Hard Acts to Follow. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Are you a fan of remakes? I have not yet seen it but hear Kenneth BRannagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is dry as dust compared to the original though the cinematography is spectacular. Why Hollywood tries to improve on perfection is beyond me. For what it is worth, I feel that Judi Dench should have done an Ingrid Bergman and turned down the Princess Dragomiroff role for the Swedish missionary and that Maggie Smith should have stepped into Wendy Hillier’s shoes but I’ll have to wait until the DVD comes out to confirm my worse suspicions.

Cabaret can’t be touched after Liza Minnelli’s performance in the 1972 film. If I had to cast it all over again, I would have to think about whether Jennifer Lawrence could give it a red hot steaming go. It would be more like Dame Judi’s Sally Bowles than Liza’s granted but the casting would have to get as far away from Liza as possible.

Liza is perfect for Sally physically and emotionally. The chanteuse in Berlin who thinks she is an international woman of mystery is, in the words of Brian, ‘as fatale as an after dinner mint’. What I loved about the film is how Sally utterly normalises Brian’s bisexuality in the first few reels. To be gay in 1930s Berlin was a ball though the rise of the Nazis rained on the parade somewhat.

The ménage-a-trois between Sally, Brian and Max is beautifully played as is the cabaret songs Bob Fosse directs all linking to the story and driving it forward. Joel Grey as the MC cannot be topped though Will Young was terribly coy and mischievous in a West End production I saw a couple of years ago.

Seeing Sheridan Smith attempt Fanny Brice in Funny Girl  – the first actress since Barbra Streisand who brought Funny Girl to London – was a mistake. She was end of the pier compared to Barbra’s Oscar-winning performance. Truth to tell, to modern eyes Fanny wasn’t that funny. Barbra in the film is rip-roaringly amusing as well as poignant and magnificent … all of which are arrows in Streisand’s quiver.

Barbra has a voice that no-one can truly pin down though many drag queens have tried. Liza’s mannerisms are much easier to copy by drag performers and by me as it happens. We sing in the same key. I can also do a mean Bette Midler rocking out. The Rose  is another film that must not be remade. As a Janis Joplin type of doomed rock goddess, Bette Milder puts everything into the role though, unlike Streisand and Minneli, she lost out at the Academy Awards as Best Actress.

Apparently Lady Gaga has remade Streisand’s A Star is Born. Barbra’s Star was a remake of Judy Garland and James Mason’s movie of the same name … which was also a musical remake of a straight movie. The trick will have to be making the remake totally original. Gaga is talented and Barbra has wisely given her blessing so we shall see what we shall see.

It would be much more interesting if actresses today chose to option turkeys made by Liza, Bette and Barbra which are ripe for a better crack of the whip. I love Liza’s New York New York though found Robert di Niro’s character too unpleasant and controlling. But Liza did make Lucky Lady – a prohibition caper movie – that I think Catherine Zeta Jones could play perfectly.

I never liked Barbra’s Yentil either which it is treason to say amongst the gays and lesbians. It is a trouser role for Babs and she never quite pulls it off. Emily Blunt could be marvellous as Yentil. Bette has been fortunate that post-Rose she made a string of comedy hits for Disney including the marvellous Hocus Pocus plus super singles such as The First Wives ClubThat Old Feeling and the drastically underrated For the Boys.

But Bette has made turkeys not least Isn’t She Great the biopic of Jacqueline ‘Valley of the Dolls’ Susann. I wonder whether Cate Blanchett couldn’t step into those shoes or Judy Davies who was so marvellous as Garland in the TV biopic. It is great fun recasting movies to replace actors you thought didn’t quite deliver. But, then again, it is much easier to criticise than to praise.

We are fast approaching the Academy Awards on Monday morning English time. I wish I had Sky to watch or that there was a Red Carpet arrivals channel that I didn’t have to pay for. If all the hashtag Me Too ladies wear black I will be most disappointed as I will if the diamonds don’t come out to dance in the light. Someone should write a play about the bar at the Oscars where many of the stars choose to watch the ceremony when they aren’t up for a statuette.

I’d quite like to write a treatment of the skiing holiday in Aspen when Liza Minnelli coaxes Barbra Streisand out of self-imposed exile as a live performer at one of Donna Karan’s Aspen skiing weekends. There are three roles I would give to Anne Hathaway (Liza), Cate Blanchett (Barbra) and, yes, Emily Blunt (Donna). There might even be a cameo for a Bernadette Peters as played by, well, Bernadette Peters.