By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 11, 2010 at 7:22AM
On the way to Cannes every year, I stop somewhere to break up the long journey, usually London or Paris (where the Cinematheque Francaise museum is a must-see). This year I stopped in Manhattan to catch the tail end of the Tribeca Film Fest (for the first time) and relax a bit before heading to the Riviera. It worked like a charm.
I hung out in my old Columbia neighborhood, hopping the IRT down to indieWIRE in Soho and to midtown to see shows and meet friends over meals --at the The Tick Tock Diner, the terrific fish restaurant Esca (which served amazing grilled octopus) and my old fave Cafe Un, Deux, Trois. I finally walked the elevated west side High Line overlooking the Hudson, which was shorter, better-designed and less developed than I had expected, and is getting longer by the day.
On Broadway I saw the joyous biopic/Afrobeat musical Fela! (which went on to earn 11 Tony nominations including best musical), Billy Elliott and Fences and off-Broadway, The 39 Steps and a new musical that opened Monday, The Kid.
The revival of August Wilson's Fences is powerful, impeccably acted, and as great and charismatic as Denzel Washington is in a challenging role, Viola Davis matches him and then some.
Set in 50s Pittsburgh, Fences earned more Tonys than any revival ever (11), is breaking Cort Theatre box-office records and has already passed the $1 million mark, a rare feat for a drama. The house was unusually hushed, expectant and tuned in to the play--I felt like I was seeing an historic performance. And Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King were seated a few rows ahead, enthusiastically joining in the rousing standing ovation. Winfrey gave the royal wave to the balcony on the way out to the street and I caught a glimpse of what her life must be like--security guards, limos, onrushing crowds. Will there be a film version of Fences? I hope producer Scott Rudin puts something together. It could work, as long as it wasn't too expensive.
The Kid is a new off-Broadway musical with a book by Michael Zam, music by Andy Monroe and lyrics by film producer (Mad Men) and Independent Spirits lyricist Jack Lechner, who launches a new career, as the songs are witty and terrific--even if there are a few too many of them. With a little tightening, this musical about a gay couple trying to adopt a kid via a homeless teenage mom (Jeannine Frumess) could score with audiences. Here's the NYT review. I especially liked Christopher Sieber (Spamalot and Shrek) as the butch half of a gay couple modeled on sex columnist Dan Savage. And Frumess nails her song, “Spare Changin.’”
I remember seeing Stephen Daldry's breakout sleeper Billy Elliott at Cannes in 2000. It's remarkable how much the Broadway musical, also written by Lee Hall and directed by Daldry, expands the palette and deepens the emotions of the original. The entire theater was brought to tears more than once. The plight of the striking miners, issues of masculine identity and doing right by one's kid have more resonance than ever today.
Any Hitchcock fan will revel in the joys of The 39 Steps, which premiered in London in 2006 and replays the original 1935 film verbatim onstage--with a wildly humorous tone--while making references to other Hitchcock films along the way, using a tiny four-person cast to ingeniously barrel through a bravura set of character roles. Sheer escapist entertainment.
One highlight of the trip was meeting for the first time three New York folks I had enjoyed interacting with on Twitter: The New Yorker film blogger Richard Brody, @tnyfrontrow (at the Algonquin, of course), and theater writer James Sims, @SimsJames, and Popular Mechanics staffer Erin McCarthy, @erincmccarthy (at the Hungarian Pastry Shop across from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine). They didn't know each other either; we had fun.
Speaking of Brody, both he and another Francophile critic I saw last week, the NYT's DVD columnist Dave Kehr, have posted excellent tributes to the late cinematographer William Lubtchansky, who worked with François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette. Here's Brody. And here's Kehr, who was writing this piece before we went out to dinner at the tiny East Village The Redhead, where my morel & sweet pea ragout parisienne (gnocchi, artichoke, and lemon cream) was yummy-boo.
More fab culture and cuisine to come, in Cannes.