There was a joke around during World War II that if you looked inside the bombers bound for Berlin, you could find Marlene Dietrich in the cockpit, directing planes to obliterate the courthouse that contained her birth certificate. The lady was very sensitive about her age. So it may be for the best that she never lived to see her 100th birthday, which fell on Thursday, December 27.
Turner Classic Movies marked the event with a marvelous, 90-minute documentary titled Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song, directed and co-produced by J. David Riva, who, as an infant, earned Marlene the timeless tag of "The Glamorous Grandmother." Unlike other clip-and-paste reviews of famous folk, this documentary (to be encored on January 11) plays down Dietrich's professional accomplishments and pumps her personal life--specifically, her tireless tours of the front lines during the Second World War, when she was a perpetual thorn in Hitler's side. Many of her countrymen gave her the postwar chill for this, but her 100th birthday brought tributes from German President Johannes Rau and a formal apology from the city of Berlin for treating her as a traitor because of her staunch anti-Nazi work. Such passionate patriotism, out of style only a few months ago, is now profoundly felt. Riva's documentary beautifully salutes her brave heart.
The next best thing to La Dietrich--James Beaman's stunning facsimile--surfaces on Saturday, December 29 at 8pm at Judy*s Chelsea (169 Eighth Avenue) for two completely different shows: Black Market Marlene and Marlene Alive at the Cafe de Paris. Then, sez Beaman, his Dietrich "disappears again into the mist" (presumably, so he can work his recent Leslie Bricusse show into a full evening of theater). The Bistro Award winner prepared both Marlene acts for a German gig during the Berlin Film Festival, but the cabaret closed and the engagement was canceled, making Judy*s the lucky recipient. A three-course dinner with wine plus the two shows will run you $70. Reservations are required (212-929-5410) and seating is limited.
Richard Rodgers, who helped define the Broadway musical, would be 100 next June 28, and his centenary will be celebrated with a variety of events and revivals throughout 2002.
First out of the hopper is the all-Rodgers, all-January Musicals in Mufti series at the York Theater. Me and Juliet, Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1953 valentine to the theater, will make its first New York appearance in more than 25 years (January 11-13), directed by Michael Montel and with Mufti veteran Perry Laylon Ojeda in the lead. No cast has been set yet for the second offering, Androcles and the Lion (January 18-20), which Russell Treyz will helm. Rodgers wrote the words as well as the music for this TV adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play; the book is by Peter Stone, and the piece has never been done on stage before. Burke Moses, who closes on Sunday, December 30 in Kiss Me, Kate, stars in in the third and last Mufti venture: By Jupiter (January 25-27), one of Rodgers' last collaborations with Lorenz Hart. Co-starring is Klea Blackhurst, who has made a name for herself by channeling Ethel Merman. Ted Sod, former associate artistic director of the George Street Playhouse, will direct.
At Wolf Trap on January 24, Maureen McGovern kicks off a year-long tour of a concert called With a Song in My Heart: A Richard Rodgers Centennial Celebration. Also in January, director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Susan Stroman start rehearsing the acclaimed Oklahoma! they did in London. It will open March 21 at the Gershwin, with Patrick Wilson as Curley. This is the Rodgers and Hammerstein entry on Broadway this year; the Rodgers and Hart entry will be The Boys From Syracuse, scampering into the American Airlines Theater on July 23. Scott Ellis is directing that one, and the George Abbott book will be brought up to frenetic speed by Nicky Silver. Noises Off's Katie Finneran looks likely for one of the leads.
Those Sound of Music stars, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, will host a Juilliard School benefit honoring Rodgers and his daughter, chairman emerita Mary Rodgers, on February 4. Guest stars range from South Pacific's Glenn Close to Carousel's Michael Hayden and Audra McDonald, plus Bernadette Peters and Karen Ziemba. And there will be a Valentine's Day concert of Rodgers and Hart at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall, titled (of course!) Isn't It Romantic? and conducted by Rob Fisher.
In March, Angel Records will release Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers & Hammerstein, a tribute to R&H produced by Richard Jay-Alexander and Jonathan Tunick; the latter arranged and conducted the selections, which include a few rarities as well as standards. On March 18, three days before opening night of his Oklahoma! on Broadway, producer Cameron Mackintosh gets the Richard Rodgers Award from the Professional Children's School. And, in case all of the above is not enough: On March 23, Symphony Space presents Wall to Wall Richard Rodgers for 12 hours.
REMEMBERING THE NIGHT
The Museum of Television and Radio recently unearthed and unwrapped a Christmas gift from Gian Carlo Menotti that keeps on giving: The long lost original NBC kinescope of his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, which aired on Christmas Eve, 1951, was located at UCLA and accorded a screening. The maestro himself was in attendance.
Also present--a real coup, this!--was Rosemary Kuhlmann, who originated the role of Amahl's mother. Rarely seen or heard from since she long ago left the singing business to raise a family, Kuhlmann seemed to revel in this return to the limelight, proving to be a very pleasant presence in the fascinating discussion interview that preceded this S.R.O. showing. Menotti, a dapper 90-year-old with cane in hand and charm to spare, was his commanding self, even if his English hasn't improved a whit in 50 years.
Sad to relate, the 12-year-old boy soprano who first played Amahl never saw 50: Chet Allen committed suicide at 44 by taking five times the lethal dose of an anti-depressant medication he'd been hoarding. His fabulously sung, go-for-broke, eerily on-target performance as Amahl had got him into the 1952 movie Meet Me at the Fair with Dan Dailey and Diana Lynn. Then his voice, along with his life, changed: As a baritone, he stayed with the Columbus Boychoir until the 11th grade, then finished high school and never sang or acted again. In and out of psychiatric hospitals for years afterward, Allen held down a variety of jobs including a 10-year stint as a stockboy for a local store. At the screening, Menotti explained that Allen needed more care and attention than anyone could give him. The composer had visited him in Columbus and found a man-boy, still in the throes of Amahl, unable to get beyond that defining role.