Tagged: Theatre

Talkin’ in the rain.

Cropped screenshot of Jean Hagen from the trai...

I keeen’t steeeeend it!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awesome bit of movie trivia I learned today:

Singin’ In The Rain‘s plot is partially motivated by the ear-splitting Brooklyn screech of silent film actress Lina Lamont, as played by Jean Hagen. Her studio manager and co-star deem her voice manifestly unsuited for talkies, so they hire ingénue Kathie Selden to dub her.
In fact, Debbie Reynolds, who played Kathie, was judged not to have an elegant enough voice for the task. So in the scenes where Lina appears dubbed, it is actually Jean Hagen’s normal speaking voice.
Count that as your knowledge gained for the day.

Oh, and Gene Kelly has a fighting chance of being the hottest male film star in history, in my biased opinion. Just sayin’.

And Cyd Charisse in the “Gotta Dance” interlude.
Wow. What a dame. Or was she a broad?
Either way, her slinking it up in her green little nothing of a dress, wordlessly seducing Gene Kelly, all the sexier and more risky because of what it couldn’t show.  Imagination trumps bald, literal nudity.

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. This scene is sixty different kinds of freakishly sexy.

Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. This scene is sixty different kinds of sexy.

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New York City Opera, RIP.

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Your humble hostess with Samuel Ramey in New York City Opera’s Anna Bolena, 1980. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman

On 11 September (yes, really), 1980. I made my professional stage debut in the mute and uncredited role of Elizabeth in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, at the New York City Opera. I was six, and on stage with me were Olivia Stapp, Samuel Ramey, and Rockwell Blake. For the entire run of performances and rehearsals, I earned a princely fee of $ 39.45, after taxes. It was to alter the course of my life in ways I couldn’t even comprehend back then.

After a glorious 70-year history of triumphs, tragedies, iconic performances, some rotten luck, some labor difficulties, and a whole heap of boneheaded decisions, City Opera is filing for bankruptcy.

Kinda depressed about this right now. If my thoughts coalesce into anything rational I’ll write them down. I might also try and get my scanner working so I can share a bit of NYCO memories and ephemera.

And always remember that there are lots of other small opera companies, projects and competitions in the New York area that are worthy of  your patronage.

Going to stalk YouTube for a while. See ya’s.

South Pacific.

Lisa McCune and a bunch of horny sailors in OA’s South Pacific. Krulac, is that you? 

I had watched Bartlett Sher’s famous Lincoln Center Theater revival of South Pacific on YouTube. When I found out it was coming to the Sydney Opera House I immediately saved up for tickets. The performance I attended was the first preview of the revival season.

Romance, intrigue, prejudice, colonialism, war, comedy, tragedy. Those are some of the themes of this 1949 evergreen musical, which has only infrequently been revived. The 2008 production broke ticket records and was one of the most sought-after Broadway tickets for a long time.

Opera Australia imported Sher to direct the revival, and his care shows in the meticulous direction. Catherine Zuber’s period costumes looked splendid, and Michael Yeargan’s bamboo-blind sets ensured quick and noiseless scene changes.

The first comment I have to make is negative. I’ll be generous and say that the numerous failures in the amplification system were due to opening-day glitches. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’ve heard better sound in the talking dolls of my girlhood.

Unfortunately, the rotten microphony seriously undermined the performance of Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile de Becque. Saddled with a wretchedly mousy wig (not his fault) and a Pepe LePew French accent (definitely his fault), Rhodes sang well but was mostly incomprensible, both in song and dialogue. (Perhaps this was an ironic homage to the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s namesake, also famous for bad diction.) He did belt out a gorgeous “Some Enchanted Evening” with a legit full-voice concluding high note, but “This Nearly Was Mine”, although delivered with the requisite frustrated regret, was clear as mud. A shame.

Logie-winning Lisa McCune as Ensign Nellie Forbush could not have been any better if she’d held a séance and channeled the spirit of Mary Martin. A delightful actress with just enough spunk to be charming without verging into annoyingness, her Nellie was a model of sunny determination. Her act 1 mood swing from the go-girl-feminism of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” to the dreamy head-over-heels romance of “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy” was communicated with perfect naturalness and a sweet singing voice. I must also commend her FLAWLESS American accent. As someone who criticizes pronunciation regularly and is well-used to spotting bad dialects, I had not a single complaint. Brava.

Christine Anu, normally a sexy corkscrew-curled chanteuse, was nearly unrecognizable as Bloody Mary: stooped, with betel-nut stained teeth and stringy hair. A few crooned phrases couldn’t ruin her haunting “Bali H’ai”, and the way she relished the phrase “STINGY BASTARD!” elicited loud laughs.

(Related question: Is Bloody Mary a pimp? She pushes Lt. Cable and her daughter Liat into a sexual relationship, hoping he’ll marry her and stay on the island. She asks for no money though, and in fact offers Cable the $600 she has saved selling grass skirts and human heads, as an endowment to start their  island life together. Does Western morality make us uncomfortable with this? Ponder.)

Gyton Grantley, familiar to TV viewers from Underbelly,  hits precisely the right balance of comic ingenuity and aw-shucks sweetness as Luther Billis, the laundry-running entrepreneur of the base. His drag routine with Nellie in Act 2, which can veer perilously close to ridiculousness, was genuinely funny. Grantley is obviously not a born singer, but he led his  Seabees competently in “There is Nothing Like A Dame” (staged here, correctly, not for laughs but as an almost menacing lament of sexual frustration). He too had a perfect American accent: props.

Blake Bowden was adequate if somewhat colorless as Lieutenant Cable. “Younger Than Springtime”, which I’ve always considered to be a bit superfluous, was well sung, and he had a lovely chemistry with the pretty Celina Yuen as Liat. Bartholomew John gave his best George C. Scott impression as Captain Brackett. The ensemble was well-drilled and was obviously enjoying themselves.

Let’s hope they work out the audio issues for the rest of the run, because this is a revival  of a historic musical worth watching. Only the most curmudgeonly  will be unmoved by its charms.

Where the devil are my slippers?

I had an epiphany the other night. Many classic musicals have a not-so-hidden subtext about gender roles and power. Consider the three most popular shows by Rodgers & Hammerstein:
“The King and I”: Lower-status woman falls for a higher-status wealthy older man.
“The Sound of Music”: Lower-status woman falls for a higher-status wealthy older man.
“South Pacific”: Lower-status woman falls for a higher-status wealthy older man.

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Of course if you prefer Lerner & Loewe, you could always try the classic “My Fair Lady”, or perhaps “Gigi”: Lower-status woman…

…you get the idea.
Is this a big coincidence, or is the enduring popularity of these films and shows premised on the fact that they endorse the customary sex roles? Are they loved by women and men not in spite of their traditional romantic love arrangements, but because of them?

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None of the heroines in these shows are pushovers. They are all, to varying degrees, “spunky” intelligent women who have plans for their lives quite different than where they end up. And they all are eventually successfully wooed by dominant men.

“My Fair Lady” is a special case. It has the structure of a romance, but for most of the work, the protagonists openly loathe each other. Higgins is possibly cinema’s most charming misogynist: he has no fewer than two songs devoted to explaining how horrible women are:

Why is thinking something women never do?

And why is logic never even tried?

Straightening up their hair is all they ever do.

Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?

Let a woman in your life and your serenity is through,

she’ll redecorate your home, from the cellar to the dome,

and then go on to the enthralling fun of overhauling you…

At the end of it all, the most romantic thing Higgins can think of to say about Eliza is that he’s grown accustomed to her face. (Well gee, thanks for that.). And Eliza’s motivation for returning is more opaque still. She has a shot with the cute if somewhat foppish Freddy Eynsford-Hill (a “beta” male, to use the trendy parlance.) She could have a perfectly nice bourgeois life with him. He adores her. And yet, she returns to the man who has essentially created her new persona. Higgins may be a pompous alpha shit, but he understands the new Eliza better than anyone, because she is him. Albeit in much, much nicer clothes.

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What do you all think?