By Pat Launer
Love, we know, is full of surprises,
It comes in multiple shapes and sizes,
It makes you cold, it makes you schvitz
It strikes at the Globe as well as the Fritz:
It thwarts the very best-laid plans
Of straight men and gay men and Mae West fans.
Okay, get your pens out, and prepare yourself for something no theater-lover will want to miss… and you’re hearing it first here.
KPBS-TV will be airing a knockout, socko show called “Broadway’s Lost Treasures.” As Josh Ellis, former communications director of the La Jolla Playhouse, puts it: “It’s a Must see! And Must video tape!”
This is a tribute/salute to classic Tony Award performances. Hosted by Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach and Chita Rivera, the program features selections from 1967-1986, including (for all you propeller-heads) color-corrected footage and digitally re-mastered music. Divided into four segments — Broadway Divas, Leading Men, Dancin’ and Record-Breakers — the show features the likes of Vivian Blaine singing “Adelaide’s Lament” (Guys & Dolls), Angela Lansbury singing “Worst Pies in London” (Sweeney Todd), Julie Andrews with “Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music), Carol Channing doing “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly!), Zero Mostel, “If I Were a Rich Man” (credit not needed), Richard Kiley, “The Impossible Dream” (ditto), Yul Brynner and Patricia Morison, “Shall We Dance” (The King and I), Joel Grey, “Wilkommen,” Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera doing “All That Jazz,” Andrea McArdle, the original Annie, singing “Tomorrow” and Betty Buckley and company singing “Jellicle Songs” and “Memory” from that eternal feline monstrosity that will remain unnamed here.
Can you stand it?? Can you stand to miss it?? Not if you’re a REAL theater queen.
Here are the details:
Wednesday, August 13 at 8pm on KPBS-TV (channel 13, cable 11). Be there or be nowhere!!
IS THAT A PISTOL IN YOUR PANTS, OR ARE YOU REALLY GLAD TO SEE ME??
Dressed in sequins and trailing a feather boa, Kathy Najimy sings, “The platinum’s for show/Way down below I’m just a dirty blonde.”
“Dirty Blonde” is the title of Claudia Shear’s 1999 Broadway surprise hit, currently getting a stellar production at the Old Globe Theatre. It’s a bio, an homage and a love story, rolled into one. It celebrates tolerance, freedom of speech and quirky behavior. We learn a bit about Mae West, the centerpiece and catalyst, especially her self-creation and self-propelled rise to stardom. And along the way, interspersed with her acts and facts, we follow the evolving relationship between two ardent fans who meet at her mausoleum and share their loneliness, love of Mae and misfit mentality. West was a groundbreaker, a raunchy libertine and self-promoter who wrote her own material, produced her own shows, flouted all convention (including marriage), courted controversy, hung with outcasts (blacks, gays, boxers, gamblers and losers of all stripes) and went to jail on obscenity charges, because of her provocative first play, “Sex.” She was an original, and the play has its own brand of originality — in style and structure, in its moment of flesh-baring prurience, in its often raunchy language.
The present-day story is ultimately more satisfying than Mae’s, though it’s fabulous to see Najimy evolve into the diva and then age into a pathetic caricature of herself. “She found what worked and froze it,” we’re told. But we never find out quite what drove her, or why. We just know she wanted to be a star, and she stopped at nothing — absolutely nothing — to make that happen. When the nerdy sad-sack, Charlie, as a terrified adolescent, makes a trek from New York to Hollywood, and actually gets to meet the great Mae in her dotage, he has a fleeting experience where, “for a second, she almost seemed like a real person.” The faux-person is pretty much all we see of Mae. And we don’t learn too much about Jo, either, the lonely actress/waitress who idolizes the late, great bombshell. But we really see an arc in Charlie’s character, and Kevin Chamberlin is heartbreaking in the role, as well as a number of others (Vegas dancer, boxer, closet drag queen and a smashing W.C. Fields). Bob Stillman, who wrote the “Dirty Blonde” song and did the musical arrangements and direction, is terrific as a wide array of men in Mae’s life — gay, straight, losers, loners and hangers-on. He moves like Gumby, and plays a mean piano. Chamberlin gets to play piano, too. What an incredible actor’s showcase this is! It requires impeccable timing and chameleon malleability. These performers are reprising the roles they played to acclaim on Broadway, and they’re a magnificent ensemble — though all three of them have never done the show together. Najimy is much more talented an actress than most of her roles have revealed — though she was drop-dead hilarious in her Broadway, touring and 2-HBO-specials “Kathy & Mo Show,” which originated here in her hometown.
The direction (originally by the highly acclaimed James Lapine, who’s also credited as co-conceiver; here, recognition goes to Lapine and his associate director, Gareth Hendee) is taut, lively and inventive The set (Douglas Stein) and costumes (Susan Hilferty) are thoroughly evocative of a time, a place and a style. But it’s the lighting design (David Lander) that really sings, with an endless series of scene-changing effects that delight but never steal focus.
The audience leapt to its feet, cheered for the first kiss, and otherwise showed that it was with the show every step of the way. I felt a little left behind — enjoying the performances, but at some distance; appreciative but unmoved. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant and amusing evening of theater. There were a zillion Mae one-liners in the show (and one of the great scenes was when Jo and Charlie exchanged them at break-neck speed), but my personal favorite was omitted. As the story goes, Mae West was riding up on a hotel elevator, and when it stopped, the elevator operator called out, “Ballroom!” Without skipping a beat, Mae said, “Sorry; I didn’t know I was crowdin’ ya.”
THE BLITZ IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE BLITZ!
Speaking of “flirty and dirty,” a phrase used to describe Mae West, “Porn Yesterday” marked the end of the 10th annual Fritz Blitz last weekend. The best Blitz in recent memory, it finished with a bang (actually, several).
You may remember the 1946 comedy “Born Yesterday” by Garson Kanin, which became a timeless Judy Holliday-William Holden-Broderick Crawford film in 1950 and a Melanie Griffith-Don Johnson-John Goodman remake in 1993. In the original, a boorish, racketeering tycoon hires a bookish reporter to give his ditsy mistress some education in culture, class and couth.
In this new version, by San Francisco playwrights Andrew Black and Patricia Milton, the girlfriend is a boyfriend, the boor is a porn-king and the Henry Higgins (so to speak) is a professor of theater. Vic (the slime, played by Byron LaDue) has bought his favorite porn-star, Rex (Adam Edwards) a role in a stage production of Marlowe’s “Edward II,” about the gay king and his lover and the kingdom and banishment, etc. etc. Colin (Jim Turner) is the hapless professor, newly separated from his wife, and undergoing a personal (and identity) crisis. Lance (Brett Daniels) is the prissy accountant of the porn empire, who sits around trying to look pretty and outdo him/herself with bitchy/witty comments. Edgar (David Blaise Meredith) is the bought-out director of a regional theater. This allows for plenty of jabs and jokes about the perils of creating productions, generating funds, etc.
The setups can be trite, but the dialogue is snappy and quite funny. Duane Daniels directs at a rapid clip, though the pace wasn’t what it should’ve been on closing night. The whole thing was worth seeing for Adam Edwards alone, who made this Blitz his own. He was hilarious during the second week in “The Party,” practically a one-man soiree himself. Here, he plays the sex-crazed, flirtatious, irresistible Rex with body and heart. During his transformation into serious actor, he gets to show some of his real acting chops, and later, his intimate scenes with Jim Turner are credible and touching. The ending is actually less predictable than you’d think. All told, a fun and even poignant Blitz finale. May next year’s be as well endowed as Rex.
THIS WEEK”S ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
“Dirty Blonde” – terrific performances — and Kathy Najimy! — at the Globe
“The Children of Heracles” — Marianne McDonald’s wonderfully accessible new translation, which provides the opportunity for two killer performances: by Jack Banning and young Shannon Partrick; at 6th@ Penn
Go for the comedy or for the tragedy… but Put a little Drama in your Life.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.