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Film and the Arts

Broadway Review—New Musical “Groundhog Day”

Groundhog Day
Songs by Tim Minchin; book by Danny Rubin; directed by Matthew Warchus
Opened April 17, 2017
 
Andy Karl in Groundhog Day (photo: Joan Marcus)
Actor Andy Karl’s onstage injury during a performance of Groundhog Day has overshadowed everything else about the new Broadway musical, especially since it happened the night before I was supposed to see the show. Now that he’s back, seemingly none the worse for wear despite the brace he wears on his knee—which is humorously referenced during the show—it demonstrates both what a trouper he is and how unsurprising it was that he got hurt in the first place.
 
Groundhog Day, based on the amusing but one-note 1993 Bill Murray comedy about an egotistical weatherman, Phil Connors, forced to relive the title day over and over again, is an exceptionally difficult show to pull off technically. Ace director Matthew Warchus and his ingenious choreographer Peter Darling put their cast in constant movement, along with Rob Howell’s gracefully flexible sets, all of which keep reappearing in various permutations whenever Phil keeps reliving his days, whether the bedroom of his bed and breakfast, the local diner, the place where Punxsutawney Phil might see his shadow, etc.
 
The pinpoint onstage movements make for some very precarious situations—intentionally of course—as when the costumed “Groundhog Guy” keeps swinging his sun on a stick and knocks Phil in the head. Such tiny milliseconds’ worth of just missing this, or just outrunning that, or jumping something else seemed to lead Karl to take his injurious tumble. But he’s back up there, still plugging away, showing no signs of slowing down. His performance is a comic tour de force: Karl can sing, act, and move easily onstage, all of which he needs to make a charming, charismatic, funny and even sympathetic Phil, sometimes outclassing Bill Murray’s original comic portrait.
 
Phil Minchin’s songs are serviceable without being particularly distinguished; since the point of the show is repetition, we hear more of several of the songs than we should, and which is more than they can handle. The cast provides Karl with estimable support, particularly the appealing Barrett Doss as Rita, the local TV producer who eventually falls for Phil over the course of many repeated days. But Groundhog Day is as daffily delightful as it is because of Andy Karl.
 
Groundhog Day
August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street, New York, NY
groundhogdaymusical.com

Film Series Review—Open Roads: New Italian Cinema

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema
Series runs through June 7, 2017
 
The annual Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series—now in its 17th year—has always been a valuable addition to New York’s cinema calendar, but nowadays it’s even more so because it may be the only way to see new films from Italian masters like Ermanno Olmi (whose Greenery Will Bloom Again was a highlight two years ago) or Marco Bellocchio (whose Dormant Beauty headlined the 2013 edition) in this fractured world of releases where even streaming isn’t a guarantee of seeing what one wants to.
 
Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Gianni Amelio's Tenderness
Bellocchio is back this year with Sweet Dreams, which I haven’t seen, but another great director, Gianni Amelio—best known for an unbroken string of excellent films from Open Doors and Stolen Children to Lamerica and The Way We Laughed in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s—has returned with his subtle and probing psychological study, Tenderness, that provides insights into the complicated relationships of an elderly father and his two emotionally distant adult children with Amelio’s customarily acute sensitivity. He’s aided by incisive performances by Renato Carpentieri (father), Arturo Muselli (son) and the always impressive Giovanna Mezzogiorno (daughter).
 
Another director, Marco Tullio Giordana—he of the absorbing epic underworld chronicle The Best of Youth—comes a cropper with Two Soldiers, a flimsy and underwhelming drama about a young woman grieving over her fiancé’s battlefield death in Afghanistan who finds herself caring for a wounded thug holed up in her empty apartment. Aside from the expressive Angela Fontana’s sympathetic heroine, Two Soldiers is as clunky and obvious as its title.
 
Other forgettable entries include Irene Dionisio’s debut feature Pawn Street, a by-the-numbers melodrama revolving around the people who work at and go to a local pawn shop: its many characters who are scarcely differentiated and end up not being worth remembering. Equally scattershot is Ears, Alessandro Aronadio’s absurdist comedy about a man who runs into ever more lunatic characters and situations; but even Aronadio’s increasingly desperate visuals—including shifting aspect ratios—can’t cover up its fatiguing laboriousness.
 
Much more successful is Deliver Us, an eye-opening documentary by Federica Di Giacomo, who follows a Sicilian priest as he performs rites of exorcism to try and toss out the “demons” that inhabit many of the Catholics who seek him out as a hope of last resort. Without any condescension or commentary, Di Giacomo intelligently shows how religion, whatever its flaws, can provide needed spiritual and psychological comfort.
 
Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2017
Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY
filmlinc.org

The Golden Cockerel Rises to the Occasion at Lincoln Center

Stella Abrera in The Golden Cockerel. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

 

Another peak in the current remarkable season at Lincoln Center of the American Ballet Theater was the thrilling revival of The Golden Cockerel, one of the most fully satisfying productions in the company's repertory, which I attended on the evening of Thursday, June 1st. The ingenious and witty choreography is by Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky—the finest dance creator of his generation—inspired by the original production by the legendary Michel Fokine, while the marvelous score is by the unsurpassed colorist, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The terrific set and costume design is by Richard Hudson, inspired by the originals of the great Natalia Goncharov.

The cast was equally extraordinary , featuring the lovely Stella Abrera—who was superb the previous week in the New York premiere of  Ratmansky's Whipped Cream —who wasexcellentas the alluring Queen of Shemakhan, and James Whiteside at his hammy best as the Astrologer. Most dazzling of all, however, was Skylar Brandt, replacing Cassandra Trenary, in the title role, which will surely prove to be one of the greatest performances of the season.

The secondary cast was also exquisite—above all as seen in the brilliant turns by the stellar Jeffrey Cirio and Joseph Gorak (who was memorable the previous week in Giselle) as the Princes Guidon and Afron respectively. The splendid Christine Shevchenko was faultless as the leading Persian Woman and received expert support from Joo Won Ahn and Patrick Frenette as the Persian Men. Roman Zhurbin was an effective comic presence in the character role of Tsar Dodon. And the elegant precision of thecorps de ballet once again astonished.

The American Ballet Theater's Giselle at Lincoln Center

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in Giselle. Photo: Gene Schiavone

 

The second week of American Ballet Theater's new season at Lincoln Center fulfilled the high expectations elicited by the opening night performance of Don Quixote, first with the stunning New York premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream —which we hope to review next month—and, second, with an exquisite presentation on the evening of Thursday, May 25th, of the engrossing and perennially popular Giselle, set to the immortal score by Adolph Adam. Kevin McKenzie's staging with scenery by Gianni Quaranta is wholly conventional although not without its felicities, such as the lovely tutus of the supernatural wilis in the second act, designed by Anna Anni.

The beautiful and mesmerizing Hee Seo, who excelled on opening night as Mercedes in Don Quixote,astonished in the lead role. Her partner, Cory Stearns, who impressed as Basilio in Quixote,made a strong showing as Count Albrecht. The magnificent Veronika Part was riveting as Myrta, Queen of the Wilis.

The secondary cast was solid, with Patrick Ogle effective as Hilarion and Luciana Paris and Joseph Gorak both superb in the delightful Peasant Pas de Deux. Equally extraordinary were Katherine Williams and Zhong-Jing Fang as the otherworldly Moyna and Zulma, respectively. The superlative corps de ballet were simply resplendent.

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