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Posts Tagged ‘biography’

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Funny Girl is based on the life of Fanny Brice, a singer and entertainer who became famous in the early 1900s. It’s definitely a fictionalised account of Fanny’s life, so if you are after a biography this is not the show to see. But if you are after a couple of hours of great entertainment, delivered by a superb cast, then you should definitely see it.

The story tells how Fanny didn’t fit into the leggy beauty look that people wanted to see on stage, and instead had to rely on her humour and fantastic voice. And the audience loved her! She joined the Ziegfeld Follies and became a main attraction and a huge star. Her private life was less successful – she fell deeply in love with Nick Arnstein, a cad and a gambler, but through it all the show went on, as it always must.

Natasha J Barnes was outstanding as Fanny – she had something of a baptism of fire in the role, being understudy for Sheridan Smith and finding herself thrust into the main role when Smith had to leave the tour for a while under fraught personal circumstances. Barnes has a quick wit, a very expressive face and a cheeky nod and wink, all with perfect comic timing. She is utterly endearing – and that voice! Wow!

Darius Campbell was fetching and charismatic as Nick. Far too smooth a character for my personal taste, but he inhabited the part well and his singing voice was just right too.

Full credit too to Rachel Izen who played Fanny’s mother and almost stole every scene she was in; Myra Sands as family friend Mrs Strakosh and Zoe Ann Brown as another family friend Mrs Meeker. Also to Joshua Lay who played Fanny’s friend, fellow performer and ardent admirer Eddie. His dancing was excellent, and I wished Fanny had ended up with him.

Beautiful songs, with the two most well known probably being People, and the uplifting belter, Don’t Rain On My Parade.

Overall, it’s a feel-good show with some poignant and tender moments. Natasha Barnes fully deserved the standing ovation she got at the end…I highly recommend this production!

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As the subtitle suggests, this musical tells the story of Buddy Holly – or at least the story of his rise to fame, for the show starts while Buddy is looking for a record deal. Naturally it contains all his most famous songs, and given just how well known and loved those songs are, it must be a daunting task to take on the role.

Full disclosure here – I probably would not have gone to see this show if I hadn’t been taking my mother, who really likes Buddy Holly’s music, given that she spent much of her youth listening to it. But along I went, looking forward to an enjoyable afternoon, and I have to say this show delivered enjoyment by the bucketload. Alex Fobbester played Buddy (he alternates performances with Glen Joseph), and he was absolutely fantastic. Like the rest of the cast, Fobbester played his instruments live during the performance  and they did full and complete justice to the songs.

The story charts his career, taking in his marriage to Maria Elena, and his fallout with backing band The Crickets.

The second half of the show is given over to a performance of touring show that Holly was doing with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens when all three were killed in a plane crash in 1959. This gives Thomas Mitchells and Jordan Cunningham playing Big Bopper and Valens respectively the chance to shine, as they perform those singers’ most famous songs – Chantilly Lace (Big Bopper) and La Bamba (Valens) – and they both thrilled the crowd.

The entire audience were up on their feet clapping along by the end of the show, with many of us dancing in the aisles. The standing ovation that the cast received at the end was very well deserved. And me? I am most definitely a Buddy Holly convert, and am in fact sitting typing this with Buddy Holly’s music playing in the background. For a career that last less than two years, this man gave the world of music a precious gift and a lasting influence. Whether you are a Buddy fan or not, I strongly recommend this show.

For anyone who is interested, here is a list of songs that feature in this production:

Rose of Texas

Rip It Up

Changing all those Changes

That’s Be the Day

You’ve Got Love

Brown Eyed Handsome Man

Everyday

Shout

Not Fade Away

Peggy Sue

Words of Love

Oh Boy

Listen to Me

Think it Over

Well Alright

True Love Ways

It’s So Easy

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Chantilly Lace

Maybe Baby

Peggy Sue Got Married

Heartbeat

La Bamba

Raining In My Heart

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Rave On

Johnny B. Goode

 

 

 

 

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Shakespeare and Me is a collection of essays by a variety of (mainly) writers, actors and directors, on what Shakespeare means to them and how he is still such a big part of modern culture. Throughout the essays, most of Shakespeare’s plays are mentioned, with many of the writers concentrating on just one.

As with all books featuring contributions by different people, some appealed more than others. My personal favourites were the three essays on Othello, and especially James Earl Jones’s ‘The Sun God’ (I was amused by the fact that he mentions actor Hugh Quarshie, and writes that he thinks Quarshie should play Othello – this essay was written prior to Quarshie’s performance as Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last year, which I was lucky enough to see). Eammon Walker – who himself played a fantastic Othello at the Globe Theatre – writes ‘Othello in Love’; and Barry John writes ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ which studied how the staging of a production of Othello started to draw parallels to the play itself.

I also enjoyed Re-revising Shakespeare by Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare and Four-Colour Magic by Conor McCreery (where he discusses turning Shakespeare and his characters into comic book stars), and Ralph Fiennes’s ‘The Question of Coriolanus’.

If you have any interest in Shakespeare, I recommend this book.

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Sherilyn Fenn has the unenviable task of playing Elizabeth Taylor in this made-for-TV biopic, made while Taylor herself was still alive (she apparently tried to stop it). It gives a somewhat rushed run-through of the actress’s life, starting with a brief opening demonstrating her mother’s determination to make Elizabeth into a movie star – Elizabeth, it should be noted, wanted to be an actress, according to this biopic at least; her mother wants her to be a movie star because they are rich.

Moving quickly through her first four marriages to Nicky Hilton (Eric Gustavson), the abusive, jealous husband; Michael Wilding (Nigel Havers), who is charming but cuckolded; Mike Todd (Ray Wise) with whom she seems to share real passion, but who tragically died in a plane crash; and most controversially Eddie Fisher (Corey Parker) was married to Elizabeth’s best friend Debbie Reynolds whom he left for Elizabeth, but he clearly has no idea how to handle her or keep her interest.

Naturally enough, large focus is then given to her relationship with Richard Burton (Angus McFadyen) although their subsequent divorce, re-marriage and second divorce are flipped through in a matter of seconds, via images of newspaper headlines.

There then follows a marriage to Senator John Warner (Charles Frank), who seems to love her at least partly because of the fame marriage to Elizabeth Taylor brings with it – she gets depressed and puts on weight. Their marriage ends and she goes to rehab where she meets her seventh and final husband (to whom she has her eighth marriage) , Larry Fortensky (Michael McGrady). They were still married when this picture was made.

This film does not cover a great deal of Elizabeth Taylor’s professional career, sticking instead with the love, marriages and scandal. There are a couple of scenes which show her work for raising awareness of AIDS, which I would have liked to have seen more of.

Fenn was actually great as Taylor, nailing the accent in particular. Most of the supporting cast did a good job, although I felt that Ray Wise put in a slightly overblown performance. McFadyen looked very much like Richard Burton – uncannily so at times – but I that he also over-acted somewhat and never really captured the character convincingly.

Occasionally the dialogue was a bit clunky, a bit daytime soap opera-ish, but despite that and despite the fact that certain events were skimmed over with only the briefest detail, I have to admit that I did enjoy this film. In the same way that I don’t buy gossip magazines but I’ll have a read of one when I’m at the hairdressers – it’s entertaining even when you know that it’s entertainment first and information second. Sometimes some of the actual vintage footage which was used jarred with the more modern footage, due to the obvious difference in quality, but that did not detract from my enjoyment.

I would recommend this biopic to fans of Elizabeth Taylor, more for curiosity’s sake than for any real factual content.

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Year of release: 1995

Director: Kevin Connor

Writers: C. David Heymann book ‘Liz: An Intimate Biography’), Burr Douglas

Main cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Angus McFadyen, William McNamara, Corey Parker, Nigel Havers, Ray Wise, Michael McGrady

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This biography of Marlon Brando is somewhat unusual in that it concentrates mainly on his professional life and personal philosophy, rather than delving into details of his personal life. After describing Brando’s childhood (with a loving but alcoholic mother, and an overly strict father), Mizruchi goes on to talk about his career in acting, and discusses many of his most famous film roles. She describes his attraction to a role, his preparation for it, and how he went on to become a character, as well as other details about the making of each film. In each case, Mizruchi draws comparisons between the character or storyline of the film and connects it back to events in Brando’s own life.

For that reason, this book is not the one to read if you are looking for Hollywood gossip or salacious details about Brando’s many relationships and often difficult personal life. Indeed, while his career is detailed in relatively chronological order, you would struggle to learn anything else about his life that is not already a matter of public record. For example, Mizruchi mentions his marriages, but does not give any details about the relationships or why they didn’t ultimately work out. However, I found that somewhat refreshing, as instead, I learned far more about Brando’s beliefs, his humanitarianism and his parts in civil rights campaigns, which he clearly felt passionately about.

Mizruchi had unprecedented access to Brando’s own personal book collection, which numbered around 4000, and which – as we are frequently reminded – he annotated heavily. She uses such annotations, as well as his varied choice of reading material to draw conclusions about the man himself. The sheer vastness and variety of the collection does support her view of him as an intelligent and curious man, who found enjoyment in learning.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. As mentioned before, I did not learn an awful lot about Brando’s personal life, but I certainly learned more about what was important to him, his views on acting and his determination to leave the world a better place than he found it. At times, it is a little sycophantic – there’s no doubt that Mizruchi is a devoted Brando fan – but it is a respectful, interesting and clearly very well researched biography.

I would recommend to fans of Marlon Brando, or fans of the film making process.

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The Biscuit Girls is the true story of biscuit factory Carrs of Carlisle, started by businessman Jonathan Dodgson Carr in 1831, told through the eyes of six of its former workers – Ivy, Dulcie, Barbara, Ann, Dorothy and Jean.

Ivy, the oldest of the girls, started working at Carrs in the years following World War II, and remained there for 45 years.  During her time there, she eventually helped to train some of the other women featured in the book.  Each chapter is devoted to one of the women (all feature in a number of chapters, which eventually bring their lives up to the present day), and as well as looking at their work at the factory, the book also delves into their personal lives.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a thoroughly entertaining and interesting read.  Although all of the women featured had different reasons for joining Carrs, and came from varied backgrounds, they all seemed to have enjoyed their jobs, and the camaraderie and friendships that came with it.  Each chapter incorporated some of the history of Carrs, and there was plenty of information about the area, and the wider biscuit industry.  Working there brought different rewards for each woman (Barbara for instance worked there purely for the money, while Ivy wanted to work there having seen other women going to work there and thinking how smart they looked in their uniforms).

The personal aspect of the book made it an interesting and relatable read, more so than a straightforward biography of Carrs would have done.  I thought it was interesting how just as Carrs passed down through generations of the family, you would find many generations of local families all going to work there.  It is clear that the factory was a major source of employment for many people living in the area, and by and large the Carr family treated their workers well.  Although labour-saving machinery and health and safety legislation have brought about inevitable changes in the industry and at Carrs, it appears that many of the old ways of working still remain, as the later chapters explain.  (Carrs is still in operation although it is now part of the United Biscuits Group, owned by McVities.  One of Carrs most popular and famous products is Carrs Water Biscuits, which still sell vast amounts today.)

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone familiar with the Carlisle area (although I really enjoyed it, and have never even been to Carlisle), or anyone who is interested in the lives of women in the 20th century.  It’s engaging and clearly well researched – and will definitely make you want to sit down with a cuppa and a biscuit!

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This is the story of Henri Charierre, known as Papillon (which is French for butterfly – he had a butterfly tattoo on his chest) and his incarceration in a French prison in 1930 for a murder which Papillon has always denied committing.  During his subsequent years of imprisonment, he spent time in many prisons and penal colonies, which had varying degrees of cruelty and inhumane treatment.  Papillon made several attempts to break out of the various institutions, with varying degrees of success.

The veracity of the story has often been questioned, with Papillon himself saying that it is about 75% true, while more modern researchers believe that parts of his story which he claims happened to him, were actually about other prisoners.  Either way, it’s an interesting adventure, and you have to admire his grit and determination to become a free man.

I enjoyed the book overall, although I found it took a long time for me to read.  There was so much information in parts that I had to take it slowly, to make sure I took it all in.  Charierre himself is an engaging, if occasionally self-aggrandising character, and certainly a good storyteller.  I liked the fact that although – especially in the beginning of the story – he was concentrated on his anger on the people who had wrongly incarcerated him (such as the Judge, prosecutor and people on the jury during his trial), and his determined to exact his revenge, over the passage of time, he came to focus on the kindnesses shown to him by various people, and was not lacking in compassion for others.

This was definitely a book worth reading, and the ending was particularly uplifting.  I would definitely recommend it.  (However, readers ought perhaps to be aware that the author occasionally uses some outdated and distasteful racial descriptions.)

 

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