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Television: Stick with HBO’s ‘The Tourist’ despite it’s slow start

Stick with HBO Max’s “The Tourist,” despite its slow, methodical beginning, and the rewards will keep coming in this originally-on-BBC thriller about a man who is purposefully and inexplicably forced off the road in Australia’s Outback and wakes with amnesia.

The mystery lies in figuring out the man’s identity and past while intrigue and suspense come from repeated attempts to kill him when there’s not proof he’s meant or caused harm to anyone.

Jamie Dornan, just off his lead role in what I consider the best movie of 2021 and of several years previous, Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” is terrific as the person who sets off on a road trip and ends up as a target in a campaign that has no obvious rationale.

As least not as far as I’ve gotten into the series, which is three episodes.

In addition to keeping you wondering, guessing, and fearing for Dornan’s character’s life, “The Tourist” provides lots of red herring, or Hitchcockian McGuffins, such as the viewer remembering the amnesia victim signed for a bathroom key at a convenience store. The character also remembers and goes back to the store only to learn that in his disdain at having to sign a register to get a key, he smugly wrote “Crocodile Dundee” instead of his name.

Bringing Joni Mitchell’s songs back

In this Feb. 7, 2015 file photo, Joni Mitchell arrives at the 2015 Clive Davis Pre-Grammy Gala in Beverly Hills, Calif. President Joe Biden will be in the house for the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday. Biden and his wife, Jill, plan to attend the star-studded extravaganza celebrating five artists. The artists are Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” mastermind Lorne Michaels, actress-singer Bette Midler, opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP, File)

Since the late 1960s when I attended a show of hers as Bryn Mawr’s intimate Main Point, I thought I was the world’s biggest Joni Mitchell fan.

I was and am wrong.

Sitting as a teenager with my guitar playing younger sister as we went through Joni songbooks doing duets doesn’t come near the fandom of Andy Mientus, known to television audiences as Kyle in the NBC series “Smash” and as The Pied Piper (Hartley Rathaway) in the CW series, “The Flash.”

What’s with the rhyming series names, Andy?

Later this year, he’ll break that rhyming pattern with the of Larry Stohler, a socialite, in the Netflix eight-part series, “Grendel,” based on Matt Wagner’s Dark Horse comic.

Mientus is such a Joni aficionado, he used the time during the early period of the pandemic to assemble friends to make a movie featuring the diva’s songs from 1970 album, “Ladies of the Canyon.”

These include some of Joni’s better known pieces such as “The Circle Game,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” and “Woodstock.”

The movie, “Andy Mientus Sings Ladies of the Canyon,” directed by Mientus’s partner, Michael Arden, streams from Friday through through April 1 via New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse, where Saturday, Mientus and other will appear at an 8 p.m. screening of the film that includes time for Q&A and some live performance of Joni numbers.

In putting together the movie, Mientus enlisted an impressive cadre of Broadway stars to assist on the Mitchell numbers. These include Yardley native Christy Altomare from Broadway’s “Anastasia,” Nikki M. James, a Tony recipient for “The Book of Mormon” who has a done many TV guest shots, Cathy Ang, currently seen as Miranda’s love interest in “And Just Like That,” and Krista Pioppi, who appeared with Mientus in an Arden-directed Broadway revival of “Spring Awakening.” Produced by the Playhouse’s trio of Alex Fraser, Robyn Goodman, and Josh Fiedler, the movie was shot early this winter at an 18th century Bucks County farmhouse.

“Joni came into my life when I was a child,” Mientus says by telephone from the Los Angeles home he and Arden share. “My mother was a singer, and she sang “The Circle Game” and “Court and Spark” to me during car rides.

“This movie is for my Mom.

“There’s so much Joni music to choose from, but this album, ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ was always my favorite. It resonates more now that I live in L.A. not far from Joni’s canyon ladies.

“I moved here from New York, and when the pandemic hit, it was nice being in good weather, but I kept looking for things to do since theater and cabarets were shuttered.

“I’d wake up every morning, make my coffee, and consider what I could do that day in general and it terms of performing. I’d also play ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ on vinyl. The idea came to me to film a cabaret show I’d done of this music, one I’d done in New York, San Francisco, and L.A.

“Michael and I spent the summer in the Hudson Valley where Robyn Goodman and Anna Louizos also have a home. We were talking about remaining creative while there was no theater, and the plan to bring ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ to the screen took new life.

“Of course, Michael, being a director had a concept bigger than people sitting in a living room singing Joni. The cast was assembled, and we began filming.

“The streaming is exciting, but it is great to be able to screen the movie in front of a live audience, the one element that was missing as we sang for the camera. Besides doing Q&A, I’ll tell jokes and anecdotes about Joni and ‘Ladies’ and maybe do some off-album favorites.”

Mientus says his television career is a string of lucky events.

“’Smash’ was a big hit for NBC and Steven Spielberg, and I thought ‘no way’ when they auditioned for new characters in the second season. I was almost too abashed to audition. TV was never my aim. But I went and got the part.

“For ‘Flash,’ I originally read for the lead, Barry Allen. I was too flattered to be asked to say I didn’t think I fit the role of a superhero. Instead I was cast as The Pied Piper, which gave me the chance to play television’s first supervillain. That was right up my alley.”

In addition to performing, Mientus is also an author. He writes the Backstagers series, including “The Backstagers and the Ghost Light” and has a book about a fraternity coming out in September.

Pat Battle gives ‘The Batman’ realism

While watching “The Batman” at Jenkintown’s Hiway Theatre, an unexpected familiar face came on the screen.

As Bruce Wayne and others watch newscasts within the movie, the female anchor is played by Channel 10 alumna Pat Battle.

It’s been a while since Pat worked in Philadelphia. To give an idea, she was with WCAU-TV when it was a CBS station, before the network swap between Channels 3 and 10 in 1995.

Her tenure from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s puts her in the market at the time news was in its heyday, a period when news operations at the Philadelphia stations were at their most enterprising, influential, and competitive.

I often say current local newscasts are routine and bland. Recently asked why by a retired station executive, I said none of them give one a sense of urgency or journalistic activity. They cover the news, but the impression is they don’t find the news or dig far into stories. They field competent reporters, but they come across more as announcers and television personalities, assignment fillers if you will, rather than news hounds whose first, or at least equal, impetus is breaking news no else has from sources they’ve cultivated.

Worst of all is the overriding sense that local newscasts are public-relations driven and aimed to seem more “cool” as television goes (which isn’t cool at all) than compelling. Anchors and reporters, with some exceptions, appear more like information deliverers than they do experts or even someone who has researched the story he or she is reading.

Sports and meteorologists display their particular knowledge, but the news sections of all broadcasts show few signs anyone is doing more than being led by the more talented of flacks, is unable of being critical or analytical, or interested in going past standard, if competent, scene description.

Kathy Orr, Kate Bilo, Glenn Schwartz, Cecily Tynan, Adam Joseph, Brittney Shipp, Sue Serio, and Scott Williams drive me to the news more than Ukee Washington, Rick Williams, Jim Rosenfield, or Shaina Humphries do. (Morning weather folk, such as Serio, Monica Cryan, and Karen Rogers have more byplay with anchors and other cast members, making their entire shows more interesting and individual.)

That wasn’t as true in Pat Battle’s day. Pat was and is, now for WNBC, New York, a vibrant newsroom personality and crackerjack reporter. Her stories resonated. She filled the camera, which is probably why “The Batman” director Matt Reeves chose her for his movie.

Working with Pat was fun and so memorable that when she appeared, her birthday immediately popped into my head and I thought – briefly, “The Batman” is an absorbing film – of time she and I spent together in Philly and New York, when she first moved there to go from Channel 10 to WCBS.

It’s probably been 25 years since I’ve seen Pat in person, but her liveliness and ability to burst from the screen is indelible and works in “The Batman” as it does on her “Weekend” program at WNBC.

Familiar faces in ‘Oklahoma!’

Sasha Hutchings and Sean Grandillo star in the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘OKLAHOMA!’ (Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Some familiar faces from television also showed up in the touring production of “Oklahoma!” at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre, via the Kimmel Cultural Campus, through this weekend.

Sasha Hutchings, the musical’s luminous Laurie, has a major supporting role in the Starz series, “Run the World,” which I refer to as a Black “Sex and the City,” soon to debut its second season. She plays Hope, a close friend of lead characters Sondi, Ella, and Renee, and is seen in two Season 1 episodes, both at parties, one for a bachelorette party, the other a dinner Sondi throws for colleagues.

Then comes the memorable Sis, who physically and vocally fills the Forrest stage as Ado Annie, a girl who decidedly, as Sis plays her, cannot say ‘no.”

Sis, who is transgender and an advocate, was a competitor in a season of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and appeared in Season 3 of “Pose.”This is not your traditional “Oklahoma!” with flowers on the prairie where the junebugs zoom.

It’s a pared-down, stark, and rugged version that eschews scenery and a full chorus to get to the core of the story.

Mostly I enjoyed director Daniel Fish’s direct approach that brings out the youth of both the main characters and the Oklahoma territory of the early 1900s. Through Hutchings, Sis, and male lead Sean Grandillo, who from his first entrance wreaks confident sexuality, this is a surgically visceral rendering of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic pastoral that, in 1943, changed musical theater forever.

Go with the production, and its high school lunch room look, and good times await.

With two major exceptions, an unconscionably long and deadly boring rendering of the “Dream Laurie” sequence, which turns Laurie’s romantic fantasy into a frustrated woman’s modern pole dance (sans pole), to open Fish’s second act and total stage blackouts of key scenes between Jud Fry, Curly, and Laurie that are off-putting with no dramatic or emotional dividend and rob us of seeing more of Christopher Bannow’s unusual and unusually haunting Jud. Gabrielle Hamilton is wonderful in Laurie’s dance, but her talent can’t make up for Fish’s horrible mistake in staging her the way he did.

Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.

Source: Berkshire mont

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