Review: ‘Elvis’ (2022), starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks

June 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Austin Butler in “Elvis” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Elvis” (2022)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1946 to 1977, in various parts of the United States, the dramatic film “Elvis” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy in this biopic of superstar entertainer Elvis Presley.

Culture Clash: Presley had many personal battles in his life, including those related to racial segregation, his drug addiction, his doomed marriage to Priscilla Presley and his troubled relationship with manager Colonel Tom Parker. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Elvis Presley fans, “Elvis” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and music biopics that go big on spectacle-like filmmaking.

Austin Butler, Helen Thomson, Tom Hanks and Richard Roxburgh in “Elvis” (Photo by Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The vibrant biopic “Elvis” continues filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s pattern of making a protagonist’s life story look like a manic-energy carnival. The musical numbers are fantastic, but viewers should expect a very glossy version of Elvis Presley’s life. Luhrmann directed and co-wrote “Elvis,” and he is one of the movie’s producers. People who are familiar with Luhrmann’s previous movies (including 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!” and 2013’s “The Great Gatsby”) will already know that he isn’t a filmmaker known for being miniminalist or showing restraint.

Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” just like Elvis Presley, is a mass of contradictions but can be counted on to deliver spectacular performances on stage. Even with a total running time of 159 minutes, “Elvis” leaves out or fast-forwards through many important aspects of Presley’s life. But other parts of the movie drag with repetition and linger too long in scenes where the story should have already moved on to something else. Luhrmann co-wrote the “Elvis” screenplay with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner. The movie was filmed in Luhrmann’s native Australia.

At times, this “Elvis” movie looks like a lengthy music video, with enough quick cuts to give some viewers the cinematic version of whiplash. Other times, “Elvis” attempts to get into the more serious and emotionally complex areas of Presley’s life before zipping off into one of several whirling-dervish montages that fill up this movie. It’s a change of pace and tone that might be off-putting to some viewers who are looking for a more conventional way of telling the story.

For example, the courtship and marriage of Elvis and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (played by Olivia DeJonge) are very rushed into the story and aren’t given a lot of depth. The movie leaves out the fact that in real life, when Elvis began dating Priscilla in 1959, she was 14 and he was 24. They met when he was enlisted in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany, where Priscilla’s U.S. Air Force stepfather was also stationed at the time.

In real life, Elvis also convinced Priscilla’s parents to let her move in with him when she was still an underage teen. It’s probably not a coincidence that Priscilla is portrayed by an actress who never looks underage. That’s because bringing up possible stautory rape in connection to Elvis would ruin the movie’s intention to make him look like a superstar who was exploited by a greedy and corrupt manager.

Sometimes, the actors give performances that look like impersonations, while in other scenes, the actors seem to truly embody their characters. This dictonomy is especially true for Austin Butler (who portrays the adult Elvis Presley) and Tom Hanks (who plays manager Colonel Tom Parker), whose love/hate business partnership is the movie’s central conflict. Their best scenes are those where they look the most natural and don’t try to overdo the “larger than life” aspects of their respective characters’ personalities.

Butler’s performance is much better in the scenes depicting Elvis in the last 10 years of his life, when Elvis’ health was on a steady decline due to his drug addiction. (Elvis died of a heart attack in 1977, at the age of 42.) In the scenes of Elvis’ adult years before he became famous and during his fame from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s, Butler just looks like he’s doing a competent Elvis impersonation. The movie starts to improve considerably when Butler shows more emotional depth as the sweaty, “hooked on drugs” version of Elvis, because it’s a portrayal of man who’s on a downward spiral but still desperately trying to stay on top.

Elvis’ controlling manager Parker, whose real name was Andreas Cornelis (Dries) van Kuijk, was born in the Netherlands, but he pretended for years that he was born and raised in the United States. In real life, Parker (who died in 1997, at the age of 87) hid his true identity and undocumented immigration status. This deception is in the movie, but as a plot twist reveal that will not surprise anyone who knows about Parker, or anyone who notices Hanks’ very over-the-top European accent in the movie. There are parts of the movie where Hanks’ prosthetic makeup and his Dutch-like accent are very distracting. Hanks’ accent also sometimes sounds German and sometimes sounds like a western European trying to sound American.

In real life, when Parker was Elvis’ manager, Parker did not have a heavy European accent, as portrayed in this movie. Parker had a very believable American accent in real life. How else would he have been able to fool so many people into thinking that he was a born-and-raised American if he had a European accent? This quasi-European accent is one of the characteristics of Parker that this “Elvis” movie gets wrong.

Because so much of Elvis’ life has already been dissected and depicted in many other ways (including Elvis impersonators becoming both a cottage industry and the butt of a lot of jokes), Luhrmann’s “Elvis” at least takes a unique approach of telling this story with narration from Parker. The movie’s opening scene shows Parker collapsing from a heart attack and taken to a hospital. During this narration, Parker repeatedly says versions of this statement: “Without me, there would be no Elvis Presley. And yet, there are some who would make me the villain of this here story.”

Elvis’ childhood gets a comic-book panel treatment (literally) in this “Elvis” movie, as the movie uses comic book panels and comic-book-type illustrations to show chapter transitions in Elvis’ youth. Born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Aaron Presley is portrayed as someone who was influenced from an early age by music, particularly R&B and gospel music. Elvis had a twin brother named Jessie Garon Presley, who was stillborn. The film briefly mentions the death of Elvis’ twin brother, but the movie does not explore (as other biographies have done) how Elvis was haunted by this death.

Elvis was famously a “mama’s boy” who worshipped his mother Gladys (played by Helen Thomson), who was a strong-willed and dominant force in his life. Elvis’ father Vernon (played by Richard Roxburgh) is portrayed as someone who was often overshadowed by Gladys in Elvis’ eyes. However, Vernon still had a huge influence on Elvis, especially after Parker decided that Vernon should be Elvis’ business manager.

It was a ultimately not a good decision, considering that Vernon had trouble keeping a steady job up until that point, Vernon had no experience as a successful businessperson, and Elvis experienced major financial problems in the years leading up to his death. It also didn’t help that Parker was a gambling addict. The movie portrays Parker’s gambling addiction as one of the reasons why he was so money-hungry and willing to do unscrupulous things to get access to Elvis’ fortune.

When Elvis was 13 years old, he and his family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, the city that is most closely associated with Elvis’ childhood and young adulthood. (Chaydon Jay has the role of the adolescent Elvis in the movie.) Vernon got into trouble with the law in 1938, when he was imprisoned for eight months for check forgery. As a result of these legal problems, the family lost their home and had to move to a lower-income area that was populated by mostly African Americans.

The movie makes it look like Elvis was the only white kid in his area who was allowed or interested in going to the African American religious church revivals that were held in tents, where he would watch the passionate gospel performances in awe. Elvis was also a fan of R&B music at a time when it was concered “race music” that was only supposed to be performed and enjoyed by black people. Sometimes, Elvis would get teased or harassed for liking this music, but his decision to perform his version of this music ultimately set him on the road to stardom. Elvis was also a fan of country music, which he incorporated into many of his songs.

While an underage Elvis was sneaking into church revivals in tents, the movie shows Parker spending a lot of his time in another type of event that uses tents: carnivals. Parker is portrayed in flashback scenes as a carnival huckster skilled at selling and at coming up with con games. It’s a skill set that Parker brought with him when he decided to go into the music business. The movie takes a little too much time with scenes of Parker managing country artists such as Hank Snow (played by David Wenham) and his son Jimmie Rodgers Snow (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a musician who would eventually befriend Elvis.

Later, when Elvis and Parker meet in person, the movie stylishly stages this meeting in a carnival hall of mirrors. It’s an example of how this “Elvis” movie has fantastical elements. In real life, the first time Elvis met Parker was probably in a much more non-descript setting. Catherine Martin (Luhrmann’s wife and filmmaking partner) is a producer of “Elvis” and the leader of the movie’s top-notch costume design and production design.

Elvis’ imitation of African American R&B and early rock and roll (rock pioneers Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino were big influences on Elvis) could be considered cultural appropriation or an extreme form of flattery, depending on your perspective. But what most people can agree on is that Elvis’ performance of this music is what caught the attention of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who is widely considered the person who gave Elvis his first big music break.

Elvis’ early recordings on Sun Records were then brought to the attention of Parker, who is portrayed as someone who couldn’t believe that the singer on the recordings was white, not black. And when Parker sees Elvis perform for the first time, Parker says in a narration voiceover what his first impression of Elvis was: “Greasy hair, girlie makeup. I cannot overstate how strange he looked.”

But what really convinced Parker to want to represent Elvis as his personal manager was seeing the audience reaction (especially from females) that Elvis got when Elvis performed on stage and thrust, shook and swiveled his hips and legs in a sexually suggestive manner. The movie makes a point of showing how these stage moves had a primal effect on women and teenage girls in the audience, as Elvis often got them into a frenzy. Expect to see several scenes of Elvis being branded as “lewd and lascivious” for these stage moves in various scenarios, with the controversy fueling his popularity.

One of the odd things about this “Elvis” movie is that there’s a scene where Elvis is on stage early in his career and his band members are the ones to tell him to wiggle his hips more. If you believe this scenario, Elvis wasn’t the one to come up with these sex symbol moves. He had to be talked into it by his band members. Parker says in his ever-present voiceover narration when commenting on women’s lusty reactions to Elvis: “He was a taste of forbidden fruit.”

The movie correctly shows that it was Parker who convinced Elvis to ditch Sun Records for a more lucrative offer from RCA Records, which had the type of national distribution and radio clout that Sun Records did not. Sun Records released some singles from Elvis in 1954 (including his first single “That’s All Right”), but they weren’t hits. Elvis’ first RCA Records single was 1955’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was a smash hit and became his first No. 1 single.

In a flashback voiceover, Parker brags about how he was the first person to create a merchandising bonanza around a pop star. In a very over-the-top scene, Parker shows off a huge stockpile of Elvis-branded merchandise that is cluttered all over a room in a Presley family home. It looks like an Elvis product hoarder decorated the room.

As Elvis became more famous and was spending more time away from home, it started to bother Gladys. The movie has a scene that’s a little on the Oedipal creepy side, where Gladys tells Elvis that she’s worried about the way that his female fans look at him. Gladys acts more like a jealous girlfriend than a mother. And then, Elvis tells his mother, “You’re my girl.”

Elvis’ experiences with groupies are very toned-down in the movie, which has no explicit sex scenes or even explicit sex talk. Priscilla is sidelined for most of the movie. After Priscilla and Elvis get married in 1967, she’s just shown as someone who’s part of his entourage and becomes an increasingly unhappy bystander when he kisses and flirts with female fans at concerts.

For a while, Elvis and Priscilla lived in Los Angeles, but Elvis’ world-famous Graceland estate in Memphis was always considered to be his main home. After Elvis’ death, Elvis Presley Enterprises (which approved this movie) turned Graceland into a tourist attraction. The movie shows some of Elvis’ indulgences, including his lavish spending habits and his tendency to carry around a lot of guns. As expected, there’s a scene of a drug-addled Elvis destroying a TV set by shooting it up with a gun—something that he was known to do in real life from time to time.

Lisa Marie Presley (Elvis and Priscilla’s daughter, who was born in 1968) appears briefly in a few scenes. Priscilla’s breakup scene with Elvis is predictably melodramatic. She screams at him that she’s leaving him not because of his infidelities but because of his addiction to pills. Priscilla throws pills at Elvis before walking out the door. Priscilla and Elvis divorced in 1973, but their legal battles are never shown in the movie. Near the end of the film, there’s a tearjerking scene that’s the final word on their ill-fated romance.

Elvis’ movie star career is rushed through in a series of scenes that culminate with the media reporting that Elvis was cast as Barbra Streisand’s co-star in a 1976 remake of “A Star Is Born,” in which he would be playing a drug-addicted, has-been rock star. Elvis experiences the embarrassment of hearing a radio announcer comment that Elvis wouldn’t have to do much acting for this role. Elvis, who had been trying with no success to become a serious dramatic actor, never did this remake of “A Star Is Born.” Kris Kristofferson ended up in the role.

With his movie career going nowhere, Elvis continues as a Las Vegas attraction at the International Hotel (which is now the Las Vegas Hilton), and as an artist doing several successful U.S. tours. Elvis wants to tour outside the U.S., but Parker keeps coming up with excuses for Elvis not to do these international tours. When the truth is exposed about why Parker is holding back on working outside the U.S., it leads to a turning point in the relationship between Elvis and Parker.

One of the more curious aspects of “Elvis” is that it doesn’t spend a lot of time showing Elvis in the recording studio. He was not a songwriter for almost all of his hits (an exception was his co-songwriting credit for “Heartbreak Hotel”), but this biopic doesn’t provide much insight into how he worked in a recording studio setting. And this “Elvis” movie doesn’t have any significant scenes of actors portraying the major songwriters (including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) who were responsible for writing Elvis’ biggest hits.

However, the movie has several scenes acknowledging the artists who inspired Elvis. Big Mama Thornton (played by Shonka Dukureh) is seen belting out “Hound Dog,” a song that was famously covered by Elvis. Little Richard (played by Alton Mason) appears briefly in a performance clip. During a media event, Elvis points to Fats Domino and says that Domino is the real King of Rock and Roll.

Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (played by Gary Clark Jr.), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (played by Yola) and Mahalia Jackson (played by Cle Morgan) have small roles in the movie. B.B. King (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Elvis became mutual admirers of each other, and the movie briefly shows that friendship. If these influential African American artists are shown performing in the movie, it’s for a very limited amount of screen time.

The movie shows glimpses of Elvis being a concerned citizen who wanted to get involved in the civil rights movement, but he was ordered by Parker never to talk about politics in public. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy (both in 1968) and the civil unrest in the U.S. in the late 1960s are all portrayed as media news backdrops to Elvis’ personal problems, while Parker gripes about how America is going downhill because of the hippie counterculture movement. Just like many other Elvis biographies, the movie depicts Elvis as becoming more isolated the older he got and the deeper he got into drug addiction.

Elvis’ entourage, which was famously called the Memphis Mafia, is portrayed as not much more than being a bunch of “yes men” in the movie. The one who gets the most screen time is Jerry Schiller (played by Luke Bracey), who’s mostly seen acting like a personal assistant/security employee. A few of the other Memphis Mafia members portrayed in the movie are Steve Binder (played by Dacre Montgomery), Bones Howe (played by Gareth Davies) and Scotty Moore (played by Xavier Samuel), who don’t do or say anything noteworthy.

Because Elvis was a drug addict, the movie shows that he had his own Dr. Feelgood on the payroll to give injections and pills of whatever drugs were requested. In the movie, this enabling doctor is called Dr. Nick (played by Tony Nixon), and he’s based on the real-life Dr. George Nichopoulos, whose nickname was Dr. Nick. Just like in the movie, the real-life Dr. Nick had a reputation for being a drug supplier to many celebrities, including Elvis. The movie shows that Elvis was mostly addicted to amphetamines and opioids.

A harrowing scene in the movie shows Elvis collapsing backstage during a concert. Members of his entourage frantically try to revive him, but to no avail. The decision must be made to take Elvis to a hospital, or summon Dr. Nick to give Elvis an injection so that Elvis can continue the show. You can easily guess what decision was made in a world where people live by the rule “The show must go on.” The movie makes a point of implying that this scenario happened too many times behind the scenes, and it led to Elvis’ downward spiral.

None of this is really shocking because there have already been so many exposés of Elvis’ private life, there’s really almost no new information to uncover. Luhrmann’s “Elvis” movie isn’t concerned about being a celebrity “tell all” biopic as much as it is concerned about presenting Elvis’ life in ways that are served up like it’s on a conveyor belt and in other ways like it’s part of a splashy musical.

In other words, “Elvis” is a very mixed bag, but it shines the best and brightest in the area that matters the most: showing Elvis as a music artist. The movie has performances of Elvis hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “That’s All Right,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Heartbreak Hotel.” Butler does very good renditions of some these classics, with standout show-stoppers depicting Elvis’ 1968 “comeback” TV special (“Elvis” on NBC) and some of his performances in Las Vegas.

The movie’s soundtrack also has some contemporary, hip-hop-infused remakes of classic songs, such as Doja Cat’s version of “Vegas” and Swae Lee and Diplo’s version of Crudup’s “Tupelo Shuffle,” a song that Elvis also recorded. Eminem’s original song “The King and I”(featuring CeeLo Green) is also part of the movie’s soundtrack. These songs don’t sound completely out of place in the movie, but the contemporary music does take viewers out of the 1950s to 1970s, the decades when Elvis made his music. However, “Elvis” is definitely a crowd pleaser in being a feast of Elvis music, as it should be.

“Suspicious Minds” is the most prominently used Elvis song in the movie. Even though the lyrics are about lovers who’ve lost trust in each other, “Suspicious Minds” could also be a theme song about the growing mistrust in the deteriorating relationship between Elvis and Parker. How much did Parker really play a role in causing Elvis’ downfall? The movie leaves it up to viewers to decide. Even with all of Elvis’ pitfalls and self-destructive excesses, “Elvis” has a clear message that any problems he had in his life were always surpassed by his love of performing and connecting with his fans.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Elvis” in U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022. The movie was released in other countries on June 22, 2022.

Review: ‘The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,’ starring May Pang

June 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

An archival photo of John Lennon and May Pang in “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” (Photo courtesy of May Pang Collection)

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story”

Directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” features a nearly all-white group people (with one Asian) discussing the 1973-1975 love affair that John Lennon had with May Pang, who was also his personal assistant at the time.

Culture Clash: Pang, who is the documentary’s narrator, says that Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono insisted that Pang start an affair with Lennon during the spouses’ separation, and that Ono was the cause of manipulative conflicts that eventually led to Lennon reuniting with Ono.

Culture Audience: “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” will appeal mainly to fans of Lennon and the Beatles who want to know more about the life that Lennon had when he was separated from Ono.

In the very personal documentary “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story,” May Pang narrates and shares her memories of the love affair that she had with John Lennon from 1973 to 1975. Pang’s 1983 memoir “Loving John” went into many of the same details. However, this cinematic version of Pang’s story is a visual treat and an emotional journey that offers intriguing photos and audio recordings, including rare chronicles of Lennon’s reunions with his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels (who are also the producers of the documentary), “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” refers to the notorious “Lost Weekend” in Lennon’s life. It actually wasn’t a weekend but it was in reality a period of about 18 months when Lennon was separated from his second wife, Yoko Ono, whom he married in 1969. It was also a time when, by Lennon’s own admission, he was drinking and drugging heavily, although Lennon says he eventually sobered up and stopped his hard-partying ways around the time he made his 1975 album “Rock and Roll.”

The documentary starts out with Pang describing her turbulent childhood where she often felt like a misfit. Born in New York City on October 24, 1950, Pang says that her Chinese immigrant parents had an unhappy marriage. She spent much of her childhood growing up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem district, which was populated by mostly African Americans and Puerto Ricans. “I was a minority among minorities,” Pang comments in the documentary.

Pang describes her father as “abusive” and someone who eventually abandoned her when he adopted a son, since her father was open about preferring to have a son. By contrast, Pang describes having a close relationship with her loving mother, who encouraged Pang to be strong and independent. Pang’s mother, who had “beauty and brains,” opened her own laundromat called OK Laundry. Pang’s older biological sister is not mentioned in the documentary.

Pang says, “Dad was an atheist, and Mom was a Buddhist, so naturally, they sent me to Catholic school … Dad fought with Mom. I fought with the nuns, so my only escape was music.” From an early age, Pang says, “I was hooked on rock and roll, especially these four guys from Liverpool.”

Those “four guys from Liverpool” in England were, of course, the Beatles. Pang didn’t like school very much, so she dropped out of college and quickly found a job working at the New York offices of ABKCO, the company that managed Apple Corps, the Beatles’ entertainment company. ABKCO, which was founded by Allen Klein, also managed Lennon’s solo career.

Pang says she walked right in the office one day, asked if they were hiring, and she basically lied about having secretary skills in order to get the job. A week later, she started working for ABKCO’s Apple Corps side of the business. Pang describes herself as a go-getter who doesn’t get easily defeated.

But not long after she started working for Apple Corps, the Beatles announced their breakup in 1970. Pang then started to do more ABKCO work for the company’s management of Lennon’s solo career. By the early 1970s, Lennon and Ono had relocated to New York City as their primary home base, although they still maintained a home in England. And then, Pang was asked by Lennon and Ono to leave ABKCO to be the couple’s personal assistant. She eagerly accepted the offer.

Sometime in 1973, Lennon and Ono decided to separate. Ono had an unusual demand during this separation: According to Pang, Ono told Pang that Pang had to start an affair with Lennon. The reason? Ono knew that Lennon would be dating other women, and she felt that Pang was a “safe choice.” Pang and Lennon than moved to Los Angeles, where the so-called “Lost Weekend” really began. In the documentary’s archival interview footage (which is mostly from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s), Ono doesn’t really deny Pang’s claims but is vague about how she interacted with Lennon and Pang during the marital separation.

Just as Pang did in her memoir and in many interviews that she’s given over the years, Pang says in the documentary that she was at first very confused and frightened by Ono’s demand for Pang to have an affair with Lennon. Up until that point, Pang’s relationship with Lennon was strictly professional. Pang says her first instinct was to say no, but she eventually agreed because she says she didn’t want to lose her job. She also liked Lennon immensely as a person. Pang describes him as witty, funny, intelligent and generous, but with a bit of cruel streak and some insecurities that didn’t make him always easy to deal with on a daily basis.

Pang says that after Ono gave Lennon “permission” to start dating Pang, Lennon ended up pursuing Pang, starting with flirting. Flirting led to kissing, and then after a short period of time, they became lovers. Pang says, “Before I knew it, John Lennon charmed the pants off of me.” Pang remembers her first sexual encounter with Lennon: “After we made love, I started to cry.” She says she asked him: “What does this mean?” Lennon replied, “I don’t know.”

Pang says in the documentary that she believes Ono mistakenly assumed that Lennon and Pang would have a casual fling. Instead, Pang says that her romance with Lennon was true love for the both of them, and she and Lennon eventually moved in together. Before Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, Pang says that Pang and John looked at houses on New York’s Long Island, because he was planning to buy a Long Island home where they could live together.

At the beginning of the relationship, Pang and Lennon spent most of their time in Los Angeles, where he did a lot of heavy partying with friends such Ringo Starr (his former Beatles bandmate), Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, Mickey Dolenz and former Apple Corps employee Tony King. Cooper said they called themselves the Hollywood Vampires. The documentary includes some amusing video footage of King, dressed in drag as Queen Elizabeth II, doing a commercial for Lennon’s 1973 “Mind Games” album, with Lennon and King goofing around with his ball gown lifted up to show his underwear.

The intoxicated partying wasn’t all fun and games. Pang retells the infamous stories about how much of a tyrant Phil Spector was as a music producer in the studio, especially when he was drunk, which was often at the time. Spector was a producer of the Beatles’ 1970 “Let It Be” album and several of Lennon’s solo albums. Pang was there to witness Spector taking out a gun and shooting during an argument in the studio. (It’s a well-known story.)

Luckily, no one was physically hurt during that incident. But considering that in 2009, Spector was convicted of the 2003 shooting murder of actress Lana Clarkson, it’s an example of how his dangerous and erratic behavior had been going on for years prior to the murder. (Spector was still a prisoner in California when he died of COVID-19 complications in 2021. He was 81.)

Eventually, Lennon befriended Elton John and David Bowie, which resulted in successful collaborations with these other music legends. Lennon provided background vocals for Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame.” John provided harmony and played keyboards on Lennon’s 1974 hit “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” Pang retells the story of how she and Lennon were in bed watching televangelist Reverend Ike on TV, and the preacher said, “Whatever gets you through the night” as part of the sermon. It inspired Lennon to write the song.

Lennon and John performed “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” live one time on stage at John’s Madison Square Garden concert on November 28, 1974, after Lennon lost a bet. When they were recording the song in the studio, John had predicted that the song would be a No. 1 hit in the United States. Lennon disagreed, so John made a bet with Lennon that if the song became a No. 1 hit, Lennon would have to perform the song in concert with John if that prediction turned out to be true.

This concert was Lennon’s first time performing at an arena show without the Plastic Ono Band (whose members included Ono), and it would turn out to be his last time performing in public. Pang describes Lennon as being extremely nervous before the performance. It was also at this fateful concert that Ono showed up backstage in what would be among the many signs that she was ready to get back together with Lennon.

Pang says in the documentary that some of her best memories of being with Lennon were the times she spent in the recording studio with him. She was credited as a production coordinator in several solo albums that Lennon made during the 1970s. Pang also did some backup vocals on a few of Lennon’s solo songs, most notably on “#9 Dream” from Lennon’s 1973 “Walls and Bridges” album. Pang can be heard whispering “John” on the song.

She got to witness a lot of music history, including a jam session with Lennon, McCartney and Stevie Wonder doing an impromptu version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Pang says that Linda McCartney (Paul’s first wife) was playing the organ during this session, while Pang and Mal Evans (former Beatles road manager/personal assistant) accompanied on tambourine. The documentary includes a brief audio clip of this recording session, which is believed to be the last recording of Lennon and Paul McCartney playing music together.

Pang was an avid photographer who took a lot of photos during this period of time that she was involved with Lennon. Her photo book “Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon” was published in 2008. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” also includes many photos from Pang’s personal collection, including a photo that Pang took of Lennon and Paul McCartney at a hillside house in Los Angeles where Lennon was staying in 1974. (The house was semi-famous for being where Marilyn Monroe would have sexual trysts with John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy.) The candid photo shows Lennon and Paul McCartney sitting outside (on what looks like a balcony) and talking while shielding the sun with their hands near their eyes. Pang says it’s the last-known photo of Lennon and Paul McCartney together.

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” also includes several of Lennon’s sketches and doodles that he gave to Pang as gifts. One of these drawings shown in the documentary is of the UFO sighting that Pang says she and Lennon experienced one night when they were on the top of their apartment building on August 23, 1974. Another illustration shows what Lennon (who went to art school when he was in his teens) thought his future would look like. The drawing depicts him in a heavenly-type garden as a naked, potbellied old man with a young-looking and nude Pang floating above on a cloud.

Pang also credits Lennon with being the inspiration for her political awakening in the early 1970s. He was an outspoken anti-war activist, which got him on the “enemy of the state” radar of then-U.S. president Richard Nixon, whose administration caused immigration problems for Lennon. It was revealed years ago that Lennon was under FBI surveillance during this time. All of these issues are mentioned in the documentary through archival news footage. Pang doesn’t give any further insight, except to say she saw firsthand that Lennon knew he was being spied on by the U.S. government, and he was paranoid about it.

One of the most poignant aspects of the documentary is Pang describing how she befriended John’s son Julian (from John Lennon’s first marriage, which ended in divorce), who came from England to visit John Lennon on a semi-regular basis, after father and son ended an estrangement that had been going on for a number of years. Pang remembers Julian being a mischievous child but an overall good kid who craved his father’s love and attention. Pang says she encouraged John Lennon and Julian to spend as much father/son time together, which Pang says was in direct contrast to what Ono wanted.

Pang says that when Julian called, Ono would sometimes order Pang not to put the call through to John Lennon, so that Julian wouldn’t be able to talk to his father. According to Pang, Ono also ordered Pang to lie to John Lennon about how many times Julian called. In the documentary, Pang expresses deep regret about participating in these lies. Pang says that her friendship with Julian also extended to Julian’s mother, Cynthia Lennon, who died of cancer in 2015, at the age of 75.

Even when John Lennon and Pang were thousands of miles away from Ono, Pang says that Ono was a constant presence in their lives, because Ono would call at all hours of the day and night. Ono is described by Pang as being a highly manipulative control freak, who eventually got jealous that John Lennon had fallen in love with Pang. Ono wasn’t exactly celibate during the marital separation, since it’s mentioned in the documentary that her guitarist David Spinozza was Ono’s lover.

In the documentary, Pang fully acknowledges that John Lennon loved Ono too, and that he once loved his first wife Cynthia. However, Pang wants to make it clear that the love that she and John Lennon shared was real and very meaningful to both of them. Some people interviewed in the documentary, including John Lennon’s son Julian, confirm that John Lennon and Pang were in love with each other. Things were more complicated for Pang in this love triangle because John Lennon and Ono remained her employers during her entire “Lost Weekend” affair with John.

Pang says that even though John Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, he was never completely out of Pang’s life. In the documentary, she admits that she and John Lennon would occasionally see each other and had secret, intimate trysts in the years after he and Ono had gotten back together. Pang does not mention Sean Lennon (John Lennon and Ono’s son), who was born on October 9, 1975, which was John Lennon’s 35th birthday. Like many people around the world, Pang was devastated when John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980.

An epilogue in the documentary mentions that Pang was married to music producer Tony Visconti from 1989 to 2003. The former spouses have two children together: Sebastian and Lara, who both are seen briefly in a childhood photo. But since this documentary is about Pang’s time with John Lennon, don’t expect to hear any details about what happened in her life during and after her marriage to Visconti.

One of the curiosities and flaws of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” is that it has voiceover comments from several people who knew John Lennon and Pang during the Lennon/Pang love affair, but it’s unclear how much of those comments are audio recordings that were made specifically for the documentary, or if they are archival recordings from other interviews. Paul McCartney, Cynthia Lennon, Julian Lennon, Cooper, King, drummer Jim Keltner, Spinozza, photographer Bob Gruen, former Apple Corps employee Chris O’Dell, attorney Harold Seider and former Apple Corps employee Francesca De Angelis (who gave Pang the job at Apple) are among those whose voices are heard in the documentary. Pang and Julian Lennon are the only ones seen talking on camera for documentary interviews. (Pang doesn’t make her on-camera appearance until near the end of the movie.)

“The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” has the expected array of archival video footage from various media outlets, but there’s also some whimsical animation to illustrate some of Pang’s fascinating anecdotes. She has a tendency to name drop like a star-struck fan, but it might be because she was and perhaps still is a star-struck fan of many of the people she got to hang out with during her relationship with John Lennon. Pang also says that she did not drink alcohol or do drugs during this period of time. It made her an outsider to some of the partying, but this sobriety allowed her to continue to do her job professionally when she was required to do a lot of important planning and scheduling in John Lennon’s career and personal life.

Pang briefly mentions that sometimes John Lennon was physically abusive to her when he would be in a drunken blackout, but that he was extremely remorseful and apologetic for his abuse when he was sober. Pang will only admit that he shoved her against a wall, but you get the feeling that the abuse was much worse than that, because at one point she says she temporarily fled to New York because she was scared of John Lennon. He later made public apologies and expressed regrets to people whom he hurt in his life. The documentary includes a media interview with one of these regretful apologies.

Despite his flaws, Pang says that John Lennon was someone who really did try to live by his “peace and love” values that he shared with the world. He was a brilliant artist, of course. But viewers of “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” will also come away with a deeper sense that he was not only Pang’s first love but also an unforgettable friend.

2022 Tony Awards: ‘Company,’ ‘The Lehman Trilogy,’ ‘A Strange Loop’ win big

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

The revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” the original play “The Lehman Trilogy” and the original musical “A Strange Loop” were among the top winners at the 75th annual Tony Awards, which were presented at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 12, 2022. Ariana DeBose hosted the show, which CBS telecast in the U.S., and Paramount+ livestreamed. The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing produce the annual Tony Awards, which honor Broadway shows and specially designated award recipients who work in the American performing arts theater industry.

“Company” garnered five Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical; Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (for Matt Doyle); Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (for Patti LuPone); Best Scenic Design of a Musical; and Best Direction of a Musical. “The Lehman Trilogy” also won five Tony Awards: Best Play; Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for a Play (for Simon Russell Beale); Best Scenic Design of a Play; Best Lighting Design of a Play; and Best Direction of a Play. “A Strange Loop” had the most nominations (11) going into the ceremony and ended up winning two Tony Awards: Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.

Other multiple winners included the Michael Jackson jukebox musical “MJ,” which won four Tony Awards, including Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Role of a Musical, for Myles Frost who portrays Jackson in the show. “Six: The Musical,” “Take Me Out” and “Dana H.” won two Tony Awards each.

Eligible Broadway productions for the 2022 Tony Awards where those that opened between August 1, 2021 and May 4, 2022.

The 2022 Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre were presented to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC); Broadway For All; music copyist Emily Grishman; Feinstein’s/54 Below; and United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE. Robert E. Wankel received the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award. Special Tony Awards were given to actress Angela Lansbury (for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre) and James C. Nicola, who has been the Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop since 1988.

As is the tradition at the Tony Awards, the show featured performances by cast members from the year’s Tony Award-nominated musicals: “A Strange Loop,” “Company,” “Girl from the North Country,” “MJ,” “Mr. Saturday Night,” “Music Man,” “Paradise Square” and “Six: The Musical.” Other performers at the show included Bernadette Peters (who did a tribute to Sondheim, who died in 2021), Billy Porter, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the original cast members of the 2007 Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening.”

Presenters at the show included Utkarsh Ambudkar, Skylar Astin, Zach Braff, Danielle Brooks, Danny Burstein, Len Cariou, RuPaul Charles, Jessica Chastain, Lilli Cooper, Bryan Cranston, Wilson Cruz, Colman Domingo, Anthony Edwards, Cynthia Erivo, Raúl Esparza, Laurence Fishburne, Andrew Garfield, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Tony Goldwyn, David Alan Grier, Marcia Gay Harden, Vanessa Hudgens, Jennifer Hudson, Samuel L. Jackson, Nathan Lane, Telly Leung, Judith Light, Josh Lucas, Gaten Matarazzo, Ruthie Ann Miles, Patina Miller, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bebe Neuwirth, Kelli O’Hara, Sarah Paulson, Peters, Jeremy Pope, Porter, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Chita Rivera, Tony Shalhoub, Phillipa Soo, Sarah Silverman, George Takei, Aaron Tveit, Adrienne Warren, Patrick Wilson and Bowen Yang.

Darren Criss and Julianne Hough co-hosted the pre-show “The Tony Awards: Act One,” a one-hour special that was a Paramount+ exclusive livestream. Criss and Hough were also presenters at the main Tony Awards ceremony.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees of the 2022 Tony Awards:

*=winner

Best Musical

Girl From The North Country

Producers: Tristan Baker & Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Steven Lappin, Sony Music Entertainment/Sony ATV, David Mirvish, Len Blavatnik, The Dodgers, Eric & Marsi Gardiner, Dianne Roberts, John Gore Organization, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Tommy Mottola, Independent Presenters Network, Rod Kaats, Diana DiMenna, Mary Beth O’Connor, Barbara H. Freitag, Patrick Catullo, Aaron Lustbader, The Old Vic, Matthew Warchus, Kate Varah, Georgia Gatti, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

MJ

Producers: Lia Vollack, John Branca, John McClain, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Music Entertaiment, Roy Furman, Cue to Cue Productions, James L. Nederlander, Kumiko Yoshii, Naoya Kinoshita, Latitude Link, Candy Spelling, Stephen C. Byrd, John Gore Organization, Sandy Robertson, Ed Walson, Peter W. May, CJ ENM, Martin Bandier, Michael Cassel Group, Albert Nocciolino, Playful Productions, Ken Schur, Willette & Manny Klausner, Doug Morris, Michael David, Estate of Michael Jackson

Mr. Saturday Night

Producers: James L. Nederlander, Face Productions, Inc., Hunter Arnold, Michael Cohl, TEG Dainty, Candy Spelling, Steve Traxler, Marc David Levine, Caiola Productions, Crossroads Live, Jamie deRoy, Roy Furman, Arny Granat, Grove Entertainment, John Gore Organization, Wolf Gutterman, Van Kaplan, Larry Magid, Peter May, Carl Moellenberg, Beth W. Newburger, Albert Nocciolino, Eva Price, Iris Smith, The Shubert Organization, Howard Tenenbaum, Barry and Fran Weissler

Paradise Square

Producers: Garth H. Drabinsky, Peter LeDonne, Jeffrey A. Sine, Matthew C. Blank, Joe Crowley, RSR Finance LLC, Hunter & Mariana Milborne, Len Blavatnik, Joseph Coffey, Sherry Wright & Craig Haffner, Bernard Abrams, James Scrivanich, Rick Chad, Arthur M. Kraus, Broadway & Beyond Theatricals, Brian Luborsky, Gilbert & Elisa Palter, The Shubert Organization, Terry Schnuck, Urban One, Inc., Robert Wolf, Richard Stursberg, Mark W. Everson, Sanjay Govil, Jeremiah J. Harris, Amabel James, Sheila C. Johnson, Dennis Mehiel, Louise H. & John G. Beard, Henry R. Muñoz, III & Kyle Ferari Muñoz, Walter Swett, Zachary Florence, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

SIX: The Musical

Producers: Kenny Wax, Wendy & Andy Barnes, George Stiles, Kevin McCollum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater

A Strange Loop*

Producers: Barbara Whitman, Pasek, Paul & Stafford, Hunter Arnold, Marcia Goldberg, Alex Levy & James Achilles, Osh Ashruf, A Choir Full Productions, Don Cheadle & Bridgid Coulter Cheadle, Paul Oakley Stovall, Jimmy Wilson, Annapurna Theatre, Robyn Coles, Creative Partners Productions, Robyn Gottesdiener, Kayla Greenspan, Grove Entertainment, Kuhn, Lewis & Scott, Frank Marshall, Maximum Effort Productions Inc., Joey Monda, Richard Mumby, Phenomenal Media & Meena Harris, Marc Platt & Debra Martin Chase, Laurie Tisch, Yonge Street Theatricals, Dodge Hall Productions/JJ Malley, Cody Renard Richard, John Gore Organization, James L. Nederlander, The Shubert Organization, RuPaul Charles, Alan Cumming, Ilana Glazer, Jennifer Hudson, Mindy Kaling, Billy Porter, Page 73 Productions, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons

Best Play

Clyde’s

Author: Lynn Nottage
Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Khady Kamara

Hangmen

Author: Martin McDonagh
Producers: Robert Fox, Jean Doumanian, Elizabeth I. McCann, Craig Balsam, Atlantic Theater Company, Jon B. Platt, Len Blavatnik, Richard Fishman, John Gore Organization, Stephanie P. McClelland, David Mirvish, The Shubert Organization, Jamie deRoy/Sandy Robertson, Patrick Myles/Alexander ‘Sandy’ Marshall, M. Kilburg Reedy/Excelsior Entertainment, Playful Productions, The Royal Court Theatre

The Lehman Trilogy*

Author: Stefano Massini, Ben Power
Producers: National Theatre, Neal Street Productions, Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kash Bennett, Lisa Burger, Caro Newling, Ambassador Theatre Group, Stephanie P. McClelland, Annapurna Theatre, Delman Whitney, Craig Balsam/Heni Koenigsberg/John Yonover, Fiery Angel/Seth A. Goldstein, Starry Night Entertainment, Gavin Kalin Productions, Paul & Selina Burdell/Bill Damaschke, 42nd.club/Phil & Claire Kenny, CatWenJam Productions, Amanda Dubois, Glass Half Full Productions, Dede Harris/Linda B. Rubin, Kallish Weinstein Creative, Kors Le Pere Theatricals LLC, James L. Nederlander, No Guarantees, Mark Pigott KBE, KStJ, Playing Field, Catherine Schreiber/Adam Zell, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Richard Winkler/Alan Shorr/Dawn Smalberg, The Shubert Organization, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Jillian Robbins

The Minutes

Author: Tracy Letts
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Rebecca Gold, Carl Moellenberg, Spencer Ross, Louise Gund, Elizabeth Armstrong, Blakeman Entertainment, HornosBerger, Across the River Productions, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley/Leah Lane, Jayne Baron Sherman, Kathleen K. Johnson, Emily Dobbs, Robert Flicker, Jacob Soroken Porter, The Shubert Organization, Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Skeleton Crew

Author: Dominique Morisseau
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove

Best Revival of a Musical

Caroline, or Change

Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow, Lot’s Wife, Hunter Arnold, Caiola Productions/Willette & Manny Klausner, Chambers -D’Angora/Joseph & Alyson Graci

Company*

Producers: Elliott & Harper Productions, The Shubert Organization, Catherine Schreiber, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Crossroads Live, Anapurna Theatre, Hunter Arnold, No Guarantees, Jon B. Platt, Michael Watt, John Gore Organization, Tim Levy, Grove – REG, Hornos – Mollenberg, Levine – Federman – Adler, Beard – Merrie – Robbins, LD Entertainment/Madison Wells Live, Benjamin Lowy/Roben Alive, Daryl Roth/Tom Tuft, Salmira Productions/Caiola Productions, Aged in Wood/Lee – Sachs, Berinstein – Lane/42nd.club, Boyett – Miller/Hodges – Kukieiski, Finn – DeVito/Independent Presenters Network, Armstrong – Ross/Gilad – Rogowsky, Boardman – Koenigsberg/Zell – Seriff, Concord Theatricals – Scott Sanders Productions/Abrams – May, deRoy – Brunish/Jenen – Rubin, Fakston Productions/Sabi – Lerner – Ketner, Maggio – Abrams/Hopkins – Tackel, Levy & Chauviere, Jujamcyn Theaters

The Music Man

Producers: Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kate Horton, Fictionhouse

Best Revival of a Play

American Buffalo

Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Steve Traxler, Stephanie P. McClelland, GFour Productions, Spencer Ross, Gemini Theatrical, Chris and Ashlee Clarke, Suna Said Maslin, Ted & Richard Liebowitz/Cue to Cue Productions, Patty Baker/Good Productions, Brad Blume, Caiola Productions, Joanna Carson, Arthur Kern, Willette Klausner, Jeremiah J. Harris and Darren P. Deverna, Van Kaplan, Patrick Myles/David Luff, Alexander Marshall, Ambassador Theatre Group, Kathleen K. Johnson, Diego Kolankowsky, Steve and Jacob Levy, Morwin Schmookler, Brian Moreland, Jacob Soroken Porter, The Shubert Organization

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

Producers: Nelle Nugent, Ron Simons, Kenneth Teaton, Ellen Ferguson and Vivian Phillips, Willette and Manny Klausner, Hunter Arnold, Dale Franzen, Valencia Yearwood, One Community, Audible, Dennis Grimaldi, Terry Nardozzi and Tracey Knight Narang, Grace Nordhoff/Mickalene Thomas, Angelina Fiordellisi/Caiola Productions, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

How I Learned to Drive

Author: Paula Vogel
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove, Daryl Roth, Cody Lassen, Vineyard Theatre

Take Me Out*

Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Khady Kamara

Trouble in Mind

Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow

Best Book of a Musical

Girl From The North Country

Conor McPherson

MJ

Lynn Nottage

Mr. Saturday Night

Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Paradise Square

Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas & Larry Kirwan

A Strange Loop*

Michael R. Jackson

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Flying Over Sunset

Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Michael Korie

Mr. Saturday Night

Music: Jason Robert Brown
Lyrics: Amanda Green

Paradise Square

Music: Jason Howland
Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Masi Asare

SIX: The Musical*

Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

A Strange Loop

Music & Lyrics: Michael R. Jackson

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy*
Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy
Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy
David Morse, How I Learned to Drive
Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues
David Threlfall, Hangmen

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Gabby Beans, The Skin of Our Teeth
LaChanze, Trouble in Mind
Ruth Negga, Macbeth
Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H.*
Mary-Louise Parker, How I Learned to Drive

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Billy Crystal, Mr. Saturday Night
Myles Frost, MJ*
Hugh Jackman, The Music Man
Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire
Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline, or Change
Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset
Sutton Foster, The Music Man
Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square*
Mare Winningham, Girl From The North Country

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Alfie Allen, Hangmen
Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out*
Ron Cephas Jones, Clyde’s
Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out
Jesse Williams, Take Me Out

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Uzo Aduba, Clyde’s
Rachel Dratch, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kenita R. Miller, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew*
Julie White, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kara Young, Clyde’s

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Matt Doyle, Company*
Sidney DuPont, Paradise Square
Jared Grimes, Funny Girl
John-Andrew Morrison, A Strange Loop
A.J. Shively, Paradise Square

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Jeannette Bayardelle, Girl From The North Country
Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night
Jayne Houdyshell, The Music Man
L Morgan Lee, A Strange Loop
Patti LuPone, Company*
Jennifer Simard, Company

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Beowulf Boritt, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong, Skeleton Crew
Es Devlin, The Lehman Trilogy*
Anna Fleischle, Hangmen
Scott Pask, American Buffalo
Adam Rigg, The Skin of Our Teeth

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions, Flying Over Sunset
Bunny Christie, Company*
Arnulfo Maldonado, A Strange Loop
Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini, MJ
Allen Moyer, Paradise Square

Best Costume Design of a Play

Montana Levi Blanco, The Skin of Our Teeth*
Sarafina Bush, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Emilio Sosa, Trouble in Mind
Jane Greenwood, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite
Jennifer Moeller, Clyde’s

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Fly Davis, Caroline, or Change
Toni-Leslie James, Paradise Square
William Ivey Long, Diana, The Musical
Santo Loquasto, The Music Man
Gabriella Slade, SIX: The Musical*
Paul Tazewell, MJ

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Joshua Carr, Hangmen
Jiyoun Chang, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy*
Jane Cox, Macbeth
Yi Zhao, The Skin of Our Teeth

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Neil Austin, Company
Tim Deiling, SIX: The Musical
Donald Holder, Paradise Square
Natasha Katz, MJ*
Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset
Jen Schriever, A Strange Loop

Best Sound Design of a Play

Justin Ellington, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Mikhail Fiksel, Dana H.*
Palmer Hefferan, The Skin of Our Teeth
Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, The Lehman Trilogy
Mikaal Sulaiman, Macbeth

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Simon Baker, Girl From The North Country
Paul Gatehouse, SIX: The Musical
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Company
Drew Levy, A Strange Loop
Gareth Owen, MJ*

Best Direction of a Play

Lileana Blain-Cruz, The Skin of Our Teeth
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy*
Neil Pepe, American Buffalo
Les Waters, Dana H.

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop
Marianne Elliott, Company*
Conor McPherson, Girl From The North Country
Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage, SIX: The Musical
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ

Best Choreography

Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Warren Carlyle, The Music Man
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, SIX: The Musical
Bill T. Jones, Paradise Square
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ*

Best Orchestrations

David Cullen, Company
Tom Curran, SIX: The Musical
Simon Hale, Girl From The North Country*
Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, MJ
Charlie Rosen, A Strange Loop

Review: ‘Box of Rain,’ starring Lonnie Frazier, Betsy Abel-Talbott, Peter Conners, Joey Talley, Jim LeBrecht, Tim Zecha and Brian O’Donnell

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Box of Rain” (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)

“Box of Rain”

Directed by Lonnie Frazier

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Box of Rain” features an all-white group of middle-aged and elderly Grateful Dead fans discussing how this rock band’s music and culture made a positive impact on their lives.

Culture Clash: Grateful Dead concerts, which were about improvisation and peaceful freedom of expression, inspired the same attitudes in Grateful Dead fans (also known as Deadheads), who are sometimes misunderstood or stereotyped by other people. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Grateful Dead fans, “Box of Rain” will appeal to people interested in documentaries about unique music-based fandoms.

Jim LeBrecht in “Box of Rain” (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)

The documentary “Box of Rain” is an admittedly sentimental love letter to Grateful Dead fans (also known as Deadheads) that doesn’t reveal anything groundbreaking. The movie (directed by Lonnie Frazier, who counts herself as a longtime Deadhead) mostly consists of Deadheads sharing rosy memories of their experiences going to Grateful Dead concerts and how Deadhead culture changed their lives. There’s a lot of hippie nostalgia in the movie (which only interviews Deadheads), but it’s the type of nostalgia that isn’t preachy or too wistful of a bygone era. The movie tends to be repetitive, but it’s also uplifting and celebratory of people finding communities that are positive, which is the overall tone of this fan-oriented documentary.

“Box of Rain” is named after the “Box of Rain” song on the Grateful Dead’s 1970 “American Beauty” album. The documentary is a collection of thoughts and anecdotes from Grateful Dead fans who experienced the San Francisco-based rock band in the decades when the Grateful Dead toured with lead singer/co-founder Jerry Garcia, who died of a heart attack in 1995, at the age of 53. He was staying in a drug rehab facility at the time of his death.

One of the reasons why “Box of Rain” is so appealing is that “Box of Rain” director Frazier made it a personal film to share her own story about how becoming part of the Deadhead community helped her tremendously in healing from trauma. She provides occasional voiceover narration for the movie, and she appears in several of the documentary’s scenes. Frazier is an immensely likable presence in the movie and comes across as completely genuine in wanting to share how much of an impact the Grateful Dead made on her life and on the lives of so many other people.

As Frazier explains in the beginning of the movie, when she was 17 years old, she was violently raped by a group of male students who went to the same high school and whom she had known since they were all in elementary school. This horrific crime happened one night when she accepted a car ride from them after leaving a party. Instead of driving her to her car, these attackers drove her to a field and raped her.

Frazier says in a documentary voiceover: “After that, I felt like I was drowning in hopelessness. I reached out for help, but I was dismissed and sometimes even blamed. I was scared and suicidal. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. When home doesn’t feel like home, where do you go?”

She continues, “I was lucky. I found kindred spirits who showed me what a family can be, and what home can feel like. Being accepted into the Deadhead community had a profound influence on my life. Making this film is my way of thanking them for saving me.”

What was that turning point for her? Frazier says, “It all started with free tickets to see the Grateful Dead and a road trip.” Not long after she was raped and in a very dark place in her life, a friend named Betsy had free Grateful Dead tickets and invited Frazier and another friend to go on a road trip to travel from Maryland to see the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. The concert took place on September 6, 1985 (the documentary briefly shows a ticket stub from the show), and Frazier had just recently gotten a new car, which was used for the road trip.

Frazier says in the documentary that she was so eager to get out of her current living environment, she jumped at the chance to go on the trip, which she took with the two other teenage friends: Betsy Abel-Talbott and Kelly Gallagher. (A grey and white cat was also along for the ride.) Abel-Talbott, Gallagher and Frazier are shown together in a reunion interview that’s fun to watch, as they happily reminisce about this road trip. Abel-Talbott comments, “The trip was an incredible bonding experience for three girls. It was phenomenal.”

Later, in the documentary, Frazier is shown returning to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is a located in the middle of a natural rock structure, to share more memories of that concert, which was the first time that she saw the Grateful Dead perform. She vividly describes the overwhelming feeling of belonging to a community and feeling immediately accepted by strangers at this concert, which are feelings that she’d never experienced before. Frazier mentions that it feels a little strange that Abel-Talbott and Gallagher weren’t able to go with her on this return to Red Rocks. It was probably because the footage was filmed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are seen wearing pandemic masks in this Red Rocks footage.

This feeling of belonging to a welcoming community and feeling instantly accepted are recurring themes when people describe Deadhead culture in this documentary. Although some people describe the Deadhead lifestyle as almost like being part of a religion, it has never been a religion or a cult. Cults are defined as having leaders who dictate what cult members do with their lives, with an “us against them” mentality when interacting with people who aren’t in the cult. Deadhead culture is just the opposite, since the overall attitude is to let people be themselves peacefully, and to respectfully let people make up their own minds about what makes them happy.

Still, like any famous band, the Grateful Dead had a lot of fanatical followers, many of whom dropped out of school or quit their jobs to follow the band around on tour. Many of these Deadheads also raised families in this lifestyle and sustained themselves by selling art, food, jewelry, T-shirts and/or other memorabilia to get enough money for living expenses and to get to the next Grateful Dead concert. Grateful Dead concerts were also known for their communal scenes in each venue’s parking lot, where there was plenty of partying before and after the concerts. A few people in the documentary briefly mention financial hardships because of the costs of following the Grateful Dead on tour, but it’s all framed in a nostalgic tone of “youthful adventures,” without going into details about any of the harsh down sides to the lifestyle.

The people interviewed in the documentary all consider themselves to be Deadheads with a wide range of experiences. When asked to estimate the number of Grateful Dead concerts they saw in their lives, the lowest number named by one person is 20 to 30, while the highest number named by another person is 400. Grateful Dead concerts were beloved by fans not only because of the Deadhead community but also because the band never played the same set list at each concert. Songs often stretched into improvisational jams and were never played in the same way twice at Grateful Dead shows.

Rev. Joey Talley, who is described as an “old Wiccan minister” in the documentary, is the Deadhead in the movie who estimates that she’s seen about 400 Grateful Dead concerts, starting from the 1970s. She comments on Deadheads traveling around the United States: “We saw the good, the bad and the ugly. And sometimes, we saw bad things done to those places. And that gave us a sensitivity for taking care of the planet.”

It’s no coincidence that many Deadheads are also vegetarians/vegans and environmentalists. However, one of the things that comes up a lot in the documentary is that there are all types of Deadheads. And although it might be tempting to stereotype Deadheads as disheveled hippie types who take psychedelic drugs and are stuck in a “peace and love” Woodstock Festival mindset, the Deadheads in this documentary say that there are many Deadheads who definitely do not fit this stereotype.

For example, Frazier says that she’s never taken hallucinogenic drugs in her life. “Growing Up Dead” author Peter Conners, who became a Deadhead when he was a teenager, comments in the documentary that he’s met many non-Deadhead people who have assumed that his time following the Grateful Dead on tour meant that he had a lifestyle filled with non-stop drug parties and sex orgies. Conners said when he was a young Deadhead, he was definitely interested in dating, but his Deadhead lifestyle wasn’t nearly as decadent as many people assume it was.

Several of the Deadheads in the documentary say that, unlike many rock concerts, Grateful Dead concerts were environments where being physically aggressive and ready to start fights were severely unwelcomed and not allowed to become a problem. Violent and rude people were shunned or removed from Deadhead communities. Deadheads say that treating people with respect and showing kindness to others are core values to Deadhead culture.

The closest that anyone in the documentary comes to criticism of the Grateful Dead is when a few people mention that sometimes the band wasn’t playing at its best at a concert, but that the festive atmosphere from the crowd made up for any disappointing musicianship on stage. A few of the Deadheads in the documentary also gripe about how the Deadhead scene changed (and not for the better) in the late 1980s. They blame this change on the Grateful Dead reaching a new audience because of the band’s 1987 hit “Touch of Grey,” which was popular on the radio and MTV, and which brought a lot of “meatheads” and “macho frat boys” to Grateful Dead concerts.

Because so many of these Deadhead stories have a positive spin, the documentary leaves out a lot of uncomfortable truths about Grateful Dead concerts. For example, no one in the movie talks about overcrowding or drug freakouts at Grateful Dead shows, which were notorious for many attendees being under the influence of psychedelic drugs. No one talks about any legal problems or health problems they might have encountered as a direct result of being a Deadhead, since getting involved in illegal drugs was part of the lifestyle for many Deadheads.

Instead, the documentary has people saying they never saw any violence at Grateful Dead shows they attended. That doesn’t mean nothing unpleasant ever happened at these shows, but the Deadheads in the documentary say that any violence was more likely to come from someone who wasn’t a true Deadhead. Every community has its share of people who behave badly, so it’s not entirely believable that there were no Deadheads who committed violence.

Talley shares a story that happened years ago when she was a young woman at a Grateful Dead concert. She was introduced to a man who was newcomer to the Deadhead scene, and he greeted her with a hug but also by grinding his genitals against her without her consent. When a longtime Deadhead, who had brought this creep to the concert, found out about this sexual assault, Talley says that this protective Deadhead brought the assaulter to Talley and told him to make an apology to her, which the assaulter did. Talley says that was an example of how Deadheads looked out for each other.

Overall, most of the women interviewed in the documentary say that they felt safe at Grateful Dead concerts. Frazier has this to say about becoming part of the Deadhead community, where she could openly talk about her love of art, photography and movies: “It was the first time I felt viewed as a female human being who had things to offer besides what someone could take from me.” Later in the documentary, Frazier begins crying when she comments that after recovering from her rape, becoming part of the Deadhead community restored her faith that most people are essentially good.

However, Conners admits that when he was a young Deadhead, he didn’t really think about how concert experiences could be different for women and the “greater risks” that female Deadheads were “taking with their personal safety … that I took for granted because I had the privilege of being a 6-foot-tall white male moving through the world. I didn’t have to worry about safety issues so much.”

“Box of Rain” admirably brings up an issue that often gets ignored in documentaries about fans of rock concerts: how disabled people experience these concerts. One of the documentary’s interviewees is Oscar-nominated “Crip Camp” co-director Jim LeBrecht, a longtime Deadhead who uses a wheelchair. LeBrecht describes what it was like to go to a Grateful Dead concert before and after 1990’s Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities, thereby requiring disability access for disabled people in buildings that are open to the public.

Before the ADA (and when most concerts were general admission), wheelchair-using people who went to concerts were usually put in a section in the back where they could see above the crowd but still were far away from the stage, in an era when most concerts didn’t have large video screens. Despite often being treated like second-class concertgoers, LeBrecht says marijuana-using Deadheads in wheelchairs had some “perks” when they went to a Grateful Dead concert: “If you’re ever at a party, and you’re looking for the person with the best pot, you’re looking for the person in the wheelchair, because these folks had great pot.”

The death of Grateful Dead leader Garcia was devastating to many fans, and there’s a section of the documentary that discusses this topic. Tim Zecha, who says he thought of Garcia as being “like a shaman,” gets tearful when he remembers meeting Garcia and being an admittedly “star-struck fan” during this encounter. LeBrecht comments on his own reaction to Garcia’s death: “I don’t think I recovered for a year, because it was the absolute closing of an era in my life.”

Other people interviewed in the documentary include Marty “Ziggy” Leipzig, Johnny Adams, James Talley, Mark Mullis, Jack Gerard, Bob Shugoll, Jen Rund, Kelley Condon, Julie Moore, Jim McWatters and “Deadheads” documentary filmmaker Brian O’Donnell. The “Box of Rain” documentary includes a section where many of the interviewees talk about “magic shows,” a Deadhead term for Grateful Dead concerts that were extraordinarily magical experiences for Deadheads.

The Grateful Dead was the first major rock band to allow fans to record the band’s concerts. It resulted in widespread tape trading among fans who collected recordings of these shows. A section of “Box of Rain” covers the Deadhead tape-trading community. Tape trading seems very quaint now in this digital era where anyone with a smartphone can record concerts and share these digital recordings.

It’s an example of how the Grateful Dead was ahead of its time, because the band let fans record Grateful Dead shows during an era when audience members who were caught recording concerts could get expelled or arrested for copyright law violations. Nowaways, it’s become common to go to a concert and see numerous people openly recording it. Entire concerts or large portions of concerts are now uploaded or livestreamed by audience members for people around the world.

In one way or another, the Deadheads interviewed in the “Box of Rain” documentary say that the band’s music, especially at the live concerts, helped them be better people, resulted in great experiences, and got them through tough times. Leipzig, whose husband Michael died of prostate cancer, says that listening to the Grateful Dead’s music was a comfort to her and Michael and helped them cope during his cancer battle: “I know when we listened to certain songs together, we were moved to another plane of understanding and compassion—so thank you, Grateful Dead.”

Many of the stories told in the documentary will be moving to anyone, especially people who can relate to finding a lot of joy and emotional healing through music. In other words, viewers don’t need to be fans of the Grateful Dead to enjoy the “Box of Rain” documentary. The movie isn’t perfect, but if the intention of “Box of Rain” is to make viewers smile and feel good about humanity, then this documentary definitely succeeds in that purpose.

Mutiny Pictures released “Box of Rain” on digital and VOD on May 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Take Me to the River: New Orleans,’ starring the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Big Freedia, Dr. John, the Rebirth Brass Band, Snoop Dogg and Ledisi

May 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” with entertainers that include Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville and Charles Neville (far right); members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; and director Martin Shore (second from left). (Photo courtesy of 360 Distribution)

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans”

Directed by Martin Shore

Culture Representation: The documentary “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” features a racially diverse (African Americans and white people) group of music artists and some producers talking about New Orleans music as they record the movie’s soundtrack songs.

Culture Clash: New Orleans has been a melting pot of different types of music, with certain genres (such as jazz and blues) originating directly from African American experiences of being enslaved and oppressed.

Culture Audience: “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” will appeal mostly to people who are interested in seeing New Orleans music and culture celebrated by music artists of many different generations.

Irma Thomas in “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” (Photo courtesy of 360 Distribution)

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans” is partly a promotional vehicle showing the recording of the songs on the movie’s soundtrack and partly a history of New Orleans music culture. The documentary has got some editing issues, but the diverse performances in the studio are joyous to watch. Fans of jazz, blues, R&B, rap/hip-hop, Cajun and brass band music will find something to like in “Take Me to the River: New Orleans,” which has representation of all of these music genres.

Directed by Martin Shore and narrated by actor John Goodman, “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” is a sequel to Shore’s 2014 documentary “Take Me to the River,” which focused on the musical history and legacy of Memphis. “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” is not a fully comprehensive history of New Orleans music, because most of the history discussed is about the New Orleans music scene in the 20th century and the early 21st century. And the history is only covered in the context of which songs are on the soundtrack album to “Take Me to the River: New Orleans.” For example, before the recording of a Cajun song is performed, the movie does a brief history of Cajun music in New Orleans.

Filming of the documentary mostly took place at two New Orleans recording studios: Music Shed Studios and The Parlor Recording Studio. On the one hand, it gives viewers a very up-close and intimate view of the artists and their creative process when recording music in a studio. On the other hand, it makes the documentary look somewhat insular by putting so much focus on the recording studio sessions.

New Orleans has a vibrant live music scene that is barely covered in this documentary. There is some brief footage of outdoor performances by local street performers during parades, as well as very old archival clips of concerts by a few well-known New Orleans artists. That’s the extent to which live performances are covered in “Take Me to the River: New Orleans.”

The concept for the documentary and its soundtrack was to bring together artists of various generations to record classic songs that have New Orleans origins. Many of the artists in these recording sessions are New Orleans natives or people whose careers have been significantly influenced by New Orleans culture. And, not surprisingly, the documentary interviews have nothing but praise for New Orleans.

The artists who participated in these recording sessions included the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ledisi, G-Eazy, Snoop Dogg, William Bell, Galactic, Mannie Fresh, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, George Porter Jr., Christian Scott, Donald Harrison Jr., Big Freedia, Ani DiFranco, Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton, Rebirth Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Soul Rebels, Voice of the Wetlands, 79rs Gang, The Givers, Dumpstaphunk, Cheeky Blakk, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Big Sam, Terence Higgins, Shannon Powell, Whirlin’ Herlin Riley, Alvin Ford Jr., Stanton Moore, 5th Ward Weebie, Walter Wolfman Washington, Eric Heigle, Dee-1, Erica Falls, Ivan Neville, Ian Neville and Davell Crawford. In addition, “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” has interviews with some artists who weren’t part of these recording sessions, including Jon Batiste, Mia X, DJ Soul Sister, Jazz Fest founding producer Quint Davis and Deacon John Moore.

The documentary features the recordings of these songs:

  • “Wish Someone Would Care,” performed by Irma Thomas and Ledisi
  • “Li’l Liza Jane,” performed by drummers Terence Higgins, Shannon Powell, Whirlin’ Herlin Riley, Alvin Ford Jr. and Stanton Moore
  • “Firewater” performed by Donald Harrison Jr. and Christian Scott
  • “Wrong Part of Town,” performed by 79rs Gang
  • “Sand Castle Headhunter,” performed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
  • “Blue Moon Special,” performed by Roots of Music, Ani DiFranco and Lost Bayou Ramblers
  • “Stompin’ Ground,” performed by Aaron Neville
  • “Hey Mama (Wild Tchoupitoulas)” performed by the Neville Brothers
  • “504 (Enjoy Yourself),” performed by Soul Rebels and 5th Ward Weebie
  • “Street Parade,” performed by Cyril Neville
  • “New Orleans Girl,” performed by PJ Morton, Rebirth Brass Band and Cheeky Blakk
  • “Act Like You Know,” performed by Dee-1, Mannie Fresh, Erica Falls and Big Freedia
  • “Jack-A-Mo,” performed by Dr. John and Davell Crawford
  • “Yes We Can Can,” performed by William Bell, Snoop Dogg and G-Eazy

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans” includes discussions of Mardis Gras Indian culture in New Orleans; the origins of “bounce” hip-hop in New Orleans; the influential legacy of New Orleans musician/producer Allen Toussaint; and the impact of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina on the New Orleans music scene. The words “family” and “community” come up a lot when people talk about the New Orleans music scene.

DJ Soul Sister, Big Freedia and Mia X are among the artists who say that many musicians permanently moved out of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurrican Katrina. Mia X comments on the New Orleans music scene after Hurricane Katrina, “We have this sense of family, unlike no other city, but it’s different.” As difficult as it was for many people to recover from Hurrican Katrina, the recovery process is testament to New Orleans’ resilience. In the documentary, rapper 5th Ward Weebie says, “If you ever seen people go through tough times, rough times, and still come at the end of the day smile about it, that’s what makes New Orleans unique.”

New Orleans native Morton says that he wrote “New Orleans Girl” after Hurricane Katrina changed the city. Morton says about the song “New Orleans is the girl. I’ve been all over the world, and there’s no place like New Orleans.” Snoop Dogg comments, “New Orleans is a safe haven of love.” Aaron Neville states, “New Orleans music is a way of life.”

A recurring theme in the documentary is the importance of passing down musical and cultural traditions or “passing the torch” to younger generations. Many of the New Orleans native musicians have the experience of growing up in musical families and with older musical mentors, perhaps more than musicians who grow up in many other cities. Powell says of learning from his elders: “I hung out with the old cats. I was taught not only how to play the drums but how to be a man.”

Riley, who’s been a drummer for Wynton Marsalis and George Benson, says in the documentary: “My family were my biggest influences My uncle and my grandfather [band leader Frank Lastie], they showed me how to play the drums. My grandfather showed me how to play [the drums] with butter knives … on the breakfast table … There’s a unique and distinct way we play the bass drums here. It really identifies the New Orleans sound.”

There’s a considerable segment on how African-oriented music intertwined with Native American culture in New Orleans, and this blend gave rise to Mardi Gras Indians, who have elaborate costumes and ritual dancing. The male leaders of these Mardi Gras Indian groups are called Big Chiefs, while the female leaders are called Big Queens. Many of these leaders have their own music groups.

The documentary features interviews with Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. of the Wild Magnolias; his mother Big Queen Laurita Dollis; and 79rs Gang members Big Chief Romeo Bougere of the 9th Ward Hunters and Big Chief Jermaine Bossier of the 7th Ward Creole Hunters. Bougere and Bossier say that even though the 7th Ward and the 9th Ward are considered rival wards with a lot of feuding, these two musical collaborators decided to form the 79rs Gang to show that these two communities can be united through music.

Bougere comments, “We need to get past hating someone because they’re from another ward.” Bossier adds of Mardi Gras Indian culture, “This is a warrior culture. Things happen. But for the most part, it’s about being pretty. It’s about showing off your suit.”

One of the highlights of “Take Me to the River” is the collaboration between Thomas and Ledisi, who is ecstatic over being able to perform and record a song with one of her musical idols. Ledisi (who grew up in the New Orleans music scene, where her mother Nyra Dynese was in a band) practically swoons when Thomas greets her at the studio by giving Ledisi a gift of shrimp and okra. “Yes! She hooked me up, man!” Ledisi exclaims. And later Ledisi literally jumps up and down with joy after she and Thomas record their duet of “Wish Someone Would Care,” one of Thomas’ classics.

Thomas says of Ledisi and the legacy of New Orleans music culture: “As far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the few who will be passing it on … She seems to have a natural knack for it. And that’s a good thing. I feel very good about passing the torch to her.” Ledisi adds, “We don’t want to lose the story. We’ve got to honor our legends while they’re here.”

DiFranco comments, “The deepness and the intactness of the New Orleans community is being threatened. As a result, people here have to be more intentional about staying in touch with those roots, so the continuum is not broken.”

Preservation Hall Jazz Band member Ben Jaffe, whose parents Allan and Sandra Jaffe co-founded the legendary Preservation Hall music venue, says of continuing this legacy: “The most important thing that Preservation Hall can do is make music available to people. When we’re collaborating with musicians, we’re not looking for someone who has an affinity for New Orleans jazz or understands New Orleans jazz. We’re looking for people who share our soul.”

Another documentary highlight is the Neville Brothers’ recording of “Hey Mama (Wild Tchoupitoulas).” Not only was it the first time in years that brothers Aaron Neville, Cyril Neville, Art Neville and Charles Neville were in the same recording studio together, it would also turn out to be the last recording that all four brothers would make together. Charles Neville died in 2018, and Art Neville died in 2019.

Unfortunately, parts of “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” look very dated because of the deaths of some of the documentary’s on-camera participants. By the time “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” was released in theaters in 2022, several people in the documentary had already passed away. They include Charles Neville, Art Neville, Dr. John (who died in 2019) and 5th Ward Weebie (who died in 2020). However, it doesn’t take away from the great music shown in the documentary.

“Take Me to the River: New Orleans” has some flawed editing that doesn’t always make the transition between the topics very smooth. And except for a brief mention by a Neville family member that the Neville Brothers were ripped off by bad business deals at the height of their careers, the documentary glosses over any mention of corruption in the music industry and how it affected New Orleans artists. Ultimately, the best parts of the movie are in seeing the artists and their talent come alive when collaborating in the studio with other artists they admire and respect.

360 Distribution released “Take Me to the River: New Orleans” in select U.S. cinemas, beginning in New Orleans on April 22, 2022, and in New York City and Los Angeles on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Aline’ (2021), starring Valérie Lemercier

May 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Valérie Lemercier in “Aline” (Photo by Jean-Marie Leroy/Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aline” (2021)

Directed by Valérie Lemercier

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Canadian province of Québec and various other parts of the world, the drama “Aline” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this dramatic film inspired by the life of French Canadian pop singer Céline Dion, fictional singer Aline Dieu overcomes childhood shyness to become a music superstar, but as an adult, she struggles with fame, infertility issues and her husband’s cancer diagnosis.

Culture Audience: “Aline” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Céline Dion and melodramatic movies about famous singers where the movies’ cinematic quality is questionable at best.

Valérie Lemercier and Silvain Marcel in “Aline” (Photo by Jean-Marie Leroy/Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aline” is less of a Céline Dion tribute and more of a mishandled vanity project from director/writer/star Valérie Lemercier. In this frequently tacky drama, Lemercier portrays a superstar fictional singer named Aline Dieu (a character based on the real-life Céline Dion), from the ages of 5 to 50. Very few middle-aged people can convincingly depict a pre-teen child on camera. Unfortunately for the movie, Lemercier is not one of them.

It’s not a complete train wreck, but “Aline” is not very convincing as an “inspired by” biopic or as a work of fiction. And it has a lot to do with Lemercier’s often-cringeworthy performance of Aline as a child. Lemercier co-wrote the “Aline” screenplay with Brigitte Buc. And as the movie’s director, Lemercier had the bad judgment to cast herself in the role of Aline as a child. This directorial decision reeks of egotism and wanting to have as much screen time as possible, instead of casting a capable child actress in an age-appropriate role for the underage part of Aline’s life.

People who know Dion’s story already will find no surprises in “Aline.” The movie follows a “Behind the Music” format, by chronicling the rise of Aline from obscurity in Québec, to Canadian fame, to eventual international superstardom. Nearly one-third of the movie (which is told in chronological order) is about Aline under the age of 18. The movie shows Aline (just like the real Dion) growing up as a shy and introverted child in a loving and opinionated family that included her butcher father Anglomard Dieu (played by Roc Lafortune); her homemaker mother Sylvette Dieu (played by Danielle Fichaud); and eight sisters and five brothers.

Aline, the youngest child in her immediate family, first sings in front of an audience at the age of 5, at the wedding of one of her brothers. She instantly wows the crowd, of course. Aline and some of her siblings begin performing in the Dieu Family Band. (When she was a child, Dion also was in a singing group with some of her siblings.) The “Aline” movie also shows how—just like Dion in real life—Aline disliked school because other students bullied and teased for her physical appearance of being very thin and having crooked teeth.

By the age of 12, Aline is co-writing songs and singing on Canadian television. And she catches the attention of a talent manager named Guy-Claude Kamar (played by Sylvain Marcel), who’s old enough to be Aline’s father. There are some “I can make this kid a star” scenarios, which lead to Guy-Claude signing on as Aline’s manager. But his feelings for her aren’t fatherly at all.

The movie is deliberately murky on some of the details (probably for legal reasons), but Guy-Claude (a very married man with adult children) and Aline eventually fall in love with each other when she’s in her mid-teens. “Aline” depicts it as a chaste romance, where Aline and Guy-Claude would just look at each other lovingly and occasionally hug and hold hands. According to this movie, when Aline and Guy-Claude would travel together, he would just tuck her into bed at various hotels, and there would be no sexual contact between them when she was an underage child.

If you believe this movie, Guy-Claude’s personality was so charming, Aline was the one who wanted the relationship to turn sexual, but Guy-Claude turned down her “advances” until she was at the legal age of consent for a sexual relationship. (In Canada, the legal age of consent is 16.) Viewers can make up their own minds about how realistic or unrealistic the movie’s scenarios are of this underage and sheltered child pushing to have a sexual relationship with an adult who is not only enough to be the child’s parent but also has a position of authority and power over the child.

Aline’s protective mother Sylvette is very suspicious of Guy-Claude’s intentions to become more than Aline’s manager, so Sylvette threatens to harm him if he ever touches Aline inappropriately. But despite these threats, the fact is that Sylvette can’t be with Aline all the time. Aline and Guy-Claude spend a lot of time alone together behind closed doors, as he guides her career to more fame and fortune. Because of the creepy nature of Guy-Claude “falling in love” with underage Aline, it’s another reason why the scenes of Aline as a child make the movie look very awkward.

After a number of years, Aline becomes a legal adult. Guy-Claude announces that he’s getting divorced, and he eventually marries Aline. Her parents and siblings give begrudging approval, and they eventually accept Guy-Claude into the Dieu family. It probably helped that Guy-Claude was making Aline rich and famous.

The movie gets a little more interesting during this celebrity part of Aline’s life, but Lemercier’s performance as the adult Aline is still tainted by all the icky earlier scenes of her portraying a child who was seduced (and some would say exploited) by a man old enough to be her father. Marcel’s actor interpretation of Guy-Claude is as someone who was “misunderstood” and protective of Aline, while other people might see Guy-Claude’s attitude toward Aline as obsessive and controlling. The rest of the cast members’ performances are mediocre at best.

Every “inspired by” biopic about a famous entertainer has to include some tragedy and heartbreak, with the entertainer usually finding some way to recover on the road to a comeback. Unlike most famous singers, Dion (who was born in 1968) has not had a public battle with drug addiction or failed romances as the darkest moments in her life. Her most challenging personal experiences have to do with the deaths of her husband/manager and her brother within a short period of time. On January 14, 2016, Dion’s husband/manager Rene Angélil’s died of throat cancer, at the age of 73, just two days before he would have turned 74. On what would have been his birthday in 2016, Dion’s brother Daniel died of cancer.

Less tragic but still emotionally painful was her struggle to conceive children, which she eventually was able to do with the help of in vitro fertilization. In real life, Dion has three children, all sons: René-Charles (born in 2001) and fraternal twins Eddy and Nelson, born in 2010. The movie includes the expected emotional tug of war she felt when she had to leave her children behind during rigorous touring schedules, or when she couldn’t spend enough time with them as she wanted, because of the demands of her Las Vegas residency.

It’s all recreated in “Aline.” And because Dion’s life has been so public, none of this is spoiler information for the “Aline” movie. What makes it so hard to take is that this movie has a lot of cliché and hokey dialogue. And therefore, no further insight can be gained into what Dion’s life might have been really like behind the scenes, when so many of the movie’s conversations sound fake and too contrived. People can read Dion’s 2001 memoir “My Story, My Dream” for better insight into her early life, instead of the very bland version presented in this movie. And with a total running time of 126 minutes, “Aline” is just a little too long (with uneven pacing that sometimes drags) for what amounts to a scripted movie version of Dion’s Wikipedia page.

One of the ways that the movie badly falters is how it skimps on Aline’s performances, which include just snippets of Dion’s real-life songs. It’s an obvious sign that the movie couldn’t afford or were denied the rights to have renditions of Dion’s songs for longer than a minute. Most of the performances are less than a minute each, and they breeze by like a choppy music video. Victoria Sio, who provides the singing voice of Aline in this movie, does a fairly good impression of the real-life Dion, but this vocal talent can barely be appreciated when the songs aren’t played long enough in “Aline.”

And that’s not a good sign, when the performances are supposed to be the best part of this movie. The concert scenes of superstar Aline have faithful recreations of many of Dion’s real-life costumes and stage moves, but they are all superficial when the music is cut off so abruptly in many of these live performance scenes. Dion’s most famous hit—”My Heart Will Go On,” the Oscar-winning theme from 1997’s “Titanic”—is merely a blip in this assembly-line approach to showing Aline doing what she does best: sing. And a life as full of highs and lows as Dion’s deserves better than being treated as a formula that hits a lot of wrong notes.

Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Aline” in select U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022, with a wider expansion on April 8, 2022. The movie was released in Canada, France and other countries in 2021.

Review: ‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story,’ starring George Wein, Quint Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen

May 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire in “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” (Photo courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Sony Pictures Classics)

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story”

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the documentary “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” features a cast of white and black people (with a few Latinos), mostly music artists, who are connected in some way to Jazz Fest, an annual music and cultural festival in New Orleans.

Culture Clash: Jazz Fest has had its share of obstacles, including overcoming racial segregation issues, Hurricane Katrina and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Culture Audience: “Jazz Fest” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in this festival and its impact on New Orleans and pop culture.

Nashville Super Choir in “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” (Photo courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Sony Pictures Classics)

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” is a purely laudatory documentary, told mostly from artists’ perspectives. The film is sometimes unfocused, and some of the commentary praise is too effusive, but the dynamic concert scenes make the movie a worthwhile watch. The movie capably demonstrates how Jazz Fest has become a necessary and influential cultural institution in New Orleans.

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” does nothing groundbreaking in how the film is presented. It’s a traditionally formatted documentary that blends archival footage with the movie’s exclusive interviews. “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” does an excellent job of showing the diversity of Jazz Fest, the commonly used name for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Despite its name, this beloved event isn’t just a festival for jazz music. Jazz Fest—an outdoor festival which traditionally takes place in the spring at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots—also features R&B, rock, pop, country, gospel, blues, Latin music, Americana, world music, and a number of other music genres from numerous artists from around the world. Jazz Fest, which launched in 1970, is owned by the non-profit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation Inc. The event is produced by AEG Presents and Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans.

Jazz Fest founder George Wein (who died in 2021, at age 95) is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. A longtime concert promoter, Wein says in the documentary that he was first approached to do Jazz Fest in 1962 by “someone from the Hotel Corporation of America” to do a “Newport [Jazz Festival] type of festival.” Wein said that because of Jim Crow laws at the time that made racial segregation legal in Louisiana, “I couldn’t have white musicians and African [black] musicians on stage at the same time.”

And so, Jazz Fest had to wait to launch only after the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into law and ended legal racial segregation in the United States. Shell Oil Company signed on to be Jazz Fest’s first corporate sponsor. Jazz Fest’s first concert lineup in the event’s inaugural year included Mahalia Jackson, Duke Wellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, The Meters, and the Preservation Hall Band.

Jazz Fest received support from the artistic community from the beginning, although attendance from the public was very low by today’s Jazz Fest standards. In the first year of Jazz Fest, which took place in Congo Square in 1970, about 350 people attended. Since then, Jazz Fest has become the biggest annual concert event in New Orleans, with an estimated 425,000 to 475,000 people in attendance, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jazz Fest founding producer Quint Davis comments in the documentary: “When Jazz Fest started, it was like we were presenting this music to the world … There were a lot of reasons everybody thought we would fail. One of them was bringing Cajun people and Latin people together.”

Davis adds, “Well, everybody eats, and everybody dances. So, if we can get people together to see what they eat and see what they dance to, I think that can work. When it was all put together in one place, it was stunning to the local people. They were amazed at themselves and felt tremendous pride.”

One particular New Orleans family became integral to Jazz Fest: the Marsalis family, who are world-renowned for their musical accomplishments, particularly in jazz. Ellis Marsalis Jr. (who died in 2020, at age 85) and four of his six sons—Wynton, Branson, Delfeayo, and Jason—are interviewed in the documentary, and they share fond memories of performing at Jazz Fest. The Marsalis brothers literally grew up at Jazz Fest and frequently performed as part of the musical group called the Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute. Branford Marsalis comments on performing with his brothers and his father Ellis: “When we walked out on stage, he ceased being my dad. He was the leader of the group.”

Davis comments on another popular Jazz Fest artist: “Jimmy Buffett is very, very special to us. He’s been responsible for drawing more people to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival than maybe anybody else.” Buffett says in the documentary: “Everything I do, from writing shows to writing songs comes out from being a child of the Mardi Gras.”

Other artists interviewed include Irma Thomas; Pitbull; Boyfriend; Sony Landreth; Big Freedia; Tom Jones; Divine Ladies member Angelina Sever; Preservation Hall Jazz Band member Ben Jaffe; Cowboy Mouth member Fred LeBlanc; High Steppers Brass Band member Daryl Fields; Tab Benoit; Marc Savoy; John Hammond; and Earth, Wind & Fire members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. The documentary also has archival footage of several performances, including those by Aaron Neville; Katy Perry with the Gospel Soul Children; Thomas; Pitbull; B.B. King; Al Green; Hammond; Big Freedia; Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Herbie Hancock; Nashville Super Choir; and Earth, Wind & Fire.

There’s an entire segment in the documentary about the food of Jazz Fest, with soundbites from some Jazz Fest food vendors, along with the expected delectable-looking display of New Orleans cuisine, such as jambalaya, crawfish, pralines and beignets. The movie tends to drift off-topic in the middle of the film, when it veers into a prolonged discussion of Mardi Gras, including the history of Mardi Gras and how Mardi Gras has impacted New Orleans Fortunately, the documentary eventually gets back on track to talking about Jazz Fest.

One of the best aspects of the documentary is the discussion about how Jazz Fest had a triumphant comeback in 2006, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bruce Springsteen’s emotionally moving Jazz Fest 2006 performance of “My City of Ruins” is in the documentary. Springsteen comments, “There are certain moments when you meet your audience, and that’s when the healing begins. It was one of the most beautiful concert experiences I ever had.”

The epilogue of “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” includes mention of how, for the first time in Jazz Fest history, the event was cancelled. It happened in 2020 and 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The epilogue includes a brief mention of Jazz Fest’s return in 2022, with footage of Buffet performing a rousing cover version of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

“Jazz Fest” is a documentary that often comes across as an electronic press kit video, because the commentary is non-stop praise of Jazz Fest and/or New Orleans, with no mention of any under-reported problems of Jazz Fest. The movie lacks any constructive criticism of the event and doesn’t talk about issues such as overcrowding or overpricing. But as a documentary that’s meant to celebrate the event, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” is at its best when it lets the music and performances do the talking.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022.

2022 Billboard Music Awards: Olivia Rodrigo is the top winner

May 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Doja Cat at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on May 15, 2022. (Photo by David Becker/NBC)

With seven prizes, Olivia Rodrigo was the top winner at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards, which were presented on May 15 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Sean “Diddy” Combs hosted the show, which was televised in the U.S. on NBC and streamed live on Peacock.

Rodrigo (who did not attend the ceremony) won the awards for Best New Artist, Top Female Artist, Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Streaming Songs Artist, Top Radio Songs Artist, Top Billboard Global 200 Artist and Top Billboard 200 Album (for “Sour”).

Other artists who won several awards included Drake (five prizes, including Top Artist); Ye (six prizes in the Gospel and Christian categories); and Doja Cat (four prizes, mostly in the R&B categories). Drake and Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) did not attend the ceremony.

Mary J. Blige received the Icon award, which was presented to her by Janet Jackson. The Weeknd, who was the artist with the ceremony’s most nominations (17), ended up winning just one prize at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards: Top R&B Male Artist. The Weeknd did not attend the ceremony. Other winners who were no-shows included BTS, Taylor Swift, The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber.

Performers at the show were Diddy, Bryson Tiller, Jack Harlow, Teyana Taylor, Silk Sonic, Rauw Alejandro, Florence and the Machine, Miranda Lambert, Elle King, Latto, Morgan Wallen, Megan Thee Stallion, Dan + Shay, Travis Scott, Machine Gun Kelly, Ed Sheeran, Becky G, Maxwell and Burna Boy.

Presenters at the show included City Girls, Lainey Wilson, DJ Khaled, Heidi Klum, Fat Joe, Michael Bublé, Anitta, Diddy, Liza Koshy, Shenseea, French Montana, Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, graduates of Capital Prep, Dove Cameron, Dixie D’Amelio, Chloe Bailey, Anthony Anderson, Tiffany Haddish and Giveon.

According to a press release: “This year’s awards are based on the chart period of April 10, 2021 through March 26, 2022. Billboard Music Awards finalists and winners are based on key fan interactions with music, including album and digital song sales, streaming, radio airplay, and social engagement, tracked by Billboard and its data partners, including Luminate.” Finalists are also determined by performance on the Billboard Charts.

The 2022 Billboard Music Awards show was produced by MRC Live & Alternative. Robert Deaton was the executive producer.

Here is the complete list of nominees and winners for the 2022 Billboard Music Awards:

*=winner

ARTIST AWARDS

Top Artist
Doja Cat
Drake*
Olivia Rodrigo
Taylor Swift
The Weeknd

Top New Artist
Givēon
Masked Wolf
Olivia Rodrigo*
Pooh Shiesty
The Kid Laroi

Top Male Artist
Drake*

Ed Sheeran
Justin Bieber
Lil Nas X
The Weeknd

Top Female Artist
Adele
Doja Cat
Dua Lipa
Olivia Rodrigo*

Taylor Swift

Top Duo/Group
BTS*

Glass Animals
Imagine Dragons
Migos
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak)

Top Billboard 200 Artist
Adele
Drake
Juice WRLD
Morgan Wallen
Taylor Swift*

Top Hot 100 Artist
Doja Cat
Drake
Justin Bieber
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Streaming Songs Artist
Doja Cat
Drake
Lil Nas X
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Song Sales Artist
Adele
BTS*
Dua Lipa
Ed Sheeran
Walker Hayes

Top Radio Songs Artist
Doja Cat
Ed Sheeran
Justin Bieber
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Billboard Global 200 Artist (new category)
Doja Cat
Ed Sheeran
Justin Bieber
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Billboard Global (Excluding U.S.) Artist (new category)
BTS
Dua Lipa
Ed Sheeran*
Olivia Rodrigo
The Weeknd

Top Tour
Eagles (Hotel California Tour)
Genesis (The Last Domino? Tour)
Green Day, Fall Out Boy & Weezer (The Hella Mega Tour)
Harry Styles (Love on Tour)
The Rolling Stones (No Filter Tour)*

Top R&B Artist
Doja Cat*

Givēon
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak)
Summer Walker
The Weeknd

Top R&B Male Artist
Givēon
Khalid
The Weeknd*

Top R&B Female Artist
Doja Cat*

Summer Walker
SZA

Top R&B Tour
Bruno Mars (Bruno Mars at Park MGM)*

Omarion & Bow Wow (The Millennium Tour 2021)
Usher (The Vegas Residency)

Top Rap Artist
Drake*

Juice WRLD
Lil Baby
Moneybagg Yo
Polo G

Top Rap Male Artist
Drake*

Juice WRLD
Polo G

Top Rap Female Artist
Cardi B
Latto
Megan Thee Stallion*

Top Rap Tour
J. Cole (The Off-Season Tour)
Lil Baby (The Back Outside Tour)
Omarion & Bow Wow (The Millennium Tour 2021)*

Top Country Artist
Chris Stapleton
Luke Combs
Morgan Wallen
Taylor Swift*
Walker Hayes

Top Country Male Artist
Chris Stapleton
Luke Combs
Morgan Wallen*

Top Country Female Artist
Carrie Underwood
Miranda Lambert
Taylor Swift*

Top Country Duo/Group
Dan + Shay*

Florida Georgia Line
Zac Brown Band

Top Country Tour
Luke Bryan (Proud to Be Right Here Tour)
Eric Church (Gather Again Tour)*
Chris Stapleton (All-American Road Show Tour)

Top Rock Artist
Glass Animals*

Imagine Dragons
Machine Gun Kelly
Måneskin
Twenty One Pilots

Top Rock Tour
Genesis (The Last Domino? Tour)
Green Day, Fall Out Boy & Weezer (The Hella Mega Tour)
The Rolling Stones (No Filter Tour)*

Top Latin Artist
Bad Bunny*

Farruko
Kali Uchis
Karol G
Rauw Alejandro

Top Latin Male Artist
Bad Bunny*

Farruko
Rauw Alejandro

Top Latin Female Artist
Kali Uchis*

Karol G
Rosalía

Top Latin Duo/Group
Calibre 50
Eslabon Armado*
Grupo Firme

Top Latin Tour
Bad Bunny (El Último Tour Del Mundo)
Enrique Iglesias & Ricky Martin (Live in Concert)
Los Bukis (Una Historia Cantada Tour)*

Top Dance/Electronic Artist
Calvin Harris
David Guetta
Lady Gaga*
Marshmello
Tiësto

Top Christian Artist
Carrie Underwood
Elevation Worship
for King & Country
Lauren Daigle
Ye*

Top Gospel Artist
CeCe Winans
Elevation Worship
Kirk Franklin
Maverick City Music
Ye*

ALBUM AWARDS

Top Billboard 200 Album
Adele, 30
Doja Cat, Planet Her
Drake, Certified Lover Boy
Morgan Wallen, Dangerous: The Double Album
Olivia Rodrigo, SOUR*

Top Soundtrack
Arcane League of Legends
Encanto*
In The Heights
Sing 2
tick, tick…BOOM!

Top R&B Album
Doja Cat, Planet Her*

Givēon, When It’s All Said and Done…Take Time
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak), An Evening With Silk Sonic
Summer Walker, Still Over It
The Weeknd, Dawn FM

Top Rap Album
Drake, Certified Lover Boy*

Moneybagg Yo, A Gangsta’s Pain
Rod Wave, SoulFly
The Kid Laroi, F*ck Love
Ye, Donda

Top Country Album
Florida Georgia Line, Life Rolls On
Lee Brice, Hey World
Taylor Swift, Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
Taylor Swift, Red (Taylor’s Version)*
Walker Hayes, Country Stuff: The Album

Top Rock Album
AJR, OK Orchestra
Coldplay, Music of the Spheres
Imagine Dragons, Mercury – Act 1
John Mayer, Sob Rock
Twenty One Pilots, Scaled and Icy*

Top Latin Album
Eslabon Armado, Corta Venas
J Balvin, Jose
Kali Uchis, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)
Karol G, KG0516*
Rauw Alejandro, Vice Versa

Top Dance/Electronic Album
C418, Minecraft – Volume Alpha
FKA twigs, Caprisongs
Illenium, Fallen Embers*
Porter Robinson, Nurture
Rüfüs Du Sol, Surrender

Top Christian Album
Carrie Underwood, My Savior
CeCe Winans, Believe for It
Elevation Worship & Maverick City Music, Old Church Basement
Phil Wickham, Hymn of Heaven
Ye, Donda*

Top Gospel Album
CeCe Winans, Believe for It
Elevation Worship & Maverick City Music, Old Church Basement
Maverick City Music, Jubilee: Juneteenth Edition
Maverick City Music & Upperroom, move your heart.
Ye, Donda*

SONG AWARDS

Top Hot 100 Song
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More”
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Streaming Song
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Glass Animals, “Heat Waves”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Selling Song
BTS, “Butter”*

BTS, “Permission to Dance”
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”

Top Radio Song
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”*

Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Collaboration
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More”
Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar & GIVĒON, “Peaches”
Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow, “Industry Baby”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Billboard Global 200 Song (new category)
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Billboard Global (Excluding U.S.) Song (new category)
BTS, “Butter”
Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Viral Song (new category)
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More”*
Gayle, “Abcdefu”
Glass Animals, “Heat Waves”
Masked Wolf, “Astronaut in the Ocean”
Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”

Top R&B Song
Doja Cat & The Weeknd, “You Right”
Givēon, “Heartbreak Anniversary”
Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar & Givēon, “Peaches”
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak), “Leave The Door Open”*
WizKid featuring Justin Bieber & Tems, “Essence”

Top Rap Song
Drake featuring 21 Savage, Project Pat, “Knife Talk”
Drake featuring Future & Young Thug, “Way 2 Sexy”
Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow, “Industry Baby”*
Masked Wolf, “Astronaut In The Ocean”
Polo G, “Rapstar”

Top Country Song
Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave”
Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You”
Jordan Davis featuring Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt”
Luke Combs, “Forever After All”
Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”*

Top Rock Song
Coldplay X BTS, “My Universe”
Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”
Imagine Dragons, “Follow You”
Måneskin, “Beggin’”*
The Anxiety: Willow & Tyler Cole, “Meet Me at Our Spot”

Top Latin Song
Aventura x Bad Bunny, “Volví”
Bad Bunny, “Yonaguni”
Farruko, “Pepas”
Kali Uchis, “telepatía”*
Rauw Alejandro, “Todo De Ti”

Top Dance/Electronic Song
Elton John & Dua Lipa, “Cold Heart – PNAU Remix”*

Farruko, “Pepas”
Regard x Troye Sivan x Tate McRae, “You”
Tiësto, “The Business”
Travis Scott & HVME, “Goosebumps”

Top Christian Song
Anne Wilson, “My Jesus”
Ye, “Hurricane”*
Ye, “Moon”
Ye, “Off The Grid”
Ye, “Praise God”

Top Gospel Song
Elevation Worship & Maverick City Music featuring Chandler Moore & Naomi Raine, “Jireh”
Ye, “Hurricane”*
Ye, “Moon”
Ye, “Off the Grid”
Ye, “Praise God”

2022 Tony Awards: ‘A Strange Loop’ is the top nominee

May 9, 2022

The following is a press release from the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing:

Nominations in 26 competitive categories for the American Theatre Wing’s 75th Annual Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards® were announced today by Tony Award-winner Adrienne Warren and three-time Tony Nominee Joshua Henry. The nominees were selected by an independent committee of 29 theatre professionals appointed by the Tony Awards Administration Committee. The 2022 Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. (The list of nominations follows.)

Marking 75 years of excellence on Broadway, The Tony Awards, hosted by Ariana DeBose, will take place LIVE from the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City on Sunday, June 12, 2022 (8:00 – 11:00 PM, LIVE ET/5:00 – 8:00 PM, LIVE PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming live and on demand on Paramount+. The celebration will commence at 7:00-8:00 PM, ET/4:00-5:00 PM, PT with exclusive content streaming only on Paramount+.

Legitimate theatrical productions opening in any of the 41 eligible Broadway theatres during the current season may be considered for Tony nominations. The 2021/2022 eligibility season began August 1, 2021 and ended Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The Tony Awards will be voted in 26 competitive categories by 650 designated Tony voters within the theatre community.

As previously announced, the 2022 Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre will be presented to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC); Broadway For All; music copyist, Emily Grishman; Feinstein’s/54 Below and United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE. The Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award will be presented to Robert E. Wankel.

A Special Tony Award will be awarded to James C. Nicola, the Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop since 1988. Under his guidance, NYTW has remained steadfast to its founding commitment of nurturing emerging, mid-career and established theatre artists and promoting collaboration and bold experimentation with theatrical forms. Mr. Nicola initiated an extensive series of workshop opportunities that have continued for 25 years, including summer residencies and fellowships for artists representing a broad spectrum of cultures and backgrounds. He forged a unique community of theatre artists, the Usual Suspects, which now boasts over 600 members and whose work has shaped our very idea of what theatre can be. As Artistic Director, Mr. Nicola has been instrumental in the development of many NYTW productions, including Jonathan Larson’s Rent; Tony Kushner’s Slavs! and Homebody/Kabul; Doug Wright’s Quills; Claudia Shear’s Blown Sideways Through Life and Dirty Blonde; Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and Valhalla; Martha Clarke’s Vienna: Lusthaus; Will Power’s The Seven and Fetch Clay, Make Man; Caryl Churchill’s Mad ForestFar AwayA Number and Love and Information; Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s Aftermath; Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher; Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová and Enda Walsh’s Once; David Bowie and Enda Walsh’s Lazarus; Dael Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick and Forever; Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown; Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me; Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play; Sam Gold’s production of Othello; and eight productions directed by Ivo van Hove.

The 2021-2022 Tony Award Nominating Committee consists of: Warren Adams, Bob Alwine, Becky Ann Baker, Pun Bandhu, Milly Barranger, Christopher Burney, Kathleen Chalfant, Eisa Davis, Jerry Dixon, Peter Jay Fernandez, Kamilah Forbes, Scott Frankel, Maija Garcia, M L Geiger, Ann Harada, Michael Kantor, Martyna Majok, John Mauceri, Jonathan McCrory, Sheila Nevins, James C. Nicola, Peter Parnell, Rosalba Rolón, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Don Scardino, Kimberly Senior, Randy Skinner, Michael Stotts and Michael Benjamin Washington.

The Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards are bestowed annually on theatre professionals for distinguished achievement. The Tony is one of the most coveted awards in the entertainment industry and the annual telecast is considered one of the most prestigious programs on television.

The 2022 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. At The Broadway League, Lauren Reid is Chair and Charlotte St. Martin is President. At the American Theater Wing, Emilio Sosa is Chair and Heather A. Hitchens is President & CEO.

For the CBS broadcast, Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss/White Cherry Entertainment are Executive Producers. Weiss also serves as Director.

Tickets for the 2022 Tony Awards will go on sale on Monday, May 9th at 9:00 AM ET through TonyAwards.com/tickets.

Sponsors for the 2022 Tony Awards include: Carnegie Mellon University – the first-ever, exclusive higher education partner; Cadillac – official automotive partner of the Tony Awards; City National Bank – official bank of the Tony Awards; MAC Cosmetics – official makeup partner; Playbill; Sofitel New York – the official hotel of the Tony Awards; Rainbow Room – official partner of the Tony Nominee Luncheon; and United Airlines – the official airline of the Tony Awards for over 20 years.

# # #

Nominations for the 2022 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®

Presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing

Best Book of a Musical

Girl From The North Country

Conor McPherson

MJ

Lynn Nottage

Mr. Saturday Night

Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Paradise Square

Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas & Larry Kirwan

A Strange Loop

Michael R. Jackson

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Flying Over Sunset

Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Michael Korie

Mr. Saturday Night

Music: Jason Robert Brown
Lyrics: Amanda Green

Paradise Square

Music: Jason Howland
Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Masi Asare

SIX: The Musical

Music and Lyrics: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

A Strange Loop

Music & Lyrics: Michael R. Jackson

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy
Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy
Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy
David Morse, How I Learned to Drive
Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues
David Threlfall, Hangmen

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

Gabby Beans, The Skin of Our Teeth
LaChanze, Trouble in Mind
Ruth Negga, Macbeth
Deirdre O’Connell, Dana H.
Mary-Louise Parker, How I Learned to Drive

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

Billy Crystal, Mr. Saturday Night
Myles Frost, MJ
Hugh Jackman, The Music Man
Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire
Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline, or Change
Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset
Sutton Foster, The Music Man
Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square
Mare Winningham, Girl From The North Country

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

Alfie Allen, Hangmen
Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out
Ron Cephas Jones, Clyde’s
Michael Oberholtzer, Take Me Out
Jesse Williams, Take Me Out

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

Uzo Aduba, Clyde’s
Rachel Dratch, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kenita R. Miller, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew
Julie White, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Kara Young, Clyde’s

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

Matt Doyle, Company
Sidney DuPont, Paradise Square
Jared Grimes, Funny Girl
John-Andrew Morrison, A Strange Loop
A.J. Shively, Paradise Square

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

Jeannette Bayardelle, Girl From The North Country
Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night
Jayne Houdyshell, The Music Man
L Morgan Lee, A Strange Loop
Patti LuPone, Company
Jennifer Simard, Company

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Beowulf Boritt, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Michael Carnahan and Nicholas Hussong, Skeleton Crew
Es Devlin, The Lehman Trilogy
Anna Fleischle, Hangmen
Scott Pask, American Buffalo
Adam Rigg, The Skin of Our Teeth

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Beowulf Boritt and 59 Productions, Flying Over Sunset
Bunny Christie, Company
Arnulfo Maldonado, A Strange Loop
Derek McLane and Peter Nigrini, MJ
Allen Moyer, Paradise Square

Best Costume Design of a Play

Montana Levi Blanco, The Skin of Our Teeth
Sarafina Bush, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Emilio Sosa, Trouble in Mind
Jane Greenwood, Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite
Jennifer Moeller, Clyde’s

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Fly Davis, Caroline, or Change
Toni-Leslie James, Paradise Square
William Ivey Long, Diana, The Musical
Santo Loquasto, The Music Man
Gabriella Slade, SIX: The Musical
Paul Tazewell, MJ

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Joshua Carr, Hangmen
Jiyoun Chang, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy
Jane Cox, Macbeth
Yi Zhao, The Skin of Our Teeth

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Neil Austin, Company
Tim Deiling, SIX: The Musical
Donald Holder, Paradise Square
Natasha Katz, MJ
Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset
Jen Schriever, A Strange Loop

Best Sound Design of a Play

Justin Ellington, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Mikhail Fiksel, Dana H.
Palmer Hefferan, The Skin of Our Teeth
Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, The Lehman Trilogy
Mikaal Sulaiman, Macbeth

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Simon Baker, Girl From The North Country
Paul Gatehouse, SIX: The Musical
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Company
Drew Levy, A Strange Loop
Gareth Owen, MJ

Best Direction of a Play

Lileana Blain-Cruz, The Skin of Our Teeth
Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy
Neil Pepe, American Buffalo
Les Waters, Dana H.

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop
Marianne Elliott, Company
Conor McPherson, Girl From The North Country
Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage, SIX: The Musical
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ

Best Choreography

Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Warren Carlyle, The Music Man
Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, SIX: The Musical
Bill T. Jones, Paradise Square
Christopher Wheeldon, MJ

Best Orchestrations

David Cullen, Company
Tom Curran, SIX: The Musical
Simon Hale, Girl From The North Country
Jason Michael Webb and David Holcenberg, MJ
Charlie Rosen, A Strange Loop

Best Play

Clyde’s

Author: Lynn Nottage
Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Khady Kamara

Hangmen

Author: Martin McDonagh
Producers: Robert Fox, Jean Doumanian, Elizabeth I. McCann, Craig Balsam, Atlantic Theater Company, Jon B. Platt, Len Blavatnik, Richard Fishman, John Gore Organization, Stephanie P. McClelland, David Mirvish, The Shubert Organization, Jamie deRoy/Sandy Robertson, Patrick Myles/Alexander ‘Sandy’ Marshall, M. Kilburg Reedy/Excelsior Entertainment, Playful Productions, The Royal Court Theatre

The Lehman Trilogy

Author: Stefano Massini, Ben Power
Producers: National Theatre, Neal Street Productions, Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kash Bennett, Lisa Burger, Caro Newling, Ambassador Theatre Group, Stephanie P. McClelland, Annapurna Theatre, Delman Whitney, Craig Balsam/Heni Koenigsberg/John Yonover, Fiery Angel/Seth A. Goldstein, Starry Night Entertainment, Gavin Kalin Productions, Paul & Selina Burdell/Bill Damaschke, 42nd.club/Phil & Claire Kenny, CatWenJam Productions, Amanda Dubois, Glass Half Full Productions, Dede Harris/Linda B. Rubin, Kallish Weinstein Creative, Kors Le Pere Theatricals LLC, James L. Nederlander, No Guarantees, Mark Pigott KBE, KStJ, Playing Field, Catherine Schreiber/Adam Zell, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Richard Winkler/Alan Shorr/Dawn Smalberg, The Shubert Organization, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Jillian Robbins

The Minutes

Author: Tracy Letts
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Rebecca Gold, Carl Moellenberg, Spencer Ross, Louise Gund, Elizabeth Armstrong, Blakeman Entertainment, HornosBerger, Across the River Productions, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley/Leah Lane, Jayne Baron Sherman, Kathleen K. Johnson, Emily Dobbs, Robert Flicker, Jacob Soroken Porter, The Shubert Organization, Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Skeleton Crew

Author: Dominique Morisseau
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove

Best Musical

Girl From The North Country

Producers: Tristan Baker & Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Steven Lappin, Sony Music Entertainment/Sony ATV, David Mirvish, Len Blavatnik, The Dodgers, Eric & Marsi Gardiner, Dianne Roberts, John Gore Organization, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Tommy Mottola, Independent Presenters Network, Rod Kaats, Diana DiMenna, Mary Beth O’Connor, Barbara H. Freitag, Patrick Catullo, Aaron Lustbader, The Old Vic, Matthew Warchus, Kate Varah, Georgia Gatti, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

MJ

Producers: Lia Vollack, John Branca, John McClain, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Music Entertaiment, Roy Furman, Cue to Cue Productions, James L. Nederlander, Kumiko Yoshii, Naoya Kinoshita, Latitude Link, Candy Spelling, Stephen C. Byrd, John Gore Organization, Sandy Robertson, Ed Walson, Peter W. May, CJ ENM, Martin Bandier, Michael Cassel Group, Albert Nocciolino, Playful Productions, Ken Schur, Willette & Manny Klausner, Doug Morris, Michael David, Estate of Michael Jackson

Mr. Saturday Night

Producers: James L. Nederlander, Face Productions, Inc., Hunter Arnold, Michael Cohl, TEG Dainty, Candy Spelling, Steve Traxler, Marc David Levine, Caiola Productions, Crossroads Live, Jamie deRoy, Roy Furman, Arny Granat, Grove Entertainment, John Gore Organization, Wolf Gutterman, Van Kaplan, Larry Magid, Peter May, Carl Moellenberg, Beth W. Newburger, Albert Nocciolino, Eva Price, Iris Smith, The Shubert Organization, Howard Tenenbaum, Barry and Fran Weissler

Paradise Square

Producers: Garth H. Drabinsky, Peter LeDonne, Jeffrey A. Sine, Matthew C. Blank, Joe Crowley, RSR Finance LLC, Hunter & Mariana Milborne, Len Blavatnik, Joseph Coffey, Sherry Wright & Craig Haffner, Bernard Abrams, James Scrivanich, Rick Chad, Arthur M. Kraus, Broadway & Beyond Theatricals, Brian Luborsky, Gilbert & Elisa Palter, The Shubert Organization, Terry Schnuck, Urban One, Inc., Robert Wolf, Richard Stursberg, Mark W. Everson, Sanjay Govil, Jeremiah J. Harris, Amabel James, Sheila C. Johnson, Dennis Mehiel, Louise H. & John G. Beard, Henry R. Muñoz, III & Kyle Ferari Muñoz, Walter Swett, Zachary Florence, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

SIX: The Musical

Producers: Kenny Wax, Wendy & Andy Barnes, George Stiles, Kevin McCollum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater

A Strange Loop

Producers: Barbara Whitman, Pasek, Paul & Stafford, Hunter Arnold, Marcia Goldberg, Alex Levy & James Achilles, Osh Ashruf, A Choir Full Productions, Don Cheadle & Bridgid Coulter Cheadle, Paul Oakley Stovall, Jimmy Wilson, Annapurna Theatre, Robyn Coles, Creative Partners Productions, Robyn Gottesdiener, Kayla Greenspan, Grove Entertainment, Kuhn, Lewis & Scott, Frank Marshall, Maximum Effort Productions Inc., Joey Monda, Richard Mumby, Phenomenal Media & Meena Harris, Marc Platt & Debra Martin Chase, Laurie Tisch, Yonge Street Theatricals, Dodge Hall Productions/JJ Malley, Cody Renard Richard, John Gore Organization, James L. Nederlander, The Shubert Organization, RuPaul Charles, Alan Cumming, Ilana Glazer, Jennifer Hudson, Mindy Kaling, Billy Porter, Page 73 Productions, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons

Best Revival of a Play

American Buffalo

Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Steve Traxler, Stephanie P. McClelland, GFour Productions, Spencer Ross, Gemini Theatrical, Chris and Ashlee Clarke, Suna Said Maslin, Ted & Richard Liebowitz/Cue to Cue Productions, Patty Baker/Good Productions, Brad Blume, Caiola Productions, Joanna Carson, Arthur Kern, Willette Klausner, Jeremiah J. Harris and Darren P. Deverna, Van Kaplan, Patrick Myles/David Luff, Alexander Marshall, Ambassador Theatre Group, Kathleen K. Johnson, Diego Kolankowsky, Steve and Jacob Levy, Morwin Schmookler, Brian Moreland, Jacob Soroken Porter, The Shubert Organization

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

Producers: Nelle Nugent, Ron Simons, Kenneth Teaton, Ellen Ferguson and Vivian Phillips, Willette and Manny Klausner, Hunter Arnold, Dale Franzen, Valencia Yearwood, One Community, Audible, Dennis Grimaldi, Terry Nardozzi and Tracey Knight Narang, Grace Nordhoff/Mickalene Thomas, Angelina Fiordellisi/Caiola Productions, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham, Mandy Hackett

How I Learned to Drive

Author: Paula Vogel
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove, Daryl Roth, Cody Lassen, Vineyard Theatre

Take Me Out

Producers: Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, Khady Kamara

Trouble in Mind

Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow

Best Revival of a Musical

Caroline, or Change

Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Steve Dow, Lot’s Wife, Hunter Arnold, Caiola Productions/Willette & Manny Klausner, Chambers -D’Angora/Joseph & Alyson Graci

Company

Producers: Elliott & Harper Productions, The Shubert Organization, Catherine Schreiber, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Crossroads Live, Anapurna Theatre, Hunter Arnold, No Guarantees, Jon B. Platt, Michael Watt, John Gore Organization, Tim Levy, Grove – REG, Hornos – Mollenberg, Levine – Federman – Adler, Beard – Merrie – Robbins, LD Entertainment/Madison Wells Live, Benjamin Lowy/Roben Alive, Daryl Roth/Tom Tuft, Salmira Productions/Caiola Productions, Aged in Wood/Lee – Sachs, Berinstein – Lane/42nd.club, Boyett – Miller/Hodges – Kukieiski, Finn – DeVito/Independent Presenters Network, Armstrong – Ross/Gilad – Rogowsky, Boardman – Koenigsberg/Zell – Seriff, Concord Theatricals – Scott Sanders Productions/Abrams – May, deRoy – Brunish/Jenen – Rubin, Fakston Productions/Sabi – Lerner – Ketner, Maggio – Abrams/Hopkins – Tackel, Levy & Chauviere, Jujamcyn Theaters

The Music Man

Producers: Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kate Horton, Fictionhouse

Tony Nominations by Production

A Strange Loop – 11

MJ – 10

Paradise Square – 10

Company – 9

The Lehman Trilogy – 8

SIX: The Musical – 8

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf – 7

Girl From The North Country – 7

The Music Man – 6

The Skin of Our Teeth – 6

Clyde’s – 5

Hangmen – 5

Mr. Saturday Night – 5

American Buffalo – 4

Flying Over Sunset – 4

Take Me Out – 4

Trouble in Mind – 4

Caroline, or Change – 3

Dana H. – 3

How I Learned to Drive – 3

Macbeth – 3

POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive – 3

Skeleton Crew – 3

Diana, The Musical – 1

Funny Girl – 1

Lackawanna Blues – 1

The Minutes – 1

Mrs. Doubtfire – 1

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite – 1

Review: ‘Killian & the Comeback Kids,’ starring Taylor A. Purdee

April 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left: Yael Elisheva, Andrew O’Shanick, Emily Mest, Shannon O’Boyle, Shane Andries, Taylor A. Purdee and John Donchak in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” (Photo courtesy of Hope Runs High Films)

“Killian & the Comeback Kids”

Directed by Taylor A. Purdee

Culture Representation: Taking place in Easton, Pennsylvania, the dramatic film “Killian & the Comeback Kids” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After graduating from college, a struggling folk-rock musician reluctantly moves back in with his parents, and he puts together a band so that they can perform at an upcoming high-profile music festival.

Culture Audience: “Killian & the Comeback Kids” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching movies about independent artists who follow their dreams, despite obstacles that get in their way.

Emily Mest, John Donchak, Yael Elisheva and Taylor A. Purdee in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” (Photo courtesy of Hope Runs High Films)

Some of the acting in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” is amateurish and stilted, but this heartfelt drama about obscure folk-rock musicians has enough realistic scenarios and engaging performances that are worth watching. The music in “Killian & the Comeback Kids” is also enjoyable and blends well into the movie, which could have come across as just a feature-length music video. Instead, there’s a meaningful but still predictable story of the struggles that independent artists face when they have a hard time getting paid for doing what they love.

“Killian & the Comeback Kids” (which takes place in Easton, Pennsylvania) is the feature-film directorial debut of real-life musician Taylor A. Purdee, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay, is the star of the film, and is one of the movie’s producers and composers. He previously directed short films and music videos. That experience shows, especially in how the musical performances are appealingly filmed. The movie is loosely based on Purdee’s own real-life experiences as an independent musician who hails from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

In “Killian & the Comeback Kids,” Purdee is Killian Raison, a folk-rock musician in his mid-20s who has recently graduated from college with a degree in music and music business, but he has to move back in with his parents because he can’t find a job. Killian’s father (played by Nathan Purdee, Taylor’s real-life father) and Killian’s mother (played by Kassie Wesley DePaiva), who both do not have first names in the movie, encourage him to be creative, but they don’t expect Killian to be an unemployed freeloader for an extended period of time. Killian doesn’t want that either.

In fact, he’s a little embarrassed about not having enough financial independence to have his own place. Killian also feels somewhat disillusioned because, after getting a well-earned degree from an unnamed prestigious university, finding work has been a lot more difficult than he thought it would be. Killian’s sister Rowan (played by Genesis McCaulley), who’s about 10 or 11 years old, has a very good relationship with Killian and is happy that he’s back in the household.

Killian’s parents are generally supportive of what he wants to do with his life, but they worry that Killian could be wasting time pursuing a career in music when he could be considering other career options. To make matters worse, Easton is a working-class city that’s experiencing an economic slump. It’s the type of town where steel mills used to employ lot of people, but most of those steel mills have closed or downsized. Killian remarks soon after moving back to Easton that the town square “used to be more bustling, even four years ago.”

To make some extra cash, Killian starts busking in the town square with his acoustic guitar. While performing to mostly indifferent people passing by, Killian encounters a former classmate from his high school. His name is Sam Amico (played by John Donchak), who also recently graduated from college and is back in Easton. Sam (who’s quiet and socially awkward) and Killian make some small talk about their former classmates from high school. When Sam leaves, Killian comments to himself about Sam: “Such a weird guy.”

Although some people in Killian’s life advise him to get a “real job,” what Killian really wants to do is make a living out of writing and performing his music. Killian has big plans to go on tour with his musical partner Ben (played by Liam Higgins), who was his college roommate. They perform as a duo, with Ben as the singer and Killian as the guitarist/songwriter.

But those tour plans fall apart when Ben backs out of the tour to take a more stable and higher-paying job as an A&R executive at a record company. Ben says of his decision: “It’s a whole new world, and we’ll put something together once we’ve settled into real life. It’s the smart move.”

These words do little to comfort Killian, who knows that Ben is probably going to stay in this A&R job and not go back to making music with Killian. With no tour and no immediate way to make money, Killian mopes around and wallows in a little self-pity before he decides to shake it off and try to overcome this obstacle. It’s this “can do” attitude that is one of the defining characteristics of Killian’s personality.

Killian and Sam were never really close friends in high school, where Sam had the unflattering nickname Clammy Sammy because of his reputation for having clammy hands and being a little bit of an outcast weirdo. However, Killian knows that Sam is a talented sound engineer. And so, Killian decides he’ll take a chance and ask Sam if Sam wants to work with Killian in music.

Killian invites Sam out for drinks at a local bar, where Killian tells Sam about his predicament of losing Ben as a musical collaborator. Killian also tells Sam that he wants to form another music act, but he doesn’t want to be the frontman/singer for his next band. Sam asks Killian why Killian shouldn’t be a lead singer, since he would be singing his own songs. Killian can’t really come up with a good answer to that question. And you know what that means: Killian will eventually start singing lead vocals for his next band.

In the meantime, the name of another former classmate comes up in this conversation: Rose Jackson (played by Shannon O’Boyle), who was known for being an excellent singer in school. And so, Rose is approached to be the singer for this fledgling band, and she says yes. Sam is already on board as the band’s sound engineer. Rose (who is outgoing and confident) and Sam (who is shy and nerdy) end up connecting emotionally during the course of the story and have an “opposites attract” romance.

One day, Killian sees an online ad for a music contest sponsored by the fictional streaming service Pandorify, an obvious play on words of Pandora and Spotify. The contest is open to Lehigh Valley artists, and the winner will get to perform at Fest, which is an annual high-profile music festival in Easton. The winner’s pay isn’t much ($5,000 for the winner’s performance), but the publicity and exposure for performing at Fest is even more valuable. This contest further fuels Killian’s ambition to form a band in time to enter this contest.

Killian tries to recruit more members for his band. Most of the people he asks already know Killian from his high school days. Emmett (played by Dylan Côté) has a day job as a manager at clothing retailer American Eagle. He’s skeptical about joining this band and tells Killian: “I don’t know what you’ve been up to for the last four years, but I’ve been trying to start a life.” Emmett ultimately declines the offer, and so do other people who are approached by Killian.

A drummer named Tristan (played by Shane Andries) is even harder than Emmett to approach, because Tristan has “hated” Killian since Tristan was 9 years old. However, Tristan (who is also living with his parents) isn’t doing much with his life, and he wants to be a professional musician. And so, whatever childhood animosity he toward Killian, he puts it aside to join the band.

Killian still needs more people in the band to fulfill his vision for what he wants his music to sound like when performed live. Killian holds some auditions that are open to the public, so the movie has an expected montage of no-talents and misfits doing failed auditions. It’s like the filmmakers took the worst real-life auditions from “American Idol” and decided to spoof them in the movie for some comic relief.

Eventually, through recommendations, Killian finds the rest of the people who join the band’s lineup: bass player Josh (played Andrew O’Shanick), singer/guitarist Melanie (played by Emily Mest) and singer/guitarist Therese (played by Yael Elisheva). Killian and Rose are the lead singers, while Tristan is the drummer. Rose is the one who thinks of the band’s name: Killian & the Comeback Kids.

Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as expected for this new band. There’s a major roadblock that happens, which leads to a very “hey kids, let’s put on a show” turn of events that’s somewhat corny, but somehow it works just fine in this movie. And in case anyone thinks this movie is all about young people, a few of the band members’ fathers (including Killian’s dad and Tristan’s dad) used to be musicians, so they have their moments to shine.

The movie’s soundtrack songs for “Killian & the Comeback Kids” are performed by Taylor A. Purdee and his real-life band the Cumberland Kids. Taylor A. Purdee and Higgins (another member of the Cumberland Kids) wrote the songs and musical score, with standout tunes that include “Where We Should Be Today” and “Weightless in the Flood.” A lot of people who see this movie will come away as new fans of this band.

“Killian & the Comeback Kids” has some authentic moments that depict the frustrations of independent artists who often have to choose between turning their creative pursuits into a career (which is time-consuming and often doesn’t pay well) or taking a safer career route by getting a more stable job. The movie also shows the reality that many recent college graduates experience of having to move back in with parents because they can’t find work, even though people have been taught to believe that a college degree makes someone more likely to find a job.

Where the movie needed improvement is in some parts of the screenplay and editing, which can at times (but fortunately, not too often) give off a “student film” vibe. However, the scrappy independent nature of the film actually fits well with the story, which is about a scrappy independent band. Writer/director Taylor A. Purdee, who is more charismatic as a musician than as an actor, gives enough depth to the other characters in the band so that the movie doesn’t look like a complete vanity project.

Overall, the pacing of the movie is good enough, with a few fleeting moments that drag with monotony. For a low-budget film, it’s a solid and admirable effort. Is “Killian & the Comeback Kids” the type of movie that will change audiences’ lives? No, but it’s entertaining in most of the right ways, even if the way it’s presented isn’t always professionally polished.

Hope Runs High Films released “Killian & the Comeback Kids” in select U.S. cinemas on September 18, 2020. The movie was re-released in select U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021.

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