SCREEN OF CONSCIOUSNESS

 

An Amusement Column

 

 

‘The Irishman’ – Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro

 

                                                     

by Harry Haun

 

Hal Prince (Photo by Lynn Hughes)

Opening Night – Phantom of the Opera – Hal Prince (Photo Clive Barda)

 

 

THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNERS: The Main Stem’s main man, Harold Prince, was as far from his Broadway home base as he could get when he died last week—in Reykjavik, Iceland–at the age of 91, falling 15 years short of the theatrical record-holder, George Abbott, his mentor and godfather. At the “Mister Abbott Awards” one year, Prince recalled how, when quizzed about the greatest theatrical innovation during his career, Mr. A replied succinctly, “Electricity.” . . . As Abbott’s assistant stage manager, Prince picked up enough tricks of the theatrical trade to last a lifetime—and they did. After stage-managing Wonderful Town, Abbott brought him on board to make his Broadway debut as co-producer on The Pajama Game, and that was followed by Damn Yankees! . . . But what he really wanted to do was direct, and A Family Affair, with a book by the brothers Goldman (James and William) and John Kander’s first score, accomplished that—fleetingly. He had better time producing and directing Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Boch’s She Loves Me—so much so they offered him their next, Fiddler on the Roof. Having co-produced the original West Side Story, he wisely opted just to produce that one and leave the directing to Jerome Robbins. . . . As a producer or director or both, Prince amassed more Tonys than anyone—21. Many were won with Stephen Sondheim shows, which, if they weren’t outright triumphs (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures), developed a cult following (Merrily We Roll Along). . . . With eyeglasses that seemed to be permanently double-parked on his balding pate—his signature “battle station” pose—“Prince Hal” had a lazar-like way of getting to the heart of a show and laying that vision out on a stage. His showmanship was unmatched by his peers. . . . He was a man of fiercely unshakable convictions about what belonged and didn’t belong on a stage. On the one hand, he talked Abbott into giving Liza Minnelli her star-making turn in Flora the Red Menace; on the other, he just couldn’t buy Liza as the burnt-out, musically inept Sally Bowles in Cabaret and gave the part to Jill Haworth, whom one critic called a black hole in the show. (Bob Fosse corrected that call with the movie that got Liza her Oscar.) . . . Theater-wise, Prince has been all over town like an ant farm, with at least one of his shows at all but six Broadway houses. . . . On the night of his death, tearful clusters of Prince veterans gathered in front of one for the traditional dimming of the Broadway lights: the Majestic where Prince’s (and Broadway’s) longest-running production still holds forth after 31½ years, The Phantom of the Opera. The sudden darkness must have mystified the line of paying customers, which stretched along 44th Street all the way up to Shubert Alley—a living and lasting testament to his art. . . . Not only did he create Broadway shows, he maintained them assiduously, returning regularly to see what he hath wrought and if the cast had added their “improvements” since his last visit. . . . (Maintaining the status quo appears to be a lost, or at least mislaid, art. Have you tried to find something on The Internet Broadway Data Base lately? The “improvements” are impenetrable. And fans of Hamilton who have done two or more repeat visits over the past four years report that the show appears to have strayed mightily from its original staging.) . . . July 31 also marked the passing of another theatrical pioneer, publicist Bob Ullman. He learned the promotional ropes from authentic press-agent whizzes—Bill Doll, Samuel J. Friedman and Harvey Sabinson—and, when the Biltmore Theater was redubbed the Friedman Theater in 2008, its lobby was named after two of Friedman’s star pupils, Ullman and Shirley Herz. . . . Most of Ullman’s career was spent downtown at Joe Papp’s Public Theater, publicizing all things Pappian, including and especially A Chorus Line. Like Phantom, it became the longest-running Broadway show of its time. . . . In 2012, he and Mike Freeman—both 90—got married; officiating was Rev. Josh Ellis, whom—full cycle–Ullman brought on as a Broadway press apprentice in 1973. . . . You may not recognize the name of Russi Taylor, who passed away four days before Prince and Ullman at 75, but you’d sure recognize her voice. Since 1986, she has squeaked out the dainty, ladylike sounds of Minnie Mouse. Her husband–Wayne Allwine—she met over a mic playing Mickey Mouse, a role he did for 32 years till his death in 2009. It was love at first sound. Both blasted their way out of their bad marriages and married in Hawaii in 1991.

 

Fiddler On The Roof -rehearsals with Jerome Robbins

 

 

LIN-MANUEL’S ANATEVKA: Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, Max Lewkowicz’ thorough and moving documentary on the creation and abiding appeal of Fiddler on the Roof, hits Landmark and AMC screens here Aug. 23, and, for a story supposedly Semitic-centric and set in the Ukraine of 1905, it casts an enormous worldwide net–now more than ever. It is impossible not to watch Anatevka after Anatevka after Anatevka falling to foreign forces and its citizenry moving out in uncertain circles toward some safer place or America, without imagining the miserable fate that now awaits so many at the Tex-Mex border. Historically, the oppressed and displaced of the world were, and are, right to look to us. America is a country, not a country club, and Lady Liberty is not a gated community. She takes the tired, she takes the poor, she takes all manner of huddled masses yearning to be free. These are the sort of emotions that this film seconds. . . . Talking heads and archival footage–from Zero Mostel’s 1964 Broadway original and Chaim Topol’s 1971 film to Danny Burstein’s 2016 edition and Steven Skybell’s current Yiddish version at Stage 42– are all thrown on this cinematic bonfire. . . . “Guest stars” include the triumvirate who concocted the musical (Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock and Joseph Stein), Harold Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Bartlett Sher, Alexandra Silber, Neva Small, Paul Michael Glaser, Jessica Hecht, Austin Pendleton, Harvey Fierstein, Gary John La Rosa, Rosalind Harris—plus supportive testimonials from Fran Lebowitz, Itzhak Perlman, Calvin Trillin and Nathan Englander. . . . True to—dare I say the word?–“Tradition,” second generations also step up to fill in the blanks of what their fathers left unsaid: Harry Stein, Josh Mostel, Marc Aronson and, literally filling his father’s Tevye boots, Herschel Bernardi’s Michael. . . . To underline the show’s universality, the film collects clips and quotes from Tokyo, Chichester, Rotterdam and Ontario. At a Brooklyn middle-school, Tevye was a Puerto Rican and Golde was an African-American. . . . Said one Thai spokesman: “I think the reason the show has responded well to Thai people is because [it] speaks to them about the same things they are facing in their family and their culture and their society.” . . . Joel Grey, who directed the current Off-Broadway Fiddler without knowing a single word of Yiddish, offered this: “I have a fan in Japan who’s seen me in different shows over the past 15 years. She lives on an island. She doesn’t speak English. I wrote her recently saying I’m doing Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, and she said, ‘That’s my favorite musical.’ What is that? What is it, that makes it speak in so many languages, and everybody thinks it’s about them?” . . . Pushing the non-ethnic envelope further is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who played a son in a sixth-grade Fiddler and can—through the miracle of muscle memory—reproduce the original choreography for the cameras, replete with lyrics. . . . Eighteen years later, he was on his treadmill, wedding-planning, when “To life, to life, l’chaim” came up on his iPod and a lightbulb went off in his head. “I remember thinking, ‘This is the only father-in-law/son-in-law song in the canon. In my wedding party, who would I cast? I’d cast my father-in-law as Tevye, myself as the butcher.” And he did just that—much to his bride’s surprise. (He has wedding pictures to prove it.) “My favorite comment that we kept getting on YouTube was ‘What a wonderful Jewish couple.’ I’m Puerto Rican. My wife is Dominican and Austrian. I don’t think there were two Jewish members of that whole wedding party. What Fiddler does so well is that it captures those big moments in our lives–moments of transition, moments of tradition-breaking and tradition-renewing.”

 

Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Julianne Moore (After the Wedding)

 

Judith Light – Before You Know It

 

ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH: The sleeper hit at the Cleveland, Dallas and Sundance film festivals, Before You Know It, marks the acting debut of its writer-director, Hannah Pearl Utt, who garnered acting nominations at all three stops. It helped that she surrounded herself with the support of Tony winners (Mandy Patinkin and Judith Light). The plot concerns two sisters who discover their prodigal mom is very much alive. . . . And this won’t be the only mother, believed-dead, to reappear awkwardly on the screen this year, either: Michelle Williams pulls off the same stunt in After the Wedding–just in time to see her daughter get married–complicating matters, you can imagine, for her ex (Billy Crudup) and his current (Julianne Moore). . . . Denmark did a dry run of this story in 2006 and got an Oscar nomination of out it. This American remake is the work of adapter-director Bart Freundich, Moore’s husband. . . . My Villa in Calabria, actor Vincent Romeo’s new novel, has been published by Westwood Books and, boasting a nice notice from Kirkus, is now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble. In it, a Yank brings his father’s remains back to the ancestral home in Southern Italy and falls under the spell of a loco local. . . . Heat, a 1995 crime caper in which Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro played cop and robber respectively, didn’t generate much heat in its original release, save for the astonishing fact that the two actually did a scene together, proving once and for all they aren’t the same person. . . . (Pacino and DeNiro were supposed to cross paths 23 years earlier in The Godfather, but DeNiro broke ranks at the last minute, threw in with The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight and let Gianni Russo play Pacino’s wife-beating brother-in-law. He did, however, return for a flashback in the sequel and got off a dandy, Oscar-winning Brando imitation as Pacino’s dad.) . . . Now, we have new proof they’re separate entities: The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s take on how Jimmy Hoffa vanished. On Sept. 27, it will launch the 57th New York Film Festival. Basically, they’re still cast as adversaries, Pacino as the Teamster president and DeNiro as gangster Frank Sheeran. Their chemistry is terrific as ever, but don’t expect them to turn into Laurel & Hardy. . . . On Scorsese’s plate these days: directing Leonardo DiCaprio as [Theodore] Roosevelt and producing [Leonard] Bernstein, directed by and starring Bradley Cooper. . . . City Center redid all its upcoming Encores! flyers, using the correct (or at least David Merrick) spelling of Mack & Mabel: ampersand only; no ifs, ands or ands. . . . Jim Brochu, best-known for making art out of imitating Zero Mostel (Zero Hour), has written a new and unexpected play, The God Box, about the discovery of Christ’s body. He’ll do a reading of it as soon as he can synch Dakin Matthews’ break from the judge’s bench in To Kill a Mockingbird with Bryce Pinkham’s downtime from rehearsing his RFK role in The Great Society. . . . There’s a reason Tootsie’s run is already in triple digits. It’s called Truth in Advertising: it really is the funniest show on Broadway. Robert Horn’s Tony-winning book finds fresh pockets of fun in the characters found in Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal’s Oscar-nominated screenplay. His next target for comedy will be the evangelist with the most makeup on, Tammy Faye Baker. (Do you suppose Jimmy Hoffa could be buried somewhere in there in all that mascara?)

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