Thursday, February 22, 2024

Theater Review: At New World Stages, Two Crowd-Pleasing Shows Take a Walk Down Memory Lane With Music (“A Sign of the Times”) and TV Shows (“The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers”) With Insightful and Darker Detours

A Sign of the Times (c) Jeremy Daniel

Theater: A Sign of the Times 
York Theatre at New World Stages 

It’s 1965 and jukeboxes are not only filled with catchy, frivolous tunes, but also a couple of social justice songs peppered in for the more politically minded young people of the day. This odd juxtaposition is the point of the new musical, A Sign of the Times, which pairs the more recognizable (from its first few notes) hits with more obscure, serious songs to keep us on our toes. The story by Lindsey Hope Pearlman (from a concept by Richard Robin) revolves around Cindy (Chilina Kennedy), who on the eve of 1965, feels the pull of New York City from the televised Times Square celebration all the way in Centerville, Ohio, strong enough to postpone a marriage proposal from her childhood beau, Matt (Justin Matthew Sargent), to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. She takes the bus to the Big Apple and becomes roomies with aspiring singer Tanya (Ain’t No Mo’s Tony-nominee Crystal Lucas-Perry) and finds a job in the steno-pool at an advertising company run by Brian Paulson (Ryan Silverman), who takes a liking to Cindy. Meanwhile Tanya starts flirting with Cody Jackson (Akron Lanier Watson), a young freedom rider for Black rights. But Pearlman’s overstuffed book doesn’t stop there; she throws in many issues of the day, including women’s rights, anti-war protests and even a sprinkling of gay rights, all while incorporating songs like Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking” with Elvis’ “If I Can Dream” and Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” Some songs are comfortably and thematically on point like “You Don’t Own Me,” while others, as in many a jukebox musical, feel rather awkwardly gerrymandered to fit. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Interested Bystander’s Oscar Predictions: February 2024

The Holdovers (c) Focus Features

We are in the final stretch for Oscars. This is the time for you lovely lot to catch up on all the nominees and make up your minds on which film is most deserving and which one is your favorite (most of the time, the two don’t match up). We did find out who the DGA chose this weekend (congrats to Christopher Nolan), but we also have the Independent Spirit Awards, PGA Awards and the SAG Awards coming up to keep us occupied until the Oscars on Sunday, March 10. Here are my predictions of who will the Oscars as of today, in order of likelihood to win. My next Oscars predictions at the beginning of March will even more specific with percentages, like last year (you can see how well I did here). 


Tuesday, February 6, 2024

"All of Us Strangers," Lily Gladstone & Jodie Foster receive 2023 LGBTQ Critics Dorian Award Nominations

All of Us Strangers (c) Searchlight Pictures

GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, consisting of over 500 entertainment critics, journalists and media icons, today announced the group’s democratically chosen nominees for its 15th Dorian Film Awards. All of Us Strangers, writer-director Andrew Haigh’s eerie, devastating—yet ultimately spirited—probing of connection and self-love, led the journalists’ picks for the best of 2023 movies, receiving 9 nods including Film of the Year. Joining Strangers in the top race: Director Greta Gerwig’s rainbow-hued feminist fable Barbie (7 nominations), Todd Haynes’ May December (6), Past Lives (5), and Poor Things (4). 

Friday, February 2, 2024

Film Reviews: Daisy Ridley is Quaint as She “Think(s) About Dying,” Genders Are Explored in Provocative “Skin Deep” and the Extra L in Matthew Vaughn’s “Argylle” Is for Loopy

Sometimes I Think About Dying (c) Oscilloscope

Film: Sometimes I Think About Dying 
In Cinemas 

Employers who are eager to have workers come back to the office after the pandemic should avoid showing the quirky little indie Sometimes I Think About Dying at any company get-togethers. The unnamed small office near the coast of Oregon is about as depressing as one can get. Except for the fantastic ocean views (which occasionally gets obscured by cruise ships), nothing about this place stands out, especially not the workers, with the painful small talk of people who only know each other because of their job. Fran (Daisy Ridley) is the quintessential “Fran from accounting” who is glued to her desk doing her job and only pops up for meetings or the occasional cake in the conference room. She barely talks or even exists, and Ridley (who is so dynamic and charming as Rey in the Star Wars sequels) does every acting trick in the book to blend into the background (when she slyly gives us the tiniest polite smile, it’s like she’s sneaking in a Rey of sunshine). Fran grew up on the quiet side of town (is there a noisy side?) and lives by herself with what looks like furniture inherited from her grandmother. She is not lying when she says her favorite food is cottage cheese, with that rare bit of biographical information coming up when new employee Richard (Dave Merheje) starts at the company, and everyone has to introduce themselves and answer the favorite food question (oh so painful!). It’s no wonder that Fran is the “I” in the title, which director Rachel Lambert stages as less serious and more offbeat expressionistic. So, when newbie Richard invites Fran to a movie, Fran’s little cocoon world breaks open a little in an amusing and sometimes cringy way. Ridley is so effectively quiet and still in this film, and this is easily her best work on film. The whole office dynamic will be familiar to anyone who has ever filled out a requisition form, perked up because someone brought in donuts or got excited about a new stapler. Despite its bleak title, Sometimes I Think About Dying is a gentler version of TV shows like The Office and Severance. And there is an inspired event in this small gem of a film when Fran does “die” and it’s one of the happiest moments the audience will ever see Fran. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Theater: Kelli O’Hara Shines Through the Dark Addiction of “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Once Upon a Mattress” Is a Love Letter to Sutton Foster, “Pride House” Is an Enjoyable Cherry Grove History Lesson and “Our Class” Is an Uncompromising Look at a Real-Life Tragedy

The Days of Wine and Roses (c) Joan Marcus

Broadway: Days of Wine and Roses 
At Studio 54 

The extraordinary actress Kelli O’Hara has never shied away from the darker elements of her characters in such musicals as A Light in the Piazza and Far From Heaven or the opera The Hours. But in Days of Wine and Roses, the musical adaptation of the 1962 Blake Edwards film, the darkness is front and center with O’Hara as a woman falling prey to alcohol addiction with no life raft in sight. Her performance is so raw and angry and heartbreaking that one hopes her dressing room is filled with puppies to help with any post-performance hangover. O’Hara plays Kirsten, a secretary for a big advertising company in the late 1950s, who falls in love with a salesman at the company, Joe (Brian d’Arcy James). Joe, who uses alcohol to get through this fast-paced world and, maybe, so he can have a drinking partner, introduces the otherwise non-drinker Kristen to her first Brandy Alexander. The two become functional drunks (“two corks just bobbing around”) as they get married and have a baby, but things start to spiral out of control when Kristen accidentally sets fire to their apartment, and they have to live with her widowed father (Byron Jennings) — his greenhouse gives the show the other half of its title. Caught in-between all this is their daughter Lila (the wonderful Tabitha Lawing) and the question is “will this couple’s love for her be enough motivation to fight their addiction?” The musical creators, Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel, made two major changes from the movie: the setting has been moved from San Francisco to New York and while the movie slowly becomes a redemption arc for Joe (played by Jack Lemmon), the musical subtlety pulls the focus onto Kirsten (played in the film by Lee Remick) and her tragic fall from being a good girl to an addict drinking with strangers in motels. Because of this change, a lot of Joe’s bouts with detox have been cut, while every moment of Kirsten’s descent is dramatized with an almost horror story precision. Guettel, whose A Light in the Piazza is still one of my favorite Broadway musicals of the modern era, has provided the pair with bouncy songs to highlight the good times but by the end, his score has turned tragically operatic. It is a beautiful Broadway follow-up for this talented composer. And while Brian d’Arcy James is powerful as the equal parts slimy and honorable Joe, it really is, with director Michael Grief’s sensitive guiding hand, O’Hara’s show. Lucas’ book could have delved more into Kirsten’s psyche (her mother’s death when she was young seems to be an unexplored element), but O’Hara makes us almost believe that her last act is not an act of cowardice, but of bravery where she accepts the reality that she cannot change. O’Hara never sugarcoats Kirsten’s choices, and the tragedy of her character is even more heartbreaking because of it. This is Kelli O’Hara’s best performance, and she deserves all the roses.