Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
The Indie release, The Little Hours, coming out on June 30, takes place in a medieval convent where a young, runaway, servant (Dave Franco) takes refuge. The early buzz on the film has been good and it will be joining a cinematic tradition of nuns and convent life on screen.
The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945) Directed by Leo Carey (The Awful Truth, An Affair to Remember), starring screen legends Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman as respectively a priest and nun who despite a good-hearted rivalry work together to save an inner city school. It was a massive commercial success grossing over $8 million on its initial run making it the highest grossing movie of 1945 and the most profitable film in the history of RKO. It also won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and was nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director.
Agnes of God (1985) Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck) directed this mystery drama based on the stage play of the same name. Young novice Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly) is found directly after giving birth with a dead infant she insists was the result of a virgin conception. Psychiatrist Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda) is assigned to assess Agnes’s state of mind and she quickly comes to clash with Mother Superior Miriam (Anne Bancroft). Tilly won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category as well.
Sister Act (1992) Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing) directed this American musical comedy. Whoopi Goldberg stars as Deloris a Reno lounge singer who sees her married mobster lover shoot a guy. The local police decide the safest place for her is to hide her in a convent in San Francisco under the alias of Sister Mary Clarence. ‘Sister Mary’ soon becomes choir director and begins turning things upside down in the parish as her ex-flame seeks high and low to find her. It was a huge box office smash grossing over $200 million worldwide on a $30 million budget and generally well received by critics.
Dead Man Walking (1995) Tim Robbins directed and adapted the screenplay for this movie from the non-fiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean who has worked as a spiritual counselor to death row prisoners. Susan Sarandon stars as Sister Helen in a role that won her an Oscar and Sean Penn gives an astonishing performance as unrepentant killer Matthew Poncelot. The movie holds a current fresh rating of 95% from Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Song.
The Madgalene Sisters (2002) Peter Mullan wrote and directed this heart-breaking and infuriating Irish-British drama about three teenage girls sent to the Magdalene Asylums (otherwise known as Magdalene laundries) for ‘fallen women.’ The cast includes Anne-Marie Duff (The Virgin Queen, Suffragette) as young heroine Margaret and five time Olivier Award nominee Geraldine McEwan as the evil Sister Bridget. The characters themselves are composites, but their stories horrifically are quite real. It was one of the biggest commercial successes in Ireland that year, won the Golden Lion at Venice, and holds a 90% fresh rating on the Tomatometer.
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” sang Essential Voices USA with the kind of strapping vocal that conjured a Hollywood production number starring Norwegian figure skater/ film star, Sonja Henie.
In its 34th season, The New York Pops celebrated upcoming holidaze with an evening of rousing, homey cheer. Inspired by the iconic film White Christmas, the Pops’ Director/Conductor Steven Reineke invited two sets of siblings to perform perennial material culminating in the iconic Irving Berlin songs once sung in the film by Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby.
Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway wearing a closet full of stylish, festive gowns shared the stage with Will and Anthony Nunziata for whose distracting sequined jackets and bespoke shoes one needed sunglasses.
‘This time of year, everyone of every age and every walk of life knows the same songs,” noted Hampton Callaway swinging seamlessly into an Ella Fitzgerald arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” As always, the vocalist added her own nuanced stamp -an octave rose and slid, a ritard affected… It’s happy and a bit sassy. Later, she rendered William Schermerhorn/Westley Whatley’s story/song “Yes, Virginia”, about Virginia O’Hanlon who, in 1897, wrote to The New York Sun and was told in no uncertain terms, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Performance glows with warmth and was not, for a minute, over the top. First violinist Cenovia Cummins added immeasurably.
Liz Callaway offered two songs from Lynn Ahrens/Steve Flaherty’s Anastasia for which she voiced Anya in the animated version. (The musical comes to Broadway this spring). Stepping into character like a fur coat, the actress rises, expressive and expansive, to lush melodies and yearning lyrics. Particularly appropriate this year, “Grown Up Christmas List” (David Foster/Linda Thompson Foster) emerges with sincere depth of spirit: No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/And everyone would have a friend…
Nodding to the music teacher in tonight’s audience who gave him his first solo age 7, Will Nunziata sang “The Christmas Song” with sincerity and gently warbling vibrato. Twin, Anthony Nunziata rendered his grandmother’s favorite, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in honor of his grandfather and those who continue to serve abroad. In Act II, The brothers gave us John Bucchino/Michael Feinstein’s charming, as-if-written-for-them “Carnegie Hall” -both were making their Hall debut and the heartfelt, co-authored “The Gift Is You” which might refer as easily to their mother as Jesus Christ.
To my mind, there were two highlights: Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway’s gorgeous, original, harmonized duet of “Silent Night”/”Mary, Did You Know?” which rose to the rafters with palpable devotion and, new to me, “The Chanukah Song” (Stephen Schwartz/Steven Young), as rendered by Essential Voices USA, which movingly embraced principles as well as season with brotherhood and gratitude.
A White Christmas Medley covered everything from “Happy Holiday” to “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” as all four guests enthusiastically contributed. “Sisters,” was, of course, particularly apt. The ladies had an infectiously good time.
“We Need a Little Christmas” (from Mame) emerged a Jerry Herman wet dream- long, glorified and multi-layered as performed by The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA. Scrooge would’ve imploded on the spot.
Celebratory to the Nth degree, running smooth as an ice pirouette, the evening was peppered by welcome anecdotes and personal memories. Only Sound Design somewhat marred . Orchestra and chorus too often swallowed vocalists.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The New York Pops: Make the Season Bright Steven Reineke-Music Director/Conductor Essential Voices USA-Judith Clurman Music Director/Conductor Guest Artists: Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Will Nunziata, Anthony Nunziata Carnegie Hall December 16, 2016 New York Pops Calendar
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the beloved 1942 Christmas film Holiday Inn starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as successful song and dance men both in love with Lila, the girl in their act. Preferring a simpler life, Bing/Jim has purchased an Inn where he plans to live with Lila who’s accepted his marriage proposal. At the last minute she decides she’s in love with Fred/Ted and her career. Jim leaves for Midvale, Connecticut alone.
He refurbishes the picturesque place, but unable to support it decides to offer dinner theater as frequently as he needs to keep it going – on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn. In a mix-up of identities, aspiring performer Linda shows up in Connecticut looking for a job. Here’s where “White Christmas” first comes in as a newly penned song Jim sings to the pretty stranger. By New Year’s Eve, the show’s up and they’re smitten.
Megan Sikora and Corbin Bleu
Meanwhile Lila leaves Ted for a millionaire. Bereft without a partner the moment Hollywood calls, he turns up wildly drunk at the inn on December 31, grabs Linda and dances up a storm. She rescues his inebriated infirmity and makes them look good (unfortunately not well executed here.) The crowd thinks they’re a new team He passes out.
In the morning, Ted remembers her feel in his arms and the look of her legs but can’t otherwise recognize the girl. Offering his celebrity to bring in an audience, he plays several holidays in search of the unknown woman determined to make her his new partner. (A missed comic opportunity is not including the scene where Ted weaves among couples checking out women’s legs much to everyone’s puzzled offense.) Jim can see familiar writing on the wall and takes steps to prevent their meeting…which comically fail. Miscommunication causes a rift but all comes out swell in the end.
Lora Lee Gaynor and Bryce Pinkham
Of the wry, sophisticated, entertaining story, we retain nothing wry or sophisticated. (This includes orchestrations by Larry Blank which sound like summer stock.) Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu), and Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) are playing Flatbush when we meet them. So much for the decision to walk away from a highly successful career. She accepts his ring postponing marriage a mere 6 weeks, (uh huh), later showing up at “the farm” to break it off adding another song.
Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gaynor) is a schoolteacher (a former actress of course, though conveniently with zero ambition) whose family used to own the house/inn. Mamie and her children (who were black), Jim’s sole kitchen help and company, have disappeared, undoubtedly for political reasons. Instead we have “fix-it man” Louise (Megan Lawrence dressed like Rosie the Riveter) who takes steps to help her, here, completely hapless boss and plays matchmaker. (Jim has been reconceived as so awkward he seems obtuse.) Also added is a child (Morgan Gao) who works for the local bank?! delivering bills and mortgage notices with admonition. Virtually all his appearances feel out of place.
Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Holiday Inn is always televised at the end of the year as its centerpiece is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Likely in order to prolong touring possibilities, whereas almost all the numbers in the ebullient original took place at the Inn, here we spend time watching glitzy Ted and Lila perform elsewhere. Several production numbers involve a company of theater kids who appear out of nowhere at just the right moment in the Garland/Rooney Let’s Put On a Show mode. We’ve jettisoned intimacy and diminished the love story.
There are 21 songs squished into this facsimile, most brief, many – some obviously – not from the original. It’s like sitting at a restaurant table elbow to elbow with other diners. Few are comfortable. The book is sketchy and often blatantly derivative inserting an occasional wink, wink line from another film. It serves merely to carry us from song to song.
Bryce Pinkham. Megan Lawrence, and The Company
Having said this, I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel about the show if I was unfamiliar with the film. I think I’d find it overstuffed, fragmentary, and homogenized, though parenthetically entertaining. The company is bright, enthusiastic, and good hoofers, especially Mr. Bleu. Overall, voices are excellent. It’s a pleasure to see Bryce Pinkham on stage again, though one wishes him a better vehicle next time. And I look forward to further roles by new-to-me Megan Lawrence who has spirit and brass.
As one of the book writers, Director Gordon Greenberg carried through his vision with continuity. Choreography by Denis Jones is fun. A scene using holiday garlands as jump ropes works splendidly. Anna Louizos’ Set Design is well conceived but looks as if corners were cut in execution.
Costume Designer Alejo Vietti does a yeoman-like job, but excels at millinery. Not only does Bing Crosby’s hat show up later on (no sign of the pipe), but fanciful Easter bonnets are unquestionably the show’s visual highlight.
Also featuring Lee Wilkof as the act’s agent Danny, who doesn’t make enough of his ba-dump-dump lines.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Roundabout Theatre Company presents The New Irving Berlin Musical Holiday Inn Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin Book by Gordon Greenberg & Chad Hodge Directed by Gordon Greenberg Choreography by Denis Jones Studio 54 254 West 54th Street Through January 1. 2017