Friday, January 13, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Dear World

Katharine Hepburn as Countess Aurelia in "The Madwoman of Chaillot."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Finally, Friday! — "Sweeney Todd" and "Dear World" Return ... Cyndi Lauper's "Austin City Limits." Also, Happy Danes Are Here Again, and is there a "La La Land" Backlash?

“ONLY THE mediocre are always at their best,” said Jean Giraudoux.
1969 was a big year for writer and diplomat Jean Giraudoux, who died in 1944.  As the Sixties ended, his play, “The Madwoman of Chaillot” was brought to life onscreen — a film starring Katharine Hepburn, Yul Brynner, Paul Henried, Richard Chamberlain, Edith Evans and Danny Kaye. 

On Broadway, composer Jerry Herman took the tale and put it to music, titled “Dear World” it starred Angela Lansbury as the Countess Aurelia. (Lansbury won a Tony Award for her efforts.)
Angela Lansbury as the Countess Aurelia.
Neither version was a commercial success. However it’s easy to see that the basic theme — civilized society threatened by corrupt, soulless business entities and monolithic oil companies — would have thought to have had appeal to counter culture protests raging in the streets.  Perhaps had both versions not adhered to the original 1940’s era. (Although the Countess lives very much in a gauzy La Belle Epoch past of gallant, attentive lovers and good manners. The mirror she gazes in is cloudy, veiling reality.)

Big business and oil are still sloshing through our lives, despite all those “draining the swamp” promises lately made and swiftly forgotten.
So perhaps another look at Giraudoux's fable/cautionary tale — in its “Dear World” musical guise — is nigh?  Sure it is. 

From February 25th to March 5th, Tyne Daly will appear in The York Theater Company’s production of “Dear World.”  This happens at the York Theater at Saint Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Avenue). 
“Dear World”  will be the final show in the company’s Winter 2017 “Musicals in Mufti’ series.  Also scheduled are “Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage” ... Jerry Herman’s “Milk and Honey” and a one-night only event, “Hello, Jerry!” (A tribute to the great Mr. Herman.) 
These productions are sparsely staged, book-in-hand.  This concept, I think, will serve “Dear World” particularly well; the screen and Broadway incarnations were quite elaborate, visually.  I’m going to make it a duty to see Ms. Daly, a national treasure, tackle Countess Aurelia and belt out Jerry’s great song, “I Don’t Want To Know.”  

That said, these days, more than ever, “I don’t want to know” is nothing America or the world should be singing or thinking.  No matter the outraged blowback, the more we know, the better equipped to go into battle.

For info on the series and individual productions go to or call 212-935-5820.
So make your recovery quick, world,
We're sick of having a sick world.
We want you dancing tomorrow afternoon,
So be a dear world ...
MORE REVIVAL: On February 14th, at the exquisite Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street) a new production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” begins previews.  The grisly, classic musical about revenge and noshing, stars Jeremy Secomb, Siobhan McCarthy, Duncan Smith and Joseph Taylor. It opens officially on March 1st. 

This production, from Tooting Arts, arrives from London, where reviews went like so: “No matter how big a Stephen Sondheim fan you are, you’ve never seen a ‘Sweeney Todd’ served up quite like this.”  Bill Buckhurst directs.
One interesting and amusing aspect to this show — former White House Executive Pastry Chef William “Bill” Yosses serves as the official pie maker throughout the New York run.  And in keeping with the London version, “pie and mash” will be available for purchase by the audience, prior to every performance. (Meat, mashed potato, and hot parsley sauce.  There’s also a vegetarian option.)
“Sweeney Todd” has never been my favorite Sondheim, but the promise of “pie and mash” might get me over to Barrow Street!  For tix visit
Barrow Street Theatre at 27 Barrow Street.
THIS N’ THAT: Denmark is always cited as “the happiest” country in the world.  The Danes are famously, wonderfully content.  Now we know why, and it’s so simple. Denmark’s inhabitants, who pay high taxes and don’t see a lot of sunlight, compensate by snuggling with friends by candlelight, and eating a lot of sweets. Preferably at the same time.  It is called “hygge” (HOO-guh).  All this cuddling and candy consumption promotes “the feeling that one is safe, sheltered from the world.”  That sounds divine, but with Danes each scoffing down about 18 pounds of sugar a year, I’d say Danish dentists are probably the happiest and wealthiest practitioners of that profession in the world. (It’s a semi-urban legend that dentists have a high suicide rate. True or not, why not try Denmark?  You’ll get a good cuddle out of it, if nothing else.)
... TOMORROW night, Cyndi Lauper appears on PBS’s “Austin City Limits” concert series.  While Lauper will likely perform a set heavily featuring songs from her recent country-tinged hit album, “Detour” the pop goddess will surely offer some of her standards — “True Colors,” “I Drove All Night,” “Time After Time” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Check your local PBS listings.
... NOW that the Golden Globes are over, our thoughts turn to Oscar.  A few weeks ago, The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg wrote up a list of suggestions, “Three Ways To Spruce Up The Oscars.” This is an excellent piece and easy, I’m sure, to find online. 

I’m on board with all three sprucings, one in particular, because it affects me as a viewer of the usually endless orgy of self-congratulation — remove the short films category from the telecast.
Illustration by Riki Blanco
Mr. Feinberg’s history of the how and why of short films is too long to repeat here, but this is his compromise: “Continue presenting the shorts awards on Oscar night at the Dolby Theater — but do so 30 minutes before the televised portion of the ceremony begins, the same way that categories that mean little to people outside the theater world are presented before the televised portion of Broadway’s Tony Awards.”  We shall see. 

Oh, and while we have the Academy Awards on our mind, Doris Day?!!!! Honorary Oscar?  Yes, I know she doesn’t care. We do. And we’re not giving up on this. Dog, bone, Doris Day. Get it?
... AND, as Oscar nominations and the big night itself looms, I feel an odd “La La Land” backlash. Perhaps it is just among our readers.  We devoted considerable space to the film, admitting that we’d fallen in love with the famous photo of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing, long before we saw it.  And it is lovely, charming, visually gorgeous, moving (especially the end.) Maybe it is a revelation to those who have never seen a musical or don’t have a good memory about the classic concepts of a boy-meets-girl tale enhanced by music and lyrics. But even in praising it, we wondered over the extreme worship, the gushing, with words such as “miraculous” and “enthralling” drummed into our heads. 
Now we’re receiving more and more notes from moviegoers, none of whom hate “La La Land” but put it this way: “I wouldn’t pan it. It is entertaining.  But ‘great’ it is not.” 

And I recently, finally, found Rex Reed’s review, which concludes: “’La La Land’  has moments of pleasure and satisfaction that are worth the price of admission.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie; it’s just not an outstanding entertainment, the way great movies (especially musicals) should be.  But I hope it signals an open door for more to follow.”
The adoration of “La La Land” might have something to do with the mass depression suffered by so many in 2016. With no signs of that depression lifting, it’s almost a done deal that Damien Chazelle’s film will take every top prize.  This is not a tragedy — we’re talking about movies, folks.  But it’s something curious to consider. 

However, if Emma Stone, talented as she is, wins the Best Actress Oscar over Annette Bening for “20th Century Women” or Isabelle Huppert for “Elle” — should either of those women be nominated — that, I think would be rather tragic.  I’ll  say it now, I’m rooting for Ms. Bening, a four-time Academy Award nominee, a great actress and an even greater woman.
Oh, and please don’t jump down my throat about Viola Davis in “Fences.”  She has already placed herself in the Best Supporting Actress category, although as others have pointed out, it is a leading role.  And yeah, I’d like her to win, too.
Contact Liz here.