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The Global Film Village: Julie and THE ROYAL FAMILY

by Marla Lewin

Friday night I saw The Royal Family on Broadway. It was all one would imagine of a grand old dynasty, like the Barrymores.  A family with an entourage, men falling in love with their own images, women unable to embrace love for fear of missing an opportunity for a good part. Shakespeare said “all the world is a stage”, and still today everyone likes to take a peek at the lives of those who actually get paid to act. The play is about the drama the characters create in their own lives, and dealing with these problems that they actually enjoy creating. There is comedy and pathos. The characters even laugh at their own over the top antics. There is a monkey, twin dogs and four generations of actors to carry on the tradition. There is an upstairs and downstairs both in the set and the characters who inhabit this glorious apartment. It is an amazing, beautiful set.There are wonderful costumes and some great performances. Taken all together it is a very entertaining night in the theatre indeed. It is a unique opportunity to see the work of the team of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, classic writers of the American theatre, who only did two shows together.


Last week I spoke with Julie Gilbert, also from a royal family, she is the grand niece of Edna Ferber. We met in 1994, while I was assisting Dorothy Hart produce the Lorenz Hart centennial. My husband Marc was working on the theatrical release of the Robert Altman production of Alan Rudolph’s Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle. While I sat at the Algonquin with Mary Bodi, Dorothy Hart and many of the family members of America’s Royal Broadway Families.  Julie and I were closer in age and the youngest members of the group.


Julie has had a friendship with Ann Kaufman for years and now they are thrilled to see this production revived. They both agree that Edna’s sentimental bent is clearly evident in this show.  Edna loved actors and it shows, she wanted to be one.  She actually did play the matriarch, Fanny in 1947 in Maplewood, New Jersey. Her sister Julie’s mother, Jeanette Fox, was a professional actress.  Edna was the most famous female author of her time. You can read about her life in Julie’s book, Edna Farber. She sent it to me years ago, and it is a good read. When I asked Julie more about this revival, the last version won a Tony for Best Revival that year, she said, “Audiences are hungry for stories about family, and staying connected.  In this show they happen to be famous actors.  Theatre is the mechanism that runs the play, the apartment in the show is the theatre.  Our craft is the theatre, and nothing else can make us feel whole.  We come out of The Royal Family with a contemporary feeling, but the family is the heart of the play, odd as they might appear”.


Julie said she felt there could be Tony award nominations for both Rosemary Harris, who plays the Matriarch and Jan Maxwell, who plays Julie. Jan has a great monologue in the second act, which is a real tour de force. Tony Roberts is back,in his role which is quite different than you might remember him from Woody Allen’s movies.  Here he plays a manager who truly understands his clients.  He said you could never imagine a play about the theatre that could capture it with such humor.  I mentioned to Julie that we had just covered another very humorous play about a family of actors set in New York, 45 Minutes From Broadway written by Henry Jaglom. She was thrilled, as she is a big fan of his work.


Julie said that today, everyone is interested in what it might be like to be a star. The characters in the play live out their dramatic problematic lives just like in the soap operas, but to them they are real problems. They are as close to any emotion that anyone has.


Julie told me that aunt Edna liked the name Julie, and used it often. She was named for the Julie in Showboat.  I noticed that both The Royal Family and Showboat opened around the same time.  Julie said her mother would sing her to sleep with, “Can’t help loving that man of mine.”  We discussed how music really helps certain shows endure. I have a theory that when Agnes De Mille, created choreography for Oklahoma, a whole new form of American Theatre emerged.  Legendary dancer Gene Kelly was discovered I believe along with Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey.  Julie who is a playwright herself, and also teaches, said she found this an interesting idea.  We talked about how we are both feel like children loving the theatre, for it is there, says Julie that hope springs eternal.


Julie has much to be excited about. Tonight she is attending the new production of Showboat at the Tony Award winning Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. She will be there along with the Hammerstein family ,where Eric Schaeffer directs this new reduced smaller, portable Showboat or as she called it Showcanoe.  Michael John LaChius, who had been commissioned by the Signature to adapt Giant into a musical, has created a show more like a play with music and more emphasis on the characters. They hope that more people will be able to see the show, as it will be more affordable for theatres around the country and world to produce.  This will be the first really original work in Julie’s lifetime, to come out of the original Farber work.


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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.


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