Editor’s Note: This month marks the 32nd year of the In Tune with June! column.
Bette Midler is a woman to admire. There’s a special reason. It’s not because she has won 3 Grammy Awards, 4 Golden Globes, 3 Emmy Awards, and a special Tony Award. It’s because “The Divine Miss M,” singer, songwriter, actress, comedian, producer has done amazing charity work. She founded the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit organization with the goal of revitalizing neglected parks in economically disadvantaged New York neighborhoods. Today the multi-talented lady and her organization work to ensure that some 114 community gardens are kept clean and vibrant. That said, I enjoyed her most recent appearance on Broadway as a Hollywood agent in a one-woman show, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers.” Happily, I’ve learned that next April she’ll bring her distinctive personality to a portrayal of the resourceful matchmaker who’s most concerned with a match for herself. Here’s a hint: this show has been linked to a particular star, Carol Channing. Yes, it’s “Hello, Dolly!” It appears to me that the choice of Bette Midler seems particularly appropriate – sly, funny, warm, subjective, vulnerable. Many actresses played Dolly after Carol Channing left the show which ran for six years. Bette Midler seems like the perfect choice. She’s still glowin’, crowin’, goin’ strong. It’s been said that the lady has youth built into her. In case you’re wondering, she’ll be 71 years old when the revival opens. Here’s a quote from Miss Midler: “I’m no spring chicken but I’m curious and I love to do all the things this character Dolly is required to do. It keeps me thin, which I like, and it keeps me engaged.” Expectations are running high. H-e-l-l-o, Bette!
There aren’t too many movies that I can sit through more than once but there is one outstanding one: “Fargo” (1996). Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the crime thriller is set in their home state of Minnesota. Its story concerns a man (William H. Macy) who has strong financial problems so he has his wife kidnapped expecting that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom. Everything goes wrong when the kidnappers deviate from the plan and the local cop played fabulously by Frances McDormand starts to investigate. Her performance won a Best Actor’s Oscar. “Fargo” was written, directed, and produced jointly by the Coen brothers! The Coens’ most recent film, “Hail, Caesar!”, is about a “fixer” in 1950s Hollywood trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanishes during filming. It’s a star-studded affair, visually striking, with a loopy sense of humor. The movie critics loved it – I didn’t love it but mainly because it sometimes felt like an inside joke (and I am on the outside). It offers some compensation in the combined star wattage of certain actors cast most frequently. I’m partial to Frances McDormand and George Clooney. What bothered me more than anything else was watching the usually handsome intelligent actor, Clooney, playing a simple unattractive role. Oh, did I mention that McDormand is married to Joel Coen and has acted winningly in six of his films? Perhaps if she had a bigger role in “Hail, Caesar!” I would have enjoyed it more. But back to the Coen bothers. They are innovative film directors, producers, screenwriters, and film editors so who am I to complain? Keep up the good work, but please let George Clooney look like the handsome star he is!
As far back as I can remember, and that’s a l-o-n-g time ago, one of my favorite places to visit was a public library. Even before I was eligible for an adult card I would go into the children’s section to pick out books but here’s an admission: If a book had a brightly colored cover it interested me more than any other. I’m more particular these days. There’s a library that’s nestled between the Metropolitan Opera House and the Vivian Beaumont Theater. It’s the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (to be referred to as The LPA) at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. I think it’s a magical place. It houses one of the world’s largest collections of materials related to the performing arts. The library has particularly strong manuscript holdings in jazz including 400 Benny Goodman arrangements and arrangements made for many other musicians including Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey. The classical music holdings include manuscripts by Bach, Brahms, Mozart, and so many others. There’s a division called The Billy Rose Theater (a digression: my folks used to take me to Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe at 6:00 p.m. on Sundays so that name has a special meaning to me). To get back to the LPA, the Billy Rose Theater has holdings and films on the related subject of wardrobe, magic, puppetry, and even the circus. Be still my heart! There’s a dance portion, too. Thousands of CDs can be borrowed. The 201-seat Bruno Walter Auditorium is used every week for musical performances, film screenings, and lectures. Currently, due to the ongoing popularity of Shakespeare’s plays, there’s a celebration titled “Shakespeare’s Star Turn in America.” There’s a Music Division too long for me to list. Oops, I almost forgot another favorite. Once a week there’s a concert of traditional jazz swinging fabulously by the Gotham Jazzmen. If you’re in the Lincoln Center area in Manhattan with no special plans and a light pocketbook, check out the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. There are numerous public programs that are free of charge. Move over binge watching — make room for binge reading.
In 1993 I saw a Broadway show, “Full Moon.” I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but, boy, was I wrong! “Full Moon” featured a clown duo, and I never liked clowns – in fact, some frightened me as a child. That feeling continued on to adulthood but the two clowns in “Full Moon” are two amazing men. Currently, at the off-Broadway Signature Theater there is a revised return called “Old Hats.” The teaming up of Bill Irwin and David Shiner, who are now both in their 60s, continue to create something special in tandem. They appear to have an instant rapport with an easy comradery. In “Old Hats” they still use their entire bodies to communicate. And they manage to make it all look easy. It’s the amazing pairing of two of the world’s greatest clowns combining inimitable magic, slapstick, and hilarity. The two agile men continue a wild and hilarious outing of theater for a new generation of audiences. Supple and elastic, Irwin and Shiner profoundly complement one another, running the full gamut of the way of physical comedy, bubbly energy, and shining vitality. They have amazingly elastic faces and limbs of men half their age. Both still wear the goofy-looking top hats, big floppy shoes, and baggy pants. In “Full Moon” the two appeared with the Red Clay Ramblers band. In the new “Old Hats” (ha! ha!) music is provided by a multi-talented singer-songwriter-musician, Shaina Taub. She adds a great deal to the eloquent if wordless comic satirists. In the current show they even make fun of everybody’s favorite new toys — the iPhone and the iPad. Bill Irwin and David Shiner are insatiable entertainers who compete to one-up each other in feats of silly elocution. I guarantee that you’ll walk out of the theater still smiling at the durable clown duo.
You can e-mail June Sturz at firstname.lastname@example.org