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  • Tonight on PBS, catch three-time Obie winner Elizabeth Marvel as Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind 'Little Women' on American Masters. Written by best-selling Alcott biographer Harriet Reisen and directed by Emmy-winning Nancy Porter, the film introduces a little know Alcott. She may be best known as the beloved children's writer, but her life was purely adult. She was a progressive free thinker who led a double life.

    Alcott rose from poverty to become the best-selling female writer of her time and continues to sale. Her most-enduring work, Little Women, is never out of print. Millions have been sold worldwide in over 50 languages. However, that was just the public LMA.

    She had a little something going on the side, penning purple prose under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard. She may have even been the inspiration of the term "cougar." Louisa May kept a young Polish lover in Paree. A self-proclaimed abolitionist - at the age of three, she helped the Civil War Underground Railroad movement to transfer slaves to the North.

    A Musical New Year's Eve
    What a powerhouse team for New Year's Eve: Barbara Cook and Michael Feinstein, of course, at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. There'll be two performances, at 7:15 P.M. and 9. The early show has a $200 and $250 [premium seating] plus $40 food/beverage min. The late show is $250, general admission; $395, regular seating; and $500 [premium], with a $100 food/beverage min. Well, you only live once, so spend it while you can. The showroom suggest jackets, but they're not required. However, it's New Year's Eve. You're paying a hefty tab. Dress to impress. For reservations, call (212) 339-4095 or go online at feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and ticketweb.com.

    Tony nom and Emmy-winning Liz Callaway will headline New Year's Eve at the Metropolitan Room. Her 8 P.M. show will be a reprise of her October Passage of Time. The 10:30 show, Countdown with Callaway, will feature such tunes as "Meadowlark," "Memory," and "The Story Goes On." Early show cover is $40 plus a two-drink minimum; Late show, $125, which includes open bar, hors d'oeuvres, dessert, and champagne.

    Ever Wonder about the Beaumont

    On January 12 at 6:30 P.M., the Museum of the City of New York [1220 Fifth Avenue, between 103rd and 104th Streets] will present The Vivian Beaumont Theater: A Marvelous Compromise. Designed by Eero Saarinen and Gordon Bunshaft, the Beaumont features one of theater's most advanced and flexible interiors, designed by Saarinen and acclaimed set designer Jo Mielziner. Architect Hugh Hardy was intimately involved in the theater's design and will present an insider's look at its creation. He'll be joined by Lincoln Theater Theater exec producer Bernard Gersten and Tony and Drama Desk-winning set designer Michael Yeargan [A Light in the Piazza, South Pacific. The evening is presented in conjunction with Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future. Reservations required. Admission is $6, museum members; $8 seniors and students; and $12 for non-members.

    Attack of the Killer Bs

    January 13 at 8 P.M. in Juilliard's Peter Jay Sharp Theatre., the New York Festival of Song presents its fifth annual program with Julliard's Department of Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School, Killer B's-American Song From Amy Beach to the Beach Boy. The "Killer Bs" will include Beach [Amy M. C. Beach, the first successful American female composer of large-scale works], Berlin, Blitzstein, Bernstein, Blake, Bolcom, Burleigh, Bowles, Barber, Bock, the Beach Boys, and Brown [Jason Robert].

    Performers are sopranos Catherine Hancock and Meredith Lustig, mezzos Carla Jablonski and Naomi O'Connell, baritones Carlton Ford and Timothy McDevitt, bass-baritone Adrian Rosas, and NYFOS directors/pianists/hosts Steven Blier and Michael Barrett. Choreography will be by Jeanne Slater.

    Tickets are free on a first come/first served basis and available beginning January 4, Monday-Friday, at Juilliard's box office from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M.

    On February 16 and 18, NYFOS presents The Voluptuous Muse, focusing on the last vestiges of lush, decadent Romanticism at the dawn of the 20th Century in Merkin Concert Hall. For upcoming programs and more information, visit www.nyfos.org.

    Bell Rings in the New Year
    Pulitzer Prize, Oscar, and Grammy winner violinist Joshua Bell headlines the Emmy-winning Live From Lincoln Center's telecast on January 21 at 8 P.M. from L.C.'s intimate Kaplan Penthouse. Guests Include Sting, Tony and Emmy-winner Kristin Chenoweth, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, baritone Nathan Gunn, Marvin Hamlisch, and Grammy-nom Cuban music sensation Tiempo Libre. Bell's frequent collaborator Jeremy Denk will be at the piano. Bell will perform a duet of Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 3, Movement II with the keystrokes of Sergei Rachmaninoff on a Zenph piano, a technological innovation that captures the nuances of the composer's playing and pedaling.

    Bell is recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize and was just named 2010 Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical America. Bell captured the Academy Award for his score to John Corigliano's The Red Violin. His two recent Sony Classical releases, At Home With Friends, which inspired this TV special, and Vivaldi: The Four Seasons debuted at #1 on Billboard's Classical Music Chart.

    Theater Hall of Fame

    One of theater's biggest nights: the induction of honorees into the Theater Hall of Fame, January 25. The new members are producer Roger Berlind, Jim Dale, John McMartin, producer Ted Mann, Lynn Redgrave, Stephen Schwartz, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

    Ridiculous Theatrical Company founder Charles Ludlum will be honored posthumously. A HOF Founders Award will be presented to 2009 Tony honoree, press agent Shirley Herz saluting her 50 years in theater. Terry Hodge Taylor is exec producer for the event.


    Multiple Emmy- winning Bruce Vilanch will host January 25th's Eigth Annual Nightlife Awards at Town Hall at 7 P.M. This awards program is unique, because the winners for Cabaret, Comedy, and Jazz are announced in advance and, instead of acceptance speeches, they perform. The program is further enhanced by guest stars. Winners are selected by a panel of more than two dozen critics and experts regularly covering their performances.

    The Nightlife Awards is produced by Scott Siegel, directed by Scott Thompson, with musical direction by Tedd Firth. Sponsors include ASCAP, TheaterMania.com, the Edythe Kenner Foundation, Jill & Irwin Cohen, Edith and Ervin Drake, Trattoria Dopo Teatro, and Thoroughbred Records.

    Tickets are $25-$75 and available at the Town Hall box office, through TicketMaster at (212) 307-4100, or online at ticketmaster.com.

    She's Back!

    For some upcoming January and February Tuesday and Wednesdays, Joan Rivers returns to the Laurie Beechman Theatre [407West 42nd Street, just off Ninth Avenue, inside the West Bank Cafe] where she not only packed 'em in during two recent engagments but had 'em ROTFIL.

    With her mix of outspoken wit and ability to offend or take on everyone, a session with Rivers is sure one way to kick the post-holiday doldrums. But the show is adults only. She's not only funny, but XXX-rated. She slings fast and furious.

    Rivers earns her titles as "one of the hardest working women in show business." She's a best-selling author, Tony-nominated actress, playwright, screenwriter, movie director, Emmy-winning TV talk-show host, jewelry designer, lecturer [on suicide prevention and survival], National Chairwoman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the winner of last season's Celebrity Apprentice.

    Ms. Rivers' Beechman schedule is January 5 and 6, 12, and 20, February 3, and 24 - all at 8 P.M. Tickets are $30, with a portion of proceeds going to her fav charities: God's Love We Deliver and Guide Dogs for the Blind. There's a $15 food/drink minimum. For reservations, call (212) 352-3101 or book online at www.SpinCycleNYC.com.

    Broadway Playhouse Series

    Merkin Concert Hall [129 West 67th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue] launches the 2010 Broadway Playhouse series celebrating three of Broadway's greatest composers and lyricists: Jule Styne, Alan Menken, and Leonard Bernstein. Directed by Sean Hartley, the concerts introduce children ages 4-11 to classic musicals through medleys, sing-alongs, and interactive participation. It's also fun for adults. Hartly hosts an ensemble of polished singers.

    Sunday, January 10 at 11 A.M.: Saluting Jule Styne, who wrote more than 20 Broadway musicals, including Gypsy, with Sondheim; Funny Girl; Bells Are Ringing, with Comden and Green, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , and Peter Pan. His shows are filled with such unforgettable hits as "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "The Party's Over," "People" and "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."

    Upcoming: Sunday, February 7 at 11 A.M. A Salute to Alan Menken, whom a generation has grown up singing his songs from animated Disney films The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin and theater's Little Shop of Horrors, adaptations of Mermaid and Beauty, and the upcoming Sister Act. Among his honors are 10 Grammys and eight Oscars, including four for Best Song. Special guest star: who else but Alan Menken.

    Sunday, March 7, 11 A.M., Remembering Leonard Bernstein, one of the most brilliant and innovative composers ever to write for the musical theater - On the Town, Wonderful Town with Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Candide, and West Side Story, with lyrics by Sondheim.

    Tickets are, three-concert series, $48; singles, $20, and available by calling (212) 501-3330 or booking online at www.kaufman-center.org.

    Good Reads

    Nineteen gifted playwrights, who collectively have won Pulitzer Prizes, 40 Tonys, Obies, and MacArthur Genius Grants, reveal the play that put them on the path to what they became in The Play that Changed My Life [Applause Books/American Theatre Wing, 178 pages, illustrated; SRP, $19], edited by Ben Hodges [Theatre World] with an Introduction by Paula Vogel.

    Albee describes the impact of his 1935 visit to the long-gone Hippodrome, which was New York's version of a Roman circus arena, and seeing Jimmy Durante and a real, live elephant in Rodgers and Hart's Jumbo. Jon Robin Baitz was smitten at age five at production of Pinocchio. Mississippi belle Beth Henley's epiphany came on seeing her mother in a green Bean Man costume. David Henry Hwang's seminal encounter was the play Equus.

    There are also, bios, memories and anecdotes from Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Horton Foote, A. R. Gurney, Tina Howe, David Ives, Donald Margulies, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Sarah Ruhl, John Patrick Shanley, Regina Taylor, and Doug Wright.

    Movie buffs will be especially drawn to Richard Barrios' insightful and entertaing A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film [Oxford University Press; expanded, revised trade sofcover, illustrated, index, 504 pages; SRP, $28]. With meticulous research, he fills a literary gap on post-Depression Hollywood musicals' wild and turbulent era and the teething problems movies jad asit found its voice and dancing shoes.

    The 20s into the mid 30s were a time of great experimentation as formulas, blueprints, and the genre itself were hatched. From Warner Bros., the intro of sound, and Jolson's The Singing Fool, to Harry Beaumont's B&W and color 1929 Oscar-winning Broadway Melody [with only three songs! but lots of dancing] and lesser known, sometimes bizarre films, such as flops like Harbach and Hammerstein's operetta Golden Dawn and Cecil B. DeMille's Madam Satan , and beyond, Barrios [Screened Out, and the same titled TCM series he hosted] describes a body of work unique in the world of entertainment. So much about its birthing has been lost until now.

    Some of the legendary performers, directors, and composers on hand are Fannie Brice, James Cagney, Mae West, Busby Berkeley, the Gershwins, and, among others, Rodgers and Hammerstein.

    There is an appendix on lost films, a discography of early musicals on record, and a bibliography.

    Tennessee Williams Original Screenplay


    The discovery of a long loss screenplay by one of America's greatest playwrights, and the fact that independent producers were able to raise money to actually make the film on location in Louisiana and Tenneessee, should be cause for celebration. There's much to admire about The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond [Paladin/ Constellation Entertainment], but it's not top-drawer Williams. As directed by stage [Kimberly Akimbo]/screen [TV's Big Love; Sweet Land] actress Jodie Markell, in her directorial debut, and in spite of some impressive performances, it's not that exciting. Still, it's Tennessee Williams and there are many redeeming qualities. Length is not one of them.

    One problem is the title. It's a decoy, and has nothing to do with the main focus of the screenplay: a terribly spoiled, irresponsible, and wildly independent young Southern belle [Dallas Bryce Howard], already her own worst enemy, is further despised when she returns to the plantation mansion becase of a dastardly deed perpertrated by her father. Desperate to be escorted to the deb ball by the handsome son [Chris Evans] of the plantation commisary manager, she hires him. But, loyal to a point though he is, his eyes are in another direction. That is, until the finale money shot, straight out of end of the first half of Gone with the Wind, where love does actually conquer all.


    This is Howard's best role since the impact she made in The Village, but, oddly, she's not the star of the movie. We're always hearing about how Williams writes such interesting female characters, but this time he creates a ruggedly handsome male character who, despite circumstances ooozes charm, chivalry, and caring. Evans has a magnetic screen presence in a role that could easily leap him to stardom. He's been working steadily the last nine years but never in a role of this caliber.

    Marklell is only as strong as the screenplay, but she has an eye for detail and some interesting casting. Take Oscar-nom Ann-Margret, in a role you never expected to see her in: a long-in-the-tooth, frumpy, demanding, filthy rich former belle. Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn, though bedridden when we see her, is a standout. In a later scene, she makes a request of Howard; and, finally, we see that her character has some depth.

    In lesser, and not terribly showy roles are Will Patton, Tony-nom Zach Grenier, Mamie Gummer, Jessical Collins, Peter Gerety [TV's The Wire, Mercy; Eastwood's Changeling], Marin Ireland [Tony nom, Featured Actress, Play, Reasons to Be Pretty; After Miss Julie], and TV/film/stage vet Laila Robins [Frozen, Heartbreak House].

    While Speaking of Tennessee Williams

    The Sydney Theatre Company's production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM became quite the cause celeb. It was being treated as the Must See of the Century. Raves, raves, raves. Even though the STC is Australia's premier theater company, not everyone cottoned to it, as Williams would no doubt say.

    No one, except a minute few, could fault the extraordinary performance of Cate Blanchett, who was onstage all but a few minutes of the three hour + [with intermission] play. No one, it seems, is faulting Bergman protege, aware-winning actress Liv Ullman's direction, for the rest of the proceedings and a couple of over-the-top bits - such as Blance throwing a sheet over her head and being dragged from under the bed, not to mention Stanley's naked butt the morning after the tryst were a bit much. But, no pun intended, Williams rather took pleasure in shocking people, so if it had been allowed in 1947, Eli Kazan might have chosen for the audience to be check-to-cheek with Brando's butt.

    I am not alone in thinking the production reeked of amateurism. Ms. Blanchett, who with husband Andrew Upton, is co-A.D. of the STC, has made it known that should they choose to come to Broadway, which everyone seems to think would be the dream of this century, it would come intact, with the original cast. I firmly believe what was acceptable in Brooklyn and D.C. might not be accepted on Broadway. However, you never can tell since it's going to be seen by the same critics who raved about the production.

    Stanley was atrocious. If he was channeling Brando, he did it well because you could hardly understand a word coming out of his mouth. Mitch was simply terrible, possessing none of the genteel qualifies that even Southerners of modest class possess. It took a while to warm up to Robin McLeavy in the pivotal role of Stella, but she eventually delivered the goods. I've seen all manner of shotgun and row houses in New Orleans, but never one that looked as slummy as Ralph Myers' concept of one.

    Brava Cate Blanchett! If only the other 98% of the cast measured up even half as much.

    Not Your Father's Slueth

    Sherlock Holmes made his reputation finding the truth behind the most complex mysteries. Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes [Warner Bros./(Joel) Silver Pictures], while tons of fun if you don't go expecting that other Holmes, is a mystery that cannot be unlocked. Someone, quick, call Scotland Yard!


    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character, played with great bravura and bluster by Robert Downey Jr., has skills we were totally unaware of. If you know nothing about Holmes or are able to totally suspend your knowledge of Doyle's great London sleuth, you may have a great time. But don't go expecting anything coherent. There're enough holes in the screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg to furnish a donut bakery. It took three writers to write this screenplay?

    Forgetting who the movie is supposed to be about, it's actually a lot of fun - a sort of Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones meets James Bond meets Jackie Chan meets the Matrix. Ritchie sort of redeems himself as director - that is, if the film is a blockbuster. Opinion is quite mixed.

    After a string of ritual murders, Holmes and Watson arrive to save the latest victim and uncover the killer: the unrepentant Lord Blackwood, who's conjured up some powerful dark forces through black magic. He warns Holmes death has no power over him and, as it turns out [thanks to some potion] he's right and he's not as hung as it appears. If the movie goes a bit cockeyed from there, credibility is stretched to the max, but the lack of credibility leads to a lot of fun, action sequences.

    Jude Law portrays Watson, Holmes's longtime colleague, who's joining him on what may be their last case together. He's trying to get to the church on time to take a bride [played by Kelly Reilly in a totally vacant performance].

    Rachel McAdams is Irene Adler, introduced by Doye in 1891's A Scandal in Bohemia - never to appear again [but mentioned three times]. Now, she returns, back from America [where she grew up in New Jersey] and as a spy who, seemingly has a tempestuous past with Holmes. Mark Strong as Blackwood makes a cunning villian.


    Downey works overtime and then some. Sadly, half of that time you can't understand a word he says [and some of those times he doesn't have the pipe in his mouth]. Law, who is billed below the title, has little to do but react.

    Richie was smart to bring aboard a first-rate team, including Oscar-winning director of photography Philippe Rousselot [A River Runs Through It] [the film is shot in very low-key color - in fact, except for the arrival of a bouquet of flowers, you might think it was shot in B&W]. There's so much CGI, you really don't know the contribution of Oscar-nom'd production designer Sarah Greenwood. James Herbert does some crackerjack editing. Most essential, however, is Oscar winner and multiple nom'd composer Hans Zimmer [The Lion King, Gladiator], whose uniquely different and pulsing score pushes the film more than the story does.

    More Damages

    On January 19, FX's award-winning, tightly-wound legal thriller starring the incomparable Glen Close arrives on DVD with the Emmy-winning Damages: The Complete Second Season [Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, three discs, 13 episodes; SRP, $40]. This a show that's as good as it gets. Close has captured two Emmys for her role as cunning, scathing, scheming, capable of just about anything - make that, everything - Patty Hewes. She receives incredible backup from Emmy nom Rose Byrne, two-time Emmy winner [13 noms!] Ted Danson, and Tate Donovan.

    Glen Close.jpg

    The series doesn't cut corners when it comes to the featured roles, all filled by A-List actors, such as five-time Tony and three-time Drama Desk nom Tom Aldredge, Tony and DD-winner Philip Bosco, Oscar winner William Hurt, the always interesting Zeluko Ivanek [Emmy, Featured Actor], Michael Nouri, and Mario van Peebles [who is a series director].

    Season Two, Oscar and Tony winner Marcia Gay Harden and tall, lanky, handsome Timothy Olyphant [HBO's Deadwood] joined the cast.

    As the season begins, the Frobisher case has been settled and Patty has the legal world at her feet. Patty is concentrating on establishing a foundation when an old boy friend [Hurt], contacts her and entangles her in a case involving corporate fraud and greed - right up Patty's alley. Meanwhile, Ellen {Byrne] continues working with as an FBI informant to bring down Patty.

    The DVD bonus features include commentary from cast and writers Glenn Kessler, who sometimes directs and is featured, Todd Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, deleted scenes, a look back at the compelling high drama of Season One, and an in-depth character study.


    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
    For more articles by Ellis Nassour, click the links below!

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