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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gershwins and Hope Prevail at Library of Congress, Hamlisch and Cage Shine

The Library Congress has a couple amazing exhibits to whet and overwhelm your cultural senses. Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin takes up a small room on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building at First and Independence, across from the Coolidge Auditorium.  (By the way, the Coolidge offers free concerts all year but you have to go online for tickets and get them a couple months in advance.) A large piano centers the room, playing classics like "I Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Fascinating Rhythm," and "Embraceable You." There are amazing letters including one from George to his mother about a month before he died of a brain tumor in 1937 at age 38. He complains of dizzyness but writes that the doctors don't think it's serious. A video presentation gives us performances from Porgy and Bess ("Summertime"), Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly ("An American in Paris") and others.  I spent about an hour here and could have stayed longer. I walked 20 feet down the hall to a larger exhibit centering on Bob Hope. In this large collection, we get audio and video clips of Bob Hope and other greats of the time. I watched a can-you-top-this musical interlude of Hope and James Cagney. Judy Garland sang on another clip and the Nichloas Brothers danced on another.  This exhibit can be enjoyed for hours. They told me that both of these exhibits are permanent for the time being. Don't forget to walk upstairs! It's an amazing building. There's a large temporary exhibit of Herblock cartoons as well.

Speaking of composers, I saw the Marvin Hamlisch tribute at the Kennedy Center and it lived up to expectations. This is one of the best formats of anything the KenCen does. Interviewed in a one-on-one setting, Hamlisch spoke of how he got his start playing with Broadway composer Jule Styne - recommended by childhood friend Liza Minnelli! That led to his playing for Barbra Streisand's regearsal band which led to his writing The Way We Were. (He explained that process as well.) He also wrote the music to two Woody Allen movies, Take the Money and Run and Bananas; the latter was watched a couple years ago by Steven Soderbergh in his down time filming Che. Soderbergh loved the music and aksed who wrote that because he was making The Informant next and wanted that same playful verve. Don't be surprised if that soundtrack gets nominated for an Oscar this year. Three Broadway performers took turns singing Hamlisch songs, Karen Ziemba (who starred in Contact), the amazing Liz Callaway and up-and-coming Kevin Early. They performed songs from A Chorus Line, They're Playing Our Song and other shows. Next in the series will be a tribute to Guys and Dolls composer and lyricist Frank Loesser in the spring. I'll let you know when tickets go on sale. Oh, and Hamlisch will be conducting the National Symphony Orchestra Pops as they perform the Music of the Music Man Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center. Featured vocalists are Mrs. Partridge herself Shirley Jones and Rebecca Luker who I saw as a terrific Marian the Librarian in a Broadway Music Man a few years ago.

I saw Perestroika, the final part of Angels in America, last night at that great Round House space in Silver Spring. It only runs another week so I won't go on much. But it was an incredible effort by the small Forum Theater, especiallyh Jim Jorgensen as Roy Cohn, Alexander Strain as Louis, Karl Miller as Prior Walter and Casie Platt as Harper. It was funny to hear Prior Walter tell his new-friend Hannah Pitt, the mother of his ex-lover's ex-lover: "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers." Kushner grew up in Lake Charles, La., and you can hear the influence of Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire in this era-defining work. Let' see if Forum can keep this amazing momentum going next year.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (**** out of 5 red dots) takes Harvey Keitel's 1992 starring role and moves it to the Big Easy, helmed by the illustrious Werner Herzog. Herzog takes you on a fun ride, with a wired Nicholas Cage in the front seat in easily his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas. What I liked about the film is that goes up to the edge but not over and keeps its sense of humor. (Having beautiful Eva Mendes in the film doesn't hurt.) Herzog is a great director and give him a good script and you have the equation for an excellent film.

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