Thursday, March 24, 2011

Short takes: Elizabeth Taylor, Dave Frishberg, critics-in-residence

E. Taylor and P. Newman in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
By Barry Johnson

A few passing thoughts on Elizabeth Taylor, the greatness of Dave Frishberg and the folly of the Cleveland Orechstra.

At some point, Elizabeth Taylor became all about the celebrity and nothing about the art. Not that she ever wasn't a celebrity, but somewhere along the line we still remembered what a preternaturally attractive human she was physically and forgot that she had some great moments as an actor, too. Because she was a serious actor.  From 1957 to 1960 she starred in Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer and BUtterfield 8, serious roles all, and though maybe she could be a little obvious at times, histrionic, I don't think there's any doubting her commitment or energy to these roles, her willingness to apply her physical attributes to acting, not preening. Her Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ran so against her celebrity image, was so free-wheeling, that no matter how you feel about celebrity culture, you have to tip your hat, don't you? I do and pause for a moment... here...  to remember her.

Stephen Holden of the New York Times reviewed Dave Frishberg's concert with Jessica Molaskey in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel and this one was suitable for framing: "In the pop and jazz sphere, the level of craftsmanship in Mr. Frishberg’s songs is equaled only by that of Stephen Sondheim. Every phrase is chiseled, each word sealed into place, the better to allow that “little voice that whispers crystal clear” to have its say." Um, yeah. Stephen Sondheim. Sometimes maybe we forget that we have a songwriter of this standing in our midst. Also, note that Frishberg played a couple of songs from the Algonquin Hotel musical, Vitriol & Violets, that he and collaborators Shelly Lipkin, Louanne Moldovan, and Sherry Lamoreaux have developed.

I give Terry Teachout, the Wall St. Journal critic, a good bit of stick from time to time. Like most of us in the journalism game, he's too quick to seize an isolated impression or a bit of information or two and build a story out of it, without testing the impression or the information with a little more research. Such is the power of the deadline and our familiar lines of thinking.  Nonetheless, his criticism of the Cleveland Orchestra's critic-in-residence idea is right on target.  Enrique Fern├índez and his position have come up before at Arts Dispatch, and now it's clear he's not functioning as a critic. I wouldn't even call him a journalist, though he applies many of the techniques of the journalist.  Maybe he hasn't asserted his independence enough; maybe the symphony made it clear that he had to remember where his bread was baked. But this particular experiment is a failure to this point.


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