Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona on December 13, 1982 · Page 27
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Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona · Page 27

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Monday, December 13, 1982
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AIL EDITIONS--: kti The Arizona Republic Monday, December 13, 1982 lyjlj 7 and the arts u) Cinematic 'Toy' should be scratched off Christmas list The premise is outrageous. A multimillionaire Louisiana Klansman buys an impoverished black writer as a reluctant playmate for his 9-year-old son, a child the millionaire spoils rotten for one week each year and neglects for the other 51. The casting raises big expectations. Jackie Gleason (remember him in The Hustler, Gigot, Requiem for a Heay-weight?) is the millionaire. Richard Pryor is the writer, trapped between a paucity of challenging jobs for people of his color and the Phi Beta Kappa that makes him "overqualified" for menial work. The Toy sets up as a tragicomedy and plays as a wacko comedy. It is what they call a major disappointment. The Toy comes courtesy of production executive Ray Stark and screenwriter Carol Sobieski, members of the Jeam that stripped the Depression Ambience (not to mention the heart) from the stage musical Annie when transferring it to the screen. As The Toy opens, they seem to be faking amends. Unemployed Pryor plays poker for food stamps and tries to jump a long employment line outside a car wash. He is in a hurry because the bank is about to foreclose $n his home. No doubt about it: times Lre tough. On the way to the employment Jbffice of the conglomerate run by Cleason's U.S. Bates, however, Pryor blissfully pedals his bicycle into the path of a freight train. He is wearing a personal stereo rig, see, so most of America can identify with and laugh at his near miss even though it is Unconnected with the subject at hand. A series of similarly irrelevant sight Jags bring Pryor, at last, to the Bates Movies Michael Maza THE TOY A Columbia release produced by Phil Feldman, directed by Richard Donner from a screenplay by Carol Sobieski based on a film by Francis Veber. Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs. Cast: Richard Pryor, Jackie Gleason, Teresa Ganzel, Ned Beatty. Rated PG. mansion, where he arrives packed in foam peanut excelsior and a big wooden crate. The gags, which occasionally induce laughter even as they whittle substance from the story, continue as Pryor comes to grips with young Master Bates and the stock characters who inhabit his world. They include the kindly, tippling butler (Wilfrid Hyde-White, still enchanting 18 years after his Col. Pickering in My Fair Lady); the dim, blond-and-busty stepmother (Teresa Ganzel); and the boy's rigid German tutor (Karen Leslie-Lyttle), as un-succesful at managing the kid as she is at wrestling Pryor into bed. Ned Beatty (Network) is pappa Bates' head yes man, met early and quickly dismissed. The kid (Scott Schwartz) quickly turns out to be no demon and not even a brat. Soon he and Pryor are hugging, kissing and engaging in banal foster-family discussions of friendship, love and good citizenship. Eventually, of course, unfriendly, unloving, bad-citizen father must be dealt with. But how? Screenwriter Sobieski balks at turning the boy against dear old Dad, who, after all, suffers enough because his drawling friends call him "you ass" when they try to say "U.S." For a comeuppance, the elder Bates is mildly humiliated by Pryor and the boy in yet another into-the-swim-ming-pool scene. A little more trumpery leads to the "happy ending." Pryor is offered a job on Bates' newspaper, and the boy is sent back to a military school with a promise: In the future, he will be ignored only 50 weeks a year. Director Richard Donner (Superman) covers young Schwartz's limited acting ability fairly well and gives Pryor free rein when it is time for hysteria. But The Toy's second half is a hodgepodge; it looks as if Donner and the editors shuffled the scenes looking for a sequence that worked, couldn't find one and settled for what we get, which doesn't work either. Like Pryor's most recent non-stand-up movies, Bustin' Loose and Some Kind of Hero, The Toy is an entertainment built on a core of subdued racial progressivism. Also like those movies, it is not very entertaining. If he is trying to win friends and influence people, Pryor ought to shift his priorities for judging scripts. Whatever their star's intentions, slipshod entertainments have all the impact of a pie in the face another of The Toy's stale gags. SECOND OPINION: From Vincent Canby, New York Times: "My mind wasn't simply wandering during the film it was ricocheting between the screen and the exit sign." ' ' ''''''' V ' Richard Pryor, right, plays an unemployed writer hired to be a pal for Scott Schwartz, who plays the pampered son of a Southern tycoon (JackieGleason) in me loy. 'IV rlmi.il inMriuaaMagaBBaB, "inMM Luciano Pavarotti Placido Domingo 4 Director is bullish on star fie picked for 'La Traviata' B,y Marilyn Beck Tribune Co. Syndicate I HOLLYWOOD - Franco Zeffirelli, who was preparing to launch La Traviata in Hollywood theaters, claims he is not concerned that the picture in which Placido Domingo makes his film debut Mill meet the same dismal fate as Luciano Pavarotti's recent Yes, Giorgio. Referring to the latter MGM-UA bomb, effirelli declares, "It was a tacky little sjory with a fat star." He is the first to concede, "Pavarotti has a)i extraordinary voice." But he points out, Film is a cruel medium, a magnifying glass that shows every imperfection." He is convinced Placido, who co-stars yith soprano Teresa Stratas, will lure the masses to La Traviata because, operatic talents aside, "he is tremendously appealing to women like a young bull." X Zeffirelli who wrote, designed and directed the brilliant $8 million production, tyhich undergoes national release in February is also developing a $20 million film Version olAida with Leonard Bernstein. He admits, however, that the fate of that project will remain in limbo until La Traviata proves to be a moneymaker. i He does have full financing for a big-Jcreen study of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, which he says will focus on the Confrontations and ego clashes that marked their relationship. He will make The Florentines in Florence and Tuscany, Italy, next year, with a major Hollywood studio. ' And, while he is beating the drums for La Traviata, he is also beating the bushes to find the actors best suited to star as the tiwo great 15th century Florentine artists. '.'One will be an American and one will be English," he says, "and both will definitely be major names." j ... ) Buddy Hackett feels his future is suddenly up in the air as far as Las Vegas is concerned. He is under contract to the Sahara, and is scheduled to play there in January and April, but considers both bookings iffy now that Wayne Newton is negotiating to become a partner in the hotel. "I don't know what will happen there now," says the comic who had been planning to stage a press conference to announce he would be taking one-sixth of his normal pay for a 10-week Sahara gig this spring and outlining his idea of the hotel's bringing its prices down to $9.90 for his show. "I saw it as a way to prove Vegas is getting reasonable again a point they're going to have to prove there if they're to survive." Buddy has not played Vegas since last March, and does not know when he will play there again. But, he says, "I shouldn't complain. I'm better off than a lot of entertainers. My kids and my cat are grown, and I can at least look back and know I had the best of Las Vegas 30 years of employment there." t Simon & Simon leads Jameson Parker, Gerald McRaney and Jeannie Wilson already know how they will be spending their series hiatus in April. They will be in Texas, co-starring with Wilson's husband, Jack Lucarelli, in Maximum Charge, a $2.5 million big-screen action thriller that Jameson and Lucarelli are producing. Country singer Marty Robbins, who died last week of cardiac arrest, had been asking buddy Clint Eastwood for more than 10 years to cast him in one of his movies. Eastwood finally obliged with Honky Tonk Man, but Marty never had a chance to see how well he scores on film. Clint had arranged to screen the picture for him in Nashville, Tenn., but that turned out to be the day the 57-year-old singer was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. At least Robbins did live to see a climb upon the charts of his title tune from the Warners film which tells the story of a honky-tonk man who dies shortly after he cuts a recording that becomes a hit. 'A Little Family Business' invites the audience to have a good time and laugh itself silly .' 1 . (' Comedy returns actress to Broadway ByJaySharbutt Associated Press NEW YORK - Since 1966, Angela Lans-bury has starred in four Broadway musicals Mame, Dear World, a revival of Gypsy and, in 1979, Sweeney Todd. She won Broadway's top honor, the Tony Award, each time. On Wednesday, barring a postponement, the end of the world or something serious, she will open in her first Broadway play since A Taste of Honey in 1962 a comedy called A Little Family Business. She is playing a doughty New England woman forced to take over the family carpet-sweeper business when the firm's chief, her husband (a chap with a soul of garlic who married the boss' daughter), is laid low by a heart spasm. Four Tonys and 42 years on stage, television and in films should give one a certain amount of confidence. So should a script adapted from a French play by Jay Presson Allen, whose film credits include Funny Lady and Cabaret. But Lansbury sounded a mite nervous. She said she is taking a chance, "really going out on a limb" and not just because Los Angeles critics loudly booed Family in its Los Angeles tryout or because it lacked a director for four weeks. She frets that some carpers will say the show is of little consequence, a comedown for an actress of her talent and stature. She denied the comedown rap but cheerfully admitted that Family is far from a piece for the ages. That is why she is in it, she said. She wants to try light comedy on stage again: "I really needed to get out and try my wings. "Yes, it's a little bit of fluff, this play, It has no real substance to it. It's not a great piece of theatrical literature, it's not instructing the audience, it's not telling them anything. "It's simply inviting them to come along, have a hell of a good time and laugh themselves silly. And that's all it is." Another opening, another show for for the lady, born 58 years ago in England, the daughter of an actress. Her son, Anthony, born of her 33-year marriage to her manager, Peter Shaw, also is an actor and quite close to her these days. He plays her son in Family. She never prodded him to follow her into acting, unlike her mother who, when Lansbury was a tyke, always tried to get her to perform with her: "I felt very self-conscious. But it's often that way with a parent, you know. It's much easier to perform to total strangers than it is to any member of your own family." The actress, who recently finished making the film version of Joseph Papp's The Pirates of Penzance, may be one of the most durable leading ladies of Broadway musicals. But she never planned it that way. S, he never planned to sing on Broadway, for that matter. She got to Broadway by way of Hollywood, to Broadway musicals by way of an unexpected offer. All of it started when her family moved to the States from London in 1940 after the death of her father, a timber merchant. She studied at the American Theater Wing and made the usual actors' rounds. Her mother, meanwhile, moved to California, then suggested Lansbury join her. She did, and got lucky fast in films. The newcomer played the saucy maid of I - . .. . M I I --, ' ' ' l' ' , .aLiiiii. . ' Angela Lansbury, winner of four Tony Awards, relaxes after rehearsing for A Gaslight in 1944, for which she got the first of her three Oscar nominations. She has made 40 movies since then, in roles ranging from sinister to silly. Some of the wares are high quality, like The Picture of Dorian Grey, The World of Henry Orient and The Manchurian Candidate. But there are others like Blue Hawaii, in which she played Elvis Presley's mother. She did not get around to making her Broadway debut until 1957 in a farce, Hotel Paradiso. A then-young composer named Stephen Sondheim was the one who opened up her career as a musical star to reckon with. The year was 1963, the show Anyone Can Whistle. Short-lived, pummeled by the critics and now generally touted as ahead of its time, Whistle got Lansbury noticed by those who count. "I hadn't sung on stage until then," she said. She is not sure why she was asked to. And when Sondheim and his collaborator. i Little Family Business, a comedy opening Wednesday on Broadway. .1 She has no regrets that she signed Opffor &,l sne said, dui it nas not Deen easy. I he original director, Vivian Matalon, a Tony Award winner for Morning's at Seven, bowed out in rehearsals creative differences were cited and another Tony' winner, Martin Charnin, lyricist-director of Annie, was brought in. Prior commitments kept Charnin1 from reporting to work immediately, LanSburv said. "He couldn't come for four weeks., We sat out there (in Los Angeles) for four weeks in, the show we opened with, except for some cuts we instituted ourselves. Then the critics had their say "1 think it got the worst reviews of any play I've ever been in," she said. But she and the cast pressed on, finding, she said, that ''audiences absolutely loved it. Looking back on it, she said the irt act had many problems which author Alljbn immediately set to fixing. With director Arthur Laurents, asked her, "I had to think Charnin now on the job, Allen is still at wolk, not nnrp hut fnnr timoc " cko caiA she nHHprl t w v ivwi wijivo, ni n. oaiu. "I worried whether I mnW si U,A "And I'm certain she'll continue to nip ah or dance enough. Fortunately, I found I could. And what I didn't know I faked." Three years later, she earned her first Tony in Jerry Herman's Mame (based on Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame) and was solidly established as a musical star. Lansbury, who earned her fourth Tony in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd as Mrs. Lovett, the memorably macabre, loony baker of human pies, was planning to tour in a Mame when A Little Family Business cropped up. She had wanted to do a straight play, a light comedy with no si jging. Family fit the bill. ip aDd tuck until we open, because this is the kindlof play where you practice a lot with me audience. You have to find out where wie beats are, where the laughs are, and tet everything up very carefully. j I his play teeters between larce and saure and melodrama and situation comedy. It's Jot a bit of everything. And it's very, very hlrd going. But I'm glad I'm in it. j "And so," she said, concluding things oft a hopeful note, "if we can just get all the things cleared up which bothered the critics r-ai4l 1 1 think we have then I think we'll be hifn free." . , 1

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