Saturday, March 21, 2015

ALICE AT THE PALACE 1982

A MUSIC HALL BASED ON LEWIS CARROLL'S
ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND & THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
I was never much of a fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I didn't enjoy it when Disney made it into the sleep-inducing animated feature, Alice in Wonderland (1951), and I enjoyed it even less when I read it as one of those books one feels obliged to read during childhood; like Huckleberry Finn, Toby Tyler, Treasure Island, et al. (well, I have to admit I actually liked Treasure Island a great deal). No doubt the reason for this can be traced to the misguided, although not unreasonable, expectation on my part that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was going to be a sweet, heartwarming fantasy along the lines of The Wizard of Oz. Upon reading it, however, I was more than a little shaken by just how far-from-wonder and how very close to nightmarish Carroll’s idea of a Wonderland turned out to be. In fact, what with Alice’s difficult-to-relate-to Victorian reserve; Carroll’s often confounding word riddles and flexible logic; and particularly John Tenniel’s unsettling-bordering-on-grotesque illustrations (think the original Broadway poster art for Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd); Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland proved itself a fitting exemplar of the contrary nature of Wonderland by managing somehow to be simultaneously soporific and horrific.

It was only many years later, when a college class brought about my having to revisit the book, did I ultimately come to appreciate the sophisticated wit and literary ingeniousness of Carroll’s Alice, her surreal fantasy world, and its eccentric inhabitants. Apparently my childhood frustration with the material stemmed from assuming the word "wonder" in Wonderland alluded to the word "wonderful"; not (as I should have known from personal experience) bewilderment and confusion..."curiouser and curiouser" indeed.

But appreciating a book still is a far cry from actually enjoying it.
Feeling as I did, small wonder (heh, heh) it took no less esteemed and idolized a personage than Meryl Streep to get me anywhere near Wonderland again.
Meryl Streep as Alice Pleasance Liddell (seven and a half, exactly)
First broadcast on NBC in January of 1982 under the network’s Project Peacock banner (a series of prime-time specials for children), Alice at the Palace is a pared-down, 90-minute adaptation of a theatrical piece Streep first starred in back in 1978. Then titled Wonderland in Concert, this original “concert drama” with book, music, and lyrics by Tony-nominee Elizabeth Swados (Runaways), started out as a bare-bones Joseph Papp / New York Shakespeare Festival workshop production. In 1980 it was revived Off-Broadway in slightly more expensively-mounted form as Alice in Concert, winning Streep a Best Actress Obie Award. This TV-movie adaptation draws from the 1980 production, utilizing much of the original cast and substituting the show’s otherwise bare stage and contemporary street clothes with a mid-19th Century British Music Hall setting and sumptuously witty (and utilitarian) Victorian Era-inspired costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge (The Great Gatsby, The Eyes of Laura Mars, Annie). The era chosen being of particular significance, as Carroll's books, considered by many to be a sendup of Victorian rigidity, were written in 1865 - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and 1871 -Through the Looking Glass.
The well-dressed ladies and gentlemen occupying the box at the Palace Theater
serve as the show's Greek Chorus
 
The period-appropriate setting of London's Victoria Palace Theater is the combined playground/performance space wherein Alice's surreal adventures in Wonderland are presented, vaudeville revue-style, in an eclectic and eccentric collage of song, dance, mime, poetry, and comedy. The amusing conceit of having Alice (whose traditional pinafore has been replaced by a pink bib jumper) as the unwitting star of an absurdist Music Hall revue neatly allows Swados' musicale to retain its deliberate theatrical structure. Meanwhile, the burlesque of Victorian-era shock and outrage enacted by the well-dressed members of the theater gallery in response to the show's musical anachronisms and hurlyburly format, is delightfully in keeping with the madness vs. sanity / reason vs. improbability themes of Lewis Carroll's book(s).

While Streep’s Alice remains consistently herself throughout (as much as a little girl who keeps growing and shrinking can be called consistent), members of the talented and versatile ensemble cast whimsically interpret the numerous denizens of Wonderland in imaginatively-staged numbers and skits that stubbornly refuse to recognize the laws of probability and time. The Dormouse sings country-western; Bill the Lizard is part of a barbershop sextet; the Lobster Quadrille is introduced by a Vegas-style lounge singer; the Caterpillar interrogation is an Indian raga; the Duchess’ baby jazz scats, à la Ella Fitzgerald; and Alice herself evokes the spirit of the 60s by serenading the Queen with a folk song.
Strumming her flamingo croquet mallet like a guitar, Streep does a killer Joan Baez impersonation
Given the combined elements of my general antipathy toward the source material, justified aversion to children's theater, and child-of-the-60s-related oversaturation anxiety regarding experimental theater of any kind; all signs point to Alice at the Palace being just the type of strenuously quirky entertainment that would have me scanning the room for exits and plotting escape routes in my head. But, miracle of miracles, Alice at the Palace stays on the bonus side of that gossamer-thin veil that separates the giddy lunacy of say, a Richard Lester movie or Monty Python skit, from the makes-you-want-to-set-your-hair-on-fire noxious cuteness of a Godspell or episode of The Monkees.
Maybe because the whimsy never feels arbitrary (even the illogical have a logic), or maybe because the cast of New York theater actors is so good they never once leave you unclear of what they are doing and where they are headed; but all the elements work seamlessly concert and create an imaginative, child's-eye-view of Wonderland unlike any I've ever seen*

*(In reviewing Alice in Concert, critic John Simon made reference to similarities to a theater of the absurd production of Alice in Wonderland mounted by Andre Gregory [of My Dinner with Andre fame] in 1970 though his Manhattan Project theater company.)
Since I’ve always felt that Alice in Wonderland was less an actual story than a series of bizarre conjoined encounters, Alice at the Palace resonated with me from the start because it appeared at last, someone (in this instance, the show’s creator Elizabeth Swados and director Emile Ardolino of Dirty Dancing and Sister Act), had lit upon a mode of adapting Carroll’s disjointed children’s verse complimentary to the book’s episodic, anarchic structure. 

In spite of the boundless possibilities presented by special effects, film has a literal quality about it that imposes a realism that can prove problematic when dealing with a fantasy centered on conceptual thinking, wordplay, and modes of perception. 
Certainly a device as theatrical as having a then 31-year-old Meryl Streep portray a 7 ½ -year-old could never work in even the most CGI heavy film unless, as in the Tom Hanks film, Big (1988), the discrepancy is noted. (Imagine The Wiz with 33-year-old Diana Ross playing Dorothy as an actual child!).
The willing suspension of disbelief and casual acceptance of visible artifice that’s part of the live theater experience makes the stage-bound gimmicks of Alice at the Palace (at varying intervals the camera places us onstage, in the wings, or in the audience) feel like a visual extension of Wonderland’s twisted, “Who am I now?” perspective. Similarly, the traditional vaudeville ritual of raising the curtain or lowering the scrim to signal the shift from one unconnected variety act to another is a cunning contrivance that actually brings a kind of disjointed order to Alice’s otherwise anecdotic odyssey.
Alice  receives her first crown
But best of all, something about the particulars of this production - from concept to execution - seized my imagination and touched my heart in precisely the ways Carroll's books proved incapable. For the first time, Alice’s adventures struck me as ultimately very moving and comprised of more than just a series of poetically expressed academic postulates. The details and performance subtleties of Streep, who uncannily captures the restless fidgety energy of a child, brings to the forefront Alice’s inner journey. A journey that takes her from feckless child who looks out at the world through smugly assumptive eyes, to one who learns to look for the beauty in everything, big and small. She also learns that "fabulous monsters" come in all forms, whether they be unicorns, scary Jabberwocks or beautiful Red Queens. 
Debbie Allen as The Red Queen
"You may think that I'm an ogre, I am just the queen-next-door.
I simply have an axe instead of a cup of sugar."
The racial diversity of the cast of Alice at  the Palace stands in stark and refreshing contrast to the bafflingly all-white cast of Streep's latest musical venture, Rob Marshall's otherwise excellent adaptation of Stephens Sondheim's Into The Woods (2014). There's something Wonderlandish in the inherent contradiction of devotees of fairy tales and fantasy not having minds expansive enough to embrace inclusiveness.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I saw Alice at the Palace when it aired back in ’82, and for the longest time the only version I had was the fuzzy VHS copy I made (complete with James Garner, Mariette Hartley Polaroid commercials) that eventually warped and broke from overplay. Seriously, I just fell in love with this show. I’ve seen it so often I know the score by heart. Anyhow, it was finally released on DVD in 2002, and while no manner of digital magic can remove that murky, low-tech, 80s-music-video look, it’s been nothing sort of great revisiting this show and enjoying a singing and dancing Meryl Streep two decades before she became the go-to diva of movie musicals.
The Mad Tea Party
Meryl Streep as Alice, Richard Cox (Cruising) as the Hatter, Michael Jeter (Picket Fences) as the Dormouse, and Mark Linn-Baker as the March Hare

If I've given the impression so far that Alice at the Palace as one of those sure-fire entertainments ranking among the most accessible of crowd-pleasers from Walt Disney or Rodgers & Hammerstein, let me correct that. Alice at the Palace is quite the opposite of a crowd-pleaser. In fact, it’s something of a hard-sell.
As much as I’m blown away by Streep’s genius, the charm of the supporting cast, the cleverness of the music, and the poetic sweetness of the show itself (OK, it’s long been established that I’m a major softie, but the ending still moves me to waterworks after all these years); a good many people find the show singularly resistible. For years I've tried to get friends to watch it with me, but not a single person (including my partner whose tastes are similar to my own to the point of comedy) has been able to make it past more than the first half-hour.
Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood)
vamps the Mock Turtle (Mark Linn-Baker) in full lounge singer mode. She also appears as Alice's sister, Edith. 
I don’t believe this has anything to do with it being too esoteric or impenetrable, it’s merely that such a non-traditional approach to such familiar material is bound not to be everyone’s Mad Tea Party. The droll and often lovely songs, incorporating a great deal of Lewis Carroll’s text, are not what you’d call hummable; the choreography by Graciela Daniele (The Pirates of Penzance, Everyone Says I love You) is mostly of the “movement for non-dancers” stripe; and the avant-garde characterizations are apt to strike some as precious.

But, speaking entirely for myself and my own taste, one of the reasons Alice at the Palace is such a delight for me (and why I think so many other adaptations of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland have failed) is because an absurdist, nonsensical book cries out for an absurdist, nonsensical interpretation. Not the affected, eccentricity-without-substance of Tim Burton’s Alice, but a lopsided logic in tune with that of the book. Alice at the Palace makes Lewis Carroll's words and characters soar off the page and come to life.
Get the feeling they weren't really trying too hard with this TV Guide ad?
                                                                             via simplystreep.com
PERFORMANCES
There’s no getting past the fact that the miracle that is Meryl Streep is Alice at the Palace’s most valuable player. As excellent as the show and everyone else in the cast is, I can’t imagine it without her. At the time of this broadcast, Streep was just hitting her stride as a major star. She’d already won her first Emmy (Holocaust), first Oscar (Kramer vs Kramer), and two Golden Globes (Kramer vs Kramer and The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Indeed, a sure indicator of the scope of her success was the groundswell of critical and public backlash that began to build around this time. The complaint was that she was too technical, too serious, and too fond of accents.
Mark Linn-Baker is a standout as the White Rabbit, March Hare, Mock Turtle and here, as the White Knight.
Four years later he would find television success as the star of the sitcom Perfect Strangers
Meryl Streep was not only a serious actress, she was a HEAVY serious actress. No one went to a Meryl Streep movie expecting a good time. She was solid, she was thoughtful, and she was deep. And in every film you knew she was going to cry at least once...or twice...OK, a lot. I don’t know what the press reaction to Alice at the Palace when it aired, but as a Streep fan who saw her for the first time in The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) and instantly fell in love, my reaction must have been on par with those 30s audiences who saw Garbo laugh in Ninotchka.

Those who only know Streep post-Mamma Mia have absolutely no idea what a shock it was to find out this deathly serious actress could be so funny! Silly, in fact...and she could sing, too! Hers is an animated, committed performance of near-constant surprises. She's extraordinary and a great deal of fun to watch (no surprise there). However, when taking in her loose, very physical performance, it helps to keep in mind she's playing a 7 ½ -year-old. You forget that and you're likely to think Streep has been taking a few hits off the Caterpillar's hookah.
Who Are You?
Alice meets the Caterpillar 

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Fan of musicals and fantasy that I am, these are a few of my favorite numbers:
The Queens' Examination/Alice's Dinner Party
Goodbye Feet
An ever-growing Alice has to bid her tootsies adieu
The Red Queen (Off With Their Heads)
Debbie Allen is electric as the temperamental queen.
The first episode of  her TV show, Fame, had aired just a week before.
What There Is
This beautiful duet by Streep and the remarkable Rodney Hudson is based on a poem by David Patchen. It's perhaps my favorite number in the entire show (cue the waterworks).

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
My enjoyment of Alice at the Palace inspired me to reread both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and I've since come to have grown very fond of them both.
Queen Alice
Having grown from her adventures, Alice receives her second with considerably more grace 
The books feel somehow enriched by what I've gleaned from Elizabeth Swados' production, while my heightened awareness the poetry in Carroll's words, the tenderness behind the intellect, the lessons in the parables, makes viewing the TV-movie an even more rewarding experience than when first I discovered it so many years ago.

So, in effect, the opening sentence of this post is something of a misdirection and isn't really what it seems. Curious, that. 
L - LIFE WHAT IS IT BUT A
L - LIFE WHAT IS IT BUT A 
L - LIFE, WHAT IS IT BUT A DREAM?

Alice at the Palace is available for viewing on YouTube.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

23 comments:

  1. "My enjoyment of Alice at the Palace inspired me to reread both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and I've since come to have grown very fond of them both."

    If it wasn't Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice you read, I suggest you get hold of it. It explores the subtexts and background in fascinating detail. As well as Tenniell, many other people have illustrated Alice: Mervyn Peake, Peter Blake and Franciszka Themerson are worth looking for.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Roger. My personal copies were separate volumes I had since childhood, but you remind me that Gardner's volume was VERY popular in San Francisco during the late 60s (where I grew up). In fact, I'm positive it's the book my teacher in college based her lecture upon, and I'm not at all sure I didn't apathetically come across the book at that time, before my mid-80s appreciation of all things "Alice" kicked in.
      You've piqued my interest and off to Amazon I go!

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    2. The Annotated Snark is also good.

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  2. Hello Ken, this site is turning into the internet encyclopedia of very interesting and entertaining films. You write about the relatively unknown movie classics that deserve wider audiences, like this one.

    How can a Meryl Streep musical remain so unknown? As you say, at the time no one could imagine her singing and having a good time. Maybe people really wanted to see her as America's most prestigious amd seroius actress and nothing else.

    It wasn't untill "Mamma Mia" that I read that Meryl Streep could sing. Although I confess that I love ABBA, I could never bring myself to watching that film. >shivers!<

    I love all things Alice except Tim Burton's Johnny Depp vehicle. I have never seen "Alice at the Palace". It sounds fascinating and I want to see it. Is it targeted at grown ups or children?

    I heartily agree what you wrote about "anxiety regarding experimental theater of any kind". I still feel that way too. You're right about how fantasy movies could really embrace inclusiveness.

    Thanks Ken!
    - Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      Thanks very much! Some of my posts are very self-serving in respect to obscure movies like this. I sometimes search the internet for articles or reviews of some of the films I love, but often I find the same films being written about. I never assume there is a big audience for some of the oddities that make up my personal library of favorites; but I do think that somewhere out there, someone, somewhere will want to read more than just a paragraph about "Alice at the Palace" or "Dinah East"...and well, here's the place!
      In terms of Streep and this project, as one of the other commenters noted, "Alice at the Palace" would not be out of place on PBS, and perhaps would have wound up there had Streep not been on such a roll of popularity at the time.
      Although I don't think it was very well-received (it got three Emmy nominations: Best Children Program, Best Costumes, an it won for Best Lighting of all things) in the wake of her current popularity in musicals, it surprises me that it remains relatively unknown.
      This was the first time i ever heard Streep sing, but I remember when she did that country western number in "Postcards from the Edge" a full nine years later, critics were all surprised at her skill. I was wondering...hadn't any of them ever heard of this?

      Although Kate Blanchett is my current can-do-no-wrong darling, I pretty much love Streep in everything (even Mamma Mia...Ha!)
      I've come to like Alice in Wonderland adaptations a lot more since this show captured my heart, but I really loathed Tim Burton's film.

      If you're curious about ever settling down to watch "Alice at the Palace," although a children's program by definition, in my opinion it feels more like something adults would enjoy more than kids (I thinks kids would grow restless). But after that, I think its purely a shot in the dark as to whether you'll like it or it'll send you heading for the hills.
      It has more than a touch of experimental theater about it, and perhaps with any other cast, I'd find the piece totally insufferable. But I just think Streep and this cast are such a delight.
      Lastly, on the topic of diversity in fantasy films...go to any comic book/fantasy site and you'll read the most mind-bogglingly asinine arguments on the topic of why there should be POC in certain Superhero comics and movies set in Middle-Earth. *sigh*
      Thanks Wille, let us know if you ever take a chance on this one!

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  3. OMG, I can't believe you unearthed this one! I thought for years I had just dreamed seeing it on PBS, and yet it stuck so firmly in my brain.To know it is on YouTube gives me plans for when my husband goes to Chicago - I can't wait to revisit this. I thought Meryl was so beautiful and perfect as Alice, and Debbie Allen just killed it as the Red Queen. I, too recommend Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice - which I stole from my college library, I'm so ashamed (along with the Ain't Misbehavin' cast album on vinyl). I would also highly suggest the 1966 British version of Alice with Peter Cook, Peter Sellers, Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, John Gielgud and basically the entire collection of British Thesps. Black and white, gorgeous and dark.

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    1. OMG someone who actually remembers it fondly! You're a small majority. Streep is indeed beautiful here and such an engaging Alice. i hope revisiting it is a pleasant experience for you. I've never seen the 1966 film you reference, but I see it is on Daily motion, so I have a chance to check it out should it not show up on Netflix.
      And don't feel guilty about stealing that book from the library, I once stole the OBC album of Sondheim's "Company" from local library as a kid. Had I been caught, I suspect the authorities would have been so mortified on my behalf (a 14-year-old boy stealing a Broadway musical album!) they'd have let me keep it.
      Thanks for commenting Tanyadiva!

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  4. Wow, Ken, I have never even heard of this...what a curiosity. Being a big Streep fan, I will definitely check this out. In my DVD collection, I count among my very favorite films the following "Streeps": Julia (early tiny supporting role in the Fonda/Redgrave pic from 1977), Angels in America, Silkwood and Postcards from the Edge (all Mike Nichols), Defending Your Life and The Devil Wears Prada...though I also loved her in Into the Woods, The Hours, Sophie's Choice and Kramer Vs. Kramer. (Mamma Mia, the Iron Lady and Doubt not so much!)

    Looking forward to checking out Alice at the Palace!
    -Chris

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    1. Hey Chris!
      I'll be interested to hear what you think of it should you one day check it out. Streep is so young looking, part of the fascination is seeing how much of what we only recently discovered (her current image is so much "looser" and self-deprecatingly funny than when this was made) is present in her performance.
      The only Streep film you mentioned that I haven't seen yet is "Angels in America." While "Sphies' Choice" is my favorite Streep performance (but Kevin Kline is so annoying he spoils it for me a great deal) running close seconds are "Still of the Night" and "Death Becomes Her."
      I'm starting to feel this movie/show is something of a best kept secret!

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  5. Dear Ken: Hi!

    I tried--I really tried! But I guess you'll have to add me to the list of those who couldn't get through this one.

    I didn't care for Swados' music, and I generally find la Streep pretty resistable (gasp!). She is of course a gifted actress, but I find myself distracted by her carefully-thought-out effects and have a hard time connecting with the emotions behind them. (I actually like her best in "Defending Your Life"). I agree, though, that Debbie Allen is great!

    But I really salute you for doing a wonderfully written post on a film that is, as you said, "a hard sell." Your love for the production shines through, and it's touching to read about the joy you derive from it.

    But for someone of my more plebeian tastes, I might have preferred an Alice at the (New York vaudeville theatre) Palace, with, say, Marilyn Miller as Alice, Eddie Cantor as the Cheshire Cat, and Sophie Tucker as the Red Queen.

    By the way, do you find Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" sleep-inducing today, or just when you were a child? I actually like the Disney version quite a bit. There are of course compromises because Disney was doing a mainstream children's movie. But the "mad" characters in the film (Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, March Hare, Red Queen) really do come across as unsettling and crazy. And there is wonderful voice talent in it, particularly Ed Wynn and Verna (Fred Flintstone's mother-in-law) Felton. I love the songs, too. (I have a wonderful recording of Doris Day doing "Very Good Advice"--her vocal is childlike but also spine-tingling!)

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    1. Hi David!
      Ha! As I've stated before, I wish I had some kind of grading system or virtual gold star I could hand out to anyone who takes time out of their life to tackle on of my pet faves.
      It's always such a gamble I think, so I applaud your giving it a shot!
      And trust me, your not caring for "Alice at the Palace" has nothing to do with plebeian tastes. Most films I write about I can always understand why some people won't like them (except for "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and "Rosemary's Baby"...I don't know that I'd ever be made to understand why a person didn't like those films). In fact, I've never really understood fully why I love this "Alice" so much. Little of my affection for it can be intellectualized. The only thing I know is that I've always found Alice and her adventures to be very emotionally cut-off, very British. Her reactions are so stiff upper lip and her encounters with all those characters are games of the mind not the heart.
      "Alice at the Palace" is the first production that ever made me feel anything about her journey. It made real her growth from brat to empathetic young woman (I always find it so heartbreaking her reaction to accidentally killing the Jabberwock). So...the show (primarily Streep) made me feel something for Alice and I fell, hook line and sinker.

      Since becoming such a fan of this Alice, I've softened my position on all Alice adaptations. I actually like the Disney film now. I too think the music is very good, and while it doesn't have heart for me, I enjoy it a great deal. I never heard of the Doris Day recording you mentioned, so I found it on YouTube...what a terrific version of that song! The old-fashioned arrangement is great.
      After "Alice at the Palace" perhaps my second favorite adaptation of the books is the 1972 movie musical "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" - it has the most amusing score by John Barry. Avoid at all costs the 1985 TV version by Irwin Allen!!

      Oh, and I like your the cast you have lined up for the New York vaudeville. Sophie Tucker as the Red Queen is inspired! Thanks David, for commenting and for giving this show a try.

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  6. I saw this when it first aired and quite enjoyed it. I was already a Streep fan so that definitely helped. Now I feel the need to see it again!

    Forgot all about Elizabeth Swados. She definitely had her moment.

    Also, glad you mentioned The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Meryl was such a delight in that film, and it's too often overlooked.

    As usual, great post, Ken!

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    1. Hey Thom!
      So it looks like there were at least three of us tuned in that night! To the best of my knowledge it was never aired again.
      Good to hear that you enjoyed it as well. In those pre-internet days it's hard to know how well a show like this did when it aired. Streep was certainly popular, but even fans seem not to remember this.
      And yes, I remember Swados being one of those theater names I kept coming across in the 80s.
      Doesn't surprise me that you liked Streep in "Joe Tynan." I can't even remember when I last saw it, but it sure made an impression on me.
      So nice to see you here! Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and for the kind words! Much appreciated!

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  7. Well this is certainly a hidden credit in Meryl's catalogue and certainly sounds like an oddity. I might seek it out sometime but I'm suffering a bit of Streep fatigue at the moment, I'm a fan but not a fervent one and while I certainly can't fault a girl for taking work when it's offered I just wish she wasn't seemingly in every vehicle suitable for a woman of her age. Again that's not her fault more the casting agents and studios who only reach out to her while Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver, Kathleen Turner, Susan Sarandon and many other awesome actresses languish in the leftovers.

    And then there is her ridiculous over-acknowledgement from the academy...she shows up and they nominated her. It's gotten to the point now where everyone jokes about it, a dangerous line to walk before she becomes the joke. Plus it cheapens her really superior work. She needs to take a year off.

    All that being said I really do appreciate that she is vastly talented and able to perform drama and comedy with equal adroitness. She can carry a tune, I thought Mamma Mia! a pleasant time passer but no more, but not so well that her being the first choice for musicals makes sense. I haven't seen the film of Into the Woods yet but having seen the stage show the Witch seems beyond her scope.

    From the stills you've included this definitely reminds me of those wonderful if stagy Great Performances that the Broadway Theatre Archive put out years ago that once you get use to their rhythms can be quite entertaining IF you enjoy live theatre, a much smaller audience then it use to be due to the diminishment of regional theatre.

    Love that you brought up The Seduction of Joe Tynan, a good under known film. While I thought that both Meryl and Alan Alda were excellent in the film the real gem in the picture in my opinion is Barbara Harris as Alda's wife, a wonderfully unique actress who always brought something special to even the most conventional part.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Indeed, Alice at the Palace is a Streep credit that occupied almost four years of her life in one format or another, yet seems strangely hidden in her resume.
      As you say, the look of this show practically has PBS Great performances written all over it, and, one assumes, were not for a certain ambitious network programmer who sought to elevate NBC's cultural cachet, I think it would have wound up there.
      And I'm glad you brought up Barbara Harris in "The Seduction of Joe Tynan"...I adore Harris in most everything (I have a dim memory of hating her in some Jack Lemmon- James Thurber comedy but I have to check IMDB is that was really her).
      I'm a big fan of Streep (not as blindly devoted as I am to Cate Blanchett or Julie Christie), but I'm in the camp of that fello on "Modern Family" who said that Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice; she seems to have that certain something for me.
      I think it was The Onion, but some critic made the keen observation that although she has put in many standout performances, she is an actress lacking in having a single great film in her legacy. She has many good movies, but I don't know if any of her films 9yet) could be on my list of great movies (like DeNiro "Taxi Driver", Jane Fonda "They Shoot Horses...").
      I do agree that Hollywood overdoes the marketability stuff. once she proved to be an actress capable of having a boxoffice hit, they can see no one else.
      As always, Joel, thoughtful and ripe-for-discussion observations! Thanks!

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    2. Hi Ken, I'm writing about what you wrote able about Meryl not having been in any classic movies. I always thought ""French Lietenant's Woman" was considered a very good film but it never gets mentioned anywhere when it comes to movie classics. I got the impression that it was one of Meryl's most prestigious films and that it won Oscars.

      She was in "The Deer Hunter", "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Sophie's Choice" too. Are those not considered american movie classics?

      -Wille

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    3. Hi Wille
      Thanks for a chance to expand on what is a subjective point for discussion more than anything one can call a fact (any designation of "classic" is mostly subjective). When I think of a star associated with a classic film, it's one distinguished by the star's participation (it wouldn't be the same without them), but stands alone as a film you'd recommend even if someone were not a fan of the star.
      Klute, Mildred Pierce, The Godfather, The Sound of Music, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Camille, Taxi Driver, even Funny Girl...all are films I consider classics and would recommend for the films themselves AND the performance of the star.
      In Streep's case, most of her films I would recommend for her performances. I adore "Sophie's Choice" but Kevin Kline and Peter MacNichol ruin it for me. "Kramer vs Kramer" I consider to be a Dustin Hoffman classic that features Meryl Streep rather than it being a vehicle of her own. Likewise "The Deer Hunter"...a DeNiro/ Christopher Walken classic with Streep in it. "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is a prestige picture to be sure, but Streep's excellent performance seems unable to rescue the stultifying ordinariness of the modern-day scenes.
      So, while Streep has clocked an impressive resume of top-notch performances, try as I might, I'm unable to designate any of her films "classic" material, simply because the movies themselves seem to be so all over the map.
      Tons of people would disagree, but based on my narrow criteria, she's still a great actress in search of a great film.
      Thanks for giving me an opportunity to extrapolate a bit on the topic, Wille. But what about you, is there a Streep film you'd consider a classic?

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    4. Ken, thank you. You have managed to explain why the gifted and award winning actress Meryl Streep has not appeared in a film that is considered a classic. It was a long time ago since I saw "Sophie's Choice" but I remember how annoying Peter MacNichol was in it. I like "French Lieutenant's..." and I felt that it *looked* like a movie classic. Since she won awards for her role in it I thought that it might be one of the classic movies of the eighties, or something... As I understand it, she's good in it but the film isn't good enought to be considered a great film. No one speaks of it today.

      I thought that it might be but that critics would not count movies with a female lead as classics and that only tough-guy films like "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now" would be worthy of being on great movie lists. Thanks for reminding me that it isn't necessarily so. Many of the films you list in your reply above are classics with female leads such as Jane Fonda, Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn...
      -Wille

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  8. Hi Ken!
    (I'm French so sorry if you misunderstand something)
    I'm a 20-year-old fan of Meryl Streep and I bought Alice at The Palace last month! I really enjoyed it and I think I could watch it many times without being annoyed!I read all your article and found it really good and true!
    As you said it, the show isn't so famous although we can see a Meryl very talented and at the top of her performances!!
    I wanted to see that because I checked her biography on Wikipedia and saw that she did not only movies but also theater's interpretations, and shows. As I saw already 30 movies with her, I wanted to try seeing her in that kind of entertainement. And I'm not disappointed at all, I thought she was really good in it and adore her even more if it's possible!
    I watched her already singing in Mamma mia, Into the Woods, Ricki and the Flash...and I can say that she's a really good singer!
    Lucie

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    1. Bonjour Lucie! Merci beaucoup pour la lecture de mon article et me écriture .
      I don't think Google translate is so good, so I'd better stick to English.

      I am glad to hear you enjoyed "Alice at the Palace" - it must be interesting to see this already knowing Meryl Streep is a good singer. When I first saw it in 1982, I was shocked she had such a good voice and sense of humor (she was SO serious in movies back then).
      Thanks for sharing with us your impression of the show. I have never seen Meryl Streep on the stage, although I wish I had.
      This is an obscure TV project and you enjoyed it. My favorite Streep film that no one seems to enjoy is "Still of the Night." As a fan of Strep (30 movies!! I'm impressed) I am sure you have seen it. Perhaps when I write about it someday, you will visit this blog again and tell us what you think.
      Thank you very much for commenting!

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    2. Your welcome, always glad to share Meryl's stuffs with some fans!
      Yes, I go to cinemas each time a film of her is released, I buy DVD and watch a lot in streaming too.
      Yes I saw Still of the Night, last week! But it was in English without subtitles, the one on Youtube, so even if I understood the major part, I think I'll buy the DVD to see it with subtitles and better quality of images! I really enjoyed this film too. A dark movie I thought, but so good acted! Meryl is so beautiful in it and very delightful *_* I can't choose one film to be my favorite, I love nearly all in fact!

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  9. I am watching this right now and just paused it to look up information about it..........so happy you wrote this fantastic article.

    Yes! You reminded me that Meryl most definitely was perceived as the "serious actor", the Ninotchka comparison is perfect.

    Really enjoying watching it and I really found your article engrossing! Thanks!

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    1. I'm so pleased you happened upon the site and enjoyed this post. Obviously I'm a big fan of the program, so I'm also pleased to read you are enjoying it as well.
      Thanks for taking to time to relay such a nice message!

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