Archive for May, 2011

Apollo’s Girl

May 28, 2011

Growing Up Is Hard to Do

Once upon a a time in Scotland, author/playwright J.M. Barrie had an inspiration: a short story about a boy who refused to grow up and who could fly. It snowballed into a classic–Peter Panthen into a hit play, then into a full-length novel. While Barrie’s story remained popular in his native country, it was a natural for eternal acclaim in America; nowhere else do men routinely remain boys (think backwards baseball caps; new toy obsessions; tee shirts with slogans) for quite so long. And so Barrie’s tale soon crossed the pond, penetrated our national consciousness and remained there, beckoning. It drew sculptors, artists, and composers (Jules Styne and Leonard Bernstein), and other authors big and small, morphing, along the way, into a goldmine.

Disney’s antennae were up decades ago, when they turned it into a 1953 animated feature and a sequel (Return to Neverland) in 2003. But they kept their fingers in several Peter pies by publishing a series of prequel novels, Peter and the Starcatchers, by the team of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson; these, too, have remained best-sellers since the first was published in 2004. And there’s more! Recently, Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, the Addams Family) adapted it into a riotous romp with music (Peter and Wendy), along the lines of a classic British pantomime. Its director: Roger Rees, once the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby and, not coincidentally, one of the voiceover stars of Disney’s 2003 Return to Neverland. The hoopla for its limited run at the New York Theatre Workshop did not escape Disney’s eye: there are rumors of another film in the works, possibly in 3-D.

Meantime, the New Victory Theater presented Mabou Mines’ production of Peter and Wendy, an all-white dreamlike interpretation of elements of Barry’s original Edwardian story, and much closer to it in spirit and approach. Anchored by narrator Karin Kandel, Peter and the lost boys are wooden puppets manipulated by a crew who manage to both shield and animate their charges at the same time. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the play is Peter’s character – at times playful and vulnerable, at times malicious. Changeable, as children are, especially those who have a hard time growing up. As the program tells us, “…..the play retains [Barrie’s] original impulse to mourn the impossibility of return, or simply enjoys, fleetingly, the resonance between past and present.”  There is real magic in the way Peter and Wendy brings it to life.

So, this season we were lucky to have two very different versions of a classic simultaneously. For myself, I really love puppets (more about that soon), and find a good story and imaginative production more compelling than 3-D. But then, I’ve never worked in a goldmine. And I’ve learned that the New Victory plans to present the New York premiere of The Little Prince this fall. With puppets!

Apollo’s Girl

May 16, 2011

One Wedding, a Funeral, and a Very Big Show

Your computer is always there for you when you wake up in the middle of the night. First you type, then you realize that the Royal Wedding has begun, and although you hadn’t planned to watch, you can. And you do. Never did get back to the computer, but moved over the the bed, transfixed. Mostly stayed awake, but nodded off a little when Kate’s brother was reading from Romans. Other than that minor defection, swallowed the entire thing, whole. What a meal!

Living in the middle of the world, where skimpy skirts, torn jeans, and tummy-baring tank tops that leave nothing to the imagination rule, it’s hard to remember pomp and circumstance, and hats. But here was a living, breathing, über celebration to prove that they still lurk in the UK and can be summoned forth for the right occasion. The sheer good will and exuberance echoed our Bicentennial Fourth of July, when the Twin Towers stood, all of lower Manhattan was closed to traffic, and tall ships from both sides of the Cold War made their majestic way up the Hudson River. There was music and food on every corner, and two million people on their best behavior, celebrating the day that marked the 200th anniversary of the United State of America and its severance from England.

But right now we had The Weddinga reminder that the country that spawned us was infinitely older than ours, and truly capable of putting on a Very Big Show. Yet before it had even been been digested, there was more urgent news: Osama Bin Laden had died a bloody and murky death, his body buried at sea. That was another very big meal, with an epilogue still to be written.

And finally, another British coup on Monday at the Metropolitan Museum: the press opening of Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen spectacular, the closing parenthesis of the Kate and Pippa Middleton wedding gown triumph, with Bin Laden’s death all but erased from memory. A fashion show like no otherwith lights, music, holograms and sound effects; a trip to outer space, with fashion made art by McQueen’s imagination and dark genius. The museum was on high alert, with thousands of press from all over the world, and even several 35mm news film crews (when was the last time you saw a 35mm news film crew?) An elegant Continental breakfast, and Remarks from museum officials and sponsors, and a jet-lagged designer Sarah Burton, fresh from The Wedding, all but obscured by the scrum of reporters desperate for an original word. 

So, in a way, in one three-day period, we were temporarily custodians of three icons: the once-and-future king and queen of England, very much alive; the most wanted man in the Western world, dead by our hand; and the overwhelming legacy of a British designer, whose work will outlive him, dead by his own a year ago. This was only one long weekend in the wired world. What are we to make of it?

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