the traveler's resource guide to festivals & filmsa FestivalTravelNetwork.com site part of Insider Media llc.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Music by Frank Wildhorn; directed by Gabriel Barre; conducted by Jason Howland
Performed on February 18, 2019
Laura Osnes and Tony Yazbeck in The Scarlet Pimpernel (photo: Synthia F. Steiman)
Filled with swashbuckling derring-do, The Scarlet Pimpernel is Frank Wildhorn’s most sheerly entertaining musical, and for its recent concert version, Manhattan Concert Productions presented it with pomp and circumstance—and a guillotine set up at the back of center stage, surrounded by the chorus. Hearing this musical live with a huge chorus was a treat in itself!
The Scarlet Pimpernel (from Baroness Orczy’s famous novel) is set during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution: British fop Percy, married to French singer-actress Marguerite, leads a band of his countrymen who rescue citizens from execution, with the evil French envoy Chauvelin on his trail. There are shades of Les Miserables in the story and the setting, but Wildhorn has a few musical aces up his sleeve. Alongside rousing choruses are pretty duets for Percy and Marguerite (“Believe” and “When I Look at You”) and defiant battle-cry numbers for Chauvelin (“Falcon in the Dive” and “Where’s the Girl”). All these—and more—were dispatched with aplomb by the starry cast, led by Laura Osnes’s delightfully appealing Marguerite, Tony Yazbeck’s hilariously brash Percy and Norm Lewis’ charismatically nasty Chauvelin. And setting the pace was the large and versatile orchestra under music director Jason Howland.
Norm Lewis, Laura Osnes and Tony Yazbeck do battle (photo: Synthia F. Steiman)
The most fun of the night was late in the evening, when Yazbeck did a soft-shoe, implored Lewis to do one, then duked it out with him in a short sword fight: Osnes joined in, wielding her weapon even more impressively than the men. Under Gabriel Barre's savvy direction, the whole evening made The Scarlet Pimpernel feel more like an authentic Broadway musical than it did 20 years ago.
Manhattan Concert Productions, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
Blu-rays of the Week
A Star Is Born
Despite its acclaim, box office haul and awards, this is definitely the least of the four versions I’ve seen of the standard she-becomes-famous-while-he-goes-downhill showbiz tale—even the much-maligned 1976 Streisand-Kristofferson remake is better than this dreck. When she’s not in front of a microphone, Lady Gaga comes off as sullen and self-absorbed: her tendency to stare blankly is no help either.
Bradley Cooper’s competent if undistinguished direction betrays an unimaginative vanity project, and Cooper’s leaden acting is practically fatal: I never believed one moment of the two stars’ relationship, nor Cooper’s with Sam Elliott, who plays the half-brother/manager (not father, which would make more sense) in his usual laconic way. The Oscar-winning song “Shallow” should have been the movie’s title. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras include music videos, bonus musical performances and a making-of featurette.
When a man whose wife and daughter perished in a house fire begins a relationship with a woman whose own daughter has had a near-fatal accident, her daughter becomes possessed by the spirit of his dead wife to avenge her own untimely death. (At least I think that’s what happens.)
Writer-director Maria Pulera’s insane mélange of supernatural and sexual scores points for audacity, if nothing else. Nicolas Cage’s focused craziness works well here, and German actress Franka Potente as the woman and Aussie Penelope Mitchell as her daughter are far better than the material warrants. There’s a superb hi-def transfer.
George Benjamin—Lessons in Love and Violence
The opera Written on Skin made George Benjamin’s name: his spiky music and intense dramatics, coupled with committed collaborators and interpreters, were a satisfying combination.
His latest, a static drama based on Christopher Marlowe’s play Edward II, shows Benjamin merely marking musical time, but it does bring out the best of director Katie Mitchell and singers Barbara Hannigan and Stephane Dagout, who elevate the opera whenever it sags. The hi-def image and audio are first-rate; lone extras are short interviews with Benjamin, Crimp and Mitchell.
Nino Rota—La notte di un Nevrastenico/I due timidi
Nino Rota—best known for the memorable scores he wrote for many Fellini films, from the sublime The White Sheik to the didactic Orchestra Rehearsal—was also a master of chamber music, symphonies and even operas, two of which are enacted in Cesare Scarton’s beguiling 2017 staging from Italy’s Reate Festival.
The one-acters, La notte di un Nevrastenico and I due timidi, have silly characters and storylines, but the music is wonderfully alive, the performers sing and act beautifully and the orchestra (under Gabriele Bonolis) sounds perfect.
Year of the Dragon
When Michael Cimino made this 1985 detective drama, it was his first feature since 1980’s Heaven’s Gate bankrupted United Artists: although far from successful, Dragon is an entertaining yarn with some breathtaking sequences and Mickey Rourke at his cynical best as a police captain tracking a Chinatown crime syndicate.
Major debits are a convoluted plot (courtesy writers Oliver Stone and Cimino) and a non-actress named Ariane as Rourke’s love interest. Still, it holds our interest for 135 minutes and is Cimino’s last watchable film of the four he made before his death in 2016. The hi-def transfer is excellent; lone extra is Cimino’s informative commentary.
CD of the Week
George Antheil—Symphonies No. 3 and 6, Orchestral Works
American composer George Antheil (1900-59) spent his formative composing years in Europe, soaking up the avant-garde sounds and making them his own through his often brutal-sounding, march-like rhythmic music.
But, as this terrific recording of five of his orchestral works performed with aplomb by the BBC Philharmonic under conductor John Storgards can attest, he could also compose sturdy, melodic works, notably his sixth symphony, “After Delacroix,” wafts by at times to allow the listener to savor Antheil’s impressive aural equivalents to the French artist’s astonishing canvases.
“BlacKkKlansman”Director: Spike LeeCast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
If any film came up from behind this summer and bit everyone on the ass, it was Spike Lee’s return to form —"BlacKkKlansman.” Assuredly an award contender from the start, Lee’s iteration of this true story — a Black policeman uses a ruse to join the KKK in order to keep these unreconstructed racists at bay — is spot-on from beginning to end. Ands hopefully, he Lee will be awarded one sort of Oscar or another for his first Academy Award nominated film.
Grit might be the word to best describethis dissection of American race relations, or the lack there of, through this period piece.When Lee got his hands on “Black Klansman,” retired police detective/author Ron Stallworth’s out-of-print book, he realized what a story he had on hand. This Brooklynite could have just told about Stallworth’s rise to being the first black detective in Colorado Springs. That story of what Ron endured could made a strong movie in and of itself. But the full narrative offered by his memoir provided incredible fodder for a film to be made. And in doing so, Lee found a way, by looking into the past, to tell a constantly gripping contemporary dramedy — will the Klan ever discover who Stallworth is? — and was actually able to show the absurdity of their beliefs then and now.
Undercover cop Stallworth (John David Washington) does more than that just talk with the Klan and its leader David Duke (Topher Grace), he even persuades fellow cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who happens to be Jewish, to actually attend their surreptitious meetings so that the two keep an eye on their criminally threatening activities.
As a director and personality, Lee can be irascible, outrageous, provocative and challenging; in this film, he’s all those things but has anchored his varied filmmaking techniques and statements through a story where he’s not only passionate about his characters but also imbues them with a mission. Without ever lagging at any point, Lee works in humor, philosophy and tension throughout. The film even shows a human side to the Klan members without letting audiences forget they are the bete noir to any kind of positive, progressive movement.
He does all of these things with “Blackkklansman” — an outrageous story made all the more outrageous because it was true. The Klansmen look like the fools they are without him having to even slightly exaggerate. And the injustice that led to millions of black people enslaved, tortured and damaged, is properly framed through a contemporary lens to make sure we don’t forget of the awful consequences of the Klan and its beliefs.
Malek as Mercury
Bohemian RhapsodyDirectors: Bryan Singer [and Dexter Fletcher]Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers
As rock biopics go, “Bohemian Rhapsody” — the film — pretty well tells an alternate-world version of the Freddie Mercury story starring the rest of the band as accoutrement. Obviously, for the purposes of effective filmmaking, director Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher (the last minute replacement after Singer was fired), had to focus the story. Sadly, in doing so, some things were lost and diminished in the telling.
Nonetheless, it’s a great story, that of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) an eccentric lead singer of a band that might not have made it, yet it did manage to accrue enough traction for it to become an international hitmaker, develop as a British legend and, in doing so, tell of both a coming-of-age narrative and of that of a coming-out. Along the way it very much shines a very public spotlight on Mercury and his excesses.
The film bases its title on the 1975 hit of the same name — a song that reflected Queen at its grandiose best. But this British-American joint production also illustrates that the band had an enormous catalog of hits — not all created by vocalist Mercury (formerly Bulsara). From rock anthems such as “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites The Dust” to many more, the band's succession of hits made them a sensation throughout the early 1980s, until tensions arise between the group members over its musical direction and Freddie's changing attitude as he acknowledges his gayness. He goes from being in a happy relationship with girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) to drug-fuel romps with Irish manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech) and unsavory hanger-on druggies.
Disastrously, he pulls away from the band and drifts into a drug infused haze until one night, a married and pregnant Mary urges him to return to the band, having been offered a spot in "Live Aid" — Bob Geldof's huge Wembley Stadium benefit concert. With the AIDS outbreak spreading worldwide, Freddie discovers that he’s infected with the disease. So he comes to London, and begs the band for forgiveness. They reconcile and get a slot. During rehearsal, Freddie reveals to his disease — they embrace him. The Live Aid performance rocks and he reunites with real love Jim Hutton, Mary, and his estranged family. Following Freddie's death, his last manager Jim Beach and the remaining members create the Mercury Phoenix Trust to combat the spread of AIDS.
Despite its tragic consequences, Malek-as-Mercury’s performance lends the film the needed focus and spirit to make it both a hit and major award contender.Not all rock bands' musical journeys have such a powerful redemptive storyline and that makes “Bohemian Rhapsody" all the more inspiring cinematic experience.
Page 3 of 280
Sign up for our weekly newsletter!