An Amusement Column

Jerry Herman, Carol Channing: a classic combination


by Harry Haun


GOODBYE, DOLLY!: For musical-theater fans, 2019 came encased in sort of sad parentheses. It was tough enough to lose an icon as indelible as Carol Channing in January, but, in the last few remaining days of December, the man who set her in such magnificent motion passed as well. Jerry Herman was proudly an old-school Broadway melodist, following (sometimes all by himself) the melody trail blazed by Berlin, Porter, R and his Hs, et al. . . . He simply gave the people what they wanted, simply. He only did eight Broadway shows, but three of them—Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles—racked up more than 1,500 consecutive performances on The Main Stem. No other composer-lyricist can claim that distinction! . . . He once told me that, when he was composing, the voice he heard in his head was Judy Garland’s. His great regret in life was that she never got to do one of his shows, although the twain did almost meet once. She and Elaine Stritch cooked up this mad scheme where they would do the London version of Mame–alternating the roles of Mame and Vera Charles, depending on how they felt at half-hour. Jerry was game for giving it a go, but wiser heads prevailed. His more cautious and prudent producers put a quick kibosh on that sandcastle. . . . Wherever you seem to turn this month, there’s Jerry Herman—and most of the programs were in place before he passed. . . .His showtunes will be batted out by Marilyn Maye and Ron Raines at Michael Feinstein‘s Feb. 5th Carnegie Hall concert. . . Next up at the “Lyrics & Lyricists” series at the 92nd Street Y (Feb. 22-24) is Jerry Herman: You I Like, conceived and musically directed by Andy Einhorn. Tony winner Cady Huffman will direct and star, along with Quentin Earl Darrington, Bryonha Marie Parham, Andrea Ross and Ryan Vona. . . . 54 (as in Feinsten’s/54 Below) Celebrates Jerry Herman Feb. 2. The celebrants include Tovah Feldshuh, Hugh Panaro, Jenny Lee Stern and Danny Gardner. . . . Also on the 2nd and again on the 5th, David Kenney’s Everything Old Is New Again (on WBAI 99.5 FM, in the 9-11 p.m. timeslot) serves up four different renditions of “I Don’t Want To Know” (from Liza Minnelli, Karen Morrow, Sam Harris and Dear World’s original star, Angela Lansbury). . . . And finally, finally, New York City Center’s “Encores!” series will give Manhattan a second chance at Mack & Mabel Feb. 19-23. This failure was the most painful for Jerry because it took with it one of his grandest scores (among the songs that went down for the count but later resurfaced as standards: “Time Heals Everything” and “I Won’t Send Roses”). The problem was that the musical told a true story which defied any kind of happy ending—the tragic mismatching of silent-screen star-maker Mack Sennett and his muse, comedienne Mabel Normand. That amorously out-of-sync relationship will be essayed at “Encores!”  by Douglas Sills and Alexandra Socha. Rape and drugs in the form of Fatty Arbuckle (Major Attaway) and William Desmond Taylor (Michael Berresse) complicate matters further. Lilli Cooper, Kevin Ligon and Raymond J. Lee are also on board. Work has been done on Michael Stewart’s book—notably by his sister, Francine Pascal, for the revised London edition–and others. Here’s hoping . . .


Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes: Oscar-contending contrary to billing (Photo: Peter Mountain/Netflix)

Eileen Atkins, Jonathan Pryce – In The Height of the Storm: mind games that are far from fun  (photo Joan Marcus)

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in The Father: this time, a lady in waiting


DOUBLE VISIONS: What do the two popes in the Netflix pic by that name have in common beyond their current Oscar contention—top-billed Anthony Hopkins for Best Supporting Actor and Jonathan Pryce for Best Actor? Answer: It seems both have recently played a Parisian patriarch named Andre, each drifting into dementia in dramas written by French playwright Florian Zeller and his English adapter, Christopher Hampton. Pryce just concluded a Broadway run of their play, The Height of the Storm, with Eileen Atkins; Hopkins has inherited Frank Langella’s Tony-winning role of The Father for the movie now making the Sundance rounds. . . . Hopkins’ caregiving daughter is played by Olivia Colman, who just reached a regal prominence via portrayals of British monarchs–18th century Queen Anne in The Favourite and the middle-aged, still-reigning Queen Elizabeth II in the ongoing miniseries, The Crown. The first role won her the Oscar; the second got her the Golden Globe (as it did for her younger predecessor in the part, Claire Foy, last year). . . . The world’s longest-reigning living monarch has a lot to play. Helen Mirren earned her Oscar as The Queen, coping with Princess Diana’s demise—a tragedy Judy Kaye will confront when the musical, Diana, arrives March 2 at the Longacre. . . . The royal family’s newest addition to the North American work force, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, temporarily have prominent placement at Madame Tussauds, but the madame’s new advertising campaign inviting you to “Feel Like Royals” could stand some topical retooling.


Chloe Webb and Gary Oldman in Sid and Nancy: a Vicious Valentine

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour: an Oscar-winning Winston

Director Guillermo del Toro: more power to him

Ty’s best workout: the conman cometh


PUNKS AND GEEKS: Some people say it with flowers. Some people say it with chocolates. Quad Cinema says Happy Valentine’s Day with a revival of Sid and Nancy, punk rock’s real-life Romeo and Juliet. (It ends badly—but then, come to think of it, so did Romeo and Juliet.) Who would have thought that the actor who film-debuted as Sex Pistols’ bassist, Sid Vicious, would 30 years later wind up winning an Oscar as Winston Churchill? Take a bow, Gary Oldman. . . . Director Guillermo del Toro, who makes movies with twin measures of spirituality and sleaze (Pan’s Labyrinth and 2017’s Oscar winner, The Shape of Water), so perhaps it was inevitable that he would find his way to Nightmare Alley, William Lindsay Gresham’s novel about a carnival hustler who becomes a charlatan nightclub mentalist. It was Tyrone Power’s favorite role. After many, many “talks,” Leonardo DiCaprio opted not to take it on—so Bradley Cooper leapt at the chance. Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn and Willem Dafoe are practically replicas of the 1947 originals (Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes, Mike Mazurki, Ian Keith and James Flavin). Can that del Toro cast! The queasiest contribution of that film is that it introduced into our lexicon the word “geek.” That started out as carny-speak for how low a person can sink.

John Lithgow in The Crown: an Emmy-winning Winston

John Lithgow in Bombshell: are those Oscar winning jowls?


NOW YOU SEE HIM (SORTA), NOW YOU DON’T: And the Oscar for Acting Your Way Through Gobs of Prosthetics goes to . . . John Lithgow, who, in Bombshell, somehow manages to project a plausible facsimile of the late Roger Ailes—despite layers of flesh and flab applied to his face. There wasn’t an acting nomination for him in this feat, but the masterful approximation of the generously jowled Fox News chief (created by Kazu Hiro) will likely beat Judy and Joker out of the Best Makeup and Hair Oscar. Seconding that motion are Hiro’s other Bombshell transformations: Richard Kind’s Rudy Giuliani and Malcolm McDowell’s Rupert Murdoch. . . . This won’t be Hiro’s first Oscar, either: When he turned Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for Darkest Hour, they both won the award. . . . Lithgow also put on a Churchill face (for Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown) and came away from it with an Emmy. Clearly, he’s game for disguises, but it is decidedly odd to hear his familiar voice coming out of such foreign faces. . . . Lithgow’s latest acting doesn’t even require a face. He does the voiceover for a TV commercial plugging Progresso Soup, and he gives the ad copy an overripe, hyper-theatrical reading.