Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Open Your Hart (to Hart) This Holiday Season

Here at SFist, we'll admit to a bias toward events where fabulousness and social conscience go hand in hand. That's why we're looking forward to Sunday night, when The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation is presenting Help is on the Way for the Holidays VII. Northern California’s largest annual Aids benefit concert, this night of performances from stage and screen stars will benefit the HIV/AIDS Program at Children’s Hospital Oakland, Project Inform, and Maitri.

You can take in this "all-star holiday benefit concert" Sunday, December 4 at 7:30, at the Herbst Theater. As for the star power of the event, there's a lot of them, but w're especially intrigued by the prospect of performances from Susan Anton and Stefanie Powers -- and, hey, don't forget Oakland's own LaToya London!

General admission tickets are $45 and $65, and will get you into the pre-show silent auction at 5:30, with the show starting at 7:30. For the $100 (and up) Host Underwriter tickets, there's even a post-performance party with the cast in the Green Room of the War Memorial Building featuring complimentary wine, champagne and desserts (and we know you can make up that $55 difference in food, booze, and starf**king), from 9:30-11:30.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Review: Hart to Hart: The Complete First Season

In the retrospective featurette that graces the new DVD set of Hart to Hart: The Complete First Season, creator Sidney Sheldon accurately describes the sort of winky, black-tie tone he was aiming for in this serialized, early ’80s knock-off of The Thin Man films, in which Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers played a globe-trotting, make-cute husband and wife duo whose substantial personal fortune allows them to play amateur sleuths. With this in mind, the laidback charms of this show (after all, as the opening credit narration from co-star Lionel Stander cheerily notes of the Harts, “murder is their hobby”) can wash pleasantly over viewers seeking to relive their small screen past, when rakishness was embraced rather than castigated.

Wagner stars as Jonathan Hart, a self-made millionaire who is utterly bored with the business world. He runs his conglomeration of industries by loose proxy, leaving him the time to tend his magnificent coif and live a life of luxury and indulged inquisitiveness with his wife Jennifer (Powers), a former freelance journalist and his intellectual equal. Stander is their butler and sidekick, Max, who blends fruit-and-Jack-Daniels smoothies and is quick with a quip. While so many investigatory shows — be they cop, private investigator or, these days, forensic scientist — are little more than colorfully convoluted procedurals, one thing that’s notable about Hart to Hart is the amount of time it took to establish and delight in character. The cases the Harts tackle, therefore, are actually a little less than half the story, as the mock-exasperated interplay between the stars is what gives the show its true zing. The (little) action is dated and silly, sure, and the occasional stunt doubles among the worst you’ll ever see, but Hart to Hart has a great sense of its own style and mission.

While not without its low points (“Which Way, Freeway?,” wherein the Harts’ dog exposes an elaborate scheme to kill a reclusive jeweler and steal millions of dollars in gems, comes to mind), Hart to Hart works chiefly because of its leads. Wagner plays Hart in breezy, Steve McQueen-lite fashion, which isn’t as backhanded a compliment as it sounds; vacuumed free of his complications and surliness, one could see how the character of Hart — and indeed, this series — was a success with audiences, if never quite a critical darling. While it suffered some rocky reviews early on, Hart to Hart eventually went on to score six Emmy nominations and more than a dozen Golden Globe nods. Episode highlights here include a great opening pilot, “A New Kind of High,” “Hit Jennifer Hart,” “Cruise at Your Own Risk” and “With This Gun I Thee Wed.”

The full-frame transfers of the show look surprisingly good given their age, and the audio (in English and… Portuguese, with subtitles in the latter?) is equally crisp. Wagner and Powers sit with writer-director Tom Mankiewicz for a warm audio commentary track on the two-hour pilot. An abundance of anecdotes are shared (after a location set fire early during the shoot, the director of photography used gaffer tape to amend his novelty, pre-show crew T-shirt from, “I have complete confidence in my director” to read “some confidence”), and the banter between the three (“Did you learn that in star school?” jibes Powers to Wagner at one point) is loving and humorous. This track is a veritable blueprint for multi-party effectiveness, so balanced is it between yarns, interesting insight and quantifiable information. The aforementioned retrospective featurette clocks in at 22 minutes, and includes interviews with the stars, plus Mankiewicz, Sheldon, executive producer Leonard Goldberg and others. It too is a fantastic look back at the series, and a model of economic re-visitation — not too long, not too short.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Review: The King and I

The King and I

(Prudential Hall, NJPAC; Newark, N.J.; 2,750 seats; $35 top)

A New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Atlanta's Theater of Stars and Independent Presenters Network presentation of a musical in two acts with music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Baayork Lee.

Captain Orton, Sir Edward Ramsey - Hal Davis
Louis Leonowens - Patrick Scott Minor
Anna Leonowens - Stefanie Powers
The Interpreter - Scott Kitajima
The Kralahome - Ronald M. Banks
The Royal Dancer - Jessica Wu
The King of Siam - Ronobir Lahiri
Lun Tha - Martin Sola
Tuptim - Nita Baxani
Lady Thiang - Catherine MiEun Choi
Prince Chululongkorn - Allan Mangaser
Princess Ying Yaowlak - Daphne Chen
Fan Dancer - Kumi Kimura

Winding up a 22-city cross-country tour, "The King and I""The King And I" has settled down in Newark with a perfectly lovely Victorian schoolmarm at the helmhelm and the luscious legacy of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's durable score. The lavish bus and truck production has comfortably weathered the half-century mark bolstered by picturesque design and Baayork Lee's well-focused staging.
Anna Leonowens, the dauntless schoolteacher imported from Britain to Siam to educatethe king's expansive household of children, is played with considerable spunk by Stefanie Powers. In addition to the right mix of reserve and stately beauty, she also possesses a lovely soprano voice, only glimpsed when she appeared as Margo Channing in a Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Applause" a few seasons back.

Powers' widowed tutor reveals maternal warmth when she gathers the children about her to "Whistle a Happy Tune." There's witty defiance in the response to her employer's demands, "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" and most embracing is her tender blessing to the star-crossed sweethearts, "Hello, Young Lovers."

The king is no longer quite the star turn once fashioned by Yul Brynner. Ronobir Lahiri is perhaps the most youthful in a long line of theatrical kings. He's certainly not a cuddly emperor, and manages to conveyarrogance and royal authority. But the childish needling humor and warm condescension never seem to successfully surface. His delightful, quizzical delivery of "A Puzzlement," however, is everything it should be.

Catherine MiEun Choi is a wise Lady Thiang, and she makes "Something Wonderful" exactly that. As Tuptim, the errant princess, Nita Baxani together with Martin Sola as her doomed lover deliver two of the most sensuous ballads in the R&H canon, "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed." The romantic fervor of the theater's golden age survives with considerable distinction.

A batch of barefoot tots scurry across the stage representing a small parcel of the king's 60-some offspring. The extraordinary capacity of Rodgers' melodies to charm and seduce an audience is in evidence as they enter the throne room in "The March of the Siamese Children."

Director Lee, who appeared in the original Broadway production at the age of 5 and is best known for creating the role of Connie in "A Chorus Line," has harnessed the show's physical beauty and its intrinsic exotic flavor.

Still the centerpiece of act two, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" ballet parody, as originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, remains an engaging sideshow

Kenneth Foy's bejeweled set design is especially sumptuous for a traveling company. The picture-postcard Thailand is richly dressed with golden Buddha statues and high-columned anterooms for visual allure, enhanced by Roger Kirk's traditional period costumes and sweeping hoop skirts.

Sets, Kenneth Foy; costumes, Roger Kirk; lighting, John McLain; sound, Abe Jacob, Mark Cowburn; musical supervision, Kevin Farrell; production stage manager, John W. Calder III. Opened Nov. 8, 2005. Reviewed Nov. 10, Running time: 2 HOURS 35 MIN.

With: Michiko Takemasa, Greg Zane, Kim Jones, Amy Chang, Jessica Wu, Yuki Ozeki, Nicholas Cook, Jellyn Echon, Eric Liew, Carol Nelson, Jacquelyn Zen, Eileen Ward, Enrique Acevedo, Andrew Cheng, Edward Dias, Vivien Eng, Kuma Kimora, Scott Kitajima, LaToya D. Martin, Christine Nuki, Rommel Ochoa, Mayumi Omagan, Yuki Ozeki, Mata RS Perkins, Joshua Schutteis, Nancy Yang, Zhenjun Zhang.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Warning Shot on DVD

Warning Shot was released on DVD earlier this month.

Cast and Crew

David Janssen...Sgt. Tom Valens
Ed Begley...Capt. Roy Klodin
Keenan Wynn...Sgt. Ed Musso
Sam Wanamaker...Frank Sanderman
Lillian Gish...Alice Willows
Stefanie Powers...Liz Thayer
Eleanor Parker...Mrs. Doris Ruston
George Grizzard...Walt Cody
George Sanders...Calvin York
Steve Allen...Perry Knowland
Carroll O'Connor...Paul Jerez
Joan Collins...Joanie Valens
Walter Pidgeon...Orville Ames
Vito Scotti...Designer
David Garfield...Police Surgeon
Bob Williams...Judge Gerald Lucas
Jerry Dunphy...Himself - TV newscaster
Romo Vincent...Ira Garvin
Jean Carson...Cocktail Waitress
Donald Curtis...Dr. James B. Ruston
Brian Dunne...Philip 'Rusty' Ruston

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Stefanie in San Francisco

Stefanie will be performing in San Francisco.

The Richmond/Ermet Aids Foundation presents "Help is on the Way for the Holidays VII" on Sunday, December 4, 2005 at 7:30 pm at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue.

For more information go to:

Tickets can be purchased through the City Box Office at 415-392-4400 or your can go on-line at

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Powers that be Anna

With Stefanie in title role, emphasis returns to the 'I' in 'The King and I'

She'll miss the role and the songs -- and the children. She'll not forget the children, as the lyric goes.

But Stefanie Powers, who next week wraps up her 10-month national tour as Mrs. Anna in "The King and I" at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, won't spend any time yearning for the costume.

"That big hooped skirt weighs a ton," she says. "Then there's the pantaloons underneath it. And you have to wear a corset to keep everything up.

"Of course," she says, "one never knows if you're really hanging up the hoops for good. I thought I was hanging them up after the first time I did the part."

That was in London in 2002, when she took over for Elaine Paige. Then came a tour of England. Last December, when Sandy Duncan wanted to leave this American tour, Powers agreed to once more portray the embattled English schoolteacher who finds that the King of Siam isn't an easy person to have as a boss.

"I stress Anna's frustration," she says. "The King is no one's fool, and while he's not English, he is capable of running his country. At this moment in her life, Anna is without many alternatives in making a living, supporting her son, and maintaining a standard in her life. She was not privileged, or in a position to return to England, so she lives a very precarious life with not many opportunities, despite her education."

Powers, who turned 63 on Wednesday, says Anna is the lead of the show.

"Gertrude Lawrence was the original star of the piece -- and even brought the project to Rodgers and Hammerstein in the first place," she says. "However, over the years it became the King's show, because Yul Brynner made himself the focus, and played it over 4,000 times. Twelve years ago, Clear Channel (the tour's producer) wanted to put the emphasis back where it started -- on Anna."

That seems to be what Rodgers and Hammerstein intended. The King, after all, sings only one song -- "A Puzzlement" -- while Anna gets four of the show's biggest hits: "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You" and "Shall We Dance?" (Granted, the King -- here portrayed by Ronobir Lahiri -- partners her in the last-named song.)

"I love doing that polka because it comes so naturally to me -- probably because I'm Polish," says the former Stefania Zofia Federkiewicz.

Powers finds an irony in replicating Jerome Robbins' original choreography, here restaged by Baayork Lee, who was one of the Siamese children in the original 1951 Broadway production.

"I once worked for Mr. Robbins, when he hired me (in 1960) when I was a teenager to be a Jet Girl in the 'West Side Story' movie," she says of the time when her stage name was Taffy Paul. "I was the only minor on the set. He was a very tough man, and a taskmaster who took no prisoners. It was a baptism of fire for me, because he eventually replaced me. Still, I consider it a mixed pleasure to have worked with Mr. Robbins. I wouldn't trade the agony of it all for the experience I had just being there, seeing how hard everyone worked."

Although she took a self-imposed year of exile after the firing, she re-emerged with her new name to do some films ("Experiment in Terror," "Palm Springs Weekend") and TV shows -- becoming a genuine star when portraying Jennifer the journalist in "Hart to Hart," the 1979-84 TV series with Robert Wagner.

"That's what people mention when they come to the stage door after the show," she says. "'When's "Hart to Hart" coming out on DVD?' I'm so glad it just did."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Pleasurable 'King' lacks spark

The resplendent textures, gilded Buddhas and elephant figurines evoking Bangkok provide one facet of a multitude of pleasures in the latest touring production of the classic Broadway musical, "The King and I."

But the show has a key fault -- the lack of sexual tension between the King of Siam and the British governess who arrives in 19th-century Thailand to teach his throng of children.

The last time the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II musical rolled into town, in 1998, English actress Hayley Mills played Anna Leonowens, the adventurous Welsh widow who accepts a job offer from the inquisitive but stubborn King of Siam, known as "Lord of Light" and ruler of all things in his country.

This time, the PNC Bank Broadway in Louisville presentation at the Kentucky Center features Stefanie Powers as Anna.

Mills had a winning spunkiness but an untrained and unimpressive singing voice. Powers, best known for her role on television's "Hart to Hart," brings a lofty bearing to the role as well as the musical pipes to sing Anna's half-dozen songs, including the poignantly beautiful "Hello, Young Lovers" and the cheerful but tricky "I Whistle a Happy Tune."

Powers is fun to watch, especially when she privately imagines giving the king a piece of her mind while wearing pantaloons and singing "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You."

The problem with this show, however, lies in the scenes between Powers' Anna and Ronobir Lahiri's King. The undercurrent of danger and physical attraction that made the Yul Brynner-Deborah Kerr movie so enchanting and memorable is missing in this version, directed by Baayork Lee, who appeared in the original "The King and I" as the youngest princess.

Lahiri is considerably shorter than Powers and less than commanding. At Tuesday night's opening performance, he failed to crisply articulate "A Puzzlement," and his singing was lost in the orchestration. He's best when quipping about his multitude of children, but it's disappointing that Lahiri, who has an impressive list of film and stage credits -- and who played this role opposite Powers on a United Kingdom tour and was the understudy on Broadway in 1997 -- projects such a tepid presence as the King of Siam.

Compensating pleasures are found in the performances of Nita Baxani and Martin Sola as the sympathetic "young lovers" who sing "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed." Catherine MiEun Choi provides a sense of compassionate wisdom with an affecting "Something Wonderful." And the sparkling, instructive Act II number, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," in which slavery is condemned, is among the most charming scenes of all in the nearly three-hour show.

Powers loved McLintock

Actress Stefanie Powers says her happiest working experience on a movie came in 1963 when she played John Wayne's daughter in the comic western McLintock.

She also says she will never forget the close chemistry between Wayne and his favorite leading lady, Maureen O'Hara, and reveals that it influenced the rapport she later established with Robert Wagner for their hit television series, Hart To Hart.

Powers makes her comments in a fascinating interview contained in the new special DVD edition of McLintock just released by Paramount Home Entertainment. O'Hara, now 85, also discusses her long friendship with Wayne and her role in this film as cattle Baron George Washington McLintock's estranged and domineering wife.

The movie, a raucous frontier reworking of Shakespeare's Taming Of The Shrew, is an anachronism by current standards -- breaking the rules of political correctness right and left. Indeed its screenwriter James Edward Grant once famously commented: "All you gotta have in a John Wayne picture is a hoity-toity dame with big tits that Duke can throw over his knee and spank, and a collection of jerks he can smash in the face every five minutes...."

But O'Hara makes no apologies about the spanking scene or the sequence where she is covered in mud. She makes it clear that she adored Wayne.

McLintock has never looked its best in previous DVD and VHS releases because of bad transfers. This time it looks excellent. It's also very good value, considering the special features, which include interviews with Powers and O'Hara, a biography of the Duke's producer son, Michael Wayne, and commentary featuring the voices of critic Leonard Maltin and film historian Frank Thompson.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Stefanie,
Happy birthday to you.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

'The King and I' - Louisville, KY

Stefanie Powers -- yes, the same actress who starred in TV's "Hart to Hart" and "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." -- plays "I" in the PNC Bank Broadway in Louisville touring production of "The King and I."

Powers' role as Anna the determined governess will be complemented by Ronobir Lahiri's role as the King of Siam.

The musical opens today and runs through Sunday at the Kentucky Center. It is filled with many memorable songs, including "Shall We Dance?" "Getting to Know You" and "I Whistle a Happy Tune."


'The King and I'
When: Performances will be at 8 p.m. today through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Whitney Hall at the Kentucky Center, Sixth and Main streets.
Admission: Tickets are $21.75 to $56.75. Call (502) 584-7777 or visit