Saturday, May 21, 2016

Steve Martin&Co.'s 'Bright Star' Is an Engaging Musical ... With a Country Inflection

Michael Pearce, Bennett Sullivan, Rob Berman and Martha McDonnell in "Bright Star." Photos by Nick Stokes.


unlikely that plain folk such as you or I would learn one of the more difficult stringed instruments just to strum it in a movie. Steve Martin, who decidedly is not ordinary people, apocryphally did just that.

Now, along with songwriter Edie Brickell, SM has created the musical
"Bright Star," currently enjoying an open run at the Cort Theatre. It is based on their Grammy-winning album (for best original American Roots Song).

"Bright Star" relies on the American country music of bluegrass to tell its tale of
love lost and regained. It's surprising how unusual it is for the American artform,
the musical, to be sung to American country tunes or danced to a Virginia reel.

An exception is "The Robber Bridegroom," in revival at Roundabout Theatre's off-Broadway space, the Laura Pels Theatre, through 29 May. It is also a Southern-inflected bluegrass musical. Further, like "Bright Star," in this latter musical based on a story by Eudora Welty, the musicians are on stage.

Eugene Lee's scenic design brings the country style to the cabin
that is the centerpiece of the staging in "Bright Star." Period costuming, with timeframes ranging from 1945 to 1946 and 22 years earlier, is flawlessly realized by Jane Greenwood.

The poignant and romantic tale, directed by Walter Bobbie, is as disarming and charming as its protagonist, Alice Murphy (Carmen Cusack in a Tony-nominated role in her Broadway debut). Alice is the sophisticated, witty and astute editor of a big city Southern literary journal. Her roots are in a small North Carolina townlet.

On her road to success, she has not only left behind the backwater in which she was
born, but also her heart. The love she misses and recalls is for Jimmy Ray Dobbs (Paul Alexander Nolan). In flashbacks, "Bright Star" reveals just how young and foolish these two once were.

Meanwhile, in the post World War II present, Alice encounters an interesting new talent in Billy Cane (A.J. Shively) whom she mentors. During a visit to her past, Alice's parents (Stephen Lee Anderson and Dee Hoty) are welcoming, as is Billy's dad (Stephen Bogardus) when she stops by to share the news that one of Billy's short stories will be published.

Billy also reunites with Margo Crawford (Hannah Elless). She has always been his biggest booster, and was his first editor.

Among "Bright Star's" principals, CC and PAN give outstanding performances. PAN is also an admirable dancer, polishing Josh Rhodes' excellent choreography.

Carmen Cusack and the "Bright Star" Company.

In the supporting cast, Broadway veteran Michael Mulheren (as Jimmy Ray's father, Mayor Josiah Dobbs) gives a poignant portrayal. Alice's assistants, Emily Padgett as Lucy Grant and Jeff Blumenkrantz as Daryl Ames, bring pleasant levity.

Humming merrily along throughout the proceedings is the orchestra, under the direction of Rob Berman, who also takes up the piano and accordian.

Visit to learn more about "Bright Star."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Last Day TFF2016: On a Frightening Acid Trip Down Memory Lane With ‘the bomb’

In "the bomb," footage of parts of Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped. Photos by V.W.


help us all if any of the club members have a meltdown moment. We’d all be ... melted down or suffer some similar, awful fate.

Here to remind us of this outcome is “the bomb.” The closing film of the "15th annual Tribeca Film Festival" continues its world premiere run tonight with showings at 7 and 10. From Kevin Ford, Smriti Keshari and Eric Schlosser, “the bomb” addresses the nuclear threat.

The Nuclear Club, the so-called name for the countries that admit to or are known to have nuclear weapons, is a motley crew: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom and, of course, the United States. Do note that these are the countries that have come clean about their nuclear possessions.

Anyone with the remotest knowledge of geopolitics is aware that there exists a massive amount of tension among members of the club, heightening the relevance of “the bomb.”

It is a multimedia work by virtue of being projected on a series of large screens that surround the main show space at Gotham Hall. In the center, playing live, is the band, The Acid. It can be inferred from the 360-degree view of the film that it's a metaphor for the reality that the nuclear threat surrounds us.

Like a typical documentary, “the bomb” uses archival footage to take the viewer back and forth in time to various points of development of nuclear weaponry.

Disturbing business all around such as footage of animals being carted and taken away to be guinea pigs for scientists to test the effects of nuclear energy on living beings that will have similar reactions to humans .

The busy work of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s The Manhattan Project, the piece of nastiness that started the nuclear arms race and crushed a society, is cited. Back then, it all seemed so simple and innocent. Today, it is obvious that it spawned menaces to society.

Scene of the aftermath of a bomb attack in "the bomb."

In truly satirical moments, “the bomb” uses clips from propaganda films of the 40s designed to allay the fears that a wary, but trusting U. S public had about radiation poisoning. Of course, the effects of the atomic bomb on Japanese citizens would give lie to those assurances.

As comic as it is alarming is the PSA instructing children to duck and hide in the event of a bomb attack. Downright sinister is the Lockheed Martin manifesto.

Fast forward to today and “the bomb” shines the spotlight on certain members of the Nuclear Club saber-rattling under the guise of the harmless testing of their nuclear weapons. Or bragging about their capabilities.

“the bomb,” occasionally obtuse and too enamored with mushroom clouds, does not offer solutions. Rather, it seems to illustrate the problem ,and in doing so, exhorts us to remember the lessons of the past. To not forget what was wrought when The Bomb was dropped.

It quietly beseeches us to undertake the necessary course to avoid another catastrophe, one that will likely take us all out next time.

We’d do well to heed this counsel.

Other films/events on today's TFF2016 schedule: “Win,” “Children of the Mountain,” “Do Not Resist,” “Keepers of the Game,” “The Tenth Man,” “Here Alone,” “Adult Life Skills,” “Junction 48,” “Midsummer in Newtown,” “Untouchable,” “Dean,” “The Fixer,” “Kicks,” “Little Boxes,” “Women Who Kill,” “Madly,” “Check It,” “Between Us,” “Fear, Inc.,” “The Ride,” “Prison Dogs,” “Life, Animated,” “Almost Paris,” “Strike a Pose,” “SHORTS: New York Now, “Nerdland,” “Custody,” “Geezer,” “Mr. Church,” “King Cobra

Visit to learn more about it and the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, including tickets and schedule.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Day 6 TFF2016: 'Elvis & Nixon,' Hilarity Marks Retelling of the Musician and Politician Sat Down Together

Colin Hanks, Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon in "Elivs & Nixon." Photos by Steve Dietl/Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street.

By V.W.

a trivia question for you: What rock ’n’ roll star had a meeting with then-President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office? …

If you said Jerry Lee Lewis you are … wrong It was none other than The King! You know the one.

That fateful rendezvous is chronicled in “Elvis & Nixon.” Director Liza Johnson's film is in its world premiere run at the 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival. It screens this evening and tomorrow afternoon. It opens widely in the United States on 22 April on Amazon and in theaters.

A brief, impromptu meeting is a flimsy premise on which to hang a film. However, writers Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes bring it off with aplomb. In the mouths of the actors, their dialogue snaps, crackles and pops.

"Elvis & Nixon" is an occasion to enjoy the journey. Along the way we see both men preparing for their respective day. Elvis, played with an intense reserve by Michael Shannon, is in a Los Angeles hotel room not liking what he is watching on TV (protests, drug-using young people, Communist marches and various governmental denunciations, etc.).

Consequently, he turns the TV off. That is, he shoots the TV with one of the handguns he is legally licensed to carry. Elvis is armed to the teeth, or is that the feet? Meanwhile, in the nation's capitol, POUS is cheerlessly getting his day organized.

Because the meeting is going to happen on this day, titles on the screen keep viewers apprised of the time.

After sorting out the TV, a disgusted Elvis and his weapons take themselves off to LAX. He is met by his friend, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettier) and off they go to the nation's capitol to take an unscheduled, unplanned meeting with the most powerful man in the world.

There are many laughs in "Elvis & Nixon" and many of them revolve around the reactions of ordinary people to Elvis.

Invariably, the people whom Elvis encounters are initially unsure whether they can believe their eyes. He is out of context. One should see him on the movie screen or concert stage, not walking alone into the airport with no luggage. Or walking into a diner unaccompanied. Where is this man's entourage? He cannot be allowed to walk around as if he were a nobody. Two of the funniest encounters take place in the airport with an Elvis impersonator and at a black diner in Washington, D. C.

Each scene in "Elvis & Nixon" advances the viewer closer to the meeting. It's akin to watching a chess match. Strategy is key in almost every encounter, starting with Elvis dropping by the White House with a letter for the president.

As Richard Nixon, Kevin Spacey is by turns spot-on and the veriest caricature. Always, however, he is hilarious, deftly capturing that chip-on-his-shoulder, inferiority-complex mien that defined Nixon much of his life.

Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) and flygirls in "Elvis & Nixon."

Among the funniest moments in the film are the scenes in which the handlers of each man are setting the parameters of the meeting, which was ultimately brought to pass by a certain persuasive young woman. During their chat the two men discover that they have a few things in common. By its conclusion they are new BFFs.

It was a good meeting — for Elvis, anyway; he got his badge. Not so sure about Nixon.

It is hard not to leave "Elvis & Nixon" with a smile on your face and a laugh in your belly.

Other films/events on today's TFF2016 schedule: Virtual Arcade, "Little Boxes," Don't Look Down," "Abortion: Stories Women Tell," Shorts: Pressure Points," "Keepers of the Game," "Kicks," "Untouchable," "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "Children of the Mountain," Betting on Zero," "After Spring," "Team Foxcatcher," "Tickling Giants," "Equals," "Live Cargo," "The Human Thing," "Vincent N Roxxy," "The Meddler," "Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg," "Equity," "Do Not Resist," "Haveababy," "Lavender," "Nerdland," "A Kind of Murder," "Midsummer in Newtown, "Don't Think Twice," "The Banksy Job," "Dreamland," "Between Us"

Visit to learn more about it and the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, including tickets and schedule.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Day 4 TFF2016: 'Bugs' and the Many Splendid Ways to Feast on Them

Ben Reade drinks honey from an African stingless bee at a farm in Uganda. Photos by V.W.


the mood for Chicken w/garlic crumbs in buffalo worms? How about fried noodles in black soldier fly larvae?

Not your cup of tea? It may be one day if the world fills up with too many people and there is not enough beef, for instance, to go around.

With this very plausible outcome in mind, “Bugs” makes a very compelling and sometimes queasiness-inducing case for the West to also turn to the world of edible insects as a future food source.

From Andreas Johnsen, the documentary has its world premiere this evening at the 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival. The engaging guides in “Bugs,” chef Ben Reade and researcher Josh Evans, trot the world over meeting people who eat a steady diet of insects of all kinds.

Perhaps maggot cheese is not your thing. Nor is tabouli with locusts. But it is very difficult to dismiss “Bugs” during a moment in time when the "industrialized" food of the West is making people sick and killing them.

Josh Evans and Ben Reade eat escarole tortilla at a Mexican farm.

More later. For now, a pictorial and video.

Sustainable farm (Uganda)

Maggot cheese (Italy)

Escamole w/vegetables (Mexico farm)

Escamole saute (Mexico restaurant)

Escamole tortilla (Mexico restaurant)

Queen Termite in nest (Kenya)

Queen Termite on leaf (Kenya)

Queen Termite on cooker (Kenya)

Queen Termite w/mango (Kenya)

Termites at market (Kenya)

Other films/events on today's TFF2016 schedule: TFI Interactive, “Hacked by Def Con and Mr. Robot, “Do Not Resist,” “The Fixer,” “The Ticket,” “Shorts: Learning Curve,” “Little Boxes,” “Lovetrue,” “Win,” “Burden,” “Tribeca Tune-In: Love of Spock,” “California,” “Houston, We Have a Problem,” “Women Who Kill,” “Nerdland,” “Shadow World,” “The Happy Film,” “Contemporary Color,” “National Bird,” “Solitary,” “Detour,” “Madly,” “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” “Youth in Oregon”

Visit to learn more about it and the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, including tickets and schedule.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Day 2: TFF2016: 'Intersection of I,' Frank Talk About What Whiteness Means to Me

In "Intersection of I," Hadley and other millennials discuss the impact that identifying as white has on their lives. Photo by V.W.


casually, Connor discloses that he has been arrested more than 20 times. Selling drugs, is one of his offenses. "I did what I wanted to do knowing there would be no consequences," he confesses without a trace of shame.

Welcome to the engaging and provocative “Intersection of I," a multimedia installation in which 23 part-white and white millennials speak candidly about the impact of "whiteness" on their lives.

"There have been plenty of times where I have taken advantage of it," Connor says of his white privilege.

“Intersection of I” is making its world debut today through 17 April in the virtual reality and installation space, Storyscapes, at the 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival.

From Whitney Dow, it is the second series in his “The Whiteness Project.” During a brief chat at a press preview yesterday, the award-winning filmmaker says he conceived the work as he became aware that as a white person he was bringing the racial experiences of others to the fore without having examined his own, specifically his white male privilege.

Of “The Whiteness Project,” WD says wanted to present work in which white participants could have a “transformational experience.” It was not his desire, however, to present an “argumental thesis” in defense of whiteness. Further, he had in mind an interactive experience.

“Intersection of I” is situated in what’s called the 5th Floor Hub at Spring Street Studios, command central of Tribeca. Before visitors enter the space, they are asked to allow a photo of a part of their skin to be taken. It will be immediately added to a digital skin color storyboard within the exhibit that looks like a collection of fabric swatches.

In addition to the storyboard, the installation includes a world map that shows in real-time where people are watching. Their comments appear on a screen above the world map. On a huge projected screen, across from visitor bleacher-style seating, are photos and names of the 23 people featured in “Intersection of I.”

The questions they have been asked about whiteness have been recorded. Visitors can hear their remarks by speaking their names into a microphone. The mic acts as a mouse.

Say “Lena” and her image fills the screen; she explains why she alters her appearance to appear less Arab and more white.

Alfredo is Hispanic, too, and proud of it. But when he identifies as white, “I have more freedom to be who I am.”

Carson wonders how much he has actually accomplished on true merit. He is discomfited because he doesn’t know what he has earned by hard work and what has been handed to him because he is white.

No black males appear in "Intersection of I," an obvious oversight. Nor is there anyone who is part black, but who can pass for white yet does not do so. Moreover, no Native Americans.

Though forthright, WD's explanation to the effect that it was not possible, owing to the constraints of time and budget, is tepid. He is contrite, however, which mitigates these omissions.

"I am eventually hoping to have 1,000 interviews altogether. And once I do that, then you will be able to go into it and pick from a greater number of interviews," he explains. "...The project is in pilot stage. It is absolutely not fully representational of the way I'd like to have this conversation."

For “Intersection of I,” WD chose millennials aged 15-27 in part because “they have much stronger language skills around talking about identity” than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

"Intersection of I" participants live in Greater Dallas. In part one of "The Whiteness Project," "Inside the White/Caucasian Box," WD spoke about their whiteness with residents of Buffalo, NY between the ages of 24 and 75.

Of millennials, he continues, their perspective is that ‘the world has to take me on my terms.’

“I also thought it would be interesting to talk to people who are also in this place of forming their own identities, that they’re still in the process of not being like this codified thing.”

Other films/events on today's TFF2016 schedule: “Kicks,” “30 for 30: The Magic Moment,” “Nerdland,” “As I Open My Eyes,” “Dreamland,” “Keep Quiet,” “After Spring,” “Haveababy,” “Holidays,” “Madly,” “Tickling Giants,” “Win!,” “All this Panic,” “Do Not Resist,” “Mother,” “First Monday in May,” “Shorts: New York Then,” “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”

Visit to learn more about it and the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, including tickets and schedule.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

MGDC Celebrates 90 With Some Classics, Special Guests, New Pontus. And an App; At YAGP, Final Finals and Two Galas. In Brooklyn (BAM)!


is an eloquent celebration of the American pioneering spirit. First performed in 1944, "Appalachian Spring" is set to music by Aaron Copland.

What better way for the company founded by the grande dame of modern dance, Martha Graham, to showcase its long history than with a party that includes arguably her best known work.

On the dance card for the Martha Graham Dance Company 90th Anniversary Gala on 18 April is an excerpt from that venerable dance.

The gala is the culmination of the 2016 New York season of the Martha Graham Dance Company. The season begins on 14 April at New York City Center. The Mannes Orchestra, under the baton of David Hayes, will provide live music throughout the season.

Also among the abundant array of Graham masterworks scheduled for the finale are “Chronicle,” “Tanagra,” “Heretic,” “Celebration” and “Lamentation.”

The new Martha Graham Dance Company app will provide access to the company's voluminous archives. Image courtesy of MGDC.

The gala will also feature a special performance by Aurélie Dupont, the retired prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet and its incoming dance director. The program includes the New York premiere of a new work by Pontus Lidberg, too.

The evening winds down at the University Club of New York with dinner and dancing by professionals and amateurs.

In her work, MG clearly demonstrated that there is majesty in ordinary movement. Her legacy puts MGDC in the pantheon of great modern dance troupes.

During a tribute to MGDC's anniversary during its recent New York season, Paul Taylor American Modern Dance presented MG's Diversion of Angels. Paul Taylor is an MGDC alumnus, and the tribute marked the first time his company had performed an MG work.

Aurélie Dupont in "Daphnis et Chloe." Photo by Martin Bureau, courtesy of AFP.

Although the term modern in "modern dance" does not necessarily refer to "of the moment," it now marks MGDC as a very cool granny. The company introduces the MGDC iPhone and iOS app (accessible on Android devices and Web platforms).

Visit to learn more about the Martha Graham Dance Company 90th Anniversary Gala.
Visit to learn more about the Martha Graham Dance Company
2016 New York season.
Visit to learn more about the MGDC app.

YAGP Presents Its Annual "Stars"-Studded Fete

Artem Ovcharenko, principal dancer, Bolshoi Theatre as Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty. Photo courtesy of YAGP.

If you still think that Brooklyn has not arrived, consider this: Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) is holding its Finals Week and finals galas in the Borough of Kings!

"Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow" fills the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on 28 and 29 April. Gala Day 1 is open to the public, while YAGP judges, participants, parents and teachers get exclusive invites to Gala Day 2.

The duplicate galas were conceived to accommodate the demand for seats and to ensure that participating dancers, dance instructors and parents have an opportunity to see the show. The celebrations are the culmination of YAGP Finals Week, the world’s largest student ballet scholarship audition. YAGP is a nonprofit organization.

The acclaimed ballerina Natalia Makarova and Sergei Filin, the recently named director of the Bolshoi Theatre’s Young Choreographers’ Workshop, are among dance community notables who will award special prizes during finals week.

The gala dance program is two acts. YAGP finalists perform in Act I. The second act features some of the world’s most celebrated dancers. The spectacular Grand Defilé features all YAGP participants. Among the established dancers will be the Bolshoi's Artem Ovcharenko.

Original, innovative choreography created especially for the occasion is also a hallmark of the gala.

Visit to learn more about the YAGP’s "Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow" gala.

Friday, April 8, 2016

'The Boss' Is Perfectly Awful and I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way

Kristen Bell, Ella Anderson and Melissa McCarthy&Co. stage a very hostile takeover in “The Boss.” Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

BY V. W.

knew going in that Melissa's McCarthy's “The Boss” would often be tactless, tasteless and awful. I did not care.

It is and I still don’t. I love it!

The film opens in U.S. theaters today.

In “The Boss,” MM is business mogul Michelle Darnell who climbed her way to the top and didn't grow squeamish when it was necessary to stomp on a few toes along the way. She's not a monster, just an orphan who was returned to the orphanage by at least three different families as if she were a defective toy.

A girl learns a lesson or three from such seminal experiences. One is to develop the motto "screw others before they screw you."

I am a Melissa McCarthy fan. Consequently, I signed up to screen her latest film, based on a sketch comedy character she created, with eyes wide open. Interspersed throughout this sketchy business, however, are moments tender and warm; outlandish and uproariously funny. Did I say I love it? … More shortly

“The Boss” is rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use; visit to learn more about the film.
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