Friday, June 8, 2018

"A Star is Born" Arrives

Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and "A Star is Born" Head for Earth! Autumn's Exciting Broadway Season.  Also — "Broken Places" a new thriller ... and the Calming Effects of Marcus Aurelius.
by Denis Ferrara

“YOU don't know what it's like to watch somebody you love just crumble away bit by bit and day by day in front of your eyes and stand there helpless. Love isn't enough. I thought it was. I thought I was the answer for Norman. But love isn't enough for him.

“And I'm afraid of what's beginning to happen within me ... because ... sometimes I hate him. I hate his promises to stop and then the watching and waiting to see it begin again. I hate to go home to him at night and listen to his lies. Well, my heart goes out to him because he tries — he does try. But I hate him for failing.

I hate me, too. I hate me because I've failed, too. I have. I don't know what's going to happen to us, Oliver. No matter how much you love somebody ... how do you live out the days?”

Every film fan worth their Turner Classic Movies t-shirts, recognizes the above as Judy Garland’s justly famous dressing room scene in George Cukor’s 1954 version of “A Star is Born.” 

It’s a moment of overwrought despair, and Judy plays it to several balconies in China. (Mr. Cukor seemed to be under the impression that Miss Garland had somehow never stretched her acting muscles before he came along, and occasionally encourages Garland more toward bathos than pathos — but even her occasionally misplaced intensity is dazzling to behold.)

I was given over to thoughts of Judy, Barbra Streisand and Janet Gaynor — the three stars of the three versions of “A Star is Born.” (We can also throw in Constance Bennett, who in 1932 starred Cukor’s first version of the fabled rise-and-fall tale, “What Price Hollywood?”)  Why these thoughts?  Because the first trailer for Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” has just landed.  Cooper stars as a famous musician who discovers, grooms for success and falls in love with a young, struggling singer — Lady Gaga.  Cooper also directs this latest cautionary take on ambition, fame and substance abuse.

The trailer says nothing to me either way.  It resembles the rock/country genre inhabited by Streisand and Kris Kistofferson in the 1976 version, only more realistic.  Streisand brought her aura, her fingernails, her producer/lover (Jon Peters) and the rather absurd concept of her as a rock singer. (She did her best and the soundtrack and the film itself were massive hits, despite downright cruel reviews.)  I’d prefer something more glamorous, more along the lines of the Judy/James Mason epic, but we can’t always get what we want. 
What separates this “Star” from its two most famous predecessors (the 1937 Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version is creaky and saccharine, although Gaynor is more believable as an innocent ingénue than either Garland or Streisand) is that the production seemed to go off without a hitch.

The project had been banging around for years, and at one point it seemed that it would be Cooper and Beyonce, but in the end, Lady G. landed the role of “Ally” — that’s the girl’s name in this one.   But there were no on-set dramas, nothing appeared to go wildly over budget and nobody misbehaved, as far as I know. That’s a little boring, but I’m sure the studio was pleased. 
Lady Gaga is a brilliant musician and a great singer.  She’s done very little acting (I’d categorize her stint on “American Horror Story” as amusingly decorative) and her offstage persona — out of extreme costume and makeup, is rather low-key.  As herself — Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta — she is not a “big” personality. Nor is her private life of particular interest. (Last year’s documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two” showed her as extremely self-absorbed — no surprise! — but without much flair, and no small amount of self-pity. But this might have been the fault of the director. Not everybody is as lucky as Madonna, who had Alek Keshishian to enshrine her epic narcissism and the brilliance of her live performances so seamlessly in “Truth or Dare.”)
However, Gaga’s “smallness” could work for the story. Garland and Streisand, off and on screen were way too big, too notorious, their personality quirks too familiar to genuinely submerge themselves as unknowns who blossom.  And the problems they caused during their productions only ensured the idea that audiences would being seeing some ersatz version of the stars’ lives. (Even at the time — 1954 — many Garland fans noted that Judy should have played the tormented Norman Maine character!) But Gaga brings none of that baggage.  If Bradley Cooper managed to get a real performance from her — or just artfully emphasized her tentativeness — she and the film might be great. 

“A Star is Born” arrives in October. 
THEATER NOTES:  The big thing to see in October will be “The Lifespan of a Fact,” a new play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.  It is based on a true story and concerns facts as they are written, re-written, imagined, improved upon, blurred for better or worse.  This will star Daniel Radcliffe in his first original role on Broadway (he has starred in revivals of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Equus.”) Also the great Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale.  Directed by Leigh Silverman this will be a strictly limited engagement — opening night is October 18th at Studio 54.  Tickets go on sale  June 22nd.  Go to
... In December, it will behoove all of us who wish to be distracted from — everything! — to go and see “The Cher Show,” a musical based on the life and career of the icon of icons herself. 

As with the current hit, “Summer,” (about Donna Summer) this show takes us through the decades with three actresses portraying Cher at different points in her life.  They are Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks and Micaela Diamond.  Sonny Bono will be played by Jarrod Spector, Emily Skinner essays Cher’s remarkable mom, Georgia Holt, and Michael Campayno appears as Rob Camiletti, who was likely the most potent romantic love of Cher’s life. (Years ago she told me, “I adored him. He was the greatest guy in the world.  If certain things hadn’t happened, things that got blown out of proportion with the press, I’m sure we would have married.  Being with him was one of the greatest times of my life.”)

“The Cher Show” — which will naturally include all the hits — opens December 3rd at the Neil Simon Theater. Tickets go on sale June 18th.  Visit Ticketmaster or call 877-250-2929.  And if you just can’t wait, “The Cher Show” begins a pre-Broadway run at Chicago’s Oriental Theater on June 12th  through July 15th.
... Finally, the Boston pre-Broadway engagement of “Moulin Rouge” the musical version of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie has already been extended due to popular demand.  The official opening night at the Emerson Colonial Theater is July 22nd.  It was originally slated to run until August 5th, but with 16 additional performances added, it will dance right through the 19th.  Details of the New York run have yet to be finalized, but such enthusiasm has to be sweet music to everybody’s ears and pockets.
Click to order Broken Places.
“OH, God, how did I miss that?!”  If I had a nickel for every time I said this to the former editor of the Liz Smith column, the Tribune syndicate’s Tracy Clark,  I’d be a wealthy man — retired, indolent, debauched. (Well, wait — I’m at least one of those things already!)  Ms. Clark was — and I assume still is — a fabulous editor, saving others from themselves.  But as most editors are, she is a terrific writer.  Well, she knows where to put those commas, and how to structure a paragraph.  Tracy has a new book, a thriller, titled “Broken Places” (A Chicago Mystery).”

I wrote about it a while back, before it was released — it’s right up my alley with a twisty plot, a strong, terrific female  (P.I. Cassie Raines), tough realistic dialogue and all the required surprises, shocks and deft plotting that the best of this genre requires.  The book is out now, selling well and Tracy’s publisher is pleased enough that there’s a sequel in the works.  As much as I miss Tracy’s daily lessons in better writing — and her patience! — I couldn’t be happier that she’s done something for herself. Something so compelling too.  I just wonder — how does she feel about her editor?
ENDQUOTE: “The business of life is more akin to wrestling than dancing, for it requires us to stand ready and unshakeable against every assault however unforeseen.”  — Marcus Aurelius.

Sometimes when I am feeling especially stressed, I forgo pointless worry, overindulgence to soothe that worry, aggravation and self-pity. Instead I settle in with the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor who ruled over the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD.  Aurelius was a Stoic — which I am most certainly not! — but his philosophy oddly steadies me.  I exemplify the opposite of Stoicism — I am unbridled Messyism. 

I keep always within reach the compact Loeb Classic Library edition of the emperor’s ruminations — translated by C.R. Haines — on life, death, duty, honor, vanity, the wonders of nature and nature of the soul.  It was first published in 1916. 

I bought my edition in 2003, during the midst of a near-decade-long battle with depression.  Marcus’ crisp dictums often did more for me than talk therapy, which I came to despise and antidepressants, which never worked.

I am not as depressed as I once was, but eternally anxious, now more than ever.  A dash of Marcus Aurelius can lift me up, calm me down; so I can carry on.   This guy did more than rule, die and then leave the empire to his son Commodus, who proceeded to torment Russell Crowe in “Gladiator.”

Here’s an Aurelian thought that nobody these days would even dream of contemplating: “Enter into every man’s ruling Reason, and give everyone else an opportunity to enter into thine.”
Contact Denis here.