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Tony Awards 2012

There were two different Tony Awards tonight.  I want to see the OTHER one.  What I watched on CBS was not an awards program.  It was a three hour trailer for Broadway musicals, with a few breaks for some hurried awards.  Just the ones people care about, though.  No time to actually show the boring stuff, like choreography and book and anything with the word “design.”   Oh, and make sure those presenters say the names and read the winners without taking a breath.  Don’t let the winners talk long enough to bore anyone, even though it’s the biggest night of their lives.  And go overtime anyway.  Make sure this show is interesting to the people who don’t actually watch awards shows…but, wait.  Hey, that’s a novel concept.  Let’s put on a show for the folks who aren’t watching!

I complained just as much last year, so feeling like a broken record here.  What’s different this time?  My patience.  If the folks behind the broadcast aren’t going to show viewers the parts we want see, we won’t bother paying much attention.  Now, this is not to say that there weren’t some good moments.  Neil Patrick Harris is always on (“50 Shades of Gay”) and his mash-up of award-winning songs was delightful.  He made fun of going overtime, which he can get away with.  Not everyone can.  Other delightful moments: Harvey Fierstein in swim trunks and an inflatable pool ring.  James Corden flustered and awed when accepting the acting award for One Man, Two Guvnors.  Hugh Jackman graciously receiving a special award, presented by his wife.  Nina Arianda’s genuine glee for winning the acting award for Venus in Fur.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker just being their awesome selves.  Steve Kazee (best actor for Once) honoring his mother, who died of cancer on Easter.  And hey, they didn’t broadcast the In Memoriam.  Tragic.

All those musical numbers.  I’m on overload.  Since I can’t sing or dance, I don’t feel qualified to judge, but I will say this.  I saw Evita in London in 1980 with Mark Ryan as Che, and I listened often to the original cast album with Mandy Patinkin.  I know that Che is supposed to feel contempt for Eva Peron, along with begrudging admiration.  I have no idea what Ricky Martin’s Che was feeling.  Right after his performance, Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone came out to present.  It was cruel.

Congratulations to all the Tony winners.  I’m sorry I didn’t get to see most of you receive your awards.

Each year, I hope that next year they will get it right.  Another year like this one, and I’ll stop waiting and stop watching.  Sorry, NPH.

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Hugh Jackman as Valjean

In the latest casting news, Hugh Jackman is saying to the press that he will be playing Jean Valjean in the movie version of the musical Les Misérables.   I have not yet found an official confirmation of this from the movie’s producers, so I sure hope those contracts are signed and the deal is sealed.   I’m not saying this because I’m desperate to see Jackman do the role.  It’s just that he’s a really nice guy, and if he says he’s playing the role, I want to believe him.

People who only know Jackman as a movie actor might not realize that he got his start doing musicals in Melbourne and London.  He played Gaston in Beauty & The Beast and Curly in Oklahoma.   His Oklahoma was filmed onstage, and I have the DVD.  He’s really good, although the curly perm is pretty unconvincing!   I have witnessed Jackman’s musical talents firsthand, having seen him in Carousel at Carnegie Hall and in his Tony Award winning role in The Boy from Oz.  My feelings about him playing Valjean are cautiously optimistic.  He has the acting ability and the physical stature to play a man who’s unusually strong.  He’s the right age for the beginning of the story, and movie makeup techniques (not to mention digital effects) will age him gradually to an old man.  Heck, the way they aged Brad Pitt backwards in Benjamin Button, Valjean will be a breeze.  Jackman can sing, although I don’t know if his range will take him all the way through Valjean’s big solo, Bring Him Home.  I think it would be smart for Jackman to record this song in advance and release it on iTunes, because this will create buzz for the movie and reassure the skeptics.  These include the many fans of Colm Wilkinson, Alfie Boe, and all the other brilliant actors who have played the role onstage.  I’d really like to hear Jackman sing any Les Mis song, because I think I hear his Australian accent in the vowel sounds when he sings.  Now, I’m no expert in either singing or Aussie accents, so this may not be what I’m hearing.   I’m hoping folks will offer their opinions in the comment section.

After my friend said she only knew Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men), I got to thinking about the two characters.  Wolverine and Valjean are actually similar in a lot of ways.  They are both bitter men, angry at society’s injustices.  They both have shameful secrets; Valjean is a convict who broke parole, and Wolverine is a mutant.  They are both very strong physically.  Granted, Valjean has no adamantium claws that retract between his knuckles, but he does lift a cart off a man trapped beneath.   Both characters are softened and changed by helping a young girl; Valjean rescues Cosette, Wolverine rescues Rogue.  I suppose it’s kind of silly to compare a comic book superhero to one of the great characters of literature.  I’m just trying to point out that playing Valjean might not be that much of a stretch for an actor who’s used to playing Wolverine.

Paul Bettany

Paul Bettany

The press is also reporting that Paul Bettany has auditioned for Javert, the police inspector who doggedly hunts Valjean through the years.  I love Paul Bettany, and he’s an actor with a fantastic range.  He played the naked Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, Dakota Fanning’s brutal father in The Secret Life of Bees, and Opus Dei monk Silas in The Da Vinci Code.  I have never heard him sing.  I don’t know if he can, or what his vocal range might be.  If Les Mis were being filmed in India, it wouldn’t matter.  In the Bollywood musical tradition, the actors aren’t expected to sing their own songs, and the “playback” singers are as famous as the actors.   The actors have to do their own dancing, of course, but Les Mis is not a musical that requires that particular talent. Anyway, if Paul Bettany ends up playing Javert, I guess we will all find out if he can sing.

It’s also being reported that Tom Hooper may direct the Les Mis movie.  He just won the Oscar for directing The King’s Speech.  Looking over his various credits, he definitely has experience with period costume dramas, having done the movie Elizabeth I and miniseries like John Adams and Daniel Deronda.  Has he directed a movie musical?  Well, how many people actually have?

It’s pretty amazing that Les Mis is finally being made into a movie, after 25 years of waiting.  I hope it doesn’t turn out to be like The Hobbit, with years of even more delays, and with actors and directors finally moving on to other projects.   How much longer can we wait?  (Don’t say One Day More.  Please.)


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Tony Awards 2011

First of all, I must point out that I’m reviewing the Tony Awards broadcast without having seen any of the plays or musicals that were nominated.   I also have a special interest in The Book of Mormon, because co-director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw was in my theatre group as a teenager.   Living in San Francisco means the broadcast I saw was the taped version.  These are my own impressions, because I haven’t yet read any of the other reviews.

If this year’s Tony Awards broadcast was trying to be a three hour long advertisement for Broadway musicals, it may have succeeded.  If it was supposed to honor the talented folks working both onstage and behind the scenes, it was a disappointing failure.  Most of the broadcast was devoted to showcasing song and dance numbers from not just the nominated new musicals and revivals, but also from Spiderman (long delayed but now supposedly opening this month), Memphis (last year’s winner), Company (don’t know why), and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (seriously don’t know why).   All the technical awards, the two Lifetime Achievement Awards, the award for humanitarian efforts, the Regional Theatre Award, and the Special Award (for the horse puppets in War Horse) were given offscreen.  Little snippets were shown from acceptance speeches when they returned from ad breaks.  This just left the acting, directing, and best play/musical/revival awards.  It was really strange that the best musical score was given offscreen, but the best musical book was given onscreen.   There was no logic to it.  I was especially disappointed that the best choreography award was presented offscreen, even though Casey Nicholaw didn’t win for The Book of Mormon.  It was also puzzling when they presented the awards for best play and best revival of a play before they presented the best actor awards.

Host Neil Patrick Harris was awesome as usual, although I do wonder about  middle America’s reaction to lyrics like “No sodomy required” in the opening number.   Later, Harris had some fun with former host Hugh Jackman, who was heavily featured in audience reaction shots.  My favorite Harris moment was when he rode out on a War Horse puppet.   His end-of-the-show rap was great, but the last half hour of the show was rushed because of too many musical numbers and superfluous “broadway moments.”

The Book of Mormon and War Horse posters

I’m not going to list all the award winners.  It’s enough to say that The Book of Mormon (best musical), War Horse (best play), The Normal Heart (best revival of a play), and Anything Goes (best revival of a musical) were the big winners of the night.   I was thrilled when Casey Nicholaw won his first Tony Award for co-directing Mormon with Trey Parker.  He was so happy, and he thanked ‘everyone he’s ever known’ so I couldn’t help feeling included.  That’s definitely a Tony first for me!   I was also pleased that Sutton Foster won for Anything Goes, because I love her.  I’ve only seen her perform at various Tony Awards, but that’s all it takes for her to win your heart.   It was strange watching John Larroquette win for How to Succeed in Business, because just an hour before the broadcast began, I was watching him on Retro TV in Black Sheep Squadron (circa 1977).

I loved seeing Robert Morse (the original 1961 Finch) and Matthew Broderick (Finch in the 1995 revival)  introduce the nominated musical revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  Morse is looking great at 80!  Both these actors won Tonys for playing Finch, but Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t even nominated.  Radcliffe really is shockingly short, especially standing next to Larroquette, but compared to the rest of the cast as well.   I have to give a shout out to Ellen Harvey, who was easy to spot because she was the only female in the number they performed.  Harvey was another member of San Diego Junior Theatre. and we worked together on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

John Larroquette, Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen Harvey and the How To Succeed cast

John Larroquette, Daniel Radcliffe, Ellen Harvey and the How To Succeed cast

Whoopi Goldberg and Frances McDormand wore the strangest outfits of the evening.  Goldberg had a hat that distracted me from her introduction of Sister Act, and McDormand (best actress for Good People) wore a denim jacket over her formal length dress.  McDormand looked angry leaving the stage, and I wonder if it’s because everyone was under orders to shorten their acceptance speeches.  Mark Rylance (best actor for Jerusalem) gave the quirkiest speech, describing the best kind of walls and fences you can walk through.  (I learned later that he was quoting poet Louis Jenkins.)  He didn’t thank anyone, but by that point, it was kind of refreshing.   Brooke Shields was having a rough night; first she forgot her lyrics in the opening number, and then the first part of her presentation speech was bleeped out for language.  (Sorry, I couldn’t lip read what she said, but I’m sure I’ll read it online later.)  Bono and The Edge were surprisingly funny introducing a ballad from Spiderman, and the most awkward introduction was given by Christie Brinkley.

The In Memoriam tributes made me cry like they always do.  This year we lost Elizabeth Taylor, of course, but there were so many other great people.  I was surprised when one of the faces was so young, so I had to look her up.  Eleven year old Shannon Tavarez from The Lion King died on November 1, 2010, of acute myeloid leukemia.

Overall, I am happy for the Tony Award winners and disappointed in the broadcast.  Last year, I complained that there were too many Hollywood actors and not enough Broadway actors among the presenters, the audience, and the award winners.  I enjoy seeing performers at the Tonys that I’ve never heard of before, because it’s my one chance during the year to discover them and learn about their work.  This year, I tried my best not to categorize the actors as stage or film types, especially since I loved seeing Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory).   He’s just joined the cast of The Normal Heart.  

Update:  I understand that the Tonys were held at the Beacon Theatre this year, which has half the number of seats as the usual venue.  This meant that many folks couldn’t attend, and lots of people associated with nominated shows were seated in the upper levels.  Now it makes a little more sense why so many awards weren’t shown, since the logistics of finding the nominees in the audience with cameras and getting them onstage quickly to accept their awards must have been a real issue.  I feel sorry for all the folks who couldn’t attend, and for the friends and families of nominees watching at home who weren’t shown their loved ones being honored.  I hope that next year, things will be different.  (Didn’t I say that last year?)


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Stage Door (6): Hugh Jackman

The sixth in a series of fan encounters with favorite actors.

Hugh Jackman first got my attention when I saw the trailer for Kate & Leopold in 2001.  Then I saw X-Men on video, and that’s when I became truly obsessed. I started watching everything he’d done, including the West End Oklahoma recording and The Man From Snowy River television show. The internet was still a novelty to me then, since I got my first computer in 1999 (not counting the Apple IIe I used for about five minutes in college). I joined a Hugh Jackman online fan group and wasted many hours in chat rooms.

I heard that Hugh Jackman would be singing with a group of distinguished Broadway performers at Carnegie Hall. It was going to be a concert version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, with the actors performing the dialogue and songs in costume with the orchestra onstage. There was only one performance scheduled, on June 6, 2002, and some of the other performers were Audra MacDonald, Norbert Leo Butz, Blythe Danner, Philip Bosco and John Raitt. I decided it was finally time to visit New York City (even though 9/11 was just a few months before). The tickets weren’t cheap, and I had to become a member of Carnegie Hall to buy one. The Carnegie people were delightful to deal with, and they took great care of me.

The night before Carousel, I met up with the members of my online fan group who came to see the concert. It became immediately clear that the leader of this group was not an ordinary fan. She was a little scary in her obsession and definitely a control freak. There were whispers around the table about how a few members had bumped into Hugh Jackman on the street near Carnegie Hall, and this woman was livid because they interacted with Jackman without her. The other fans were nice and relatively normal, as normal as anyone who travels for miles and spends hundreds of dollars to see their favorite actor perform.

The weather in Manhattan was so hot and still, I had to buy a pair of shorts. I was stunned at how much New York completely assaults all your senses. I was especially struck by all the smells, which were heightened by the weird weather. It turned out the hot stillness was a sign of a big rainstorm, and it hit when I was getting dressed to go to Carnegie Hall. I wore a vintage outfit, but the only shoes I could find that didn’t hurt my feet were Chinese slippers. It took me ages to hail a cab in the pouring rain, and my shoes were completely ruined five minutes after leaving the hotel. We got stuck in a traffic jam a few blocks from Carnegie Hall, so I had to get out of the cab and run the rest of the way.  I stuffed my shoes with paper towels during the concert.

Once I started to dry off, I was able to sit back and enjoy the show. It was marvelous, of course. Audra MacDonald was lovely as Julie Jordan, Hugh Jackman was charismatic as ne’er-do-well Billy Bigelow, and Norbert Leo Butz was delightful as Jigger. I thought I’d be focused on Jackman, but the rest of the cast were too talented to ignore. Carousel is not my favorite musical, but it was a thoroughly entertaining evening.

After the performance, a large group of us gathered at the stage door. Unfortunately, it was still raining hard. The door had no awning, so we all huddled under umbrellas and tried to stay cheerful and warm. We waited and waited and waited some more. We were told there was some sort of dinner or party backstage. After over an hour, many people gave up and left. The longer I waited, the more I was determined to stick it out. I passed the time chatting with the others getting drenched—those from our fan group but other diehard fans as well. When Hugh Jackman finally came out after two hours, my group leader told him, “My people are the only ones who waited to see you in the rain!” It was so unfair and wrong, I had to say “That’s not true!” I promised two people who gave up waiting that I’d get them autographs. By the time Jackman signed the third one for me, his signature was pretty unreadable. What I remember most was how warm his arm was, as I stood next to him, which just goes to show how cold I was. He was charming and lovely, but it was really late. He said he had to get home to take care of his little boy. Everyone who stayed got their photos and autographs, so we had nothing to complain about. I believe that if Jackman had known we were there, he’d have come out to meet us sooner and then gone back in to the party.

The following October, I took myself back to New York to spend a landmark birthday with Hugh Jackman. It was opening week of The Boy from Oz. This time I avoided all fan groups and had a much better experience because of it. I had a great seat (row H) two rows behind Barbara Walters. The Boy from Oz is about Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen, a flamboyant showman who was discovered by Judy Garland, married Liza Minnelli, then had a male partner before dying of AIDS. Jackman was incredible, and he won the Tony Award for his performance. Stephanie J. Block was lovely as Liza, and she later starred with Hadley Fraser in The Pirate Queen. Isabel Keating made a very convincing Judy Garland, and I especially liked little Mitchel David Federan as Young Peter. At the stage door after the show, Hugh Jackman didn’t keep us waiting as long. He was just as friendly, and he wished me a happy birthday when I mentioned what day it was. He also learned to shorten his autograph to HJ. I went back twice to the stage door to take photos and to say hello. Hugh Jackman was always surrounded by large groups of fans, and he was always genuine and friendly. The guy is just plain nice, one of the nicest actors I’ve ever met. And he’s gorgeous, of course.

Last month, Jackman performed some concerts here in San Francisco. I didn’t attend, because the tickets were too expensive. The word-of-mouth was that Jackman was wonderful, but the backup singers were unnecessary and distracting.


Here’s a video from Carousel, obviously filmed by an audience member.

[A funny footnote: the grammar check on wordpress just gave this as an example of the passive voice, when I ran it on this post: “Before: Wolverine was made to be a weapon.   After: The government made Wolverine. Wolverine is a weapon. “]


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X-Men: First Class

If you’re going to title a movie “first class” you better be sure it’s a good one.  And the latest X-Men movie certainly is.  I will probably always like the original film the best, because of Hugh Jackman and the relationship between Wolverine and Rogue.  Still,  X-Men: First Class is a very entertaining film, and I’m glad I saw it the first day without reading any reviews or spoilers.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have no difficulty leading the movie with their charisma and intensity.  They are both excellent in their individual scenes, and they have the necessary chemistry in their scenes together.  I have to give a shout out to Laurence Belcher, who plays Xavier as a boy, because he’s such a good match to McAvoy.  Jennifer Lawrence is great as Mystique;  January Jones as Emma Frost is cool and distant, but at least she’s tough and smart.  I appreciate strong female characters in this genre, ones who aren’t just dumb sex toys.  The new faces playing the other young mutants are all enjoyable to watch.  Kevin Bacon was obviously having a grand old time playing villain Sebastian Shaw.  I can’t believe all the brilliant character actors who keep popping up in tiny roles, like Ray Wise, James Remar, and Rade Serbedzija.  Another favorite actor makes an appearance, but mentioning his name would just be a spoiler, and you’d hate me.  Matt Craven and Oliver Platt have bigger roles, and they are a treat, too.   Brendan Fehr from Roswell, and more recently CSI: Miami and Bones, has a blink-and-you-miss-it part, as does Randall Batinkoff.   Who’s Batinkoff?  He appeared with Kellie Martin in the 1994 TV show Christy.

I do find it strange that a movie set in 1962 had almost no period details.  The hair, makeup, costumes, and sets seem deliberately generic.   Banshee has hair that would have gotten him stranger looks in 1962 than any genetic mutation.  In other words, it looks totally normal for any time after 1968.  I didn’t mind the lack of period details, really, but I do wonder about the decision to go in that direction for the film’s look.   Another thing I couldn’t help noticing is that all the mutants except Angel and Darwin have blue eyes.X-Men: First Class

Without giving away any spoilers (and if you hate spoilers, don’t read this paragraph just in case I’m not obscure enough!) there’s one thing that happens early on that makes no sense to me, when young Magneto first faces Sebastian Shaw.  I suppose it happens, or doesn’t happen, “because if it didn’t, or did, there would be no movie.”  (That classic plot device!)

As much as I enjoyed X-Men: First Class, I have no desire to see it a second time, at least not until it comes out on DVD in a few months.   A key ingredient to a blockbuster hit is repeat viewings from loyal fans, so it will be interesting to watch the box office numbers over the coming weeks.   I do want to go back and re-watch the original X-Men.   I also want to see more of Michael Fassbender’s films.   I’ve already seen just about everything James McAvoy has done, so it’s just a waiting game until he hits the big screen again.

Note:  Comments are encouraged and welcomed, but I will not post any with spoilers.

Related posts:  Stage Door (2): James McAvoy   Stage Door (6): Hugh Jackman

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