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.
Continuing on with our series on experiencing the world’s best vacation spots vicariously through the use of books and movies, now let’s take a sojourn to Paris the City of Lights. With its fantastic food, its café culture, its world famous museums, historic architecture and so much more, it is arguably the Ultimate Destination City. Let us explore.
Five Great Movies to See That Were Filmed in Paris
An American in Paris (1951) Vincente Minelli directed this classic movie musical based on the composition of George Gershwin. Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is a WWII vet struggling to make it as an artist while romantically involved with Lise (Leslie Caron). Oscar Levant, Georges Geutary, and Nina Foch also starred. It was a huge box office smash and was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won six. It is ranked #9 on the AFI’s list of Best Movie Musicals.
Belle de Jour(1967) Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel directed and co-wrote this film based on the Joseph Kessler novel of the same name. Severine (Catherine Denueve, in one of her most acclaimed roles) is a young and beautiful housewife married to physician Dr. Pierre Serizy. She loves her husband, but is sexually frustrated and finds release by working as a high class prostitute while he’s at work. Many of Denueve’s costumes were designed by Yves St. Laurent himself and the film won the Golden Lion and Passinetti Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival.
Amelie (2001) Audrey Tatou shines in the title role as a shy young waitress living in Montmarte who decides to devote herself to promoting the happiness of others. Along the way of course she finds love for herself as well. The movie was a global smash and the highest grossing French language film released in the U.S. to date. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, won two BAFTA awards, four Cesar Awards including Best Film and Best Director, and won Best Film at the European Film awards.
Ratatouille (2007) Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol) directed this animated Pixar offering. Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) is an idealistic and creative soul who yearns to become a great chef but finds it hard to do because…well he’s a rat. Until that he is forms a partnership with bumbling garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano). Janeane Garafolo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, and Peter O’Toole lend their voices as well. To create the food animation Bird interned at The French Laundry restaurant and the production team consulted with numerous chefs. The end result was a visually spectacular and hilarious movie that rightly won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture.
Midnight in Paris(2011) Woody Allen wrote and directed this comedic fantasy. Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter and would be novelist besotted by Paris while his fiancée Inez (Rachel MacAdams) is less enamored. One night Gil discovers a way to travel back in time to Paris in the 20’s allowing him to hobnob with figures like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. The movie is essentially a love letter to Paris and its charms and enchantments which helped win a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Five Great Books Set in Paris
Le Pere Goriot(1835) by Honore de Balzac. Set in Paris during the Bourbon Restoration, the novel follows how three characters lives intertwine: criminal in hiding Vautrin; idealistic young law student Eugene de Rastignac; and the titular Goriot, an elderly man who dotes on his spoiled and ungrateful daughters. While it received mixed reviews at the time it is now widely considered to be Balzac’s most important and influential novel that gave rise to the term ‘Rastignac’ to denote a social climber who’d do anything to advance their position.
A Moveable Feast (1964) By Ernest Hemingway. A memoir of Hemingway’s early years as a struggling expatriate journalist and author in the 20’s when he was married to his first wife, Hadley. It was published posthumously by his fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, three years after his death based on his manuscript and notes. Hemingway provides specific details on many Parisian streets and cafes still in existence today as well as featuring such notable figures as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein and many more. For anyone interested in Paris OR literary history it’s a must read.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006) By Muriel Bayberry. Renee Michel is a brilliant and sensitive woman who hides her genius under a shade while working as a concierge at a ritzy apartment building. She is befriended by the precocious and unstable 12 year old Paloma Josse and one day the cultured Japanese businessman Kakuro Ozu begins to take an interest in Renee as well. An publishing phenomenon it became an international best-seller and won the 2007 French Booksellers Award, the Prix du Rotary International in France, and the Brive-la-Gaillarde Reader’s prize. A movie adaption starring Josiane Balasko as Renee was released in 2009.
Pure (2011) By Andrew Miller. The novel centers around the efforts of engineer Jean-Baptiste Barrette who is tasked with the removal of the Les Innocentes, cemetery and church from Les Halles, France in 1786. Barratte soon find he has both friends and enemies in this task and Miller draws a colorful cast of characters who wage against each other during a time of incredible political turmoil. It was nominated for the Walter Scott Prize and South Bank Award, and won the Costa Book Award for ‘Best Novel’ and ‘Book of the Year.’
Paris: The Novel (2013) By Edward Rutherford. This historical novel traces the history of Paris from 1261 to 1968 thru the sagas of six core families; the Revolutionary Le Sourds, the aristocratic de Cygnes, the bourgeois merchant Renards, Napolean supporting Blanchards, the Gascons of the slums, and the Jacobs an art dealing Jewish family. Based on real events following two different timelines and set in locales such as Montmarte, Notre Dame, and Boulevard Saint-Germain it weaves a fascinating tapestry.
In a season crowded with what have turned out to be so many disappointing Broadway shows rushing to make the Tony Award deadline (April 27), Anastasia rises above the fray. Here is an old fashioned (that’s a compliment) book musical with a ravishing score, expressive, illuminating lyrics, significant talent, remarkable visuals, war, deception, and love.
The Cinderella story, for those of you unfamiliar with Anatole Litvak’s 1956 film or the Disney cartoon, revolves around what might’ve happened had Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, escaped the murder of her family by Bolshevik secret police in 1918. There were, in fact, rumors of survival and young women who declared themselves to be the princess.
Nicole Scimeca, Mary Beth Peil
Ostensibly caught in an explosion, our heroine (Christy Altomare), is an amnesiac called Anya by the hospital in which she was treated. The girl is scraping by as a street cleaner in poverty-stricken St. Petersburg: A city on the rise/It’s really very friendly/If you don’t mind spies…She remembers only someone’s promise to meet in Paris, where all will be well. We’ve seen that covenant made by her grandmother, the Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil) who inadvertently decamped to the French capital in time to escape joining her family in death. A Faberge music box is given little Anastasia (the superb Nicole Scimeca).
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Anya is conscripted by con men Dmitry (Derek Klena, a young audience heartthrob with an excellent tenor, though less presence than he might have) and Vlad (John Bolton – a fine comic actor in the vein of Billy De Wolfe) to masquerade as Anastasia in order to collect a sizeable reward 0ffered by the Dowager. Vlad was once a palace insider and provides fount of information. Lyric details add historical interest. Hesitant about the dishonesty, Anya reconciles it as a way to get to France and then begins to believe the possibility.
Every now and then during tutoring, the girl finds she knows something she shouldn’t – like French. These windows of recollection, skillfully woven through the book, are dismissed by Dmitry and Vlad as imagination. A scene at the last palace ball Anastasia attended is evocatively recreated with projected spectres joining dancers on stage and balconies.
Ramin Karimloo, Christy Altomare
Meanwhile, Anya is noticed by Gleb (Ramin Karimloo) a regimental official so taken with her that despite staunch commitment to the authoritarian state, he lets the girl go even after hearing of the plot in which she’s involved. Anya, Vlad and Dmitry make it to Paris backed by a surprising resource. (Oh, the ingeniously imagined train ride!)
Gleb follows, instructed to kill the girl if she turns out to be Anastasia. His father was one of the soldiers who killed the Tsar’s family. Will he be able to finish the job? Also in the balance is Dmitry’s romance with the young woman he must give up should her identity be proven.
Vlad hopes to get to the Dowager Empress through her lady in waiting, Countess Lily with whom he was once romantically entangled. (Caroline O’Connor – imagine a more attractive Martha Raye.) A charming push/pull number with Lily and Vlad (O’Connor and Bolton make farce delicious) recalls early Hollywood musicals as does a number in The Neva Club peopled by white Russian exiles. Outcome rests with hopeful, frightened Anya and Anastasia’s disillusioned grandmother – no, her Nana. “You can’t be anyone unless you first recognize yourself.”
John Bolton, Caroline O’Connor and the Company
Fellow journalists have objected to sidelining the royal family’s deaths/turbulent Russian politics. I disagree. The event is unmistakable. Poverty and government shifts are not the point. Enough is evoked to give context to the situation. This is not an opera.
In fact, Anastasia might be considered a primer for well conceived musicals. Numbers organically elaborate on dialogue. Comic relief appears after quiet intensity. Past and present occupy the stage with cohesive luster. Even aware of the conclusion, we willingly, appreciatively succumb.
Songs like the music box’s “Once Upon a December,” “Journey to The Past”: Heart, don’t fail me now!/Courage, don’t desert me!/Don’t turn back now that we’re here… and “Crossing a Bridge” may be familiar, but empathetic emotion feels fresh. Several solos by Gleb are as edifying as they are musically powerful and “Still” by the Dowager Empress is heart wrenching. At least two vocal arrangements play conspirators’ themes against one another with consummate skill. (There’s no analysis in the moment, just intoxication.)
John Bolton, Christy Altomare, Derek Klena in the box
In her Broadway debut, Christy Altomare is grave and radiant. We’re with her every step of the way. Warm vocals wonder and soar. Memory fragments emerge credibly abrupt. Doubt feels sincere. An artist to watch.
Mary Beth Peil is stunning. Every inch the Dowager Empress, the actress embodies magisterial grace. She exudes love for Anastasia, bone deep suffering of loss – her vocals tear at one, galvanizing expectation, and weary joy. A masterful turn.
Ramin Karmiloo (Gelb) is a leading man to his toes. Stage presence is unconditional, his muscular, expansive voice hypnotic. Karmiloo shows us the nuance of Gelb’s conflicting feelings while maintaining a habitually rigid outer demeanor.
Christy Altomare, Derek Klena
Director Darko Tresnjak, like four other members of the show’s creative team, was responsible for the gleefully high-wattage A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Tresnjak adroitly handles the Dowager Countess’s delicate goodbye to little Anastasia and small, telling gestures – like Gelb’s dismissal of his subordinates, as well as he manifests murder, revolution, and nightclub frivolity. Visual tableaux are always pleasing.
Choreographer Peggy Hickey melds Broadway hoofing with 1920s Charleston, gives us a comic tango with panache, and engineers shimmering waltzes.
Alexander Hodge’s Scenic Design and Donald Holder’s Lighting (from war to ghostly dreams) work symbiotically hand in hand with some of the most fantastic Projection Design I’ve ever seen (by Aaron Rhyne). Though I’d’ve preferred a bit more solid scenery and a tad less Peter Max coloration in videos, cumulative results are astonishing. Settings are comprised of full scale, detailed photographs artfully manipulated to indicate time of day and character movement. Anyone in this field should emphatically attend.
Linda Cho’s Costumes are period perfect, believably tattered, stylish when appropriate, glorious at court, and always collectively flattering.
Photos by Matthew Murphy Opening: Christy Altomare Photo of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, Wiki
Anastasia Book by Terrance McNally Music by Stephen Flaherty Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Directed by Darko Tresnjak The Broadhurst Theatre 235 West 44th Street
Married to a Frenchman, actress/vocalist Gay Marshall has, for many years, lived in both Paris and New York. Formidable renditions of French songs offered in two languages are part of her signature repertoire. These days, Marshall is also retranslating lyrics. I’m pleased to say she does this with respect, not reverence and meticulous attention to unfussy poetry.
A small, sinewy woman with steely presence, the performer has a powerful voice with extremely flexible timbre, including unexpected vocal pivots. Gestures are minimal; the closing of a fist or outstretched arm with open palm arrive with significance. Marshall delivers a rallying cry as if at the barricades. Lyrics that seethe feel wrenched from her guts. She combusts with joy. There are no half measures.
Gay’s Paree is framed as a walk through her second home, past colorful memories. Marshall, who calls herself “a conflicted Francophile,” is no dewy eyed ingénue. Her perspective on The City of Light is balanced. Attitudes and incidents are related with honest frustration as well as affection. Americans, she finds, cling to a rose-colored view as if romance verged on extinction. (Sounds accurate.)
Dave Frishberg’s “Another Song About Paris,” a fitting preface, is too robust for its sentiments but Francis Lemarque’s “A Paris” emerges just right. We’re in Montmartre, meeting her scrappy voice teacher, entering the stage door of The Folies Bergère “with can-can dresses up high, a little pair of booties hung just beneath each one,” singing in French to the French – by which she’s somewhat astonished.
“La Boheme” (Charles Aznavour/Jacques Plante/Gaye Marshall) sails in on luxurious waves of Ian’s Herman’s piano arrangement. Longing is almost visible. Marshall initially learned “Les Grandes Boulevards” phonetically from an old Yves Montand record. Hand on a hip, the song picks up swagger. To the uninitiated, these are the words of an insouciant boulevardier. The artist was distressed to learn its lyrics reveal “stalking a poor creature and pushing her into an alley.” I, for one, will never hear it the same way again. (Norbert Glanzberg/Jacques Plante)
Living in Paris, Marshall felt it was incumbent upon her to experience singing in the streets. She chose a footbridge to The Isle St. Louis. A tender story about a seemingly homeless fan leads into the unfamiliar “Stone” (Michel Berger/Luc Plamandon/Tim Rice) from the French musical Starmania – yes, Virginia, there are evidently French musicals. The song is as dark as they come: The world is stone…It’s cold to the touch/It’s hard on the soul…I would love not to care…laisser mourir (let me die)…Marshall’s muscular performance is backed by roiling, inextricably entwined music.
Behavior the vocalist has learned in France includes: “Don’t smile. Say hardly anything. Never hug the French…Sometimes the crushing condescension gets to you,” she comments. “J’suis Snob” follows. Emulating an affected, French television personality, Marshall becomes a caricature brought to life. She’s really funny, partially because of acting, partially due to a wry translation which ends, My tombstone’s gonna say/Died completely blasé…(Jimmy Walter/Boris Vian/Gay Marshall)
Also retranslated are “La Chanson des Vieux Amants” (Jacques Brel/Gay Marshall), a love song for the ages and the iconic “Sous le Ciel de Paris” (Hubert Giraud/Jean Drejac/Gay Marshall) which, in this author’s hands becomes jubilant rather than rife with yearning. Herman’s gorgeous piano music veritably twirls. It seems astonishing everyone’s able to stay seated.
We’re now at The Avenue des Champs–Élysées, described as having morphed into “an expensive shopping mall.” Still, its panoramic view and dense history resonate with Marshall, especially through her father-in-law’s recounting of war stories. A trio of songs then becomes, to my mind, the highlight of the evening: “Les Grognards” (Pierre Delanoe), “La Colombe” (Hubert Giraud/Jacques Brel) and “Sons Of” (Alistair Clayre/Jacques Brel/Eric Blau/Mort Shuman.)
Listen people of Paris, the first begins, We’re ghosts of the people who fought for you…who never saw how beautiful you are…Tonight we’re marching up the Champs–Élysées without guns or boots…Why the present hour, the second continues with soldiers in the field… At which our childhood ends/At which our luck runs out/At which our train moves away?…The same sweet smiles, the same sad tears/The cries at night, the nightmare fears/Sons of the great or sons unknown/All were children like your own…sings the agonized third.
The medley is an exuberant anthem, an inexorable march, a heart-rending cry, a fervent warning. Marshall performs with soul and conviction, reaching in through our sweaters and defenses, stilling and affecting us all. Music ebbs and swells with almost classical drama, textually complex but cohesive, ending like a psalm. We’ve been on a journey.
“Mon Manage a Moi” (Norbert Glanzberg/Jean Constantin) leaves us with a dancy, music hall number about love, love, love, its gleeful momentum like a raft over rapids.
Though warm and entertaining, patter could be successfully cut by half. If “Les Feuilles Mortes”/“Autumn Leaves” (Joseph Cosma/Jacques Prevert/Gay Marshall) is a lesser translation, other efforts display superb writing. This is an engaging show of headlong emotion, smart observation, and accomplished talent.
Marshall’s choice of multifaceted MD/Pianist, Ian Herman, could not be better.
Photos by Jean-Louis Blondeau
Gay Marshall at Pangea: Gay’s Paree Ian Herman- Musical Director/Piano Pangea Supper Club 178 Second Avenue at 11th Street Additional Shows: November 2 and 9, 2016 Reservations and Venue Calendar
Have you noticed how the image of Grandma has changed? Lesley Stahl is doing her best to remind you. Gone are the days when Marlene Dietrich was a singular amazement as she morphed the image of the sweet lady on the rocker, slinking on stage in a cloud of beads and furs to the throaty tones of “Falling in Love Again.”
The move from “come sit with me on the front porch” to “meet me at the gym” is pretty much an epidemic as cozy gives place to chic. A dynamic woman with whom I rode the M103 last week was a case in point. Having had both knees replaced in the not too distant past, she declared that she simply wouldn’t allow her grandchildren to feel they needed to take care of her. So, off they went to China. Where, she reported, travelling with children provides perfect assurance that the citizens of your host country will engage you in conversation.
GlamourGram Judy Loeb (bottom, far right) with Aunt Erica (right)
If I needed any reminder of the new world of Granny, it came when ordering brunch at a neighborhood restaurant one recent weekend. Noting our shared taste for french toast, the woman’s husband remarked that for his wife it was a bon voyage as she prepared to set off on a long-planned trip to Paris.
The plan began 12 years before when Judy Loeb became the grandmother of twin girls. Their mother’s name suggested French roots, and so triggered the idea that became a promise: that she would take the girls to Paris one day in the future. The future arrived when a quartet of adventurers were greeted by the owner of the apartment they had selected on the Ile St. Louis.
So when GlamourGram, the twins, and their Aunt Erica, who acccompanied them on the first leg of their journey from California, had enjoyed the very French breakfast their landlady had provided before she set off, their first sight and sounds of Paris happened at the nearby Notre Dame. The beauty of the Cathedral, the stories told in its legendary stained glass and the voices of a visiting choir created an impact that guaranteed that the girls were already in touch with the atmosphere that had moved their Grandmother to happy tears. They “got it.”
The Twins in front of Monet’s Water Lilies at L’Orangerie
Louis Vuitton. For some visitors to Paris it means shopping. For them it meant the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne with its signature structure by Frank Gehry. The day they visited, the futuristic structure was itself transformed into a geometry of red and green by the artist who overlaid its panels in those colors. Within, there was an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art. But taste was not confined to the visual alone. Before they left the Bois the twins met Angelina, Paris’ legendary cathedral of chocolate, which established an outpost there allowing the visiting Americans to propose a toast to their amazing day with similarly amazing hot chocolate.
At the nearby Jardin d’Acclamation, the twins were introduced to the 19th century origins of the landmark/sometime zoo established in 1860. The trampolines they found there gave them the chance to express exhilaration. But the literal high point of discovery came when they spied the Jardin’s contemporary roller coaster. Having paid the 12-year old’s entry charge and preparing to wave them off on their ride, GlamourGram and Aunt Erica were urged by the attendant to ride along, at no cost. The scary moment of truth could not be avoided. With audible gulps the entire foursome was buckled in. The screams of the adults were equaled only by the giggles of the preteens. Being the foursome they were, you can guess which pair was most grateful to embrace the return to solid ground.
Meals delivered french classics unencumbered by the hauteur of the 5-star premises. They regularly elevated the stature of state of the art french bread and cheese, moutarde and gherkins shared in the “plein air” of the Luxembourg Garden.
Judy Loeb didn’t have to wait for grandmotherhood to become a poster-person for surprising innovation. As the daughter of a respected maker of men’s shirts she created a new blend, putting her college study of design into a successful turn as designer of a fashion-forward line of women’s shirts. This evolved into a career in fashion design.
Marriage and pregnancy brought her a fresh focus. She became a trend setter by creating a fashion T-shirt that featured the word “Baby” in large letters and with an arrow pointing to the evidence that this was a design born of reality. When requests and demands for her bold design increased, not just the baby was born, but also an innovative maternity-wear label called Sweet Mama.
After a brief sojourn in California, Judy returned to her native New York and a career in candidate advocacy with Emily’s List.
The day may come when GlamourGram’s twin girls take it for granted that their father’s mother is the accurate and expected definition of grandmother. But in their hearts, and in their memories of spring 2016 they will probably know better. And I hesitate to guess what surprising memories they will hatch for future children of the later 21st century.
One day soon, I will rush back to the neighborhood restaurant where Skip’s humorous observation about french toast set me on a delightful voyage of discovery. If you have any bright ideas of what I should order, be sure to let me know.
Photo credit: Judy Loeb. Of the opening photo, Loeb says, “Came upon this bakery just at the right moment. Bought pastries and bread here for our picnic in the Jardin Luxembourg.”
Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears every Sunday