www.curtainup.com

Curtainup Founder & Editor Elyse Sommer's Epilogue -- I've passed the torch for reviewing and editing new theater productions on and off-Broadway and elsewhere. However, I'll continue to sound off here with my take on Live and Onscreen Entertainment. As for Curtainup's extensive content since 1996-- it's all sill available at www.curtainup.com

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Elyse's Blogspot Blog- July 2022

  

  My Favorite Quote 

 Reaching my own personal centennial is cause for a bit of reflection on my first century — and on what the next century will bring for the people and country I love. To be honest, I’m a bit worried that I may be in better shape than our democracy is. — Norman Lear, father of six, an Emmy-winning television producer and a co-founder of the advocacy organization People for the American Way.


Best News About a Show: Another Run For the Yiddish  Fiddler On the Roof

 Fiddler On the Roof is my favorite musical, so I've happily seen and reviewed it whenever it showed up at any of the theaters I've covered. You can still read my reviews at http://www.curtainup.com, the now archived Curtainup front page. When you go to the special Google search box there and type fiddleryiddish18.html, your  search will land at the link of the Curtainup review at the downtown  opening as well as its move uptown.  To read reviews of the many other productions I've seen and reviewed, type in Fiddler On the  Roof.

If you missed the indomitable Yiddish Fiddler, this latest run at   New World  Stages on 50th Street from November 13, 2022 to January 1, 2023 is a great opportunity to catch up with it. And you don't have to be Jewish or understand Yiddish to enjoy it.

 

Honoring Equality In Pay and Supporting Experimental Talent Comes With Tough New Challenges   

Supporting work with limited audience appeal and ending unpaid internships and underpaid staff positions does indeed  bring up the problem of how to pay for it. Most artistic directors depend heavily on revenue earned from ticket sales. Thus, commendable as becoming a more diverse,  equal opportunity organization is, operating this way is  indeed  problematic. What Jenny Gersten, the artistic  director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, has done is  the obvious first step for others as well — to produce fewer shows. Since these internships and low-paying jobs are invaluable, this means fewer opportunities to become  theater professionals. Clearly a case of curing one disease but causing another.

Those in charge of small theater companies supporting experimental work are also forced to deal with the reality of having to satisfy the tastes of people who attend shows.   Here again, they won't be able to put on as many productions as in the past.

 In The Summing Up, the still-in-print memoir of his professional  life, Somerset Maugham explained that he quickly learned that to support himself as a writer he had to figure out how to tell stories that people found interesting and entertaining. As Maugham saw it, without an audience he had no play; and without readers he couldn't get published and earn royalties.   

Of course, revivals of beloved shows like Fiddler On the Roof  have  the advantage of a loyal fan base, ready to see any new interpretation.

 The Best Current Onscreen Documentary Series Bar None: The Select Committee' Investigation Into the January 6th Attack On  the Nation's Capitol  

No playwright could write a more gut-wrenching, emotion-stirring  script, and construct it as a mind-blowing docudrama that  painstakingly reconstructs how a group of  citizens stormed the home of our democracy in order to stop Vice President Mike Pence from making the election of the duly elected president official. That duly elected president was not the sitting President Donald Trump. 

The Select Committee wisely enlisted long-time TV news chief James Goldston to produce this depressing exercise in lawlessness  and deluded beliefs in conspiracy. Goldston has managed to present  the hearings held so far like eight terrifyingly real episodes in a mini- series, using the committee members and witnesses as his cast, and   the Congressional chamber and all manner of  visuals to make it all weirdly engaging.     

Goldston was fortunate to have a strong lead in Vice Chairman Liz Cheney. Her dry persistence and occasional sarcastic putdowns gave  the hearings its most memorable dialogue. Who can forget her refusal to justify Mr. Trump's listening to Rudy Guliani's terrible  advice with "he's a 76-year-old man, not an impressionable child."

With another set of hearings already announced for September, I  find myself hoping for a Season 3 in which sanity is restored.

 My Latest Screening Gem: 20th Century Women 

  What luck that this 2016 American comedy-drama written and  directed by Mike Mills and starring Annette Benning, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, and Billy Crudup is still  available at Showtime. While my grandson Jack is too young to  have seen any of Benning's many outstanding stage performances,  he was smitten with her as well as the rest of the cast. In fact, he  liked everything about this film, enough so to have seen it numerous times. 

Finally. . .   

Thanks for staying in touch by responding to our comments with  your own. As a play needs an audience, this blog and our features  need you, dear reader, to thrive.

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Friday, July 22, 2022

Screened Entertainment about Famous People Is Having Its Bigger-Than-Ever Moments . , , Now Often Available to Watch In Several Formats & At Various Outlets Simultaneously

 
Screened Entertainment About Famous People Is Having Its Bigger-Than-Ever Moments  . . . Now Often Available To Watch In Several Formats & At Various Outlets Simultaneously
 
Traditionally, documentaries are authentic histories, featuring visuals of the individual being  scrutinized and the factual content supported by filmed footage and the periodic comments of relatives, friends and colleagues — usually referred to as "talking  heads." The focus of the biopic genre, while also informative, has been more on entertainment, in the interest of which directors take liberties with what they choose to include and how to present it.

Whether traditional documentary or actor-cast biopic, the personal and professional lives of famous  people have grabbed movie and TV audiences' interest for a long time. But it took the streaming business to turn them into enormous crowd-pleasers. What's more, the tsunami of clickbait-hopeful  additions has also blurred the distinction between the straight documentary format and the biopic in which actors inhabit the persona of the actual characters.

This blurring of presentation formats has brought some of the most interesting fare to our screens. We can currently watch two stylistically different versions of the same person's saga, simultaneously, with the biopic now frequently expanded into a series.

While docudramas about bad guys seem to be especially popular, legends like Lucille  Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana continue to fascinate. And with documentaries as well as biopics having their bigger-than-ever moments, we often get to see two versions of the same famous person's story available to screen at the same time, each using a different presentation style. 

The saga of Elizabeth Holmes, the wiz-bang young CEO who proved to be a fraud, was impressively portrayed by Amanda Seyfried in The Dropout as a multi-part series at Hulu. Over at HBOMAX, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, used the more straightforward documentary style. No actors. Just Holmes herself and various other people supplying the details. The fact that Holmes is young and  attractive, and that her widely publicized rise to the top of the male-dominated corporate ladder added   timely Me#Too tie-in. Plus, a huge, hungry-for-more didn't hurt The  Inventor — neither did the inclusion of former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was unwilling to see Holmes as a fraud even though his grandson Tyler Shultz was the whistleblower.

If I had to choose between these two versions of the Holmes corporate soap opera, I'd pick the one with the actual people. Yet, somehow the differences and similarities in content had me watch both — and  without being bored.

Of course, some famous people, especially much beloved ones, have been chronicled in films and documentaries so much that there seems no way left for something really fresh and original to be possible in any format to avoid viewer fatigue. But fresh and completely original is exactly what Julia, the new HBOMAX series about Julia Childs is. Unlike Julie & Julia, which was as much about a situation involving a Childs devotee as about her and played out in a single episode, Julia is an 8-episode biography that focuses on how she became an iconic and influential TV personality.

Sure, Meryl Streep was terrific in Julie & Julia, but Sarah Lancaster gives us an unforgettable new take on Childs. She creates a richly detailed portrait of all aspects of her life and within the cultural context of the time, during which she became a best-selling author and TV celebrity. The actors playing the fellow travelers in her personal and professional journey contribute mightily to the warmth, wit and humor that lifts this out of the been-there-done-that this series might have been. What a treat to see David Hyde-Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth, two of my favorite stage actors, together again as they were in the long-running sitcom Frasier — he plays Julia's husband; she her best friend. 

It was also nice to see Fran Kranz come out from behind the camera as a pivotal character. He was an actor before he created and directed the indie film Mass, which had a very brief live theatrical run. You  can still read what I wrote about it when it landed at Hulu.

There are other aspects to how real people inspire on- and off-screen  entertainments. Sometimes,  writers don't just take liberties with the facts, but twist them to fit their own purpose. Case in point: Dr. Mortimer Granville. He did indeed invent the vibrator but as a tool to ease male muscle weakness, not  as a masturbation tool for Victorian-era women. However, the claims of a woman named Rachel Maines that the device was used by many doctors to produce orgasms in women they diagnosed as  suffering from hysteria did trigger the imaginations of  the creators of a 2011 film and a 2008 stage play.  

The film was an 8-episode costume drama entitled Hysteria. The play by Sarah Ruhl was a  Broadway hit and if you type the title, In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, into the Google search box at the  archived CurtainUp homepageyou can still read my review. Given the talented author and the terrific cast, it deserved my rave as well as the many others.  

Since Hulu subscribers can still see the film that used its own fictional approach to the facts and rumors about the vibrator's purpose and stretched it out to be a series to please the many PBS costume drama  fans, it would seem to be a natural candidate as one of my recommendations for readers looking for an  entertaining gem to watch or re-watch on their home screen. Though it does have its rewards — a top-of-the-line cast and wonderful costumes and scenery — the writing is predictable from the get-go and lacks real depth, which hardly calls for more than a mild recommendation. And so, I conclude with a more A-plus Hulu gem: Working Girl, Mike Nichol's last and still terrific outing as a director.

 Stay tuned for my next feature. And thanks for your support and comments.