The French Meryl Streep Speaks About Her Craft!

Musical chairs with nuns and a Jew.

Multitasking French movie icon Isabelle Huppert just swept into town to appear in Robert Wilson's production of Quartett at BAM and to promote Ursula Meier's Home, the Swiss entry for the Oscar, in which a family is disrupted by a noisy highway that has opened near their secluded house and made them crazy.

I seized the opportunity to have a brief tête-à-tête with Huppert—the César-winning star of films like The Lacemaker and La cérémonie—while hopefully not adding to the disruptive noise in her life.

Me: Hi, Isabelle. Are you the Meryl Streep of France?

Huppert: I'm not really entitled to say that. I'm ready to hear it—not to say it.

Me: Well, I said it. You haven't made many American films, right? Amateur and I Heart Huckabees . . .

Huppert: You forgot Heaven's Gate.

Me: Everyone does. [Laughs.]

Huppert: I try to do interesting films wherever they come from.

Me: In the Swiss film Home, the highway eats away at the family, but your mama character has the most resolve of all and won't budge.

Huppert: She's the strongest and the weakest. The father—who, at the beginning, is more resistant—at the end tries to submit to her insanity. He's the one who's going to lock up the house and have all the family trapped. The film takes so many layers and paths, and one realizes that you think the dangers come from the highway, but the dangers come from inside.

Me: Speaking of dangers, you were on the Cannes jury that gave Charlotte Gainsbourg an award for Antichrist, but didn't you cut your genitals way before she did (in The Piano Teacher)?

Huppert: It's not my criteria for liking films—genital mutilation. But that was a way for the character to go to extremes, which I thought was remarkable.

Me: I know, I was just kidding! On an even lighter note, I loved you in 8 Women and Huckabees. Will there be more comedies for you?

Huppert: I'd love to. But I'm not after doing comedy or drama. You just seek a good role, and you expect that, within the role, you can be funny and dramatic.

Musto: Damn, you're good!

On the Wheels of a Dream

Mercifully, no highway has gone up near my house, but a lot of loud, three-hour musical homages to black history have popped up, and I'm totally submittin'. The revival of Ragtime—that stirring tapestry of society's outcasts colliding while singing at top volume—lacks the galvanizing star power of the original, but it's a more than efficient production and I got to reminisce with sunny Donna McKechnie in the audience about how Cassie had to get the job.

Fela! also mixes black pride and politics in a concert-as-autobiography format that sometimes makes things diffuse, though Act Two goes in a rivetingly trippy, dark direction, and the staging, artistry, and energy of the whole thing make it an unmissable event. Afterward, a deeply touched young man in my row was dabbing his eyes, and it turned out he was Fela's son, who had just flown in from Lagos to see the show! Way too much real emotion, so I ran to a bar.

More tears flowed at the Apollo, where the Dreamgirls revival is sensational, with slick staging, stunning quick-change costumes, and stellar work by Moya Angela, Chester Gregory, and company. As Effie, Angela does even better with Act Two's "I Am Changing" than with the more widely known shrieking song that turned a whole generation into drag queens. And an inspired touch was interpolating "Listen" from the movie version and making it a heart-tugging reconciliation between Effie and Deena (Syesha Mercado). As they sing the shit out of it, the duet turns into a mutual-hate-for-Curtis bonding ballad and actually moves the plot forward. It's the new "A Boy Like That"!

And so your musical choices this season are about a noble white person who promotes black music (Memphis), a corrupt black man who does so (Dreamgirls), two put-upon black musicians who fight oppression (Ragtime, Fela!), and a spoof of a white star who ripped off black music in, naturally, Memphis (Bye Bye Birdie). That's range.

The very white Girl Crazy is playing at Encores!, and though I haven't seen it, playwright Douglas Carter Beane did and remarked at the NYMF awards, "Could we get a musical comedy performer on the Encores! stage, please? A lot of TV people! . . . They finish every song like, 'I did it!' I'm just sayin'."

A three-hour non-musical, Kenneth Lonergan's The Starry Messenger is brave to include a line in which a student complains that he can't stay alert during the title character's three-hour lectures. But I'd take this begging-for-a-red-pencil but beautiful mess about people poised between life and death finding their place in the galaxy over formula crapola anyday. I'm just sayin'.

I took three nuns and a Jew to The Radio City Christmas Spectacular—don't ask—and have to say I recommend that kind of entourage for any occasion. Assuming they haven't seen Doubt, people bow and scrape before you, according you all sorts of privileges just because you're with them—and the Jew's good to have around, too. The show? It's exactly the same as it has been for aeons, and if it weren't, I would have run onstage and kicked a little person. It's pure entertainment, and the Rockettes and their 360 tapping toes should be bronzed and sainted.

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