Monthly Archives: July 2022

***** ‘CRAZY FOR YOU’ REVIEW – SPINE-TINGLING MUSICAL IS A GIDDY THRILL ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20.)

Chichester Festival theatre
Instantly infectious melodies, superb choreography and irresistible comedy are met with astonishing performances in this lovabl show

Centre of attention … Charlie Stemp stars as Bobby in Crazy for You at Chichester Festival theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

A faithful revival of this 1992 musical could easily seem as dated as its backwater setting in Depression-era America. Based on George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy (1930), it has an added hodgepodge of songs from the Gershwins’ oeuvre, an old-fashioned showgirl aesthetic and a plot abounding in comic stereotypes and pratfalls.

Yet here is a spine-tingling production with instantly infectious melodies, irresistible physical comedy and punning wisecracks (Ken Ludwig’s book zings). The crowning glory is the choreography – a whirligig of tap, ballroom, chorus-line and balletic movement, all effortlessly athletic, which makes this as much a show of dance as song.

The production’s original choreographer, Susan Stroman, also directs and turns what might have been a long show with wooden characters into spectacular entertainment, oiled by astonishing performances from Charlie Stemp as the New York wannabe dancer Bobby and Carly Anderson as tough cookie Polly.

The storyline is straight out of vaudeville: Bobby goes to the tumbleweed Nevadan town of Deadrock (as lively as its name suggests) and falls for Polly, persuading her to resuscitate her family’s derelict theatre for a show that will bring the town back to life. The madcap plan is to lure Broadway producer Bela Zangler to its doors but that goes awry and disguise, double identity and high jinks ensue.

From the first song, Stemp brings an extraordinary physicality and energy, impeccably controlled – he even looks elegant in the gawky comic scenes. Anderson keeps up in their dances together but excels singing solo numbers such as I Got Rhythm. Neither of them, nor any other character, is particularly rounded but they become lovable nevertheless.

(Read more)

CHILDREN’S BOOKS—AWARD FOR ‘THE LONG SHADOW’ BY PHYLLIS WHEELER ·

(via Phylliswheeler.com

Phyllis Wheeler’s novel The Long Shadow (Elk Lake Publishing), represented by Marit Literary Agency, has won a Purple Dragonfly Award!

These awards are judged by Story Monsters Ink Magazine, focused on children’s literature. Wheeler’s award is in the historical category. This is significant in the indie publishing world.

Rejoice!

The Long Shadow is a time-travel adventure for upper middle grade, 13 and up. Click and see the new cover, too! Find out more.

THE LONG SHADOW 

by Phyllis Wheeler

View on Amazon

Winner of a Purple Dragonfly Award

Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Five stars! A young teen finds himself propelled through time . . . –Susan K. Marlow, author of Andi Carter books

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (137) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

The very best that can happen​ is to have the actor completely carried away by the play.  Then regardless of his own will he lives the part, not noticing how he feels, not thinking about what he does, and it all moves of its own accord, subconsciously and intuitively. (AP)

A NEW SHAKESPEARE PLOT: GARDEN OF BARD’S DAUGHTER TO BE RECREATED ·

 

William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/17; via Pam Green.)

Remedies used by healer Susanna Hall and her doctor husband will be planted at Stratford home

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia offers rosemary to boost memory, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck pours the juice of “love-in-idleness” on to the sleeping eyelids of Titania, making her “madly dote” on Bottom wearing an ass’s head.

The magical power of herbs and flowers that Shakespeare recognised is now inspiring the recreation of a 17th-century herbal garden in the historic 1613 house that his daughter Susanna shared with her husband, John Hall, a physician who is believed to have advised his father-in-law on medical ailments.

Documentary evidence shows that the vast majority of Hall’s patients were women, and the herb garden at his home, Hall’s Croft in Stratford-upon-Avon, will be filled with the sort of plants that he used in treating them. The site is overseen by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT), which is collaborating with the University of Brighton on a major research project focusing on Susanna.

As part of their research, they are drawing on Hall’s 400-year-old medical casebook which was recently translated from Latin into English. Between 1611 and 1635, he recorded symptoms and treatments for 178 cases.

Hall, who was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, emerges from its pages as a compassionate scholar-physician. Among his treatments was rhubarb, which helped sort out “constipation of the belly, melancholy, sleeplessness”, while borage, mallow and mugwort calmed “frenzy after childbirth”, now understood as postnatal mental health issues. Rosemary appears repeatedly, treating Susanna’s own scurvy, back pain and “melancholy”.

The project is headed by Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson, principal lecturer in literature at the University of Brighton. “We’re going to create a garden with the plants that were actually used for women’s health, particularly reproductive health, looking at how that was treated and how we might treat it now,” she told the Observer.

(Read more)

ELEANOR METHVEN: A SORCERER OF THE STAGE ·

(Sara Keating’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/16/22.)

For Methven, who stars as Prospero in Rough Magic’s The Tempest, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production

It is late on a Friday afternoon, and Eleanor Methven is sitting in the production offices of Rough Magic Theatre Company in Dublin city centre, running her lines. It is the end of the first week of rehearsals for director Lynne Parker’s new production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Methven takes the lead role of Prospero, the sorcerer hero now recast as a woman. It is a massive role, involving “pages and pages of these amazing speeches”, and with a highlighter pen Methven marks out the dense body of text she must learn.

Methven has been practising at home for weeks, “just sitting in my house, acting away, using what Prospero would tell me to — my imagination — to din it in. The neighbours must think I am mad.” So she is delighted and exhilarated to be finally in the rehearsal room. “Really what [an actor needs] is to learn their lines on the floor,” she says, “because the lines tend to be attached to your muscle memory. The more you repeat it, the more it goes in, the more natural it becomes. At the end of the day, you’re an actor, and what you are trying to do is create human beings [on the stage].”

For Methven, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production. When other actors of her vintage — she has been acting professionally for 45 years — are asked about their dream roles, they have a list of great parts they would love to play. Methven doesn’t. She wants to know “whose production are you talking about? Who else is in it? You can have the role you want, but what about the other parts? It could be a complete failure if you don’t have everyone you need around you. Theatre is about a total ensemble and that begins in the rehearsal room.”

 

Methven has been thinking a lot about this in relation to The Tempest. “A lot of the play is about how you order society and how you lead; what the character of your leadership is? The way Lynne runs an ensemble is very democratic; very much a case of ‘I have chosen these people because I think they are the best people to help me to do the play’. It is obvious of course that she is in charge. She works out all the production aspects with lighting, set designers, and it is up to her to keep a hold on all the skeins of silk she has and weave them together. But it is very much up to each individual to bring what they can to the rehearsal room every day, because that is your job, that is why she cast you.”

The actor and director have a long relationship, dating back to the 1980s, when Parker directed several productions for Charabanc, the theatre company that Methven set up in Belfast in 1983 with a group of like-minded female theatre artists. As she explains, the venture was born out of “unemployment, but not just unemployment. There weren’t many roles for [female actors] and when there were, they were ‘someone’s wife’ or ‘someone’s mother’, ‘someone’s daughter.’ We thought ‘we would like to be the someones for a change”.

(Read more)

AVIGNON’S 76TH THEATRE FESTIVAL: KUBRA KHADEMI ON AFGHANISTAN’S HEROINES ·

(Oliver Salazar-Winspear’s, Natastacha Milleret’s, Magali Faure’s, and Marion Chaval’s report appeared on France 24, 7/14/22.)

Avignon may be France’s oldest arts festival, but it has a resolutely contemporary approach to the dramatic arts, with experimental performances that draw on dance, theatre and poetic traditions. We sit down with multidisciplinary artist Kubra Khademi, whose performance “From Armour to Jackets” kicks off the festival, to hear about the military detritus that became a poignant symbol of the American retreat from her native Afghanistan. Kubra talks about being forced to flee Kabul after a controversial artistic performance in 2015 and discusses how the Taliban have now left Afghans “trapped in their own country”..)

Festival director Olivier Py is handing over the reins to Tiago Rodrigues after nine years of administering this cultural marathon. He tells us how the war in Ukraine prompted him to stage a special cabaret show with Kyiv’s Dakh Daughters troupe and musician Angélique Kidjo.

We also check out Amir Reza Koohestani’s latest play “In Transit”, which asks important questions about identity and exile. And choreographer Adèle Duportal explores feminism and sorcery in an intimate, one-woman show.

 

CHECKING IN WITH… ‘CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF’ STAR ALISON FRASER THE TWO-TIME TONY NOMINEE PLAYS BIG MAMA IN THE OFF-BROADWAY REVIVAL OF THE CLASSIC TENNESSEE WILLIAMS DRAMA. ·

(Andrew Gans’s article appeared on Playbill, 7/14.)  

This week Playbill catches up with two-time Tony nominee Alison Fraser, cast as Big Mama in Ruth Stage’s production of Tennessee Williams‘ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which begins previews July 15 prior to an official opening July 24 at The Theater at St. Clements. Directed by Joe Rosario, the production is the first mounting of the classic drama that the Williams estate has allowed to be produced Off-Broadway. The company also includes Sonoya Mizuno, Matt de Rogatis, Christian Jules Le Blanc, Spencer Scott, Tiffan Borelli, Jim Kempner, Milton Elliott, and Carly Gold.

Fraser was Tony-nominated for her performances in The Secret Garden and Romance/Romance, and her other Broadway credits include Tartuffe, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Gypsy. Off-Broadway the multitalented artist created the roles of Sharon in Squeamish (Off-Broadway Alliance, Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations), Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford in First Daughter Suite (Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk nominations), Arsinoé in The School for Lies, Sister Walburga in The Divine Sister, Trina in March of the Falsettos and In Trousers, and the Matron in the world premiere of Williams’ In Masks Outrageous and Austere. Among Fraser’s numerous screen credits are It Cuts Deep, Impossible Monsters, The Sound of Silence, Gotham, Family Games, Happy!, Blowtorch, High Maintenance, Understudies, Happyish, It Could Be Worse, Jack in a Box, Commentary, In the Blood, The L Word, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Between the Lions.

What is your typical day like now?
I have a pretty structured schedule right now because I am deep in the thick of the Mississippi Delta these days, playing Big Mama in Ruth Stage’s Off-Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at St. Clement’s. Before I turn into Big Mama though, I have my Brooklyn duties—getting up at seven to have breakfast with my partner Steve, give him the lunch I pack for him every day, read the New York Times, watch a little Morning Joe, give the cats their breakfast, tidy up, do some paperwork, perhaps do a self tape or voiceover audition in my home studio, and go over music I will be singing in the future. Then I go over all my Big Mama lines with my bedraggled script sitting on my beautiful antique brass music stand, and hopefully I don’t have ever to refer to it. Then I take the subway (masked) to St. Clement’s and deep dive into this classic Tennessee Williams drama, which is directed by the visionary Joe Rosario.

I don’t think there has ever been a sexier Maggie/Brick coupling than the absolutely stunning Sonoya Mizuno and the brooding heartthrob Matt de Rogatis. Brace yourselves, this particular delta is mighty steamy! There might be teddies and tattoos involved…Then, Steve picks me up, we take the subway (masked) back to Brooklyn, and we talk and unwind, go to sleep, then it all starts over again. I like the limbo of an intense tech period—it requires absolute commitment and concentration, and moves forward so fast every day to the first public performance. It is a rush.

Is this a role you have wanted to play? How are you approaching your portrayal of Big Mama?
I never envisioned myself as a Big Mama, but I am certainly a big Tennessee Williams fan. I was introduced to him early on, choosing—unwisely, in retrospect—Blanche Du Bois’ “He was a boy, just a boy, and I was a very young girl…” speech from A Streetcar Named Desire for my dramatic interpretation performance in Natick High School’s Competitive Speech Club state finals. Needless to say, I did not go home with trophies, but I was hooked, and later got to be involved with very interesting Tennessee Williams projects. I did Dirty Shorts, a pair of erotic TW short stories with Michael Urie and directed by David Kaplan, the head of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival. I had given David a copy of my first album, New York Romance, and he contacted me and said he needed a peculiarly versatile singer for a show he wanted to do. It turned out to be Tennessee WilliamsWords and Music, and he thought I would be a good fit. It’s a compilation of American Songbook songs TW always included in his various plays (Cat‘s “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” for example) and pieces of text from various plays that all meshed into an extraordinary theatrical journey. Once the jaw-droppingly talented Allison Leyton-Brown was on board as the musical director, arranger, and onstage pianist—backed by our great seven-piece band, “The Gentleman Callers”—the show became magical. We recorded it in New Orleans, and it’s available on Ghostlight Records. And, it’s great. Then I worked with Shirley  Knight, one of Tennessee Williams’  muses, in the world premiere of  TW’s last play, In Masks Outrageous and Austere, which was a wild Off-Broadway production that got better and better and wilder and wilder as the weeks went on. Dangerous, lyrical, thrilling theatre.

I was approached by Matt de Rogatis about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof about two years ago and met with him and Joe Rosario, who told me about his unique concept for the Pollitts. He wanted them to be attractive, sexually viable, very nouveau riche and entitled. As I recall,  one of the terms he used was “Kardashian.” And, that was something that really appealed to me. It’s right in the text that these two were sleeping with each other up to the time he started getting sick with terminal colon cancer. I lived with a man with colon cancer, my late husband Rusty Magee, and as I read the script, I felt I really understood the mercurial moods these two people in health trauma were experiencing due to physical reactions to treatment or emotional distress. I do believe there is real love and was real passion between them, and the fact that they stayed together over 40 years attests to this. But sickness, in addition to alcoholism in the family, foments major tension in a household. Once I met my Big Daddy, the glorious, utterly charming, smart as a whip New Orleans native Christian Le Blanc on Zoom, Big Mama fell utterly in love. And, when we finally got together? The more he rages against the storm, the more Big Mama loves him, and will fiercely protect him. Till death do they part.

(Read more)

Plus CBS interview with Christian LeBlanc, also starring in this production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF:

SWEDEN’S ABBA AND PIPPI LONGSTOCKING MEET AT THE CIRCUS ·

(Torsten Landsberg’s article appeared in DW, 7/12.)

ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus has adapted a Pippi Longstocking story, written by popular Swedish children’s books author Astrid Lindgren, into a musical show.    

They are connected by their country of origin and their international success: Björn Ulvaeus, member of the Sweden’s most successful band, ABBA, is adapting a story from arguably Sweden’s most popular children’s book series, Pippi Longstocking, into a musical.

“Pippi at the Circus” celebrates its premiere at the Cirkus venue in Stockholm, on July 12.

The circus musical is based on Astrid Lindgren‘s short story from the late 1960s. “I grew up with it,” said Ulvaeus, who was raised just 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Astrid Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby, about Pippi’s adventure.

The first Pippi Longstocking volume was published in 1945, just months after Björn Ulvaeus was born.

The musical was originally due to premiere in 2020 — on the 75th anniversary of Lindgren’s first work. The pandemic thwarted those plans.ch video02:33

In “Pippi at the Circus,” Tommy and Annika pick up their friend Pippi to go to the circus. Pippi has no idea what a circus is supposed to be, but is so enthusiastic about the performance that she quickly climbs into the ring herself and turns the performance upside down.

The 77-year-old Ulvaeus worked on the show with ABBA colleague Benny Andersson, who recorded songs with his own band, Benny Anderssons orkester. Ulvaeus wrote the lyrics. The result was a colorful mix in which “everything fits together, everything has a circus element,” says Ulvaeus.

Originally used as a circus, Stockholm’s Cirkus arena opened in 1892 and is today mostly used for concerts and musical shows. Björn Ulvaeus wanted to find a way to avoid having the venue go unused during the summer months: “It’s such a waste and stupid because up to 15 million tourists come to the city every year,” he said at a press presentation in May.

He thought about what could appeal to families and children in the summer, something that is renowned; As a Swedish, global brand, Pippi’s circus story was a clear-cut choice for the project.

The ABBA star sees Pippi as a symbol of empowerment for girls and women: “I like her civil disobedience, curiosity and strong will,” Ulvaeus said.

(Read more)

 

REBECCA HUMPHRIES ON LIFE AFTER THAT STRICTLY DEBACLE: ‘I FELT AS IF I HAD A VOICE AGAIN. MAYBE ONE THAT MATTERED’ ·

(Michael Hogan’s article appeared in the Observer, 7/10; via Pam Green.)

The actor’s breakup with comedian Seann Walsh went viral after he cheated on her with his dance partner and she responded with a tweet. Now she’s written an unflinching, very funny memoir

Rebecca Humphries’s 32nd birthday was one to remember, but for all the wrong reasons. On 3 October 2018, the actor was waiting at home alone, wearing a red silk dress and keeping a celebratory dinner for two warm. Meanwhile her boyfriend, the comedian Seann Walsh, was at the pub, kissing Katya Jones, his married professional partner on Strictly Come Dancing. When paparazzi photographs of their embrace were splashed across tabloid front pages, a scandal erupted. Humphries’ relationship, and her whole world, publicly collapsed.

The next day, she tweeted a statement which began: “My name is Rebecca Humphries and I am not a victim.” It described how, during their five-year relationship, Walsh called her “mental” and “psycho” whenever she questioned inappropriate or hurtful behaviour. His multiple other infidelities would emerge later. In the meantime, her tweet went viral, gaining her 20,000 new followers overnight. Now it was Humphries’s turn to monopolise front pages. One gleeful headline read: “You’re cha-cha-chucked!” Another hailed her as “the real winner of Strictly”.

Humphries – currently appearing in Ten Percent (Amazon Prime), the UK version of the hit French TV series Call My Agent! – was deluged with invitations to appear on television and radio and to write newspaper columns about toxic relationships and emotional abuse. On behalf of the organisers of the Women’s March London, she spoke in the House of Commons about gaslighting and the media. “I became an accidental figurehead,” she says.

Now she has written an extraordinary memoir, Why Did You Stay?. Described as “dazzling” by Marian Keyes and “fierce”, “gamechanging” and “brilliant” by Emma Thompson, the book is neither a kiss’n’tell, nor a revenge tragedy. Alternating between episodes from her relationship with Walsh and the aftermath of the Strictly debacle, it becomes a chilling study of insidious control and male-female power games. Unflinching and often very funny, it’s also a diary of self-discovery, an account of finding one’s self-worth, a celebration of resilience and a hymn to the value of friendship.

Tell us about the book’s title, Why Did You Stay?
It’s the question that those of us who’ve had difficult relationships get asked more than anything else. It’s victim-shaming, but it’s also the question that stays with us and has the potential to eat us up. So I’m reclaiming it.

You write that what happened was your worst nightmare come true. Really?
I’d catastrophised that exact scenario. Two months earlier, a friend asked me: “What’s the worst that can happen?” I said: “He has an affair with his dance partner and it’s splashed all over the tabloids for my friends and family to see.” I blurted that straight out. At that point, the relationship was my everything. I was watering a dead plant for a long time. It was all I had left. But when it broke up, that’s when my life started.

How did it feel when your tweet went viral?
Before I met Seann in 2013, I was somebody who people listened to. I was forthright and always had opinions. But those five years were a slow process of eroding my personality, feeling as if I had no voice and my opinion didn’t matter. When I decided to tweet a statement, I told my friends: “It doesn’t matter if anyone else believes it. This is for me. And maybe it’ll get like, 50 likes.” When the numbers started totting up, I felt as if I had a voice again. Maybe one that mattered.

Are you still getting supportive replies?
It never stops. Mostly from people that it resonates with, which says something about how common this is. Thousands came forward who’d been through the same. They understood what I was trying to say, which was: I was a smart, sexy, confident, clever woman and I can’t believe this happened to me. Victims of this behaviour don’t all look like submissive mice. It’s insidious when you see abuse victims in pop culture, because they’re often portrayed like that.

Do you feel like you had to write this book?
I did, I felt a strong sense of responsibility. When I tweeted, I felt a similar sense of responsibility for the many who’ve had these experiences but don’t have a platform. And when you voice your shame, it disappears. I want to encourage more people to do the same. So much of the book is about ending victimhood. Nora Ephron said in Heartburn that she didn’t want to be the victim of her story, she wanted to be the heroine. That’s exactly how I felt.

Can you watch Strictly now?
I still watch it. Strictly’s great. None of this is Strictly’s fault.

(Read more)

 

JAMES CAAN, ‘THE GODFATHER’ AND ‘MISERY’ STAR, DIES AT 82 ·

(Carmel Dagan’s article appeared in Variety, 7/7; via Pam Green.)

James Caan, whose indelible, Oscar-nominated performance as Sonny Corleone, the recklessly hotheaded son of Marlon Brando’s Mafia don in “The Godfather,” is sure to be remembered as long as there are gangster movies, died on Wednesday, his family announced on Twitter. He was 82.

“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the tweet reads. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

Caan also had notable roles in films including “Misery,” “Elf,” “Thief,” “Godfather Part II,” “Brian’s Song” and “The Gambler.”

Sonny’s violent end in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” — riddled, as he is, with dozens of bullets — is one of the most memorable scenes in a film filled with them.

Caan initially auditioned for the role of Michael, the college-educated war-hero son who would ultimately become don, and the studio, Paramount, supported this casting for a time; Al Pacino was cast as Michael and Caan as Sonny as part of a complex compromise between Paramount and Coppola.

Caan was riding high on the success of TV weepie “Brian’s Song,” in which he played the dying football player Brian Piccolo alongside Billy Dee Williams as Piccolo’s best friend, Gale Sayers, when he was cast in “The Godfather.” “Brian’s Song” won a number of Emmys, including outstanding single program — drama or comedy, and Caan was nominated for his performance.

The actor had earlier starred for Coppola in the director’s odd little road movie “The Rain People” (1969), in which Caan played a brain-damaged hitchhiker.

But as his career progressed over the decades, Caan would repeatedly essay characters with a penchant for violence.

In addition to “The Godfather,” Caan’s signature films from the 1970s include Mark Rydell’s “Cinderella Liberty” (1973), in which he played a sailor in love with a hooker; Karel Reisz’s 1974 “The Gambler,” in which he played a man with a serious gambling addiction; Sam Peckinpah actioner “The Killer Elite” (1975), a story of CIA assassins that reunited him with Duvall; musical romantic comedy “Funny Lady” (also 1975), with Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif; Norman Jewison’s satirical, dystopian sci-fi drama “Rollerball,” in which he played a popular athlete in a violent sport based on roller derby but often ending in death; Alan J. Pakula’s Western romance “Comes a Horseman,” in which Caan starred with Jane Fonda and Jason Robards; and the Neil Simon-penned “Chapter Two,” in which a seemingly uncomfortable Caan was essentially a stand-in for Simon in the story of how he got together with second wife Marsha Mason — played in the film by Marsha Mason.

(Read more)