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Broadway Review—Harold Prince’s “The Prince of Broadway”

The Prince of Broadway
Co-direction and choreography by Susan Stroman; directed by Harold Prince
Performances through October 22, 2017
Karen Ziemba and Chuck Cooper recreate Sweeney Todd in The Prince of Broadway (photo: Matthew Murphy)
Harold Prince has had such a remarkable Broadway run it’s impossible to shoehorn his decades of musical hits—and occasional flop—into a couple of hours onstage. So The Prince of Broadway—the anthology Prince created with co-director/choreographer Susan Stroman—doesn’t even try, giving audiences a greatest hits compilation (with a few curveballs thrown in) that provides a commendable overview of Prince’s career.
Since Prince had a hand in dozens of shows from Damn Yankees and West Side Story to Fiddler on the Roof and Company (not to mention Show Boat, Follies, Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spider Woman), it was likely tough to decide what to include and what to omit. The above-mentioned shows made the cut, along with The Pajama Game, She Loves Me, A Little Night Music, Cabaret, Evita, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, and even Parade and the mid-‘60s flop It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!
There are restaged sequences from these shows, often—but not always—their “classic” numbers, which tends toward imbalance whenever we don’t hear such songs from other shows. Having “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita and “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music is all well and good, but such showstoppers take the focus off Prince’s innovative stagings and instead shine a light on, say, composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.
There’s also been a nod toward making The Prince of Broadway more than a string of unconnected highlights, so all nine energetic cast members take turns walking onstage as Prince and relate some engaging bon mots or enlightening statements about his career and theater in general. 
But this conceit isn’t used to its fullest extent; at times we should hear from one of the faux Princes to set up certain numbers, but instead there’s simply a clunky segue to the next. And the routine finale, Jason Robert Brown’s song “Do the Work,” simply isn’t stylish enough to satisfyingly wrap up the show.
Still, great moments are scattered throughout, and no one can begrudge Prince and Stroman wanting to include as much as possible without making it four hours long. And the cast performs with incomparable zest, even if some aren’t perfect for the roles they assay. 
Chuck Cooper absolutely kills “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat, but is on less secure ground for Fiddler’s “If I Was a Rich Man” and a Sweeney Todd trio. Cooper’s Sweeney costar, the magnificent Karen Ziemba, is a delightful Mrs. Lovett, and also gives it the old college try as the gorilla in Cabaret.
Michael Xavier and Janet Dacal are a funny, sexy couple in the Superman segment, but the otherwise accomplished Dacal doesn’t come within hailing distance of Patti Lupone in Evita or Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams in Kiss of the Spider Woman when she takes on “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” and the latter’s title song.
Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner and Kaley Ann Voorhees show off superior pipes in various numbers, but the cast’s MVP goes to Tony Yazbeck for his versatility and virtuosity, especially during the seemingly endless and sweat-inducing tap-dance number, “The Right Girl” in Follies, for which he deservedly brings down the house and puts a stop to the entire show.
Though not the stage extravaganza that both Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and Fosse were, The Prince of Broadway has an intimacy that serves its creator’s more subtle approach, despite its hiccups.
The Prince of Broadway
Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY

M-O-D DVD Archive Sites Offer a Cinematic Feast for Movie Buffs


Manufactured on Demand (MOD) discs are a cinephile’s dream. They offer a new way to satisfy movie buffs burning desires. There’re treasure chests of classic chestnuts and films of all manner: sound and silent, classic and cult, musicals/comedy/drama, made-for-TV movies, TV series, and documentaries. These are DVDs, many remastered, some in HD, and many debuting in Blu-ray that you’ll only find at studio archive sites. For the most part, these DVD-R discs burned to order are quite reasonably-priced. More often than not you can hit upon a sale. Items often ship within three days. 

Library Journal estimates there are 2,000-plus M-O-D titles available, with new titles released weekly. There’s original package art, but don’t expect booklets or bonus material. There can be trailers and cartoons as bonus materials. Widescreen movies are shown in their proper aspect ratio and formatted for 16X9 TV screens. Closed-captions are rare except on films recently released. 

Some resurfacing titles were thought to be “lost” forever. Initially, the offerings were outdated “off-the-shelf” items or titles studios didn’t deem economically sound for mass distribution.

Since Warner Bros. pioneered M-O-D eight years ago, more or less to do something with the huge hunk of the MGM library they purchased when that once invincible studio ceased to exist, their claims Metro’s old boast of having more stars there are in the heavens.

MODWBArchive8-17The WB archive covers a vast array of tastes. There’re lots of titles you may wonder “Why” about, but for every one of those there is film noir galore [such as The Big Sleep and Out of the Past], the film noir musical 42nd Street, and other musical gems [such as KismetCole Porter’s Silk Stockings, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, starring Oscar nominee Debbie Reynolds in a rousing performance.

There’s animation, cult favs, and Metro’s extraordinarily popular singing lovers, who had a massive cult following [despite the fact that they despised each other and played revenge tricks during shooting], Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in a two volume/eight film collection [which includes Rose Marie and Naughty Marietta).

There’s a helpful Search option. In addition to the above, here are some finds that might be of interest: 

Cinema Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (2009; 90 minutes) – This Turner documentary spotlights the 1933 and 1939, over 800 Jewish members of the German film industry who fled the Nazis for the U.S. and Hollywood, from 1933-1939. Many had a massive impact on American cinema in comedy, drama, horror, and, especially, film noir. Told through film clips, interviews, photographs, and rare archival footage including home movies, it explores directors Fritz LangErnst LubitschBilly Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann, stars such as Garbo and Peter Lorre, and composers Rozsa, Steiner, Tiomkin, and Waxman. Once in Hollywood, they raised money so others could escape. Numerous clips. Actors recreate some voices, but those heard as themselves are Dietrich, Deanna Durbin, Charles Laughton, Heddy Lamarr, Lorre, Lubitsch, Ann Sheridan, and Wilder. Narrated by Sigourney Weaver.

Six by Sondheim (2013; 86 minutes) – This HBO documentary takes quite a candid look at Sondheim, as revealed through the performance of six of his songs, and by the man whose ground-breaking work redefined musical theater  – one that leads to a deeper understanding of him. “Everybody has problems,” he says. “Nobody goes through life unscathed. If you write about those things, you’re going to touch people.” Directed by James Lapine, the film weaves Sondheim interviews with those of Yvonne de Carlo, Dean Jones, Larry Kert, Ethel Merman, Mandy Patinkin, and Bernadette Peters. Darren Criss, America Ferrera, and Audra McDonald sing classic tunes, including “Being Alive,”I’m Still Here,” “Opening Doors,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Something’s Coming.” 

Bogie & Bacall Films:

MODBogieBacallTo Have and Have Not (1943; 100 minutes; remastered; Blu-ray debut) – Howard Hawks’ masterpiece, loosely adapted from Hemingway novel with an assist from Faulkner, captures the pair’s size in their first pairing. Bacall, still in her teens, as lounge singer and French resistance sympathizer, sets off sirens with famed “whistle” line; but Bogie matches bravado scene after scene as she wraps him around her little finger. He segues from pickpocket in WWII Vichy France to smuggler to hero as he transports a fugitive on the run from Nazis. Walter Brennan, Hoagy Carmichael, and Dolores Moran co-star. The uncredited score is by legendary Franz Waxman.

The Big Sleep (1946; 114 minutes) – Raymond Chandler gumshoe Philip Marlowe tackles blackmail, following a film noir trail of murderers, pornographers, rogues, spoiled rich, and other denizens. Director Howard Hawks serves it up in brisk, hard-boiled style – screenplay is co-written by Nobel Laureate William Faulkner. There’re snappy characters, none more so than Bogie and Bacall. The Blu-ray doubles your pleasure with two versions: the 1946 theatrical version, with additional scenes of incendiary Bogie/Bacall chemistry, and the 1945 pre-release version. Dorothy Malone, Martha Vickers, Regis Toomey, Western legend Bob Steele [in his tough guy period], and a standout Elisha Cook Jr. are featured. Great Max Steiner score. 

Dark Passage (1947; 106 minutes; remastered in 1080p HD) – Sparks fly in the duo’s third pairing is a bold and surreal noir fable about a prison escapee trying to prove he was framed and the mysterious dame who aids him. Director Delmer Daves lends a surreal air by keeping the con‘s face unseen for film’s first half, only revealing it post plastic surgery. Agnes Moorehead, cheated out of an Oscar nod, nearly steals the show as a flighty femme fatale. Bonus material: making-of feature and cartoon, Slick Hare, starring Elmer Fudd and Bugs, which has Bogie ordering rabbit, but Fudd has a tough time getting Bugs in the pot.

Classic Westerns:

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949; 103 minutes: 1080p HD Blu-ray Technicolor and sound remaster) –– Western master director John Ford captains the middle film of his acclaimed “Cavalry Trilogy,” based on stories by James Warner Bellah. John Wayne (40, playing 60) is a widowed captain , on final assignment before being mustered out,  escorting commander’s wife and niece through hostile Indian territory (Monument Valley, Utah) as he makes a bid for peace between warring tribes. Joanne Dru, Mildred Natwick, Harry Carey Jr., John Agar, Ben Johnson, and Victor McLaglen (The Quiet Man) co-star. Duke was cheated out of an Oscar nod. Oscar-winning cinematography by Winton Hoch

Stage to Screen:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf(1966; 131 minutes; Blu-ray debut) – Albee’s bitter tale of an alcohol-fueled aging couple, on the rocks in more ways than one, who use a young couple to fuel emotional pain against each other. Not for the faint of heart. Directed by Oscar-nominated Mike Nichols. Stars Oscar-winner Elizabeth Taylor in a daring performance not-to-be missed; and the Oscar-nominated co-stars: Richard Burton, giving as good as he gets, George Segal, and Oscar-winner Sandy Dennis in her shining hour.

Astounding Animation:

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993; 76 minutes; remastered, Blue-ray debut) – While celebrating the 25th anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, how about a nostalgic look back with this animated theatrical release? Superhero animation guru and executive producer Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, legendary Batman voice Kevin Conroy, co-screenwriter Alan Burnett, and Warner Archive Podcasts will offer a glimpse at the remastered footage and a making-of discussion. Other voices: Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach (Phantasm/Carl Beaumont), Abe Vigoda, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Arthur), and Mark Hamill (The Joker).

Cult Craziness:

The Green Slime (1968; 90 minutes; remastered; wide-screen)– Even judged against low standards, it doesn’t get any cheesier than this romp from Japan, Italy, and the U.S. – but it’s so bad, it’s good. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who inspired Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s schlockiness, it’s a campy Sci-Fi story of astronauts disembarking from space station to nip a giant asteroid in the bud. They return with gooey green mess that has mind of its own. Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel headline.

Stunning Conclusion to Mostly Mozart Fest

Louis Langrée and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. Photo by Richard Termine

The concluding Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra concert of the season—presented at Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall on the evening of Saturday, August 19th, and conducted enthusiastically by Music Director Louis Langrée—was an unusually memorable one and a superb finale.

Before the main performance, a worthwhile pre-concert recital featured star soloist Gil Shaham, along with Adele Anthony, in Sergei Prokofiev's intriguing Sonata for Two Violins.

The concert proper opened magnificently with a sterling account of Prokofiev's brilliant, enormously popular "Classical" Symphony, a work perfectly suited to this festival. 

A gripping reading of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's dark, amazingly precocious Symphony No. 25 conjured the Classical atmosphere evoked by the Prokofiev work,  satisfyingly closing the first half of the program.

For the second half, Shaham took the stage for a wonderful rendition of the exhilarating, unforgettable Violin Concerto of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky—a work with a debt to Mozart's majesty—providing a marvelous capstone to a fine festival.

August '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Golden Age
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
(Bel Air)
The Bolshoi Ballet’s thoroughly delightful Golden Age, based on ridiculously catchy music by Dmitri Shostakovich, displays the company at its best with spiffy costuming, clever sets and some effortlessly stupendous dancing. 
In choreographer Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, only the title is Shakespeare’s: the music isn’t Mendelssohn’s classic score but a lukewarm one by Mikael Karlsson that doesn’t seem to challenge the men and women of the Royal Swedish Ballet, who still do their damnedest to make it work. Both discs include first-rate hi-def video and audio. The lone Dream extra is an Ekman interview.
In Mike Leigh’s 1984 television film, a working-class family deals with the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s regime, including skyrocketing unemployment and a possible youthful alternative like skinheads. 
Although ragged around the edges, this biting comedy-drama from the always political Leigh is a fine lead-in to his two best films, 1988’s High Hopes and 1991’s Life Is Sweet—both of which deserve a Criterion release—and also a great showcase for an array of young acting talent, including Tim Roth and (in his debut) Gary Oldman. The Criterion hi-def transfer is decent enough (this is, after all, an early ‘80s British TV film); extras are new interviews with Leigh and actress Marion Bailey and a 2007 Roth interview.
La Poison 
In Sacha Guitry’s jet-black but precise comedy, French great Michel Simon and Germaine Reuver play long-wedded spouses who’ve grown to loathe each other so much that they discuss how they will off each other—until she ends up dead and he is taken to court charged with her murder. 
Guitry’s poison pen is as sharp as ever, notwithstanding a sentimental opening credit sequence unlike any you’ve seen (unless you know other Guitry movies). Simon is superbly expressive, unsurprisingly, as is Reuver as his unlucky wife. Criterion’s hi-def transfer of this 1951 B&W film is nothing short of dazzling; extras comprise an hour-long 2010 documentary, Life On-Screen: Miseries and Splendour of a Monarch, about Guitry and Simon’s collaborations; an hour-long episode of French television series Cineaste de Notre Temps from 1965 about Guitry (who died in 1957); and an interview with an unabashed Guitry fan, director Olivier Assayas.

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