Thursday, February 21, 2019

Green Book – Racism: Solved?

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book.

Green Book (2018) – directed by Peter Farrelly; written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie, and Nick Vallelonga (son of the main character) based on his father’s letters and tape recordings and an interview with the other main character; shot by Sean Porter; edited by Patrick J. Don Vito; and with music by Kris Bowers – is a tonal, cinematographic, acting, and musical achievement, and a thematic disaster. It's based on the true story of Italian Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) driving Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) to performances of his musical trio through the Deep South in 1962 by relying on Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, which is a guide to the spaces and hours that are safe for a black person to be at. The film features an entirely conventional and by-the-numbers mismatched-buddies road-movie plot that’s revitalized by the two leads’ performances. Mortensen plays Vallelonga as the trashiest kind-hearted Italian man in the Bronx, while Ali’s Shirley is the epitome of tortured dignity and class. But the writing navigates deliberately into a racial minefield, careful to step on every single mine it can find.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Shifting Gears: Private Philanthropy Versus Public Sponsorship in the Arts

The proposed new building for the Vancouver Art Gallery, designed by Herzog & de Meuron.

“We used to build temples, but museums are about as close as secular society dares to go in facing up to the idea that a good building can change your life.” – Alain De Botton
Even if a new gallery building design is elegant, aesthetically pleasing and curatorially sound, as the new former Vancouver Art Gallery conceived by Herzog & de Meuron definitely is, unless there is ample cash in the coffers it will never see shovels in the ground, remaining an abstraction or a pipe dream. The only question that remained for the VAG building, soon to be officially renamed The Chan Centre for the Visual Arts once it's in its new location site, was exactly whose coffers the cash came from. Now we know, and the answer is an enhanced relationship between the private and public sectors way too long in the formation, at least in my considered opinion. One important detail to clarify in this whole expansion and patronage support process: the building itself will have a new name, but the gallery inside will still retain its historical identity and name.  The Vancouver Art Gallery will be housed within the Chan Centre.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Call Me Madam: Turn Up the Brio

Jason Gotay and Carmen Cusack in Call Me Madam. (Photo: Stephanie Berger)

When Irving Berlin’s musicals entered the realm of political comedy, he and his collaborators tended to keep the mood light; Face the Music (1932), Louisiana Purchase (1940) and Call Me Madam (1950) are more on the order of spoofs than satires. All three boast delightful scores, so it isn’t surprising that Encores! has produced all three – and, fortunately for us, released cast recordings of them. Its current season began the weekend before last with a revival of its 1995 revival of Call Me Madam, marking only the second time the series has remounted a show. Typically, Encores! has met the musical and choreographic demands of the material. Under the expert musical direction of Rob Berman, a veteran of more than thirty of these productions, the orchestra plays exuberantly and the vocal performances are generally as satisfying as comfort food prepared with a loving hand. That’s equally true of the dance numbers, staged adroitly by Denis Jones, who makes the reduced performing space of the City Center stage (which the cast has to share with the musicians) feel like the expanse space of a large Broadway house. Yet the show, particularly in the first act, is a little lackluster.