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Film and the Arts

Broadway Musical Review—“Kimberly Akimbo” with Victoria Clark

Kimberly Akimbo
Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire; music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Jessica Stone; choreographed by Danny Mefford
Opened November 10, 2022
Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, New York, NY
Victoria Clark in Kimberly Akimbo (photo: Joan Marcus)


All hail, Victoria Clark!
Tony winner for The Light in the Piazza back in 2005, Clark has done solid work since, but she’s rarely gotten another juicy role—until now. Whatever its considerable shortcomings, the musical version of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Kimberly Akimbo is worth seeing for Clark’s wonderfully humane performance in the eponymous role, as a teenager with progeria, which makes her body age more than four times faster than normal.
The original play didn’t cry out for musicalization. Lindsay-Abaire’s 2001 comic fable tried a tricky balancing act of absurdism and empathy, in the mode of Christopher Durang, only fitfully succeeding as it followed Kimberly’s travails with her dysfunctional family. 
For the musical, the archness seems to stick out more, and Jeanine Tesori’s songs feel as if they are pulling this weirdly schizophrenic story in antithetical directions. Tesori is not your typical Broadway composer, but her songs (with a couple exceptions) come off as standard show tunes that rather unconvincingly bump up against Kimberly’s bizarre life.
Jessica Stone’s directing has a tendency to highlight the strangeness embedded in the original play, which in effect diminishes Kimberly herself. For example, Kimberly’s aunt Debra was already overwritten, her manic proclivities writ large, but as overacted by Bonnie Mulligan, obviously nudged by Stone, it tips the scales too far, making Kimberly too often a spectator in her own story.
Pattie, Kimberly’s mother, is played by Alli Mauzey, also inclined to overact, but she at least seems like a woman angry with her lot in life. Conversely, Steven Boyer is subdued as Kimberly’s father, Buddy, which makes his faults all the more forgivable. His song about his daughter, “Happy for Her,” is one of the best in the show, illuminating rather than underlining what the playwright originally created. Of Kimberly’s high school friends (who weren’t in the original play), Justin Cooley is most memorable as Seth, Kimberly’s awkward suitor. 
But through it all hovers Clark, who never condescends to the fact that she’s a 63-year-old playing 15. Instead, she gives a profoundly touching portrayal that grounds even the show’s goofiest moments—like Debra’s ridiculous money-laundering scheme—in something approaching a plausible reality. Clark even makes the treacly sentiments of the climactic song, “Before I Go,” emotionally palatable. Without her, this show would be even more akimbo.

Isabel Leonard Enchants With Spanish Classics

Isabel Leonard (L) and Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, photo by Lawrence Sumulong

At Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, on the evening of Friday, December 9th, I had the tremendous privilege to attend a magnificent, Spanish-themed concert featuring the gorgeous mezzo-soprano, Isabel Leonard, brilliantly accompanied by classical guitarist, Pablo Sáinz-Villegas.

The first half of the program, in which the singer wore a sexy, sparkling black gown, opened stunningly with the extraordinary Seguidilla, from Georges Bizet’s Carmen,which she followed with the equally famous and indelible aria,“Voi che sapete,” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. As memorable was her impossibly charming rendition of the delightful “Tu n'es pas beau, Tu n'es pas riche” from Jacques Offenbach’s decidedly underrated operetta, La Périchole: Couplets de l'aveu. Less commonly heard was the beautiful Canzonetta Spagnuola of Gioachino Rossini. Sáinz-Villegas then returned to the stage alone for a mesmerizing performance of the haunting Recuerdos de la Alhambra of 1899, one of the most celebrated works for solo classical guitar. Less tuneful and more austere than what preceded, but nonetheless powerful, were Leonard’s five arresting selections from Siete canciones populares españolas of 1914 by Manuel De Falla, probably the greatest modern Spanish composer: “El paño moruno,” “Asturiana,” “Nana,” “Canción,” and “Polo.” (She has recorded the entire set of songs twice.) In a program note for the La Jolla Music Society, Eric Bromberger commented that “In arranging the collection of songs, Falla took the unaccompanied melodic line of seven Spanish popular or folk songs and harmonized them himself, occasionally rewriting or expanding the original melodic line to suit his own purposes.”

After intermission, Sáinz-Villegas opened the second half of the event by masterfully playing an arrangement for solo guitar of Isaac Albeniz’s marvelous Asturias from his Suite espagnole of 1889, one of the most renowned works in the Spanish repertoire. Leonard then returned to the stage—she wore a fabulous, shimmering gold gown designed by Naeem Khan—to compellingly perform a another seldom heard but nonetheless remarkable selection of the Canciones Españolas Antiguas of the revered poet, Federico García-Lorca (who according to Bromberger, collected, arranged, and harmonized the twelve Spanish folk songs that constitute the set): “La Tarara,” “Nana de Sevilla,” and “Sevillanas del s. XVIII.” (She has recorded these as well.)

The remainder of the program was in a more popular idiom, beginning with Sáinz-Villegas enjoyably playing Tango en Skäi by French composer Roland Dyens. Leonard’s Argentine heritage was reflected in her choice of another exquisite tango,“El día que me quieras,” by the most renowned practitioner of the form, Carlos Gardel—a song which she performed unforgettably. The next song— the basis of which was another Latin-American dance-form, the zamba—was the classic “Alfonsina y el Mar” by Ariel Ramírez, with lyrics by Félix Luna, written as a tribute to the eminent Argentine poetess, Alfonsina Storni. The program concluded wonderfully with a pleasurable bolero, the 1959 “Sabor a mí,” by Mexican composer Álvaro Carrillo.

Enthusiastic applause was rewarded with three sterling encores, starting with the enormously popular, enchanting bolero,“Bésame mucho,” by Consuelo Velázquez. However, nothing in the evening could surpass the sublimity of Leonard’s rendition of the “Habanera” from Carmen.Finally, she winningly sang the bewitching, familiar “Cielito Lindo” by Quirino Mendoza y Cortés, joyfully ending a fantastic encounter.

December '22 Digital Week I

4K/UHD Releases of the Week 
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 
(Warner Bros)
Despite its pedigree—a screenplay by John Hughes and a cast of reliable comic actors—this 1989 sequel to Vacation and European Vacation is as bumpy a ride as the first two entries, with similar ratios of satisfying to cheap laughs as the Griswolds attempt to have a happy holiday gathering despite seemingly everything going wrong.
Chevy Chase does his usual sometimes funny, sometimes not shtick, and there are good moments from Beverly D’Angelo, Brian Doyle Murray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd and the otherwise forgotten Nicolette Scorsese. The 4K image look solid; lone extra is a commentary by D’Angelo, director Jeremiah S. Chechik, Randy Quaid, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, and producer Matty Simmons.
Westworld—Complete 4th Season 
(Warner Bros)
Fans of Westworld think the series went off the rails during its fourth season, and to an extent, they’re right—jumping forward several years (twice!) and setting much of the plot in a recognizable Manhattan (with the High Line in evidence) is a detour from previous seasons.
On the other hand, since it has always taken sharp narrative curves, season four could be considered par for the course. The always humanizing presence of both Thandiwe Newton and Evan Rachel Wood keep things grounded, along with the dazzling-looking settings, which mesmerize even more in 4K. All eight episodes are included on both three UHD discs and three Blu-rays; hours of extras comprise making-of featurettes and interviews.
In-Theater/Streaming Release of the Week 
In the Court of the Crimson King—King Crimson at 50 
For a half century, guitarist Robert Fripp has created his own niche in rock music annals with prog giant King Crimson, which has gone through many iterations over the decades; yet, no matter who else is in the group, Fripp is the constant, focused on the music even at the expense of his relationship with other members.
Toby Amies’ candid documentary tactfully explores that delicate balance, as we hear from Fripp and current and former band members like Ian MacDonald (who died earlier this year), Adrian Belew, Bob Bruford and Tony Levin to present a compelling warts-and-all look at the creative process, with great musical moments both onstage and in rehearsal.
Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Christmas Eve 
Although this opera by Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov isn’t among his most well-known, Germany’s Frankfurt Opera has given it a high-wire production by director Christof Loy, which was filmed last winter.
The fantastical plot is business as usual for Rimsky, whose music often sounds ravishing, especially when sung by Julia Muzychenko as the heroine Oksana. Conductor Sebastian Weigle leads the orchestra and chorus in a focused and sumptuous performance. As always, there’s excellent hi-def video and audio.
Christmas Concerts 
(SWR Classic)
These two holiday concerts by the SWR Vocal Ensemble, “Silent Night” and “Christmas Carols,” were respectively recorded in 2017 and 2018 at the properly solemn confines of the Gaisburg Church in Stuttgart, Germany.
Led by conductor Marcus Creed, the vocal ensemble—with its soloists often splendidly taking the lead—beautifully sings such perennials as “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” along with other seasonal music by such composers as Britten, Howells, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Mahler and Schumann. The Blu-ray video and audio look and sound sumptuous.
The Night of the Iguana 
(Warner Archive)
In John Huston’s spirited 1964 adaptation of a rambunctious Tennessee Williams play, Richard Burton chews the scenery as T. Lawrence Shannon, a former priest turned tourist guide leading a group to Puerto Vallarta; he’s being harangued by stern Judith Fellowes (Oscar-nominated Grayson Hall), who believes he’s trying to seduce her 16-year-old niece, Charlotte Goodall (a very Lolita-like Sue Lyon).
Along for the ride are a gleefully effervescent Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk, an old friend who might become a new flame, and a properly dowdy Deborah Kerr as spinster Hannah Jelkes. The hi-def transfer makes Huston’s B&W images really pop; extras are on-set and retrospective featurettes.
Star Trek Discovery—Complete 4th Season 
In the fourth season of the latest Star Trek spinoff series, USS Discovery captain Michael Burnham heads the crew that tries, in a post-cataclysm environment, to help rebuild the United Federation of Planets.
These 13 episodes provide enough of the familiar space drama to satiate even the most finicky Trekkie, while the performances of Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Anthony Rapp as scientist Paul Stamets can be recommended to all viewers. There’s a very good hi-def transfer; extras include on-set featurettes, deleted scenes, audio commentary and gag reel.
DVD Releases of the Week
Blonde—The Marilyn Stories 
(Film Chest)
With the release of Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, in which Ana de Armas makes a heartbreaking Marilyn, Monroe is once again getting media attention, hence this three-disc set that brings together documentary and fictional accounts of her life, career and untimely death. Of the features centering each disc—2001’s biopic Blonde with Poppy Montgomery, 1991’s Marilyn and Me with Susan Griffiths and 1976’s Goodbye Norma Jean with Misty Rowe—the most interesting is the latter, exploitative but anchored by Rowe’s quite sympathetic portrayal.
Extras are a 1986 documentary; Marilyn’s first TV appearance, on The Jack Benny Show in 1953; and a short doc, 1967’s The Legend of Marilyn Monroe, narrated by John Huston, who directed Marilyn at the beginning and end of her career, in both The Asphalt Jungle and The Misfits; but beware, the video quality is pitched somewhere between VHS and DVD.
Amazing Grace—Country Stars Sing Songs of Faith and Hope 
Time-Life’s latest massive boxed set is this behemoth, which is made up of 10 discs of  more than 150 performances of spirituals and other gospel songs by some of country music’s biggest stars, from George Jones and Loretta Lynn to Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
Among the classic tunes they perform are “Amazing Grace,” sung by both Jones and by Josh Turner; “Coat of Many Colors,” sung by Parton; and “How Great Thou Art” by McEntire. In addition to the memorable live performances, many enticing extras include two DVDs of Opry Gospel Classics, including rare archival performances by Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Charley Pride, Porter Wagoner, and more; interviews with the likes of Vince Gill, the Oak Ridge Boys and Statler Brothers; bonus performances; and a 36-page collector’s booklet.
CD Release of the Week
Aram Khachaturian—
Piano Concerto/Concerto-Rhapsody/Masquerade 
Known for his engaging ballets Spartacus and Gayane (the latter featured so prominently in Kubrick’s classic 2001), Russian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-78) was an endless reservoir of glorious tunes, so it shouldn’t surprise anybody that this disc of his piano music, especially the D-flat major Piano Concerto and Concerto-Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, is crammed with one exquisite melody after another.
On the two orchestral works, conductor Andrew Litton leads the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in lovely accompaniment to the excellent soloist Iyad Sughayer, who shows in the solo Masquerade Suite that he can easily alternate between delicacy and bombast whenever it’s needed. 

A Sentimental Evening With Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald on stage, photo by Chris Lee

At Carnegie Hall, on the evening of Saturday, December 3rd, I had the enormous privilege to attend a terrific concert—entitled “Feeling Sentimental”—featuring the fabulous Broadway musical star, Audra McDonald—who first performed at this venue in 1998—looking glamorous in a stunning red gown. She was accompanied by a full orchestra under the admirable direction of Andy Einhorn—in his conducting debut at this hall—along with pianist Jeremy Jordan, drummer Gene Lewin, and Mark Vanderpoel on bass.

McDonald opened the program with Jerry Herman’s "I Am What I Am" from his 1983 show La Cage aux Folles, in honor of the victims of the recent mass shooting in Colorado. She followed this with another lovely song, “Pure Imagination,” by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, where it was unforgettably delivered by Gene Wilder. Her next song was one of the highlights of the evening, the glorious "(When I Marry) Mister Snow" from Carousel, the classic musical from 1945 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II—she appeared as Carrie Pipperidge to great acclaim in Nicholas Hytner’s highly regarded Lincoln Center production of 1994. She then performed “Cornet Man,” a lesser-known song by Jules Styne—with lyrics by Bob Merrill—from 1964’s Funny Girl. As a tribute to the wonderful Diahann Carroll, she sang “A Sleepin' Bee” by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Truman Capote, from their 1954 show, House of Flowers. Her next item, “Moonshine Lullaby” from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun of 1964, is also less commonly heard. Another summit in the proceedings was attained with the next two songs: first, as a tribute to the incomparable Barbara Cook, the magnificent “Will He Like Me?" by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick from their extraordinary 1963 musical She Loves Me and, second, “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward. She closed the first half of the event with the famous “Rose’s Turn” from Styne’s Gypsy of 1959, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

After intermission, McDonald returned to the stage to perform “Gorgeous’’ from Bock and Harnick’s 1966 The Apple Tree. Her rendition of Duke Ellington’s(In My) Solitude” from 1934 ensued, followed by a tribute to Leslie Uggams: “Being Good Isn't Good Enough” from Styne’s 1967 musical, Hallelujah, Baby!, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and a book by Arthur Laurents. She then sang “Bein' Green”—from 1970—by Joe Raposo, which was memorably recorded by Frank Sinatra. After this she did a mashup of “You've Got to Be Carefully Taught” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 South Pacific and “Children Will Listen” from Sondheim’s 1987 Into the Woods. This was succeeded by “Can’t stop talkin’” by Frank Loesser from the 1950 film, Let’s Dance. Herman’s exquisite "Before the Parade Passes By" from his 1964 Hello, Dolly! followed, and she then excellently performed another fine song, Sondheim’s “With So Little to Be Sure Of “ from his 1964 musical, Anyone Can Whistle, also with a book by Laurents. She ended her set with another classic—“Cabaret” from the 1966 show of the same name by John Kander and Fred Ebb—which she originally sung for a benefit at the behest of Vogue editor, Anna Wintour. As a response to the ardent applause, she delighted her audience with two encores. She first performed “Home” from the 1972 musical, The Wiz, after which Einhorn joined her to reproduce the marvelous duet between Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland from the 1960s on the latter’s weekly television show on which they sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” and the Arlen “Get Happy,” introduced by Ruth Etting in 1930.

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