Tag Archive for PBS

“Double, Double Toil and Trouble” Comes to PBS

This week Macbeth comes to a local PBS station near you. I have gushed about this play several times before here – and now I will again.

The filmed version of this Shakespearean play about ambition, greed and madness stars Patrick Stewart (always a theater actor, but, now perhaps best known from “Star Trek: Next Generation”). I saw him in the staged production on Broadway last year and loved it.

The action has been moved out of its original time and into 30’s/40’s war torn Scotland. Most of the original text remains, even with the modern presentation, but it all works anyway. (Towards the end of the play when Macbeth, ready to fight to the death, calls out, “Bring me my armor” – instead of a helmet and metal breast plate, he is fitted with a army issue “flak” jacket and machine gun. By this time, the audience was so wrapped up in it all, it didn’t matter.)

It may not be considered as deep and layered as Shakespeare’s  Hamlet or King Lear, but Macbeth is so much fun. It has 3 witches, 8 ghosts plus, a “moving” forest and a man with a violent birth.  Both Macbeth and his Lady wreak havoc as they totally embrace their baser nature and eventually self destruct. You are grabbed from the first scene and it won’t let you go until that pesky forest starts to inch forward, (I hope I haven’t given too much away) This is drama!

It is a rousing, rambunctious, and riveting tale of misdeeds, murder and mayhem. (Yes, I’m showing off- I love alliteration.)

Macbeth, William Shakespeare: PBS Great Performances (check local listings)

Brian Stokes Mitchell – Like Him!

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific”  is running on PBS again during their pledge weeks. Its not the Mary Martin film of 1950’s, but a musical done “in concert”, (all in character and full voice w/o sets), at Carnegie Hall. He starred as Emile the estate owner – the entire cast was great, but as always, Brian Stokes Mitchell stood out.

As he sings “This Nearly Was Mine”, he uses his voice to paint a picture of a man lamenting about a “paradise” he has always wanted and dreamt about, and just missed reaching. Beautiful and heartbreaking. (He got a standing “O” for that one.)

Mr. Mitchell elevates all that he graces with his presence. From his non singing comedy turn as Trevor the weatherman on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, to performing with the Boston Pops. Always intense, always present, he is always excellent.

Known best for Broadway musical theater – I was fortunate to see him twice as the dapper & tragic “Coalhouse Walker ” in “Ragtime”, (1998). His other credits include Jelly’s Last Jam (1992), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), a revival of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” (1999), for which he won a Tony, and August Wilson’s “King Hedley II” (2001)

He also has a CD – “Brian Stokes Mitchell” – Jazz, show tunes and pop standards with his own special style. He is a baritone with great feeling.

Brian Stokes Mitchell – I like him.

“Passing Strange” – Spike Lee and PBS

Yes, I love PBS.  They seem to keep the art of the “documentary” alive with their programs: American Masters, Great Performances, American Experience etc.

This week, the filmed version of the play, “Passing Strange” is coming to the Great Performances series.  Spike Lee documented the last 3 days of the musical’s Broadway run (it won the 2008 Tony for Best Book) originally for HBO, but it will be released in DVD next week and also be shown on PBS.

I saw the play 2 years ago and loved it.  It is clever, funny and has great music.  The terrific band, whose members, along with the few actors, tell the story of a black young man, “Stew”, trying to look for the “real” by moving from middle class L.A, where he feels he doesn’t fit in and everything is a fraud, to Amsterdam and Germany.

In Europe, he is more “American”, than he was in California. To gain friends and acceptance in the avant garde scene, his new girl friend is only impressed with the oppressed, he “passes” as the stereotype of a ghetto youth and writes songs about the “struggle”. After doing this for a few years, he wonders what if the only thing real is your “art” and “reality” is phony?

He eventually returns to America to pursue his art and just be himself. He is amazed that the direction of his life was decided by the decisions he made as a teenager.

Serious questions, but told with humor and music. Hard to describe, a different type of musical, but, very entertaining.

“Passing Strange”, Book and lyrics by Stew, Music by Stew and Heidi Roderwald

Directed by Spike Lee

Sam Cooke * PBS

Coming to a local Public Television Station near you this week is a new documentary about Sam Cooke (January 1931 – December 1964).

The contribution of the legendary singer/song writer will be explored in the PBS “American Masters” series “Sam Cooke: Crossing Over”. It includes some performance scenes and interviews with family and musicians to illuminate the short career that lifted our spirits with  traditional Gospel music, but also gave us songs like “You Send Me” and the classic “A Change is Gonna Come” (rumor has it that he wrote this in 1963 after hearing Dylan’s  “Blowin’ in the Wind”.)

“Sam Cooke: Crossing Over” – Amazing talent, not forgotten.


“Tosca” on PBS

-Puccini_Tosca

“Tosca”, one of Puccini’s most popular operas is scheduled for a PBS station near you this week. (Part of the holiday special programming/fund raising, etc.)

I like Puccini – “La Boheme”, (1896) “Tosca”, (1900), “Madama Butterfly”, (1904), “Turandot”, (1924). Though not really an opera person, I find his work accessible with its universal love themes, high drama and the music is just lovely.

When I was younger, I embraced “La Boheme”: boy meets girl, they sing, girl meets boy’s friends, everybody sings, everybody is cold together, and everybody sings. Girl loses boy, boy loses girl – permanently – everybody sings. Loved it. (If you’ve seen “Rent”, the play or the movie, you‘ll know what I mean. All very moving.)

As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate another popular Puccini work, “Tosca”. This opera is a real “bodice ripper”. Political intrigue, assassination, attacks on female virtue, firing squads and suicide – just too full!
Should the singer, Floria Tosca (our heroine), succumb to the unwanted advances of a powerful man (Scarpia- the evil chief of police) to save her poor artist lover (Mario Cavaradossi), who has been accused of harboring a political dissident? (This was a super serious offense in the time of Napoleon.)

Lots of costumes, passionate thrashing about, great singing and the ending is appropriately tragic.
Tosca, defends herself and then chooses to make the ultimate defiant gesture against authority. (After all, this is opera – pure drama to the very end.)

Catch “Tosca” if you can – very entertaining!

Giacomo Puccini (Dec.1858 – Nov. 1924)