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TV Worth Watching: Billy Elliot: The Musical, Chita Rivera; Bronx’s Jamila Valesqueze on Empire; Margo Martindale Is Back

                   By: Ellis Nassour

PBS and THIRTEEN have two of the Fall season’s most eagerly-anticipated specials.

On October 23, Elton John and Lee Hall’s adaptation of Billy Elliot: the Musical arrives on Great Performances from 9 – midnight, taped live at the West End’s Victoria Palace. On Broadway, from October 2008 – early January 2012 [racking up 1,132 performances], it won 2009 Tony/Drama Desk Awards for Musical and Choreography (Peter Darling) and Tonys for Score and Director – Stephen Daldry, directing the TV production.

TV Worth Watching: Billy Elliot: The Musical, Chita Rivera; Bronx’s Jamila Valesqueze on Empire; Margo Martindale Is Back

                   By: Ellis Nassour

PBS and THIRTEEN have two of the Fall season’s most eagerly-anticipated specials.

On October 23, Elton John and Lee Hall’s adaptation of Billy Elliot: the Musical arrives on Great Performances from 9 – midnight, taped live at the West End’s Victoria Palace. On Broadway, from October 2008 – early January 2012 [racking up 1,132 performances], it won 2009 Tony/Drama Desk Awards for Musical and Choreography (Peter Darling) and Tonys for Score and Director – Stephen Daldry, directing the TV production.

Based on the popular 2000 film, it takes place during a 1984 contentious national mining strike. The focus is on "a young boy’s journey from the boxing ring to the ballet barre, transforming his family along with his entire community."

Eleven-year-old Elliott Hanna is Billy. The telecast cast includes Olivier winner [five nominations] Ruthie Henshall [a ’99 Velma/ ’01 Roxie, Broadway’s Chicago] as dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson, Deka Walmsley as Billy’s dad, Chris Grahamson as the older brother.

Tunes include "The Stars Look Down," "Expressing Yourself," "Deep Into the Ground," "Once We Were Kings," and Billy’s solo, "Electricity."

As part of PBS/THIRTEEN’s Arts Fall Festival, legendary two-time Tony [10 nominations] and DD [six nominations] winner Chita Rivera sizzles in the hour career retrospective Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do on November 6 at 9 P.M. She’s been lighting up stages for over 70 years – from Seventh Heaven, Mr. Wonderful, West Side Story, Bye, Bye Birdie, and Chicago to  Kiss of Spider Woman, The Rink, Nine [revival], The Mystery of Edwin Drood [revival], and The Visit.

The special was taped at Jazz at Lincoln Center against a Central Park winter wonderland on the night of the January 26 blizzard. John Kander, Dick Van Dyke, Ben Vereen, and Carol Lawrence are among those relating Rivera’s peerless virtuosity. In addition, there are clips from her shows and TV appearances. Rivera’s longtime collaborator Michael Croiter music directs an 11-piece orchestra. David Horn directed.

Just in time for Halloween, October 30, to be exact, at 9 P.M, Live from Lincoln Center [taped at July’s Lincoln Center Festival] presents four-time Oscar/three-time GG-nominated composer Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton, two hours of Elfman scores from Tim Burton films Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and others. John Mauceri (founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) conducts full symphony orchestra, with Sandy Cameron on violin, and choral accompaniment. Elfman sings the role of Jack Skellington from Nightmare .The concert’s accompanied by clips and Burton’s costume sketches and storyboards.

Empire Has Mesmerizing Moment Amid Familial Chaos

On Danny Strong [actor; Emmy-winning TV writer; co-writer, The Hunger Games:Mockingjay, Part 1, The Butler] and Lee Daniels [The Butler; Oscar-nominated director, Precious...]‘s huge TV hit Empire [Fox TV] we’re acclimated to the familial feuding and fighting.

There’s always a beef to settle between label co-founder and CEO Lucious Lyons – Terrence Howard [Oscar-nominated, Best Actor, Hustle and Flow (2006)] and ex-wife and label co-founder Cookie [outlandishly-costumed, but that rare personage you can’t take your eyes off] Tarjai P. Henson [Oscar-nominated for her brilliant supporting role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); and now Emmy-nominated for Empire].

Not only that, but the assorted sexual tensions and liaisons, backstabbing, familial bickering, one-upmanship, blackmail, revenge, paranoia, murders, brotherly squabbling between Hakeem and Jamal – and, now, conversations directly with God.

The wholesome factor is so low [but so much fun], that you would have been right surprised at the rare, poignant moment that shone brightly on Wednesday’s episode. It was one that the creators should have more of; and one that might mean smoother sailing ahead [but probably not].

The episode was stolen by 19-year-old [turning 20 next month] South Bronx native Jamila Valesqueze and her stunning and beautifully-orchestrated Spanish vocal of Roy Orbison and Joe Melson’s "Blue Bayou," a huge hit for Orbinson and an even bigger hit for Linda Ronstadt, who also recorded a Spanish version.

It was pure magic as the episode segued from the arrested Cookie making deals with a prosecutor, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) and Jamal (Jussie Smollent) doing battle royal during a music video shoot, and handsome older Lyons brother Andre (Trai Buyers) and his wife Rhonda (Katlin Doubleday) grave-digging.

Then, a man – this one, the still-teenaged Jamal – wanders into a bar where Adam Busch is singing "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Jamal is bored to tears until Busch’s character introduces his cousin Laura for her first onstage appearance.

When Valesqueze opens up, bringing a very noisy bar club to total silence, Jamal turns around and is immediately smitten. He’s been looking for a great voice to groom for stardom, but this isn’t a rap/hip-hop singer.

With Valesqueze set to appear in several episodes, you can bet Jamal will have more than creating a star on his mind [now that’s he’s freed himself from that weird older woman attraction to Naomi Campbell]. But, to his surprise he’s going to find out that her character has a mind of her mind and won’t be putty in this hands.

Valesqueze’s no stranger to TV. She played Sarita in the ABC Family series Twisted. In 2011, she had the lead in indie film Come Home, Raquel. She began singing and performing as a kindergartner. At the age of eight some sites state that she made her stage debut in the play The End of You, but no corroborating credit was found and there was no reply to a message seeking validation.

Tony Nominee and Emmy Winner Margo Martindale on The Good Wife

Granted, with the mysterious Kalinda [Archie Panjab] in exile things
just aren’t the same on the new season of The Good Wife. But there is some good news: Tony/DD nominee and Emmy winner Margo Martindale is in the recurring role of Presidential hopeful and present IL governor Peter Florick (Chris Noth)’s campaign manager.

She’s already butting heads with Florick’s former scheming right hand, Eli (Tony-winning/Emmy, GG nominee Alan Cumming). And Martindale knows how to stir the pot, whip things up [remember her mean-as-hell savvy hick of a mama on Justified?]. So there should be fun, intrigue, and backbiting ahead.

 And the barely recognizable Tony and DD winner Stockard Channing of last season’s Broadway revival of Tony/DD winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee Terrence McNally’s laugh riot It’s Only a Play has returned in her recurring role as the unpredictable mother of Alicia Florick (Emmy/GG winner Julianna Margulies). There’s never enough Channing to go around, so let’s hope she’ll be on much more often.

Michelle and Robert King’s series, co-produced by them and, among others, Ridley Scott, is set in Chicago, but shot here. Like the Law and Order franchise, it’s been a boon for a huge roster of theater’s best as judges and other roles.

This season, Alicia’s meddlesome mother-in-law Jackie (Mary Beth Piel, Tony nominee for her Anna opposite Yul Brynner in the 1984 King and I; also memorable as Guido’s mother in the 2003 Banderas Nine and Solange LaFitt in the 2011 Follies), who’s always had an agenda of her own, will be back and finding herself in a most unpredictable circumstance: being courted by firm partner Howard Lyman (veteran theater, film, and TV’s Jerry Adler), who’s finally being given something to do other than flash (long story).

Alicia hasn’t had a hot time in the old town since making the heat index rise to double digits with former lover and law partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles). Last season’s sexual tension with Finn (Matthew Goode) sadly, cooled just as it was heating up. Her flirt-a-thon with campaign manager (Steven Pasquale) in her failed bid to become state’s attorney was only a blip on the radar screen. Now, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who raised the heat index a few seasons back on Grey’s Anatomy, is stepping in to get the temperature rising and could be responsible for a change in Alicia’s description as the good wife.

Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of Michael J. Fox as hell-bent attorney Louis Canning. And if only the irrepressible Carrie Preston as quirky and slyly devious attorney Elsbeth Tascioni and Nathan Lane’s attorney-to-the-rescue Clarke Hayden would return, all would be good in TV land.

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