Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rough, Tough Reese Rules "Wild"

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Rough, Tough Reese Rules

By Skip Sheffield

Reese Witherspoon rules!
Who knew this tiny, pretty, girly-girl was such a warrior woman? I sure didn’t until I saw “Wild,” which Witherspoon produced and stars in as Cheryl Strayed.
Strayed was a troubled woman who dropped out of everyday life and embarked on a 1,100-mile hike, which she chronicled in her memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail.” British novelist Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) adapted the book for a screenplay directed by French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club”).
Cheryl Strayed’s dropout was triggered by two events: the breakup of her marriage and the death of her beloved mother Bobbi, played by Laura Dern. Oh, there were a couple of other things too. Cheryl got into alcohol and drugs and “graduated” to shooting heroin. She became sexually promiscuous as well. In short Cheryl was a mess at the outset of her ill-prepared journey.
“Wild” is a visually gorgeous film, and Reese Witherspoon is not bad to look at either. Reese is only 61 inches tall, and she probably doesn’t weight more than a large sack of flour. It is pretty funny watching her struggling with a ridiculously huge backpack (she calls it “Monster”) that is just about as big as she is. Reese cheerfully swears like a sailor, bares her body and reveals a bit of her soul in her scenes with Laura Dern, whom I have always loved. It’s nice to see Dern get a decent role, and it does not get much more tragic when a battered, ever-sunny woman suffers and dies of lung cancer at the young age of 45. Dern is only nine years older than 38-year-old Witherspoon, but she has the sacrificing mom thing down beautifully.
Cheryl Strayed is an avowed feminist, which does not necessarily mean she hates men. However, all but a handful of the male characters in “Wild” come off as rotters. The worst of the lot is Cheryl’s alcoholic, abusive stepfather. On the other hand is her endlessly patient, tolerant ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski).
In the end “Wild” is a joyful journey from the depths of depression and self-destruction to the highs of amazing physical endurance, strength and triumph.

Steve Carell Goes Postal for "Foxcatcher"

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Steve Carell Channels His Bad Self for "Foxcatcher"

by Skip Sheffield

Ah Steve Carell, we hardly knew ye.
Typically Carell plays light-hearted comedy roles, and he is very good at it. “Foxcatcher” is more than just a departure. It is a revelation.
Carell plays John E. du Pont of the famous, fabulously wealthy du Pont family. “Foxcatcher” was the name of the Pennsylvania country estate where John E. lived with his elderly mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave) and a full service staff.
 Jean du Pont loved horses and everything equestrian, including fox-hunting.
John E. du Pont hated horses but had a thing for wrestling, and he fancied himself an expert. That is the impetus for this bizarre story, based on actual events and adapted for the screen by E. Max Frye (“Where the Money Is”) and Dan Futterman (“A Mighty Heart”).
Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and his younger brother Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) were 1984 World and Olympic Gold Metal Champion wrestlers for Team USA. The story begins in March, 1987. The brothers teach and coach at a small college. One day Mark gets a message summoning him to the du Pont estate to meet John E. du Pont in person. Mark did not realize the full impact of the du Pont name, but when he was transported by helicopter to the vast estate, he learns soon enough.
Du Pont wanted both Schultz brothers to come and live at the estate and coach a hand-picked team to compete in the 1988 Seoul Olympics under the Foxcatcher banner. Dave was happily married to Nancy (Sienna Miller) with two children, and he had no desire to be uprooted to suit a rich man’s fancy.
“The rich are different for you and me,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said to his friend Ernest Hemingway.
“Yes,” Hemingway wisecracked, “They have more money.”
Being fabulously wealthy is not just about money. It is about power. John E. du Pont is portrayed as a petulant spoiled brat by Carell, who wears a large fake nose and other prosthetics to make him less handsome. As we watch du Pont browbeat first Mark and then Dave, whom he coerces to work for him despite his better instincts, he becomes uglier and uglier.
Channing Tatum bulked up amazingly for his role, and his wrestling moves are quite convincing. So is the physical beating he takes, in what he says is his most difficult role to date. I believe him.
The outcome of this story is a matter of public record, so I won’t go into it. The take-away for me is that yes, the rich are different, but no, I would not want to trade places.

A Standing O for "Book of Mormon" in WPB

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Crude, Rude Lewd but Funny & Tuneful

By Skip Sheffield

“The Book of Mormon” is crude, rude and lewd. It is also very funny and surprisingly tuneful.
The debut run of “The Book of Mormon” through Sunday, Dec. 21 at Kravis Center is pretty much sold-out, so we will keep this short. Evidently the West Palm Beach audience is more in tune with this Trey Parker-Robert Lopez-Matt Stone musical comedy than Broward County was when it opened there last year. We saw no walk-outs in WPB and the audience was the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen at Kravis. They actually stayed all the way through a long standing ovation.
This cast features several veterans of the Broadway cast. Principal among these is Cody Jamison Strand, the shorter, chubbier partner of a mismatched duo with tall, lithe David Larsen. Strand and Larsen are Elders Cunningham and Price. After completing their missionary training, the “Elders,” who are in their late teens and early 20s, are given assignments to all parts of the world. Elder Price had dreamed of Orlando (a recurring joke), but instead he and Elder Cunningham are sent to Uganda; one of the most unstable, diseased countries in Africa.
This is the setup for all kinds of cultural, spiritual and sexual shocks. Parker and Stone are the guys behind the foul-mouthed cartoon series, “South Park.” Lopez is the composer-lyricist of the equally outrageous puppet show “Avenue Q.” If you don’t know these facts, you might be quite offended.
I found “Book of Mormon” even more enjoyable the second time around because I was able to concentrate more on the music. The ensemble vocal work is fabulous and so is the live musical accompaniment. Cody Jamison Strand is the standout male vocalist and darling Deenee Benton is irresistible as the Chief’s daughter, Nabulungi. Evidently the Church of the Latter-Day Saints is OK with the show because they took out three full-page ads for the actual Book of Mormon.
Though the show is sold-out, turn-backs or no-shows are possible. Tickets start at $45. Call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ladies Rule in Amaluna

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Beauty Under the Big Top

By Skip Sheffield

Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show, “Amaluna,” and a new location under a big top set up in a parking lot across from Sunlife Stadium in Miami through Jan. 23.
In French big top is Grand Chapiteau, which sounds much more elegant, and indeed this is an elegant female-centric show that started on tour in 2012 and is finally reaching us here at the bottom of the USA.
Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) is an all-human circus extravaganza from the Montreal-based company that is the largest theatrical company in the world. Instead of animals, Cirque du Soleil features amazing human tricks performed by the best acrobatic, balance, gymnastic and dance performers in the world. Like all Cirque du Soleil shows, “Amaluna” has minimal dialogue and maximum draw-dropping performances, costumes and sets.
Plot is probably the least important element in any Cirque du Soleil show, but for the record “Amaluna” is set on an enchanted island governed by goddesses who are guided by cycle of the moon. The chief goddess is Prospera (Julie McInnes) who has a lovely, tiny daughter named Miranda (Julia Mykhailova). My guess is Guy Laliberte and his 15 collaborators were inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which has a male character named Prospero and a terrible storm.
There is a storm in “Amaluna” too, and it maroons a cast of young, virile and very agile men on the shores. One of them, Prince Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin, again with the Shakespeare) catches the eye of Miranda and proceeds to woo her.
This premise sets up the acrobatic, trapeze and juggling acts which include Storm, Peacock Dance, Cerceau (Andreanne Nadeau), Water Bowl (Julia Mykhailova) and Uneven Bars in Act One and Teeterboard, Balance Goddess (Lili Chao-Rigolo), Duo Trapeze (Anouk Blais, Guillaume Mesmin), Chinese Pole (Evgeny Kurkin), Juggling (Viktor Lee) and Aerial Straps (Virginia Kanovas, Sarah Hardy and Haley Viloria)
There is a lizard-like character named Cali (Viktor Kee) who has a crush on Miranda and a grudge against Prince Romeo, and of course there are clowns (Nathalie Claude is Jeeves and Shereen Hickman is Deeda) who are sent in to jolly up the story. Even the director (Diane Paulus) and the band is all-female, and they are excellent.
One thing I can guarantee: You will be dazzled by beauty and amazed by feats of agility, strength, balance, and gravity-defying acrobatics.
Tickets are $57, $76 and $102, with premium seats going all the way up to $360. Parking is $25, cash only. Call 866-624-7783 or go to www.cirquedusoleil.com.

A Sad, Brave Farewell to Glen Campbell

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"I'll Be There" a Most Excellent, Moving Documentary

By Skip Sheffield

The Sad, Brave Story of Glen Campbell
Need a good cry? It is hard to remain emotionless while watching the poignant documentary "Glen Campbell: I'll Be There."
I used to feel a little defensive admitting I liked Glen Campbell and his "Goodtime Hour" TV show. Turns out I was not alone. A whole bunch of celebs much more talented than I go on record paying tribute to Glen Campbell as singer, songwriter, actor and virtuoso musician.
Directed by fellow Southerner James Keach, "I'll Be There" chronicles a final international tour embarked upon by Campbell, his young wife Kim, their three musical children Cal, Shannon and Ashley, fellow band members and crew.
Campbell went public with the announcement of his Alzheimer's Disease diagnosis in June of 2011. It was decided he would make a five-week "farewell tour" while he was still mentally and physically able. It was an incredibly brave thing to do, from the heart and completely sincere. The tour was such a hit it was extended through a year.
"I'll Be There" does not detour into the darker side of Campbell's life, though it acknowledges his many marriages (Kim Woolen, a former Rockette, is his fourth wife) and battles with alcoholism and drugs.
Music is one of the toughest businesses there is. Few if any remain unscathed. Campbell endured for more than 50 years as a session musician, songwriter, singer, actor and television star. Campbell was the artist most responsible for promoting Country music to the mass market. Don't take it from me. Hear the testimony of Blake Shelton, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Steve Martin, Chad Smith of the Red-Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, The Edge of U-2, Paul McCartney from a little group known as The Beatles and from former U.S. President and fellow Arkansas native, Bill Clinton.
Because I know first-hand what a harsh mistress music is, I give this my highest rating.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"My Old Lady" a Comic, Dramatic Gem

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"My Old Lady" a Comic and Dramatic Gem

By Skip Sheffield

“My Old Lady” runs like a precision hand-crafted gold pocket watch at Palm Beach Dramaworks. The Israel Horovitz comedy-drama runs through Jan. 5 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
A gold pocket watch has a significant role in this "love letter to France," which Israel Horovitz embraced when he was only 20-years-old.
That was more than 50 years ago. In the years since the Massachusetts writer-director has become a leading playwright in France, with more than 50 translated productions of his work.
Horovitz was inspired by the uniquely French concept of "viager," which enables an elderly owner of property to sell a building below market value in exchange for living privileges and an income for life for the seller.
Such is the case with Mathilde Girard (Estelle Parsons), the 92-year-old owner of an elegant French townhouse overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. Mathilde is a refined and lovely woman in reasonably good health and sharp of intellect. Living with Mathilde is her 50-year-old never-married daughter Chloe (Angelica Page), an English teacher at the school her mother founded.
Into this cozy relationship blunders Mathias "Jim" Gold (Tim Altmeyer), a 53-year-old thrice-married, self-described loser from New York City. Penniless, relapsing alcoholic Mathias has only a fancy gold pocket watch and a claim to the townhouse occupied by the Girard women, left to him by his late, estranged father Max.
British-born Mathilde is not unaware of Mathias because she has been informed by her lawyer of his inheritance. Chloe has no such insight and she is instantly hostile and combative when she encounters the strange American wearing her father's bathrobe.
The reason Mathias' father's bathrobe is in the townhouse is because he and Mathilde were lifelong lovers, though locked into loveless marriages to others.
Among the several revelations in "My Old Lady" is the difference between Americans and French in attitudes regarding love, marriage and fidelity. The crude, self-centered and resentful Mathias becomes enlightened by the older and younger Girard ladies, who resolve some of their own conflicts too.
The esteemed Estelle Parsons, who is both an Academy Award-winner ("Bonnie & Clyde," 1967) and a 2004 inductee to the Theater Hall of Fame, is simply one of the finest actors working in America today. She plays five years older and more fragile than her robust, agile 87-year-old self. Parsons radiates a fierce intelligence and rapier wit essential to her character, working with two skilled actors with whom she has worked before. Both Tim Altmeyer's Mathias and Angelica Page's Chloe have unresolved parental issues and an unrealized yearning for a committed romantic relationship. It is the detente of adversaries and blossoming of Mathias and Chloe's relationship that provides the warmth and hope in this, the most sharply-realized version of a play that was first performed in 2002. Director William Hayes worked closely with the playwright in creating a new, definitive version of the stage play. Horovitz wrote and directed a 2014 film version of "My Old Lady" starring an A-list cast including Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas. Other than the fact the movie had gorgeous actual Paris locations, I can say I enjoyed this stage version even more. Kudos to everyone.
Tickets are $62 ($10 students) and may be reserved by calling 561-514-4042 or going to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Leslie Uggams is a Charming Mame

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Leslie Uggams Makes Us Feel Alive Again in “Mame”

By Skip Sheffield

Our family has admired Leslie Uggams since she was a child star on “Sing Along With Mitch.”
Leslie Uggams is fully grown and then some as the larger-than-life Manhattan socialite “Mame,” playing through Dec. 28 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
The role of “Auntie” Mame Dennis is one of the best female characters in American musical history. Many illustrious actresses have played Mame, starting with Rosalind Russell in the original 1956 Broadway production.
Here in Boca Raton the most memorable Mame for me was our own Jan McArt, who embodies the outgoing, showy, joyful character both on and offstage.
I do not know Leslie Uggams personally, but she is an undeniably beautiful woman with a lovely voice. I think she handles the role of Mame Dennis well, but there are a few strange things about this production, directed by the ever-reliable Norb Joerder.
While she looks much younger than her real age of 71, Ms. Uggams is noticeably older than her stage love interest, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, an aristocratic, cornpone Southern plantation owner played by Jim Ballard.
However, Mame’s “bosom buddy” Vera Charles, is played by the age-appropriate and always delightful Lourelene Snedecker.
“Mame” has a live band listed in the program, but the musicians are not visible, and the sound they create is so heavily amplified it might as well have been pre-recorded.
On the plus side Ryan Sell is one really cute kid and self-assured as younger Patrick Dennis, who becomes Mame’s ward when his father dies. It was the real-life Patrick Dennis who wrote the memoire on which the book Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee based their script.
Also excellent in the comic role of Mame’s long-suffering personal secretary Agnes Gooch is Irene Adjan. Playing the insufferable killjoy Dwight Babcock is the always professional Jeffrey Bruce.
No, this is not the best “Mame” I have ever seen, but I can honestly say this is the best I’ve seen in years, and Leslie Uggams delivers where it counts in the score’s best ballad, “If He Walked Into My Life.” Lavishly costumed, “Mame” is all about Jerry Herman’s wonderful music, and with that Leslie Uggams can “coax the blues right out of the horn.”
Tickets are $72. Student tickets are $25 advance or $15 rush one hour before curtain. Call 561-995-2333.