Key Performances

Especially before the age of information-packed technology, historians tended to obscure a great deal. Lately, in the new decade of "the woman" (thanks, Hillary!), scholars and artists appear to be discovering a whole crop of creators previously overlooked or completely ignored. Ask for the greats of the arts and you might hear the names Mozart, Chopin, Hemingway, van Gogh. Women, particularly in theater, were prized more for their posteriors than for posterity. How many will remember, for example, that the lovely Lillie Langtry was praised for her wit A yes, wit A by such acid-penned observers as Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and George Bernard Shaw. Of course, most people know the novelist Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin needed to adopt the name "George Sand" in order to publish her more than 90 works of literature.

In the arena of lost femme artistes, even more sinister rumblings echo forth from the past. Perhaps Brecht didn't write all his work, and some of his mistresses helped out more than a bit. What about the claim that Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert and a virtuoso pianist in her own right, actually composed much of his music? F. Scott Fitzgerald's distraught mate, Zelda, long claimed that "Scottie" stole her stories and called them his own. More and more, reconstructive historians find disturbing shards of truth in these tales, proving that women didn't just spring alive in the Twentieth Century, but struggled to thrive artistically purely underground; perhaps thousands remain undiscovered.

Ever heard of Teresa Carre*o, for instance?
You should have. Long before Madonna, as Arnold Mittelman of the Coconut Grove Playhouse pointed out recently, Teresa was a superstar. In the late 1800s, playing piano all through the United States, Europe, and South America, she entertained such luminaries as presidents Abraham Lincoln and Grover Cleveland. Married four times (two husbands were brothers), the mother of a brood of children, a chain-smoker who hid a gun in her piano, Ms. Carre*o became as colorful a figure to the press of her time as Ms. Ciccone has today. The analogy with Madonna would hold up perfectly, except for the fact that Teresa Carre*o A at least the way classical recording and concert star Pamela Ross plays her in the Grove's production of Carre*o! A possessed awe-inspiring musical genius. Ms. Ross certainly owns the great gift, too, as she breathes new life into this lost superwoman, weaving impeccable and passionate piano stylings of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Scott Joplin, and others with a fascinating one-woman-show-monologue that traces the Venezuelan virtuoso Carre*o's extraordinary life from father's prize pupil to the toast of three continents.

If you enjoy the truly superior and can afford to see just one show this year, go to Carre*o, if only to hear Ms. Ross play the piano. When acting the part of Teresa, she tends to exaggerate the character a bit, but this hardly matters. The piece as an overall work of theater makes an extraordinary impact, and shows how different art forms A music, acting, and playwriting A can meld to produce a new and more fulfilling dramatic structure.

Ross plays like an angel. As Carre*o's author, she writes almost as well. Tying Teresa's story together through the tale of her hunt for her lost daughter (who was put up for adoption by a vengeful hubby while she was on tour), the actress/pianist/playwright delicately exposes universal truths of talented women fighting against male prejudice and jealousy, even from their own spouses. Carre*o's final personal feminist triumph is perfectly reflected in the music, as Ross acts as well if not better when speaking through those power-packed and fluid fingers. Every musical phrase truly tells a story and expresses a new emotion.

Gene Frankel, the original director of this Off-Broadway hit in the Sixties, was instrumental in establishing black theater by introducing James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Maya Angelou to the stage in his adaption of Jean Genet's The Blacks. Now he contributes just as much to the cause of women, by helping Pamela Ross maneuver a perfect one-performer concert/ play. Even if you don't care for classical music, you'll be won over by the way Ms. Ross plays it, and in the process, she'll hook you into the saga of the great Carre*o A a woman who should be remembered for her musical virtuosity and her strength of will. Arnold Mittelman must be praised highly for finding Ross's show and, through it, restoring Carre*o's gifts to their rightful place in history.

Speaking of history, more than 32 years ago Robert Goulet as Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe's magical musical Camelot, sang "If Ever I Would Leave You" to Julie Andrews as his beloved Guenevere, stopping the show with one of the best baritone voices and most striking forms ever to stride the boards. Now Goulet stuns with his still-solid voice, still-striking form, and most important, his impressive and ultra-realistic acting as King Arthur in the newest version of the Arthurian legend. In fact, for my money, Goulet's highly human and often bewildered monarch surpasses both Richard Burton and Richard Harris in the role. And his voice certainly makes songs like "Camelot" and "How to Handle a Woman" sound better than even Lerner and Loewe could expect.

As his Queen, Patricia Kies makes a charming and most appealing Guenevere, a woman whose soaring voice and smoldering good looks could easily enthrall both a ruler and a knight. The weaker links in the production include Lancelot himself (could Goulet have craftily engineered this failing?), a foppy, mannered actor named Steve Blanchard who ducks the more-challenging notes of the show-stopping song Goulet thundered three decades ago. Kenneth Boys as Mordred, the evil bastard-son of Arthur (apparently the offspring of a kingly indiscretion), simply projects a whimpering, whining little brat rather than a true threat to anyone, and his nasty cackle rings unfortunately and unintentionally comical. Playing two roles, Merlyn and the dippy "King" Pellinore, James Valentine acts up and over the top in such an outrageous manner that he must have had something in mind I didn't catch.

Flaws aside, Goulet's so fine and the story's still so spellbinding and all those other warm, sticky things real musicals should be, this version of Camelot is well worth the visit. In fact, you may come away wondering why Goulet, who cut more than 60 albums, didn't make a slew of movies as well, at least entries better than his latest cameo in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. Hey dudes, Bob's a dynamite actor, honest.

Prejudice and subjectivity leads to all sorts of trouble. Before Goulet brought his triumph to these parts, many people could be heard snickering about has-beens. Now it's time for some eating of words. Similarly, incorrect conclusions about the limited artistic capabilities of women kept female artists such as Teresa Carre*o struggling for recognition and a place in history. Hopefully, future audiences will judge more objectively, from what they see and hear on that stage A and nothing else.


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