Features

Holiday Whirl Part 3

Holiday Whirl of Entertainment , Part 3 – Some Things Coming, to See, to Read, to Hear, to Marvel At                          
                                                                      By: Ellis Nassour

What? You haven’t finished your shopping on all those "greatest shopping days of the season"? Well, maybe same-day or one-day delivery, say from Amazon, L.L. Bean, of the countless titles of TV shows and films at WBShop.com [50% off sale in progress] ; or have some enterprising retailer do a drone drop.

Holiday Whirl of Entertainment , Part 3 – Some Things Coming, to See, to Read, to Hear, to Marvel At                          
                                                                      By: Ellis Nassour

What? You haven’t finished your shopping on all those "greatest shopping days of the season"? Well, maybe same-day or one-day delivery, say from Amazon, L.L. Bean, of the countless titles of TV shows and films at WBShop.com [50% off sale in progress] ; or have some enterprising retailer do a drone drop.

Then, for that very important person in your life, there are theater tickets [last performances of the Side Show revival, last chances to see Nathan Lane in It’s Only a Play, Jessie Mueller as Carole King in Beautiful, Bryce Pinkham’s Monty Navarro in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Sting in The Last Ship -and only six weeks left to see The River, where Hugh Jackman guts a trout and raises more money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.

Speaking of BC/EFA, have you visited their on-line store for all manner of gifts you can pick up right in the Theatre District? If all else fails, make a run for sparkling baubles at Tiffany and Carter.

Christmas Day is the biggest moviegoing day of the year and about umpteen films are opening that day from Big Eyes [Weinstein Company] and Into the Woods [Disney] to Unbroken [Universal], directed by Angelina Jolie, and Wild [Fox Searchlight] in which Reese Witherspoon treads a new career path as she hikes 1,100 miles across the Pacific Crest Trail to find renewal and develop fortitude to change her unraveling life.

Also opening to qualify for end-of-year nominations is Selma [Paramount], which traces the brutal days of the 60s and man’s inhumanity to as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., poignantly portrayed by David Oyelowo [The Butler], and African-Americans march for the right to vote. If you haven’t caught the outstanding performances of Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne’s in The Theory of Everything, go. Fans of The Hobbit can relish Peter Jackson’s last installment, The Battle of the Five Armies [Warner Bros.].

Of course, if you’d like to snuggle up next to a roaring fireplace for a few days of riveting reading, there’s a new hard-to-put- down biography of one of America’s greatest playwrights; and last chances to catch some outstanding family entertainment.

John Lahr has produced a theater biography like no other. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, [W.W. Norton; 784 pages; 80 photographs throughout; chronology; 105 pages of Notes; Index; SPR 440]. Unsparingly frank and blunt and covering every aspect of and shedding much light on Williams’ life, has been hailed as the definitive biography [among so many well done and intimate ones] of one of the most brilliant dramatists of our time. [It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and how it didn’t take top honors is puzzlement]. Many critics have called it the Book of the Year.

This astute, deeply researched and intricately-detailed biography of the great talent and convoluted soul of the writer who not only reshaped but also redefined America’s theater drama. Years in research and the writing, Lahr sheds a light on Williams’s warring family, his guilt, his creative triumphs and the failures that doomed him to a later life of folly and alcoholism, his sexuality, the affairs, the lovers, his self-loathing and catatonic depression, his misreported death, those closest to him [many out only for themselves], even the high drama after his sad death [especially in regard to the licensing of Williams’ works]. Through all this, Williams managed somehow to have a wicked sense of humor. Lahr not only rehashes just about everything that’s been written about the playwright and his vivid-to-say-the-least private life, but delves deeper –revealing more and debunking more.

It’s often a gripping read, but as is oft said: truth is stranger than fiction. The formative influences of Williams’ life are vividly exposed: his experiences in the Deep South; his beloved grandfather, the Reverend Walter Dankin; his fierce, belittling father Cornelius; his puritanical, domineering mother Edwina and his demented sister Rose [both were to crop up in various works]; and the tragedy of Rose’s mental illness that devastated Williams – especially when she underwent a lobotomy at 33.

Then there were loving, tempestuous, and bruising relationships with the quite fit Canadian draft dodger and fledging dancer Kip Kiernan [nee Bernard Dubowski]; Pancho Rodríguez y González [not to be confused with the legendary tennis champion], a Mexican hotel clerk; "Rafaello," as Williams referred to him in Memoirs, an Italian teen [supposedly the basis for Paolo in Williams’ first novel The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone]; and Frank Merlo an occasional actor of Sicilian heritage for former Navy non-com, who became the one enduring presence in Williams’ life – 14 years until infidelities and drug abuse on both sides ended it. Merlo segued into Williams’ astute personal secretary, basically running his everyday life.

In addition, Lahr pays great attention to the plays, their characters and structures and the often tortured process of how Williams brought them to life onstage [early on with the help of director Elia Kazan and guidance of agent Audrey Wood] and his torment seeing them censored and butchered for screen adaptations; and the playwright’s stars, such as Tallulah Bankhead, Diana Barrymore, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Anna Magnani, Geraldine Page, and Maureen Stapleton.

The wonder of it all

There’s a new Christmas classic gift to purchase for children that and sit quite comfortably right next to Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas: the holiday beautifully-illustrated gift edition The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale, [Simon & Schuster; 64 pages; SRP $9], the heartwarming story that became the beloved Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life. Few know that the film was based on a short story inspired by a dream had by author Philip Van Doren Stern. Unable at first to find a publisher for his poignant story about a man named George Pratt who ponders suicide until he receives an opportunity to see what the world would be like without him, Stern ultimately published the story in a small pamphlet and sent it out as his 1943 Christmas card.

One of those 200 cards found its way into the hands of director Capra, who shared it with Jimmy Stewart. The film that resulted became a cherished holiday perennial – even in B&W. Now fans of It’s a Wonderful Life, or anyone who loves the spirit of Christmas, can own the story that started it all. Stern’s daughter Marguerite Robinson wrote the Afterword which tells the story of how her father’s Christmas card became the movie.

Listen in Blu-ray

Superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann is stars as Cavaradossi, with Emily Magee as his doomed paramour, and celebrated baritone Thomas Hampson as the jealous, evil Scarpia in this new recording of Tosca [Decca; 100 minutes; SRP $36 from Operhaus Zurich. Puccini’s opera in three acts has libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 French-language dramatic play. It’s stunning melodies, laced with Wagnerian leitmotifs, and high drama, intrigue, and romance set in 1800’s as the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It contains some of Puccini’s best-known lyrical arias, including "Vissi d’arte (I lived for art)," "Recondita armonia," "Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta (Do you not long for our little cottage)," "Qual’occhio al mondo (What eyes in the world)," and "E lucevan le stelle (And the stars shone)."

Puccini’s last opera, Turandot [Decca; three discs, complete libretto; 42 pages of notes (in English, German, French) and photos; remastered in Pure Audio Blu-ray; SRP $25] – Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballé, Mehta conducting the London Philharmonic. You don’t need to know much else to know this is a listening feasts. Dame Joan, who never performed the title role onstage, is La Stupenda as the cold-as-ice man-hating princess until Calaf wins her heart. Her "In questa reggia" is a rendition to treasure. Pavarotti also hadn’t performed the latter role at the time of this recording, but it’s like he was born to sing it. His "Nessum dorma" is the stuff of legend. Then, you have the magnificent Caballé, who had sang Turandot, sweet and heartbreaking as Liu.

This is a must-have recording for opera lovers. If you purchase from Amazon.com, you not only save a bundle, but you receive a bonus MP3 of the opera.


Then there are the circuses … Home grown and Foreign grown

Homegrown:

The Big Apple Circus is as synonymous with NYC as any major tourist attraction. What better family holiday gift than a visit to our very own
not-for-profit one-ring extravaganza and its spectacular 37th edition Metamorphosis, running through January 11, has soared back into Lincoln
Center’s Damrosch Park on an "actual" spaceship with astonishing edge-of-the
seat thrills, magic by irrepressible ringmaster John Kennedy Kane, and BAC audience favorite Jenny Vidbel with her magnificent steeds, ponies, camels, llamas, donkeys, and goats — plus rambunctious rescued pooches jumping rope and riding scooters.

Read much more here:

Metamorphosis | theaterlife.com

Foreign grown:

The New Victory Theatre, New York’s premier theater for family entertainment, has more than a bit of colorful derring-do with the 22-strong Chinese troupe of the Drama Desk-nominated Golden Dragon Acrobats in Cirque Ziva, playing through January 4. The women are striking [especially stunning Ping Gao, who fronts an extraordinary agile contortion group]; the men, stealth [all sizes and many quite, quite young] and fast-paced. You’ll awe at the company of women mounted on a speeding bicycle, colorful fans in hand; the running somersaults of the male ensemble soaring across the stage and sailing through mounted cylinders; and shameless preener Hui Yuan Zhu, who’s short of statue but big in the nerve department, who teeters on dangling chair after chair up to the 30′ height of the proscenium. The delightful dancing lions who mounted balls and maneuvered on a seesaw just weren’t on long enough to please a group of third-graders who felt terribly short-changed [artistic director Danny Chang take note]. Tickets for CIRQUE ZÍVA are $19-$60 and available at the box office, online at www.newvictorytheatre.com, or (646) 223-3010. Save with a multi-show package or New Victory membership.

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