One thing leads to another, sometimes in the most delightful way. Mutual rapport, a meeting of minds, was evident in Rob Kendt's Back Stage West interview with Sir Ian McKellan ("Knight Vision," BSW, 2/28/01). Out of that interview in which the actor generously discussed his life and work came the actor's consent to appear with BSW Editor-in-Chief Kendt in a Q&A session onstage at the Canon Theatre the first Monday night in March. Open to the first 360 fans who showed up, free of charge, the evening saw fans arrive in force to see and hear the lord of the realm whose Oscar-nominated, SAG-awarded Lord of the Rings portrayal has brought him new honors and prestige. An hour or more of casually friendly and informative discourse—two gentlemen sitting around talking—was followed by Sir Ian entertaining queries from the audience. He noted that everything's in the same central city in the U.K., so "it's easier for British actors to dodge around." He acknowledged, "I've learned all my acting from watching other people act." He suggested, "An actor can act all the time, in the street, while you're shaving." He spoke of gaining the self-confidence to step out on the stage "looking like myself" and satisfaction of "spreading the word that it's all right to be gay." Of Lord of the Rings he exulted: "Wow! What a story! What a character!" An occasional quirk of the eyebrow, flick of the tie, twist of the mouth, proclaimed him a consummate actor giving generously of his time and talent and conveying the impression that he has come into his own—that Sir Ian gets better as he goes along.
Telling was Sir Ian's comment about stepping from backstage darkness into full light of the stage: "the mystery of what happens when you step into the light." A clutch of critics, including me, experienced the mystery at our Fifth Annual Garland Awards last week at grand old Alex Theatre. (One thing leads to another.) Part of the program's opener, penned by BSW's Rob Kendt, inspired by Garland-winning productions of Flower Drum Song, Big River, Orson's Shadow, and Pinafore!, had a bunch of singing, shuffling critics (billed as "The Dogs of L.A.") doing a jaunty little hornpipe number (lyrics by Kendt, music by Gilbert & Sullivan's Sullivan) caroling that "the theatre is our duty." Earlier in the darkness backstage, critic Dany Margolies did a perky little percussive punctuation tap dance to create the sound of a critic's typewriter. (She usually shuns the stage light, claiming stage fright.)
Read all about the glorious Garlands celebration in managing editor Scott Proudfit's compilation (BSW, 3/14/02) of "the amusing, candid moments that made this [Garlands] show the warmest in memory." For warmth and gemütlichkeit nothing beats theatre people celebrating their own. It could make the world a much better place. Notable was a sense of amity toward critics, with expressions of appreciation for the dogs of L.A. Producer/Matrix Theatre mentor Joe Stern spoke of small theatres' dependence on their critical support and saluted BSW critics for "passion and commitment that matches the actors." Wonder of wonders—producer Steven Klein thanked a P.R. person, Ken Werther, for "getting the press out to Orson's Shadow."
Are things heating up theatrically around here? I think so. Awards shows get bigger, better, and warmer. From humble beginnings a quarter of a century ago as a one-man cottage industry in the unglamorous coffee-shop lounge of a Continental Trailways bus station in Hollywood, the Robby Awards achieved real pizzazz with their 25th Anniversary bash at El Portal theatre, with 270 nominees/awardees accepting a lot of the chunky, cheeky little busses that have come to be coveted as Robbys. Sharing emcee duties were song-stylist Jason Graae and actor Michael Horton. (Horton won his Robby in 1980 for his lead role in Volpone's The Fox.) Legendary John Raitt sang "The Impossible Dream," his signature song. Steven Applegate led a live seven-member band—a first for the Robbys. Showstoppers were Amanda McBroom's mesmerizing rendition of Jacques Brel's "Marieke, Marieke," and the "America" number from West Side Story performed by eight great dancers led by Natalie Nucci and Carlos Mendoza, choreographed by Ray Limon. Fullerton Civic Light Opera's musical adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde won top honors as "spectacular—the theatrical event of the year." Accepting an award for adapting it, Paul Hadobas saluted his father in the audience with: "His wish for me has always been that I pursue what truly makes me happy." There's a message to parents in there. Stevens has a special fondness for musical theatre and will travel anywhere for it. Only Back Stage West's Les Spindle rivals such devotion to the genre.
Mark Savage accepted a Garland for adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pinafore!, noting that the show had run seven months with the same cast—a rarity here where movies and TV beckon. Extended yet again, Pinafore! runs through Apr. 28. Celebration Theatre celebrated its 100th performance with an anniversary party's explosion of exuberance. Unabashed bragging was artfully expressed with childlike delight. Bedizened drag queens Chadwick K.T. Adams, Antonio Martinez, and Scott Scarboro paraded through scenes flashing placards with news of the show's many awards: Garlands for production, adaptation, and choreography; LADCC and L.A. Weekly nominations. As cross-dressing Joseph/Josephina, R. Christofer Sands consistently boosted the show to classical levels with his remarkable countertenor and slyly produced a nudging sign: "For Your Consideration." Michael DeVries (replacing Michael Gregory) as Captain Corkinit, David Gilliam Fuller as Sen. Barney Crank, and Debra Lane as Bitter Butterball filled the bill bountifully—Butterball's bodice could hardly contain such bounty. Wilson Raiser, lurking as seaman Harry Heavyset, was impossible to ignore, not just because he towers a 6 feet 7 or 8 inches but also because the actor is good. I noted that in 1982 when he played Tony Plana's dog in Nosotros' Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? The celebration of Celebration ended with a flurry of glittery confetti, arrival of the entire cast from Insurrection: Holding History (another Celebration production playing to acclaim at the nearby McCadden Theatre), and with cake and champagne all 'round.
Tracy Roberts Remembered
The Writers Guild of America's lobby was filled with flowers, friends, family, and pictures of a radiantly beautiful Tracy Roberts at her Feb. 27 memorial service. As guests took their seats in the theatre it resounded with the music of "I've Got the World on a String," and the recorded voice of acting coach Roberts addressing her students with words of wisdom—among them her credo: "There has to be a quality, a persona, but it has to be backed up with a technique. You have to know what the hell you're doing." Tracy photographed like a million dollars, and she knew what she was doing. She came to Hollywood fresh from her triumph in the Broadway premiere of Odets' Paradise Lost. George Jean Nathan, leading critic of his day, said she was "luminous." She was a true glamour girl, bright, beautiful, and ambitious, arriving in Hollywood in the mid 1940s as Hollywood was beginning to change its definition of glamour. Tracy would have none of that. A glamour girl she remained, all her life. Her brother, Raymond Goldstone, remembered her meticulously dressed and made up, wearing 4-inch heels. (Her sister, television writer Ann Marcus, remembered them as 5-inch heels.) Nat Christian, who put together a slide show vibrant with her beauty, spoke movingly: "I miss you so deeply—we all miss you and love you."
Her students defined her as much more than a glamour girl: "The only teacher I ever had who gave me her phone number and told me to call her at home if I had a problem." "She was a benevolent dictator." "She loved animals and rescued a lot of them from the pound." Actress Diane Ladd called her "the most inspiring person I know." Tina Louise said, "She turned hundreds of caterpillars into butterflies." Martin Brooks said he met Tracy in a laundromat in 1967 and has loved her ever since. He recalled her Irish setters, Mike, Sean, Casey—and Jake, "because she had always wanted a Jewish Irish setter."
"Tracy influenced thousands of students," her brother said. "She knew and loved her students."