Sunday, March 30, 2014

Keith Price, Sirius Comedian/Actor

Love me some Keith Price!  My belly muscles have gotten a good workout laughing at his material when I've been an audience member while he took the stage at a comedy club.  He's a big sweet bear of a guy who was born to make you laugh.
Keith is a very smart entertainer.  His comedy is witty, wonderful and honest.  He can go from "ghetto fabulous" to Manhattan sophisticated in a heartbeat.  He loves Broadway.  He's got his Equity card and uses the airwaves to promote and introduce theatre offerings.  Oh!  About the airwaves -- he's a national morning radio star.  For nearly ten years, he's been helping folks start their weekday mornings with a smile on the OutQ channel of Sirius satellite radio.  You hear him on The Morning Jolt.  He's been lucky enough to co-host very special guests such as the renowned stars of CBS' classic The Carol Burnett Show -- Carol Burnett, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence...

...CBS sitcom and Bridesmaids comedy movie star, Melissa McCarthy...

...HBO True Blood star, Joseph Manganiello... of TV's classic The Cosby Show and a Broadway veteran, Phylicia Rashad...

...and the Tony award-winning Broadway actor/director/choreographer, Tommy Tune.
You can't find a better example of diversity in broadcasting than Keith Price.  A big black/Latino gay man on a national weekday morning show talking about life, love, music, movies and Broadway.  Count on one hand how many others like that are doing the same on national radio or national TV.  He's unique.  Yet, somehow, I've rarely seen or heard Keith interviewed.  So...we sat down for nearly one festive hour on my podcast.  We talk about his shows on Sirius and shows he's loved on Broadway.  We talk about Denzel Washington back on Broadway in the role originated by Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun.  In 1959, Poitier was in his early 30s playing a young family man.  Denzel Washington has an AARP card as he stars in this new Broadway revival.  Opening night for the revival with the 2-time Oscar winner is April 3rd.  I'd love to see him in the play.
By the way...WHEN is Hollywood going to star Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in a film adaptation of August Wilson's Fences?  They got raves for their lead performances in the 2010 revival of Wilson's 1987 Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winning play.

Keith and I express our love for the multi-talented Broadway actor, Danny Burstein.      
He gave a brilliant performance as Navy petty officer Luther Billis in the acclaimed revival of South Pacific.  Brilliant because he found a sexy, brawny dramatic edge and inner conflict to this character who's usually been used for comic relief in the World War II-based musical that zeroes in on racial prejudice as men fight to make the world free.

Danny went on to play Buddy in Broadway's revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.  He's now in previews for the Broadway revival of Cabaret opening in late April.  Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles and Alan Cumming as the Emcee are also in the cast.  I tell Keith how Danny Burstein's Tony-nominated work picked me up during an extremely low point in my life.  For Cabaret info, go here:

Speaking of Broadway, Keith and I discuss why racial diversity in the field of those who review and report on the film/theatre arts is important and needed.

We'll talk about family, our show biz hopes and our worst show biz auditions.  Could you see me in the cast of HBO's prison drama,  Oz?  Well...there's a reason why you couldn't.
Keith and I also talk about the documentary we appeared in together.  In some outlets we appeared in the documentary together, that is.

It's a fun show, if I say so myself.  Keith should be doing sitcom roles or guest shots for Bravo or The View.  I think you'll agree with me when you hear him.  He'll be here all week starting on Monday, March 31st.  Hear us out on

Friday, March 28, 2014

Michael Peña, Good Actor

I keep my fingers crossed that I have the privilege to interview him one day.  Michael Peña is a very good, very versatile actor who deserves major attention at the box office.  He's paid his dues and practiced his craft in years of movie and television work.  His resumé boasts work in two movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture and two others that were Best Picture Oscar nominees.  Not bad for a young actor.
Michael Peña acted in the Best Picture Oscar winner directed by Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby starring Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. He played the Los Angeles locksmith family man in Crash, another Academy Award winner for Best Picture.

The international drama, Babel, featured Peña as a border policeman.  It too was a Best Picture Oscar contender.  He can do drama.  He can do deadpan humor, underplaying a funny moment in a way that steals a scene.  He played the Latino guy masquerading as a visiting wealthy Arab in the Best Picture Oscar nominee, American Hustle.

Some of the best scenes in American Hustle involved Peña as Paco Hernandez trying to pull off an operation as Sheikh Abdullah.

Lions for Lambs, may have received a lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers but look at Peña in this 2007 movie as a U.S. soldier deployed to Afghanistan.
Box office hit or not, Michael Peña was in a movie starring Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.  Lions for Lambs was directed by Robert Redford.

I noticed young Mr. Peña in episodes of network TV shows and in some other movies.  But, when I had to see Oliver Stone's World Trade Center (2006) so I could review it on national radio, Peña really popped out at me.  The movie starred Nicolas Cage.
I saw Peña and said to myself "There's that guy again and he's really good."  Two actors in that drama made me stay through the closing credits so I could see and remember their names.  Peña was one.  The other was an actress who did a bit part as "Mother in Hospital" in Stone's September 11th drama.  That memorable bit player was Viola Davis.

This weekend the Mexican-American actor opens in a biopic about someone who was very special to me when I was a high schooler in South Central Los Angeles during the 1960s.  I attended a Catholic high school in Watts with a predominantly black and Hispanic student body.

Chicano (as we called him then) leader Cesar Chavez was an important and inspirational civil rights leader, fighting for the rights of migrant farm workers.  Michael Peña stars in the biopic, Cesar Chavez.

I am so glad that my high school teachers made us realize the significance of Cesar Chavez and the importance of our interest in current events.  This story needed to be told and remembered.  I can't wait to pay to see it.  Cesar Chavez was directed by Diego Luna.  Also an actor, you may recognize Luna from Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También as one of the slacker buddies who embarks on an unforgettable road trip.  He also played one of Harvey Milk's boyfriends opposite Sean Penn in Milk.
America Ferrera co-stars in Luna's film opposite Peña as Chavez's wife, a co-organizer in the farmworker movement.

Keep your eye on Michael Peña.  He's a mighty fine actor.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Vincente Minnelli's GIGI

This year, I read some comments under a blog post about Vincente Minnelli's box office and Academy Awards champ, Gigi.  That original screen musical took home Oscars for Best Picture of 1958, Best Director (Mr. Minnelli), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Song.  Gigi, starring Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan, took home nine Oscars in all.  She was the Queen of that Hollywood Prom Night.
I love musicals.  I love this musical.  A long time ago, when I was in college, my mother gave me a copy of Colette's 1944 novella, Gigi, as a Christmas gift.  Mom knew I loved watching the movie on TV.  The screenplay seemed pretty faithful to Colette's book.  It's a story written about character in a different country at a different time.  Their society was different.  It had different attitudes towards sex.  When I've heard friends or acquaintances say that the movie is "creepy" because Maurice Chevalier opens the film by singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls," I feel they misinterpret it.  First, they're ignoring that it's not a modern-day story set in, say, Milwaukee.  The story is set in Paris.  Next, Chevalier was the older man saluting the women that little girls grow up to be.  Way back in its early years, in the days before political correctness, Chevy Chase sang the song and changed the lyrics on Saturday Night Live.  THAT was creepy.  He could not do such material on TV now without being slammed in the news the next day.

I love the look of Gigi.  It's a rich example of a Vincente Minnelli musical made for the Arthur Freed unit.  MGM was like the Emerald City of studios for Hollywood musicals and the Freed unit famously produced some of the studios biggest and brightest musical gems.  From the "Minnelli red," as I call it, in set decoration, to the hairstyles by Sydney Guilaroff, to the performances and the score of songs written directly for the film by My Fair Lady's Lerner & Loewe, to the thrilling sound of the MGM orchestra, you can tell this is the quality of classic movie musical that only Vincente Minnelli could deliver.

I have a suggestion for how to look at Gigi in a different way.  Think of the director's private life. Think of his superstar ex-wife.  Think of Louis Jourdan's Gaston as Vincente Minnelli and Leslie Caron's Gigi as Judy Garland.
The older women in the Alvarez family were grooming young, clueless Gigi to be a courtesan.  Like her Aunt Alicia did in her day, she'd attract rich older men who would take care of her financially in exchange for romantic favors without proposing marriage.  Young Garland was under contract to a powerful Hollywood studio and being groomed for profitable movie stardom.
Gigi was a story of a young female's transformation and the mature man who falls truly in love with her.  Garland grew up before the MGM cameras.  In the 1930s, she was learning her screen craft in Andy Hardy features starring Mickey Rooney and non-Hardy musical comedies.  The first Judy Garland musical to have a contribution from new director Vincente Minnelli was a fantasy section of the Oscar nominated "Our Love Affair" number in 1940's Strike Up The Band.
The "Our Love Affair" section Minnelli staged involved fruit puppets as members of an orchestra playing the song.  You have to see it.  Trust me.  It's clever.  Minnelli, reportedly, was in awe of the teen actress' talent and singing.  In her films, she was usually the best pal with the big voice.  She didn't have the allure of the glamour girls like young and blonde Lana Turner.  But the glamour girls didn't have Judy's talent.  In the 1930s, MGM gave Judy's image sort of an "ugly duckling" vibe.
Things started to change with her performance in 1939's The Wizard of Oz.  Her star was on the ascent.  In that fantasy, she introduced what would become her legendary signature song, "Over the Rainbow".  Come Strike Up The Band, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were two multi-talented teen stars who did great things for MGM's box office.  Those scripts were celebrated for their simple "Let's put on a show" plots about young show biz hopefuls seeking Broadway success.

Vincente Minnelli worked on the MGM lot while Garland was transforming from "ugly duckling" teen starlet to a young woman and top musical star.  She now had studio clout.  But the actress' potential had yet to be fully tapped.  Also, she'd never quite been given the full glamour treatment like the other female stars.  That would change when Vincente Minnelli brought out her acting depth and her beauty during Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).  He had her cosmetic look refined by giving her special attention.  Her refined her acting skills by giving her special attention.  This was where her "sparkle turned to fire...and her warmth became desire," to use lyrics inspired by those from the title tune Best Song Oscar winner in his 1958 musical.  Minnelli would increase her star wattage.
Under Minnelli's direction and with more challenging material, she transformed into a sensitive, versatile actress and the object of desire.  She won the love of "The Boy Next Door."  Her rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" alone should've brought her Oscar consideration.  The musical story about a not always happy year in the life of a American family was the studio's biggest box office hit since 1939's Gone With The Wind.

In 1945's The Clock co-starring Robert Walker, she showed even more depth.  Her first dramatic film and a memorable, moving performance as the New York City secretary who falls in love with a lonely soldier on leave during World War II.

Not a box office hit, but The Pirate (1948) showcased her sophisticated musical comedy skills and her ability to do physical comedy -- most notably in the fight scene in which she chases Gene Kelly's mischievous ham actor around a room and tries to put lumps on his head with anything she can get her hands on.
This was also her most sexually-charged role.  She's a repressed, proper maiden who thinks she's come face-to-face with the lusty pirate who has long been her sexual fantasy.  She's engaged to marry a middle-aged wealthy man who's built like a pumpkin.  It would be an arranged and respectable marriage.  And dull.  Kelly, masquerading as The Pirate, opens the door to her ignored sexual and show biz fire.

For her number in Ziegfeld Follies (1945), you wondered why Hollywood didn't give her more sophisticated comedy opportunities like Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert got.  She's glamourous and satirically funny as a Hollywood star getting all grand for a casual press conference in the "A Great Lady Has An Interview" number.  She was directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Vincente Minnelli was like Gaston who watched Gigi transform from this...
...and this... this.

Judy stayed in Vincente's heart, even after their 1951 divorce.  Nanette Fabray told me that, during production of 1953's The Band Wagon, it was obvious he was still in love with her.  Look at Minnelli's 1952 The Bad and the Beautiful.  There's a Judy reference in one scene.  It's the Hollywood party Kirk Douglas' brash young Hollywood player attends with three pals early in the film.  A woman at the party sits near the piano on the right side of the screen in a wide shot and softly sings "Don't Blame Me" while the party is in full blast.  That's something Judy was known to do at parties.  Notice that the woman singing is styled like Judy from 1949's In the Good Old Summertime directed by Robert Z. Leonard.
Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland fell in love during Meet Me in St. Louis.  The director, in his early 40s, and the star, in her early 20s, were married.  They became the parents of Liza Minnelli.

Vincente Minnelli noticed Judy Garland when she played the lovelorn high school librarian in Strike Up The Band...

...and eventually turned her into the glamorous, unrivaled queen of MGM musicals in the 1940s.
Just like Gaston and Gigi at the end of the Best Picture of 1958 Oscar winner,  Vincente and Judy were married. Gaston watched the miracle of Gigi's transformation from energetic teen to sophisticated young woman.  The same can be said of Vincente watching Judy grow and transform on the MGM lot.

Think about that the next time you watch Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan in Gigi.  In a way, the film sweetly reflects an experience in the director's real life.

Oscar Buzz for TILL

 I'm on Twitter and, in the last three weeks, there's been Oscar buzz from a few established movie critics. The buzz was that Cate B...