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Cabaret (#110 of 8)

Review: The Life and Death of Marina Abramović

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Review: <em>The Life and Death of Marina Abramović</em>
Review: <em>The Life and Death of Marina Abramović</em>

The Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 exhibition of performance artist Marina Abramović’s life work, five years after the Guggenheim allowed her to “re-perform” seven performances by herself and others, cemented Abramović’s conversion into performance art’s ruling figure, at once parent to the form and gatekeeper of its history, at least in the public imagination. Those who’ve accused her of crossing the thin line from self-sacrificing hero to self-aggrandizing celebrity will likely be further displeased by The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, an impressionistic theatrical biography co-authored and co-starring Abramović, and designed and directed by Robert Wilson. Here we see Abramović as a living saint, already transubstantiated.

The evening is framed as a funeral for Abramović (newspapers are distributed to the audience with the headline, “ARTIST MARINA ABRAMOVIĆ DIES AT 67”), who begins by lying in a white robe on a coffin-shaped table and ends drifting into the air in the same gown. She’s flanked by two women, and in the finale a triptych of black crows peppers the sky. The two-and-a-half-hour work might have been called The Passion of Marina.

Climb on Board: Pippin at the Music Box Theatre

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Climb on Board: <em>Pippin</em> at the Music Box Theatre
Climb on Board: <em>Pippin</em> at the Music Box Theatre

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be a sucker. Step right up to Pippin, the greatest homegrown show of the season. It even has a puppy. This eye- and pelvis-poppin’ extravaganza seems willing to stop at nothing to make us ooh and aww. But miraculously, it never stoops. Instead, most of its nonstop thrills, chills, and threat of spills fly as high as the tip of its big-top tent. Yes, director Diane Paulus has traded out the original’s trope of an itinerant commedia dell’arte band of players for a troop of traveling cirque performers. And the dazzlingly executed change gives the Broadway revival, its first, a leg up facing down its biggest threat: the looming shadow of Bob Fosse.

The legendary director-choreographer won two Tonys for the first production and was roundly credited for its blockbuster success. Without his hands-on involvement, such as a later tour with Chita Rivera and returning star Ben Vereen, much of the magic was gone. Subsequent reimaginings in London (with a video-game concept) and in regional and community theaters have usually failed, giving the material a reputation as a relic tied to an era and a genius long since passed. But Paulus, of the recent Tony Award-winning revivals of Hair and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, has come to the rescue. Her Pippin moves as fast and forcefully as if it were shot out of a cannon.

15 Famous Movie Hosts

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15 Famous Movie Hosts
15 Famous Movie Hosts

This weekend, a Stephenie Meyer adaptation will likely top the box office yet again, as The Host, based on the author’s only non-Twilight novel, lands in theaters. A supernatural, dystopian soap opera, the new film stars Saorsie Ronan as Melanie Stryder, the titular vessel for an alien life form that overtakes her body (things get especially tricky when possesser and possessee fall for two different strapping lads, played by Jake Abel and Max Irons). The movie got us thinking about other hosts in cinema, and we decided to keep the definition loose. On our list, the folks in question host game shows, parties, and, yes, troublesome phantom entities. Click on to see who made the cut.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

It’s at this point we had to ask ourselves, “Is Argo really going to end up a two-Oscar Best Picture winner?” Because while it seems almost certain to buck all sorts of precedent and take Best Picture, which of its six other nominations will be there to back it up? Honestly, the way things have been developing among the guild awards, the only nod that seems entirely out of reach is Alan Arkin’s bid for supporting actor. We’ll cover Best Editing in the next few days, but the movie still seems more of a spoiler than a frontrunner for original score and adapted screenplay*. In theory, that leaves Argo’s two sound bids to prevent the movie from achieving a dubious feat not achieved since Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Some of us are going to hedge on our Oscar-pool ballots and give Argo one or both of them, but unless the topsy-turviness of the race infects every category, both it and Lincoln seem to lack the “bigness” this category seems to require.

15 Famous Women in Black

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15 Famous Women in Black
15 Famous Women in Black

This weekend, Daniel Radcliffe celebrates his first post-Potter effort with the release of The Woman in Black, a horror thriller about an axe-grinding female ghost who need only be seen to claim a child’s life. The veiled phantom surely has the edge when it comes to offing the little ones, but she hails from a long line of ladies who’ve gone all Hot Topic for the camera. Witches, wives, and even Whoopi made this list of women who sport only the darkest uniforms, making them scary, sexy, cool, sophisticated, and in some cases, all of the above.

Fully Realized: On Natasha Richardson in Cabaret

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Fully Realized: On Natasha Richardson in <em>Cabaret</em>
Fully Realized: On Natasha Richardson in <em>Cabaret</em>

Re-interpreting a role that is supposedly “owned” by another person’s portrayal has sunk many a fine actor. Anyone approaching the part of Stanley Kowalski, for example, must deal with the ghost of Brando, and there’s nothing much you, as an actor, can do about it. Either do an impression of Brando, hoping that it will be fine and you get away with it, or try to put your own stamp on the part. But good luck with that last choice. This doesn’t happen with all parts, or even all great performances. Something can be good without being definitive. For an actor to approach these parts with an air of resentment that the ghosts exist, or to wish that you could own the part all on your own without the danger of being compared to someone else, is a useless enterprise, although quite common and understandable.

Liza Minnelli played Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, and her shadow is long. I have seen a ton of productions of Cabaret over the years. Actresses struggle to find their own niche, to squirm out from beneath Minnelli’s influence, and usually it’s a losing battle, and they end up just doing their best Liza Imitation and calling it a day. Often roles are not even to BE “interpreted.” Just play what’s there, make it real, embody the characteristics required, and come alive under imaginary circumstances. It’s rare that someone can come along and give a new “spin” on a well-known character. Liza Minnelli, in all her glitter and mania, her show-trash survival skills, her twisted Fosse poses, and her spidery false eyelashes, claimed all available ground for the interpretation of Sally Bowles.

When Roxie Met Sally: Chicago vs. Cabaret

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When Roxie Met Sally: <em>Chicago</em> vs. <em>Cabaret</em>
When Roxie Met Sally: <em>Chicago</em> vs. <em>Cabaret</em>

Rob Marshall’s Oscar-winning movie Chicago is a workhorse. In a better Holly-world every film would be this good. But in a more perfect Holly-world, only films that went beyond competence would merit 13 Academy Award nominations. No visionary himself, Marshall’s strategy consisted of aping Fosse, calling it homage and hoping for the best. It was a canny decision. Fosse’s filmmaking style—perfectly cut to the moves of dancers synchronizing flawless steps to Kander and Ebb’s exhilarating score—might have yielded an impressive result no matter who directed. But a movie musical is more than the sum of its numbers. Fosse knew this, which is why his own film version of another Kander and Ebb musical, Cabaret, shot over three decades ago, feels less dated than Marshall’s 2002 Academy darling.

Chicago plays like a movie about a movie about two murderesses striving for fame in the Roaring Twenties, Cabaret is a love trangle set in Weimar Republic-era Berlin. Renée Zellweger gives a capable performance as corrupt Chicago’s good bad girl, the killer Roxie Hart. As Velma Kelly, a murderous rival of Roxie’s who schemes to reclaim the spotlight that the younger woman stole, Catherine Zeta-Jones is also capable. The same goes for Richard Gere as crooked lawyer Billy Flynn; John C. Reilly as Roxie’s suffering husband, Amos Hart; Queen Latifah as prison matron “Mama” Morton—they’re all so fucking competent! But Liza Minnelli didn’t just rise to her role in Cabaret; she reached higher, creating a three-dimensional Sally Bowles, so fake she’s real. The quality gap between Zellweger’s performance as Roxie and Minnelli’s as Sally might stem partly from each actress’ personal experience: Minnelli had the demons of her mother, Judy Garland, to escape, while Zellweger has admitted in interviews that she pretty much fell into acting. But bravery might also be a factor. As we watch Minnelli’s fearlessly self-revealing performance as Sally, we glimpse in her wild eyes and anxious body language the screwed-up childhood that Sally must have had—the past that fuels both character and performer to sing and dance or die. If Zellweger harbors comparable demons, either she refused to tap them or her director failed to demand that she try. Her performance is content to charm rather than disturb. Even though we watch Roxie kill onscreen, the actress conveys no sense that the character would be capable of committing such a deed, much less using it as a platform for tabloid infamy. Her Roxie is a one-dimensional cutie pie, a spoiled, dreaming bad seed, and her mild drive to be a star seems disingenuous.

Lenny and the Price of Freedom

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<em>Lenny</em> and the Price of Freedom
<em>Lenny</em> and the Price of Freedom

Lenny opens in shocking fashion, with an extreme close-up of Valerie Perrine’s mouth. Perrine is playing Honey Bruce, the ex-wife of comic Lenny Bruce. Though it’s a pretty obvious homage by director Bob Fosse to Orson Welles and one of the earliest, most famous shots in Citizen Kane, the effect is entirely different. The close-up is so extreme that the tiny hairs around Perrine’s mouth are visible. The shot of Charlie Kane’s mouth is fantastical; this shot of Honey’s mouth is obscene.

In terms of content, she is talking about Lenny Bruce’s many drug and obscenity arrests, but the visual impact of that strange close-up is what we remember. After some brief moments of Bruce’s act during his brief prime and more of the film’s frequent Kane-like interview-driven narrative, the film starts in earnest—not with star Dustin Hoffman recreating the comic’s early nightclub days, but with Perrine recreating the early career of Honey Bruce, a.k.a. stripper Honey Harlow.