A royal affair

As you may have heard, Prince William and Kate Middleton have announced that they will live a married royal life without the use of servants. Ha! I wonder if they ever watch the BBC period dramas: in the past “Upstairs, Downstairs” and this generation’s “Downtown Abbey.” Its themes are the daily drama of a titled British family and their many servants. “Downtown Abbey” is all that “Upstairs, Downstairs” was – and more. There are spot-on portraits of a vanishing way of life. In the current British TV drama series, two vastly different classes are leading lives that are worlds apart right under the same roof, both classes holding on to the old mores while new ones rocket forward. There’s the glorious country estate, a collection of warring servants, and a grand house without a rightful heir. A succession of crises gives the viewer (that’s me) plenty to enjoy: beautiful to look at and enough cliff-hanging to hook the viewer in to the next week. At any rate, it’s strangely addictive because currently it’s ahead of anything else that’s available on television unless you like the dreary “reality” and “talent” shows. “Downtown Abbey” is a breath of fresh air although some might view it as a high-level soap opera. There’s plenty of sex and secrets, romance and treachery to go around. “Downtown Abbey” makes it clear that those that exist in the highest realm of the food chain could not survive a day without the proletariat (no servants – William and Kate – what are you thinking?). Nevertheless I plan to carry on watching for a little escapism and to enjoy this well-executed drama. P.S.: No servants? Not even a once-a-week cleaning lady? Pardon me while I guffaw.
It’s amazing to me when events that I’ve experienced are now history. That’s what went through my mind when I saw the fine film, “The King’s Speech.” A biopic, that movie would be like an enjoyable course in “English History for Dummies” since the history and drama of King George’s brother abdicating the throne and Hitler threatening to plunge Europe into a second World War unfolds in a very personal story of struggle. A very personal tale, I remember hearing George VI give his moving speech to the British nation when England had just declared war with the monstrous dictator. “The King’s Speech” is a British historical drama based on an incredibly true story. The pleasure starts with two magnificent performances: Colin Firth as King George VI, afflicted by a terrible stutter, and Geoffrey Rush as an unorthodox Australian speech therapist. King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne, and the speech therapist who helped an unsure monarch be worthy of it, is dramatized most beautifully in “The King’s Speech.” Through a set of unusual techniques and an unlikely friendship, “Bertie” is able to find his voice and boldly lead his country through war. It’s a powerful, hilarious, and deeply moving tale. The movie, with its good story and excellent acting, doesn’t need lots of action or special effects to be top-notch. In case you’re too young to remember, Edward VI abdicated because he was not allowed to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. It came as a surprise to me when my young eyes saw a photograph of the lady. I thought, “He gave up the throne for her? She’s not even that good-looking!” Chacun à son goût!
I’ve always admired Bette Midler. She sings, she dances, she cracks jokes, and she’s a very capable actress. She’s been awarded Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys, and a Tony. But, and of course there’s a but, recently I saw her HBO special, “The Showgirl Must Go On.” My response to that television presentation was “Why, oh why?” If you watched “The Divine Miss M” in her television special from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas it was filled with loud noises. You would have been subjected to a raucous big band, watched a lot of gorgeous girls cavorting in half-dressed outrageous costumes, and the lady herself running from one end of the huge stage to the other (admittedly she had to be in great shape to be able to do that). Ms. Midler’s bawdy humor seemed tacky to me. So did most of the show. She does have an amazing voice and the few times she sang her best-known hits without fanfare it was enjoyable. So, I tell myself, forget about her TV special. Remember that Ms. Midler is an activist. She founded a project to revitalize neglected neighborhood parks in New York City. As an environmentalist she worked on community gardens and heads a project for a beautiful, clean, and green city. I’m glad that she’s using that amazing energy for all of us who will benefit by her in-progress project. Just one more thought: if HBO repeats “The Showgirl Must Go On” be sure not to tune in.
My first cousin – and I only have one – is culturally dependable so when I ask her opinion on art, a book, a show, or a movie I find her more reliable than newspaper critics. With that in mind I knew about a new Broadway play that was opening and so I turned to her. “Other Desert Cities” presented by Lincoln Center Theatre has an amazing cast: Stockard Channing, Stacey Keach, Linda Lavin, Elizabeth Marvel, and Thomas Sadoski. Shirley gave it a big thumbs-up. It’s a ripping family drama of politics, domestic and otherwise – a thought-provoking story of a family in crisis. It includes the eternal struggle between parents and children. “Other Desert Citities” isn’t a comedy even though it is at times witty. With its dream cast it sustains interest as it considers a “serious subject.” It’s literate, and thoughtful – brought to life by a marvelous ensemble. There’s lots of high-sheen conversation. In conclusion, “Other Desert Cities” is a richly enjoyable new play for grownups. You won’t be wasting your time on this one.
Are you aware that there is such a thing as the New Jersey Jazz Society? If you are, then you know that it is dedicated to the performance, promotion, and preservation of jazz. I joined the Society in 1972 when it was founded. In my ancient past (ha!) I became quite active, writing for its Journal. My column was called “A View from the Tables” and in it I suggested best jazz venues. Recently I attended one of its events called “The Chicken Fat Ball” run by two ardent jazz fans, Al and Don, two guys I knew from the past. It made me happy to see that they are still so involved – looking good with their two good-looking wives. Held at the Maplewood Women’s Club, it was packed and the music was top-drawer playing all the traditional songs I love. I looked across the room and all I could see were people smiling and nodding their heads in time to the music. They were having fun and so was I. On March 6, I plan to find my way to the Birchwood Manor in Whippany for the 42nd annual PeeWee Russell Memorial Stomp. The line-up includes Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Ed Wise and his New Orleans Jazz Band, the Tom Katz Dixie Unit, and the Baby Soda Jazz Band. All of this music will swing from noon to 5 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring their dancing shoes. I just polished mine!
You can e-mail June Sturz at intunewithjune@optonline.net.

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