Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, June 05, 2015

Going to Broadway at the movies

The 69th annual Tony Awards is coming up this Sunday and while we don't have Neil Patrick Harris on board as host again, having Alan Cummings and Kristen Chenowith instead is not too shabby.

This particular awards show does well enough in the ratings but a lot of folks either don't tune in because seeing a Broadway show is nigh on impossible for them or just stick around for the big opening number,then change the channel.

Now, I have to admit that due to certain other programs on that evening(Game of Thrones in particular), I might only watch part of the show. Yet, I do like the art of theater very much and admire it's persistence in this era of digital effects and online productions. There's just something about the whole live performance experience that really reveals an actor's/actress' true talents as a performer, not to mention the creative leaps and bounds made by all involved behind the scenes.

With that in mind, I've put together a small list of recommended films about Broadway that give the viewer a back stage pass into the hearts and minds of those who are in this business that we call show:

ALL ABOUT EVE: This iconic film is best known for Bette Davis' powerhouse performance as the established theater star Margo Channing, whose spotlight is being slowly stolen by the seemingly sweet Eve Harrington(Anne Baxter), yet it's real strength is in the ensemble cast.

From Celeste Holm as Karen, Margo's best friend and wife of  prominent playwright Lloyd Richards to Thelma Ritter as wisecracking assistant Birdie and George Sanders as Addison De Witt, the sly theater critic(my favorite character), the combination of talents that click and crackle at just the right moments is riveting to watch. Almost like seeing a tennis match at times, with verbal lobs being served right and left there.

If you haven't seen this movie yet and are interested in theatrical arts, All About Eve is mandatory viewing, my friends. Not to mention great fun:

BIRDMAN: The current Best Picture winner owes a tip of the hat to All About Eve,in my opinion, as it also benefits from a strong ensemble cast and insider story line with it's harried look at the turmoil that takes place as faded film star Riggan Thompson(Michael Keaton) attempts a comeback by taking on a triple role as producer,writer and star of a serious Broadway play.

As a good friend of mine pointed out recently, this is not a movie to casually watch as the pacing of the scenes(which are virtually non-stop) and dialogue insist upon your full and complete attention. There's also a dose of surrealism thrown into the mix, as you're not quite sure if Riggan's perceptions are based in reality.

Yet, it's a trip worth taking as the rollicking rhythms of the story and characters compels you forward, like being caught up on a carnival ride during a wind storm. Whether or not it deserved Best Picture is debatable(haven't seen all of the nominated movies myself yet) but one thing that all can agree upon is that Birdman is quite the show stopper in the best sense of the term:

ALL THAT JAZZ: Legendary director/choreographer Bob Fosse tells an autobiographical/fictional version of his life in this story of Joe Gideon(Roy Scheider), who runs himself ragged between staging a new musical and editing a Hollywood film.

That frantic pace is made worse by Joe's excessive drinking and drug use, which reeks havoc into his personal life as well. In addition to the main story, we see Joe's mental world inhabited by past memories and a muse who may also be an angel of death(charmingly played by Jessica Lange).

Some of the dance sequences in this film influenced future performers, most prominent being the video for Paula Adbul's "Cold Hearted Snake", a song that does describe Joe Gideon pretty well there. Bob Fosse's work made many more impacts on pop culture but All That Jazz was a definite high point in his career that makes the phrase "It's showtime!" mean more than the name of a cable network:

A CHORUS LINE: The reception for this adaptation of the long running Broadway show about the dancers in a lengthy and emotional audition was mixed to be kind about it.

Many felt that this show was only best served as a play, objecting to the changes in the song list(with certain ones being left out and replaced by newly written material) and the expansion of the love story between choreographer Zach(Michael Douglas) and Cassie(Alyson Reed), a former romantic partner.

I still think it's worth seeing, even in this version. I did see the stage version of A Chorus Line many years ago(a family member visiting the area had tickets) and it's a truly intimate story about the struggle that dancers have to climb the Broadway ladder. It has inspired plenty of other entertainers such as John Leguizamo and while it may not be as solid as the stage edition, the tales told here are still worthy hearing:

Well, my best hopes for all of the best nominees at the Tonys to break a leg that night and for the rest of us that we get a chance to enjoy some of the neon lights shining on Broadway come this weekend.

The musical numbers should be fun and hopefully memorable for all of the right reasons. For every Cats or Phantom, there is a Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark or Satan's Alley(Ok, that last one is from the Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive but it does look like a really bad show that might make it to Broadway) to cause some serious cringing in seats both at home and front row:

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