April Fool’s Day is upon us where we all get free reign to play pranks on one another and lie with impunity. In the spirit of this holiday, here are five note-worthy films celebrating hoaxsters, tricksters, and plain old flim-flam men. Enjoy! (But watch your wallet.)
The Music Man (1962) Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Robert Preston’s performance of slick tongued salesman Harold Hill and how he transforms and is transformed in turn by River City, Iowa is one of the most iconic of all time. Also starring Buddy Hackett, Shirley Jones, and Paul Ford it was one of the highest grossing films of the year. It won the Academy Award for Best Musical Score and was nominated for five more including Best Picture. It later holds up as one of the best and most beloved movie musicals of all time and indeed ‘Harold Hill’ has now become cultural shorthand for swindlers everywhere!
The Sting (1973) Directed by the legendary George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two professional grifter’s in the Depression era, who pull on a complicated confidence scam on a mob boss played by Robert Shaw. A box office smash, The Sting was nominated for 10 Oscar Awards and won seven including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
Six Degrees of Separation (1993) Directed by Frank Schepesi and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize nominated John Guare play of the same name and based on the true story of David Hampton. Fifth Avenue Socialite Ouisa Kittredge (Stockard Channing) and her husband Flan (Donald Sutherland) get taken in by slick young hustler Paul (Will Smith in his first major film debut) who convinces them that he’s the son of Sidney Poitier. Stockard Channing’s performance was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) Steven Spielburg directed this biographical crime film based on the life of Frank Abagnale who successfully impersonated a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and made off with huge sums of cash-while he was still a teenager. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an astonishing performance as Frank, Christopher Walken plays his father Frank Sr., and Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent assigned to take him down. It was a financial and critical success with a 96% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Christopher Walken was nominated for an Academy Award.
The Hoax (2006) Directed by Lasse Halstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) and starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving. It tells the story of Irving’s elaborate hoax of writing and publishing the autobiography of Howard Hughes – without ever even speaking to Howard Hughes himself. Anchored by Gere’s performance the movie also sports an all star cast including Al Molina, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, and Stanley Tucci. Which helps explain why it made the Top 10 Films lists for both the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.
On the 25th Anniversary of this show’s original opening, (the vocalist’s debut at the fabled Oak Room of The Algonquin Hotel), and the 1st Anniversary of Stephen Hanks’ monthly series New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck thrilled a club (The Metropolitan Room) so full of enthusiastic audience we practically sat on one another’s laps.
Worthy of The Hollywood Bowl or London Palladium (are you listening New Jersey Performing Arts Center?), this exceptional evening manages to embrace 21 Broadway musicals that opened in or were still running during its memorable 1959 season. The piece, performed with gusto, clarity, and taste, is cleverly framed as a show unto itself (top ticket price $9.20) with narrative arc illuminated by some of the best constructed medleys I’ve ever heard. Occasional duets add sparkle. (MD/pianist/Alex Rybeck.)
Bookended by a splendid arrangement of “Tonight” (West Side Story) delivered in three musical chapters – light piano cadenza, modulated upswell, Broadway fervor and a gauzy “Till Tomorrow”(Fiorello) – this adroitly written show also contains opening and second act Overtures and an amusing Entr’acte. The latter skillfully conjectures what people might be talking about in Shubert Alley at the time.
Jeff Harnar doesn’t just look around the room, he looks into our eyes making this an immersive experience. The performer is expressive and charming. Lightness of carriage and infectious love of the material makes us feel as if we’re at a stylish, showbiz party. Harnar is in superb, muscular voice. He musically turns on a dime and delivers appreciable script without dropping a stitch. There are songs performed with theatrical accents and others he inhabits with seemingly fresh character awareness. Sara Louise Lazarus reprises and conceivably improves upon her expert Direction.
We meet our boy and girl with “A Perfect Evening” (First Impressions.) He says I’ve seen her kind before…uppity laugh… She says, I’ve seen his kind before…head in the clouds, nose in the air… The lyric is party spoken to great effect. “The wonderful thing about first impressions is that they change” prefaces a waltzy “Nine O’Clock” (Take Me Along) followed by a rich, aptly besotted “On the Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady). “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today” (Jamaica) arrives with fair accent, engaging gestures, and dancey demeanor.
The show’s Marriage Medley slyly employs a familiar wedding theme from Company as a red herring, bridging numbers from other musicals. In part: “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” (My Fair Lady) is a wry dirge; Harnar’s reoccurring “Don’t Marry Me” (Flower Drum Song) emerges sophisticated, insouciant; “One Hand, One Heart” (West Side Story) contains a sob which seems new to this artist. Rybeck ably duets. Remember, he can sing. “As the Act I curtain falls, we find our hero contemplating the wisdom of his dreams.” Hands at his sides, ostensibly holding it together, Harnar showcases finesse while Rybeck’s arrangement shimmers light on selected passages.
Act II opens with a Political Medley featuring such as: “Little Tin Box” (Fiorello) during which Rybeck plays the prosecutor and Harnar the witnesses, several with New Yawk accents. This ends with a jaunty, ersatz soft shoe. And the acerbic hoedown “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands” (L’il Abner) which sounds disturbingly current. (Why is no one doing a cabaret show of Broadway political songs?)
We then revisit “our troubled lovers.” “I Say Hello” (Destry Rides Again) brims with entreaty; “Long Before I Knew You” (Bells Are Ringing) is palpably warm, “Look Who’s In Love” (Redhead) lands surprised. Before the coda of this section, we hear Harnar’s Harold Hill tell partner-in-crime Marcellus that he can’t run away even if it means being caught. In love with Marian the Librarian,“… for the first time in my life, I got my foot caught in the door…” (‘Inspired use of a line.). Four bars of “Till There Was You” (The Music Man) adds a cursive flourish. Always a talented balladeer, the vocalist brings sincerity to songs that might be merely sentimental in other’s hands.
A moving “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (The Sound of Music) with unexpectedly entrancing piano serves as encore. Harnar is tender, not stressed. The song appears heady in a different, more affecting way. Much of the room tears up. Bravo!
This extraordinary show unfortunately has no future dates.
Photos by Steve Friedman
New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits presents
Jeff Harnar sings The 1959 Broadway Songbook
First engagement at The Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel 1991
Recorded live on Original Cast Records 1992
Alex Rybeck- MD/Piano & Vocals
Sara Louise Lazarus- Director
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
August 13, 2016