30 June 2012

Bryant Park

After visiting the ICP this morning (more on that later), I walked through Bryant Park. The carousel and green chairs let me pretend for a moment that I was in Paris. My little daydream came to a halt though when I hit the pavement and hailed a yellow cab. Au revoir Paris.

Photos by

27 June 2012

The Bright Stream

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in The Bright Stream. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

When was the last time a ballet made you laugh out loud? For me it was earlier this month when I saw the American Ballet Theatre's production of The Bright Stream. With a score by Dmitri Shostakovich and choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, The Bright Stream was an utter delight.

The setting is a Russian collective farm where Zina, a local amusements organizer, and her husband, Pyotr, wait for the arrival from Moscow of a group of performers to help celebrate the harvest festival. Upon their arrival Zina recognizes the ballerina as an old friend from ballet school and introduces her to Pyotr who sets out to flirt with the newcomer. The farm workers perform for their guests and the old dacha dweller lets the ballerina know he’d like to see her later while his wife, anxious-to-be-younger–than-she-is dacha dweller, tells the ballerina’s partner the same thing. The ballerina comes up with a plan: the ballet duo will dress up as each other and prank the older couple while Zina will masquerade as the ballerina to fool Pyotr. The plan is a success with the cross-dressing ballet duo teaching the dacha dwellers a lesson. The workers gather for a final performance only to find two identical dancers with masks—Zina and the ballerina. After their dance, they remove their disguises and Pyotr, realizing his foolishness, begs his wife for forgiveness.

David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy switch roles. Photo: Andrea Mohin/The NY Times.

From the upbeat tempo of the music to the comical antics of the dancers the ballet was fast moving and fun, a screwball ballet if you will. And how could it not be when you have dancing peasants, a dog riding a bicycle, and multiple cases of mistaken identity?

The best scene was in Act II when the ballerina and the ballet dancer cross-dress. The old dacha dweller, riding a bike and carrying a gun, arrives for his secret assignation when suddenly a very tall “ballerina” in a white dress dashes across the stage. It's the ballet dancer in drag. Hilarity ensues resulting in the "ballet dancer" challenging the old dacha to a duel; luckily the dancers reveal their true identities before anyone can get hurt.

David Hallberg as the ballet dancer was excellent. His imitation of a ballerina, including attempting to dance in toe shoes, was hysterical. Gillian Murphy, the ballerina, did a  great job masquerading as the ballet dancer, strutting around and performing a solo in trousers. Paloma Herrera lent poignancy to Zina’s dances and Marcelo Gomes was charming as the misguided Pyotr.

Paloma Herrera as Zina. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

What makes this ballet all that more interesting is knowing that it originated in Soviet Russia and at first was a huge success when it debuted in Leningrad in 1935. What isn't so great is learning that the censors in Moscow had issues and the creators were ultimately punished (co-librettist Adrian Pietrovsky was even reportedly sent to the gulag) and the ballet banned. Thankfully time has passed, and we can now enjoy the return of this entertaining Russian ballet.

To find out more about ABT’s season, visit their site here.

26 June 2012

Hemingway & Gellhorn

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn

I usually have mixed feelings about films that feature historical figures especially if they are people whom I admire. Like other moviegoers, I want to be entertained but am concerned about how far the filmmakers stray from the truth (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Not so worried if they got their facts straight.) I waited a long time to see Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris for example because of my interest in the Lost Generation. Fortunately Woody did not let me down (review here). But Philip Kaufman is another story.

I just finished watching Kaufman's Hemingway & Gellhorn, which purports to tell the tale of the great romance between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn whose attraction to each other couldn't overcome their professional rivalry. I was willing to overlook a certain amount of factual inaccuracies; this wasn't a documentary after all. I also realize that having spent years at school studying and writing about Hemingway I'm probably never going to be completely happy with any actor's portrayal of Papa. But Hemingway & Gellhorn was a major disappointment from the cringeworthy dialogue scattered throughout the film to the unbelievable coincidences (the two just happen to witness Robert Capa shoot his famous "Falling Soldier" photo) to some scenes toward the end that were just in poor taste (Kidman's face superimposed over the bodies of Holocaust victims) and unnecessary (did they have to show Hemingway's suicide?). Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman are both fine actors who I usually enjoy watching but not in this film. Owen seems to have incorporated every Hemingway stereotype out there and doesn't really seem to believe what he's saying (how could he with dialogue like that?) while Kidman works overtime to appear tough as nails with the result that she just looks like she's trying too hard. Both performances ring false. And don't get me started on how some of the supporting characters like John Dos Passos and Mary Welsh Hemingway were treated.

Want to know about Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn? Read their books. It's the best way to get to know these two fascinating people who regardless of their flaws deserve a better treatment than this one.

21 June 2012

Hot, Hot, Hot

We're having a heatwave in New York at the moment and it's just awful outside. I'm at work with the AC blaring but what I'd really like to be doing is hanging out at the beach with my pals like these Sennett bathing beauties, having some laughs and jumping into the ocean. And wearing adorable outfits like these. So stay cool where ever you are dear readers.

18 June 2012

Sunday in the Park

On a recent Sunday I took a leisurely walk through Central Park. At 843 acres, it's best to just take in a section of the park at a time so that day I decided to visit the Shakespeare Garden and then walk across the park to the Met on Fifth Avenue (not a very long walk if you don't stop and make detours). After taking the A Train to 81st Street I entered the park at Park Drive, which is closed to traffic on Sundays.

The park was green and lush, the trees creating a nice canopy of shade on the paths. Some of the trees even appeared to grown sideways.

Looking up, one could see the tops of grand apartment buildings peeking above the trees.  Turning a corner, I came across some police horse vans. I liked these two guys—one tail in, one tail out.

Just past the Swedish Cottage (home to the Marionette Theatre), the Shakespeare Garden is surrounded by a rustic wooden fence with stone paths that wind upwards around beds filled with plants and flowers found in Shakespeare's plays.

There were still quite a few flowers in bloom, including loads of roses and lilies. The garden is especially popular with butterflies; in late summer apparently one can see Monarchs stopping on their way south. Amidst all of the plantings, I spotted a lone black Hollyhock on the outer edge of the garden; I couldn't get very close but was still happy to see one of my favourite flowers standing proud. There are benches in the garden where one can sit and take in all of the loveliness; I'd love to bring a book and just hang out one day. On my way out, I saw evidence that some wedding photos had been taken earlier—red and white rose petals scattered on the steps.

Leaving the garden, I walked up to Belvedere Castle and took in the view from the highest spot in the park. The temperature is recorded at the castle hence the reason the weathermen always report on the weather in Central Park. Going back down to the path,  I walked around the Delacorte Theater where if you're willing to stand in line for hours, you can see the Public Theater's productions of Shakespeare plays and others for free. 

The aptly named Turtle Pond was murky and filled with turtles who swam right up to the dock. I read that many of the turtles were once pets who got dropped off at the pond by their owners.

Continuing on, I crossed across the Great Lawn and over to the back of the Met where I saw some park police on horseback and could spot the latest installation on the Met's rooftop—Tomás Saraceno's "Cloud City," which I'm looking forward to visiting. I walked up to Greywacke Knoll to get a closer look at Cleopatra's Needle, an Egyptian obelisk that is covered in Hieroglyphics and features support from brass sea crabs. It has a twin in London and is pretty cool.

I walked around the Met and out onto Fifth Avenue only to find the street closed for the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which I had somehow forgotten about. I walked a few blocks down and watched the parade goers for a bit before heading back to my neighbourhood. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning. 

photos by Michele.

16 June 2012

The Met in the Morning

Looking across to the Havemeyer Galleries at the Met. Photo: Michele.

Arriving at the Met right when it opens has its perks. One of which is you can have whole galleries to yourself (save for the guards who are around but not necessarily in the same room as you). This morning I got to hang out undisturbed with Degas' dancers. For a few moments, I sat on one of the puffy benches (don't know what to call them) and just enjoyed the silence. It was wonderful. So the next time you're going to the Met, I recommend being an early bird. You won't regret it.

For info
on the Met's hours and current exhibits, check out their website here.

15 June 2012

Bette Davis Eyes

"I am just too much."—Bette Davis

When I was a kid I watched loads of old Hollywood films (still do) and had favourite actresses but I was never a fan of Bette Davis. At the time she seemed too intense; her delivery too over the top. It wasn't until I was older that I came to appreciate her brilliance. Now when I see one of her films I am mesmerized by her. That crisp New England voice, the down-turned mouth, the determined walk, and of course those eyes. There is something in that direct gaze that seems to dare the viewer to try and turn away. No matter the role there is always a truth to her performance regardless of how ugly or uncomfortable it may be. So no Ms. Davis, you were never too much. You were always just right.

12 June 2012

On Broadway

A scene from Nice Work If You Can Get It. Photo: Joan Marcus.

I recently took in a couple of Broadway shows set during the glory days of the 1920s and 30s that feature classics from the Great American Songbook.

First up was Nice Work If You Can Get It by Joe DiPietro with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Nice Work takes place in Prohibition New York where Jimmy Winter, a carefree playboy preparing to marry for the third or fourth time (he isn't sure which), meets a pretty bootlegger named Billie Bendix who's avoiding the law. Billie decides that Jimmy's empty Long Island mansion is the perfect place to stash her latest supply of gin but her plans are foiled when she and her two cohorts, Cookie McGee and Duke Mahoney, are interrupted by the arrival of Jimmy with his fiancée (the “finest interpreter of modern dance in the world”) and her senator father and teetotaler aunt, the Duchess Estonia Duckworth. Throw in some party revelers, a suspicious cop, and Jimmy’s mother and chaos ensues while Jimmy and Billie fall in love.

The plot has all the elements of a screwball comedy, which is not surprising as the book’s based loosely on Oh, Kay! by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. Yet the book is the main problem with the show. You get the feeling that DiPietro decided to throw in every plot twist he could think of along with corny jokes that are just that, corny.

And yet it’s really hard to be displeased when you're listening to Gershwin tunes and Nice Work is filled with some of their best songs, including the title song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” and “Fascinating Rhythm.” The music makes up for a lot of the show's shortcomings and reminds us just how brilliant the Gershwins were.

Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Broderick. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Jimmy is played by Matthew Broderick who injects a dry sense of humour into the role. Broderick is not a song and dance man by trade. His singing is fine (think Fred Astaire), especially in the quieter scenes like when he sings “Do, Do, Do” while strumming a ukulele. The dancing though is another matter. When Broderick is in a number with the other dancers, his lack of dance skills are noticeable but his charm makes up for it.

Kelli O’Hara on the other hand has no such problems. Her dancing is effortless and her soprano voice quite beautiful and a nice contrast to her tomboy outfits. She also gets one of the best scenes of the play when she sings the heartbreaking “Someone To Watch Over Me” while lovingly cradling a gun.

Yet the musical is owned by some of its other players. Michael McGrath, who plays Cookie, gives a convincing impression of a 1930s sidekick and got some of the biggest laughs of the evening, and Judy Kaye as the Duchess whose discovery of alcohol leads her to literally swing from the chandelier was a standout. Not surprising, both took home Tonys. There’s also the end of show entrance by the venerable Estelle Parsons as Jimmy’s mother.

Despite its weaknesses I enjoyed the show because let’s face it, spending a few hours listening to Gershwin tunes in a theatre ‘s wonderful.

Reno Sweeney and the sailors in Anything Goes. Photo: Joan Marcus.

A much better musical was Anything Goes, which I saw a few weeks later. Based on an update by John Weidman and Timothy Crouse of the original book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, it’s another screwball musical but this time set on the high seas in the 1930s. Reno Sweeney is a nightclub performer who is headed to England for a job. The man she’s in love with, Billy Crocker, stows away to be near the girl he loves, Hope Harcourt, who’s headed to England with her mother and fiancée, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Along for the ride is Billy’s drunken boss, a couple of Chinese men recently converted to Christianity, a gangster’s moll, and Public Enemy #13, Moonface Martin. Like in any good screwball, all misunderstandings are ironed out in the end and everyone ends up with the right person.

As with Nice Work, Anything Goes’ songs are hard to beat. The best of Cole Porter is here, starting off with “I Get a Kick Out of You” and including “Easy to Love,” “It’s De-lovely,” and “You’re the Top.” Act I ends with a huge production of the title song with the entire cast singing and tap-dancing. That one scene alone was worth the cost of the ticket. Act II keeps the action moving with a red-hot production of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” which had me practically bouncing in my seat.

Jessica Stone performs "Buddie, Beware." Photo: Joan Marcus.

The night I went Stephanie J. Block, who normally plays Reno, was out sick so her understudy, Kiira Schmidt, went on. She made a valiant effort and despite stumbling over a few lines was still enjoyable. Yet I couldn’t help wondering what Block’s performance would have been like. The impish Joel Grey as Moonface Martin, who’s disguised as a priest while on board, was a favourite of the crowd. A natural ham, Grey played his scenes for every last laugh and was very sweet as the man who’s upset he’s so far down on the FBI’s most wanted list. 

The rest of the cast were great but one of my favourite performances was by Jessica Stone who was spot on as Moonface’s wisecracking partner-in-crime Erma. Her performance of “Buddie, Beware” with the ship’s sailors was hilarious.

And let’s not forget the set and costumes. The ship, which dominated the stage, was a great Art Deco backdrop for the antics of the characters whose costumes were elegant and perfect. Besides, how can you not love a bunch of singing and dancing sailors? The whole show was just delovely.

Nice Work If You Can Get It plays at the Imperial Theatre. For more information, visit their website here.

Anything Goes plays at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre through September 9, 2012. For more information, visit their website here.

06 June 2012

Mrs. Parker Goes to Washington

The Capitol Dome.

Last weekend I headed down to Washington, DC to visit some dear friends from grad school. And oh what a beautiful weekend it was. After torrential rains the day before, the skies were blue and the air was dry for my entire visit so we spent a lot of the time outdoors.

The artillery section of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial.

The U.S. Botanical Garden.

Inside the conservatory.

Just one of the many orchids on display.

Ducks in the pond!

Roses in the park.

Saturday, after checking out the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, we headed over to the U.S. Botanical Garden. Inside the large conservatory we saw plants from around the country and a special exhibit on carnivorous plants. Most impressive was the section on orchids. Outside we strolled through the adjoining National Garden and Bartholdi Park where a mama duck and her growing babies were hanging out in a small pond while the roses nearby perfumed the air.

The National Cathedral.

A brilliant blue sky.

A detail from one of the Cathedral gates.

The Bishop's Garden.

Lush Magnolias in the garden.

That afternoon we trekked up to the National Cathedral. Although still showing damage from last year’s earthquake, it’s an incredibly impressive building complete with gargoyles and stained glass windows that add a touch of the Gothic to the city. We tried to spot the Darth Vader gargoyle (unfortunately you need binoculars) before walking through the grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The Bishop’s Garden with its stone paths, rose and herb gardens, and benches made for sitting with a book was perfectly lovely.

After a leisurely brunch on Sunday, we decided to visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Located in a pretty Renaissance Revival style building, it’s a perfect sized museum to wile away a few hours.

"Melancholy" Constance Marie Charpentier (1801)

On view was Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections.” Charting the history of French women artists from the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the restoration of the monarchy (with the revolution and Napoleon in-between), the exhibit is a fascinating insight into the challenges women artists faced at the time. Many came from aristocratic or artistic families who had to use their connections to get them into schools where they were not given the same instruction as their male counterparts (for example, women were not allowed to sketch nude models). And most had to fight to be recognized as artists. Prior to the Revolution, the prestigious French Academy only accepted four women. After the Revolution, women's rights disappeared (so much for égalité) and their number at the Academy dropped to zero.

"Portrait of a Woman" Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1787)

Although the majority of the exhibit is comprised of paintings, one of my favourite pieces was a letter opener (I thought it was a dagger at first glance) by Félicie de Fauveau depicting Romeo climbing up to Juliet on her balcony. I also quite liked Adélaïde Labille-Guiard's "Portrait of a Woman." Although a supporter of the Revolution, she was a painter of Royal portraits and was asked to destroy some of her work, which must have been devastating. 

With a few exceptions, like Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, a favourite of Marie Antoinette, most of the 35 artists in the exhibit are largely unknown and this exhibit is the first time that many of their work has been seen outside France. That alone made the exhibit worth viewing. Royalists to Romantics" runs until July 29, 2012. For more information, visit the museum's website here.

That evening I was on the train back to New York, tired and a bit red from the sun. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

All photos, except for the ones of the paintings, by Michele.

01 June 2012

Happy June

It's the first of June, which means the start of the summer season and hot weather (at least here in New York). It's also Marilyn Monroe's birthday today. If you feel like celebrating, I'd recommend having some bubbly, Marilyn's drink of choice. You could even try to get a hold of Champagne Marilyn Monroe Premier Cru Brut, created by a Norwegian company in honour of the 50th anniversary of Marilyn's death this year (if it's available yet). By the way, let's all try to celebrate birthdays in the future, not deaths. So much nicer, don't you think?

For more info abou
t the champagne, check out the company's website here.


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