Saturday, July 28, 2012

Don't Cry, ' ... the Money Keeps Pouring In' for 'Evita'

Elena Rogers as the titular heroine with the Company in "Evita." Photos by Richard Termine.

BY TAMARA BECK

ONE
of the reasons we value theater as an art form is that it enriches us. Sometimes, the fact that it also lightens our wallets has a dilatory effect on the experience.

A case in point is the current revival of the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice masterpiece, “Evita.” Of course, it is not only the high ticket prices that inflate expectations that lead to disappointment. “Evita” won the Tony in 1980.

Fond memories of the original Broadway production starring Patti LuPone in the titular role and Mandy Patinkin as Che added to the letdown brought on by the current production in an open run at the Marquis Theatre.

The story of “Evita” takes Eva Duarte (Elena Roger) out of a backwater slum to shiny Buenos Aires where she woos and marries Col. Juan Peron (Michael Cerveris).

In “Evita,” it is clear that while the colonel is the up-and-comer, it is Eva who is the consummate populist politician. Eva Peron ascends her “throne” as the First Lady of Argentina through her wiles and naked opportunism. As ALW and TR discovered in their research of the real-life diva, she is adored and sanctified. (See videos at http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/videos.html)

Juan Peron (Michael Cerveris) is wholly captivated by Eva (Elena Roger) who would become an icon in "Evita."

The songs in this operatic musical play off of Evita’s glamour and star power. They are smart, well-written and cheeky. Puns and anachronisms make for a lively narrative delivered by Che (Daniel Torres understudying for Ricky Martin) as the storyteller. RM is meant to provide some added razzle-dazzle to “Evita,” but DT was a more than adequate sub. In the current iteration, most of the pizzazz is in the music and libretto.

Despite her rather weak singing, ER’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” rose to the high point in the performance. Admittedly, ER is an adept dancer, and the company also moves beautifully through the tango-inflected choreography by Rob Ashford.

The most noteworthy performances are by Max von Essen as Magaldi, the two-bit crooner whom Eva uses to get away to the big city. Another is Rachel Potter as the Peron mistress Eva displaces. Alas, the Tony-winning MC (“Assassins”) is not up to his usual standard in his portrayal of Juan Peron.

Slum dweller Eva Duarte (Elena Roger) uses Che (Ricky Martin) as a pawn in her scheme to get to the big city and bigger things in "Evita."

The minimalist sets by Christopher Oram (who is also responsible for the excellent costumes) are lost on the cavernous stage at the Marquis. In a smaller setting the re-purposing designed to suggest many a scene – from nightclub to hotel to presidential palace – would have been clever.

The second-act song about Eva’s charities with the lyric, “And the money kept pouring in,” becomes an unwelcome reminder that the seats are very expensive. It harks to the unfortunate complaint that the high cost of seeing this show added to the disappointment in the production.

Visit http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/ to learn more about “Evita.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

At Sylvia’s You Can Make Yourself at Home

Sylvia Woods outside her eponymous Harlem eatery. Photo from people.com.

HEAD’S UP: Filmmaker Byron Hurt shot part of his new award-winning documentary, “Soul Food Junkies,” at Sylvia’s Restaurant. He generously agreed to share some of his thoughts, first published at CNN.com, about what Sylvia Woods represented for him. The cultural icon died on 19 July at the age of 86.

BY BYRON HURT

A
friend called me Thursday evening and asked, “Did you hear the news about Sylvia?”

I knew right away which Sylvia she was referring to. Something must have happened to Miss Sylvia Woods, the pioneering restaurateur whose soul food gave comfort to so many people.

As I thought about the social and historical significance of this great lady, what struck me was that my friend didn’t refer to her as "Ms. Woods" or "Sylvia Woods."

She simply said "Sylvia." It was as if she were informing me that a family member or a close personal friend had just passed.

Though Sylvia Woods was not a blood relative, she felt like one to me, and to anyone who frequented her world famous Harlem eatery, Sylvia’s Restaurant. It was a place where you were home. You could let your guard down, relax and dig in.

In her restaurant, hang pictures showing Sylvia smiling next to wealthy entertainers, powerful politicians, foreign dignitaries and famous athletes. The photos are a testament to her array of fans across racial and cultural lines.

Director Byron Hurt (center) at Sylvia's Restaurant during the filming of "Soul Food Junkies." Photo from "Soul Food Junkies" Facebook page.

At Sylvia’s, I felt a sense of belonging – and racial pride – in dining at an established cultural institution famously built by a woman who had the vision and courage to create an empire by cooking smothered chicken, barbecue ribs, oxtails, potato salad, catfish fritters, black-eyed peas, collard greens and a host of soul food dishes.

Many African-Americans have grown up and grown old eating soul food. It has been an integral part of our journey here in the United States of America.

During the Great Migration black people like Sylvia Woods, who hails from South Carolina, brought Southern cooking to cities like Chicago, Newark and New York City. By the late 1960s, black Southern food was coined soul food and filled the empty stomachs of Black Power and Civil Rights activists.

“Soul food, like soul music, is a repository for our history. It’s this memory of comfort," activist Michaela Angela Davis said during an interview in “Soul Food Junkies” (http://www.ow.ly/bZWaI), my documentary about this style of cooking. "Soul food represents black. When you eat soul food, you get a little bit of us. There’s this sense that this is ours, and we share it with the world.”

Cultural ties to soul food extend back to West Africa. Enslaved Africans who survived the Middle Passage brought memories of the food and cooking techniques that blacks still practice today. The food that was planted, grown, raised, prepared and cooked by the hands of enslaved Africans in the South was food that over time became a common staple on Southern tables during slavery and Reconstruction.

Though soul food is linked to disproportionately high rates of blood-sugar imbalances, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease in blacks, many are reluctant to give it up because it has been part of their family history for generations. Many blacks view this uniquely black cuisine as a source of honor because it helped them survive difficult times and helped to shaped black culture.

Harlem landmark Sylvia's Restaurant has served big shots and little people for 50 years. Photo from Wikipedia.

Soul food is a huge part of my cultural identity and history, too. For the 17-hour car rides from New York to Georgia that my family took when I was growing up, brown paper bag meals often consisted of foil-wrapped fried chicken, homemade sandwiches and slices of cake. Soul food was on the menu at church picnics, family reunions, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners – even at the repast after funerals.

So whenever I walked into Sylvia’s more than three decades of wonderful memories of eating food – prepared by loving hands – walked in with me.

It was like coming home.

Sylvia Woods will be memorialized today at a ceremony at the Grace Baptist Church (http://www.gracebapt.org/home.html). A viewing is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by a service at 11 a.m. The Rev. Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy. She was also remembered yesterday at a wake at the Abyssinian Baptist Church (http://www.abyssinian.org/).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

In ‘Harvey,’ Characters – a Delightful Lot of Them

Veta (Jessica Hecht) takes drastic measures against her brother, Elwood (Jim Parsons), to get her way in "Harvey." Photos by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

THERE
is a timeless charm in watching mildly unbalanced but essentially lovable folk go about their business.

“Harvey,” the Mary Chase Pulitzer Prize-winning play that was famously made into a film starring James Stewart, features a main character essentially unmoored from reality. In fact, most of the inhabitants of this Denver are slightly out of touch and oddball. The revival is playing at Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54 through 5 Aug.(See video at http://www.bit.ly/OThkNY)

Elwood P. Dowd (Jim Parsons), like the deadlier aunts Brewster in another zany comedy of the period, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” is agreeably delusional. The titular character is Elwood’s invisible constant companion. Harvey, incidentally, is a Pooka in the form of a 6-foot-tall white rabbit. Elwood seeks guidance from Harvey on all matters, large and small. In turn, Harvey's advice is invariably well placed.

Elwood (Jim Parsons), right, and his sensible and invisible Pooka in "Harvey."

While Elwood is a gentle and generous soul, his sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Jessica Hecht), is not. Forced by the privations of divorce to live under his roof, Veta feels thwarted in her social ambitions for her daughter Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo), by Harvey and her brother’s general eccentricity. Her not-so generous solution to removing these impediments is to enlist the help of family friend Judge Omar Gaffney (Larry Bryggman) in getting Elwood committed to the sanatorium run by Dr. William H. Chumley (Charles Kimbrough).

There is no one who does apoplectic better than Chas.K, and he has plenty of opportunity to sputter at the mistakes in identity and cross purposes in “Harvey.” Under Scott Ellis’ direction, the pacing of “Harvey” is as leisurely and genteel as JP, who is superb as the well-mannered Elwood. “Here’s my card,” Elwood says with intense sincerity to everyone he meets. The sets by David Rockwell bring life to both the Dowd family home and the waiting room at Chumley’s Rest. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are perfectly timely and lovely.

Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo), Veta (Jessica Hecht) and Judge Omar Gaffney (Larry Bryggman) are a scheming trio in "Harvey."

The one slightly false note in this wonderfully staged and acted production is TC whose Myrtle seems out of character with the ensemble. She is simply too flatly modern. On the otherhand, it is completely believable that LB’s Judge Gaffney was called away from his golf game by a distraught Veta.

Visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org to learn more about “Harvey.”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nelson Mandela Suits Up with 466/64 Fashion



NELSON Mandela has reached many milestones.

One of the latest is 466/64 Fashion, a clothing line inspired by the elder statesman. The men’s, women’s and children’s lifestyle brand made its North American debut yesterday – NM’s 94th birthday aka Nelson Mandela International Day – during a fashion presentation and press conference at the South African Consulate in New York. Among those in attendance to see the first global fashion label originating from South Africa was native daughter and singer, Lira, a 466/64 Fashion customer.

No doubt, NM is the first ever and only sitting or former head of state to be honored with a fashion line. 46664 is the number (prisoner number 466 of the year 1964) he was given during his long imprisonment in a South African prison for his opposition to apartheid.

Erin Patton, CEO of Dallas-based Company B, which holds the North American license to the brand, believes that what NM represents is part of what sets 466/64 Fashion apart from many other lines. “We’re offering the ability to have a brand that has cache, right – upstream – and at the same time has relevance from a cultural standpoint,” he said in an interview after the press conference.

Like the models, Company B CEO Erin Patton, fourth from left, shows off his 466/64 Fashion. Photo by Yours Truly.

“Typically, a lot of consumers have to create aspiration around certain brands that may or may not connect with them on a cultural level,EP added. "We are creating an opportunity for aspiration and cultural relevance and that is a space that we occupy and that gives us a huge amount of differentiation.” (See video above of the collection's debut at South African Fashion Week last September).

In 466/64 Fashion is an outfit for just about every occasion, from casual to business casual, to after-5, to black-tie. Made mostly (60 percent) in South Africa by design, it is heavy on snap/crackle/pop prints and bodacious colors. “We were at the BET Awards ... heads were turning, said EP who was got up in a white blazer, plaid shirt and blue jeans from the line. “The celebrities – the stylists – were like, ‘where is that coming from.’”

466/64 Fashion is currently available online (http://www.bit.ly/LZiJbk) and will arrive in Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom and other stores in spring 2013. A small percentage of proceeds from sales will go to a licensee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Trust, 46664 South Africa, which funds projects around Africa that advance NM's legacy.

The North American launch is the first outside of Africa. Plans are in the works to enter the European market, EP said.

Visit http://www.46664.com/ to learn more about 46664 South Africa and http://www.nelsonmandela.org/ to learn more about the Nelson Mandela Foundation Trust.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life Is a Beach: Itsykini Caters to Many Moods



ONE bikini. Up to 10 different looks.

That’s what the convertible bikini, Itsykini, promises. Of course, there are other convertibles out there but most only provide three or four options. With Itsykini, created last year by Annie-Claude Toledano and on the market several months now, a few extras add up. It’s simple. By exchanging and arranging bows and straps the wearer can create numerous looks based on her (or his) mood. Itsykini gets its name from the Brian Hyland hit, “Itsy Bitsy.” (See video above).

Incidentally, swimwear is on the brain because Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim jumps off in Miami for several days beginning next Thursday (19 July). Those bikinis and other swimwear to be shown over five days at what is believed by many to be the world’s largest swim industry event won’t be available until next year. Itsykini, on the otherhand, is available right now and doesn't make waves in the suitcase and beach bag.

Itsykinis in black and gold with exchangeable bows and straps in black, mink and multi. Photo from Itsykini.

The bikini itself is available in black, gold and silver and comes with four sets of bows and straps. Additional bows and straps – add-ons – are available in eye-popping colors such as lemon-yellow, turquoise, gold, multi, leopard, anis (chartreuse) and silver. In the collection, too, are a couple of bandeaus. One is black with a set of bows and straps in silver. The other is gold with lemon-yellow bows and straps. More modest gurls can suit up in a black one piece (both vintage and trend) that comes with two sets of bows. All-European affairs, the suits are designed in France and made in Portugal from the highest quality polyamide (80 percent, plus 100 percent polyamide lining) and elastane (20 percent).

According to company p.r., “The women who wear Itsykini have character and love to play and adapt their clothing to fit their ever changing mood and personality.”

Itsykini is available exclusively online at http://www.itsykini.biz/.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

‘Love Goes to Press’ and Goes Awry on the Front

Annabelle Jones (Heidi Armbruster) and Jane Mason (Angela Pierce) are journalists who are there for each other in "Love Goes to Press." Photo by Richard Termine.

BY TAMARA BECK

THE
rom-com formulae are as old as theater, and they never fail to entertain.

“Love Goes to Press,” created by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles for a West End run in 1946 as a lark, has a piquant take on the familiar. It is playing at the Mint Theater Company through 29 July.

At the time of the writing, MG was divorced from Ernest Hemingway. VC was newly married to British journalist Aidan Crowley. The women knew of what they wrote. Like the play’s authors, the heroines in “Love Goes to Press” are journalists on the frontline of war.

Love is in the offing for Jane Mason (Angela Pierce) and Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux (Bradford Cover). The starchy officer at the press camp in Poggibonsi finds the reporter both irritating and fetching. Meanwhile, Annabelle Jones (Heidi Armbruster), Jane's friend who represents a San Francisco paper, finds her reunion with her ex, Joe Rogers (Rob Breckenridge) complicated by his engagement to actress Daphne Rutherford (Margot White). Daphne is on the front to entertain the troops. (See video at http://www.minttheater.org/currentproduction.php?tab=tab-1)

Bradford Cover (seated), Rob Breckenridge, Margot White, David Graham Jones, Curzon Dobell and Jay Patterson in “Love Goes To Press.” Photo by Richard Termine.

More drama ensues when in a case of mistaken identity press liaison officer Capt. Alastair Drake (Peter Cormican) puts Daphne in harm’s way, allowing Jane – who was the intended target – a heroic rescue.

Romance blossoms and wanes in “Love Goes to Press.” The acting never falters for a moment; nor does the direction by Jerry Ruiz.

Visit http://www.minttheater.org to learn more about “Love Goes to Press.”
 
Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at vevlynspen.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at vevlyn@yahoo.com.