Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Tony Awards Experience

"There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty, that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism." — Alexander Hamiilton
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

The Tony Awards Experience (Fabulous and Moving) ... "The Girlfriend Experience" (Dank and Dark — It Ain't "Pretty Woman"— which is probably a good thing.)

"IN SWEDEN, stardom is looked upon as phony. You walk to the theater every day like everybody else," said actress Lena Olin.

Well, the Swedes are very sensible. Garbo never understood her stardom, and Ingrid Bergman couldn't have been more down-to-earth. One of my favorite Ingrid stories is from later in her career, when she did a lot of stage work. She was having some problem with a line that she couldn't get quite right, even after the show was running for a while. One of Bergman's co-stars, Wendy Hiller, expressed displeasure. Ingrid said, rather amused, "Oh, Wendy, it's only a play!"
I'M going to have to admit I haven't paid much attention to James Corden as the host of CBS's "The Late Late Show." But after seeing him energetically and brilliantly helm the Tony Awards on Sunday night, I'm going to lift James Mason's remark to Judy Garland in "A Star is Born." Mr. Corden clearly has that "little something extra" that makes him a star. I was impressed by him throughout the show, and totally blown away by his opening number. (He is a Tony-winner himself for "One Man, Two Guvnors" which I recall liking very much back in 2012.)
James Corden brilliantly hosting the Tony Awards.
I think the Tony Awards have improved, even if they can't be made shorter than three hours. Then again, all the awards shows go on too long, so that's not any particular diss of CBS, which seems to have re-structured the show to its benefit.

I don't think I have any criticism in terms of the winners, and "Hamilton" certainly deserved its 11 awards. I was especially pleased to see Jessica Lange up there for "A Long Day's Journey Into Night" and also my old friend Frank Langella.
Tony Award winners Jessica Lange and Frank Langella.
Oh, wait, I do have one cavil — two of Arthur Miller's plays, "The Crucible" and "A View From the Bridge" were up for best revival of a play. If one of those had to win, I'd rather "The Crucible" had taken the Tony. "A View From the Bridge" is unbearable, as are most of Miller's works. (All the actors in both the Miller revivals were splendid, so this is no reflection of their work. I simply find Miller the playwright grindingly uninteresting and pretentious.)
A scene from "The Crucible."
The humor highpoint was host Corden's noting how many of the nominees had appeared in various "Law & Order" episodes. (It's sort of the thing to do, when you're at the theater; look through the cast bios in the Playbill and see how many of the actors have made appearances in the "L&O" franchise.) Given what the country has just endured, we needed all the humor, high spirits and empowering words possible.
The performance of the night — and that's saying a lot because everybody was giving their all — was for sure Cynthia Erivo who brought down the house with "I'm Here" from "The Color Purple." She not only deserved her Tony, she deserved that tumultuous standing ovation. And as readers of this column know, we are wary of standing Os, which seem to usually be not much more than an excuse for the audience to stretch their legs.
Cynthia Erivo bringing down the house with "I'm Here" from "The Color Purple.
The show closed with Miss Barbra Streisand, looking pretty terrific in a "Hamilton"-esqse pants outfit.

Barbra Streisand honored as 'Star Of The Decade' at the 1970 Tony Awards.
The legend never returned to the Broadway stage after "Funny Girl" cemented her burgeoning superstardom back in 1964. And she hadn't attended the Tony Awards at all since 1970, when she was given something called "The Star of the Decade" award. The legitimate theater's loss was Hollywood's gain, but as usual, she is a thrilling presence, even just giving out an award. And I'd never say never about her never appearing on Broadway again — probably in a limited engagement drama. Very limited. Like, a month.

(One of the reasons Streisand had no desire to go back to Broadway was the boredom factor. She hated doing the same thing, night after night. By the time "Funny Girl" reached London, Barbra was over it. At least in concert she can ad lib, or change up the set-list, and movies are a different kind of tedium.)

Of course, she is still promising to re-make, for the big screen, Broadway's most treasured musical, "Gypsy." So, her appearance was a little reminder about that, too.
Barbra presenting the final award of the night for best musical to Hamilton. Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Anyway, kudos to CBS, to all the producers who put this glitter-fest together and to host James Corden, who is now one of my favorite guys.

Oh, and I didn't feel bad that Leslie Odom, Jr. won best actor in a musical over his "Hamilton" co-star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Odom is magnificent as Aaron Burr, and Miranda who created "Hamilton" and stars as Alexander Hamilton has become a genuine superstar phenom. His future is well-assured. (He is on the cover of the current Rolling Stone, which declares "Hamilton Mania.")
Well played!
Riley Keough as Christine Reade in "The Girlfriend Experience."
I HAVE tried to watch the "The Girlfriend Experience" on Starz. This features Riley Keough as a young woman who supplements her ordinary working girl income as a high-end escort. Look, I realize prostitution, under any guise, is not a joyful thing ("Pretty Woman" was a travesty, and probably everybody connected to it should apologize) but this series, and Miss Keough's performance — if we can even call it that — is funereal in the extreme. In real life, in person, Miss Keough is likely an attractive girl — after all she is Elvis Presley's granddaughter!

But her performance is so robotic and glum (perhaps she will be revealed as a sociopath?) and her physical appearance so ... not extraordinary, that the premise of her success as an escort seems somewhat questionable. Fans will probably tell me the show is supposed to be so dark and depressing and the lead actress is giving a master class in subtle underplaying. (In her emotional reticence, she reminds me a lot of the eternally sullen Kristen Stewart.)
One thing's for sure, and it's probably a good thing, I can't imagine "The Girlfriend Experience" tempting anybody into selling their body for profit or pleasure.

The twisted characters in "Penny Dreadful" are more lively and have more fun! And many of them are half or all dead, possessed by demons and much invested in bringing on the End Times.
Contact Liz here.