Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Abominable Showman, April 8, 2012

La Vida Loca
How handsome actors – from Puerto Rico’s Ricky Martin in Evita on Broadway this week, to Montreal’s Raphaël Grosz-Harvey co-producing his first play, Blackbird, in the City of Festivals – need to be versatile to advance their showbiz careers.
By Richard Burnett
I became a Ricky Martin fan the day he drew 5,000 screaming Latino worshippers to Montreal’s downtown HMV superstore back in the Jurassic era – 1997 – when folks still bought records. The place was complete and utter bedlam. 
“¿Quieres ser mi novio?” all the girls – and this boy – screamed. (“Would you like to be my boyfriend?”)
Then in 1999 Ricky dazzled Madonna and the rest of the world singing The Cup of Life at the Grammys. 
But two months later when Ricky cancelled his MusiquePlus showcase in Montreal, I never got to pop the question. 
But Barbara Walters did, on national TV. “I just don’t feel like [saying whether I’m gay or not],” Martin replied. “You know, it’s, it’s something so mine. I give it all when I’m on stage. I give it all in interviews, but you’ve got to keep something for yourself sometimes, and that’s for me.”
Walters nailed it when she told him, “If gay people think you’re gay and straight people think you’re straight, hey, it means a bigger audience.”
“Exactly,” Ricky replied. 
That’s when I ripped my Ricky Martin posters from my bedroom walls. I also pretty much lost my respect for Walters when she told The Toronto Star years later, “When I think back on it now, I feel it was an inappropriate question.”
I certainly didn’t. In fact, I’d go on to out Ricky in my Three Dollar Bill column in Montreal’s HOUR magazine in March 2001, on the eve of the nasty legal battle to repeal Puerto Rico’s sodomy law (finally repealed in 2005). That’s because for years Martin played footsy with the closet all the while enjoying the protections and privileges of the gay community. I even walked out halfway though a 2007 Ricky Martin concert, absolutely disgusted with how he disingenuously played up the role of heterosexual matinee idol, clearly to sell more tickets.
I suspect Martin only “officially” publicly came out in 2010 because – like Rosie O’Donnell and Clay Aiken before him – he doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite in front of his own children (his surrogate-born twin sons are now four-years-old). But since his publicly coming out, I am happy to report Martin has firmly defended the civil rights of gay folks in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
Showbiz pundits then pretty much pronounced his teen idol career dead. 
But while Martin may not be living La Vida quite as Loca these days, he wowed audiences and critics this past week with his acting chops in the new Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic 1978 musical Evita, which tells the incredible true story of the stage actress Maria Eva Duarte who basically went from whore to Madonna, becoming the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón and a political leader in her own right before dying of cancer at the age of 33 in 1952.
“Ricky Martin is easily the best thing about this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s bio of Eva Peron, which opened Thursday [April 5] at the Marquis Theatre,” the Associated Press raved. “He sings beautifully, dances gracefully, athletically climbs ladders, plays his role with a knowing sneer and elicits drools in his suspenders and tight white shirt. He even makes a moustache work. In fact, maybe it’s time for Broadway to have a new rule: Put Ricky Martin in everything. He would fit in happily at Newsies. He would definitely enliven Death of a Salesman. Heck, put him in Mary Poppins and watch the roof really lift off.”
Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Rose Bernardo wrote, “Martin could dial down the enthusiasm; he loves to reach out, literally, to the audience. But he sings like a dream, and he’s clearly more comfortable here than he was storming the barricades in Les Misérables 16 years ago. Judging by the curtain-call squeals, his fans are packing the house — and going home happy. On that level, Evita succeeds brilliantly.”
Over at the Village Voice, my friend, gossip columnist Michael Musto, reviewed, “Ricky Martin is the everyman narrator Che, and he doesn’t approach the role as angrily as the original, Mandy Patinkin, going for a more bemused, lightly mocking quality. Though he comes from the Jude Law school of arm gestures (usually with his left arm), Martin sings like a lark and has an appealing stage presence. He definitely has a future off the charts!”
“I’m here for Ricky and Puerto Rico”

On opening night, Martin, who is top-billed but deferred to Argentinian stage actress Elena Roger (who plays Evita) at the curtain call, dashed through the after-party which was attended by, among others, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Debra Messing and Will Chase of the fab NBC show Smash, Brian Boitano, Rent’s Anthony Rapp, Marlo Thomas and her husband Phil Donahue, stand-up comic Kathy Griffin, Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Tony winner David Hyde Pierce, Barbara Walters, Eva Longoria, John Pizzarelli, Michael Douglas, Desmond Child, Puerto Rican musician and former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, Bryan Batt, Vanessa Williams, American Idol alum and Rock of Ages star Constantine Maroulis, and Ruben Blades (“I’m here for Ricky and Puerto Rico”).
What a red carpet!
That’s not the kind of high-powered theatre reception one gets in Canada, even in Toronto. 
It certainly isn’t the kind of reception awaiting producer Raphael Grosz-Harvey in Montreal this week at the April 11 opening night of Blackbird, a one-act, 90-minute play written in 2005 by Scottish playwright David Harrower. Inspired in part by the crimes of true-life sex offender Toby Studebaker, the harrowing play depicts a young woman meeting a middle-aged man 15 years after they had a sexual relationship when she was just 12.
Jock Macdonald and Isabel Farias in Blackbird
The play is the inaugural production of Shadowbox Productions, a new Montreal theatre company co-founded by Grosz-Harvey and his partners Mikaela Davies (also the director of Blackbird) and Sara King. 
“We started the company because [we’ve] been in the theatre community for a number of years and wanted to present [more challenging] work,” Grosz-Harvey explains. “As much as I love Montreal theatre, sometimes I go see a production and I’m not impressed nine out of 10 times. Then that 10th time you’re blown away. But Montrealers are complacent. We’re not demanding.”
Add to that the eternal curse of Montreal anglophone theatre: “There is little money.”
So Grosz-Harvey – a Dawson theatre grad and former Canadian military reservist blocked from serving in Afghanistan after injuring his back during military training – and his partners have decided to give it a go. “This is our first show and we’re super excited. I’ve done everything – tech directing, lighting designer, acting, mopping floors, anything that has to be done.”
It doesn’t bother me that people always tell me that I look like James Franco

You may have also already seen Grosz-Harvey in bit parts on TV and films (watch for him in the upcoming 2012 thriller The Words, co-starring Dennis Quaid and Jeremy Irons). So far, though, it doesn’t cover all the bills for the James Franco dead-ringer.
Which, of course, I can’t help but bring up. After all, there is no getting around the fact that Raphael Grosz-Harvey – like Ricky Martin – is mighty handsome.
“It doesn’t bother me that people always tell me that I look like James Franco,” Grosz-Harvey says. “I get it a lot I at work – I also work in a restaurant. I just tell folks, ‘I’m an actor as well and I hope I have a similar career some day because he’s making more money than I am!’”
Grosz-Harvey smiles. “Maybe I’ll get to play his brother one day.”
Shadowbox Productions presents Blackbird (directed by Mikaela Davies and starring Isabel Farias, Jock MacDonald and Charley Hausknost). It runs April 11-15 and April  18-22 at Les Ateliers Jean Brillant (3550 St. Jacques West, metro Lionel-Groulx), Wednesdays to Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Tickets: $17, $15 students/seniors. 
April 18 tickets are $23 to raise money for the Canadian Liver Foundation, price includes a complimentary drink (no other discounts apply this evening). Reservations: 514 262-7309 or click here.

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