The Actor Factor: From Screen to Stage, Award-Worthy Performances Captivate the City

Lupita Nyong'o and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

“You each have song books!” instructed two-time Academy Award winner Emma Thompson at a recent lunch celebrating Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks. The film, which premieres next month and stars Tom Hanks as the fiery Walt Disney, is a charming, previously untold tale about the 20-year battle to make Mary Poppins

On this particular afternoon, a curious group of film industry VIPs sat in a private dining room at the Four Seasons restaurant, following a screening of the movie, ready to partake in a Mary Poppins-inspired sing-along. Shindigger gulped the nearest glass of red wine as everyone burst into “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” 

“I love Emma so much,” raved producer Alison Owen after all the singing had finally concluded. “She has such a natural depth and talent.”

Ms. Thompson hardly stands alone this season. There have been a surprising number of high-quality performances all over town and not just on the silver screen. 

Some of the best theater is happening downtown at the Public Theater, where Fun Home seems to be a lively hit with audiences. It’s a new musical about a lesbian who struggles with her closeted father’s identity and eventual suicide. Not exactly Mary Poppins material, but it’s a surprisingly uplifting piece. Also receiving high praise is the Foundry Theatre’s reimagined production of Bertolt Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, which reopened at the Public Theater last month.

“The biggest challenge was that when I’m cast in plays I’m almost always cast as the clown or the fool,” explained Good Person of Szechwan star Taylor Mac, who uses the gender pronoun ‘Judy,’ according to the actor’s website. “I’m always the comic relief.” 

In the show, Judy plays Shen Tei, a good-hearted, penniless, cross-dressing prostitute who, in order to maintain her dignity and livelihood, is forced to disguise herself as a savvy businessman named Shui Ta to enforce order and scruples. 

“I love being the straight man with all these clowns around me,” Judy giggled. 

Shindigger just had to ask: “How did the pronoun Judy come about?” 

“When you wear high heels on stage, people don’t know what to call you,” the actor explained. “I just decided that my gender was a performer. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but it makes me really happy when people use it.”

We had no objections, seeing how we retain rights to the most fabulous pronoun of all: Shindigger. 

While our downtown escapades were a treat, someone had yet to buy us a drink, so we decided to head back uptown, where free booze and Disney beckoned again. The New 42nd Street was honoring Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney, with the New Victory Arts Award for “bringing kids to the arts and arts to kids.”

“He’s the reason that the 42nd [Street] theaters were built,” Tony winner and Lion King director Julie Taymor divulged at the cocktail reception. “This whole neighborhood changed and thrived.”

Ms. Taymor’s latest success was at the grand opening of Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, where she directed the current staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“It was tremendous to open a new theater,” she effused, shifting her weight gracefully as she flashed her patent leather copper dress shoes. “It’s fun. I have a great company of actors.”

Running through so much theater in a matter of days, we migrated back to the world of film, for a 12 Years A Slave luncheon hosted by George C. Wolfe and Fox Searchlight Pictures. The lead actors from the Oscar contender, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, joined writer/director Steve McQueen for the special occasion at the Lotos Club on East 66th Street. 

“The film is about the present day and what we can do about certain situations that happened in the past now,” asserted Mr. McQueen, as guests mingled over drinks. “I asked for the truth and commitment with this film, and I got it,” he said of his stellar cast.

Mr. Ejiofor expressed a great depth of connection with the story of his character, Solomon Northup, a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery. “When I first read the book, I found it a really immersive experience,” he told Shindigger. “It doesn’t matter what gender, what race; everybody is connected to the inside of that experience.”

“I feel relieved and intrigued,” the stunningly beautiful Ms. Nyong’o told director Mira Nair, both of whom sat next to Shindigger at a table that included Ingrid SichySandy Brant and CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield.

“I’m not surprised about the reaction to the film,” the Mexican-born and Kenyan-raised Ms. Nyong’o continued. The starlet, a likely Oscar nominee, donned an immaculately cut denim gray Dior cocktail frock for the affair. She told Shindigger that she had yet to grow tired of all the press events, photo shoots and hype. (This is the Kenyan actress’ first film, having just graduated from Yale School of Drama a year ago.) 

“I feel like a kid in a candy shop,” she confessed with a radiant smile.

Ms. Banfield, who was unable to attend the morning screening, asked how Americans have been receiving the film, since it tackles such a shameful part of our history. 

“On seeing it, the healing begins,” replied the actress. “It won’t solve the racial problems in the U.S., but it will inspire.”

Shindigger agreed and couldn’t help but think: Just a spoonful of sugar …