Good as Gold
A chat with Rick McKay, director of Broadway: The Golden Age, and a review of the Pizzarelli family's Bossa Nova show at Feinstein's.
Representing McKay's journey to rediscover the magic of Broadway's bygone greatness, the film is a reverent recreation of that era through interviews and rare archival footage of legendary live performances that might otherwise be lost to posterity. McKay has created a movie that's as valuable as it is entertaining; anyone who loves the theater will inevitably be moved to tears by some of the stories told here.
McKay interviewed more than 100 of Broadway's greatest stars of the 1930s through the 1960s, some of them not long before they died. Their tales are inspiring, passionate, and pure showbiz. Although a great many interviews are included, Broadway: The Golden Age never seems like one of those boring "talking heads" movies. Even when the heads are talking, what glorious heads they are: Carol Burnett, Robert Goulet, Carol Lawrence, Barbara Cook, and so on. The film's visual pizzazz comes with the newly discovered footage from a bygone era. Nostalgic? Sure -- but it's much more than that.
When we talked with McKay about the project, he said, "The movie is as much about New York and America in a different time as it is about the theater." Examining the culture that existed when such actors as Marlon Brando, Laurette Taylor and Gwen Verdon appeared on the Great White Way, the film evokes a time when the theater really mattered to Americans. McKay hopes that the documentation of such greatness will raise the bar for today's performers; he told us that several of today's theater notables expressed shame at their petty concerns upon seeing the film and learning of the sacrifice and commitment of the stars of yesteryear.
McKay would also love it if his film helps raise the bar of theatergoers' expectations. "Today, when audiences give standing ovations to second-rate productions, it may well be because they know no better," he says. "People need to be reminded of how good things can be. When you have 100 great stars telling you how good it can be, it puts an onus on you to expect more. When you expect more, performers will rise to make it so."
Certainly, McKay rose to the challenge when he made this movie; at every step, he was told that he would fail. "Nobody is interested in a movie with old people," some producers said. "You'll never sell it." But he did. Then he was told, "You'll never get it in theaters." But it's opening downtown at the Anjelika and uptown at the Sutton. And then he was told, "You'll never get it out of New York." But it's scheduled to open in L.A. and roll out to other major markets soon thereafter. "Every day is a fight," McKay says firmly -- but it's a fight he is clearly winning.
Consider this: Laurette Taylor, who was thought by her peers to be one of the greatest stage performers who ever lived, never appeared in a movie. Her legendary status exists only in the memories of those who saw her. But Taylor made a screen test and McKay found it, so one of America's finest actresses is making her film debut today in Broadway: the Golden Age.
Pizzarelli Family Adds Grandson of Jobim
John Pizzarelli is offering a terrific show at Feinstein's at the Regency. As in the past, you'll see various members of the Pizzarelli family on stage -- but this time they are joined by Daniel Jobim, the grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim. And what could be more fitting for a show titled Bossa Nova?
Another departure from the past is that the show starts with, rather than builds to, the pairing of John Pizzarelli and his famous dad, Bucky Pizzarelli. They play four beautifully elegant guitar duets but it's a dangerous gambit for them to kick-off the program, because they're a hard act to follow. Listening to these two artists, who are literally extensions of one another's souls, create music together is something very special. [Please note that Bucky will not be appearing in the rest of the run, through June 20, because he's having knee surgery next week.]
The energy of the show is rather low-key as so many of the songs are performed in the understated, sophisticated style of the bossa nova. (Even a James Taylor tune is heard with that beat.) And it happens that Daniel Jobin sings in much the same delicate manner as John Pizzarelli, so there aren't a lot of different vocal colors on display. Also, because of Jobim's involvement, there's not much opportunity for the flashy piano work of the brilliant Ray Kennedy. And John's talented wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, has less to do than usual.
Pizzarelli's patter serves as a counterpoint to the sultry sounds of the bossa nova that define the evening. Irreverent, self-mocking, and always quick-witted, John tells stories that are a delight to hear because he's such a charming yarn-spinner. His relationship on stage with his fellow performers -- including his brother, bass player Martin Pizzarell -- is wonderfully warm, playful, and engaging.