I’m lucky. I have one daughter and two sons. My daughter, Jolie, brings me the newest in fashion. My two sons, Jim and Andy, cater to my musical taste. Jim, who rescued me from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, added a special present to my stay with him in Pennsylvania. He gifted me with the latest in the increasingly adventurous series of collaboration CDs by Tony Bennett. The timeless singer, too, is fortunate in also having a wonderful son, Dan, who came up with the whole idea of a duets-themed album. “Viva Duets” is the third and most recent. In it, 12 stars of Latin music join Bennett, singing their verses in Spanish while he sticks to his native tongue. Somehow he transcends language barriers. “I’m not a linguist,” he says. At age 86, the legendary crooner is considered the dean of American pop vocalists, staying with top-quality songs from the Great American Song Book. He hopes to introduce them to younger listeners. “Those are the songs that are well-written. The words and the music are both beautiful,” noted Bennett. In addition to all of the above, Tony Bennett is a polite man. I personally know that because in my before-Bayonne life, I lived in River Edge, right around the corner from the Benedettos, the singer’s mother and sister. Every Sunday, I would notice a big black limo arriving in front of their house and out would step Tony Bennett (born Anthony Dominick Benedetto) coming for his weekly visit to his family. One Sunday, my friend and I scurried over to the bewildered singer, blocked his way from escaping, and proceeded to sing. The poor man, instead of pushing us away, politely waited for our song to end before he was able to escape. Well, today the crooner, who is also a serious and accomplished painter, looks better than he did when he was younger. This is his philosophy: “If you are creative, you get busier as you get older.” I’ll drink to that – a Pinot Noir, please.
I wanted to love “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s political history film, based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals.” Of course, one knows the ending before you go into the movie theater. Part of the attraction is knowing that Spielberg is a great film artist. He and screen writer Tony Kushner home in on a narrow segment in the life of Abraham Lincoln, a few short months in 1865 before Lincoln was shot. The prism through which Spielberg and Kushner view the 16th president of the United States is politics – there’s a lot of political shoptalk (ho-hum!), not all of which is easy to follow. Actor Daniel Day-Lewis looks distractingly Lincolnesque. His riveting performance captures a somewhat mysterious private sadness as well as the ability to shake it off and be suddenly open and generous. The movie is a profound lesson for politicians present and future on when to compromise and when to go to the mat. It’s easy to find parallels to today’s politics and to the recent election. It all sounds familiar as Lincoln tries to scare up votes to get a bill passed in Congress. He presents himself as a simple backwoods lawyer even as his folksy mannerisms mask a formidable and cunning political mind. Actress Sally Fields, as Mary Todd Lincoln, plays her as a famously sharp, obstinate, and batty woman. Lincoln’s death is the film’s tragic denouement, not its climax. Even if their school isn’t assigning the movie, there’s a lot to be said for rounding the kids up and letting them absorb a little Civil War history. In spite of the fact that “Lincoln” has brilliant acting and great writing, at times it’s hard to follow. I did have the urge to look at my watch more than once. Obviously I didn’t love this film.
When one hears Barbra Streisand speak (not sing), it’s easy to know that the lady came straight out of Brooklyn (me, too, and that’s where, unfortunately, the similarity ends!). However, when the entertainer sings – oh my! – no bird sings as beautifully as she. One of the few multi-talented, this Brooklyn gal has won an Oscar, an Emmy, and Grammy and Tony Awards. She is also one of the best-selling recording artists. So how come she doesn’t know how to spell her first name? Of course I’m joking. Ms. Streisand wanted to be unique and certainly succeeded by simply dropping one “a” from her first name – thus, “Barbra.” The star has achieved iconic status. She is also known for being philanthropic, establishing the Streisand Foundation that has raised over $15 million, ands he uses the money according to reports both wisely and well. As for her personal life, in 1963, the “Funny Girl” (one of her many marvelous portrayals on Broadway) married actor Elliott Gould, but quickly overshadowed him. Then, in 1998, she married the handsome actor James Brolin (6’4” and oh my!). As much as I admire Barbra Streisand, I do have one burning question. Although it doesn’t keep me awake at night I’d love to know the answer. Does she sing in the shower?
Are you aware of the Roundabout Theatre Company? I was not until my keen-minded friend told me that he has been for many years and still is a member. It’s a not-for-profit company committed to producing classic plays and musicals alongside new plays by both established and emerging writers. It actually ensures a theatrical home in New York for audiences and artists alike. Recently I’ve seen several of its professional stagings – some fine, some not so. The most recent one was “Cyrano de Bergerac,” a play written in 1897 (what?). That same sagacious friend proudly informed me that he had read “Cyrano” in French in, of all places, Bayonne High School – very impressive. Not me – I read it in translation but I have seen it performed several times. The RTC production has the great benefit of having actor Douglas Hodge in the title role (last time I saw him he wore skirts in “La Cage aux Folles” – quite a change). In “Cyrano” he wears a swashbuckling cape and a two-ton nose. The actor brings a blast of freshness to the sentimental, timeless tear-jerker. The story is based on a universal conflict: two friends fall in love with the same person and become romantic rivals. By the time you read this, the RTC will be presenting many more productions, both classics and new plays. But to summarize “Cyrano,” this hero’s plight is to speak well – and carry a big nose. Funny? I think so.
You can email June at email@example.com.