Wednesday, November 12, 2014

That's Show Biz ...

Looking southeast across The Lake in Central Park with the Bloomberg Tower, Citigroup Center, and 432 Park Avenue a-building in view. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014. Sunny and mild Autumn day, yesterday in New York. It was  beautiful Veteran’s Day and there was a parade on Fifth Avenue. Especially horrible traffic as Fifth was closed in midtown extending the standstill reach north, south, east, west. Temperature was in the mid-60s, and by late evening the big town had a heavy fog moving in.
The holiday season decorations are beginning to emerge. Here we have Tiffany's Fifth Avenue entrance, and Louis Vuitton's holiday facade on the other side of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. 2:30 p.m.
The avenues were jammed after the parade. I took this shot of the foliage in the Park at 65th Street and Fifth. 3 p.m.
Lots going on on the benefit and charity circuit in last night. Rockefeller held a reception for their 2014 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize – an international award recognizing outstanding women in biomedical research. This year the recipient was Lucy Shapiro Ph.D.  Shapiro is a pioneering developmental biologist. Her work on the single-celled Caulobactor bacterium illuminated the mechanisms that control the differentiation of cells in all living things, from the simplest organisms to the most complex.  Her discoveries led to an understanding of how DNA, which exists in a linear dimension, is translated into organisms that exist in three dimensions.

President Barack Obama presenting the National Medal of Science award to Dr. Lucy Shapiro in 2013.
Shapiro has received many accolades for her work, including the National Medal of Science, presented by President Obama last year. This year’s prize was presented by British entrepreneur and philanthropist Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley. Dame Stephanie was one of the first female computer programmers, and the first to take the profession freelance in the 1960s.

The Pearl Meister Grengard Prize, awarded annually, was established by Dr. Paul Greengard and his wife, the sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard. Dr. Greengard donated his monetary of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine to Rockefeller U to create this prize. It was named for Dr. Greengard’s mother who died giving birth to him.

Also, over at the Harold Pratt House on Park Avenue and 68th Street, the American Friends of Blerancourt hosted a dinner to honor the Honorable Francois Delattre, French Ambassador to the United Nations.  And a few blocks up the avenue Jackie Rogers was hosting a pre-Thanksgiving party, a “night of fashion” to benefit the Animal Rescue Fund (ARF). While across the Park, over on Columbus Circle at the Museum of Art and Design, they were holding the annual MAD Ball. More on that in an upcoming Diary.

I missed it all because I was at the New York City Center with friends to see Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean, Tony Sheldon, Laura Osnes in Dietz and Schwartz’ “The Band Wagon.”  Kathleen Marshall was director and choreographer, with costumes by William Ivey Long.

The original show, produced in 1931 was written by Howard Dietz (lyrics) and Arthur Schwartz (music) with script by George S. Kaufman for Fred and Adele Astaire. This was the last time Adele would be performing with her brother, as she was marrying a son of the Duke of Devonshire.
Tony Sheldon played the Broadway performer/impresario, a la Noel Coward, or a flamboyant Gielgud-esque character; very funny, a send-up, but real underneath. Wonderful.
Last night’s show had a Book by Douglas Carter Beane and it was based on the script Betty Comden and Adolph Green and Alan Jay Lerner, wrote for the 1953 movie starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.  I’ve seen the film on Turner Classics several times mainly because it’s a great score with several popular tunes in the American Songbook such as “Dancing In the Dark,” “That’s Entertainment,” “You and the Night and the Music,” “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” “Something to Remember You By,” and several others. My favorite has always been “Triplets” where three leads do a number about being triplets, dressed up in baby clothes. Very amusing and fun.
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Osnes, and Tony Sheldon singing "Triplets."
This production was an Encores Special Event. Most Encores shows run for five performances. “The Band Wagon” ran for ten -- it closes this coming Sunday, the 16th. Ben Brantley in the New York Times gave it a very disappointed review that this production really never took off. My review of it would be, if you like those songs, that energy, that era of songwriting, singing and dancing, you will love it. The audience last night, packed house, loved it.  It’s a relic of 20th century American musical (Broadway) theatre, that’s true. But it’s a glorious one, full of wit and wise-cracks that mark the sensibilities of the age our parents or grandparents lived in, and musicals were made to give fun, laughter and a good feeling when leaving the theater. “The Band Wagon” did that.
Michael McKean, Tony Sheldon, and Tracey Ullman.
Laura Osnes and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Tony Sheldon.
Brian Stokes Mitchell had the Fred Astaire role and for those of us who were familiar with Fred’s role in the picture, Fred, now an icon, is a hard act to follow. Mitchell didn’t follow; he played it his own way reminding me more of a lead in a Busby Berkeley musical film, a more New York-y character. He has a magnificent voice and he could tap out the tunes for the big dance number finale of “Shine on Your Shoes” like the pro he obviously is.

Laura Osnes has a beautiful soprano, and Tracey Ullman and Michael McKean as the song-writing team who writes the show were wonderful. Ullman played her role, a kind of Dorothy Fields hip dame with a real soft spot, in vein of Thelma Ritter – not an imitation but a similar feeling for the character. She was wonderful, a compleat performer, song, dance, acting, and comedy. McKean was excellent as her musical collaborator, taking a backseat to her personality out of love and adoration.
The cast of The Band Wagon. Photos: Joan Marcus.
The whole night was a winner. It’s two hours and 25 minutes with a ten minute intermission. The orchestra’s onstage and the sets are minimal but very effective and the audience was with them every second of entire performance. The show itself is dated. The songs are dated in the sense that they were written at a time when language was rich in everyone’s vocabulary and graced with wit and humor. New York-ese, Show Biz, and nightlife were big big big time, like Broadway in lights.
Last night's chorus taking their final bows.
The entire cast awaiting Osnes, Mitchell, Ullman, and McKean to take their bows.
And here they are: Don Stephenson, Tony Sheldon, Laura Osnes, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean and Michael Berresse.
"That's Entertainment!"
Hooray for The Band Wagon and for New York City Center's "Encores!"
Publicolor in lights too!  I got a message Monday from Ruth Lande Shuman, the woman who created the Publicolor program, announcing that Publicolor has been selected as a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for 2014. This is the nation’s highest honor for after-school arts and humanities programs.

The award recognizes the country’s best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates and college enrollment for kids in city schools. Ruth is a heroine in this community. Her simple but not-so-easy-to-pull-off idea has helped hundreds of kids develop the skills for taking hold of their own lives and learn to develop objectives to achieve and accomplish, acquiring confidence, respect and self-worth.
First Lady Michelle Obama, Publicolor student Elisha Almonte, and Publicolor Founder+President Ruth Lande Shuman at The White House on November 10, 2014.

"There are so many people who made this award possible. I just wish they all could have been there with Elisha and me at The White House," said Ruth following the award ceremony.
Looking for love in all the right places. JH spotted this personal advertisement last night taped to an Upper West Side street lamp. Sounds like a catch ...

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