Saturday, December 30, 2017

Normal Theater Ends 2017 and Begins 2018 with BOMBSHELL and Hedy Lamarr

The Normal Theater has chosen to close out 2017 and open 2018 with three movies that trace the career of one of the most beautiful women ever to grace a Hollywood screen. Hedy Lamarr's luminous beauty jumps off the screen in both Ziegfeld Girl, a potboiler from 1941 with Judy Garland and Lana Turner alongside Lamarr as women chasing rainbows and putting their virtue on the line to make it in show biz, and The Conspirators, a 1944 spy thriller starring Paul Henreid and Lamarr against a backdrop of Nazis and the Resistance in Lisbon during World War II.  

Ziegfeld Girl played Thursday night at the Normal Theater and it's repeated this afternoon at 1 pm, while The Conspirators is up January 4th and 6th at 7pm.

If you need proof that Lamarr was gorgeous, you'll find it in either of those films as well as any number of images scattered across the internet. But there was a lot more to Hedy Lamarr than her stunning looks, and that's what a documentary called Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is all about.

It's hard to be taken seriously as an inventor when you look like Hedy Lamarr, Vienna-born actress and Hollywood star. In fact, the story goes that when Lamarr tried to join the National Inventors Council to help the American effort in World War II, she was basically patted on the head and told she should stick to being pretty and selling war bonds and leave important war stuff to the big boys.

But that didn't stop her. And she and a "bad boy" pianist named George Antheil came up with something called "frequency hopping spread spectrum" broadcasting that scholars have deemed the forerunner to current GPS, Bluetooth and Wifi technology. Hedy called it "tinkering." We call it "genius." Whatever you call it, it meant that Hedy Lamarr was a pioneer -- an unsung, unwanted pioneer -- on the electronic frontier.

Lamarr's off-screen brilliance -- as well as the intriguing fact that nobody really paid any attention to it -- is the premise of Bombshell, with director /writer Alexandra Dean striving to paint a more complete picture of this enigmatic, complex "icon, immigrant, inventor." And all-around amazing woman.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is on screen at the Normal Theater tonight at 7 pm, with repeat showings on January 5 and 7 at 7 pm.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Grable, Hutton, Kelly, Astaire and Powell: TCM Goes Musical All Night Long

On this, the last Thursday of December 2017, Turner Classic Movies offers one last selection of "Great American Songbook" films. Or, in other words, musicals! Musicals to brighten your evening and make you forget just how horribilis this annus has been. It's hard to be grumpy when people are singing and dancing all over your TV.  Got no mansion, got no yacht... Still I'm happy with what I got...

The marquee movie airing at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central is The Dolly Sisters, the 1945 pseudo-bio-pic from 20th Century Fox, starring Betty Grable and June Haver as a highly fictionalized version of Jenny and Rosie Dolly, Hungarian-American twin sisters who were major stars in the U.S. and Europe in the early 20th century. John Payne plays Harry Fox, Jenny Dolly's dancer husband, but it's S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall who steals the show every time he appears as the adorable but irresponsible Uncle Latsie. Standards that qualify for the Great American Songbook like "Carolina in the Morning" and "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" are performed in the movie.

After the Dolly Sisters take a bow, Miss Annie Oakley is up in Annie Get Your Gun, the big, boffo 1950 Hollywood version of Irving Berlin's stage musical. With "more bounce per ounce" Betty Hutton as Annie instead of Broadway's Ethel Merman, this technicolor extravaganza definitely has energy to burn. Howard Keel is handsome and tuneful as Annie's husband and shooting rival, Frank Butler, and Berlin's dandy score, stuffed with hits like "There's No Business Like Show Business," "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun" and "Anything You Can Do" can't be beat. Annie Get Your Gun airs at 9:15 pm Central time tonight on TCM.

The Bronx is up and the Battery's down when Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin dance all over Manhattan in On the Town, the 1949 film musical based on the Broadway show with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Kelly, Sinatra and Munshin play sailors looking for fun and romance during their 24 hours of leave, with Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller providing the romance part. "New York, New York" is the song you'll know from this one, which begins tonight at 11:15 pm Central time.

The Band Wagon, often listed as one of the best movies ever made about theater, follows at 1 am Central time. Fred Astaire plays Tony Hunter, a star with his best years behind him, cast in a new Broadway show with a much younger, more serious leading lady, played by Cyd Charisse, with Jack Buchanan as an artiste of a director who plagues them with strange ideas. Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant are Lily and Les Marton, stand-ins for Comden and Green, who got story credit for the film. The soundtrack is first-class, with gems from Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz like "That's Entertainment," "A Shine on Your Shoes" and "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan." This 1953 Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli, took its name from a 1931 Broadway revue with a Dietz/Schwartz score that starred Fred and Adele Astaire. Other than borrowing a few songs like "New Sun in the Sky," "I Love Louisa" and "Dancing in the Dark," the film Band Wagon is a new cinematic creation.

After a short called MGM Jubilee Overture, TCM's Great American Songbook ends in the wee hours of morning with Broadway Melody of 1936, scheduled to begin at 3:30 am Central time. The plot is convoluted, circling around Eleanor Powell as a dancer who wants to be in Robert Taylor's new show, but they were sweethearts in the past and he doesn't want her anywhere near Broadway, so she falls in with a crazy scheme concocted by meanie show biz columnist Jack Benny but hijacked by Taylor's snappy secretary Una Merkel, who likes Powell. To get her chance, Powell pretends to be a made-up French star visiting New York, complete with terrible accent. It's all pretty crazy, but it's backed up by music like "You Are My Lucky Star," "I've Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'" and "Broadway Rhythm," as performed by the likes of Buddy and Vilma Ebsen, Frances Langford, June Knight and, of course, Eleanor Powell.

When Broadway Melody of 1936 is over, TCM moves on to The Beast with Five Fingers and other decidedly non-musical fare. As we celebrate the death of net neutrality and skyrocketing cable bills, we'll have to content ourselves with these last moments of 2017. Got no diamonds, got no pearls...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Kennedy Center Honors Tonight on CBS

Tonight's the night to see the annual broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors. It's always a good show, as honorees from various walks of the entertainment business are celebrated through clips, performances and laudatory speeches from their peers, who are also show biz greats.

This year's honorees are actress, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade; "singer-songwriter, actress, philanthropist, author, and overall hyphenate" -- as well as seven-time Grammy Award winner and the subject of a Broadway musical -- Gloria Estefan; rapper L L Cool J, who also stars in NCIS: Los Angeles, hosts and produces the TV show Lip Sync Battle, and has his own radio station in the works; TV legend Norman Lear, probably best-known for developing and writing hugely influential series like All in the Family, Good Times, One Day at a Time and Sanford and Son, but he's also produced movies, including The Princess Bride; and music icon Lionel Richie, who has written and performed his way to over 100 million albums sold as well as an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and four Grammy Awards, with songs like "Endless Love," "Hello," "Say You, Say Me" and "We Are the World" on his glittery resume.

Left to right in the image below, you'll find Richie, Lear, de Lavallade, LL Cool J and Estefan. To read more about these megastars and their accomplishments, click here.

If you'd like to check out a video preview of tonight's event, click here. You can expect to see artists like Luke Bryan, Misty Copeland, Becky G, Chaka Khan, Queen Latifah, Rob Reiner, Busta Rhymes, Meryl Streep and Stevie Wonder on hand to offer tributes.

Kennedy Center Honors air tonight, December 26, at 9 pm Eastern and 8 pm Central Time, on CBS.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Peter Capaldi's Last DOCTOR WHO in Movie Theaters Dec 27 and 28

Peter Capaldi has brought a different energy to Doctor Who, that's for sure. He will go out (or regenerate) in style in Doctor Who: "Twice Upon a Time," a special Who movie screened in theaters nationwide next week. It's also the end of the Who road for Stephen Moffat, who has been executive producer and head writer since 2008. He wrote this episode.

As a send-off for both Capaldi and Moffat, "Twice Upon a Time" has earned a big-screen splash. Here's the official tagline: "The epic finale to the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who, 'Twice Upon a Time,' is coming to cinemas for only one night, featuring the return of Pearl Mackie and special guests Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and David Bradley (Filch in the Harry Potter movies)."

It's actually in cinemas two nights -- December 27 and 28 -- here in Bloomington, but if you can't wait for the big screen treatment or you want to see it more than once, it will be screened on television on Christmas Day. In the UK, it airs at 5:30 pm, while in the United States, it's scheduled for 8 and 11:40 pm Central time on BBC America.

As you can tell from the poster, the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, will have to match wits with the very first Doctor, now played by David Bradley. It's fitting to put Bradley in the role since he played William Hartnell, who really was the first Doctor, in a 2013 TV movie about the beginnings of the Who universe.

We are promised tears, joy and a moving farewell in this meeting of alpha and omega doctors, neither of whom wants to say goodbye, set against a World War I story about two soldiers on opposite sides. If you'd like some a few hints or even minor spoilers, you can click under those links. And the trailer, as well as the cast list and more info about the plot, are available here and here.

In Bloomington, Doctor Who: "Twice Upon a Time" will play at 7 pm on December 27 and 28 at the Ovation Cinema Grill and the Bloomington Galaxy Cine 14. You can buy tickets ahead at the Fathom Events site if you're so inclined.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What I'm Reading: AS YOU WISH

Like many people out there, I'd read and loved The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. Its subtitle says it's "S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure,"which is the framing device Goldman used to make his novel that much more off-kilter.

The story Goldman told, with the beautiful Princess Buttercup and her dashing Man in Black swashbuckling their way through a fire swamp, pirates, giants, swordsmen, evildoers and Rodents of Unusual Size, was hard to define -- Was it children's adventure? Satire? Fantasy? Romance? -- but it found an audience with the right slightly snarky frame of mind to embrace it. But that was as far as it went for a long time. The Princess Bride script became famous as, year after year, it landed on lists of the best undeveloped properties in Hollywood.

I remember discussing it with the friend who gave me a copy of The Princess Bride. My half of the conversation was something like, "I love this book. I love this book. I want a movie! How can it not get picked up?" But there it sat, until Rob Reiner decided he wanted to direct a movie of The Princess Bride. With all the challenges inherent in the material, it got made and released in 1987. And it was beautiful.

The Princess Bride, the movie, did OK at the box office, nothing major. But after it came and went in movie theaters, The Princess Bride came back to life, not unlike Westley in the hands of Miracle Max. Suddenly it had cult status. It was revived in film festivals, it made lists of the best movies ever, and fans held conventions where they could dress up as their favorite characters and run around telling people, "Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!"

Cary Elwes has a unique perspective on The Princess Bride. He was immersed in it. A young actor with only a few credits when he was cast as Westley, the boy who is smitten with Princess Buttercup and will strive to do whatever she asks, he approached it with awe and excitement, as well as a sense of joy, that he got to work on this particular film with these particular people. As he says in As You Wish, the book he's written about his behind-the-scenes (actually inside-the-scenes) experience, "I think we all knew knew we were part of something special. Did we think the movie would become an enduring pop-culture phenomenon? Of course not. But did we feel involved in something truly unique? Definitely. For myself I just felt enormously grateful to be there. To be involved in a project with so many gifted people, not to mention getting to be in a film written by the legendary William Goldman an directed by the remarkable Rob Reiner. Life is good, I thought."

Elwes talks at length about how much he enjoyed each of his colleagues, coming back to his appreciation for Reiner again and again, with lovely stories about Reiner and Goldman as well Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Fred Savage, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright, and the experts who taught them fencing as well as a diminutive stuntman who played a Rodent of Unusual Size. Quotes from most of them are scattered throughout the book.

Elwes' tone is congenial and charming throughout, even when things get sticky, like his experience sitting immobile and covered in plaster of Paris with straws up his nose to get a mold for his pirate mask, the laborious process of learning to fence like an expert for the Greatest Swordfight in Modern History, or having to rescue his leading lady after she's been set on fire and dropped into a pit of quicksand. Elwes himself comes off just as "fearless and elegant, romantic and brave" as the character he's playing. Well done, Cary.

As You Wish takes the reader past the filming of The Princess Bride into its initial lukewarm reception at the box office and through its rebirth, all the way to the 25th reunion of the cast when it was screened at Lincoln Center, with love flowing from the crowd of fans shouting along to all the lines. It's the happy ending you wish for all for favorites, and not unlike the ending in the movie.

As You Wish is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online, and there is still just enough time to get it for Christmas for The Princess Bride lovers on your list.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


If you're looking for a last-minute holiday gift for someone with a theatrical bent, The Performing Set: The Broadway Designs of William and Jean Eckert, written by Andrew B. Harris, is a perfect choice. If Santa leaves you with cash or a bookstore gift card, you might consider putting a copy of The Performing Set under your own tree.

Broadway fans have a tendency to concentrate on shows and performers, sometimes famous composers or playwrights, as they collect cast albums and memorabilia to celebrate their favorites. But we don't hear as much about the designers. And that's where The Performing Set comes in. It tells the story of how we got to the place where technical elements stepped away from just being backdrops to take an active role in the experience, where scenery can look like fine art, where pieces slide, swoop, reconfigure and flow with the same rhythm as the music, where what's around the actors communicates the theme and mood of the piece rather than merely framing it.

I admit I'd never heard of William and Jean Eckart before The Performing Set, even though they designed the scenery for seminal shows like The Golden Apple, Anyone Can Whistle, Hallelujah, Baby! and Mame, scenery and lights for Li'l Abner and She Loves Me; scenery and costumes for Damn Yankees; and scenery, lights and costumes for Once Upon a Mattress and Fiorello!

They also produced the original Broadway production of Mattress and Jean Eckart personally sought out Carol Burnett for the lead. And they did scenic, costume and lighting design for a 1974 revival of Of Mice and Men starring James Earl Jones, designed the 1957 live TV Cinderella with Julie Andrews and the 1968 movie The Night They Raided Minsky's, did the costumes for The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees on film, and got a credit for the stage production scenery used in the Lil' Abner movie. They ended their careers in academia when Broadway went a different way in the Age of Aquarius, influencing new generations of designers at Southern Methodist University and in regional and summer theaters.

The Performing Set details all their ups and downs, how they met and got into theatrical design in the first place, and how their emphasis on using every design element to tell the story changed the process for everyone. From Abner's line of rickety cabins connected by clotheslines to Lola's famous "Whatever Lola Wants" peel-off capri pants to the vertical set they came up with to fit inside the postage-stamp-sized studio where Cinderella played, the Eckarts were evolving and changing how theater looked and moved. They didn't simply fall into the right place at the right time, but worked and innovated to come up with the right ideas to express who they were and what they envisioned theater could be in that place and time.

As author Andrew B. Harris concludes, "With wit and style, they had helped to shape the musicals that they had worked on and to give them a lightness and fluidity that allowed them to flow from one scene to another with a dreamlike rapidity. They had found a way to substitute  imagination for literalism and to translate naturalism into representational language that both stimulated and challenged audiences."

One strength of The Performing Set lies in its copious illustrations and photos, giving a clear look at their evolving style and artistic sensibilities. The ground plans for the complicated revolves and stairs in She Loves Me and Mame are fascinating, while some of the art in the book is worth framing on its own. I especially liked the the modernistic costume sketch Jean Eckart did for her thesis project on Peer Gynt, a dandy Glamour magazine fashion ad with stylish ladies in black suits against red set pieces, a gorgeous translucent backdrop designed for The Golden Apple, and a series of fetching costume sketches with fairytale whimsy created for Cinderella and Once Upon a Mattress. If I didn't mind hacking my book apart, I really would take out the one with Cinderella carrying packages and frame it.

Harris has helpfully included a chronology of the Eckarts' efforts from 1951 with The Little Screwball at the Westport County Playhouse in Connecticut to Bill Eckart's solo effort on a production of Macbeth he didn't live to see in 2000. Each entry has a picture, too, just to give us a hint of what the design was. That's pretty amazing, to consider five decades of artistic expression played out across 18 pages.

The Performing Set is a pretty book, but it's more than just pretty. Its story fills in the backstage blanks on how the Broadway of today came to be.

The book was published in 2016 and is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, December 15, 2017

BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical Returns to Chicago on a High Note

If you ask me to pick album that set the soundtrack for my life, it has to be Tapestry, Carole King's 1971 mega-hit. Its intimate ballads and emotional honesty went straight to my 14-year-old heart. That's an impressionable age when it comes to music, and Tapestry just happened to arrive at the perfect time, at the very moment I began to look for music that spoke to me personally. My copy of the album was warped on "I Feel the Earth Move," and when I played it every day after school on my parents' massive stereo cabinet, I assumed that the skips and bumps in that song were built into everyone's vinyl for that perfect "earth-moving" experience. I don't know how long it took to sort that out.

Even though I had every lyric memorized before I hit 15, I didn't know much about Carole King herself. She didn't do concerts, she didn't show up in teen magazines, and I never really thought about where she came from or how she got to the Tapestry place.

That's the story in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which takes an episodic journey from King's teen years in Brooklyn, when she was still pony-tailed Carol Klein, through romance and marriage, two kids, the heartbreak of a faithless husband who just happened to be her lyricist, rivalry and friendship with another song-writing duo, and finally, triumph as a singer-songwriter on her own with Tapestry. If it's a fascinating story, it's also not the easiest to frame on stage. There are limitations to this kind of jukebox storytelling, even when the songs stringing it together are as as amazing as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Up on the Roof," "The Locomotion," "One Fine Day," "You've Got a Friend," "Natural Woman," and the warm, sad breakup manifesto, "It's Too Late."

Douglas McGrath, who wrote the book for Beautiful, uses every one of those songs to propel King's biography, adding in a subplot for Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, who were working on pieces like "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" at the same time and in the same building King worked with her husband, Gerry Goffin. Since they were all toiling in Don Kirshner's song factory on Broadway, McGrath uses Mann and Weil and the competition for hits to kindle some dramatic tension. I'd have preferred sticking with Carole and Goffin without the side trips into Mann/Weil territory, but then again, I'm very, very partial to King's songs.

With or without Mann and Weil, Beautiful's success depends on the warmth and charisma of its leading lady to pull us through. On Broadway, Chicagoan Jessie Mueller projected just the right mixture of optimism and awkwardness to sell her Carole, winning the Tony as Best Actress in a Musical. That's a tough act to follow, but Sarah Bockel, the Illinois Wesleyan School of Theatre Arts alum who is at the piano on the second national tour, is also something special. She finds her own voice and her own version of Carole King, resulting in a compelling, authentic performance that channels King's heartfelt vocals and phrasing while still interpreting the songs her own way. She's terrific.

Andrew Brewer does fine work as Goffin, with excellent support from Sarah Goeke and Jacob Heimer as Weil and Mann and James Clow as Don Kirshner. The performers who keep stepping up as musical groups of the times, like the Shirelles and the Drifters, also deserve special mention. Josh A. Dawson, Jay McKenzie, Avery Smith, Kristopher Stanley Ward, McKynleigh Alden Abraham, Traci Elaine Lee, Marla Louissaint, Alexis Tidwell -- they're all terrific at recapturing a specific look and sound.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical continues at Chicago's Cadillac Palace through January 28, 2018.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

And the Nominations Go To...

It's the time of year for early bird awarders like the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild to release their nominations, beginning the speculation on who (and what) among their choices will score Oscar nominations down the road. Emmy nominations, too, but those come so much later in the year that it's really all about the movies at this point. Still, both SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the tiny group behind the Golden Globes) do celebrate television shows and performers, and that mix of TV and the movies is what sets them apart.

Without further ado, here are the Screen Actors Guild nominations. They're less frivolous and more indicative of later awards since their voters are the union of actors who will be nominating for those awards, too. First up, the film side of the aisle:

Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Male Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird 

Male Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Cast in a Motion Picture
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
Baby Driver
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

And in television categories:

Female Actor in a Drama Series
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Claire Foy, The Crown
Laura Linney, Ozark
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Male Actor in a Drama Series
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black
Alison Brie, Glow
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
William H. Macy, Shameless
Marc Maron, Glow

Female Actor in a TV Movie or Limited Series
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies

Male Actor in a TV Movie or Limited Series
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Lying Detective
Jeff Daniels, Godless
Robert DeNiro, The Wizard of Lies
Geoffrey Rush, Genius
Alexander Skarsgård, Big Little Lies

Ensemble in a Drama Series
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid's Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us

Ensemble in a Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Orange Is the New Black

Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things
The Walking Dead

Life Achievement Award
Morgan Freeman

The 2018 SAG Awards will feature an all-female list of presenters, with Kristen Bell as host of the ceremony. Look for the SAG Awards on January 21, 2018, at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central time, airing live on both TNT and TBS.

And now for the always freewheeling Golden Globe nominations:

Drama Motion Picture
Call Me by Your Name
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Musical or Comedy Motion Picture
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Actress in a Drama Motion Picture
Jessica Chastain, Molly's Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Actor in a Drama Motion Picture
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks, The Post
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Actress in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker

Actor in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Director of a Motion Picture
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Ridley Scott, All The Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Best Screenplay of a Motion Picture
The Shape of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Molly's Game

Foreign Language Motion Picture
A Fantastic Woman
First They Killed My Father
In the Fade
The Square

Animated Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

Original Song
"Home" from Ferdinand
"Mighty River" from Mudbound
"Remember Me" from Coco
"The Star" from The Star
"This is Me" from The Greatest Showman

Original Score
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And for television:

Drama TV series
The Crown
Game of Thrones
The Handmaid's Tale
Stranger Things
This Is Us

Actress in a Drama TV series
Caitriona Balfe, Outlander
Claire Foy, The Crown
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce
Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale

Actor in a Drama TV Series
Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This is Us
Freddie Highmore, The Good Doctor
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan

Musical or Comedy TV series
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Master of None
Will & Grace

Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV series
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Alison Brie, Glow
Issa Rae, Insecure
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Frankie Shaw, SMILF

Actor in a Musical or Comedy TV series
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Kevin Bacon, I Love Dick
William H. Macy, Shameless
Eric McCormack, Will and Grace

Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Big Little Lies
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Sinner
Top of the Lake: China Girl

Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Jessica Biel, The Sinner
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies

Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Robert De Niro, The Wizard of Lies
Jude Law, The Young Pope
Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Geoffrey Rush, Genius

Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid's Tale
Chrissy Metz, This is Us
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Lies
Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies

Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Alfred Molina, Feud
Alexander Skarsgard, Big Little Lies
 David Thewlis, Fargo
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Christian Slater, Mr. Robot

Seth Myers will host the Golden Globes ceremony on January 7, 2018, at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central on NBC.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Favorite Movie! HOLIDAY Tonight and Saturday at the Normal Theater

When the Normal Theater asked Bloomington-Normal folks what holiday movies they might like to see, I piped up immediately with Holiday, the 1938 film based on a Philip Barry play, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. I was definitely filled with holiday spirit when I saw that the Normal Theater had heard me and actually scheduled my beloved Holiday for two showings. It will be screened tonight at 7 pm and also Saturday the 16th at 1 pm. You can do one or both, but you can't go wrong as long as you get to see Holiday on the big screen.

You see, Holiday is one of my favorite movies of all time. Maybe THE favorite. Here's what I said about it the last time it came up on my blog:

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.

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 I'll be right there at the Normal Theater, siding with Linda, rooting for Johnny, and sharing all the hijinks and high spirits.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Opening Tonight: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY at the Station Theatre

Last month, The New Yorker called Lauren Gunderson the most popular playwright you've never heard of. With an Steinberg/ATCA Award for I and You, the 2016 Lanford Wilson Award from the Dramatists Guild and the 2016 Otis Gurnsey Award, and nominations for the Susan Smith Blackburn and John Gassner Awards, Gunderson has emerged as a major force in American theater, so major that American Theatre recognized her as the most-produced playwright in the United States this year, ahead of people like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and August Wilson.

A big part of Gunderson's popularity this year is Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, which she co-wrote with her friend Margot Melcon. This look at Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice characters and how they might spend their holidays has struck a chord with theaters looking for a warm and witty option for their December schedules.

Urbana's Station Theatre will open their production of Christmas at Pemberley tonight, with performances running through December 16. As they put it, "As the holidays approach, revisit your favorite Pride and Prejudice characters as they gather at Pemberley, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Middle sister Mary Bennet has come into her own as a confident woman full of curiosity and wit. But will her story end happily ever after? A true holiday delight, full of wit, warmth, and romance."

Joi Hoffsommer directs this Christmas at Pemberley, with a cast that includes Dominique Allen as Mary Bennet, Tyler Cook as Charles Bingley, Ashton Goodly as Arthur de Bourgh, Jenna Kohn as Lydia Wickham, Misty Martin as Anne de Bourgh, Aaron Miller as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Celia Mueller as Elizabeth Darcy, and Uche Nwansi as Jane Bingley.

You can make a reservation at the Station site or by calling 217-384-4000. Performances begin at 8 pm on weeknights and Saturdays from December 7 to 9 and 13 to 16, with a 3 pm matinee on Sunday the 10th.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


If you shed a tear when Psych took its final bow on the USA Network back in 2014, take heart. It wasn't that final after all.  

Psych stars James Roday and Dulé Hill, along with familiar supporting players Corbin Bernsen (Henry), Maggie Lawson (Juliet), Kirsten Nelson (Chief Vick) and Timothy Omundson (Detective Lassiter) are all back on USA for a Psych movie. We will be clued in on what's happened to Sean, the goofy sleuth pretending to have psychic powers to solve crimes, and his more sensible best friend, Gus, three years after we left them. They're now in San Francisco instead of the familiar San Diego, but the wacky tone and general craziness we came to expect from the original series is firmly in place. Series creator Steve Franks and Roday wrote the script.

In this new chapter of their adventures, we can expect to see those two "ambitious friends -- along with some returning fan-favorite characters -- come together during the holidays after a mystery assailant targets one of their own. A comedic thrill-ride follows, as the wild and unpredictable Psych team pursues the bad guys, justice … and, of course, food!" They'll be joined by the police (Juliet, Lassiter and Vick) and parents (Henry, who used to be a cop) who've always surrounded them, along with guest stars like Zachary Levi, Ralph Macchio and Jimmi Simpson. There is no Cary Elwes, who played Pierre Despereaux, the best frenemy they had, which is a disappointment, but we're told maybe he may appear in future reunion pics. We can only hope.

Cue the pineapples: Psych: The Movie premieres on USA on Thursday, December 7 at 7 pm Central time.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Nutcrackers, Nutcrackers Everywhere!

When Tchaikovsky wrote the music for The Nutcracker ballet, he could never have envisioned that it would become a holiday classic in the United States, with myriad performances in big cities and small towns everywhere. It seems to be especially popular around here. There are too many productions in Central Illinois to hit them all, but here are a few of your options:

The Littlest Nutcracker at the Normal Theater
December 1 at 6 pm, and December 2 at 2 and 6 pm
A local adaptation of Peter Tchaikovsky’s holiday favorite, featuring over 200 local dancers from Uptown Dance. "Take a trip to the Land of the Sweets with Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, onscreen and onstage in the second year of this new annual tradition at the Normal Theater."

Champaign Urbana Ballet at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
December 1 through 10
Performed by the Champaign Urbana Ballet with Tchaikovsky's score performed live by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. "Join Clara, her Nutcracker Prince, and the talented young cast of the Champaign Urbana Ballet on a magical journey to a shimmering land of confectionary fairies, glittering global flair, and Tchaikovsky’s beloved score performed live by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra." Recommended for ages 5 and up. Guests are invited to being new or gently used children's coats, mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, and ear muffs for Krannert Center's clothing drive. There is a special need this year for large and extra-large coats for middle school boys. All collected items will go to the Champaign Unit 4 School District and Urbana School District 116. Donation boxes will be available in the lobby near Intermezzo cafe.

Twin Cities School of Dance at Braden Auditorium
December 1, 2 and 3
The student company from the Bloomington-Normal dance school presents its 36th Annual production of the classic ballet. You can see their poster at the top of this post. For tickets, contact Braden Auditorium at 309-438-5444.

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker/New York City Ballet On-Screen
December 2, 3 and 5 at Bloomington's New Vision Ovation Cinema Grill
December 3 at Wehrenberg Bloomington Galaxy 14
Although many companies use portions of George Balanchine's famous choreography for The Nutcracker, it is still a treat to see the New York City Ballet's iconic production of Balanchine's "stunningly successful achievement." "Experience the wonder of New York City Ballet’s iconic holiday classic on the big screen. In George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker Tchaikovsky’s beloved melodies transport the young and young at heart to a magical world where mischievous mice besiege a battalion of toy soldiers, and an onstage blizzard leads to an enchanted Land of Sweets. Balanchine’s stunning choreography shines amidst awe-inspiring set pieces, ornate costumes, and grand one-of-a-kind visual effects, like the one-ton Christmas tree that grows to an astonishing 40 feet." You can see a video preview here.

USA Ballet Academy Nutcracker at Bloomington Masonic Temple
Tea: December 2 at 3:30 pm at the Vrooman Mansion
Performance: December 10 at 3 pm
The dance academy offers a special tea in addition to their performance. About the tea: "All guests will enjoy a tea party where they dine with the characters, get a sneak peak of the ballet with a mini-performance, listen to the telling of the Nutcracker story, have a sing-a-long, make a craft, have their photo taken with the characters, and leave with a surprise gift. All of the female guests will also receive a tiara and a corsage. It really is a great way to make memories, and the price also includes a ticket for the performance of The Nutcracker on December 10th performed by USA Ballet Youth Ensemble." And about the performance: "Our rendition of the holiday classic is very family friendly and suitable for all ages. Enjoying The Nutcracker is a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit."

Fathom Event: Bolshoi Ballet On-Screen
December 17 at 12: 55 pm
You'll have to drive to Springfield to find a movie theater with this Fathom Event, but it is, after all, the Bolshoi Ballet. "As the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve, Marie’s wooden nutcracker doll comes to life and transforms into a prince! Soon joined by her other toys that have also come to life, Marie and her prince embark on a dreamy unforgettable adventure. A holiday tradition for the whole family, The Nutcracker enchants the Bolshoi stage for two hours of enchantment and magic. Along with Tchaikovsky’s cherished score and some of the Bolshoi’s greatest artists, The Nutcracker remains a treasure not to be missed!" Choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich, with a libretto by Yuri Grigorovich (after E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa).

Chicago Festival Ballet at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts
December 28 at 7:30 pm
Renowned dancer and choreographer Kenneth von Heidecke brings his Chicago Festival Ballet to the BCPA. His Nutcracker promises, "powerful jumps, endless turns and beautiful costumes and sets. Dancing mice, toy soldiers and twirling sugarplums are sure to add magic to your holiday season!"

For more information about any of these events, click the link under the bolded heading.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

LOCAL HERO Celebrates Scotland on TCM

Happy St. Andrew's Day! Not the golf course. This St. Andrew's is a holiday, Scotland's national day. Turner Classic Movies is celebrating St. Andrew's Day by offering a line-up of movies with connections to Scotland, with Wee Geordie, about a Scots boy who competes in the Melbourne Olympics, a comedy directed by Alexander Mackendrick called either High and Dry or The Maggie, something called Cruise of the Zaca, then The Master of Ballantrae, and, of course, Brigadoon, the one everybody thinks of first when they think "Scottish movie."

But the really special movie on the schedule is Local Hero, a lovely little piece from 1983 written and directed by Bill Forsyth. It stars Peter Riegert as an American businessman sent to a small fishing village on the coast of Scotland by his tycoon boss, played by Burt Lancaster. Riegert's character, called Mac, is supposed to be securing land to provide a base for Lancaster's company to drill for oil in the North Sea. Most of the locals are happy to help out, their eyes on the money Mac is offering, but one cranky old gent who lives in a shack presents an obstacle. And, as they say, complications ensue as Mac stays on in Ferness. Eventually the boss flies in to see what the delay is all about, adding to Mac's problems. Denis Lawson, Fulton Mckay and Peter Capaldi are part of the citizenry, as is Jenny Seagrove as a young woman named Marina who may or may not be a mermaid.

That mystery about the mermaid gives you a hint of the movie's off-beat humor and charm. It's not so much about a fish out of water, a brash American at sea in Scotland, but a story about a fairly good guy who discovers that he may not want what he thought he wanted, that there may be things in life he hasn't been paying attention to in his climb to the top.

Local Hero is a terrific movie, small but mighty, not unlike Comfort and Joy, another gem from Bill Forsyth. I don't know what's happened to Forsyth since he stopped making movies somewhere around 1999, but I wish he'd done more. There's nobody like him. And there's nothing like Local Hero. The scenery is gorgeous, Mark Knopfler's score is wonderful, and Forsyth's script and direction bring out the best in Reigert, Lancaster and Lawson.

TCM hasn't made it easy to see -- it's scheduled for 2:45 am Central time -- but you can always set your DVR, right? Local Hero is so worth it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


As awards season begins, Oscar contenders like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri get wider releases to reach bigger audiences. If you've been waiting for this one, it opens tomorrow, November 30, in Bloomington-Normal at the Wehrenberg Cinema, if you want the cushy seat experience, or December 1 at The Art in Champaign, if you prefer a more intimate theater.

It's been getting lots of Oscar buzz, and not just for Frances McDormand's fierce performance as a hard-scrabble mother pushing to find justice for her daughter, who was raped and murdered outside their town. The movie itself, plus Martin McDonagh's screenplay and direction and Sam Rockwell's performance as a racist, messed-up cop, are also showing up on awards shortlists and predictions. So far, Three Billboards has three nominations for Film Independent Spirit Awards -- Best Female Lead for McDormand, Best Supporting Male for Rockwell and Best Screenplay for McDonagh -- with awards at a score of international film festivals and 11 nominations and two wins at the British Independent Film Awards.

You may know McDonagh as a playwright, with major work like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman to his credit, or as a screenwriter and director of films like In Bruges. Violence, meanness, small towns and a streak of humor laced with cruelty show up frequently in his darkly cynical writing. They're certainly a part of Three Billboards, with critics talking about the rage and pain that fuel McDormand's role and the film as a whole.

For, Brian Tallerico calls Three Billboards "one of those truly rare films that feels both profound and grounded; inspirational without ever manipulatively trying to be so. Very few recent movies have made me laugh and cry in equal measure as much as this one. Very few films recently are this good," while Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post notes its timeliness, "when sexism in its most virulent forms has been revealed in a daily drumbeat of stories recounting unspeakable exploitation and abuse." She concludes: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dimwitted."

And if you're keeping an Oscar scorecard, you'll definitely want to check off Three Billboards. Dunkirk and The Post may be ahead of it in the Best Picture race, but McDormand and Rockwell are starting to climb in their categories. Don't count out that screenplay, either.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Do you need a little Christmas, right this very minute? The Pantagraph's Holiday Spectacular, which features "[b]eautiful singing, hundreds of sparkly costumes, laughter and tears and lots of heart," returns to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts on December 1, 2 and 3. The Friday performance begins at 7:30 pm, with 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

As in years past, Illinois State University professor Lori Adams directs this Holiday-palozza of entertainment, with Michael Schneider and Angela Bargmann as musical directors and Stacy Terry and Janet Hayslip as choreographers. Nancy Steele Brokaw has once again written the story for the musical and Marcia Basolo is back for her 16th year as executive producer.

We are assured that many audience favorites -- from "precision-dancing Toy Soldiers" to an "enormous all-cast Santa medley" and "mass choir Nativity" -- will be back, with new features to keep the production fresh.

The cast includes four actors (Kevin Alleman, Ed Campbell, Jennifer Rusk, Paul Vellella and Michelle Vought), an adult ensemble about 40 members strong, 50 children performers ranging in age from kindergarten to 8th grade, another 18 high schoolers, seven father/daughter teams, eight "Dobski dancers," 16 Wooden Soldiers, ten tappers, and a coterie of other groups who'll perform the opening number, a Frosty Follies, Christmas Wishes and Christmas Day numbers, an Ugly Sweater song, elves and reindeer dances and solos, a piece just for "Mr. Santa" and a Santa Claus Parade with ballerinas.

You can get tickets in person at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts box office, by phone (with an added charge) at 309-434-2777, or online at the BCPA website.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Paula Vogel's Unforgettable INDECENT on PBS Great Performances

When Sholem Asch's play The God of Vengeance opened on Broadway in 1923 -- in English for the first time after many performances across Europe in Yiddish -- the entire cast was arrested on charges of indecency. Why? Asch's story centered on a Polish Jewish man named Yekel*, conflicted by issues of faith as he kept a brothel on the floors beneath his family apartment. But the real kicker, the reason prominent actors like Morris Carnovsky and Sam Jaffe got hauled down to the pokey, was the lesbian part of the story. Asch wrote Yekel's daughter falling in love with a young prostitute from downstairs, including a beautiful and tender scene in the rain ending in a kiss between the two women. And that was simply too much for the authorities.

Playwright Paula Vogel took up the story surrounding Asch and The God of Vengeance in Indecent, a poetic and powerful play that marked Vogel's first Broadway production. That's remarkable in itself, that it that long to get to Broadway for someone like Paula Vogel, with a Pulitzer Prize for Drama to her credit for How I Learned to Drive, an Obie for The Baltimore Waltz, a pile of other awards and honors, and an illustrious career teaching playwriting (and chairing the department) at the Yale School of Drama.  

Indecent ran for 128 performances at the Cort Theatre, closing August 6, 2017, with Tony Awards for director Rebecca Taichman and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind, and Tony and Drama Desk nominations for the play itself. Part of what Indecent deals with is the ephemeral nature of theater. In a beautiful image in Taichman's production, the Vengeance actors show us how they and their play turned to ashes, lost in the Holocaust after they returned to Poland. But Indecent is also about the echoes that remained after the production of The God of Vengeance was physically gone. After all, Indecent reminds us that the play did change the lives of the people involved in it, especially the narrator in the piece, a stage manager named Lemml, who continues to tell us exactly that. The God of Vengeance and its kiss in the rain did imprint itself on the audiences who saw it, and it has even been performed again in Yiddish.

Luckily for all of us, a performance of the Broadway production of Indecent was filmed last August so that it could be shared and replayed. Indecent was broadcast last Friday in the regular Great Performances slot on PBS stations, but it is also streaming right now and there are reports it will also be available on early next year.

I feared Indecent might lose some of its intimacy or its power on the small screen, but it translates beautifully. Central performances from Richard Topol as Lemml and Katrina Lenk and Adina Verson as the two women in the rain are especially strong and especially moving. Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis and Steven Rattazzi play many roles, creating a seamless ensemble that brings impressionistic scenes from Vengeance and the larger picture of Indecent to life.

Taichman's staging makes the most of music by Lisa Gutkin and Adam Halva, which sets the tone as it adds joy and energy, while projections designed by Tal Yarden contribute a Brechtian note to the theatrical proceedings. A nod to the Yiddish culture that informed Asch's Vengeance and the major culture clash that arose when the Eastern European Jewish immigrants got to New York comes off both poignant and timely.

On stage or on screen, Indecent is lovely, with a depth and tenderness that makes it unforgettable.

*The character has also been called Yankl or Yankel.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lots of HOLIDAY INN Choices Coming Up

The Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby film musical Holiday Inn is generally considered a Christmas movie, probably because it's the place where Irving Berlin introduced (and won an Oscar for) the song "White Christmas." As a result, the 1942 Holiday Inn invariably shows up on television and in art-house and vintage movie theaters as part of their end-of-the-year schedules, even though in reality the movie covers all the holidays. You can see the 4th of July spirit in the poster at left.

In the film, Bing plays a singer ("I'll Capture Your Heart Singing") who wants out of his competitive show biz partnership with Fred Astaire (he's the one who captures your heart dancing, naturally). Bing decides to retreat to the country and live on a farm. Then he has the idea to turn the farm into an inn (Holiday Inn, naturally) where he can perform only on holidays. He'll loaf the rest of the time, but put on a show for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Lincoln's Birthday, Valentine's Day, Washington's Birthday, Easter... Basically whichever holidays Irving Berlin was inspired to write songs for. The plot hangs on those holidays, as Bing gets a romance in the form of Marjorie Reynolds, ex-partner Fred pops up at the Inn at an inconvenient time, their rivalry rekindles, and each gets the chance to shine in multiple numbers.

The movie came out in 1942, but didn't get translated into a Broadway show until 2016. The Broadway version imported Irving Berlin hits like "Blue Skies" and "Cheek to Cheek" from other Astaire and Crosby vehicles and thankfully took out "Abraham," which was performed with blackface in the movie, but the basic plot idea with its singer/dancer rivalry over romance and the inn in the country is still there. On Broadway, Bryce Pinkham took the Crosby role, while Corbin Bleu tapped into Astaire's shoes. Yes, that sounds a lot less starry, but they compensated with big production numbers and a whole lot of splashy costumes and sets in eye-popping colors. If you'd like to see for yourself, a performance of that Broadway version has been filmed to show on movie screens as well as through PBS Great Performances and its Friday-night Broadway's Best series.

Tonight is the night for the Broadway Holiday Inn on big screens as a Fathom Event. Around here, you have the option of 7:30 pm screenings at Willow Knolls 14 in Peoria, Savoy 16 outside Urbana, or Springfield 12. If that doesn't work in your schedule, never fear. PBS has your back. They'll be showing the same Holiday Inn on the small screen, which you can watch in the privacy of your own home, on Friday, November 24, at 8 pm Central time. After that, you can expect it to stream at on this Episodes page.

And if you are more into Bing and Fred and the original Holiday Inn, the Normal Theater will show the 1942 film on that same Friday, November 24, at 10 pm, as well as Sunday, November 26, at 1 pm. Or, if you want to see Bing and Fred on your own telly, Turner Classic Movies has a January 1, 2018 option at 7:30 am Central time.

That means you can see the boffo technicolor Broadway show and the classic black-and-white movie, both on the big screen or the small screen, and compare/contrast to your heart's content.

To recap, for a screening of the Broadway Holiday Inn, you can get to a movie theater tonight (November 16) or watch on TV a week from tomorrow (November 24) or stream it online after that, or see the classic movie later that night (November 24) or the following Sunday (November 26) or set your DVR for the first morning of the new year (January 1). So much Holiday Inn!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Opening Tonight: SOUTH PACIFIC at IWU

Long before Hamilton piled up all those Tony Awards and took home the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, before it started a dizzying war for tickets that fueled scalpers and prompted outrage at its high prices, Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific did it all first. After its Broadway opening in 1949, it ran for five years and 1925 performances, with Tony Awards for Best Musical, director Joshua Logan, its score (Rodgers), libretto (Hammerstein and Logan), producers (Hammerstein, Rodgers, Logan and Leland Hayward) and scenic design (Jo Mielziner) as well as for stars Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza and supporting performers Juanita Hall and Myron McCormick. The original cast recording sold over a million copies.  

South Pacific represented Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical translation of the short stories in John Michener's Tales of the South Pacific. Michener's stories focused on the cultural, financial and military interaction between indigenous peoples, immigrants and the global powers setting up operations on top of them, all things he saw when he himself was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.

The musical South Pacific offered songs like "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair," "There Is Nothing Like a Dame," and "Bali Ha'i," as characters Michener had created fell in love and faced danger against a multicultural backdrop. Its messages of tolerance and acceptance, of looking for understanding instead of hatred, is why South Pacific won its Pulitzer.

For Illinois Wesleyan University's School of Theatre Arts, professor Scott Susong directs a cast that includes Emily Hardesty and Madison Steele rotating in the role of Ensign Nellie Forbush, the cock-eyed optimist from Arkansas with a racist streak hidden under her nurse's uniform, with Timothy P. Foszcz as Emile de Becque, the wealthy planter Nellie falls for. There is, of course, a conflict between them -- the fact that he has two biracial daughters. As Nellie's "carefully taught" prejudice is revealed, the show's themes come into focus.

The other plotline with a culture clashe at its heart features Holden P. Ginn as handsome young American Lieutenant Cable and Megan Lai and Juna Shai alternating as Liat, his local love interest. Paola Lehman and Kira Rangel also alternate as Liat's mother, Bloody Mary, the Tonkinese woman who makes a living selling trinkets and junk to U.S. servicemen, with Connor Wildelka donning the coconut bra of Luther Billis, the rowdy Seabee who always has his eye on the main chance.

South Pacific opens tonight at 8 pm in the Jerome Mirza Theatre at McPherson Hall on Ames Plaza on the IWU campus in Bloomington. Performances continue until the matinee on Sunday, November 19 at 2 pm. For more information on this production, click here or here. For ticket information, call the School of Theatre Arts box office at 309-556-3232 or visit this box office page online.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Kevin Kline in PRESENT LAUGHTER Tonight on Great Performances

The Great Performances series on PBS is giving us a sparkling set of choices this fall, with a lighter-than-air musical She Loves Me last month, a look behind the curtain at Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights and Hamilton, Paula Vogel's fierce new play Indecent later this month, the stage version of an old Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby movie Holiday Inn closer to Thanksgiving,and tonight's Present Laughter, with Kevin Kline in a revival of the Noel Coward comedy.

Coward wrote Present Laughter (that's the adjectival "present" in the sense of  "occurring right now," not the verb or offering laughter up on a platter) just before World War II, directing and starring in the original production a few years later. It's hard not to see the character of Garry Essendine, a charmingly egocentric actor with a grand manner and a life full of overly dramatic complications and hijinks, as Coward himself, even though a host of great actors, from Simon Callow to Albert Finney, Frank Langella, Ian McKellen, Peter O'Toole, George C. Scott and even John Gielgud in a radio version, have tried to make Mr. Essendine their own.

Moritz von Stuelpnagel directed the latest Broadway revival with Kevin Kline, whose supporting cast includes Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Reg Rogers and Cobie Smulders. This Present Laughter played at the St. James Theater from April to July of this year, and the role of Garry earned Kline his third Tony Award. Trivia note: Burton, who plays Garry's wife in this production, was the ingenue back in 1982 opposite George C. Scott.

As with She Loves Me, Present Laughter will air in the Friday evening Great Performances slot on most PBS stations. You can find it locally on either WTVP or WILL at 8 pm tonight (that's Central time) and if you can't get to a television, it's also streaming online. You'll also find a video preview, a scene demonstrating Garry's way with a dressing gown, Cobie Smulders acting slinky, and the director, producer and several cast members talking about the play and Kevin Kline.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Now Playing: SISTER ACT at Community Players

You remember Sister Act, right? The Whoopi Goldberg movie from 1992, where she plays a pop singer who hides out in a convent after witnessing a crime and then helps the nuns win a singing competition?

That movie got turned into a Broadway musical, without Whoopi, but with a new score by Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics), book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, and additional material from playwright Douglas Carter Beane. It was nominated for five Tony Awards, including nods for star Patina Miller and supporting nun Victoria Clark. Its score includes songs with a distinctly holy-roller flavor like "Take Me to Heaven," "Haven't Got a Prayer" and "Bless Our Show."

It's a big show with a big cast that should fill the stage nicely at Community Players. Marcia Weiss directs a cast of 32, including Latrisha Green as our girl Deloris Van Cartier, the night-club singer on the lam, and Sharon Russell as the no-nonsense Mother Superior who tries to keep her line.

Tonight's 7:30 pm performance is a preview, with regularly scheduled performances November 3 to 5, 10 to 12 and 17 to 19. Friday and Saturday evening performances begin at 7:30 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. For more information on the show, click here to see the Sister Act page at Community Players. You can also buy tickets directly from this page.

Can I hear an amen?

Now Playing: THREE TALL WOMEN at Heartland Theatre

Three Tall Women, Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 play about three stages of life, opens tonight at Heartland Theatre with a "pay what you can" preview performance beginning at 7:30 pm. This acerbic exploration of aging, mortality and disappointment is considered autobiographical for Albee, springing from his relationship with his mother.

To work through his issues, he's written his play around women called A, B and C, representing old age (A is 92 at the outset), middle age (B is 52) and youth (C is 26). In Act I, they are a wealthy, bitter, imperious woman, her caretaker and a representative from her lawyer's office, but in Act II, their characters shift a bit, showing how much they have in common as they progress through important chapters in their lives.

Albee himself directed the first production of Three Tall Women in Vienna in 1991. Since then, it's been produced off-Broadway and in London, with a new production starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill and directed by Joe Mantello set for Broadway next spring.

Heartland Theatre artistic director Rhys Lovell is directing their production, which runs through November 18. His A, B and C are Lynda Rettick, Devon Lovell and Emilia Dvorak, with Daniel Job in the non-speaking role of the Boy.

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