On Wednesday, six-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald returned to The Tonight Show to sing some ridiculous Yahoo! Answers, accompanied on piano by Jimmy Fallon and The Good Wife's Josh Charles. If you enjoyed McDonald's Tony-winning performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, you'll love hearing her take on classic tracks like "How can I be the life of the party?", "Does vodka really kill bees and wasps?" and "I swallowed an ice cube last night and then it disappeared, and I'm wondering if it's stuck." Truly effervescent.
The best horror writer of the 20th century you've probably never heard of was a British woman who looked like a benign but mildly dotty Hogwarts teacher. But do not miss the occult mischief behind those 1980s mom-glasses; in a fairly standard Angela Carter story, Harry Potter would be mauled to death by a werewolf before a pan-species initiation of Hermione’s pubescent sexual power. She made things weird like that, which is why she was great. Carter, however, was not a horror writer in the same sense as Anne Rice or Stephen King; the bulk of her work is classified as magical realism (a made-up, jerk-off genre that permits English departments to acknowledge the existence of the human imagination), but her most celebrated book is a high gothic collection of short stories called The Bloody Chamber that you should read immediately if the genre holds any appeal for you. Or even if it doesn’t — though Carter never broke into the mainstream, an incomplete list of her devotees includes Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Lethem, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Jeannette Winterson, Tea Obreht, Rick Moody, and Ian McEwan. Personally, to say I was influenced by this book would be an incalculable understatement; it could more accurately be stated that my novel Hemlock Grove was one extended piece of Angela Carter fan-fiction.
For the first time since it was established in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is open to authors from outside the British Commonwealth. And it shows, with only one author on the list of 13 coming from a Commonwealth nation. (That would be Australia's Richard Flanagan.) Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in April, was nowhere to be found.
Joshua Ferris, U.S.
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Siri Hustvedt, U.S.
The Blazing World
Richard Powers, U.S.
Karen Joy Fowler, U.S.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Richard Flanagan, Australia
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Howard Jacobson, Great Britain
Neel Mukherjee, Great Britain
The Lives of Others
Paul Kingsnorth, Great Britain
David Mitchell, Great Britain
The Bone Clocks
David Nicholls, Great Britain
Ali Smith, Great Britain
How to Be Both
Joseph O'Neill, Ireland (but lives in the U.S.)
Niall Williams, Ireland
History of the Rain
Bronson Pinchot became a household name through Balki Bartokomous, the joyful character he portrayed on the 1986-1993 sitcom Perfect Strangers, and he has had memorable roles in such movies as Risky Business, Beverly Hills Cop, and True Romance. He currently hosts and stars in the DIY Network’s The Bronson Pinchot Project, a reality series in which he renovates properties in Harford, Pennsylvania, but a lesser-known Pinchot factoid is that he’s also a prolific narrator and voice actor for audiobooks, frequently sought out for his ability to get into the guts and psyche of what he’s reading — no matter what he’s reading. Over the past five years, Pinchot has provided the voice for more than 100 titles, demonstrating a mastery of everything from the bright pop fizziness of Chip Kidd to the southern gothic darkness of Flannery O'Connor; for every Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Captain Hans Van Luck, there’s some cheeky antidote like The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers. In addition to the work itself, Pinchot’s reward for what I think of as a kind of roving curiosity has included awards from AudioFile magazine and Audible.com.
Looks like Game of Thrones book purists may soon have another group of angry fans to commiserate with: At a recent Television Critics association panel, The Strain trilogy co-writer and show co-creator Guillermo del Toro and showrunner Carlton Cuse explained that the series will detour widely from the narrative laid out in the books, both changing the order of events and omitting some others. “[W]e will get there in a much more baroque way [than the books do],” said del Toro, with Cuse adding: “If you read the books and think that's the way its going to happen on the show, then you're wrong." Start sharpening your pitchforks, Strain trilogy fans.
Jersey Boys, which should have been a cautionary tale, has become instead a how-to guide. (Half a billion in Broadway receipts will do that.) It has not only spawned an infestation of jukebox biomusicals but also codified the key elements of the genre. First among these is that there should be a baldly narrated framing device (a Carnegie Hall concert, a death, a reunion) from which the plot flashes back to the difficulties of the songwriter’s early life (an overprotective mother, the Holocaust). The intervening years should be précised as quickly and hysterically as possible — crises only — leaving plenty of room for songs whose necks have been twisted so their unlikely emergence in the narrative will elicit a gasp of surprise. (Optional: These songs should be plunked out on a piano by a Jewish shlemiel before a trio of bespangled black singers magically materializes to apply the shamalamadingdong.) Throughout, characters should use dialogue not to advance the plot but to provide information everyone onstage would already know. And all this must lead to a curtain-call sing-along of the musician’s catchiest hit.
Elaine Stritch wasn’t the star of Company, but she sure as hell made herself the star of its making-of documentary. Dean Jones and the rest of the actors be damned; the drama of her failure to master her big number, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” all but commandeers D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 chronicle of the marathon recording sessions for the musical’s cast album. Muttering and grimacing, and looking in her bucket hat like a geezer at the end of a weeklong fishing trip, she keeps tripping over the notes and especially the feelings of the Stephen Sondheim showstopper, as if she were just learning it. Then, having begged for and been granted an expensive extra day to record, she returns all coiffed and made up and totally nails it. Presto, the film has its arc and its climax.
Ten months ago, I stumped Elaine Stritch. As we sat around her kitchen table, I mentioned that in her one-woman Broadway show, she had said she wished she had been able to write Noel Coward’s epitaph. Who, I wondered, would she want to write hers?
Much of my two hours with her was raucous. This moment was the only time she didn’t either cackle with glee over some joke or story or bark at me for some nettlesome question she didn’t like.
“I never thought of that,” she said with wide eyes. I waited for her reply, but it became clear she really hadn’t thought much about what happened to her after her death. “A logical question. A hard question.” I gave her a few more beats to consider a response. “I know a lot of people that I’m very fond of, who I’d like to know what they thought of me.”
Elaine Stritch, who passed away today at the age of 89, became famous — as actors and actresses do — for delivering lines on stages and screens. But many of Stritch's most memorable lines came off the stage, where she was known for her salty candor. In remembrance of the legendary actress, Vulture compiled New York's coverage of Stritch's life and career, including some of the best quotes about and by Stritch. Prepare to cackle, and maybe to cry a little, too.
Can friendliness be baked into a song, the way peaches are in a pie? On the evidence of Pump Boys and Dinettes, the final presentation of the Encores! Off-Center series this summer, the answer is yes. More a country-music revue than a musical, Pump Boys offers a series of relentlessly ingratiating clap-alongs that melt sophistication as if it were a pat of butter on a steaming biscuit. Sorry for the grits-and-gravy imagery, but after sitting through the show’s 19 numbers — rockabilly paeans to roadside culture, a cappella hymns to catfishing, twangy odes to Mamaw, boot-scooting two-steps, and honkytonk declarations of a mostly notional ideal of female empowerment — my New York brain is basically Southern-fried.
After a long, full, and varied career and a long, full, and varied life, Elaine Stritch passed away this morning. She was 89.
Born in Detroit on February 2, 1925, Stritch left Michigan for New York to study at the New School's Dramatic Workshop alongside classmates Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur. She made her stage debut in 1944 and her Broadway debut in 1946, in Loco. She'd go on to a legendary stage career that included five Tony nominations, with her finally winning her first in 2002 for her one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty. She is maybe best known for originating the role of Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company. (Read a full, wonderful timeline of here career here.)
Would the cast of Frozen, comprised almost totally of live-theater veterans, ever consider joining the inevitable Broadway musical adaptation? Both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell have said they’re open to the idea of reprising their roles onstage, while Jonathan Groff begged off the idea, claiming he’s not as hot as his cartoon character: “It would be a big letdown. I’m not blond or six-foot-five.” This week, Vulture ran into Josh Gad at the New York premiere of his new Zach Braff movie Wish I Was Here, and we asked the onetime Tony nominee whether he’d be open to playing his snowman character Olaf in the live-action adaptation. “You know … never say never,” he offered, gingerly. “There’s nothing on the page enticing about dressing up in a snowman outfit eight shows a week, but I love the creative team enough to at least hear what they have to say … If they say we have an idea, I may be open to it. But when you say ‘Frozen, the musical,’ it’s not something where I’m immediately like, ‘Yes, I must do that.’” If you'd put all your hopes into a cast reunion, should you let it go? (Sorry, we'll show ourselves out.)
Looks like the doomed Tupac musical will have a pal to commiserate with in Broadway Musical Heaven: The New York Times reports that Rocky the Musical, based on the 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie, will end its U.S. run on August 17 (the original German incarnation, Hamburg's Rocky das Musical, is still going strong). While not a total disaster, Rocky received mixed reviews, had difficulty filling seats over the course of its five month run, and failed to garner a Tony best musical nomination. Here's hoping Rocky the Musicals II through V have better luck.
Lena Dunham has announced the stops for her forthcoming Not That Kind of Girl book tour, and they're about as star-studded as one might expect from Hollywood's resident BFF. You can see the full list here, which includes comedienne Amy Schumer, Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein, Girls showrunner Jenni Konner, writers Curtis Sittenfeld and Mary Karr, and, for her final blowout in Brooklyn on October 21, Zadie Smith, Bleachers, and Jemima Kirke. So we're assuming T-Swift is just going to do a surprise cameo-type deal?
Broadway's Tupac musical Holler If Ya Hear Me will shutter Sunday after only six weeks of performances, the New York Times reports. One of the worst-selling musicals in recent years, the show struggled to attract an audience, with producer Eric L. Gold saying in a statement Monday that he made a "rookie mistake" in underestimating how much money the show would need to keep running and blaming the closure on the "financial burdens of Broadway." Although, if you ask us, the lack of Tupac holograms in the show was probably a factor. People love those things.
For all the glibness of his image-crafting, James Franco appears to be sincere in his regard for actual artistic production. And I say this not just in hopes of avoiding the title of Little Bitch 2. Uptown, in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (which continues through July 27), he offers a serious and accomplished performance as the itinerant farmhand George; is it his fault if he looks hot doing so? Downtown, as the director of a new play called The Long Shrift, he’s likewise humble, the opposite of showboating. Unfortunately, the opposite of showboating, in this case, is sinking.
It’s time again to thank Messrs. Carnegie, Frick, Warburg, Vanderbilt, Morgan & Co. The plutocrats of the last Gilded Age left us unfathomable architectural treasures that we cherish and fight over but are still not sure how to care for. They erected houses, museums, and libraries in the form of temples and Renaissance palazzos, great hunks of ornate stone, carved wood, and intricate parquet, anthologies of precious materials and medieval craft. Some have been lost; touch what’s left and we get angry, alter them and we despair. As Manhattan keeps remaking itself, one shuttered shoe-repair store and vanished brownstone at a time, these ornate piles endure—the Frick, the Cooper Hewitt, the Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum, each with its tribe of passionate loyalists.
The great Zen-proto-conceptualist, On Kawara, has died at the age of 81. In a time of art stars, overnight sensations, and flashes in the pan, Kawara's long artistic river has glided silently through the art world. On January 4, 1966, he began making thousands of straightforward alphanumerical paintings of dates that were destroyed if not completed in one day; in 1969, he began a many-decade performance work in which he had people count one million years, one at a time, producing a multi-volume typed document, a tomb of the recitation. This enigmatic geomancer of invisible infinities finally reached the ultimate algorithm.
Earlier this week, Rick James posthumously published his memoir Glow, co-written with David Ritz. The book jumps around a lot, which James himself chalks up to his years of drug abuse, but an engrossing portrait of his life and career emerges in scattershot about his time coming up in a world in which black musicians could finally break through on the pop charts. Vulture flipped through chapters about his sex addiction, his chemical dependencies, and brushes with the law to collect 12 great info-nuggets about the man who brought the world “Superfreak.”
David Duchnovy mentioned earlier this month that he'd written a book. "It's a fable, like Animal Farm or Charlotte's Web; an allegorical story using animals for people," he told Rolling Stone. Now there's a full description of Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale, and if you thought it wouldn't be a book about a cow who united Israel and Paletsine, well, think again! From the official description: