Review: The Passion of the Crawford

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In this riveting evening of lip-synch, there’s a lot of people up on that stage, even though there’s only two bodies. John Epperson lip-synchs an interview Joan Crawford gave in 1973 in New York’s Town Hall. Or is it Epperson as his drag persona Lypsinka as Crawford?

Not to mention that some of the additional audio is Faye Dunaway portraying Crawford in Mommie Dearest, and some other cues are extracted from films where Crawford is portraying yet another “somebody else.” And then there’s the interviewer, lip-synched in most performances by Steve Cuiffo (Hairspray lyricist and generally brilliant man of the theatre Scott Wittman will perform the role November 18 through December 1).

Epperson provides further, fruitful complications. This is no straight-up impression or imitation. Instead, Epperson’s gestures and expressions provide a constant, running commentary on what Crawford’s saying – and what she isn’t. For example, whenever the subject of “the children” comes up, Epperson executes an almost ritualistic dusting of the hands.

Epperson has structured the evening so that it does indeed play like a passion play, an “imitation of the Christ,” with spiritual themes, struggles, and, finally, uplift. In a costume by Ramona Ponce and crimson jewelry by Robert Sorrell, Epperson resembles a particularly regal and sanguine version of Crawford. The interview might be the centerpiece, but the keystone of this show is Crawford’s reading of Max Ehrmann’s prayerful poem “Desiderata”, which opens with: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.” Not qualities often associated with Crawford’s persona or reputation.

In the most Lypsinka-like portion of the evening, Epperson answers multiple ringing phones. Unlike the original version of this popular Lyp routine, though, all of the voices are Crawford or Dunaway – certainly no Bette Davis exclaiming “You didn’t!”

This is lip-synch as high art. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Pride

Pride

It is not at all surprising that this movie is already being adapted into a stage musical. For one thing, Matilda‘s Matthew Warchus directed it (with great feeling and nimbleness, I might add). Also, it’s the latest in a line of British movies that highlight a transforming encounter between working-class heart and queer fabulousness: The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Kinky Boots, etc. All of which have gone on to be highly successful as musicals. It doesn’t hurt that Pride, to my mind anyway, is the best of the lot.

Pride is inspired by a true story: In the summer of 1984, Margaret Thatcher’s government was brutally facing down the striking National Union of Mineworkers – also the background of Billy Elliot. In Pride, we follow a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists who raise money to support the strikers’ families. Specifically they set their sights on the tiny mining village of Ollwyn, Wales and set off to make their donation in person.

The story is told through the eyes of Joe (George MacKay), a closeted barely-not-legal photographer, who falls in with the group almost by accident on London Gay Pride 1984. The leader of the group, Mark Ashton, cuts a passionately romantic figure, especially as played by the almost-too-pretty Ben Schnetzer. The combination of music and politics makes me very emotional, and the idea of solidarity between labor and queers really hits me where I live.

Bill Nighy is as restrained as I’ve ever seen him as Ollwyn labor elder Cliff, which makes the one time he lets his eccentricity peep out all the more effective. But this is also no place for a star turn – in keeping with the collectivist spirit of labor, this is decidedly an ensemble film, with a very large ensemble indeed, and all the better for it. I’ll just say it: Pride is simply one of the best films I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.