No More Mr. Mom
In Hollywood, where timing is everything, Michael Keaton has made a career of marching out of tempo. He’s talented, versatile, charismatic and … underrated. He just can’t get a hit movie, even at gunpoint. Except for Clean and Sober , I can’t remember a great Michael Keaton movie, and that film was a commercial flop. In his most viable box-office success as Batman, Jack Nicholson stole the spotlight and the reviews. Why isn’t this guy as busy and popular as Tom Hanks? Clearly, he needs some of Bill Clinton’s advisers. In every lousy movie, he is never less than fascinating. In Desperate Measures he’s even more so than usual. But you’ve gotta be a Michael Keaton addict to get through it.
Directed by Barbet Schroeder and written by David Klass, Desperate Measures is a violent thriller in which Andy Garcia clenches his jaw as a tough but anguished San Francisco cop whose gravely ill son needs a bone marrow transplant. So he does what any desperate single father would do-he breaks into the secret computers in the Justice Department to find a donor with a matching blood type. (Don’t try this at home.) The only DNA match that registers on the screen is a homicidal maniac serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison. This is where Mr. Keaton comes in. Buffed, tattooed, burr-cut and in battle mode, he gets a real change of pace. In the past he would have played the Mr. Mom who needs help. This time he’s the sociopath killer who pulls the strings.
It’s always fun to watch a hardened criminal who is smarter than everybody else. But this wacko is just too good to be true. On his way to the hospital, he stages the first of a series of elaborate escapes only a Hollywood screenwriter on a caffeine high could dream up. For a thug who has spent most of his life behind bars, isolated from the world and even the rest of the prison population, this reprobate knows things about drugs it takes doctors eight years of medical training to master, the latest technology, and survival techniques that would defeat James Bond. He takes over all of the computers. He sets the operating room on fire. He sews up his own bullet wounds. He takes the poor doctor, played with moronic naïveté by Marcia Gay Harden, hostage. He knows how to knock out the hospital’s electrical system and neutralizes a big city medical facility the size of several parking lots.
What a guy! He does miracles with hypodermic needles and propane gas, and can smash his way through security systems with his bare hands. Meanwhile, Mr. Garcia has to keep him alive or his kid will die. They could have avoided the whole thing by performing the bone marrow transplant in the prison hospital in the first place, but then there wouldn’t be a movie. There isn’t much of a movie, anyway. Desperate Measures is so preposterous you laugh more than you sweat. It’s one of those absurd action fantasies in which everyone gets to cuss and blow up things, nothing is impossible, and everyone is indestructible except the extras.
The movie is awful, but it’s nevertheless a lot of fun watching Mr. Keaton upstage Mr. Garcia all over the place. And he does have one memorable line: “If you can’t eat it, drink it, fuck it, or fire it, I ain’t interested.” In the future, that should include his choice of movie roles.
Jones and Schmidt: Still Fantastick
One of the first shows I could afford to see after I arrived in New York was The Fantasticks , a musical of intimate perfection with cut-rate ticket prices down on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village. It became the longest-running show in New York theater history, and it catapulted to fame its brash young creators, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, two fellows who met hale and hearty as classmates at the University of Texas and moved to New York with stars in their eyes. They broke all the rules, modernized and captivated the jaded New York theater scene with sassy revues and experimental Off-Broadway work, then moved uptown to Broadway to write lusty, pithy, passionate scores for hits like 110 in the Shade and Gower Champion’s two-character smash I Do! I Do!, starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston. Now their work is enthralling audiences of all ages and musical interests all over again in a fitting retrospective of their songs called The Show Goes On at the York Theater Company’s new headquarters in St. Peter’s Church in the Citicorp Center. The show is aptly titled because it shows no signs of running out of steam.
Mr. Jones, who conducts workshops on how to write musicals and is the author of a new, informative book on the subject called Making Musicals , published by Limelight Editions, is a member of the bright and breezy cast, while Mr. Schmidt, who remains one of the country’s top illustrators and graphic designers in addition to his talents as a songwriter (his artwork is on display in the lobby), accompanies the performers on piano. The boys are no longer boys, their roofs are covered with snow, and they’ve had their ups and downs, but their hearts are still as young as when The Fantasticks first opened in 1960, and their songs are timeless. They call this musical celebration of their accomplishments “a portfolio of theater songs,” and while it’s a most entertaining show-business venture, it also has the warming ambiance of a party in the authors’ living room where the audience is privileged to be treated like invited guests.
Mr. Jones does the talking, Mr. Schmidt does the playing, and the rest of the intimate cast is rounded out by Emma Lampert, JoAnn Cunningham and J. Mark McVey (a strapping blond baritone best known as Valjean in Les Misérables on Broadway). Strangely enough, the first act, which concentrates on commercial hits, includes only one song from The Fantasticks and three different versions of the spinster song from their 1963 version of The Rainmaker , which came to be known as 110 in the Shade , demonstrating the metamorphosis a song can go through when tailored for three different leading ladies. Mr. Jones tells engaging anecdotes about how certain songs appeared first in his imagination and how they ended up on stage in versions that were significantly altered.
In Act 2, the focus is on more obscure songs from flops like Colette , which starred Diana Rigg and was shuttered in Detroit, and from works in progress including an ambitious, unproduced musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town entitled Grover’s Corners . Throughout the evening, there is abundant evidence that these “boys” still have a cornucopia of untapped talent waiting to be shared. My favorite example is “The Room Is Filled With You,” a pulverizingly poignant ballad that has yet to find its way into a Broadway musical. Molding so much rich material into such a charming vehicle, the Jones-Schmidt team from Texas provides all the information you need, just the right number of jokes and a cup running over with songs that delight. I hope this show goes on forever.
Dearie’s Warm; Kitt’s Red Hot
Two icons of the supper club scene are back. Blossom Dearie and Eartha Kitt are as far apart as Revlon and Urban Decay, but they have the same ability to dress up a cabaret with music. Ms. Dearie, the aging bobbysoxer who looks like a music librarian at Wellesley, is dishing up her warm, bubbly jazz ambrosia at Danny’s Skylight Room, adding a refined feminist touch to Stephen Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch” and playing gently swinging Brazilian samba chords on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave.” To her usual repertoire of standards by Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, and Duke Ellington, she’s added two gorgeous, sophisticated new ballads-”Go Away With Me,” written in collaboration with both Michel Legrand and the fine lyricist Jack Segal, and “Make Some Magic,” which she wrote with the gifted British songwriter Duncan Lamont, with a “Cole Porter ending” provided by the great Johnny Mandel. Breathy and romantic, delicately playful, or swinging solidly, Ms. Dearie is one of the few holdovers from the golden jazz years of Manhattan night life still worth cherishing.
Flirtation and feral in flaming fire engine red, Eartha Kitt, at 70, is turning the posh Cafe Carlyle into her own unique Den of Iniquity with a voice that says Yes, a wiggle that says maybe, and a look that says watch out. She’s been kidding sex so long we’ve forgotten what a good chanteuse she is, or how piercingly she can penetrate a torch song. On the Billie Holiday classics “Don’t Explain” and “Good Morning Heartache,” she throbs like a zither. Seducing the crowd in French, Swahili and Turkish, too, she gives everything her own spin and is worth every penny of the steep cover charge. If you don’t want to be in show business, don’t sit under her nose or she’ll make you part of the act. But if you’re a really big Eartha fan, take a New York cab and you may hear her voice twice. It’s just the right end to a purrr-fect day.
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