Seen in Central Park:
For some reason, Hollywood stars are drawn to productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night like flies to honey, with usually unhappy results. In recent years, Michelle Pfeiffer, Gregory Hines, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Fisher Stevens got themselves panned in one production, while Helen Hunt, Paul Rudd, and Kyra Sedgwick took the fall in another. The current Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, under the direction of Brian Kulick, is a respectable affair, concentrating more on the play’s knockabout comedy scenes rather than its darker moments. The clowns score heavily: Oliver Platt is a riot as Toby Belch, whom he plays as a sibilant, childish, drunken rogue. He is well matched by Michael Stuhlbarg’s amusingly addled Andrew Aguecheek and Kristen Johnston as a lusty, sardonic Maria. In comparison, Julia Stiles, Jimmy Smits, and Zach Braff lack color and personality as three of the play’s four romantic leads, although Kathryn Meisle is witty as Olivia, the lady who loves to grieve, and Christopher Lloyd makes Malvolio into a prize fool.
Another Night in the Park
The best thing about this Twelfth Night is its design, including the swooping blue wave of Walt Spangler’s setting (complete with shipwreck), Miguel Angel Huidor’s wildly attractive 19th-century evening wear (in a limited palette of black, white, and red), and Michael Chybowski’s lighting, which saturates the stage in pinks and blues. Special credit goes to Acme Sound Partners, who have seemingly solved the problem of delivering glitch-free sound at the Delacorte Theatre. While never less than pleasant, this production doesn’t begin to grapple with the melancholy undertone of Shakespeare’s most incisive comedy about the arbitrary nature of romantic love. It’s a little bit like attending a party where none of the guests know each other very well. But as a relaxed evening of laughter on a hot summer night, you could do worse.--David Barbour
Seen in the Park, a Second View: Often part of the New York experience of Shakespeare in the Park is out-waiting the weather. That was the case last week when a squall hit right around curtain time at Twelfth Night, the sole presentation of the New York Shakespeare Festival this year. The stage crew had to take extra precautions; Walt Spangler's wild, wavy set had to be swabbed down thoroughly so no one would break his or her neck. When one enterprising crew member slid down the stage-left wave on his swabbing towel, the audience roared in approval. We didn't know at the time that almost every cast member would take a turn on the slide--most notably, David Harbour (as Antonio), who made a graceful entrance "surfing" on his pallet.
Shakespeare's lovers wig out
Harbour joined cast members Jimmy Smits (Orsino), Julia Stiles (Viola/Cesario), the delightful Oliver Platt (Sir Toby), the equally delightful Kristen Johnston (Maria), and others in the production, which runs through mid-August. While the leads were somewhat pallid--in Stiles' case, perhaps in over her head--the comic characters (Platt, Johnston, Christopher Lloyd as Malvolio, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Sir Andrew Aguecheek) redeemed the play.
The design was pretty spectacular, from Spangler's blue wave set with moving shipwreck to Michael Chybowski's pinpoint-accurate lighting to Miguel Angel Huidor's impressive costumes. Huidor's palette was red (Orsino and his court), black (Olivia and her household), and white (again, Olivia's household, when her self-imposed period of mourning for her brother ends). Orsino's men were in militaristic livery; Olivia's handmaidens wore enormous hoop skirts and lots of veiling. At times Sir Andrew seemed to be smothered by his frippery and finery, which is exactly as it should be. The only quibble I had with the costumes were some of the wigs--Zach Braff, who played Sebastian, Viola's brother, had the most unfortunate one. Sound design was by Acme Sound Partners. Though I didn't care for the music (by Duncan Sheik), it and all the performers were crystal-clear.--Liz French
Seen at the Movies: The true movie dog days are upon us—this week's major studio releases are Austin Powers in Goldmember, the third in New Line's phenomenally lucrative spy-spoof franchise, and The Country Bears, Disney's unlikely attempt to capitalize on a 30-year-old themepark attraction. I haven't seen either film, but I've read mixed-to-passing reviews, and there are technical/design items of interest about both. The G-rated Country Bears is defiantly bucking the digital trend, putting performers in furry (not to mention hot and heavy) animatronic suits designed and built by Jim Henson's Creature Shop onscreen with less hairy specimens like Christopher Walken and Queen Latifah. The bear characters' facial movements are controlled by puppeteers using the Henson Performance Control System, a hardware/software package with video monitor that operates almost like a computer game.
Which way to the jamboree?
The latest Austin Powers installment not only introduces Michael Caine as the spy's equally dentally challenged dad, and adds the villainous Goldmember to Mike Myers' growing arsenal of heavily prostheticized creations, it also dips into the 70s (where Beyoncé Knowles appears as a vixen named Foxxy Cleopatra) for some heavily disco-flavored costume and setting requirements. As on the previous Powers outings, production designer Rusty Smith and costume designer Deena Appel are more than up to the challenge. Michele Burke supplies the sun-damaged, flaky skin makeup design for Goldmember, while the Stan Winston Studio design for Myers' grotesque Fat Bastard has been augmented by Howard Berger and Chris Nelson of KNB Effects to include another look. DP Peter Deming, who shot the first Austin Powers movie, is back on board for the third.
Dig Dad's orthodontic splendor, baby!
For something completely different, cinephiles should be interested in The Kid Stays in the Picture, a kind of first-person documentary about producer and former Paramount production head Robert Evans. Adapted from Evans' autobiography, and more specifically, the audiocassette version narrated in the producer's hilarious hard-boiled mumble, Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein's film makes use of that voice, launching no attempt to present a balanced view. We hear about Evans' blessedly short-lived acting career, his rise through the ranks at Paramount to his glory days guiding the studio as it produced Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, and Chinatown, his marriage to Ali MacGraw, and his subsequent encounters with cocaine, bankruptcy, and shady dealings surrounding The Cotton Club that resulted in a murder, all in the subject's own entertainingly self-justifying words. The filmmakers, who include Vanity Fair editor Greydon Carter, on board as producer, accompany Evan's monologue with archival footage and photos, which are digitally collaged and manipulated (mostly at Edgeworx) to achieve a fascinating effect—figures are made to stand out from their backgrounds, as in a virtual wax museum. In addition, DP John Bailey was employed to shoot some beautifully lush 35mm footage of Evans' Gatsby-worthy Beverly Hills home.--John Calhoun
Heard in Chicago: Even while the new musical Hairspray is wowing them in previews in New York, another Broadway-bound musical, Movin’ Out, is facing a rougher ride in Chicago. Essentially a narrative dance piece by Twyla Tharp set to 24 Billy Joel songs, the show opened this week to deeply mixed reviews. Critics found the first act confusing and the characters lacking any real interest. There were some complaints about the design as well. On the other hand, one dance critic who attended thought the piece contained some of Tharp’s best work. My spies indicate, moreover, that the audience response picks up sharply in the second act and that there’s an audience eager for an evening of Billy Joel music. Interestingly, the show’s producers have announced that Movin’ Out is being reworked and have invited the critics to return at the end of the Chicago run. Clearly, this is very much a work in progress. LD Don Holder is a busy guy, what with previews for his other musical, The Boys From Syracuse, starting in New York this week as well.--DB
Heard from the Media: The Disney world domination plan continues: The Wall Street Journal announced this week that Disney had signed a letter of intent to build a new theme park in Shanghai, China. The park is scheduled for 2008, two years after Disney’s Hong Kong park is scheduled to bow. Won’t be long before you start seeing pictures of Micky and Goofy on the Great Wall of China....Meanwhile, closer to home comes the news from Variety, that Disney is producing a stage version of the animated film Aladdin, at the company’s California Adventure park in Anaheim. Ultra-avant-garde opera director Francesca Zembello has been hired to stage it. No designers announced yet, but this is the first big project of Anne Hamburger, the former downtown New York producer who has gone Disney. The results should be interesting, to say the least. Aladdin is scheduled to open December 9.
Meanwhile, the Cirque du Soleil world domination plan is also moving apace. Variety reported that Canadian director Robert Lepage, best known for long, long, multi-part theatrical epics about AIDS, Hiroshima, and other fun topics, is going to stage a new Cirque presentation at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. What with O, and Mystère, and a new Cirque spectacle for the hotel New York, New York, this will bring to four the number of Cirques in the Vegas strip. How many is too many? It’s anybody’s guess. Anyway, Lepage’s show is scheduled for sometime in 2004.--DB
Heard on the Rialto: Tony Award-winning set designer Tim Hatley (who created the fabulous sets for the Broadway revival of Private Lives) was back in New York City recently, working with fellow Brit Alan Cumming on Jean Genet's play Elle at the Zipper space on West 37th Street. Now back in London, Hatley's current projects include The Talking Cure by Christopher Hampton, directed by Howard Davies, and staring Ralph Fiennes at the Royal National Theatre, as well as What the Night Is for, by Michael Weller, directed by John Caird, and starring Gillian Anderson in the West End. For the West Yorkshire Playhouse, he designed Pretending to Be Me by Philip Larkin, starring Tom Courtenay, and for the Antwerp Opera, a production of La Traviata.
Other news from the Rialto includes an update from the busy scenic shops of ShowMotion (www.showmotion.com) in Norwalk, CT, where Bill Mensching reports that things are humming along nicely. Currently represented on Broadway by scenic elements in both Into the Woods and Thoroughly Modern Millie, ShowMotion's new projects include decor for Dance of the Vampires and Hairspray on Broadway; for My Old Lady, a play going into Manhattan's Promenade Theatre; the rigging package for the tour of The Producers; drops for the 42nd Street tour; and decor for the new David Rockwell-designed restaurant, Buddha Bar, also in Manhattan.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
Heard From the New York Auction Block: Antiques dealer Dan Meader has bought out the props inventory from the last few Woody Allen movies, and will put all items on sale at his Elmwood Antiques store in Haverhill, MA. The props, which had been stored in an Astoria, Queens warehouse, were sold off as part of the settlement of Allen's highly publicized $12-million suit against producer and friend Jean Doumanian. Allen and Doumanian will split the unspecified amount of money from Meader's purchase. The props include a safe from Small Time Crooks, old-fashioned desks and typewriters from Bullets Over Broadway, and various items such as New York street signs and bags of autumn leaves. The giant fruits and vegetables from Sleeper predate the inventory.--JC
Twelfth Night photos: Michal Daniel
Country Bears photo: Richard Cartwright/Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Austin Powers photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/New Line Productions