Sunday, October 23, 2011


Just wanted to say "thanks" to everyone for checking out my blog.  I just hit 50,000 pageviews in almost exactly 7 months since my official launch! 

I've had a great time writing my reviews and posts of theatre, movies and cds and I've had people from all over the world check out my blog.

Here are some stats:

the top 10 countries the people who are reading my blog come from and the # of pageviews by country:

  1. United States 25,568
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  5. Canada 1,683
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Top 10 Google Search Words that got people to check out my site: (I love #10!)
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  10. gil's broadway blog 27

theatre review OTHER DESERT CITIES, Broadway, October 23

Jon Robin Baitz's new play Other Desert Cities, which opens on Broadway on November 3rd, started life last Winter off Broadway at Lincoln Center.  The show was a huge hit with a virtual sold out run so it is no wonder that with a slightly different cast it has made the move to Broadway.

Telling the story of a daughter and son visiting their parents in Palm Springs for the holidays, it is a play with many explosive moments, family secrets revealed and powerhouse acting by the five member cast.  Other Desert Cities stars Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach as the parents with Rachel Griffiths and Thomas Sadowski as the children and Judith Light as their aunt, Channing's sister.  Channing, Keach and Sadowski are all repeating the roles they played off Broadway earlier this year.

Daughter Brooke (Griffiths) who was a once promising novelist, has returned home with news about her new book which is set to be published very soon.  While her family is over joyed at this news as Brooke has had a lot of mental issues she has dealt with over the past several years that got in the way of her writing another book after her first one.  Those issues included hospitalization for a bout of depression stemming from the death of her brother thirty years ago.  However, once the family learns that the new book is about them and the very tragic event of the brother's death it also threatens to not only dredge up the events of the past but also possibly reveal many facts about their lives which is something that none of them are prepared for.  The issue that Brooke's memories of this event are very different from her parents is an impasse that none of them can get past, or can they?

Stockard Channing
All five members of the cast are giving simply amazing performances.  Channing and Keach as Lyman and Polly Wyeth are just as good, strong and possibly even better then they were last Winter.  Sadowski has also grown somewhat into the role, seeming less whiny and needy now then he was before.  But it is Griffiths and Light that are even better then their predecessors, Elizabeth Marvel and Linda Lavin.  This is Griffith's Broadway debut and I have to believe their will be a Tony nomination in her future for her performance.  Griffith is more even mannered with the appropriate build up to the explosive moments and less all hot or all cold then Marvel was, which adds to the realism of the play.  As much as I loved Lavin as the alcoholic aunt, Light is better in the fact that she is warmer but still just as biting, which makes the character more likable and more realistic.  Griffiths and Light also seem more believable as the daughter and sister of Channing then Marvel and Lavin were since they all three are tall and thin.

Rachel Griffiths and Stacey Keach
Director Joe Mantello has effectively restaged the play for the proscenium stage, compared to the thrust stage of the Mitzi Newhouse, where this played last Winter.  He has wisely staged much of the action toward the front of the stage but still effectively uses the back space as well. Mantello is one of the best directors working today and this play and his direction of it could earn him another Tony award for his directing efforts.

Some criticized the play last Winter as being a little too melodramatic or tv movie of the week like, as Baitz has spent a lot of time in tv lately with creating the tv show Brothers and Sisters, where Griffiths played a regular.  But I think this play is on the same par, or even better then a play like August: Osage County which was so melodramatic and soap operaish that it seemed to have every family issue possible squeezed into it.  So I had no problem taking the family journey that Baitz has written and actually enjoyed it even more the second time even though I knew what twists and surprises were ahead of me. The way Baitz combines realistic humor into the drama to make it an even more effective piece of theater is why I believe this is the front runner for the best Play Tony this year.

Griffiths, Sadowski, Light, Keach and Channing and the impressive set
While I first was concerned that the larger theatre and stage space of the Booth Theatre compared to the off Broadway run might detract from the connection to the characters and the play, I have to say the larger space gave more room for the piece to breathe.  And while I did miss the feeling of literally sitting in the living room of this family, the set design by John Lee Beatty has been retailored for the larger space and makes it actually more of a realistic Palm Springs house then the stage of the Mitzi Newhouse did, which at times seemed a bit cramped.  The large palm trees outside the windows and the very realistic lighting design by Kenneth Posner, who creates lovely stage pictures from a scorching Palm Springs hot and bright morning to an evening with the palm trees lite from landscape lights and the reflection of the water from the pool on the trees and windows, was simply gorgeous.  Costume designs by David Zinn are also gorgeous, and completely tied to the characters.

This is a limited run, scheduled to end on January 8th, but with the packed house at today's performance and the A list cast, I have to believe that this will get extended and still be running by the time the Tony's are awarded next June.  Expect this to be nominated for and possibly win several Tonys next June.

Lincoln Center Website

Clips from the original Off Broadway production-

cabaret review Leslie Uggams Uptown/Downtown - NJPAC October 22

Leslie Uggams might be a name that is not that well known to younger theatre audiences today but she has had a vast and amazing career in theatre, tv and film which included winning a Tony when she was only 24.

We've seen Uggams perform three times before, twice in theatre productions - as the lead role in Call Me Madam at the Paper Mill Playhouse, co-starring with James Earl Jones on Broadway in On Golden Pond and many years ago she performed in a concert with Ben Vereen we had the pleasure to see.  Last night we saw her perform her cabaret show "Uptown/Downtown" at the NJPAC's Chase Room.  This show tracks Uggams' early years from living and performing in "Uptown" Manhattan to coming "Downtown" to Broadway.  The evening was a slightly abbreviated version of a two act production of this show that she has performed in a few theatres around the country.  After seeing her perform the hour and 10 minute version of the show I'm hoping I get a chance to see the two act longer version one day soon.

At 68 her voice is still exceptionally strong and clear with very little loss of the luster or the ability to hold notes for an extended period.  She might move a little slower than she did in the past, but the voice isn't tarnished at all.  She also brings an amazing amount of joy and love to the material that flows out to the audience. 

Uggams talked about her early years winning a talent contest that got her to appear as a regular at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. "On The Sunny Side of the Street" was the song that won that contest for her and her performance of it last night was a rocking, jazzy one. There were three performers that Uggams got to appear with at the Apollo and the various other theatres she sang at in her early days and she has interesting stories and lovely songs she sings in homage to them.  Those individuals include Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington.  She channelled all three of these performers in the songs of theirs she sang and her performance of Fitzgerald's hit song "A Tisket A Tasket" was a big hit last night.

A couple other highlights from the evening- a spine tingling, slowed down version of "Up On the Roof" sung with only guitar accompaniment by Steve Bargonetti which was almost immediately followed by a jazzy, slightly sped up version of "Hello Young Lovers" from The King and I with only a solo drum arrangement from Buddy Williams.

Uggams also performed the two big solo songs her character had in Hallelujah Baby! - the show she won her Tony for.  Her rendition of "My Own Corner" from that show sounded pretty much like the one from the original cast recording. An amazing feat considering she recorded that over 40 years ago. That song is such a good song, starting out quiet and building to a powerful finish and Uggams' original cast recording performance of it is one of the standard show tunes they play regularly on the Sirius/XM Broadway channel.   Uggams mentioned that that show was originally offered to Lena Horne and after Horne turned it down the creators decided to look for an unknown to play the lead role.  So Horne's decision to turn the part down was what basically put Uggams on the map.   Uggams mentioned that her association with Horne has now come full circle as she has been working on a Horne bio musical, Stormy Weather and she ended her show last night with two Horne songs including an amazing version of "Stormy Weather" makes me hope that her Horne musical has a future life that hopefully includes Broadway.

Uggams was backed by a quintet led by Don Rebic.  All five men were having as much fun as the audience was.  A recording that features many songs performed in the show is scheduled to be released in February.  I'm very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of that recording.

Friday, October 21, 2011

recent movie review - Cyrus

Both John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill are mostly known for their frat party humour in films like Step Brothers and Superbad. So having both of them star in the movie Cyrus you would think you're in for another sophmoric laugh fest, but Cyrus is actually a somewhat serious film, which might explain why it didn't do very well at the box office, only grossing $10 million. I'm guessing that moviegoers went in thinking they were going to get one type of movie but ended up with another, which isn't very good for positive word of mouth. However, Cyrus is actually an extremely well made film with a smart script and Reilly and Hill give well mannered performances.

The film, which also stars Marisa Tomei, tells the story of John Kilpatrick (Reilly) who is divorced and depressed. His ex-wife (Catherine Keener) who still feels somewhat responsible for him, pushes him to go to a party where he meets Molly (Tomei.)  The two of them hit it off and before they know it are in a somewhat serious relationship. And while both of them have their baggage, Tomei's baggage is pretty big. Her son Cyrus (Hill) who is his early 20's, lives at home and Cyrus and Molly have a very close co-dependent relationship, and Cyrus is very jealous of anything that gets between him and his mother.

While you can imagine where the story will go, the script has some nice elements to it and all three of the leads give extremely good performances. Tomei and Reilly have many serious credits on their resumes, so it is Hill who really gets to show what he is capable of, and I'm sure this role will get him many more serious acting jobs in the future.  The film is directed and written by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass
Reilly and Hill
But don't mistake what I've said so far and think that this movie is all serious as there are several laugh out loud moments. The film is more on the low budget independent movie front instead of a big budget Hollywood comedy, so I'm sure that might also explain why it didn't do better at the box office.

So if you're a fan of Hill and interested in seeing what he is capable of doing outside of Superbad, or if you're just looking for a different kind of movie then check out Cyrus.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

classic movie review Beauty and the Beast 3D

There most likely isn't anyone out there who hasn't seen or at least heard of the Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast.  The first animated movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, winning two Academy Awards, grossing close to $400 million at the box office and spawning the hugely successful Broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast is obviously a very important property to the Disney company.  It is hard to believe that in just a few weeks it will be 20 years since it was first released.

With the increased focus on 3D films over the past few years, it is no surprise that Disney has gone back into their film vaults to convert some of their most successful properties to 3D.  The first two films to get the 3D conversion are Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.  And while The Lion King received a wide commercial theatrical 3D release for a few weeks before both films were released on blu ray and blu ray 3D, at first Beauty and the Beast was only deemed a blu ray release of the new 3D version and a few 3D screenings in select cities.  But with the success that the 3D release of Lion King generated, Disney has now announced that Beauty and the Beast and a few other classic Disney titles will also get theatrical 3D releases.  Beauty in 3D hits theaters on January 13th.  So it is a little strange that I've been able to enjoy the new 3D version of this movie in the comfort of my living room several months before the same 3D version will be in theaters.

The ballroom scene looks especially amazing in 3D.
So, how does the converted 3D version look?  Actually, it looks pretty good.  The traditional flat cell animation (as compared to digital animation) provides a fairly consistent palate to work from.  There are numerous scenes with multiple layers of cells that when separated in the 3D process create a rich and deep viewing experience.  And while the flat cell animation is not able to provide the more rounded 3D effects to certain objects and faces that digital animation provides, there were many times when items like Mrs. Pott's spout or arm was closer to the viewer then the rest of her body.  Large production numbers like "Be Our Guest" and "Belle" also benefited from the multiple cell planes and multiple characters and objects to create a lush, rich and deep 3D effect.  The scene in the ballroom during the title song when the camera goes by the huge chandelier is pretty spectacular in 3D.  Now, there were several times when the original animation was on the flat and very basic side, so those moments just weren't suitable to have much done to them to make them 3D.  Fortunately those moments are few.

poster for the theatrical 3D release
A couple of other comments.  It is amazing how lean a story Beauty and the Beast is.  There pretty much isn't any moment or line of dialogue that isn't relevant to the overall story, so the film moves along at a very brisk pace.  I guess it has been a very long time since I've seen the movie, so I'm more used to the book of the stage musical which has a lot more for the Beast to do.  I will say that the stage version does have some really great new songs that add much more to the character of the Beast, and in the film version having him just sing a little bit of one song seems very strange now after the experience of him having a couple of solos in the stage version.  One last note, the 3D version is of the original 1991 animated movie, not the expanded version from 2002 that included the song "Human Again."

After enjoying this movie in 3D, I'm looking forward to watching The Lion King in 3D in the comfort of my living room next, so be on the lookout for that review coming soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

broadway birthday Mamma Mia opened on Broadway 10 years ago today

Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway 10 years ago today.  After a hugely successful London production which was followed by a Toronto run and a pre-Broadway tour, the show arrived at the Winter Garden theatre and started previews on October 5th, 2001, just a few weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks. I guess the feel good nature of this show was what New York needed at that moment and still does as it just became the 10th longest running show in Broadway history last month and has now played over 4,100 performances.

The plot of Mamma Mia! is fairly simple, a young girl in Greece is engaged to be married but doesn't know exactly whom her father is.  She knows her mother dated three different guys around the time she was conceived, so she invites all three of them to the wedding, without her Mother's knowledge, in hopes to find out who her father is and hopefully rekindle his feelings for her mother.  Hilarity and dancing ensue, to the thumping beat of over 20 Abba songs, before the happy conclusion.

Now I never saw the show on Broadway but did see it in London before it came to New York and I never got what all of the excitement was about this show.  To me it just felt like a lot of familiar pop songs shoe horned into a very basic plot.  I mean, lead- ins to songs like "didn't they used to call you 'dancing queen'?" or "Chiguitita tell me what's wrong?" when there is no one named Chiquitita in the cast are just two examples of how to get two of Abba's biggest songs (Dancing Queen and Chiquitita) incorporated into the story.  But I guess the upbeat plot, the feel good nature and the fact that you pretty much know more than half of the songs in the show already are what has propelled this show to the hit that it is.  And it isn't just a hit in New York or London (where it is also still running) but it has also spawned productions in sixteen languages in just about every country around the world, even in places like Osaka and Moscow.

Phyllida Lloyd directed the musical as well as the 2008 film adaptation.  And I do like the film adaptation, maybe because of the use of actual Greek locations for some of the film as well as Meryl Streep's take on Donna, the mother of the bride.  Streep can pretty much do anything and she proves it here.  The movie also features Amanda Seyfried as the daughter Sophie with Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd as the three potential fathers, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Streep's two best friends and Dominic Cooper as Sophie's fiance.  The movie was a huge hit as well.  So while I might not seem much of a fan of the musical I am of the movie.

So Happy 10th Birthday Mamma Mia!, get your dancing queen on and party it up tonight!

Broadway 10th Anniversary video -

Movie Trailer -

Monday, October 17, 2011

theatre review THE SUBMISSION, Off Broadway, October 16

The Submission is a fairly well written and exceedingly well acted and directed new play by Jeff Talbott.  Exploring the issues of race, racial stereotypes and bigotry, it tells the story of a white male playwright who has written a play about a black woman and her son under the pseudonym Shaleeha G'ntamob.  You see, after having several of his earlier plays go nowhere, he believes the only way his new play will be taken seriously and get produced is if it people believed it was written by a black woman.  He thinks a play dealing with racial issues in the African American world written by a white guy who's name is Danny won't even noticed.  So, once his play gets accepted to be produced by the Humanitarian Festival he decides to hire a black actress to pretend to be the author of the play.  He thinks that once the play opens he can reveal who the true author is and bask in the glory of his success.  Of course, pretty much nothing goes as planned.

Jonathan Groff and Rutina Wesley
Jonathan Groff and Rutina Wesley are the author and actress.  Groff is best known for his Tony nominated performance in Broadway's Spring Awakening and also guest starred on several episodes of Glee and Wesley has played Tara for four seasons on the hit HBO show True Blood.  They are both more than up to the tasks of this play and are completely riveting in the several confrontations the two of them have.

Eddie Kaye Thomas and Will Rogers play the boyfriend and best friend of Groff's character.  They are perfectly fine in what they are asked to do, which isn't much.  It is too bad as they provide a nice balance to the high energy of Groff and Wesley, so a little more of them might have better balanced out the play.

Jonathan Groff, Eddie Kay Thomas and Will Rogers
One of the on-going themes of the play is that since Groff's character Danny is gay that he can understand what black people have gone through since he has experienced the same feelings of prejudice and in being in the minority.  Of course, Wesley's character Emilie takes issue with this, since being gay and being black are two completely different things.  Danny does make many good points about the correlation between the two, but Emilie makes just as many against it.  That is the sign of a good playwright, someone who knows how to show both sides of a point of view.

However the fact that Danny is somewhat racist himself and uses some terms and phrases that aren't exactly politically correct adds a whole other element to the play about the genuineness of someone writing a play about a minority that he himself may have issues with.  Add in other comments he makes about actors and actresses of color being honored with Oscars or Tonys for small parts just because they are black and you can see some of the many topics this play attempts to deal with.  Some of these topics and issues are dealt with and handled better than others especially the main point the play makes, that a good play or other work of art about a minority doesn't necessarily have to be written by someone of that race, which is a valid one.  But the contra point that by being a part of that race it makes you better able to understand the issues that those individuals are faced with is also valid.

The play is well directed and staged by Walter Bobbie, best known for directing the Broadway revival of Chicago.  Bobbie does a very good job of staging the many confrontations in the play expertly choosing not to deliver them all as high pitched screaming  matches.  He effectively works with the one set by David Zinn, that more then expertly becomes a Starbucks, an apartment and hotel rooms.  I loved how the chalk boards at Starbucks kept changing throughout the play to show the passage of time.  Several scenes that are phone calls between two of the characters are nicely staged and effectively use the single set.

Thomas and Groff
While The Submission is a good play that attempts to deal with modern issues of race there were a few issues I had with it.   Wesley's character is pretty much never defined.  We know nothing about her but she seems to have to accept the part of speaking for her entire race several times, which would make more sense if we understood her history.  The supporting characters are given little to do and the ending seems to need more clarification as it doesn't pack the emotional wallop that a few scenes before it did.  There are also several phrases used throughout the play that seem more like a playwright trying to be hip and less like the way people actually speak.  With just a little more work and editing, and a better ending, I think this play could become one that really speaks to the modern issues of race and bigotry.

The MCC Theatre Company's production of The Submission at the Lucille Lortel Theatre runs through October 24th.

MCC Theatre Site

Interviews with the cast, writer and director -

Monday, October 10, 2011

theatre review IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, George Street Playhouse, October 9

I can't recall the last time that the three major New Jersey Theatre companies have all started their seasons with new musical productions that all could ultimately end up on Broadway or at least Off Broadway.  McCarter Theatre opened their season with Ten Cents a Dance, which has been speculated as a possible Roundabout Theatre production this season which was followed by Newsies at Papermill which has a clear shot at opening on Broadway next Spring.

Now comes It Shoulda Been You at the George Street Playhouse.  With an A list comical cast, a plot with some original and unseen twists and turns, a very funny script and a nice score, I can honestly see this doing good business at one of the smaller Broadway houses.

Led by the comic duo of Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris and directed by four time Emmy Winner David Hyde Pierce, It Shoulda Been You tells the story of one day in two family's lives.  It is the wedding day of their children, the bride is Jewish, the groom isn't, the two mothers clearly don't get along and then there is the bride's former boyfriend who just found out about the wedding and shows up to possibly derail the whole event.

Kline, Daly, Harris and McGillin
 Now while that plot seems like something you might have seen many times before, let me just say that It Shoulda Been You throws in plenty of twists, a couple of which you clearly don't see coming and there is plenty of warmth and love behind the comedy.  Those elements elevate it to make it more than just your typical wedding day comedy.

Lisa Howard is the older, heavier and less pretty of Daly's two daughters.  Of course it isn't her wedding day but her younger and prettier sister's.  Howard is the star of this production and gets the most to do and she is more than capable of handling the duties.  She has a great voice and gets some nice songs to sing. It is nice to see Howard, who had a decent size part in the original Broadway cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, taking center stage here and showing she is more than capable of starring in a musical.

Daly and Harris are the two mothers and they are simply perfect.  Daly rings every possible bit of angst and guilt out of the Jewish mother character and she delivers the comical lines spot on.  She also gets a couple of nice songs and her voice is warm and clear, even better than when we saw her in cabaret last Spring.  She also looks fantastic.  Harris is pure comical genius.  Her face, voice, body language and a bottle of gin combine to deliver a whirling dervish of a character.  Like Daly, she also gets some nice songs to sing and delivers them perfectly.

Hibbert, Howard, Duren, Hershberg, Holbrook and Hydzik
David Josefsberg is the ex boyfriend of the bride.  Like Howard, it is nice to see Josefsberg get a big part to play after seeing him in the original ensemble casts of Altar Boyz Off Broadway, in a small part in The Wedding Singer on Broadway and in the ensemble of The Toxic Avenger at George Street a few seasons back.  He has a nice stage presence, a good singing voice and perfectly plays the comic and drama parts of the script required of him.

Edward Hibbert is the wedding planner, and as can be expected he delivers every moment in the high end comic fashion he is known for.  The rest of the ensemble cast include Richard Kline as Daly's husband and Howard McGillin as Harris'.   While they are reduced more to secondary characters, Kline has some great lines to deliver.  It is too bad that McGillin isn't given much to do, as he has the biggest Broadway pedigree of this cast, having starred in the Broadway productions of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Anything Goes, The Secret Garden, She Loves Me, Kiss of the Spider Woman and holding the title of having played the most performances as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.  So, the fact that he is only given a few lines in one song to sing solo is one drawback of the evening.  However, if he was given a solo song to sing it might have slowed down the high paced antics of the show.

The bride is Jessica Hershberg and the groom is Matthew Hydzik, with Curtis Holbrook as the best man and Carla Duren as the maid of honor. They all hold their own against the rest of the more seasoned pros in the cast and, with the exception of Hershberg, their characters aren't as well defined as the rest, but they all have some moments to shine, especially in the second act.

The show has a book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and a score by Barbara Anselmi, with a few songs having lyrics by a couple of other individuals.  They've created a score with plenty of character songs, songs that move the action forward as well as some beautfiul and introspective inner monologue pieces.  There is a simple yet elegant set direction by Anna Louizos that creates various rooms and locations in a 5 star New York hotel and costumes by Willian Ivey Long that include beautiful wedding attire including killer dresses for Daly and Harris.

Hyde Pierce has clearly gotten a lot of his friends together for his musical theatre directing debut, with Harris and Hibbert having starred on Fraiser with him, and Hibbert and choreographer Noah Racey having been in Curtains on Broadway with him.   He moves the evening along at a fast pace, even at some moments approaching farce and is more than capable of directing the cast in both the high end comic scenes as well as the more dramatic ones.  Hyde Pierce introduced the show last night and was in the audience taking notes, so I'm sure there might be some changes made before it officially opens on Friday.  However, with the thunderous audience reaction both during the show, after several of the songs and at the curtain call, I don't think there is much that needs to be tweaked.

While It Shoulda Have Been You might at first appear to have a basic story that has been done many times before, it really is a very modern story with up to date issues.  It also has many laugh out loud lines and scenes and has an extremely gifted cast led by the powerhouse duo of Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris and a truly star making turn for Lisa Howard.  With an effective score that gives everyone plenty to do and beautiful sets and costumes I can't imagine that this show won't have a life after the George Street.  And even with all of those great things going for it what really stands out in this musical is the heart at it's center and that is what makes this into a show that I have to believe could end up in New York City this season.

The show runs through November 6th.

Official George Street Playhouse Site

Saturday, October 8, 2011

recent movie review - Win Win

In this age of remakes and sequels it is nice to find a movie that is almost 100% original.  Win Win is that movie.  It perfectly combines elements from many genres to become a genre of it's own.  And the fact that it doesn't always go in the direction you think it will and doesn't tie up all of the lose ends in a perfect bow by the time the credits roll, made me like it even more.

Paul Giamatti is Mike Flaherty, a New Jersey lawyer who volunteers as the wrestling coach for the local high school.  When he finds his law business isn't paying his bills and with a wife (Amy Ryan) and two small children at home, he stumbles across a way to bring in some extra money each month, even though it is very suspect and pretty much illegal.   Add in a teenage runaway who used to wrestle and who has other demons in his past who Giamatti becomes somewhat of a surrogate father to and you end up with a film that is part legal drama, part sports film, part coming of age movie, part family drama and when you add it all up Win Win ends up being a big "win win" in my book.

Giamatti and Shaffer
Giamatti once again makes a role completely realistic, honest and genuine.   Ryan also has many great moments in the film and together she and Giamatti are natural, tender and touching as a couple who have to deal with things they aren't exactly ready for.  The movie was released earlier this year so I'm kinda thinking both of them, and the film, might find themselves with Oscar Nominations in just a few months.

Alex Shaffer is the teenage runaway and Shaffer actually won the New Jersey State Wrestling Championship last year which makes him more than adequate to play the part.  The fact that this is also his film debut is a bit of a shock as he gives a sincere and natural portrayal of a somewhat troubled and lost youth.  The film also stars Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor as Giamatti's former high school wrestling buddy and the assistant coach with Nina Arianda as Giamatti's secretary.  All three of them provide some nice comic moments in the film with Cannavale a stand out.  In fact, though the movie is more on the dramatic side there are several laugh out loud moments.

Giammati and Ryan
Writer / director Thomas McCarthy has provided an entertaining and heartfelt experience.  I don't want to say much more about this movie as the less you know going in the more I think you'll enjoy it.  Just know that fully fleshed out characters, realistic dialogue and a first rate ensemble cast combine to push this movie over the finish line with gusto.

Highly recommended

Friday, October 7, 2011

cd review- Olivia Newton John, Portraits: A Tribute to Great Women of Song

Olivia Newton John was one of the biggest pop stars of the 70's and 80's.  She has had numerous hit songs, from her early hits "Have You Never Been Mellow" and "I Honestly Love You" to the hugely successful "Physical."  She starred in one of the biggest movie musicals of that time, Grease, as well as in one of the biggest movie musical flops, Xanadu.  And, even though Xanadu tanked at the box office, the soundtrack of that film spawned many hit singles including "Magic" and "Suddenly."

She has recorded many albums over the years and originated many songs.  So, the fact that Olivia made a cover album performing songs associated with other famous performers is somewhat of an oddity. This recording, Portraits: A Tribute to Great Women of Song, which was just released in the US, is actually a rerelease of her Aussie cd Indigo from 2004 which was produced by famous music producer Phil Ramone.  Offering a wide diversity of song styles, each of the songs on the album has a personal connection to Olivia from the song she sang at a talent contest to the one that taught her how to play the guitar.  And while the album is ballad heavy, the songs have different arrangements that let them stand apart from each other resulting in a varied collection of song styles.

Olivia is in very good voice throughout the recording.  As her voice has aged she has lost a bit of her high range but gained more depth on the lower notes.

The cd starts off with an extremely well paced cover of Astrud Gilberto's "How Insensitive" which is followed by the Doris Day hit "Love Me or Leave Me" which, while it has a somewhat undercooked arrangement including a strange organ part still finds Olivia in good form.  A sultry "Cry Me a River" made famous by Julie London is next, one of my personal favorites on this recording and that is followed by the Dionne Warwick hit "Anyone Who Had a Heart" which has a groovy arrangement.   Olivia knocks that one out of the park, no wonder that was the song that won her a talent contest.

Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" probably made most famous by Peter, Paul and Mary as well as by Joan Baez, has a beautiful and quiet guitar driven arrangement that is a perfect compliment to the message driven lyrics.  Olivia provides a beautiful and soft spoken delivery as well.  This is the song she learned to play the guitar with.  "How Glad I Am," made famous by Nancy Wilson, is probably the least known song on the recording but Olivia delivers it in a sexy and playful way.  The Minnie Riperton hit "Lovin' You" takes you back to the sounds of the 70's.  Even though Olivia fortunately doesn't attempt the most likely out of her range high pitched moments of that song, it is still a nice version.

Olivia's take on the Karen Carpenter classic "Rainy Days and Mondays" is probably the highlight of the recording and Olivia truly connects with the lyrics, even partially speaking some of them, and the arrangement never overshadows the lyrics and Olivia's delivery of them.  "Send in the Clowns," one of the two show tunes on the album, is another highlight, though from the somewhat understated approach Olivia gives to this song I'm not sure if she clearly grasps the meaning of the lyrics. 

"Summertime" is both a lullaby and a sexy, sultry romantic song delivered in a breathless style.  It has a nice arrangement as well.   The cd ends with "Alfie" and while it can't quite touch Dionne Warwick's classic version of the song, it has a lovely arrangement and Olivia delivers the lyrics in a beautiful way.

While Portraits may not deliver on every song it is still an enjoyable recording that includes some great songs in great lush arrangements sung by one of the greatest pop stars of the past 40 years.