An Amusement Column
First in the 2020 Series
by Harry Haun
A MAJORITY OF ONE: “I’m trying desperately not to be the old director who tells anecdotes to the company and directs the play,” he said, via videotape, at his own memorial. “I live for the next musical. I live in the future. I’m totally mindful that nobody will ever have the life I’ve had in the theater. That’s passed, and that’s damn sad.” By then, the armada of all-stars he’d set shining had faded into the wings of the Majestic, the ghost light had been turned on, and all that remained was thunderous applause, filling the theater and stretching beyond the eight-minute mark—one last, lasting standing ovation. That was how hard it was for the Broadway community to say goodbye to Harold Prince. . . . The day before Prince’s death, Gerard Alessandrini finished the director’s 2017 memoir, Sense of Occasion, and had planned to find places for Prince’s precepts and forecasts in Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, now going extra innings (thru Feb. 16) at the York Theater. His passing inspired Alessandrini to elevate Prince to the level of Carousel’s Starkeeper, lording over musicals yet to be made, preaching tons of TLC and–to the tune of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”—warning casts to “Watch out/Watch out/When you do a show/Or you’ll never work again/You’ll Ne-Ver work again . . .”
EVEN MORE FORBIDDEN (AND FUN): Three days after the 38th anniversary of the first Forbidden Broadway, Edition No. 27 reopened at the York, plainly benefitting from a shakedown cruise at Triad (its Off-Broadway homebase) and some time off so Alessandrini could fiddle with, and refine, his fun-pokes. The result is nothing if not timely, administering precision pin-pricks to prestige items like the just SAG-ged and Golden Globed Fosse/Verdon (“Whatever Fosse Wants, Fosse Gets”) and Judy (“Zellweger Smells Doing My Part”). . . . Even the lambasted Cats flick is properly meowed. . . . Trevor Nunn, who directed Cats on stage and supplied the lyrics to “Memory,” the soaring melody that Andrew Lloyd Webber composed (by way of Puccini), once confessed that his unshakable faith in the project held right up to the night before it opened in London when the questioning and quivering set in. It suddenly occurred to him that he may have monstrously misjudged the whole project—a fear that faded fast with the show’s swift and spectacular success. It didn’t surface again until last month when the movie version came out and bit director Tom Hooper on the ass. . . . The pre-Dame Judi Dench was first in line to get a shot at “Memory” as Grizabella the mangy Glamour Cat, but she got sidelined by an injury right before the opening, and a star named Elaine Page was born. Now at least Dame Judi gets to make the Cats class picture as the movie’s ancient Old Deuteronomy. There is only one flaw in her performance, but it shined. A widow for 18 years, the actress never removed her wedding ring—even for the Cats cameras. That error has since been erased digitally.
Adding to the Oscars and the Tonys
SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE: Very much the Energizer Bunny of actresses, 92-year-old Estelle Parsons has a new and unexpected trophy to toss onto her award bric-a-brac. Because drama is her strong suit–she got an Oscar riding with Bonnie and Clyde, has contended for five Tony Awards and just finished a run at The Public in A Bright Room Called Day—her musical forays are largely overlooked, if not outright forgotten. Well, Encompass New Opera Theater has remedied that oversight at a National Arts Club gala by presenting Parsons with an award for Lifetime Achievement in the American and Musical Theater. Encompass will have you know she made her Broadway debut in an Ethel Merman musical (Happy Hunting), played Mrs. Peachum to Lotte Lenya’s Jenny in Threepenny Opera, cut some Kurt Weill and Rodgers and Hart evergreens for record producer Ben Bagley, sailed with The Pirates of Penzance, sang Elizabeth in Encompass’ Elizabeth and Essex musical and appeared in Gershwin’s Nice Work If You Can Get It. Presenting the prize is her daughter from television’s Roseanne, Laurie Metcalf, herself Broadway-bound March 3 in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. . . . At the same Encompass ceremony, who better than Sheldon Harnick to present The Sheldon Harnick Award for Creative Excellence to Maury Yeston? Exhibit A, B and C: Yeston’s words and music for Nine, Titanic and Grand Hotel. . . . The musical-book writer and lyricist in York Theater’s spotlight Monday night is Tom Jones, who hits 92 himself next month (Feb. 17). York’s artistic director, James Morgan, has picked a rarely seen Broadway show Jones wrote with his late composer, Harvey Schmidt—Celebration—for a one-day-only York concert at 2:30 and 7:30. Samantha Bruce, who’s done Jones and Schmidt’s exclamation-mark hits (The Fantasticks! and I Do! I Do!), stars with Nick Wyman, Fred Applegate and Matt Dengler. . . . Kritzerland is currently peddling 500 copies of Colette Collage, a Jones-Schmidt show that didn’t get to Broadway (even with the luminous likes of Diana Rigg, John Reardon and Robert Helpmann). It has some of their brightest and bounciest melodies, as you can tell from this spruced-up latter-day recording featuring Judy Kaye, Judy Blazer, Jason Graae, George Lee Andrews, Rita Gardner and Jonathan Freeman.
WHAT NEXT? MOTHER OF THE YEAR? Love, Medea is, likely, not the way you heard the story—and you certainly didn’t hear with clips from Casablanca and I Love Lucy to nudge the narrative along, but that’s the radical view playwright Peter Gray advanced when he revisited Euripides’ classic case of a scorned woman who reacts to her husband’s infidelity by killing their children. A new theatrical company well-named split/decision just finished a run of it at The Center of West End, a former church at 86th and Amsterdam, ambitiously parading itself as “part theater piece, part dance show, part haute couture runway and part art/light installation.” Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, in the title role, was surrounded by six strapping youths who formed a chorus line that was more Broadway than Greek. . . . Another county is heard from out in Brooklyn, at BAM, where another epic calling itself Medea is playing through March 8. Writer-director Simon Stone, who previously presented BAM with a contemporary update of Yerma (in plexiglass, yet!), has modernized Medea in a way that is more of a response to than a literal adaptation of. Here, Jason and Medea become Lucas and Anna, two scientists who resume their union after her release from a mental hospital for slowly poisoning her faithless husband. Starred are Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, who are partnered in real life (hopefully, happier). . . Different strokes for different folks, I guess.