Wednesday, August 17, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Isn’t it Grand?

Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly in "Chicago," 1975.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Chita Rivera:  “Nowadays,” Forever, and at Carnegie Hall! ... Gwyneth Paltrow as Greta Garbo?!  Also — peacock mystery solved ... tiny houses, and the new horror of our age — clutter!

“YOU CAN live the life you’re livin’, you can live the life you like/You can even marry Harry, but mess around with Ike.

“Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it great? Isn’t it swell? Isn’t it fun?  Isn’t it?”

So goes the Kander & Ebb song “Nowadays” the great finale to their show, “Chicago.”

The first lovely ladies to sing this song, the first to inhabit the musical lives of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly were, of course, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera.
Chita and Gwen in "Chicago." Associated Press
Miss Verdon moved on to that great proscenium arch in the sky (probably still trying to teach Marilyn Monroe how to dance!) but Chita Rivera is vitally alive and kicking.

On November 7th, Chita will make her debut at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall, in a one-night, once-in-a-lifetime performance titled “Chita: Nowadays.” There will be “special guests” sprinkled throughout  Chita’s evening—Alan Cumming, Andy Karl and others “to be announced.”  But let’s be real, the place is gonna be packed for Chita.
Chita with leadng man Alan Cumming.
Daniel Nardicio will be “presenting” the 10-time Tony nominee (twice a winner).  He refers to her as “a national treasure, a musical theater goddess.”  Oh, come now, Daniel, you can do better than that!

I might have used those phrases myself, once upon a time.  Then I had the electrifying pleasure of attending the opening and closing nights of Chita’s short-lived but unforgettable run in “The Visit”—a great labor of love for her, and the last Kander & Ebb musical, ever. Chita was brilliant, a performance for the ages. A performance that only a woman who has lived and loved within the theater, from child ballet student, to Broadway gypsy to worshipped leading lady, could burn into the souls of her audience.  After that, descriptive hyperbole regarding Chita failed me. (But not for long, folks; aside from a margarita there’s nothing I like more than an overwrought adjective!)
Chita in "The Visit."
I was open and unabashed, in wishing her a third Tony award—not for sentiment’s sake, either.  If you saw her inhabit vengeful billionairess Claire Zachanassian, you’d feel as I did.  And, simply as theater spectacle, Chita’s opening and closing nights were possibly the most thrilling I’d ever experienced in a Broadway theater.  If nothing else, she should have won a special “ovation” award!

As a human being, Chita is non pareil.  But that’s another entire column. 

Sooooo ... tickets to “Chita: Nowadays” are on sale now. Go to
I intend to be there on November 7th, cheering. On the 8th, we elect our next president. One way or another on the 9th, we’ll be singing, Kander & Ebb-style, “It’s gonna change, you know.”

But on the 7th, let’s rejoice, because: “It’s heaven, nowadays.”
MAIL:  Ever since we printed that director Linda Yellen was preparing a movie about Greta Garbo, we’ve received a number of suggestions on this casting. Other famous ladies such as Marlene Dietrich and Garbo’s dear friend Mercedes de Costa are also featured in Yellen’s screenplay.  De Costa lost her personal association with GG after Mercedes published indiscreet memoirs. (Garbo not only wanted to be alone, she wanted everybody to shut up about her!)
Mercedes de Acosta and Greta Garbo (1934). Courtesy of the Rosenbach Museum and Library.
Linda was looking at Diane Kruger.  Some of our readers suggested Rebecca Ferguson, who is so good in Meryl Streep’s  current “Florence Foster Jenkins” (Ferguson is Swedish, just like the famous Greta, who made a latter-day career of running away. This only encouraged people to chase after her more! Clever GG, why make tedious movies, when a brisk jog does the trick in sustaining interest?) 
Diane Kruger or Rebecca Ferguson as Garbo?
Several other readers (perhaps the same person with different emails?) pushed for ... Gwyneth Paltrow. I don’t share, or even quite understand the distaste so many seem to have for Paltrow, but never in a million years do I see her as Garbo.  Then again, it’s called acting, and why not?  She won an Oscar for playing a cross-dressing girl in Shakespearean England.  Coming across as a shy Swede who became a legend and myth in her own lifetime — how hard could that be?  I know, plenty hard! 
Or Gwyneth! Maybe it's not so crazy!
MORE:  I knew I’d receive mail on this one.  Jeffrey Gentile writes in about my interest in the peacocks at St. John the Divine in NYC:  “Liz, there is a simple reason the peacocks never leave, even though the gate is open — they’re already home!  Peacocks are very territorial, and once they settle, they settle in for good.  Here in Pasadena, a friend bought a house that literally came with resident peacocks in the backyard. The realtor offered to have them removed, but my friend opted to live and let live.” 
Honey, I'm home!
Well, cheers to your friend, Jeffrey, and hiss to the realtor!  Trying to run lovely peacocks away?  Certainly not the kind of thing you see on “Love it or List It” or “Property Brothers.” 

I’d expect that out of one of those innumerable “tiny house” programs that are sprouting up.  No room for a Chihuahua, no less a large bird with a lifetime partner.
SPEAKING OF tiny abodes, I realize that downsizing is the new “thing” but I’m always vastly amused when people are shown these box-like homes and exclaim “but, it’s so tiny!”

The recent mania for miniscule homes (I’d love to see these people six months down the road — divorced or institutionalized!) and reams of articles about how to “pare down” your possessions have begun to annoy me.  I think the terrifying show “Hoarders” has had a deleterious effect on those who simply enjoy their collections or don’t mind a bit of organized clutter.
Pondering pleasurable disarray, I am always reminded of Elizabeth Taylor in “Reflections in a Golden Eye” after prissy neat freak Marlon Brando accidentally breaks one of La Liz’s many mantelpiece figurines.  “All this cluhhhtah” Brando mutters in a hilariously bad Southern accent. Taylor, his slattern of a wife snaps back: “So what?  What's the matter with clutter? Ah laik clutter!” (ET was playing yet another hot-to-trot Southern belle.)
Brando, Liz and her ruined tchotchke/chatchka or "clutter."
The New York Times magazine, a few weeks ago, ran a fascinating story — written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner — on a woman named Marie Kondo, who has made a great success — books, speaking engagements, etc. — advocating for paring down. (Her bestseller is titled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”)
Marie Kondo makes her signature gesture of "joy." Andrew T. Warman for The New York Times
More recently in the same magazine, Kyle Chayka penned an article titled “Austerity Measures.”  This states that “the craze for minimalism ... has turned possessions into objects of loathing and disgust ...”  Writer Chayka observed an “arrogance” in today’s minimalism and that “fetishized austerity ... really just provide us with further ways to serve our impulse to consume more, not less.”

This piece also schooled us in the word minimalism, where it came from and how it has been misinterpreted and hijacked.  

It doesn’t take much to learn something new every day.  Honest.
Illustration by Javier Jaén.

Contact Liz here.