The event was unforgettable for its brilliant cast led by Isabella Boylston, magnificent as Odette-Odile—this was her strongest work I have yet seen. Her astonishing partner as Prince Siegfried was the sensational Daniil Simkin, one of the finest dancers in the company, who dazzled the previous week as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.

Thomas Forster was a forceful Rothbard, marvelously doubled by Alexandre Hammoudi in the third act. Joseph Gorak who shone as Benno, the prince’s friend, was delightfully complemented by the excellent Cassandra Trenary and Stephanie Williams in the pas de trois from the first act.

Many other dancers deserve mention. In the second act, Rachel Richardson, Jin Zhang, Mai Aihara and Betsy McBride—she was also the Hungarian princess in the third act—comprised the extraordinary quartet of cygnettes, followed exquisitely by Katherine Williams and Catherine Hurlin in the duet of swans.

The third act featured several more wonderful artists including Isadora Loyola, Erica Lall, and Elina Miettinen as the Spanish, Italian and Polish princesses, respectively. Kelley Potter and Duncan Lyle excelled in the Czardas while Courtney Lavine, Sung Woo Han, Brittany Degrofft and Gray Davis were superb in the Spanish Dance. Finally, Luis Ribagorda and Garegin Pogossian also entranced in the Neapolitan dance. The outstanding corps de ballet executed the most impressive work I have seen by them this season. I excitedly look forward to next week’s presentation of the always enjoyable Don Quixote.

June '18 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 

Double Lover 

(Cohen Media)

In French provocateur Francois Ozon’s free adaptation of a story by Joyce Carol Oates, a beautiful young woman (Marine Vacth) falls in love with her handsome shrink (Jeremie Renier), which is only the beginning of a strangely enveloping erotic thriller that showcases Ozon’s creepy-slash-stylish aesthetic.





Vacth is tremendous in what amounts to a dual role, as she more than consolidates her terrific debut in Ozon’s Young and Beautiful a few years back. There’s a quality hi-def transfer; lone extra is an interview with Ozon and Vacth.










Designing Woman 

(Warner Archive)

This glitteringly empty 1957 romantic comedy has a first-rate pedigree—director Vincente Minnelli, stars Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall, composer Andre Previn—which helps immensely as it travels a well-worn path for two hours, driven by George Wells’ clever (but Oscar-winning?!?) script.





Silly moments are balanced by funny ones, and some grandly overdone supporting performances by Dolores Grey, Chuck Connors and Mickey Schaughnessy. The film looks great on Blu; lone extra is an interview with costume designer Helen Rose.










The Great Silence 

(Film Movement Classics)

An Italian western set in snowswept mountain country, Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 genre classic has oodles of atmosphere, fine star turns by then-heartthrobs Jean-Louis Trintingant and Klaus Kinski, and fantastic photography by Silvano Ippolitti.





Still, that this was an obvious influence on Quentin Tarantino’s execrable The Hateful Eight is reason enough to knock it down a peg, however entertaining it is. The restored hi-def print is spectacularly grainy; extras are an Alex Cox intro; a 1968 documentary, Western Italian Style; and two alternate endings.










Man in an Orange Shirt 

(PBS Masterpiece)

Patrick Gale’s scattershot script for this two-part film dramatizes how gay men dealt with oppressive British laws in the 1940s as well as their relative freedom in today’s world. Despite strong acting—especially by Laura Carmichael as a post-war wife who discovers that her husband is in love with his best male friend—it never truly coheres, as the difficulties encountered in the earlier half smother relatively carping contemporary problems.





Even the connections (two paintings, particularly) don’t provide much enrichment. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras are on-

set interviews.










Orange Is the New Black—Complete 5th Season 


This show jumped the shark a couple of seasons back, so opening with the prison riot that erupted at the end of season four is a chance for the series to slow down and take stock of how it should go forward, and that means a renewed focus on characters rather than “characters,” at least for the first few episodes.





The acting remains sharp and the writing is choppy but often witty, which is enough…some of the time. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include a gag reel, featurettes and commentaries.










Pacific Rim: Uprising 


In this frantic sequel which mindlessly repeats what made the first movie dopey fun, a bunch of wisecracking and bickering young pilots come together to help save the world—again!—as gargantuan good robots battle more malevolent monsters. Despite zippiness in the heavily CGIed action sequences, there’s nothing to suggest that we will ever need another Pacific Rim sequel.





The highly digitized film looks terrific on Blu; extras include deleted scenes with director’s commentary and several featurettes. 

"Half Time" Makes East Coast Premiere at Paper Mill, But Does it Score?

June 14, 2018
– There’re enough Tony winners among the creative team in the East Coast premiere of Jerry Mitchell’s production of the musical Half Time for you to expect a championship game. The adaptation of Dori Berinstein’s 2008 documentary Gotta Dance, about New Jersey seniors creating a hip-hop squad for the local team, plays at the Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, NJ) through July 1. While things don’t quite gel to equal the sum of their parts, there are incredibly standout parts. With a score by Matthew Sklar (music) and Nell Benjamin (lyrics) and book by Bob Martin (Drowsy Chaperone) and Chad Beguelin (Aladdin; The Wedding Singer), it dribbles along at TV-sit-com level until the momentum picks up when a couple of players shoot winning hoops.

The show, where the seniors defy the odds to disprove the axiom “No one said getting old is easy” and that age is just a number, had changes since its 2015 Chicago premiere, then-titled Gotta Dance, also helmed by Mitchell. He’s kept the lead cast mostly intact. As with any show, no matter how strong the book and music are, great casting choices make it stronger. He’s blessed to have five-time Emmy-nominated Georgia Engel and Tony and Obie-winning stage veteran André De Shields as the MVP.

Tony nominated Sklar (Elf) and Olivier and Tony nominated Benjamin (Legally Blonde) joined the team when EGOT (Emmy, Grammy Oscar, Tony) and Pulitzer Prize winner Marvin Hamlisch died in 2012. Three of his tunes remain. They and two from the new players add incalculable gloss.

Half-Time is very much an ensemble show. Returning in addition to Engel and De Shields are  Tony winning belter Lillias White, Haven Burton, Lori Tan Chin, Nancy Ticotin, Madeline Doherty, Tracy Jai Edwards, Lenora Nemetz, and Kay Walbye. Replacing popular TV star Stefanie Powers from Chicago is Donna McKechnie.


The inspiration for the musical is literally ripped out of the headlines – or, in this case, a gossip column. Four-time Tony-winning producer Berinstein (2012 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf revival, Thoroughly Modern Millie, among others) saw an item in a 2006 Cindy Adams New York Post column announcing the New Jersey Nets were holding an audition for the first-ever N.B.A. senior hip-hop squad. She raced there, camera in hand. That led her to produce the 2008 indie film Gotta Dance.

In Half Time, reminiscent of the English import of Richard Harris1987 play with songs, Stepping Out, there are nine seniors and one man. Here, the team is the New Jersey Cougars, choreographed/coached by Tara (Burton). The 60-year-old plus dance hopefuls – all truly amazing cougars, arrive thinking they’re up for tap and ballroom and find themselves in a rude awakening. Things get off to an even worse than bad start for the Nifty Shades of Grey, until the revelation that mild-mannered kindergarten teacher Dorothy, portrayed by extraordinary scene-stealer Engel [who turns 70 next month], who can’t walk without a cane is a hip-hop aficionado spouting lyrics from rappers Tupac, Run DMC, 50 Cent, and Eminem. On the dance floor, she gets her grove on as if she’s a high-energy teenager. In less than three weeks they’re to bust their moves center court in front of 20,000 fans. As things start to shape up there are petty jealousies, granddaughter marital advice from sassy “grandma” Bea (White) who’s knows how to work it and twerk it, a superiority attitude from former professional dancer (McKechnie) who’s hiding a secret, wise-cracking one-liners courtesy of the diminutive Mae (Chinn), and hot salsa from Camilla (Ticotin) who brandishes a sexy French-kissing boy toy. They’re balanced by a smooth-talking widower (De Shields) known as “the Prince of Swing” in spite of his aching back. They put petty attitudes and differences aside and finally bond in solidarity – not to mention romance, defy the odds, and become “We seniors are the world!” champions with no end-game in sight.


There really wouldn’t be much here except for Engel and De Shields. She has a winning Hamlisch reverie  in “Dorothy/Dottie,” where she reveals that the woman on the dance floor isn’t her/Dorothy but her hip-hop alter ego Dottie. She sings “Dor’thy’s not bold … She’s got nothing to say. Neat appearance and good manners”; but as Dottie, when the music “pulses through her body, bass and reverb start to shake … she feels something inside her wake.” And it’s on the dance floor where she literally walks off with the show. De Shields has long been known as a smooth-talker with amazing stage swagger. He delivers both towards the end of Act One in the Hamlisch charmer “The Prince of Swing,” where he reveals how one dance changed his life and got him a wife. He and Engel spot some dazzling ballroom moves during  a few stanzas of “There You Are,” which Hamlisch incorporated into the number. They not only stop the show, they bring the house down.

White delivers brassy, sassy advice to her granddaughter in the three-part “Princess” and Ticotin and her boy toy Fernando (Alexander Agular) deliver hot Salsa in “Como No.” Then, there’s the Act Two moment when set designer David Rockwell’s back wall segues into panels of mirrors and Cassie, that is Joanne (McKechnie), delivers a solo dance  in “Too Good for This” that’s three degrees of separation from her Tony-winning moment in A Chorus Line.

Music director and arranger is Tony-winner Charlie Alterman (Pippin revival, Next to Normal), with orchestrations by Tony-winner Larry Hochman (Book of Mormon), and dance arrangements by Kenny Seymour. Two-time Tony winner Mitchell (Kinky Boots) choreographed and directed, but credits co-choreographer Nick Kenkel with the hip-hop moves accompanying Sklar’s pulsating dance music. Half Time is produced in association with Berinstein and Bill Damaschke.

* * * 1/2

To learn more, go to:

June '18 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 

Tomb Raider

(Warner Bros)

Bringing back Lara Croft in this era of rebooting everything is a no-brainer, as is Alicia Vikander replacing Angelina Jolie, since Vikander’s athleticism is less freakishly superhero-ish—she owns the role for however many sequels the producers want to make. 

The movie itself is divertingly forgettable, with stunts and special effects galore, but the nonsensical adventure is the last thing anyone will remember with Vikander so busy reviving a blockbuster franchise. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include four making-of featurettes.


Benvenuto Cellini 

Il Vologeso 


Hector Berlioz’s 1838 grand opera Benvenuto Cellini—a largely fictionalized overview of events in the life of the great 16th century Italian sculptor—gets an energetic 2015 Dutch National Opera staging by former Monty Python member (and creator of Brazil and The Fisher King) Terry Gilliam, who squeezes out a lot more humor than drama; his cast keeps up with the frenetic pace, led by John Osborn’s Cellini. 

A virtually unknown opera by Niccolò Jommelli, Il Vologeso, was unearthed centuries after its 1766 premiere, but it’s such a run-of-the-mill baroque work that it’s unsurprising it’s been eclipsed by so many better operas. Still, the Stuttgart production is first-rate, as are the performers and musicians. Both operas have terrific hi-def video and audio; too bad there are no extras, since a Gilliam Cellini interview (or commentary) would have been a hoot.











The Hurricane Heist 


Helped by a clever plot twist—crooks use an impending hurricane to cover their tracks when they rob a U.S. mint—this basically risible crime drama remains watchable mostly because it’s a blast to discover what ludicrous pieces of nature’s wrath happen to move the crazy plot forward.

Director Rob Cohen keeps his tongue in cheek, especially during the nutso finale in which dangerous winds claim victims that include 18-wheelers. A game cast featuring Maggie Grace (an actress who deserves better movies) is another plus. The film looks fine on Blu; extras are Cohen’s commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes.


King of Hearts 

(Cohen Film Collection)

Philippe de Broca’s 1966 tragicomedy has attained cult status over the years with its optimistic allegorical theme—“in an insane world, the insane are sane”—and a story of inmates of an asylum in a deserted French town at WWI’s end crowning a Scottish soldier, sent to disarm bombs retreating Germans left, as their leader. 

Alan Bates is charming, Genevieve Bujold is stunning, and a bevy of French performers—Daniel Boulanger, Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Claude Brialy and Michel Serrault, for starters—gives this slight satire the energy it needs to get to the finish line. The new hi-def transfer looks superb; extras are new interviews with Bujold and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme along with a commentary.











The Strangers—Prey at Night 


The original The Strangers, from 2008, wasn’t necessarily begging for a sequel, and this belated attempt tries but fails miserably to equal or even come near its occasional chills, with a non-existent plot, characters doing the dumbest things imaginable, and a finale that doesn’t even raise a sigh let alone a scream. 

It all looks good enough in hi-def; extras include an alternate ending and an alternate (unrated) cut of the film, music video and featurettes.

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