Monday, December 31, 2012

Bidding Adieu to 2012 with No. 366


When I began 2012, I had a goal for myself. I wanted to see if I could do a blog a day. With this leap year, that meant 366 blog posts for 2012. I hadn't done nearly that many before -- if you look over at the left column, down in Blog Archive, you'll see 141 posts total for 2010, the year I started, moving up to 220 in '11 -- and I wasn't at all sure I could find that many things to write about.

And then I decided to go back to school in August, which meant time was even harder to come by. Along with "What was I thinking?!" in general, I frequently wondered if there was any way I would make that goal I set in January.

But this post, you will also notice if you're looking over there at the Blog Archive, is my 366th of this year, and my 31st for December 2012. Which means... I did it.

I don't exactly know what to say about that. Maybe thank you to everyone who helped me out by sending news or pictures, contributing to the blog directly, commenting, encouraging, or otherwise offering suggestions or support. And maybe I should also apologize to everybody who put on a show I didn't get to. I had good intentions. But sometimes there's just too much going on out there and sometimes it seems to all open on the same night and I have to pick and choose. Sometimes my love of TV and old movies makes me choose to stay home and watch Holiday or Trouble in Paradise one more time from the comfort of my own living room.

New Year's Eve and the countless end-of-year pieces in the news tend to make me sentimental and sad. I don't usually do those kinds of pieces myself for that reason. But I really did see some extraordinary work this year, and that needs a little recognition. Illinois State University's robust Mother Courage and Abby Vombrack's and Michelle Stine's performances in that show stand out for me, as does Illinois Wesleyan's sad but hopeful A Shayna Maidel and a luminous performance by Colleen Longo in Heartland's These Shining Lives.

On a lighter note, I loved Lisa Kron's Veri**zon Play during my annual trip to Actors Theatre of Louisville for the Humana Festival of New American Plays. And in Chicago, there was the sublime Sunday in the Park with George at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, which just may be the best thing I saw all year. Okay, it's totally the best thing I saw all year. Follies is my favorite show, but this George was something special. I always forget how personal it feels when Dot and George sing about moving on.

Stop worrying where you're going
Move on
If you can know where you're going
You've gone
Just keep moving on


Carmen Cusack sang it beautifully in a beautifully imagined production directed by Gary Griffin, and I was sitting in the front row. Jason Danieley's George was exquisite. Thanks, Chicago Shakes, for a moving experience. I'm trying to remember those words. I'm trying to keep moving on. I really am.

As I said at the top, I tend to get teary at end-of-the-year celebrations. If you are made of sterner stuff than I, or you've made it this far and you think you can handle it, Google is offering a Zeitgeist 2012 video that sums up this year pretty well.

Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new
Give us more to see...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Delicious Historical Fiction in Susan Carroll's THE LADY OF SECRETS

Susan Carroll specializes in historical fiction that mixes intrigue, magic and sweeping romance. Carroll's newest book, The Lady of Secrets, is the sixth volume in her Dark Queen series. Like the others, it involves a smart, somewhat haunted heroine, a "daughter of the earth" who practices healing arts on a French island.

The newest Lady of Faire Isle is Meg Wolfe, whose mother was a very dark and dangerous witch. With her mother's death behind her, Meg attempts to make her own path, a much more peaceful one than her mother envisioned, but events conspire against her, beginning with the arrival of two mysterious Englishmen. With talk of spells and witchery connected to a Silver Rose -- a name Meg's mother once attached to her -- Meg is pulled to England, where King James has made a habit of putting a torch to women who take any steps toward magic.

Carroll jumps into the 17th century and across the English Channel with this book, which gives her an opportunity to move beyond Catherine de Medici, the Dark Queen who gave her name to the series. As always, Carroll's characters are terrific, and Meg is a truly worthy heroine, trying to live down the shadows of the past and find a place where she fits in the world. She has two potential suitors, and we're left in the dark as to who's who or which she'll choose for a good long while, but I have to say, I found the Right Man much more appealing than the Wrong Man from the get-go. There is danger and real suspense as the story unspools, with a backdrop of Guy (also known as Guido) Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot as well as James' superstitions and penchant for witchhunting.

One last note -- the cover, as you can see above, is simply gorgeous. Carroll has had some great ones from Ballantine, but The Lady of Secrets may just be her most beautiful yet. And everything that the cover promises, the book delivers. In this case, you can judge a book by its cover.

The Lady of Secrets is available at bookstores right now, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you'd like to catch up with some of Susan's older titles, she is now offering Kindle and iBook editions. You'll find details on those books here.

Charles Durning 1923-2012

Charles Durning
When Charles Durning died last week at the age of 89, the stories of his life sounded like something Dickens would've written. He had one heck of a journey, that's for sure. Larger than life in all his roles, Durning made it through childhood poverty, incredible war service, Shakespeare with Joseph Papp, a stint as a dance teacher, and then more television and film roles than you could throw a stick at, including nominations for Tony, Oscar and Emmy Awards. He won a Golden Globe for his appearance as John Fitzgerald (AKA Honey Fitz) in 1990's TV miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts, a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Durning was born in Highland Falls, New York, a small town whose only other claim to fame was that Billy Joel lived there for awhile in the 70s. Durning's family was large, but poor, and five of his nine siblings died in childhood. According to the New York Post, his first experience with theater came when he worked as an usher at a burlesque show in Buffalo, New York. When one of the comedians showed up soused to the gills, Durning supposedly went on in his place, basking in the laughter and finding his place in the world.

But then he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving among the troops rushing Omaha Beach on D-Day. All around him, his fellow soldiers were going down, but somehow Durning survived, the only member of his unit to make it. With wounds in his legs, hands and head, he was patched up and sent back, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge. For his military service, Durning received three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. He didn't talk much about those days until an appearance on PBS's Memorial Day television celebration in 2007. You can hear what he had to say in the clip linked here.

After that, he returned to New York, taking a job as a dance instructor. He supposedly said that dancing was easy, but acting was hard. By the early 60s, Durning was appearing regularly in Shakespeare productions with Joseph Papp's Public Theater. He also began to get roles on Broadway, like the musicals Drat! The Cat! and Pousse-Café, two shows that played for 11 performances combined. The Happy Time with Robert Goulet was more successful, although Durning's role wasn't one of the ones that got a lot of notice.  It was in That Championship Season, Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize winner, that Durning really began to break out. Another Joseph Papp production, the play transferred from Off-Broadway to Broadway's Booth Theatre in 1972, winning the Tony for Best Play to go with the Pulitzer. Durning earned a Drama Desk nomination for his role as George Sikowski, one of the reunited basketball players who has traded on his former sports success to become the mayor of their town, even though his wife is cheating on him with one of the other players and his political career is in serious jeopardy because he's so bad at it. It was the kind of role Durning did best, as an authority figure with cracks in his facade, an uneasy jocularity, and a sense of warmth and vulnerability even when playing unpleasant roles.

Durning had done more than twenty TV and film appearances by the time The Sting came along in 1973, but his performance as Snyder, the bulldog of a cop who keeps coming after Robert Redford's Johnny Hooker, really put him on the map. He also got noticed for another cop role in 1975's  Dog Day Afternoon, picking up an award from the National Board of Review and a Golden Globe nomination.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) showed off his singing and dancing skills, earning him an Oscar nomination in the process. You can watch him "Do a little sidestep" in the clip below.


Durning was nominated for an Oscar again in 1984 for his role as a bumbling Nazi colonel in Mel Brooks' remake of To Be or Not to Be, plus he picked up numerous Emmy nominations, including two for his work on Evening Shade, where he played a small-town doctor alongside pal Burt Reynolds, his costar from Whorehouse.

Back on Broadway, he played Big Daddy in a 1990 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, taking home the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Durning was Matthew Brady opposite George C. Scott in Inherit the Wind, the other half of The Gin Game opposite Julie Harris, and the ex-president in the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man.

But my personal favorite performance from Durning is in the Coen Brothers' film The Hudsucker Proxy, where he played Hudsucker himself, setting the plot in motion when he jumps out a window from the very top of the Hudsucker Industries Building. You can see the dancing man, the joy of performance and the wonderful character actor in his Hudsucker scenes. Here he is, as an angel, in the scene below.


The life of Charles Durning, with his Oliver Twist beginnings, his heroic military career, his rise to fame and fortune, would've made a great movie. It's just too bad he isn't here to star.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who's Who for Elmer Rice's THE ADDING MACHINE at ISU

As we near the end of 2012, we have some very intriguing shows to look for in 2013. One of the strangest is probably Elmer Rice's 1923 play The Adding Machine, set for performances from April 5 to 13 at Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts.

The Adding Machine is an expressionistic piece about an everyday schlub, a nobody named Mr. Zero, who is what you might call a pencil pusher. Mr. Zero has held the same job for 25 years. But now he's about to be replaced by a machine. An adding machine. Without his job, Mr. Zero truly is nothing, and he has a violent reaction to the boss who announces the arrival of the machine. That takes Mr. Zero on a journey through the justice system and eventually a weirdly surreal afterlife called the Elysian Fields.

You may recognize Elmer Rice's name for Street Scene more than The Adding Machine, given that he won a Pulitzer Prize for the former. But it's the latter that gets revived more often, and its picture of an inhumane industrial world seems to resonate throughout the decades.

Tennessee Williams riffed on the same basic idea in his play Stairs to the Roof, which I saw some years ago at the University of Illinois. There was also a 1969 film of The Adding Machine which starred Milo O'Shea as Mr. Zero, as well as a 2008 musical version directed by David Cromer that started in Chicago and made it to the Minetta Lane Theatre Off-Broadway, where it picked up numerous Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk awards.

For ISU, MFA directing candidate Jeremy Garrett will take the controls on this Adding Machine, with David Fisch, who played Queen Elizabeth I, Adolph Hitler and Ronald Reagan in last year's Passion Play, taking on Mr. Zero.

Others in the cast include Caitlin Boho as Mrs. Zero, Lizzy Haberstroh as Daisy, and Storm Angone, Pat Boylan, Trace Gamache, Matt Helms, Dominique Jackson, Drew Mills, Kent Nusbaum, Jenny Oziemkowski, Jason Raymer, Allison Sokolowski, Kelly Steik, Kaitlyn Wehr and Arif Yampolsky in multiple roles.

Jake Wasson will design the set, with Olivia Crosby as costume designer and Deborah Smrz as lighting designer.

I'm not sure what I think of The Adding Machine in the expansive CPA. If ever a show seemed suited to a stripped-down black box, it's this one. But it does have a large cast. And there is that Elysian Fields scenery to think about. So I guess we'll just have to see what Garrett and his cast pull out of the hat to put up the world of Elmer Rice's imagination.

Click here for more information about The Adding Machine and all of ISU's upcoming season.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Absolutely Fabulous TO BE OR NOT TO BE

So we've already talked about Ernst Lubitsch's lovely Ninotchka, with Greta Garbo going from cold to hot, as the 7 pm (Central time) show in TCM's evening of Lubitsch. But after that, at 9 pm, it's To Be or Not to Be.

Ah, To Be or Not to Be... I love this movie. It's a wonderful comedy from 1942, based on Lubitsch's own story, but it also represents a bit of risky film business. The risks included the setting -- Poland during World War II -- the concept -- a troupe of Shakespearean actors in Poland during World War II, including comedian Jack Benny as the troupe's leading man -- and a bunch of oddball supporting characters, including a Nazi colonel whose nickname is "Concentration Camp" Ehrhardt. Dark humor, to be sure. Lubitsch decided to fight the Nazis the way he knew best. With humor.

If the premise was risky, the film's timing was terrible. It premiered in February, 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into the war, one short month after star Carole Lombard perished in a plane crash while returning from a trip to sell war bonds. And those terrible events made To Be or Not to Be seem "callous and macabre" to critics like Bosley Crowther in the New York Times.

Years later, with a bit more distance, To Be or Not to Be doesn't seem rude or mean at all. Instead, its dark comedy is terrific, as is Jack Benny as a very unlikely Shakespearean actor. It's hard to imagine Benny playing Shakespeare at all, and especially not Hamlet, but it turns out to be hilarious. (I wonder if he ever tried Malvolio.) At any rate, Benny's Joseph Tura gets slammed as an actor who is doing to Shakespeare what the Nazis were doing to Poland.

Carole Lombard is luminous as his wife, Maria, and every bit as funny as Benny, if in a totally different way. The running gag is that she cheats on him every time he has a soliloquy. That means her lover, who is sitting in the audience, gets up and walks out every time Joseph Tura hits "To be nor not to be."

The movie is full of that kind of sly, knowing humor, ably brought to life by some of the best character actors ever. Sig Ruman, who was one of the three comrades playing hooky in Ninotchka, is "Concentration Camp" Ehrhardt, hunky Robert Stack is the aviator Mrs. Tura is sneaking around with, and Tom Dugan plays Bronski, who can do a dead-on impersonation of Hitler that comes in handy. But the best of the bunch is Felix Bressart, a Jewish actor who shows up in a lot of Lubitsch films, like The Shop Around the Corner and Ninotchka. Whether it was the bushy mustache, the kind eyes (often seen behind spectacles) or just his genial manner, Bressart projected a lot of warmth in his roles. Greenberg, the part he plays in To Be or Not to Be, is one of his best. Like Bressart, Greenberg is a Jew. An actor with Tura's troupe, he has one major desire in life -- to get to perform Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech from The Merchant of Venice. Bressart bites into Greenberg with gusto, making you love him and Greenberg and root for both of them to get to play their parts.

I love To Be or Not to Be. It's smart and funny and the perfect movie for people who think comedy is the best revenge.

Garbo Laughs in NINOTCHKA Tonight on TCM

As part of this month's tribute to director Ernst Lubitsch, Turner Classic Movies is filling the last Friday evening in 2012 with four Lubitsch films. And these are good ones, too. Their glamor, romance and sly humor make them perfect End O' Year fare.

First up, in the marquee slot at 7 pm Central time is Ninotchka, the 1939 romantic comedy advertised under a "Garbo laughs!" banner. With a screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch and the famous "Lubitsch touch" evident throughout, Ninotchka is lighter than air, witty and smart, taking on serious subjects (Capitalism vs. Communism, Russian expats, the grim rules and regulations of the Stalinist state) in the most charming possible way.

Greta Garbo stars as Ninotchka herself, an icy, uncompromising Communist envoy sent to Paris on Soviet business. She's specifically there to retrieve three comrades (played by Felix Bressart, Alexander Granach and Sig Ruman) who have been corrupted by the decadence and capitalist joy of Paris, as personified by Melvyn Douglas's Count Leon, who's been plying them with hot and cold running cigarette girls and room service in their luxurious hotel. He has ulterior motives, since he's involved with an exiled Russian Grand Duchess (Ina Clair) who wants to get back her confiscated jewelry, the very jewelry the three previous emissaries were supposed to be selling in Paris to pad the Soviet treasury.

Once chilly Comrade Ninotchka comes up against the debonair count and his pencil-thin mustache, she begins to thaw, going so far as to buy a frivolous hat, drink too much and spend the night in his arms. Will love prevail when the Grand Duchess steals back her jewelry? Will Ninotchka's sense of duty to the Soviet state force her to reject Leon's materialistic world? Will she ever find her way back to her Parisian count?

Is there even a doubt?

Ninotchka is one of those classic movies that fans of romantic comedy, fans of Lubitsch and fans of Garbo hold close to their hearts. Lubitsch went on to The Shop Around the Corner and To Be or Not To Be, the movie that will follow Ninotchka tonight on TCM, but Garbo did only one more film -- 1941's Two-Faced Woman -- before retiring from the screen completely. Ninotchka represents a world gone by, where even the hardest heart could be melted by silly jokes in a Paris sidewalk cafe. Lubitsch made Garbo laugh. And it was lovely.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fontella Bass 1940-2012


Singer Fontella Bass, best known for her 1965 hit "Rescue Me," passed away yesterday in St. Louis, her hometown. "Rescue Me" (which Bass is shown singing in the Youtube clip above, taken from the "Shindig!" show) was a million-seller, hitting #4 on the pop charts in 1965. It was revived for a popular commercial in the 90s, too, although Bass had to sue to get her share of the profits as a co-songwriter on the tune.

I loved "Rescue Me." Still do. That song personified the mid-60s soul-pop sound for a lot of people. So I suggest we all put "Rescue Me" on repeat as we remember the late, great Fontella Bass.

Casting News: Michelle Stine Heads Up TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS at ISU

Tony Kushner called Constance Congdon's Tales of the Lost Formicans a look at the "postmodern, collective nervous breakdown American society has been having." I suppose that's as good a description as any.

In Congdon's play, we begin with alien anthropologists studying Earth in the 20th Century as they try to piece together who these "Lost Formicans" were based on the detritus they left behind. That includes kitchen tables and chairs and "numerous wheeled sarcaphogae used to carry spirits to the next world." Or, you know, cars.

Within the alien framing device, Congdon gives us Cathy, mother to a 15-year-old, coming home to live with her parents after a messy divorce. But home isn't exactly a walk in the park. Her dad has Alzheimer's, Mom isn't coping well, son Eric is unhappy beyond belief to be transported to this weird world, and there's a conspiracy nut named Jerry who keeps popping up. Cathy's childhood friend Judy is still in the neighborhood, but she's full of stories about suicide and dead dogs.

It's to Congdon's credit that this portrait of America in the late 80s, seen from an alien point of view, is funny, surreal, incredibly irreverent and sad, all at the same time. The story isn't linear. It isn't rooted in reality. Its characters are crazy. But they sure feel real when it comes right down to it.

ISU Associate Professor Deb Alley will direct the production scheduled to play in the intimate space at Centennial West 207 from March 28 to April 6, 2013. Her cast has also been announced, with Michelle Stine, last seen in an exquisite performance as mute daughter Kattrin in Mother Courage, in the role of Cathy, Jacki Dellamano (The Marriage of Bette and Boo) and Joseph Faifer (Noises Off) as her parents, Carlos Kmet as her son Eric, and Hannaniah Wiggins as Jerry, the sweet conspiracy theorist next door.

That adds up a great cast and a great director working on a great script. All kinds of possibilities for alien anthropologists!

LEVERAGE Finale: Going Out in Style



It's fitting that Leverage, the TNT series about elite con artists and thieves scamming the rich, powerful and immoral, went out on a big con, with a finale that was fun, scary and tricky from beginning to end.

"The Long Goodbye Job" opened with Nate Ford, the group mastermind, played by Timothy Hutton, looking beat up and laid low. We're told that three of his cohorts (i.e., thief extraordinaire Parker, played by Beth Riesgraf, computer guy Hardison, played by Aldis Hodge, and the enforcer, Eliot, played by Christian Kane) were killed in a botched job, while Nate was caught and is now being interrogated by a woman named Ellen Casey. Is she a hospital administrator, trying to ascertain his mental state? A cop? Or some sort of FBI, CIA or Interpol agent?

Going backwards, we see parts of the scheme to break into a place called High Point Tower, supposedly to get into the computer system there to secure information about a new drug that could cure the deadly childhood disease that took Nate's son. Along with that, we're shown Sophie, the actress in the group, played by Gina Bellman, putting on a terrible Lady Macbeth in a theater connected by underground tunnels to High Point Tower, while the others in the group encounter major problems with the heist, especially on the way out. In the end, after a fall down an elevator shaft, two different hails of bullets and a high speed chase, we're led to believe that Parker, Hardison and Eliot are all dead.

But, of course, appearances have always been deceptive on Leverage. Everything so far has been subterfuge, including the ultimate goal, which was nothing medical, but instead something called the Black Book that provides access to a huge list of evil bankers. And getting to the Black Book brings a Trojan Horse, in the form of perennial foe Sterling, played by Mark Sheppard.

"The Long Goodbye Job" was clever, deceptive, and maybe a little manipulative, what with showing us a heartbreaking scene with the fatally wounded trio expiring in the back of van... And the rewind, where we got to see what really went down, was a whole lot of fun, paying off all the twists and turns and giving us a lot of Sterling, who has always been a good foil for Hutton's Nate. That's about as perfect an ending as you could hope for with Leverage, sending Nate and Sophie (whatever her real name is -- we never did find out, although we thought it was Laura for a second or two) off into a sort of sunset, with Parker taking over the lead spot, backed up by Hardison and Eliot, on a new venture called Leverage: International, with a whole lot of worthy new marks offered by the Black Book.

Would I watch Leverage: International? Yes, I would. I have no reason to think there will be a Leverage: International, but maybe a TV movie or two would be nice. Come on! I need a pack of con artists on my TV screen!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kennedy Center Honors -- Including David Letterman and Dustin Hoffman --Tonight on CBS

The Kennedy Center Honors, which will be broadcast tonight on CBS, may be the nation's biggest lifetime achievement awards for distinguished careers in the performing arts. Honors have been given out annually since 1978, with my favorite, Fred Astaire, part of the very first class of celebrated artists.

Who picks the honorees? It's the Board of Trustees for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, with input from previous winners and a committee composed of "national artists." Honorees from the past represent a Who's Who of American entertainment, with everyone from George Abbott to Stevie Wonder, from Marian Anderson to Tennessee Williams, from Roy Acuff to Oprah Winfrey, included.

The 2012 recipients are blues musician Buddy Guy, actor Dustin Hoffman, TV's David Letterman, Russian ballerina Natalia Makarova, and John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who are the members of rock band Led Zeppelin. They were celebrated earlier in December with a gala at the Kennedy Center Opera House and the presentation of medallions by President Obama and the First Lady. The Honors Gala performances were recorded and will be broadcast tonight on CBS stations. Locally, they're scheduled for 8 pm on Peoria's WMBD.

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein describes the honorees: "With their extraordinary talent, creativity and tenacity, the seven 2012 Kennedy Center Honorees have contributed significantly to the cultural life of our nation and the world. Buddy Guy is a titan of the blues and has been a tremendous influence on virtually everyone who has picked up an electric guitar in the last half century; Dustin Hoffman's unyielding commitment to the wide variety of roles he plays has made him one of the most versatile and iconoclastic actors of this or any other generation; David Letterman is one of the most influential personalities in the history of television, entertaining an entire generation of late-night viewers with his unconventional wit and charm; Natalia Makarova's profound artistry has ignited the stages of the world's greatest ballet companies and continues to pass the torch to the next generation of dancers; and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant transformed the sound of rock and roll with their lyricism and innovative song structures, infusing blues into the sound of rock and roll and laying the foundation for countless rock bands."

You can find information about the Kennedy Center Honors in general here, see the list of past honorees here, and watch video highlighting previous Honors shows here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

More Casting News: TIME STANDS STILL at Heartland

Heartland Theatre and director Sandi Zielinski have announced casting for their February production of Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still, a Tony nominee for Best Play in 2010.


Cristen Susong will lead the cast as Sarah, a photojournalist injured while taking pictures in a Mideast hot spot. She has come home to New York to try to patch herself together, physically and emotionally, while grappling with the realities of everyday life. Now that she is in less danger, she has more time to reflect on who she is and what she wants. Her longtime boyfriend, James, who will be played for Heartland by David Krostal, is also a journalist and he, too, made his living reporting on strife and violence in other lands. But he is ready to kick back and relax, while Sarah isn't. Margulies' script raises issues of personal responsibility -- Is reporting enough? How can witnesses not intercede, even if they are carrying cameras? -- as well as what makes life worthwhile and what makes life for a woman worthwhile, contrasting Sarah's life of work and adrenaline against the more traditional world of marriage and motherhood.

Susong was last at Heartland in The End of the Tour, the dysfunctional family drama from Joel Drake Johnson, while Krostal played the fantasy husband in Woman in Mind and half the town of Tuna, Texas, in A Tuna Christmas.

Also in Time Stands Still will be Harold Chapman as Sarah's editor Richard, and Colleen Longo as Mandy, Richard's much-younger romantic interest. Chapman's name is new to me, but Longo's is familiar from her recent terrific work in These Shining Lives at Heartland as well as her days at ISU, where she was a lovely Rosemary in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Heartland Theatre's production of Time Stands Still opens with a special Pay What You Can preview on February 14 and continues through March 3, 2013.

THE PIANO LESSON (with Double Dirden Power) Extended Off-Broadway


August Wilson's The Piano Lesson has been playing to great reviews at New York's Signature Theatre, with a cast that includes Brandon J. Dirden and Jason Dirden as Boy Willie and Lymon. Both Dirdens earned MFAs in acting from the University of Illinois, and Brandon Dirden is married to Crystal A. Dickinson, another U of I theatre alum who recently starred on Broadway in Clybourne Park. You can read a quick interview with the three of them here.

And The Piano Lesson with its double Dirden power has been such a success for Signature that they are extending the run to January 13.

This production is directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, an actor and playwright who was in the original cast of Jelly's Last Jam and the Broadway production of Wilson's Seven Guitars, for which he won a Tony Award. He also played Captain Montgomery on TV's Castle for three seasons.

Critic Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times that this revival "brings a timely reminder of how consoling, how restorative, how emotionally sustaining great theater can be." Isherwood continued, "As portrayed with heat-generating intensity by Mr. Dirden, Boy Willie seems filled to bursting with ambition, excitement, heedless hope." and he called Jason Dirden "wonderfully funny and touching" as Lymon.

Broadway.com has some very nice production photos of this Piano Lesson, showing off both Dirdens and the rest of the cast, while the Signature Theatre site offers Joan Marcus's official photos and video teasers, as well.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

LEVERAGE Gets the Ax from TNT


We're just a few days away from the end of Leverage. TNT has announced that its series about a team of clever tricksters and thieves conning rich bad guys for the cause of good will finish up its run on Christmas Day.

I have a weakness for grifter/con artist/thief shows, what with It Takes a Thief, Mission Impossible, Remington Steele, Hustle and White Collar, which is pretty much a remake of It Takes a Thief without the groovy 60s wardrobe, on my TV watching resume. TNT's Leverage has fit nicely in that company, with Timothy Hutton as a brooding ex-insurance investigator now heading up a gang of experts who know how to extract money from marks, including Sophie, an actress who specializes in fake identities, Hardison, a computer wiz, Parker, a second-story girl, and Eliot, who serves as the team's muscle. As their cards have been played, they've been termed The Grifter, The Hacker, The Thief and The Hitter, with Hutton's Nate Ford as The Mastermind.

And every week through their five seasons, they've found some big, powerful baddie taking advantage of a little guy, and then pulled an elaborate scam to right those wrongs and settle a score. That has sent them from the top of a mountain to the depths of a coal mine, inside chess and cheerleading competitions as well as baseball and hockey games, and up close and personal with paintings, diamonds, gold and every other kind of treasure available.

Last week, in an episode called "The Toy Job," they took down an evil toy magnate planning to unleash dangerous stuffed doggies on unsuspecting kids at Christmas. Gregg Henry played the big bad toy boss, while Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek fame directed and popped up behind Hutton in a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't cameo.

Sometimes their schemes have been outrageous, sometimes a little too incredible, but they've always been fun to watch, with clever plots and the feel-good message that justice will out, that greed and arrogance will lose.

When Leverage pulls out one last con in the series finale called "The Long Goodbye Job" on Christmas Day, it will find be hard to see the end of the con. But, like It Takes a Thief and Remington Steele, Leverage will live on on DVD.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Catching Up With Casting News: LEND ME A TENOR at Community Players

Community Players and director Cris Embree have completed casting for their January production of Ken Ludwig's opera-inspired farce Lend Me a Tenor.

Leading the cast will be Tom Smith as Max, the assistant at the Cleveland Opera Company who is desperately trying to keep star tenor Tito Merelli in shape to perform Verdi's Otello that night. International sensation Merelli, who will be played by Players' veteran Brian Artman, is being pursued by everyone from the bellhop to Max's girlfriend, adding romantic and over-the-top operatic complications to his already crazy life.

Hannah Kerns has been cast as Maggie, the perfect girlfriend except for that crush on Merelli, while Joe Strupek will take on Maggie's dad, Saunders, the opera company GM, who also happens to be Max's boss.

Also in the cast will be Opal Virtue, often the Players' costume designer, who will play Maria, Merelli's feisty wife who is convinced he's cheating on her; Wendi Fleming as Diana, a beautiful soprano with designs on Tito; Reena Artman as Julia, a weathy patron of the opera; and Thom Rakestraw as the wily bellhop.

Lend Me a Tenor is a fast-paced farce with all kinds of action, as everybody tries to get to Merelli, Merelli tries to take a nap, his wife pitches a fit, everybody misunderstands each other, and poor Max just keeps trying to keep it all afloat. Because we're talking Ken Ludwig, you can also expect the mirror game, where two people who are dressed exactly alike face off with comic results.

Community Players' production of Lend Me a Tenor begins with a preview on January 24, 2013, with performances continuing through February 3. For ticket information, click here. To read more about the play, its history and its characters, you can check out this piece.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Downton Abbey Tidbits (and a Gingerbread Abbey!)


Are you ready for the return of Downton Abbey on January 6th? Lots of good stuff afoot in Season 3, with Bates in jail, convicted of murdering his horrible first wife; Anna hanging tough, determined to get him out; Lady Mary and Matthew making it official; Edith still looking for love; the Earl in financial trouble; and Cora's American mother landing on their doorstep to further complicate matters (and clash with the formidable Dowager Countess).

Shirley MacLaine will be on hand to play Martha, Cora's mum, going up against Dame Maggie Smith as Violet, the Dowager Countess who is at the ready with a withering glance or a cutting remark.

You can see a video preview of Season 3 from Masterpiece here or watch a scene (showing the clash referred to above) from the first episode here. Or, if you're more in the mood to relive the past, you can watch Season 2 episodes online.

The Colbert Report offered a really unusual way to ramp up to Season 3 with a mashup between Downton (and its cast) and Breaking Bad. "Breaking Abbey" is definitely worth your time. Soon Downton will be kicking it with mad bitches and benjamins... (That last should be a hint that there are bad words in the video. Forewarned and all that.)

Also in preparation for the new season (and for the special Christmas episode in Britain, the one we won't see till May) a baker has made a gingerbread version of the Abbey itself. It's pretty odd. And cool. But also odd. Watch Downtown Abbey, the Gingerbread Version, here. You can compare the gingerbread one to the real one pictured in "Breaking Abbey."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

OMG -- Holiday Sale at PS Classics

Are you looking for something quick to grab for a holiday gift? PS Classics, the company that brings you all kinds of great music, Broadway and otherwise, is offering a holiday sale. Till the end of the holiday season, all cds from 2011 and earlier are marked down to just $9.95.

You can choose from cast recordings, like the one from the revival of 110 in the Shade with Audra McDonald, or Assassins with Neil Patrick Harris and Michael Cerveris, or Nine, starring Antonio Banderas. That last one is quite wonderful. Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Chita Rivera? All included. And so much better than the movie version, which you probably didn't see, anyway, because, let's face it, Daniel Day Lewis is no Guido. And Antonio Banderas is.

PS Classics also specializes in new recordings of old shows, not shows revived on Broadway, but ones revived and restored by PS Classics just for the recording. Like Kitty's Kisses and Sweet Bye and Bye. Fabulous stuff.

And there are solo albums from people like Liz Callaway, Rebecca Luker, Kate Baldwin, Jessica Molaskey, Phillip Chaffin, Jason Danieley... You haven't lived till you've heard Danieley and Marin Mazzie take on Harold Arlen tunes.

You'll also want to take a look at what PS Classics calls "songbooks," like The Maury Yeston Songbook, which I think you pretty much have to own if you want to call yourself a Broadway musical fan. It includes songs I recognized, like "Unusual Way" from Nine, which is gorgeous here as sung by Brian d'Arcy James, and "No Moon" from Titanic, hauntingly performed by Howard McGillin, as well as things I didn't know before, like the simple and sweet "My Grandmother's Love Letters," sung by Christine Ebersole.

Other songbook choices include Sondheim, Strouse, Jason Robert Brown, Jonathan Larson, Lane and Harburg, Maltby and Shire, Georgia Stitt and Jule Styne. And more Maury Yeston.

Some must-have items, like the revival of Follies and Sweet Little Devil, a long-lost Gershwin musical, and the cast recording of the new Off-Broadway musical Death Takes a Holiday, are not on sale because they're too new. They're still perfect holiday gifts for anybody on your list who has a hankering for musical theatre. I'll take two of each, please.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Favorite Holiday Movies 2012

Last year, I did a whole series on the holiday movies I like, with notations on when and where those movies would show up on your television. Unfortunately, this year most of my favorites won't be aired. I don't understand it, either.  How can you not show Holiday and Christmas in Connecticut and Swing Time?

Luckily I own copies of those three (plus a whole lot more Fred Astaire movies just right for New Year's Eve) so I won't be marooned without good movies. Plus they're all available on instant view from Amazon.

And my second tier of holiday movies, the ones that are a little better known, are still around. Here are the ones I picked out last year, the ones that hold up for me.

Up first: Elf, the 2003 film with ex-SNL comedian Will Ferrell as Buddy, a full-size guy who's had a hard time getting by as an adopted child in the teeny-tiny elf world at the North Pole. An outcast for his inability to be a proper elf, Buddy shows up in New York, where he learns about real people, romance and families, with a marvelous supporting cast in both worlds. I can take or leave James Caan, although he's fine as Buddy's real dad, but it's lovely to see Bob Newhart as his elf papa and even lovelier to see Ed Asner (I still have kind of a crush on him from his Lou Grant days) as Santa. Elf is sweet and silly, never cloying, with Ferrell deftly playing Buddy as a wide-eyed naif who means well, even if he and his big feet step in all the wrong places.

You'll find Elf on the ABC Family network on December 26th and 27th.

Miracle on 34th Street (the 1947 version) is one of the most recognizable holiday movies around, so everybody should know its story about a cynical little girl named Susan (played by the unbelievably cute Natalie Wood) and her hard-working single mother (Maureen O'Hara), neither of whom believes in Santa Claus. But then what appears to be the real Kris Kringle (played by the even more adorable Edmund Gwenn) arrives at Mom's department store and a firestorm of controversy erupts. Is he crazy? Is he the real deal?

A handsome lawyer (John Payne) lends a hand when Kris has a sanity hearing, Mom gets a romance, Susan starts to believe that wishes can come true, and everybody has a Merry Christmas. Well, maybe not the cranky pencil pusher who put Santa Claus on trial.

It's a classic for a reason: All the elements work perfectly, the players are terrific and just what they need to be, and both Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood knock it out of the park.

You can find Miracle on 34th Street all over AMC from December 20th to 24th.

My last holiday movie is darker and edgier, shoving Bill Murray into an updated Christmas Carol set in the world of TV production in 1988.

In Scrooged, Murray's character, Frank Cross, is too busy ordering people around for a live Christmas Carol broadcast to notice that he has no friends, his girlfriend (Karen Allen) left long ago, and he seriously needs a wake-up call on how to behave like a human being. The best part of the movie is its crazy take on his ghosts, with Buster Poindexter (credited here under his real name, David Johansen) as a ferocious cab driver Ghost of Christmas Past and Carol Kane looking pretty but packing quite a punch as the Ghost of Christmas Present. She wallops Cross in the face with a toaster in a moment that resonates long past the movie.

Bill Murray's brothers John, Joel and Brian Doyle Murray show up in cameos, plus you get to see a parade of wacky stars (Buddy Hackett, Robert Goulet, Lee Majors, John Houseman) in the TV extravaganza Cross is supposedly putting on.

Scrooged is cynical and irreverent, with that snarky edge Bill Murray does so well. It's like a crazy ride in Buster Poindexter's Hellcab. But it's also hella funny and a welcome companion to all the other Christmas Carols out there.

I'm afraid you'll have to rent Scrooged at the video store (if you still have one) or get it on Netflix or Amazon, because it isn't showing up in anybody's TV listings right now. Bah humbug!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Is there life in ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN?

Deadline is reporting that there may be life in One Life to Live yet. One Life to Live and its sister soap All My Children, both longtime ABC daytime dramas filmed in New York, were axed in 2011, although production company Prospect Park was supposedly trying to put a deal together to bring them both to the internet as web soaps with some of the same actors. All of that fell through, which meant AMC aired for the last time in September 2011, while OLTL bowed out in January 2012. Two of One Life's most famous characters, father and daughter Todd and Starr Manning, have since resurfaced on General Hospital, the lone ABC soap left.


And now, out of the blue, Rich Frank and Jeff Kwatinetz, the guys behind Prospect Park, are back in the news with their soap-operas-on-the-web deal apparently rising like a phoenix from the ashes. Deadline's Nellie Andreeva writes, "I hear Frank and Kwatinetz never lost hope, and had been quietly working since the summer on putting their plan back together and had been talking with the guilds, resulting in agreements with SAG-AFTRA and DGA. (The status of talks with WGA is unclear.) I hear there are preliminary discussions with actors from All My Children and One Life To Live to rejoin the revived shows. Prospect Park refused to comment."

Andreeva also notes that this is a good time to revive soap operas, since the four left on TV (The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives and General Hospital) have been going up in the ratings within the last year. Before it was canceled, One Life to Live was routinely beating GH in the ratings (and it was a much better show than GH, as well.)

Time will tell whether there's anything in these new rumors. Wary viewers know better than to trust Prospect Park after the last time. But still... Hope springs eternal. And that last (Hope Springs Eternal) just happens to be the name I made up for a soap opera I put in a romance novel way back in the 80s. My fictional daytime drama was loosely based on Santa Barbara, my fave at the time. But, you know, if the soaps really do come back strong and somebody needs a name for a new one... I still think Hope Springs Eternal has possibilities.

Screen Actors Guild Nominations: Loving LINCOLN, SILVER LININGS and LES MIS

Like the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards cover both movies and TV. Unlike the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards are a pretty darn good predictor for Oscar's acting nominations. They also cover a lot more ground in terms of voters; initial nominations are done by a random selection of about 2000 SAG members across the country, with final voting open to all 100,000 actors who belong to the Screen Actors Guild. Since those SAG members will be the same ones voting in Oscar's acting categories, you can see why they're a good prognostication tool.

The Screen Actors Guild is one of the newer entries into the awards show sweepstakes, beginning in 1995, but they're also taken a bit more seriously than some of the others, since they are voted upon by actors and only actors judging in their area of expertise, and they don't mess around with awards for songs or special effects or makeup. They don't even give a Best Picture or Best Show award. Just Best Ensemble.

On the film side, this year they've nominated Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, as well the entire ensemble from Lincoln; along with leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, supporting actor Robert DeNiro, and the cast as a whole from Silver Linings Playbook; and Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the acting and stunt casts of Les Misérables.

The other casts as a whole recognized are from Argo and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. From Argo, supporting actor Alan Arkin was nominated, while Maggie Smith was the lone actor given a nod from Marigold Hotel.

Other actors nominated include John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in The Sessions, Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, Helen Mirren in Hitchcock, Denzel Washington in Flight, Naomi Watts in The Impossible, Javier Bardem in Skyfall, Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, and Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy.

Along with Les Miz, the stunt casts from The Amazing Spider Man, The Bourne Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall were nominated. TV "action" ensembles recognized include those from Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead.

Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad also scored nominations for their acting casts, accompanying Downton Abbey, Homeland and Mad Men in the Drama category. Yes, cable rules the day in drama, as AMC, HBO, PBS and Showtime shut out ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in nominations.

Four of the five dramas also got nods for their leads actors, as Boardwalk Empire's Steve Buscemi, Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, Homeland's Damian Lewis and Mad Men's Jon Hamm were all nominated. Jeff Daniels of The Newsroom filled the last slot in that category.

If Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey was not recognized, his costars Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith were. They will compete with Claire Danes from Homeland, Jessica Lange from American Horror Story and Juliana Margulies from The Good Wife.

For comedy series, the casts of 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Glee, Modern Family, Nurse Jackie and The Office were nominated. If you're thinking the Guild is a few years out of date in this category, I would agree with you.

Individual comedic actors recognized include Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara from Modern Family, Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey from 30 Rock, Louie C.K. from Louie, Edie Falco from Nurse Jackie, Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory, Amy Poehler from Parks and Recreation and Betty White from Hot in Cleveland.

The TV miniseries or movie category is smaller, with categories for only lead actor and actress. Why no ensemble award for a television miniseries or movie? Why no supporting categories for anything on TV? Because that's not how the Screen Actors Guild rolls.

In any event, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris and Julianne Moore were all nominated for the Sarah Palin-inspired Game Change, while one Hatfield (Kevin Costner) and one McCoy (Bill Paxton) got nods for Hatfields & McCoys and both Hemingway (Clive Owen) and Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) were nominated in Hemingway & Gellhorn. That leaves Charlotte Rampling in Restless, Sigourney Weaver in Politcal Animals and Alfre Woodward in Steel Magnolias to round out the mini/movie nominations.

There is also a lifetime achievement award, and this year that will go to Dick Van Dyke.

The Screen Actors Guild will hand out their Actor statuettes on January 27, 2013, in a ceremony broadcast on both TNT and TBS from LA's Shrine Exposition Center.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

ISU's MOTHER COURAGE Headed to KC/ACTF Regionals in Michigan

Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance has announced that their "fierce and ferocious" October production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, directed by Professor Sandra Zielinski, has been invited to perform at the regional level of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. That means ISU will be taking their entire production of Mother Courage up to Saginaw, Michigan, in early January to showcase their show and their program. And you can help!

As they take their act on the road, you can contribute a dollar or two (or a hundred or two) and ISU's Friends of the Arts will match your gift. I suggest you go big and make Friends of the Arts match your generosity!

ISU's Mother Courage was really terrific, with exceptional performances from Abby Vombrack as Mother Courage and Michele Stine as her mute daughter Kattrin, among others in the talented cast. Zielinski's use of music and on-stage musicians helped keep it properly epic, while the actors made it affecting and powerful. If you'd like to refresh your recollection of the production, you can see a cast photo, a couple of sketches of the scenic design, and a cast list here.

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival was created in 1969 to connect theatre students from universities all over the country, allowing them to network, perform, and hear opinions from voices outside their own departments, with the overall goal of improving the quality of college theatre across the United States.

Every fall, colleges and universities enter their productions for consideration, with the finest among them chosen to attend regional festivals held annually in January and February. In addition to handing out awards to excellent productions and scholarships to worthy students, the regionl fFestivals offer programs, workshops and symposia on acting, directing, design, playwriting, criticism, dramaturgy and stage management. Regional festival productions like Mother Courage are judged by a panel of three judges selected by the Kennedy Center and the KCACTF national committee. These judges select four to six of the "best and most diverse regional festival productions" to travel to the national festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

ISU's Mother Courage will be performed at the Region III festival in Saginaw along with Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, as performed by cast and crew from the University of Wisconsin -- Parkside, Ghost Bike, a new play from Laura Jacqmin, produced by Wisconsin's Carthage College, a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest from the University of Wisconsin -- Whitewater, In the Soundless Awe, from Chicago's Concordia College, co-written by Concordia professors Andrew Pederson and Jayme McGhan, and another new play, Three Generations of Imbeciles, by Bill Baer, presented by Cuyahoga Community College.

To help ISU and Mother Courage get to Saginaw, you can find contribution information here, or proceed directly to the ISU Foundation online giving page.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Four Great Lubitsch Films Tonight on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is really hitting it out of the park, programming-wise, at least for my particular taste in film. We just got both The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire on Barbara Stanwyck Wednesday, and now we get Ernst Lubitsch Friday!

Lubitsch was one of the seven directors I listed in the piece on The Lady Eve earlier this week. I called them The Big 7 -- they really weren't called that in the 30s and 40s, although, at least from the vantage point of the 70s, they were considered masters of their comedic film craft in the 30s and 40s -- and Lubitsch may just have been the best of the bunch.

As you may guess from his name, Ernst Lubitsch was German. He was born in Berlin and began his career in Germany, working as an actor with Max Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theater just about a hundred years ago. But he turned to film rather quickly, first as an actor and then as a director, moving to Hollywood in 1922 when he was hand-picked by Mary Pickford to direct one of her movies.

He successfully directed all kinds of European-flavored silent films, like The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, a 1928 "Viennese Fairytale" from MGM that starred Ramon Novarro as a prince (who was also a student) who falls in love with a barmaid, played by Norma Shearer. You'll also find Hollywood legend Jean Hersholt as the prince's kindly tutor. Even though my favorite film professor in college was a major Lubitsch fan (and scholar), we did not see The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg in class. That means I will be looking for it tonight at 11:45 pm when TCM sends it my way. We can all raise a glass together to The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg and his lovely barmaid!

Lubitsch moved to directing musicals when talkies hit, including 1932's One Hour with You, a tuneful trifle with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald as a charming Parisian couple, blissfully married until a flirt named Mitzi tries to come between them. Ooh la la! One Hour with You is a remake of Lubitsch's earlier film The Marriage Circle, and, yes, this one did make it to my film class. Actually, I believe both The Marriage Circle and One Hour with You were there. Words like sophisticated and saucy come to mind for One Hour with You and its fancy French tomfoolery. And if you're like me, you will be very surprised at how mischievous, appealing, and lighter-than-air Jeanette MacDonald comes off.

One Hour with You will air tonight on TCM at 10:15 pm (Central time), just before Old Heidelberg.

Also released in 1932 was Trouble in Paradise, the third Lubitsch film TCM has chosen for tonight. If possible, it's even more sophisticated and charming than the others. In this one, Lily pretends to be a Countress, but she's really a pickpocket, slipping expensive watches off her marks. She's met her match in Gaston, who says he's a Baron, but he's really an international jewel thief, expertly removing diamonds and rubies from the women he romances.

As played by Miriam Hopkins (she's the blonde staring daggers in the corner of the poster) and Herbert Marshall, Lily and Gaston are smooth, sardonic and slinky, in a Continental sort of way, making love and stealing from each other at the same time. But when Gaston tries to move in on wealthy Mariette, played by Kay Francis (the brunette looking clingy over there) to get at her jewels and money, Lily does not appreciate it.

Trouble in Paradise is unabashedly sinful, what with Lily and Gaston and their perfectly lovely life of crime, plus suggestive dialogue and a lot of winks and nods to its characters' sex lives, so it's pretty amazing the censors didn't squelch all the joy out of it. Ah well. It is left to us to enjoy this delicious pastry of a film, with Hopkins and Marshall giving silky, seductive performances as the naughty duo of thieves.

If you've ever heard of the "Lubitsch touch," this film is full of them. Look for sly touches of elegance that glide right past what might seem snarky or raunchy elsewhere. Lubitsch keeps his innuendo stylish and sophisticated, delicate and delightful. As a result, Trouble in Paradise is pretty much perfect. Or parfait. You'll find it at 7 pm Central tonight on TCM.

And, yes, there is one more. Noël Coward's Design for Living and its ménage à trois was so scandalous it couldn't open in London in 1932, when Coward wrote it. So it came to Broadway instead. What? Americans less puritannical than Brits? Apparently. Not only was it a hit on Broadway, with Coward himself and Lunt and Fontanne forming the triangle, but it quickly got picked up by Hollywood for a film version, with what must've seemed like the perfect director -- Lubitsch, of course -- attached.

But the 1933 film Design for Living isn't much like the play.  For one thing, pretty girl Gilda, played by Miriam Hopkins, and the two men she's in love with, Tom and George, played by Fredric March and Gary Cooper, are decidedly American. Gone is the European sophistication. Gone is any sense of Tom and George being attracted to each other as well as Gilda. Gone is the daring ménage Coward wrote.

Oh well. If you can forget about the original play, Design for Living still has three great leads romping around, a snazzy Ben Hecht script, and the inevitable Lubitsch touches.

Design for Living airs tonight at 8:30 pm on TCM.

Golden Globe Nominations Announced, Usual Oddities Included

So the Golden Globe nominations were announced yesterday. And now there's that.

A lot of people trumpet that the Golden Globes are bellwethers for the Oscars. Yeah, no. They may generate more publicity for films that have been flying under the radar, or they may push forward a performance nobody was considering, but really, there is very little prognostication value from the Golden Globes. Remember, they're voted upon by the murky body known as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has about 90 members. That's not a typo. 9-0. More people than that vote for dog catcher in Mayberry.

But still.. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its 90 members have managed to parlay their little party into a big deal where the people who put together both film and television can and will show up to get some facetime on the first big awards show of the year. Note that even though the Screen Actors Guild announced their nominations a day earlier than the Globes, the Globes will hold their ceremony on NBC on January 13, while the SAG Awards don't show up till the 27th.

So what do these nominations mean? Well, they mean that the 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press like NBC's execrable Smash more than makes any sense, that they like the new Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained more than most people expected, they continue to love Modern Family, they don't love Mad Men or Parks and Recreation nearly as much as I do, and they love Lincoln most of all. Meanwhile... Hello? Scandal? It, Kerry Washington and Jeff Perry ought to be right up the Golden alley.

But let's look at they've recognized, shall we?

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty

BEST MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Les Miserables
Moonrise Kingdom
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Silver Linings Playbook

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Brave
Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
Rise of the Guardians
Wreck-It Ralph

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Amour (Australia)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
The Intouchables (France)
Kon-Tiki (Norway/UK/Denmark)
Rust and Bone (France)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)
Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Richard Gere (Arbitrage)
John Hawkes (The Sessions)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Emily Blunt (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Maggie Smith (Quartet)
Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Jack Black (Bernie)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen)
Bill Murray (Hyde Park on Hudson)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
Philip Seymour Hoffman  (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
Ben Affleck (Argo)
Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE
Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Chris Terrio (Argo)

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA 
Breaking Bad
Boardwalk Empire
Downton Abbey 
Homeland
The Newsroom

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
The Big Bang Theory
Episodes
Girls
Modern Family
Smash

BEST MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Game Change
The Girl
Hatfields & McCoys
The Hour
Political Animals

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA
Connie Britton (Nashville)
Glenn Close (Damages)
Claire Danes (Homeland)
Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)
Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA
Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom)
Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
Damian Lewis (Homeland)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Zooey Deshanel (New Girl)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)
Lena Dunham (Girls)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Don Cheadle (House of Lies)
Louis C.K. (Louie)
Matt LeBlanc (Episodes)
Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION 
Nicole Kidman (Hemingway and Gellhorn)
Jessica Lange (American Horror Story)
Sienna Miller (The Girl)
Julianne Moore (Game Change)
Sigourney Weaver (Political Animals)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Kevin Costner (Hatfields & McCoys)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)
Woody Harrelson (Game Change)
Toby Jones (The Girl)
Clive Owen (Hemingway and Gellhorn)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)
Sarah Paulson (Game Change)
Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Sofia Vergara (Modern Family)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Max Greenfield (New Girl)
Ed Harris (Game Change)
Danny Huston (Magic City)
Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Barbara Stanwyck No. 2: BALL OF FIRE Tonight on TCM

Yesterday we talked about Barbara Stanwyck month on TCM through the lens of The Lady Eve, her 1941 romantic comedy with director and screenwriter Preston Sturges. The movie TCM will be screening right after The Lady Eve is another gem, and Stanwyck is just as spirited and sparkly.

So what's No. 2?

It's Ball of Fire, a screwball take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs directed by Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood's most versatile directors, with a fizzy, funny screenplay by Charles Brackett and the legendary Billy Wilder.

In this one, Stanwyck is Sugarpuss O'Shea, which has to one of the best names ever in film history, a nightclub entertainer romantically linked to a gangster. Gary Cooper is her screen partner, but he's not the gangster He's Bertram Potts, a professor of linguistics currently working on an encyclopedia with a group of elderly academic types, each with his own specialty. They're cooped up together in a house, slaving away, desperately trying to finish their project at long last.

But Bertram takes a stroll over to the nightclub where Sugarpuss is entertaining, hears her delicious slang, and invites her to help him out by giving him the inside scoop on her jazzy lingo. She declines, until she needs a place to hide out. It seems the coppers are on her tail to drop a dime on her main squeeze, Joe Lilac, who is on ice after maybe bumping off a rival.

Once ensconced at the house where all the professors live, Sugarpuss takes over, sharing all her best slang with Pottsie (she's given Bertram that nickname) and her slinkiest conga moves with his colleagues. Things are great until Joe Lilac resurfaces, huge engagement ring in hand. But by that time, Sugarpuss is starting to have feelings for shy, awkward professor Pottsie.

Things go south from there. Or maybe west, since they all end up in New Jersey. Gangsters! Adorable old men in a conga line! Barbara Stanwyck in gold lamé with a bare midriff! Gary Cooper in a bowtie! Gene Krupa drumming "Drum Boogie" with matchsticks! It just doesn't get any better than that.

This time, the supporting players include Richard Haydn, Oscar Homolka, Leonid Kinskey, Tully Marshall, Aubrey Mathers, S. Z. "Cuddles" Sakall and Henry Travers as the encyclopedia scribes, Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac the thuggish boyfriend, and Dan Duryea and Ralph Peters as Duke Pastrami and Asthma Anderson, Joe's henchmen.

C'mon. Who can resist a movie with people named Sugarpuss, Asthma and Pastrami?

Don't resist. Give in to Ball of Fire. It's at 12:15 am (Central time) tonight on TCM, right after The Lady Eve. You'll be drum-boogieing all night long.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Barbara Stanwyck No. 1: THE LADY EVE Tomorrow on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Barbara Stanwyck this month, and tomorrow night you have a chance to catch two of her best and most charming movies.

The first one, beginning at 10:30 pm Central time, is The Lady Eve, a 1941 romantic comedy from director/screenwriter Preston Sturges. Sturges was one of the Big 7*, the group of directors who made film comedy of the 30s and 40s so fabulous, and he was a step ahead since he did his own scripts. A definite wordsmith, Sturges specialized in movies with a) crazy characters, b) an amazing ensemble of character actors, and c) madcap situations that could get a little risque. So Trudy Cockenlocker, the girl in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek who got hit on the head during a USO dance and doesn't remember who she slept with to create the bun in her oven, is par for the Sturges' course.

Barbara Stanwyck's Jean Harrington is a con woman traveling over the Atlantic on a posh ocean liner with her cardsharp dad, played by the irascible and adorable Charles Coburn, one of those character actors I was telling you about. When sweet, dopey and rich Charles Poncefort Pike, played by Henry Fonda, gets on board their ship, every girl there tries to attract his attention. He is, after all, the heir to a beer fortune, even though he's more interested in snakes than Pike's Pale Ale. But Jean is smarter than most, and she knows exactly how to tempt Hopsie, as she begins to call him. Soon after she's got him hooked, she begins to fall for him, too, even though he has a cynical bodyguard, played by William Demarest, best known as grumpy Uncle Charley on the TV show My Three Sons, who has her number, and dear old dad, the cardsharp, is just dying to take Hopsie for all he's worth. Dad pulls his games, he and Jean are revealed as well-known shipboard swindlers, and all is lost between Jean and Hopsie.

Ah, but that's when the plot takes a detour. Because Jean is really angry that Hopsie dumped her, she takes on a new identity as Lady Eve Sidwich, a classier, more cultivated sort of woman. And then she cozies up to the Pike family at home, intending to pull the wool over the poor, deluded guy's eyes once again for revenge. Even though Uncle Charley, er, Muggsy, the right-hand man, insists she's "the same dame," Hopsie falls for it, hook, line and sinker.

Two more of my favorite character actors show up during this part of the plot, with the sly Eric Blore as a fellow con man who helps "Eve" get close to the Pikes, including gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette as the Pale Ale patriarch.

Everybody is wonderful, especially Stanwyck, who positively sparkles as naughty Jean/Eve, and Fonda, who comes off quite attractive even though his Hopsie is also completely befuddled. That's not an easy combo! The two show great chemistry as they navigate their way through all kinds of fizzy and sizzling little moments, and Stanwyck sells Sturges' crazy story with cheeky conviction.

The Lady Eve is outrageous, unbelievable, and yet so good-natured about all of it, you are perfectly willing to leap over that threshold of disbelief and root for Hopsie to fall prey to Jean's schemes so the two of them can be together.

There's just something about The Lady Eve.

*The other six were Frank Capra, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Mitchell Leisen, Ernst Lubitsch and Leo McCarey, according to a film class I took long ago. If you go find It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, tomorrow night's Ball of Fire, Bringing Up Baby, Midnight, Easy Living, Trouble in Paradise, The Awful Truth and Sullivan's Travels, you will have a very nice overview of the best film comedies of the 30s and 40s, and they were each directed by one of those seven guys.