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On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Music by Burton Lane; book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore
Performances through September 6, 2018
Stephen Bogardus and Melissa Errico in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (photo: Carol Rosegg)
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever has had a troubled history since its 1965 Broadway premiere. The convoluted musical about clairvoyance and reincarnation was only marginally successful in its initial run, garnering Tony nods for stars Barbara Harris and John Cullum; Vincente Minnelli’s infamous 1970 movie version, with Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand and Jack Nicholson (in a role expressly written for the film), came next, followed by the flop 2011 Broadway revival, for which Alan Jay Lerner’s book was so thoroughly re-written as to be completely—as opposed to mostly—nonsensical. (It also wasted Harry Connick Jr. and a newcomer named Jessie Mueller.)
Now there’s Charlotte Moore’s paring-down at the Irish Rep: a cast of four dozen is down to 11, and an orchestra of 31 is now a mere five. But problems remain, all still wedded to the material; it seems impossible to satisfyingly weld together the show’s parallel plots of contemporary New Yawker Daisy and her hypnosis by psychiatrist Mark, and Daisy’s possible previous life as an 18th century free spirit named Melinda, whom Marc falls for.
Maybe back in the swinging ‘60s, things like ESP and time-travel relationships would have had more currency (the whole show seems to have been conjured with the help of hallucinogenics), but today they just seem risible. Daisy is rightfully upset by Mark’s affection for a woman from the recesses of Daisy’s mind; but it’s Mark who declares in frustration (!): “What a masterpiece of perversity a woman is…Oh, God! Why did you not make women first, when you were fresh?”
Such sexism might be excused by the 50 years that separate us from when it was written, but infelicities are legion, and even Moore’s deft concision ends up hurting—Warren, Daisy’s boyfriend, has been dropped, which trims the running time and cuts a subplot but also sets Daisy further adrift, allowing Mark’s infatuation with Melinda to take center stage.
Melissa Errico is a delightful Daisy, with a shimmeringly lovely voice, but she unaccountably remains a cipher throughout what’s supposedly her own story. Stephen Bogardus makes a respectable Mark, but the two leads rarely connect intimately, which is fatal for a bizarre tale that’s already being told at some remove.
Moore resourcefully uses projected artworks on the back walls (projection design by Ryan Belock) to give a sense of Manhattan and London locales, and the small-ensemble arrangements give the songs a pleasant cabaret-style quality. But Lane’s songs, tuneful as they are, are not his best (only “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” approaches being a standard), and coupled with Lerner’s serviceable but often pedestrian lyrics, the show is a mess of epic proportions, even when downsized and trimmed, sensibly but, ultimately, ineffectually.
Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, New York, NY
Blu-rays of the Week
The Virgin Spring
Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1960 chamber film is a stark drama based on a medieval folk tale about a young woman whose rape-murder prompts a fresh-water spring to appear where she was killed. Somber and brutal, but in Bergman’s masterly hands, it’s also an intelligent and perceptive look at guilt and revenge, with the usual forceful acting by such superlative Swedes as Max von Sydow, Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson.
The new Criterion hi-def transfer makes Sven Nykvist’s B&W photography even more transfixing; extras are a commentary, Ang Lee intro, 2005 interviews with Lindblom and Pettersson and a 1975 Bergman audio interview.
La Campana Sommersa/The Sunken Bell
Italian master Ottorino Respighi composed his dramatically diffuse but musically succulent opera in 1927, and like his other stage works, it’s rarely performed; happily, this 2016 Cagliari (Italy) production lets us reevaluate the stageworthiness of one of his most beautiful scores.
Conducted by Donato Denzetti, who superbly leads the Cagliari Theater orchestra and chorus, this bizarre, surreal work has exemplary lead performances and attractive colors in the music and Pier Francisco Maestrini’s staging. The hi-def audio and video are excellent.
One of Mozart’s earliest operas to keep a tenuous hold in the repertoire is this tragic historical drama set during the Roman Empire. In his elegant 2017 Madrid production, director Claus Guth keeps things moving with studied elegance, which helps the musty plot keep its hold on viewers.
Conductor Ivor Bolton impressively leads the Teatro Real orchestra and chorus, and the top-notch performers are led by Patricia Petibon, a fiery soprano who sings eloquently and acts with sheer verve. The hi-def video and audio are also impressive.
Gordon Parks Jr.’s 1972 blaxploitation classic is definitely of its era, set in a rundown Harlem where a drug dealer looks for one last score so he can retire. Despite (because of?) its un-P.C. rawness, it works handily, thanks to Ron O’Neal in the lead and Sheila Frazier as his faithful girlfriend.
On the soundtrack is Curtis Mayfield’s classic soul—Mayfield and his band even have a scintillating club performance cameo. A grainy period look dominates on Blu-ray; extras are a commentary, interviews and retrospective making-of documentary.
Often considered Shakespeare’s worst play, this early effort has more eyes-look-away gore and gruesome imagery than his other works combined; still, it usually provides a visceral jolt in the theater, as Blanche McIntyre’s 2017 modern-dress production from the Royal Shakespeare Company shows.
The lopping off of limbs, tongues and heads and the cannibalistic pies remain, but the modern dress contrasts jarringly with such brutal goings-on. Of the actors, Hannah Morrish keeps her dignity as the unfortunate Lavinia and David Troughton makes a stentorian Titus, but the juiciest parts—evil queen Tamora and even more evil moor Aaron—are played indifferently by Nia Gwynne and Stefan Adegbola. The Blu-ray has solid hi-def video and audio; extras are McIntyre’s commentary, cast and crew interviews.
Tommy Shaw—Sing for the Day
The Styx guitarist and singer performed with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra in Cleveland in 2016 and the infectiousness is there in the kids’ smiles as they play instruments and sing backup to Shaw and his acoustic (and occasional electric) guitar.
Shaw, at age 63, is in fantastically good voice: he hits all the notes on Styx staples “Fooling Yourself,” “Boat on the River,” “Sing for the Day,” “Man in the Wilderness” and “Renegade,” and he even throws in non-Styx tunes like “Girls with Guns” and “High Enough.” Both hi-def audio and video are first-rate; lone extra is audio of four additional songs.
Tristan und Isolde
This 1981 concert of Richard Wagner’s mournfully romantic opera has Leonard Bernstein (this release commemorates the 100th anniversary of his birth) leading the Bayerischen Rundfunks orchestra and chorus in a gripping performance.
If Peter Hoffman’s Tristan lacks depth and weight, Hildegard Behrens’ Isolde is the real deal, saving her most powerful singing for the finale (which is when we want it). It’s not perfect, but it’s typical of Bernstein’s impassioned performances, when he is sweating bullets by the end. The hi-def video and audio are acceptable enough, considering the aged source material.
2 Weeks in Another Town
Another Hollywood behind-the-scenes exposé from director Vincente Minnelli and star Kirk Douglas (following 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful), this 1962 drama moves the action to Rome for an intermittently absorbing exploration of backstabbing on and off the set.
Kirk Douglas does well as the has-been star intent on making a comeback, and then-ingenue Daliah Lavi is a delight as the young actress he falls for, but veterans like Cyd Cherisse, Edward G. Robinson and James Gregory aren’t given a chance to do much with their hollow characters. The widescreen hi-def transfer looks sumptuous.
DVDs of the Week
Cezanne: Portraits of a Life
(Seventh Art Productions)
Narrated by Brian Cox, this informative and visually stunning overview of Cezanne’s life and art—with particular emphasis on the Cezanne Portraits exhibition that closes this weekend at Washington’s National Gallery of Art—is a solid appreciation of one of the 20th century’s most important (and still misunderstood) artists.
As always with these Exhibition on Screen entries, the visuals are entrancing—and disappointing: the back cover touts this as being shot in 4K, but that this is only available on DVD defeats the purpose of shooting it in ultra hi-def.
The latest from French director Arnaud Desplechin—whose films are so crammed with detail, incident, characterization and location that they resemble cinematic versions of long novels—centers on a director making a film about his estranged (and politically shady) brother, and brilliantly and effortlessly moves along separate but equally absorbing paths, both real and fake.
The intrigue is especially delicious served up by a formidable cast headed by Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg—who gives what may be her best screen performance as our hero’s current love. It’s just too bad that such a rich, rewarding and rewatchable film is only available on DVD. Isn’t it 2018?
Written by David Ireland; directed by Vicky Featherstone
Performances through July 29, 2018
Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue (photo: Ros Kavanagh)
The term hangdog was invented for Stephen Rea. The great Irish actor, whom most people know from his Oscar-nominated performance in The Crying Game, has been a brilliant and, most importantly, relatable perfomer for decades now; his face has jowls that droop so much he could be Droopy Dog in a live-action movie. His melancholy expression is the most memorable aspect of Cyprus Avenue, David Ireland’s bitterly (and blatantly) ironic allegory about bigotry.
The lout Rea plays—Eric, a British loyalist whose irrational hatred of the IRA and Irish Catholics in general, whom he calls Fenians, has twisted his sanity and turned him into a raving maniac—is an ignorant xenophobe, whose specific malady (the play opens with him asking Bridget, a psychiatrist, why she’s an “n” word) is a casual racism that Ireland hopes initially shocks us, but that’s nothing compared to what he gives us next. It’s not giving anything away to say that Eric decides that his newborn granddaughter Mary May—whom his wife Bernie and daughter Julie dote on—looks exactly like bearded, bespectacled Gerry Adams, former head of Sinn Fein.
That’s not a joke; it’s the unfunny truth. As Eric’s actions get more frenzied and paranoid, one wonders why nobody calls the loony bin before it’s too late, especially after Julie finds her daughter sporting Adams-like glasses and a drawn-on beard that Eric did himself. Some of this is amusing in a superficial, “is he really going there?” sort of way, but once it’s obvious where Cyprus Avenue is heading, it becomes quite enervating to watch someone so cartoonishly realized for our superior amusement (if not bemusement).
That negative reaction comes in spite of Rea’s splendid performance. There may be no other actor who could play this ludicrous character and make him watchable and even (almost) sympathetic, but Rea does it with effortless charm, even in a long, desultory back-and-forth between Eric and a loyalist paramilitary who first thinks our protagonist might be Fenian. Preceding that scene, Rea transfixes us in an amazing if muddled and drawn-out monologue about the Troubles (“But then came Riverdance and Liam Neeson and U2. And now it’s all grand to be Irish, it’s all fine”).
The other performers are fine, Vicky Featherstone’s direction is as focused as can be expected of such dramatic dead weight dropped on our toes (although she can do nothing to make the bloody—and bloody pointless—finale provide much more than a cheap shock effect, or two, or three), and Ireland has a way with a funny line or rant. But Cyprus Avenue, even with Rea’s expert guidance, ends up at a dead end.
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; music by Georges Bizet
Directed by John Doyle; choreographed by Bill T. Jones
Performances through August 19, 2018
Anika Noni Rose in Carmen Jones (photo: Joan Marcus)
When lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II took the music of Georges Bizet’s classic opera Carmen and wrote a new book and lyrics, setting it among black workers in a small WWII parachute factory town, it became a sensation onstage (in 1943) and onscreen (in 1954), when Otto Preminger’s film starred Dorothy Dandridge (and Marilyn Horne’s vocals!).
But Carmen Jones has fallen into disrepute due to the now wince-inducing Amos’n’Andy vernacular Hammerstein gave his characters (although in many other ways Hammerstein made them supremely sympathetic). But the strength of both the music and tragic romance are enough to motor John Doyle’s typically stripped-down staging—the first in New York since its 1943 Broadway bow—especially when it’s studded with muscular singers and powerhouse performers.
Carmen is a force of nature, a sensual dynamo with untrammeled power over men, particularly soldier Joe, who desperately wants a nice, dull life with hometown sweetheart Cindy Lou, but who cannot escape Carmen’s clutches. Luckily for Doyle, Anika Noni Rose fills Carmen’s form-fitting clothes (the adroit costumes are by Ann Hould-Ward) to perfection. An equally smoldering Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway a decade ago, Rose is spectacular as she seductively prowls the small stage, singing in a lusciously creamy voice that alternately caresses and attacks Joe and the other men in her life: Joe’s superior Sergeant Brown and boxer Husky Miller.
Although Rose’s star turn is Carmen Jones’s obvious asset, the other performers complement her superbly. Clifton Duncan’s Joe, Tramell Tillman’s Brown and David Aron Damane’s Husky make a trio of formidable rivals for Carmen’s attention. As Cindy Lou, Lindsay Roberts is all beguiling sweetness and innocence, and Soara-Joye Ross joyously leads the ensemble’s majestic singalong “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum,” a song that—as its title shows—could easily have become a sore spot.
Doyle smartly allows his cast to roam the Classic Stage Company’s tiny space with authority, Bill T. Jones’ graceful and athletic choreography—often subtle in its movements, particularly in the final, fatal embrace between Carmen and Joe—makes the tragedy visceral as well as emotional, and a tight six-piece ensemble plays Bizet’s well-known score as passionately as the remarkable Rose and the rest of the cast sing it.
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, New York, NY
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