February 14, 2014
IT IS arguably the most important work of American musical theater of the 20th century. But "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess," whose national tour brings it to the Academy of Music for a six-day run beginning Tuesday, could have turned out far differently. As absurd as it sounds today, there was a time when the musical stage adaptation of the book (and subsequent dramatic play), "Porgy," by DuBose Heyward - about the denizens of a Charleston, S.C., ghetto called "Catfish Row" - could have wound up as a musical comedy starring Al Jolson playing the crippled beggar, Porgy, in blackface, rather than as the dramatic jazz-opera that has provoked and enthralled audiences for almost 80 years.
January 2, 2013
By Jonathan Zimmerman Men dressed as women - at the Mummers Parade! Can you believe it? In November, parade organizers announced that 10 self-described "drag queens" would accompany the String Bands along Broad Street from Washington Avenue to City Hall today. They're also expected to perform at the Convention Center between the acts of the Fancy Brigades. Philadelphians greeted the news with a collective yawn, because cross-dressing has long been a staple of Mummery. Starting in the 1920s, feminine-attired "wenches" paraded down Broad Street paired with tuxedo-clad "dudes.
October 20, 2000 |
When her brothers and sisters criticized actress Hattie McDaniel, best known as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, for accepting screen roles that demeaned blacks, she retorted pragmatically, "Better to play a maid than be a maid. " Bamboozled, Spike Lee's scorching surrealist satire about African American stereotypes on TV, challenges the McDaniel Doctrine with Lee's Law: Worse to accept the degrading stereotype than to be unemployed. Damon Wayans stars as Pierre Delacroix, a Harvard-educated TV writer, the token black at a struggling network, himself struggling to get his concepts produced.
October 20, 2000 |
"Bamboozled" may be the best idea for a movie that Spike Lee has ever had. A writer (Damon Wayans), the only black staffer for a network that routinely makes shows about African-Americans, wants to get out of his contract. So he writes a show so grotesquely offensive (a real minstrel show featuring two slave characters in a watermelon patch on a plantation) it's bound to get him fired. The plan backfires when the show becomes a hit - shades of "The Producers," the Mel Brooks classic (about a pro-Nazi Broadway musical)
October 19, 2000 |
Not long ago, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese were commiserating with the London press about the dumbing-down and sexing-up of Hollywood movies. "The movie industry is dominated by 12-year-olds," Lee groused about the difficulty of financing a serious film. "American Pie? . . . That's a movie?" Wait a minute, he thought, recalling the comedy's most famous scene. "The black version could be Deep-Dish American Pie. Now, I could get that movie made!" Such mordant humor inspired Lee's caustic satire Bamboozled, which arrives in theaters tomorrow starring Damon Wayans as Pierre Delacroix, the token African American writer at a TV network not unlike UPN. Under pressure to boost ratings, Delacroix makes a proposal even more degrading than Deep-Dish American Pie: a black minstrel show set in a watermelon patch where darkies tap-dance in blackface.
January 8, 1999 |
In the very first scene of Jolson: The Musical, on view through Jan. 17 at the Merriam Theater, Mike Burstyn's Al Jolson steals a song, appropriating it from the female trio for whom it was written and goosing the tempo to suit his own brash style. The action, as things turn out, is premonitory - for, before you can say "Toot Toot Tootsie," Burstyn has stolen the show as well. Not that there's a lot of show to steal. Jolson, which won London's 1997 best-musical Olivier Award, is your standard musical-star biography, clomping from incident to incident as its subject attains the success that no one around him/her thinks possible.
January 3, 1999 |
To blacken up or not to: That was the question. Should Jolson: The Musical depict legendary singer Al Jolson performing in blackface, thereby risking protests and accusations of racism? Or should the show omit this potentially incendiary spectacle - and provoke scoldings from critics for trying to rewrite history? Jolson: The Musical has darted back and forth between these two rocky alternatives, the Scylla of racial insensitivity and the Charybdis of self-censorship. In England, a scene featuring the song "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" was performed in blackface, sparking short-lived protests.
February 27, 1998 |
"Krippendorf's Tribe" is about a culture cut off from the rest of the world, developed in guarded isolation, unfamiliar with modern thinking, marked by strange ways that to us seem primitive and ignorant. Yes, I'm talking about Hollywood, where a movie like this can still get a green light, even with blackface routines that make Amos 'n' Andy look like "Do the Right Thing. " If the painfully well-intentioned "Amistad" failed to acquire the PC seal of approval, then what on earth will the guardians of racial propriety think of "Krippendorf's Tribe," with its spectacle of white people in blackface trying to mime a tribal dance ritual by donning grass skirts and gyrating to "Boogie Fever"?
April 14, 1997
SHAKE THE COP TREE, YOU'LL FIND ALL BAD APPLES Coverage of "bad cops" encourages people to believe the police as a whole are good and just a few bad boys and girls in blue are robbing, beating and murdering. This is propaganda. Anyone can see that this is not an issue of just a couple of crazed cops; it is systemic. The police as a whole - in Philadelphia and around the country - are an occupying military force in the African community. It doesn't matter if the cops are black, Latino or white - they are trained and instructed to terrorize and brutalize Africans into submission.
January 28, 1997 |
Good art has several characteristics, including the ability to stimulate and provoke. In a season full of rehashes, frivolous musicals and so-so comedies, Arden Theater Company's production of "The Countess Cathleen" is an example of theater doing more than strutting pretty on the stage. It's a disservice to say that this staging of William Butler Yeats' little-performed first play is daring. Making his Arden directorial debut, Ozzie Jones has layered the piece - already huge in allegory, symbolism and moral dilemma - with an entirely new social and political context.