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Monday, November 30, 2009

Vox Gives a Leno Preview, All's 'Welles' for Richard Linklater, and Much Ado About a Bad Review

Watch Jay Leno on Wednesday night if you can. One of the guests will be Victoria Vox who I caught yesterday evening at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. Even though the woman behind me must have gotten some nasty Tiny Tim flashbacks causing her to say, "The ukelele! This is going to be awful," Vox was very entertaining. She strums the uke beautifully and won over the audience as an excellent songwriter and singer. "But wait," she said, "I will not be on Leno for my uke playing. It's for my mouth trumpet." Indeed, Vox plays a mean mouth trumpet. The first time she did it I was looking for the instrument. She's now THE WOMAN in my musical world.

And Richard Linklater is THE MAN in my cinematic book. When Before Sunrise came out in 1995, I felt like someone was finally talking to me. (Okay, it wasn't Julie Delpy, but I did get to interview her last year.) How can you make a movie about two people talking in Vienna all night? With Ethan Hawke and Delpy at their tantalizing best, easy. Now that I've been to Vienna and LOVED it, I need to watch it again. The film ended with an agreement that they would meet up again in six months or so. NINE years later, Linklater filmed the sequel, Before Sunset, in Paris, and he and Delpy garnered an Oscar nomination for their screenplay. So who didn't show? Late Saturday I couldn't sleep and guess what was on? Wrong! The School of Rock, Linklater's rockin' good-time story of a substitute teacher's fantasy class.

Now we get Me and Orson Welles (FIVE RED DOTS) and it's sensational. I saw it at the famous Angelika Theater in New York's Lower East Side on Friday - where that evening Keanu Reaves was doing a Q&A for Rebecca Miller's new film, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. British actor Christian Mckay plays a dead-on Orson Welles on the eve of his famous Julies Caesar in 1937 at the Mercury Theater. Zac Efron from High School Musical fame shows that not only can he act but he can ACT. He happens upon Welles in front of the theater, wins the part and then learns about life, on-stage and off. The film falls into a category I enjoy when done right: the show within a show, where it all leads to THE ACTUAL performance at the end. The Canadian TV show Slings and Arrows, that you should rent if you haven't seen it, played out each of its three seasons like that: five episodes of mayhem and culture, and then one last episode where they nailed the performance: Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. Noises Off showed the personalities in the first act, the backstage chaos in the second, and then what the audience actually saw in the third. Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock, also about Orson Welles, succeeded at this as well but this film is better.

James Tupper (Mr. Anne Heche) is also excellent as Joseph Cotten, Eddie Marsden as John Houseman and Zoe Kazan as Gretta, whose "romance" with Efron bookends the film. And Claire Danes gives her finest screen performance as the female lead. Kazan is the granddaughter of On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire director Elia Kazan. (Kazan also came under hostile criticism for naming names in the Blacklist Era.) Zoe Kazan also appears in Pippa Lee and played in an underrated film from last year, In the Valley of Elah with Tommy Lee Jones.

I saw Much Ado About Nothing at Folger last week and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it's over but I was distressed that it received a bad review from Post theater critic Peter Marks. The point is that you should make up your own mind on most stuff. I will help guide you into areas or topics that may appeal to you. Folger's conceit transported Much Ado to Jamaica and I'm not sure that worked. But it did give a chance for some incredible African American actors to show off their Shakespearean flair. That was worth my price of admission (even though I ushered and did not pay - you get the idea).

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