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Kennedy Center presents Arthur Miller’s ‘Bridge,’ Spielberg’s ‘E.T.’

Scenes from "A View from the Bridge" (left) and "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial " (right), which are both at Kennedy Center this weekend. (WTOP collage via YouTube)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'E.T.' & 'A View from the Bridge'

Jason Fraley | November 30, -0001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Looking for a fun outing over Thanksgiving weekend?

The Kennedy Center has two great options by two masters: Arthur Miller and Steven Spielberg.

The latter is obviously the more family-friendly pick, as Spielberg’s sci-fi children’s classic “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” (1982) will be screened with a live orchestral accompaniment by the NSO Pops for three performances: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s such a unique experience, a way to see a film in a way you’ve never seen it before,” conductor Steven Reineke told WTOP. “They’ve wiped out the soundtrack. We provide that live, synchronized [sound] to the movie. So you get to hear this brilliant film score in all its glory in, like, the best surround sound you’ve ever heard in your entire life. … It’s so fun to watch the musicians bring this score to life.”

Not only did the music win John Williams his fourth Oscar after “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971), “Jaws” (1975) and “Star Wars” (1977), it was voted No. 14 on the American Film Institute’s Top Film Scores.

“It’s probably my favorite John Williams film score,” Reineke said. “It’s very technically challenging, but it’s also so lush and romantic. It’s great music. … The themes are just soaring and it does have such romanticism. There are hints of Prokofiev, Mahler, Rachmaninoff. It really is an incredible score.”

While most filmmakers edit their movies before sending it to the composer, Spielberg did the exact opposite for the final bicycle chase after Williams admitted he was having trouble syncing the music.

“Spielberg said, ‘You know what? Let’s just turn off the movie. You conduct this music you wrote, because I love it,’ and they just recorded the music as John wrote it. Spielberg went back and re-cut that whole sequence just to fit John’s music. Now that’s unheard of! That’s a famous Hollywood story. Directors just don’t do that with their films, but that’s how much Spielberg loved this score.”

By the end, there won’t be a dry eye in the house at the Kennedy Center.

“There shouldn’t be if you have a heart, a big glowing heart,” Reineke said. “I hadn’t watched the movie in years and I was preparing my film score to do this, and I couldn’t even get through it. I’m just sitting with tears streaming down my face while I’m trying to do my work, trying to learn this score.”

Reineke says it’s always a treat seeing new generations react to this classic.

“It was great to see all the young kids that come out,” Reineke said. “You could tell that it was my generation who had seen this movie originally and now they have kids of their own, and they’re bringing their kids to see it. To watch some of these young kids who didn’t grow up with ‘E.T.’ watch it for the first time, it still just rings so true. It’s such a heartfelt movie about friendship. I love this film.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats 'E.T.' with conductor Steven Reineke

Jason Fraley | November 30, -0001 12:00 am

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While Spielberg is busy working cinematic wonders on the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, playwright Arthur Miller presents “A View From the Bridge” in the Eisenhower Theater now through Dec. 3.

Winner of two 2016 Tonys, including Best Director and Best Revival of a Play, the tragic story follows Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller), who works on the docks in 1950s New York. It’s here that Eddie strikes up a controversial love affair with his wife Beatrice’s orphaned niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs), who’s courting Beatrice’s cousin Rodolfo (Thomas Jay Ryan).

“It is about a working class family in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which, in the ’50s, was sort of a slum and now is a very desirable place to live,” Ryan told WTOP. “[The title] ‘A View from the Bridge’ refers to those of us who don’t live in a slum [and] would drive over the Brooklyn Bridge, over this neighborhood and look down into it. That’s the point of view the play takes, looking down on this community of people.”

Originally written as a one-act play for Broadway in 1955, “A View from the Bridge” was initially considered a flop until Miller expanded it into a two-act play for London’s West End in 1956.

“He wrote this right as he was dating Marilyn Monroe and he had just come off the enormous success of ‘Death of a Salesman,'” Ryan said. “There was a certain kind of interest he had politically as well. This was around the time of the HUAC Trials (The House Un-American Activities Committee), or just before that, and he was interested in the real working class, the laborers on the docks in Brooklyn.”

In fact, Miller became fascinated with the docks after developing an unproduced screenplay called “The Hook” with Elia Kazan, who went on to tackle the same subject in “On the Waterfront” (1954).

“The screenplay for ‘On the Waterfront’ became an extension of what this play is,” Ryan said. “These people are working class, they have great humanity, they screw things up like the rest of us. But they get up every morning and work. … There are many issues: the working class, the people who bust their back working their whole lives and they don’t accumulate anything, certainly that’s relevant.”

These working class themes — set against an immigrant backdrop — are especially timely today.

“We did this in Los Angeles six to eight weeks ago and we were all saying, ‘It’ll be really electric to be doing this in Washington if [President-elect Donald] Trump wins … because it’s about immigration,” Ryan said. “It’s inevitable to watch this play now, here, all of us in the room, watching an immigrant character talking about why he came here and saying, ‘I just don’t understand this country.’ Wherever you are on the political spectrum, to me, that’s a really compelling thing to be looking at right now.”

Not only are the themes timely, it’s all in the hands of acclaimed Belgian director Ivo van Hove, whom Ryan calls a “genius” after having just recently worked together on Miller’s “The Crucible.”

“This director is the greatest director working,” Ryan said. “I’ve worked with him four times and his view of ‘A View From the Bridge’ very deservedly won him the Tony Award. It’s a really elemental kind of production. We don’t have any scenery; we’re just in a box doing this play. It’s the clearest telling of the play, the fastest throughline to the play and it is really heart-stoppingly exciting.”

Find the full conversation with “A View From the Bridge” star Thomas Jay Ryan in the audio and video below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with the star of 'A View from the Bridge' (Full Interview)

Jason Fraley | November 30, -0001 12:00 am

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