When surfing around and researching, you often come up with oddity, and this definitely fits in that category, but happily so. It’s from what’s the 1990 sequel to a TV movie very loosely-based on Pollyanna, done as a musical, Polly: Comin’ Home!, directed by Debbie Allen, which reteamed a couple of folks from the Cosby TV series -- Keisha Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad (Allen's sister). But also appearing in a co-starring role was, of all people, Anthony Newley. He plays a new headmaster at an all-black orphanage, and he sings a reasonably fun song, “What a Gentleman Does.” (The number is from an unlikely source, songwriter Andrew Gold, who's tended to write soft-rock songs, and whose best-known song is "Thank You for Being a Friend."
This very unexpected selection is a real treat for several reasons. At the top of the list is seeing him not playing Anthony Newley with all the attendant quirks and mannerisms, but rather a full-blown character, without a Newleyesque twitch in sight, something he seemed to get away from in his later years. Also, this clip goes beyond the musical number and includes the following dialogue scene which I decided to keep in, because (again) it's fascinating to seem him play such a genteel, almost effete character, separate from anything we're used to seeing. But mainly, he's a total joy in the number. It's not a starring role (though appears to be a substantive one), yet he doesn't phone it in, but seems to be taking great pleasure in it -- not just in his singing and actor, but even in his dancing -- taking what could be a somewhat-caricatured, goofy part and makes it actually touching and affectionate.
Among all this research, one thing I noticed from coming across all the various videos I've found recently of Anthony Newley (including quite a few I haven't posted here...) is that -- whatever one thinks of him as a performer, loving his style or being bothered by the larger-than-life quirks -- he is a seriously talented, meticulous performer, most especially as a stage performer. Keep in mind that he'd been performing since he was a child actor, starring as the Artful Dodger in movie version of Oliver Twist, directed by David Lean. And this selection here does a solid job of making that craft clear. Stripping all that's "usually Newley" away, it's just simply a charming, graceful, lovely -- and deeply professional -- performance.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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