After viewing Rogue One, a prequel to George Lucas’ original trilogy, you might find yourself wanting to binge watch the first three films. Rogue One fills in the blanks, specifically how the Rebel Alliance learned about the Empire’s Death Star. Without giving anything away, we know that Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, eventually help to destroy that weapon of mass destruction. Now we learn the backstory, namely the identity of the scientist who helped to create the Death Star and how the Rebel Alliance exploited the design flaw that left the device vulnerable to destruction.
Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, K-250 (voiced by Alan Tudyk)
There’s a world of difference, however, between the first three films and Rogue One. While all are rated PG-13, younger children may find Rogue One’s action too violent and intense and both the heroes and villains a little scary. (The director, Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla.) There are no Muppet-like aliens that once populated the venues visited by Han Solo and his crew. While the new characters in Rogue One are engaging, it remains a challenge to top the original cast, particularly because after last December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they remain fresh in our minds.
Felicity Jones, last seen running around Italy with Tom Hanks in Inferno, is Rogue One’s female lead. Her Jyn Erso is every bit as brave and smart as The Force Awaken’s Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Jyn’s story serves as the film’s centerpiece. As a child, she watches while her mother is killed and her scientist father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is taken away by an Imperial force led by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). The Empire needs Galen to finish the Death Star. The young Jyn flees to a pre-arranged hiding place where she is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
While Jyn has a vague memory of her father being captured, rumor has it that he has gone over to the dark side. But when she’s shown a hologram of her father speaking to her, she learns that he is being coerced into working for the Empire. He’s managed to program into the Death Star a weakness that can be exploited. The organized Rebel Alliance, led by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) doubts Jyn’s story. (Blink and you’ll miss Smits appearance, it’s so brief.) However, a rag-tag group of fighters enlists to help Jyn find her father.
Jyn’s new crew is certainly diverse. We have the leader, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a very tall droid, K-250 (voiced by Alan Tudyk he gets all of the film’s best lines), a blind swordsman (Donnie Yen), a warrior (Jiang Wen), and Riz Ahmed, as a pilot who defected to help the Rebellion. Once the organized Rebellion realizes Jyn’s group has a chance to succeed, the much-needed air support arrives. The battle scenes are exciting, although the demise of some characters may be upsetting to younger viewers.
Darth Vader, once again voiced by James Earl Jones, makes an appearance towards the end in a scene that sets the stage for what is to come next. While Jones’ voice delivered the expected jolt, it was nowhere near as shocking as the appearance on screen of Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, and was resurrected courtesy of CGI as the Imperial leader Grand Moff Tarkin. (There was an audible gasp from the preview audience at my screening.)
While the Lucas prequels failed to catch fire with fans, Rogue One should live up to expectations. Connecting it so closely to the trilogy works in its favor. And the musical score, from Michael Giacchino, includes enough of John Williams’ original themes that audiences will certainly tap into memories of all those galaxies that came before.
Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
Before Howard Ashman and Alan Menken hit pay dirt with Little Shop of Horrors, long before they became synonymous with reinvigorating Disney animated movies, 1979’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, based on the Kurt Vonnegut book, appeared briefly Off Broadway. Vonnegut’s sharp irreverence, couched first in science fiction, then as fantasy and finally as wry, humanist observation, was almost a rite of passage for a generation of smart young people enmeshed in alternative culture.
The author was older than many admirers, often referring to traumatic World War II experience beyond their ken, but shared with them a social conscience that emerged like a pendulum swinging between cynicism and idealism. This volume in particular might have been written by Bernie Sanders supporters.
Santino Fontana (Eliot)and the office staff
In the first minutes of the production, Eliot Rosewater (Santino Fontana) enters with a pratfall and haplessly donates $50,000 of his family’s foundation to a poet seeking immeasurably less.“Go and tell the truth,” he instructs the nonplussed writer. He’s devoted and he’s loaded/So we haven’t a complaint…sings his staff.
The Rosewater Foundation, created by Eliot’s U.S. Senator father (Clark Johnson) to help descendants avoid paying taxes on the estate, is based in New York City, not Rosewater, Indiana where the family manse stands empty. Though it’s “handled” by a large legal firm, Eliot has inherited control. He wears the crown uncomfortably and is often drunk. Obsessions include Volunteer Fire Departments (we learn why later) and a science fiction novelist named Kilgore Trout who is quoted and later appears as the voice of “real” sanity. (James Earl Jones). A psychiatrist deems Eliot incurable for reasons of not gratefully toeing the gilded line.
Despite, or perhaps because of, advantages, the young man couldn’t be more of the people. As written and expertly acted, Eliot seems like sweet, slightly obtuse Charlie Brown with an adult conscience. Equally uneasy in the upper echelon lifestyle curetted by loving wife Sylvia (Brynn O’Malley), frustration builds until our hero decides he must go in search of his destiny and disappears. Letters arrive from Hamlet to Ophelia, the escapee’s perception of himself and Sylvia. The other is Volunteer Fire Departments. We learn about this fixation later.
Skylar Astin (Norman Mushari)
Meanwhile, Norman Mushari (Skylar Astin), a young lawyer at the firm, learns of a codicil in the Rosewater Foundation set-up that states Eliot can be replaced by another family member if he’s proved mentally unstable. The ambitious associate recalls what his professors told him about getting ahead in law. “… just as a good airplane pilot should always be looking for places to land, so should a lawyer be looking for situations where large amounts of money were about to change hands.” One practically sees Eureka! flash over his head.
Leap-frogging Volunteer Fire Departments across the country (including a delightfully staged musical number), Eliot also has a eureka moment and returns to his depressed hometown. He opens the house, sets up an office, and becomes Rosewater’s defacto therapist and philanthropist (black telephone), as well as a member of the Volunteer Fire Department (red telephone.)
Brynn O’Malley (Sylvia) and the townspeople
We meet and compassionately hear from raggle-taggle citizens who grow to think of him as a Saint. Aspiring to be supportive, Sylvia arrives, and tries, how she tries to fit in! Eventually, however, his patrician spouse has a meltdown at a meticulously planned soiree when her guests prefer Cheese Nips to pate and coke to champagne. Brynn O’Malley’s deadpan apoplexy is as convincing as her love for and incomprehension of Eliot.
Kate Wetherhead (Caroline Rosewater), Kevin Del Aguila (Fred Rosewater)
While Eliot is altruistically fulfilling himself, Norman has found Fred (Kevin Del Aguila) and Caroline (Kate Wetherhead) Rosewater, in, wait for it, Pisquontuit, Rhode Island. The couple are bickering malcontents not adverse to swindling rich relatives. Both actors are marvelous in the deftly staged “Rhode Island Tango” and apple-pie-corny “Plain Clean Average Americans.” It appears to be a slam dunk, but of course, is not.
Narrative displays several signature Vonnegut themes, the familiar device of God-like narration (James Earl Jones), and characters found in other books by the author. Lack of this awareness in no way impedes enjoyment. There’s also a brief scene from one of Kilgore Trout’s space adventures – a disconnect, but very funny. Howard Ashman’s book and lyrics are literate, specific, and filled with heart. Alan Menken’s music is, well, fine. This was their first collaboration.
Santino Fontana, James Earl Jones (Kilgore Trout) and company members
Santino Fontana’s embodiment of Eliot is consistently engaging and sympathetic. Really, one wants to take him home to mom. The actor is completely natural and has an appealing voice.
Skylar Ashton (Norman Mushari), who looks too much like Fontana, is a solid player but could have more fun with numbers like “Mushari’s Waltz” in which his ballet seems restrained.
James Earl Jones literally lends resonance to the piece. His Kilgore Trout is a credible curmudgeon.
Of the townsfolk, Rebecca Naomi Jones (Mary Moody), Liz McCartney (Diana Moon Glampers), and Kevin Ligon (Selbert Peach) shine.
Director Michael Mayer uses Donayle Werle’s simply structured Set with skill and aesthetic variety. A fire pole and hose are used to great effect. Small stage business adds immeasurably. Heart and humor go hand in hand.
Choreography by Lorin Latarro is beguiling. Leon Rothenberg’s Sound Design couldn’t be crisper or better balanced.
Another terrific production by Encores.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: The Company
New York City Center Encores! Off-Center presents
Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Book & Lyrics-Howard Ashman
Additional Lyrics Dennis Green
Directed by Michael Mayer
131 West 55th Street
Father’s Day is coming up, and besides the obligatory gifts of ties, coffee mugs, and socks consider watching one of the following movies with dear old dad.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) The film adaption of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning work starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as his daughter Scout in what is possibly the most adorable father-daughter pairing ever on screen. It also features Robert Duvall in a legendary turn as Boo Radley. To Kill a Mockingbird deals with fatherhood, race, prejudice, the limits of the legal system, and more. It won three Academy Awards including Best Actor for Peck, was nominated for eight more including Best Picture and is nearly universally considered one of the best films of all time.
Paper Moon (1973) This American comedy-drama directed by Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) starred real life father-daughter pair Ryan and Tatum O’Neal as Moze and Addie. Moze is a shady grafter who takes on the nine year old Addie (who may or may not be his biological daughter) as his mascot/sidekick/protégé on a madcap road trip through plains country during the Great Depression. Filmed in black and white it was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay and Tatum O’Neal won for Best Supporting Actress making her the youngest performer to ever win an competitive Oscar.
Field of Dreams (1989) Phil Alden wrote and directed this fantasy drama starring Kevin Costner as novice farmer Ray who becomes convinced that he’s supposed to turn his corn fields into a baseball diamond. The movies ostensible focus is on letting Shoeless Joe Jackson (among others) play ball again but the not so hidden underlying theme is Ray repairing his relationship with his own now deceased father. Co-starring Amy Madigan, Burt Lancaster, James Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta, Field of Dreams was nominated for three Academy Awards and “If You Build It, He Will Come,” is now part of the cultural lexicon.
Finding Nemo (2003) The Pixar Blockbuster about how Marlin (Al Brooks) the clownfish sets off on a voyage through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to find his lost son Nemo encountering Dory (Ellen Degeneres) a regal blue-tang who suffers from short term memory loss, sharks trying to kick the fish eating habit, and surfer dude turtles was an instant classic that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and was nominated in three other categories including Best Original Screenplay. It also inspired a long-gestating sequel Finding Dory that opened on June 17, 2016.
The Descendants (2011) Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska) directed this film adaption of the novel by the same name. George Clooney stars as land baron Matt King whose wife Elizabeth is in a coma and then learns from his elder daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley in her breakout role) that Elizabeth had an affair. Matt’s emotional journey is momentous and important decisions are made but the movie’s ultimate focus is on Matt’s struggle to form a stronger bond with his daughters. The Descendants won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as two Golden Globe Awards including Best Picture-Drama and Best Actor-Drama for Clooney.
Top photo: Bigstock