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Broadway Play Review—Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song” Returns

Torch Song

Written by Harvey Fierstein; directed by Moises Kaufman

Performances through February 24, 2019


Mercedes Ruehl and Michael Urie in Torch Song (photo: Joan Marcus)


It’s rare to see a Broadway show as bighearted, sentimental, funny and heartbreaking as Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song. At its 1982 premiere, it was a four-hour behemoth titled Torch Song Trilogy, earning raves and two Tony awards for its author/lead actor, who played Arnold Beckoff, the lovably cranky drag performer at its center. Now shortened by an hour and losing a word from its title, it might be even more affecting with some meat trimmed off its bones. 


The probing Torch Song, which dramatizes Arnold’s successful onstage work as Virginia Hamm and his unsuccessful offstage life comprising fraught relationships with his bisexual ex, adopted teenage son and homophobic but protective mom, is set in the pre-AIDS era. Arnold’s lover Alan has been killed in a hate crime, beaten to death outside their apartment, a subtle reminder of the horrors gay men faced while trying to live their lives. Fierstein’s trimmed version and Moises Kaufman’s staging keep Arnold’s disparate relationships—with his mother; with Ed, who left him to marry a woman, but who returns when she throws him out; and with his adopted (and gay) son David—front and center. 


Arnold, who is presented with naked honesty, is annoying without becoming wearying, a difficult tightrope walk which Michael Urie accomplishes with exceptional skill, his deadpan looks after spitting out a lethal line or campy reactions after a deadpan reading allowing him to make Arnold sympathetic by showing him in his entirety: as performer and lover, father and son, joker and mourner.


The same goes for Mercedes Ruehl in the (admittedly) scene-stealing part of Arnold’s mother. Although Ruehl is an old hand at the killer pause, double take or exasperated retort, her Jewish mother who can’t understand why her son is gay is anything but clichéd. This delectable mother-son rapport has genuine—if occasionally uncomfortable—feeling.


The rest of the cast—Michael Hsu Rosen (Alan), Jack DiFalco (David), Ward Horton (Ed) and Roxanna Hope Radja (Lauren, Ed’s wife)—remains a step behind only because Urie and Ruehl are on such a rarefied plane. But everybody does justice to a humane work of art that has only deepened with age.


Torch Song

Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, New York, NY

Juan Diego Flórez Sings Opera Greats at Carnegie Hall

Juan Diego Flórez photo by Chris Lee

A thus far superb season at Carnegie Hall continued splendidly on the afternoon of Sunday, November 18th with a recital of 19th-century European music sung by the superb, tremendously appealing tenor, Juan Diego Flórez, excellently accompanied by pianist Vincenzo Scalera.
The program was notable for showcasing some less familiar repertory, with the first half devoted to works by Italian composers, opening with two by Gioachino Rossini: “Addio ai viennesi”, a concert song from early in his career, and “Mi lagnerò tacendo”, one of several of his settings of a text by the famous 18th-century librettist, Pietro Metastasio. Selections by Gaetano Donizetti followed, beginning with the charming Waltz for Piano in C Major played by Scalera alone. Flórez then performed the exquisite “Una furtiva lagrima” from L’elisir  d’amore, in which production the singer has triumphed to deserved acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera. After this he sang the recitative “Tombe degli avi miei” and the aria “Fra poco a me ricovero” from the celebratedLucia di Lamermoor.The first portion of the afternoon concluded with music by Giuseppe Verdi: “Ô toi que j’ai chérie” from the 1863 Paris revival of Les vêpres siciliennes, now most famous for its marvelous overture, and the cavatina-cabaletta from the seldom staged I Lombardi alla prima crociata,“La mia letizia infondere” and the second, faster version of “Come poteva un angelo.”
The other half of the program mostly comprised by French music, starting with several works by Jules Massenet: the art song “Ouvre tes yeux bleus” from Poème d’amour, succeeded by two arias from Manon, which was adapted from the classic novel by Abbé Prevost, “En fermant les yeux” and “Ah! fuyez, douce image.” Scalera then played the lovely “Méditation” from Thaïs, less saccharine scored for solo piano than in the original version.
There then ensued two selections from operas adapted from books by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Salut! demeure chaste et pure” from Charles Gounod’s Faust and “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Massenet’s Werther.The concert concluded with the beautiful “Che gelida manina” from Giacomo Puccini’s enormously popular La Bohème.
Enthusiastic applause elicited an astonishing seven encores, beginning with three songs in Flórez’s native Spanish which he performed with his guitar: “Bésame mucho”, “La flor de la canela” by Chabuca Granda of Peru, the singer’s homeland, and “La Paloma”. Scalera then returned to the stage to accompany "Pour mon âme, quel destin!" from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, the aria that propelled Flórez to superstardom at the Metropolitan Opera. He then delivered Agustín Lara’s “Granada” and, finally, “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. It was a stunning end to a wonderful afternoon.

November '18 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 

Crazy Rich Asians 

(Warner Bros)

Considered an historic film as the first Hollywood studio release to have an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the first of a trilogy of novels by author Kevin Kwan is certainly an audience-pleaser (check out its huge box office numbers).




Although it’s essentially a high-gloss soap opera, entertaining and enervating in equal measure, it has a classy, charismatic cast led by Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding. The Blu-ray looks great; extras include Chu and Kwan’s commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette and a gag reel.


First Blood

Rambo—First Blood II

Rambo III 


Before Rambo became a jingoistic joke, it’s pretty much been forgotten that the first film, First Blood, was an exciting action picture, well directed by Ted Kotcheff and with fine support by Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy to offset Sly Stallone’s cardboard mumbling hero.




But things got worse once the ideological idiocy was amped up, and the second and third entries are barely watchable if instructive looks at Reagan’s America’s ultimate in patriotism—or, as the current White House occupant would have it nowadays, nationalism. These new releases feature sparkling hi-def restorations in 4K and standard Blu-ray, along with a mix of new and vintage interviews and featurettes.






Jeannette—The Childhood of Joan of Arc 


The ultimate provocateur, Bruno Dumont, is back with his latest, which, believe it or not, is a head-banging musical about the beloved saint’s early life, before she takes up arms against the English and becomes a martyr. After the bizarre left turns of Li’l Quinquin (successful) and Slack Bay (disastrous), Dumont jumps off a different cliff with this rigorously shot but musically and dramatically inert drama that does little with its game amateur cast.




In theory, the juxtaposition of heavy metal sounds and the austere subject is enticing; but onscreen it comes off as simply too offbeat for its own good. The film looks lovely on Blu, but it’s too bad the burnt-in subtitles threaten to ruin the visuals; extras comprise two deleted scenes and a Dumont interview.


Mile 22 


Director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg have made several “gritty” dramas together over the past few years—Sole Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and last year’s Boston Marathon bombing reenactment, Patriots Day—and their latest is a hot mess of convoluted plotting and overdone violence, including a couple of the most ridiculously unbelievable fight sequences ever committed to celluloid.




The verisimilitude works to a point, until several melodramatic twists make mincemeat of all that’s come before. The hi-def transfer is first-rate; extras include featurettes, etc.


Rolling Stones—Voodoo Lounge Uncut 

(Eagle Vision)

For the Stones’ tour to support its middling 1994 album Voodoo Lounge, the band pulled out all the stops, as this huge Miami stadium gig makes clear: playing a handful of new songs, the Stones’ emphasis is on its storied past, and that’s where the best performances lie, like hot takes of “Rocks Off,” “Angie” and “Street Fighting Man,” among others.




This is the first time the entire 2-1/2 hour concert has been released, and while the video is muddy, the sound has been exceptionally upgraded. Bonuses are five songs from a Giants Stadium show that same year, including a revved-up “Shattered.”


DVD Set of the Week

Scorpion—The Complete Series 


Throughout the four seasons of Scorpion (all 92 episodes of which have been collected on 24 DVDs), the close-knit group of brainiac hackers kept coming up against still tougher and more dangerous assignments—all of which they, eventually, dispatched.




Now that this silly but entertaining series has run its course, one of the most charmingly natural actresses around, Katharine McPhee, is free again: maybe she can go back to doing more musicals on Broadway after she finishes her tour. Extras are featurettes, gag reels, deleted scenes and audio commentaries.

Off-Broadway Review—“Plot Points in Our Sexual Development”

Plot Points in Our Sexual Development 

Written by Miranda Rose Hall; directed by Margot Bordelon

Performances through November 18, 2018


Jax Jackson and Marianne Rendón in Plot Points in Our Sexual Development 
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

In Miranda Rose Hall’s mainly searing, occasionally syrupy hour-long two-hander, a couple speaks openly and explicitly about the difficult roads each travelled to arrive at where they are now: reluctantly but hopefully embarking on a new relationship. 


The title, Plot Points in Our Sexual Development, is anything but subtle: it literally describes what the couple does throughout Hall’s rather contrived but effective construction.


Cecily, a 30-something cis woman, and Theo, a 30-something genderqueer and transmasculine, at first alternate sharing their most enduring—and sometimes humiliating—memories of sexual initiation, gender confusion and other intimate experiences as they approach this current moment: tentatively (while more than a little scared), they decide to cement their growing relationship; even though it’s not guaranteed to work—physically or emotionally—it may turn out to be the necessary salve for their past wounds.


Hall’s dialogue is literate and biting, even if it sometimes approaches harangues for its own sake. But Margot Bordelon has directed simply and sympathetically on Andrew Boyce’s near-bare set, which visualizes the bare souls inhabiting it. 


And those souls are gracefully inhabited by Jax Jackson (Theo) and Marianne Rendón (Cecily), tremendously affecting and vital, whether speaking or listening to the other, pulling away or drawing closer—in short, running the gamut of emotions their characters go through. 


Plot Points in Our Sexual Development 

Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY

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