Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Means Fred and Ginger and HOLIDAY... Always.

I am bumping up two old pieces I wrote about what I watch on New Year's Eve. As it happens, neither is on my dial this year -- the closest thing is the mini-marathon at Turner Classic Movies with the three iterations of That's Entertainment plus That's Dancing from 7 pm to about 4 am Central time -- but that doesn't mean I can't do my own film fest right here at home.

First, my take on Swing Time, one of the classic Fred-and-Ginger pics that I like to watch every New Year's Eve. This was written in 2010, when Swing Time was the only Fred-and-Ginger I could find airing that night. Left to my own devices (and DVDs) I will probably watch three or four from my collection, maybe starting with Flying Down to Rio (1933) and ending with Shall We Dance (1937).

After that, some notes on why I love Holiday, a movie that is my idea of perfection. And, yes, I also own a copy of that. One cannot depend upon the vagaries of television programmers when planning one's New Year's Eve.

Anybody who knows me knows I love Fred Astaire movies. I don't know if it's in my gene pool (my mom was also a fan) or a learned thing (my mom and I watched a lot of his movies together) but... Whatever the reason, I'm glad I have this thing for Fred Astaire.

Back in the 70s, one of the Chicago TV stations used to run Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers marathons on New Year's Eve. I remember several times telling my date I had to be home by midnight so I didn't miss Top Hat or Shall We Dance or The Gay Divorcee. They don't seem to be doing that anymore, but to me, Fred & Ginger need to be dancing on New Year's Eve or it isn't New Year's Eve.

...Swing Time is not actually my favorite among the Fred movies (I don't like second banana Victor Moore, I don't like the silly forced laughing bit, I don't really like Fred wearing a bowler hat, and parts of the plot are very silly, especially the one involving whether formal trousers need cuffs) but it does have its charms (the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields score, some gorgeous dances, and dances used beautifully to advance the plot).

Although "The Way You Look Tonight" has become somewhat overexposed in a whole lot of movies and TV shows, it's still a lovely song, and it's quite appealing when Fred (as Lucky Garnett, dancing gambling man) sings it to Ginger (as Penny Carroll, a dance instructor), even if her hair is covered in shampoo and bubbles. Mr. Astaire always had a way with the sincere songs, and his delivery is as sweet and charming as it gets on "The Way You Look Tonight." Breathless charm, indeed.

"Never Gonna Dance" is also a classic for good reason; it gets a big, swoony production number involving sweeping Art Deco staircases and it involves all kinds of angst and heartache because of its place in the plot. There are all kinds of backstories on this dance that say they filmed endless takes into the wee hours and Ginger was bleeding into her shoes and all sorts of things... Whether you believe them or not, it's still a moving and lovely piece of dance and romance on film.

But my favorite number is "Pick Yourself Up," a sprightly piece where Lucky pretends to be a bad dancer who improves amazingly quickly in order to save Penny's job. They dance all around a dance studio under the disapproving eye of Eric Blore, an adorable supporting player you'll see throughout the Astaire/Rogers flicks, so that's one reason to enjoy it. Number 2: Ginger got a flippy black dress that makes her look as cute as she ever looked. And number 3: I absolutely love the little lifts back and forth over a tiny fence around the dance floor. They both look like they're having a great time, and when Fred pops out the real Astaire dance moves, there is a joy of performance that just zings off the screen. I'm smiling just thinking about it.

Holiday (the 1938 film based on a Philip Barry play, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, not the more recent thing with Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law) is one of my favorite movies of all time. Maybe THE favorite.

I've been asked more than once why I like Holiday so well or why I like it better than The Philadelphia Story or Bringing Up Baby, better-known Grant/Hepburn collaborations. The answer is partly grounded in the fact that I got attached to Holiday when I was ten or eleven, and you really don't know why you like things at that age. You just do. But there's more to it than that.

I like Cary Grant, of course. He's at his most fetching here, as Johnny Case, man of the people, who came from nothing and worked really hard at some vague financial job that has made him a nice amount of money, so now he wants nothing more than to take his money and take a holiday around the world. It's sort of an anti-capitalist philosophy. Or maybe "capitalism that knows when enough is enough and then wants to have some fun." I like that refreshing attitude. Cary is also not terribly serious in this movie; he does acrobatic tricks, he messes up his hair, and he lets himself get kicked in the bootie to show he hasn't turned stuffy or puffed-up. But he still looks really good in a tux.

And then there's Kate. The plot of Holiday treats her far better than The Philadelphia Story where everybody keeps telling her that she's too perfect, she's an ice queen, she's judgmental, she needs to change while the male philanderers (her father) and alcoholics (her ex) are just fine the way they are. That always struck me as sexist and unpleasant and not very nice. Here, she's trying to do the right thing and find her own way, stuck in a pretentious, wealthy family she doesn't like much and at the same time desperately attracted to the man her sister has brought home as a fiance. As Linda Seton, Ms. Hepburn is as lively and vivacious as ever, plus she's warm and funny and nobody is blaming her for anything.

I also like the supporting cast, with Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as an amusing pair of Johnny's friends who like Linda far better than her prissy sister and Lew Ayres as Linda's unhappy brother. Plus Binnie Barnes and Henry Daniell are hilarious as snooty relatives that Linda calls the Witch and Dopey.

There are serious issues here, and yet it's all treated lightly and sweetly, with enough romance ("Happy New Year, Johnny" and the almost kiss is my favorite) and funny stuff (with everybody doing gymnastic stunts and Punch and Judy in the old playroom) to keep the story moving. George Cukor's direction is dandy, with the emphasis on just how attractive Grant and Hepburn are. It's also really cool to see what the privileged set lived like in 1938. Special ties, special church, special parties... And that Manhattan mansion is pretty swell.

Holiday ... [is] part of a Cary Grant box set. I plan to watch it on New Year's Eve, since that's the holiday I like the best in the movie. I should also note that the title Holiday does not refer to Christmas or New Year's, but to Johnny's plan to take a long holiday, a vacation, now that he's made the money he wants.

When it's Cary Grant playing Johnny, it's hard not to support his holiday. It's hard not to try to book a cabin on that ship and go right along with him. As Linda says, "If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to come back and sell peanuts, oh, how I'll believe in those peanuts!"

Right there with you, sister.

And that, my friends, is what I'll be doing New Year's Eve!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Logo, HBO and TCM Celebrate Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

In the midst of a two-day Logo marathon to remember Debbie Reynolds, who passed away December 28, just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, HBO has also announced plans to move up the schedule on a documentary called Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  Although it was originally scheduled for sometime later in 2017, Bright Lights has been moved to Sunday January 7 in the wake of the tragic loss of both Hollywood legends. HBO was already set to repeat Wishful Drinking, a 2010 feature based on Fisher's "hilarious and honest one-woman show"on New Year's Day.

Starting at 4 pm Central time today, Logo will show episodes of Will & Grace that featured Reynolds as Grace's mother, plus at 11 pm Central they will be airing a RuPaul's Drag Race episode with Reynolds as guest judge. At midnight, it's time for an episode of Roseanne written by Carrie Fisher that showcased Reynolds as Roseanne's mother-in-law, with a pair of Golden Girls episodes where Reynolds showed up as a possible new roommate after that. The Golden Girls two-partner will run again at 5:30 am, followed by all twelve Will & Graces starting at 6:30. Logo finishes up its tribute New Year's Day with the movie Sister Act, which Fisher co-wrote, shown at 4 pm and 10 pm.

Look for Wishful Drinking at 8 pm Central time January 1 on HBO, with Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds at 7 pm Central time January 7. Bright Lights premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, and you can read a lot more about it here.

Later in January, Turner Classic Movies will devote a whole day of programming to Reynolds, who was a particularly good friend of the network. With TCM, Reynolds shared a passion for the preservation of classic movies and memorabilia. They offer a bio that serves as a tribute here along with the list of films scheduled for January 27.

Those movies include It Started With A Kiss (1959), Bundle Of Joy (1956), How The West Was Won (1963), The Tender Trap (1955), Hit The Deck (1955), I Love Melvin (1953), Singin’ In The Rain (1952), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), The Mating Game (1959), The Catered Affair (1956), The Singing Nun (1965), and How Sweet It Is! (1968).

Thursday, December 29, 2016


I think my first trip to New York City happened in the summer of 1983. That means I wasn't there in time to see the vividly theatrical, eight-and-a-half-hour, two-night adaptation of Charles Dickens' The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby that playwright David Edgar, directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird and a cast of 42 actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company had created together, first for performance at the Aldwych Theater in London and then at the Plymouth on Broadway.

There was a long period during my formative years when Nicholas Nickleby was my favorite book. Of all books. I have no idea why it caught my imagination at a time when my peers were clinging to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye, but there you are. My fondness for Nicholas Nickleby in book form meant that I was well aware of the RSC project, even as it never occurred to me that I could actually see it on stage.

I might've wished there was a way to get to London in 1980 or New York in 1981, but I was in law school, I'd never been to either place, I'd never seen a Broadway show, and that kind of jaunt was simply out of my realm of possibility. But then something called the Mobile Showcase Theatre came to my rescue, showing a filmed performance of the RSC's Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby as a four-night event on my local PBS station. 

That filmed Nicholas Nickleby starred Roger Rees as Nicholas, offering energy, integrity and depth as the young man trying to keep his own sense of goodness and kindness together even as he faces cruelty and meanness in the world. David Threlfall, Emily Richard, Edward Petherbridge, Alun Armstrong, Suzanne Bertish, Lila Kaye, Lucy Gutteridge, Bob Peck, Christopher Ravenscroft, John McEnery and John Woodvine are just some of the actors surrounding Rees in this amazing company. As an ensemble, they create an array of sharply realized characters and dramatic pieces that fit together beautifully. I will never forget characters like Newman Noggs and Peg Sliderskew or the way the company slams doors in Ralph Nickleby's face. Rees may have provided the emotional center and the overall arc, but it's the company together that turns Nicholas Nickleby into something special.

I had a VCR by 1982 but I screwed up when I tried to tape all of this Nicholas Nickleby, which was originally shown in four parts over four nights. When PBS began selling a set of nine one-hour VHS tapes of the whole thing, I snapped them up, even though they are not what I really wanted, which was the four-night Mobile Showcase I remember. But the subsequent four-DVD set for Nicholas Nickleby is notorious for being shoddily put together, with such poor decision-making that they split one scene over separate discs.

BroadwayHD has now announced that the full Nicholas Nickleby, split into nine parts like the A&E VHS set, is streaming on its site. Click here for information on signing up for an account so you can sit back and watch it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Screen Actors Guild: The TV Nominations

In addition to awards for performances on film, the Screen Actors Guild also honors performances on television. This year, they have chosen to recognize something old (The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family) as well as something new (The Crown, Stranger Things, Westworld) and a total of four individual performances from the major networks. Those four are Anthony Anderson (Blackish), Ty Burrell (Modern Family) and Felicity Huffman (American Crime) who appeared in ABC shows and Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us) from NBC. Everybody else can be found in shows aired on HBO, Netflix, Amazon, FX, USA Network or Showtime. And mostly Netflix.

Counting all the nominations (including ensembles and stunts), Netflix leads the pack with 17, followed by HBO with 13, ABC with 5, FX with 3, and Amazon, AMC, CBS, PBS, NBC, Showtime and USA with one nomination each.

Actor Sterling K. Brown is nominated both for his series work on This Is Us and the People v. O.J. miniseries, meaning he has more by himself than all the networks in the singleton category. In addition to her nomination for Grace and Frankie, Lily Tomlin has been chosen to receive SAG's lifetime achievement award.

Here's the complete list of nominations for Screen Actors Guild television awards:

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Modern Family
Orange Is the New Black

The Crown (Netflix)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Westworld (HBO)

Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)

Anthony Anderson, Blackish (ABC)
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Amazon)

Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things (Netflix)
Claire Foy, The Crown (Netflix)
Thandie Newton, Westworld (HBO)
Winona Ryder, Stranger Things (Netflix)
Robin Wright, House of Cards (Netflix)

Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (NBC)
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO)
John Lithgow, The Crown (Netflix)
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot (USA)
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Netflix)

Bryce Dallas Howard, Black Mirror (Netflix)
Felicity Huffman, American Crime (ABC)
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (HBO)
Sarah Paulson, The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Kerry Washington, Confirmation (HBO)

Riz Ahmed, The Night Of (HBO)
Sterling K. Brown, The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Bryan Cranston, All the Way (HBO)
John Turturro, The Night Of (HBO)
Courtney B. Vance, The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Daredevil (Netflix)
Luke Cage (Netflix)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
Westworld (HBO)

The Screen Actors Guild Awards will air on January 29 on TBS and TNT.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Screen Actors Guild: Film Nominations

If the Screen Actors Guild Awards for movies have an advantage over the splashier Golden Globes it's probably because they are a better Oscar prognosticating tool, at least as far as the acting categories go. That's because the voters -- members of the Screen Actors Guild -- are a much better match for voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences than the elite little (emphasis on little) group known as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

SAG gives far fewer awards, they are a much more serious affair, and they don't actually honor anything as a "best" or "outstanding" film, just the one whose cast they liked best. This year, Oscar frontrunner La La Land isn't nominated in that "Outstanding Cast" category. Instead, a little something called Captain Fantastic (about a father in the wilderness trying to raise six kids by himself) has taken its place. That may be because La La Land is more dependent on its two leads and its ensemble just didn't seem like something SAG voters wanted to single out. Or it may signify that La La Land isn't a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar after all.

Stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were both nominated, however, so it's not like La La Land is being overlooked. Whether or not they win -- which isn't at all a sure thing given that Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington in Fences are expected to be the contenders for Best Actor, while Natalie Portman's Jackie is right in there with Stone at the head of the Best Actress pack -- La La Land will be celebrated plenty this awards season.

Aside from Captain Fantastic and Viggo Mortenssn in it, the biggest surprise to me is that Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant are nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins, which wasn't greeted all that enthusiastically by critics when it arrived. The power of La Streep?

Whichever direction the awards go when they are handed out January 29, the nominees are:

Captain Fantastic
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea

Amy Adams, Arrival
Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion

Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Hacksaw Ridge
Jason Bourne
Nocturnal Animals

Look for the Screen Actors Guild Awards on TBS and TNT on Sunday, January 29.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Golden Globes: The TV Nominations

In addition to their movie awards, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association also honors television programs and performers during their Golden Globes awards. They tend to like British and European actors (See: Catriona Balfe, Claire Foy, Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Rampling, Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman, Hugh Laurie and Lena Headey in the list below...) as well as anything and everything Sarah Jessica Parker. Prestige pieces like The Crown on Netflix are also catnip to Golden Globe nominators.

Last year's comedy winner Mozart in the Jungle is back, but Mr. Robot, the drama champ, didn't make the cut. Likewise, the lead actors who win in comedy categories -- Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle) -- are in the mix again, while their drama counterpoints -- Taraji P. Henson (Empire) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) -- aren't nominated. Apparently the HFPA has decided it doesn't like Henson as much as it did last year, while Hamm's show is all done. Supporting winners Maura Tierney (The Affair) and Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) are MIA, as well. The supporting categories combine dramas, comedies, miniseries and television movies, however, so those lists are always crowded and hard to predict.

And here are your television nominees for the 2017 Golden Globes:

Mozart in the Jungle

The Crown
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things
This Is Us

American Crime
The Dresser
The Night Manager
The Night Of
The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Caitriona Balfe, Outlander
Claire Foy, The Crown
Keri Russell, The Americans
Winona Ryder, Stranger Things
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Billy Bob Thornton, Goliath

Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Sarah Jessica Parker, Divorce
Issa Rae, Insecure
Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin
Tracee Ellis Ross, Blackish

Anthony Anderson, Blackish
Gael Garcia Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Nick Nolte, Graves
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience
Sarah Paulson, The People vs. O.J. Simpson
Charlotte Rampling, London Spy
Kerry Washington, Confirmation

Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Tom Hiddleston, The Night Manager
John Turturro, The Night Of
Courtney B. Vance, The People vs. O.J. Simpson

Olivia Colman, The Night Manager
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
Mandy Moore, This Is Us
Thandie Newton, Westworld

Sterling K. Brown, The People vs. O.J. Simpson
Hugh Laurie, The Night Manager
John Lithgow, The Crown
Christian Slater, Mr. Robot
John Travolta, The People vs. O.J. Simpson

The Golden Globes ceremony will air Sunday, January 8, on NBC, hosted by Jimmy Fallon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Golden Globes: The Movie Nominations

Nominations for the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards were announced last week, with the usual flurry of obvious, wacky and encouraging choices from the nominating members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The Golden Globes made their name by combining awards for film and television programs (instead of just movies or TV by themselves) and by getting their show on the air very early among awards shows. This time, you'll find the early bird Globes ceremony on NBC on January 8th, while Oscar voters are still in the first days of their nomination process.

The fact that the Golden Globes are handed out so quickly continues to fool people into thinking that they are a good indicator for the Academy Awards. But because of the small number of HFPA members and voters, they tend to go out on a lot more limbs than the Oscars, plus HFPA voters seem to like European (and especially British) actors and directors more than some of the other awards. Where Oscar voters gravitate toward dramas and "important" pictures, the Golden Globes offer a separate category for comedy and musical films as well as their lead performers, meaning those movies get a bit more of the spotlight than they would otherwise. And something like Florence Foster Jenkins may get some love from the HFPA but end up largely ignored by Oscar. No matter. Whether they're revelatory or just plain silly, the Golden Globes are fun to discuss.

Here's the list of nominations on the film side of the Golden Globes equation:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea

20th Century Women
La La Land
Florence Foster Jenkins
Sing Street

Amy Adams, Arrival
Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Lily Collins, Rules Don’t Apply
Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Jonah Hill, War Dogs
Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Simon Helberg, Florence Foster Jenkins
Dev Patel, Lion
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight 
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Damienl Chazelle, La La Land
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini

Divines (France)
Elle (France)
Neruda (Chile)
The Salesman (Iran/France)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight
Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival
Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch, Hidden Figures

"Can’t Stop the Feeling," Trolls
"City of Stars," La La Land
"Faith," Sing
"Gold," Gold
"How Far I’ll Go," Moana

The Golden Globes ceremony will be broadcast live at 8 pm Eastern/7 Central on January 8th on NBC with Jimmy Fallon as host.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

See ALLEGIANCE Tonight -- One Night Only -- in Cinemas Nationwide

Tonight's the night for the Broadway musical Allegiance on the big screen. For one night only, Fathom Events is bringing Allegiance, which starred Telly Leung (Rent, Glee, Pacific Overtures), Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) and George Takei in its Broadway production, to cinemas nationwide, including Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria, Savoy 16 south of Urbana, and Springfield 12 in Springfield. Allegiance plays at 7:30 pm tonight in all three of those theaters. Click here for ticket information.

Allegiance's story was very personal for Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on the original Star Trek. Like the characters in the show, Takei was forced to live in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during a shameful chapter in American history after Pearl Harbor. With songs and scenes, Allegiance addresses how the prisoners (because, let's face it, the "relocation" or "internment" camps were really prisons under a nicer name) were ripped from their homes and jobs -- some from their families -- to live in spartan conditions without medical care or contact with the outside world. No trials, no due process, just a lot of American citizens punished and isolated based on their race.

George Takei was born in Los Angeles and he was only a boy when he and his family were sent to live in a horse stable converted to house people in Los Angeles, an internment camp in Arkansas and finally another camp back in California. In Allegiance, the members of the Kimura family are forced to leave their California farm, which is sold off for pennies without their consent, and carted off to a camp in Wyoming for the duration of World War II.

In addition to Leung, Salonga and Takei, the musical's cast included Michael K. Lee, Christopheren Nomura, Katie Rose Clarke and Greg Watanabe. It was directed by Stafford Arima and choreographed by Andrew Palermo. Jay Kuo wrote the music and lyrics, while Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione collaborated on the book.

Monday, December 12, 2016

See the BRIGHT STAR Reunion Concert Tonight on Theater Mania

Although the Broadway musical Bright Star earned mostly positive reviews and was nominated for five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards, winning one for its music, along with winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, it had to compete with Hamilton mania. When all was said and done, Bright Star closed last June after 109 performances.

Creators Steve Martin and Edie Brickell weren't quite ready to say goodbye to their show, however, scheduling a reunion concert for the original cast at New York City's Town Hall tonight. Martin and Brickell will also perform as part of this event, and they'll be on hand for a post-show Q & A. The concert is sold out, which is bad news for those who didn't get tickets and want to see it in person, but Theater Mania has come through for those of us willing to experience Bright Star on our computers.

All you have to do is go to the Theater Mania website tonight at 7:30 pm Eastern/6:30 pm Central time to see a livestream of the reunion concert.

So what is Bright Star? "Directed by Tony winner Walter Bobbie and inspired by a real event, this 'downright wonderful' (Newsday) original musical tells a sweeping tale of love and redemption set against the rich backdrop of the American South in the 1920s and '40s. 'Carmen Cusack is a revelation' (Chicago Tribune) as literary editor Alice Murphy, whose relationship with a young soldier just home from World War II awakens her longing for the child she once lost. Haunted by their unique connection, Alice sets out on a journey to understand her past — and what she finds has the power to transform both of their lives."

If you saw Carmen Cusack as Dot in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's Sunday in the Park with George a few years ago, you already know that she has a beautiful voice. The score for Bright Star is quite different from George, using bluegrass and banjo and a lot of downhome licks to fill out its story, but Cusack inhabits and illuminates the role and the songs just as well as she did Elphaba in Wicked or Nellie in South Pacific or any other role she's played. For Cusack alone, the Bright Star concert is worth seeing tonight.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Classic Holiday Movies and Where to Find Them This Year

I tend to watch Christmas in Connecticut (the 1945 version) a few times every year around this time. Barbara Stanwyck is irresistible as a popular magazine writer who pretends to be an expert on everything domestic when she hasn't a clue how to keep a house, with Dennis Morgan as the handsome military man who dreams of a homey holiday dinner at her place. To accommodate the war hero, Babs will have to borrow a home in Connecticut, complete with husband and baby, and find a talent for flapjack flipping. "Cuddles" Sakall steps in as a friend who happens to run a restaurant, while Sydney Greenstreet is her demanding boss. This year, TCM will air Christmas in Connecticut Sunday the 11th at 1 pm Central time, at 9 pm on December 15, and at 7 pm on December 24.

Another romantic comedy I can't do without is The Shop Around the Corner, the sweet, sentimental movie about two shop clerks at a Budapest parfumerie who think they hate each other when they're really in love as pen pals. Like Christmas in Connecticut, The Shop Around the Corner is part of TCM's Christmas Classics lineup, airing December 15 at 7 pm and December 24 at 3:15 pm.

My third must-see rom com is Holiday, the 1938 Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn charmer where she's a rich girl and he's a self-made man who thinks he's in love with her snooty sister. Unfortunately, Holiday isn't showing up anywhere that I can find it between now and December 31. Not to worry: I have it on DVD because I really, really love this movie and I don't want to spend New Year's Eve without hearing "Happy New Year, Johnny," in Katharine Hepburn's voice. Still... Somebody at some network needs to get cracking and find a slot for Holiday.

One of my other favorite Christmas movies is Elf, a Will Ferrell vehicle from 2003 that casts him as a full-sized human accidentally raised as an elf at the North Pole. When he sets out to find his real father in New York, things get funny. And sweet. And charming. With Bob Newhart and Ed Asner in supporting roles, Elf can't go wrong. The newly dubbed Freeform network is offering Elf on December 12, 13, 18 and 19. The times are a little wacky (8, 6, 8:50, 5:50) so check your local listings to be sure you know when it starts. Or you can save your Elf for the big screen, since the Normal Theater will screen this holiday classic on Sunday the 11th at 7 pm.

There are, of course, a million zillion different versions of A Christmas Carol running around out there. The one with the Muppets will be on HBO at 5:40 am on December 16, while the 1938 black-and-white version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge airs on TCM at 8 am on December 18. TCM is saving the 1951 Alastair Sim Christmas Carol that has become the standard from endless TV reruns until December 22 at 10:30 pm, while it will offer Albert Finney's musical Scrooge at 7 pm on December 18 and then again at 9:30 am the day before Christmas. If George C. Scott's A Christmas Carol is more your style, Scott will be humbugging on AMC at 7 pm Central on the 17th and then again at noon on the 18th. The Muppets Christmas Carol and the Reginald Owen Carol are also part of the Normal Theater's holiday schedule, with the Muppets on December 17 at 1 pm and Reginald on Tuesday December 20 at 7 pm.

White Christmas isn't among my own faves, but it and It's a Wonderful Life certainly seem to sit at the top of everybody's else lists. Bing & Co. will be  extolling the virtues of snow snow snow on December 14, 16, 18, 22 and 24 at the Normal Theater, or at 9:30 pm on the 17th on the AMC channel, if you'd like to watch in your jammies in your own living room. Jimmy Stewart will illustrate all the reasons to live in It's a Wonderful Life at the Normal Theater on December 15, 17, 21 and 23, or on the USA network on the 10th (7 pm), 11th (8 am) and 16th (7 pm). All of these Normal Theater choices start at 7 pm.

A note about times: I tried to be careful and put everything in Central time, but it is a good idea to double-check what's what for you if you really don't want to miss one of your own faves.

Along with Holiday, I don't see Holiday Inn, Scrooged or the 1947 original Miracle on 34th Street* anywhere on the dial throughout the rest of December, although Scrooged and the Richard Attenborough remake of 34th Street are available on Netflix and Amazon can always hook you up with the others if you really need a copy or an instant view. I'm just happy I have copies of my own so I won't be left out in the cold. Cary and Kate will do acrobatics, Fred will dance with firecrackers, Bill Murray will get smacked with a toaster and little Natalie Wood will believe in Santa Claus at my house, anyway.

* I did see Miracle on 34th Street on demand on HBO, so it is out there!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like December

Yes, I'm more than a day late and more than a dollar short with my December listings. I do apologize. But time's a-wasting so we'd better get on with the show. 

It's a Wonderful Life, a Live Radio Play opened December 2, but performances continue tonight, tomorrow and Friday night at Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts. Check out this ISU press release for all the details.

The Normal Theater has pretty much a whole month of holiday movie programming coming up, including The Santa Clause tomorrow, Elf on Friday and Sunday, and Remember the Night, White Chrismas, It's a Wonderful Life, Edward Scissorhands, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and the 1938 Christmas Carol, all before Christmas day. To check out what's when and all the other important details, you can visit the Normal Theater's December calendar.

Champaign's Parkland College will perform A Charlie Brown Christmas live and on stage through December 11. Remaining performances are Friday December 9 and Saturday December 10 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday the 10th and 11th at 3 pm. This stage version of the classic TV program includes, "joyful music and a meet and greet with the Peanuts characters for the kids."

The Normal pop-up theater known as Sticky is back Friday night at Firehouse Pizza and Pub for their sweet and sticky holiday event. You are invited to "settle in under the twinkling lights to be entertained by six ten-minute plays that are nothing short of jolly." Sticky organizers would like you to keep in mind that this is considered an all-ages event, but some plays may contain adult themes and mature language. Remember: It's set at a bar, which by definition (or at least by law) includes adult activities. In fact, I have never seen a Sticky without adult themes and mature language. Admission is $7 at the door and Karen Bridges will be the opening musical act. The December Sticky cast will include founders Connie Blick and J. Michael Grey as well as Lori Cook Baird, John Bowen, Kyle Fitzgerald, Devon Lovell, Wes Melton, Nick McBurney, Michelle Woody and Kristi Zimmerman-Weiher.

Community Players will offer a free holiday movie -- Home Alone -- to the first 270 people in the door on Saturday, December 10th. Doors open at 5:30 pm, with the movie starting at 6. They are promising holiday cookies and other refreshments and even some prizes. You're encouraged to deck out in holiday gear, too. If you don't have any other use for that garish Christmas sweater with Santa and a load of reindeer, this may just be the place to go.

Fathom Events brings George Takei's Allegiance, the Broadway musical inspired by real events in the United States during World War II, to screens nationwide next week. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese-American families like Takei's were taken from their homes, their jobs and their schools and forced to live in "relocation camps" simply because their ancestry was Japanese. This blot on our national history needs to be remembered, especially since politicians are once again suggesting that immigrants or children of immigrants cannot be trusted because of where they came from or what religion they practice. You'll find details about the show here, and movie theaters where it's playing here. Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria, Savoy 16 south of Champaign, and Springfield 10 in Springfield are your closest options if you're in Bloomington-Normal. All three of those theaters are showing Allegiance at 7:30 pm on December 13. Click the links under the names of the theaters to get tickets.

Over in Urbana, the Station Theater's December show, Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, runs through December 17. "A one-person interactive play about depression and the lengths we will go to for those we love," Every Brilliant Thing is directed by Katie Baldwin Prosise and features William Anthony Sebastian Rose II as the one man in the one-man show on even dates like the 8th and the 10th and Jason Dockins on odd dates like the 9th and the 11th. Click here for more information on Every Brilliant Thing at the Station or here to reserve tickets.

And if you want to keep ahead of awards season, highly touted movies like Moonlight, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Loving and Arrival are already in theaters or will be soon. Moonlight and Arrival are in area theaters now, with Loving in Champaign at the Art Theater Co-op and Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight both listed under the "coming soon" tab at the Art. La La Land is scheduled to open everywhere on December 16. So far, the Independent Spirit and Critics Choice Awards have announced their nominations if you want to see which films emerge as the front-runners. The Critics Choice organization will give out its awards on December 11 with a ceremony televised on A&E at 7 pm Central time, the Golden Globes will announce their (frequently flaky) nominations on December 12 at 7 am our time, and the Screen Actors Guild will announce its (less flaky) nominations December 14.

More to come as more nominations and awards come in and I get a handle on who's showing what on TV in terms of my favorite holiday films.