Wednesday, March 1, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Big Love

"Finally, some excitement."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Remembering Bill Paxton ... More Oscar Thoughts ... Seth Sikes ... Sandra Bernhard, Sirius, Me and ... Lenny Kravitz!

“SHE WAS not one for emptying her face of expression,” wrote J.D. Salinger.
NOW that we are pretty much over the “La La Land”/”Moonlight” debacle, I have thought back on the Oscar show, and wanted to add a couple of things.

Denzel Washington’s face.  The two-time Oscar winner was all smiles and vivacity until Casey Affleck took to the stage, winning as best actor for “Manchester By The Sea.”  Washington, nominated in the same category, for “Fences,” looked grim.  Not even Affleck saying that he “learned about acting” from Denzel broke the stony façade. Maybe Denzel was simply too moved to react?  Yeah, let’s go with that.
From this ...
To this.
Another face that intrigued me was Ryan Gosling's, who appeared to have one amused/bemused expression throughout the night. He seemed — unless I missed something — to have no great reaction to anything.  Except at the end, when everybody from “La La” was up onstage. Then news came that there’d been a mistake. Ryan looked like he thought it was funny.  He wasn’t devastated, he was smiling — a real smile. (And gracious to the stunned “Moonlight” crowd ascending the stage.) Well, look — I doubt he thought he’d win.  His leading lady and director had won, and the movie nabbed other important honors.  Like the millions watching, maybe he thought, “Finally, some excitement!”
Also, so great to see Michael J. Fox!  And I thought Halle Berry looked absolutely gorgeous.  Loved the “statement” hair. (An homage to Diana Ross, perhaps; Miss Ross loves her big natural tresses.)  Halle’s gown was a knockout.  Ms. Berry sashayed out like a bona fide glam movie queen.  Which indeed she is.
WE FIRST met Bill Paxton in 1998, when he and Charlize Theron were in New York, promoting their gorilla thriller, “Mighty Joe Young.”  We three met and ate and drank at The Four Seasons Hotel and it remains one of the most memorable and enjoyable interviews I’ve ever had.  Ms. Theron impressed me as the earthiest of creatures. She ordered real food, real drinks and was — without makeup — a striking beauty, who seemed to have no sense of that beauty.  I’ve never had the opportunity to interview Charlize again — not at any length, anyway.  But that first impression stayed with me.
Mr. Paxton, like his leading lady, was full of fun, down to earth, a remarkably good-natured, grounded guy.  But, luckily, although we were never “close” I had the good fortune to stay in touch, chatting with him through films and TV shows as varied as “Frailty,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (which he directed) and the fabulous HBO series, “Big Love.”  
Bill was always the same — cooperative, funny, sensitive — so charming and, well, good.  He exuded that. When we talked about “Frailty” he joked “All my really successful movies have one-word titles; ‘Aliens,’ ‘Titanic,’ ‘Twister.’ So I’ve got my fingers crossed on this one.”
Shortly after becoming hopelessly addicted to “Big Love” — lavishing it with column praise — I was in Austin, Texas to emcee the Austin Film Society’s Texas Hall of Fame Awards. I was having breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking the Colorado River when who should approach my table but  Bill, who said he wanted to introduce me to his dad, a native of Fort Worth where I — and he! — was born.

I was thrilled, although not surprised at his graciousness. I expressed my appreciation to both Paxtons. We had a wonderful visit then over a plate of Tex-Mex “migas.”  (I recall Bill’s dad was a charmer as well.) 
Bill Paxton with his father, John.
Later, at the gala, after I had just handed an honor to one of my all-time favorites — Ann-Margret, Bill — also honored that year — suddenly appeared to help out with the rowdy crowd. (We were paying tribute to Gov. Ann Richards, who had died the year before. The crowd was emotional!)

I am so unhappy over Bill’s horribly untimely passing.  I send my love and deep sympathy to his family. And to his legion of fans. For once, social media seems united in decency — I’ve read nothing but loving tributes to this guy. He always approached with a huge, open smile. Never wary; always welcoming.  I’ll miss that all-encompassing openness.
IT’S BEEN a fascinating experience over the past few years to watch the evolution of cabaret’s Seth Sikes.  He began singing (with raucous passion and tender wistfulness) the songs of Judy Garland interspersed with his own tale — his childhood, beloved relatives, journey to New York.  He followed that with a show dedicated to the work of Liza Minnelli.  Again, wonderfully sung, with more charming/moving stories of his experiences.  He was back last week, at Feinstein’s 54/Below with his latest act, “Seth Sikes Sings Bernadette Peters.”
This I think is his defining — and perhaps his last — tribute” show.  Not that he wasn’t marvelous, not that his choices weren’t, as they were with Garland and Minnelli, cleverly chosen: “First, Second, Third Letters Home” (“Song and Dance”) ... Wherever He Ain’t” (Mack and Mabel”) ... ”Not a Day Goes By” (“Merrily We Roll Along”) ... ”Sailor of My Dreams” (“Dames at Sea”) and even a rousing and unexpectedly convincing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from  “Gypsy.” (See Seth Sikes as Mama Rose in the latest revival of ...!)

It just seemed Mr. Sikes has never been more relaxed and assured. Yes, he told his Bernadette stories — they have met — but there was no true banking on nostalgia.  For one thing, Miss Peters remains quite active, and she is “in the air” again, what with the current revival of “Sunday in the Park With George.” (She was mobbed at the opening night, last week.)  He didn’t have to go back to Minsk, so to speak   And Seth has more than enough of his own life to explore in music.  (In the words of Mary Richards, "I've been around ... Well, all right, I might not've been around, but I've been ... nearby.")
"Apparently I've been rehearsing Bernadette songs too loudly in my stateroom." — Seth
Under the direction of Eric Gilliland, Mr. Sikes’ burgeoning self-confidence was beautifully showcased. His voice remains urgent, plaintive and playful.  Musical director Mark Hartman, and the band — Corey Schutzer, Greg Joseph, Kristy Norter, Alex Bender and Garo Yellin help him shine.

Seth will be back at Feinstein’s in June, and plays The Rrazz Room in New Hope, PA on May 20th.  And on June 10th Seth travels to England, performing at Crazy Coqs/Live at Zedel. (There, to celebrate Judy Garland’s 95th birthday, he’ll revive his Judy show. It will be his first visit to England as a “star” — I guess he can channel some Judy at the Palladium vibes.)  

Still, by autumn, I expect to be announcing his new act, “Seth Sikes — By Myself.”
Sandra and Liz.
THE other day I was at Sirius XM Radio where it takes at least half an hour for one to even get into the building, at 48th and 6th Ave in Manhattan. You end up by thinking that next comes the full-body search! I don't know what Sirus thinks you might do or steal in this glass and steel building. All I can say is if the borders of the U.S. had Sirius buildings to go through, we wouldn't have to build that absurd wall.

I "broke into" Sirius to give an interview with one of my favorite performers, Sandra Bernhard, on her program "Sandyland." The actress/comedienne/singer/author isn’t at all like her sometimes ribald public persona. She is sensitive and extremely intelligent. I’ve always admired Sandra for her no-nonsense, self-aware critiques of “celebrity” — not sparing herself in the process.

As I fought to get out of the building, I passed Lenny Kravitz — looking good — in the hall.  Perhaps he noticed me checking him out.  He gave me a big smile and said, "I'm checking you out!" (Now, does Lenny say that to all us old girls, or have I still got it?  I say — I’ve still got it.)
"Here's looking at you, Liz."

Contact Liz here.