spatch: ((rock))
Sonya and I caught SpeakEasy's production of BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON on Wednesday night. I also caught it during its brief Broadway run in 2010 and both times was as thoroughly entertained as one can be with a musical which raises an interesting question: "What if Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, was a young emo rock star?" (Asked by the show's creators, one day, over coffee. Things don't get any higher concept than that.)

They've got a point, a very good one: Jackson was a political rock star, the first President who wasn't made by the caucus-loving political elite, a populist whose followers created a new political party for him and then trashed the White House during Jackson's open-to-the-public inaugural ball (a scene not included in the musical, but its spirit is definitely there.) And emo? He was definitely emo. He came from Circumstances which one would call Pretty Bad. His father died three weeks before he was born, his two brothers died during the American Revolution, and his mother died of cholera when he was fourteen. That's pretty much the perfect age for our musical Jackson to declare in song "Life sucks, and my life sucks in particular."(1) Jackson grew up hardened in battle, many battles really, and practiced ritual bloodletting with his wife. The dude was a cutter. I don't even know why I'm still pressing this point.

This, then, leads us to a very youthful musical about a youthful country performed by Kids These Days. I'm trying not to be dismissive here, I'm really not, but upon leaving the theater in 2010 I remarked "I think I know how thirty-somethings in 1968 felt when they saw Hair."(2) This youth culture is not mine; my youth culture was not this. This is the culture of bros, hipsters, fauxhawks and duckfaces. I am okay with this. The show requires brash, invincible twenty-somethings to put over the portrayal of a brash, invincible early 19th century country. When they collectively sing about taking the land "back" from the British, Spanish and natives, they need to believe, however naively, that they are "pretty sure it's our land, anyway." The musical is loud, angry, energetic, and in places sexypants as befits its slogan. In one of many wonderful anachronistic moves, our stage version of Andrew Jackson does not age beyond, say, twenty-three.

It's all a mish-mosh of period and contemporary, never trying to maintain one century over the other. Waistcoats, watch fobs and neck ruffs mix chaotically with t-shirts, tight jeans and eyeliner on everyone. Benjamin Walker, who originated the role of Andrew Jackson all the way from the show's first workshopping to West Coast tryouts to off-Broadway to Broadway, had the Billie Joe Armstrong look down pat. The score echoes Green Day in parts, but it also echoes Kander & Ebb: the backroom "Corrupt Bargain" which gave the 1824 election to John Quincy Adams when Jackson had won the popular vote is presented in a doodle-doo doodle-doo number which would have fit quite easily in Chicago. The next number goes right back to Green Day.

It's madness. There is no fourth wall; a contemporary narrator is shot in the neck before Jackson even takes office, which as Sonya pointed out to me, beats Assassins' record of early narrator removal. A song entitled "Illness as Metaphor" begins by refuting Susan Sontag but ends when it realizes "her cancer wasn't metaphorical at all... sorry." The Washington elite are preening runway queens. Henry Clay wears a weasel ascot with weasel head attached. Jackson has a Wii in his Oval Office and receives tour groups from Tennessee wearing orange "GO VOLS" shirts. James Monroe shows up in one of the show's final scenes, as Jackson receives an honorary doctorate from Harvard, and defiantly stays after another cast member informs him that he's dead by this point. Anachronisms, schmanachronisms, the musical just doesn't give a fuck and that's what makes it work.

Mostly. )
spatch: (Spike Dancing The Hula)
The Broadway in Boston series has announced its 2008-2009 lineup. The two dramatic offerings are Frost/Nixon, a darn good piece about David Frost's epic interview with post-Watergate Nixon, and A Bronx Tale, Chazz Palminteri's one-man show which looks rather compelling.

There are six musicals this year: A Chorus Line ("The curtain goes up on a bunch of young hopefuls in 1970s leotards..."), Brigadoon, Legally Blonde, Nice Work If You Can Get It (another "New Gershwin" musical starring Harry Connick Jr), Spring Awakening, which I know will make all the theaterkids squee, and... Dirty Dancing.

Oh, yes.

Now I know some of you may have already heard of this, but let's let everybody else in on the joke, okay? Yes, we have another movie adaptation, ladies and gentlemen, and another jukebox musical (the fact that there's only a "Musical Supervisor" listed in the creative credits and no, say, "Composer" leads us to understand that there no original songs have been written for the show.) Eleanor Bergstein, the original creator and author, is behind it, so at least we can say that this is at least a project borne of love for the piece and because some producer thought it'd be cool to string together some Billy Joel songs and name the leads Brenda and Eddie.

But still. Dirty Dancing? Okay, it was a big-ass hit movie, everybody loved it, Jerry Orbach was in it, nobody put Baby in the corner, Patrick Swayze launched his amazing singing career (still selling out arena crowds wherever he goes, eh?) and the pop music of the early 1960s made a brief comeback in the late 80s (ok, I still enjoy Mickey & Sylvia every now and then.)

Lest we think this might be tongue in cheek, let me be the first to reassure you that no, it's really serious. Really. The official title is, and I kid you not, "Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage". The Classic Story.

The Classic Story.

THE CLASSIC STORY.

I cannot write this in any more caps.

By the way, Googling for "classic story" brings up hits for Peter Pan, Rapunzel and The
Gingerbread Man, all of which have enjoyed successful musical adaptations, so maybe the show's in good company here.

This show has been pretty big overseas. It was a West End recordbreaker and the Australians love it. But then again, weren't they also the ones who came up with the idea for Mamma Mia?

Do we want to know what it's all about? Sure we do! Read on, press notes!
Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story On Stage is a coming of age love story involving the talented and headstrong dancer Johnny Castle and Frances 'Baby' Houseman. During her family's summer holiday at the popular Kellerman's resort, Baby, a doctor's daughter with dreams of joining the Peace Corps, meets Johnny, the guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Against all odds, they fall in love, learning life-changing lessons along the way. The production features such tunes as "Hungry Eyes," "Do You Love Me?" and the Oscar-winning "(I've Had) The Time of My Life."
(Wait a minute... Against All Odds? That's another movie entirely, kids.)

I know a lot of people love this movie. It's clear that the story resonates on many levels with many different people, and there's dancing and music and catchphrases and some pretty steamy bits. That much is cool. I don't think it needs to be put up on a pedestal, though other folks disagree. Here, presented for your giggles, is someone's cultural addition to history via the Dirty Dancing movie article on Wikipedia. Given that Wikipedia has given me some of the best laughs I've ever had (I'm particularly fond of the scholarly checklist of Recurring Themes in John Irving's Work), you can bet I love this following textbrick. While the points made about the theme is valid, just imagine it being read in a pretentious academic voice with no hint of irony whatsoever.
Dirty Dancing has been described as a coming-of-age tale showing the passage from adolescence to adulthood, in a classic hero's journey format similar to Homer's Odyssey. The hero, Baby, is an innocent who receives a call to adventure from a gatekeeper – one of the camp staff asking her in to the party – who invites her to cross a bridge (symbolically significant as it links different realms) and Baby passes into an unfamiliar world (the resort's staff and their dancing rituals). Baby then proceeds through tests and trials (dancing lessons, Penny's abortion, the performance at the Sheldrake, standing up for Johnny) to achieve personal growth, "knowledge acquired through personal experience". She is rewarded for her achievements, by sexual union with Johnny. At the end of the film she undergoes the supreme ordeal (the climactic lift), which she conquers, and is rewarded by being raised, both literally into the air and figuratively into divinity, demonstrating that the hero has achieved a new higher state of being, and has been permanently changed by the journey.
And lo has Baby achieved enlightenment.

I hope you all took notes because this will be on the exam. Top scorers will be rewarded for their achievements in the form of sexual union with Johnny.

And I don't know about you, but I'm always confusing Dirty Dancing with The Odyssey. I keep going "Wait, which one had the lotus eaters again?"
spatch: (Default)
The Drowsy Chaperone opened tonight in Boston and was just as charming and funny as I remembered, although it does lose something when you see it the second time and are ready for the bits. Still, the bits themselves were still delightful and Joye and I had a great time. It was interesting to see which new bits had been added in the course of a nearly two-year run plus a road tour, and how certain lines were delivered a lot more broadly than before to elicit more of a laugh. The fellow playing Man In Chair played it a bit more, well, gay than Bob Martin ever did (Martin played it more fussy; there's a difference) but he was still very good at what he did. The poignancy of the scene with the Super, however, was pretty much gone.

But that's okay, because the show did what a musical is supposed to, and if you don't know what it's supposed to do, the Man In Chair ought to be the one to tell you.

After the show Joye came back to the Haus of Rokk and played Rock Band until the neighbors told us to stop using the drum set. New rule, now: No drums after 11:00. Oops. Felt kinda dumba 'bout that.

Also today I began to sketch out new character ideas for a new... well, a new something. I can't give away too much right now, but one of the characters is named Flapjack Annie. Take that as you will.
spatch: ((rock))
(Does this show up in flists now? Hope so.)

I have two new T-shirts and you do not.

The first T-shirt has the Rock Band bass symbol on it (and it's pre-worn out! at least, I hope it's pre-worn out to look all rock-like. Thanx, Harmonix!) I won it at the Brattle on Friday night before a showing of Rock and Roll High School, where I correctly answered which "future star" was one of Sean Penn's stoner buddies in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, though I almost blurted out "Anthony Greene!"

Now I just need more chances to play bass in Rock Band.

The second T-shirt has a big AVENUE Q logo in a box and at the bottom of the box, the heads of Trekkie Monster, Princeton and Rod are peeking up over it. Joye and I saw the show last night at the Colonial and it was such fun. It completely fulfilled all the expectations I had (after having the soundtrack for, oh, four years now or something) and it was just fascinating to watch the puppetry at work, especially when one actor worked one puppet, but voiced two in a scene (operated by one of the ensemble.) Switching back and forth between a Princeton and Rod voice is one thing, but when Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut are having a heated discussion ("I dated a monster once; kept picking fur out of my teeth." "If your teeth are a problem, I could remove some!") well, major props to the actress who pulled it off. Everybody was really great.

The two-person puppets, such as Trekkie Monster and Nicky, were amazingly well done. Two-person puppets are, if you remember your Muppets, characters like Rowlf or Cookie Monster. In the show, the "voice" of both Trekkie and Nicky operated the head and left arm, while another puppeteer operated the right arm, and they worked in perfect sync. Each movement was choreographed perfectly to accentuate or help the delivery of the lines. You see it all the time on TV, but you never see how it's actually done. I loved it. Oh, and of course, the songs were all great and hilarious and the show has an inspirational-yet-not-so message at the end, and it all was just... yeah. Good stuff. The Bad Idea Bears are your frieeends! Yaaaaaaay!!

Later, Joye turned me on to the site of a former Sesame Street puppeteer who's travelling around holding workshops on rod puppets. I think we're totally signing up for it (well I know I am) even though I know full well that once the class is over I'll be left with a "Well, now what do I do with this?" feeling... but sometimes those kinds of skills you learn are the best kind, because someday...
spatch: (Barth)
Caught the Sweeney Todd revival last night at the Colonial with [livejournal.com profile] joyeous, with whom I share balcony season tix for the Broadway In Boston series. This revival was a compelling interpretation of the show and a great surprise to me. More of a workshop production than a Broadway revival (indeed this interpretation started that way), the minimal production is part dramatic reading, part recital, and part art piece.

There's only one set: a wood planked floor and high wall, a shelf of bric-a-brac taking up the middle third of the wall which serves as both props shelf and subtle decor, a piano at the bottom of the bric-a-brac and a coffin with separate plank cover on wooden blocks center stage which, at various points, is picked up, rotated, stood on end, and otherwise moved about. In this fashion it serves as a shop counter, dinner table, closed door, platform for Sweeney's barber chair, and, well, a coffin. There is no multi-level set, no mechanical chair, no searing bakehouse oven, nothing else. Most emotional and setting changes are marked with light cues. Stage blood is used in a very limited, very clean capacity.

Those going to the show expecting a Grand Guignol-style bloodbath are going to be sorely disappointed. In fact, there's more blood spilled on the logo and poster than there is spilled onstage.

There is no orchestra; the performers, many of whom have returned from the 2005 revival, play the instruments onstage themselves. The Beadle was usually on piano, the Beggar Woman played clarinet, Pirelli (in cross-gender casting) had an accordion and flute, Judge Turpin played trumpet and percussion, Johanna and Anthony both had a cello, young Toby had a fiddle, and Mrs. Lovett takes up the tuba (which makes excellent bally for "God, That's Good") but is mostly concerned with the triangle, as its ting often represents the exchange of money or Sweeney's razors glinting in the light. What makes this most impressive is the fact that, with the exception of the Beadle on piano, the show is performed without the benefit of sheet music. This is not one of Sondheim's simpler scores, mind you, even in this minimal arrangement, so memorizing the entire score is task enough. And when you accompany that with acting and moving set pieces about as necessary, you begin to realize the sheer amount of talent and hard work that each performer has put into not only their own performance but into the entire production as well. The performers also sang without mics, so there's another mark of respect from me.

And it works! At first the lack of full character interaction is a bit disconcerting (Anthony and Sweeney arrive in London and both face forward from different parts of the stage when they exchange their expository dialogue and song) but eventually there's eye contact, moving about, touching, reacting, and throat slashing. But again, the blood involved is not splattered about the stage; it's poured from one bucket to another bucket whenever blood is needed. Quite often it's Mrs. Lovett who's pouring the blood while Sweeney slashes a customer's throat, which while not quite a metaphor but not quite fully literal, emphasizes her role as co-conspirator in the grisly plot. Once dead, the victims don a white lab coat with bloody red collar, yet continue to interact with the show in musical and stagehand fashion.

This production, then, put more of an emphasis on the music and the performances than the melodrama and gore, but it was still just as unsettling, if not moreso. American culture has become a bit inured to bloody spectacles, and that's coming from someone who enjoyed the bloodbath that was Evil Dead: The Musical, but other sinister themes still can haunt us. The sparse wooden "room" of the set reminded me of Victorian-era crime scene photographs; some of the performers begin the show dressed as asylum attendants and ominously stand about (and nearly break out of the passive role and restrain Sweeney at one point) and there's the coffin, always the coffin right there in front of you. The show begins and ends (before the epilogue song, I mean) in the same silent, stark, creepy fashion. It was odd to then switch to smiling performers taking their curtain calls, but, well, opening night highs are unbeatable.

And I did what I don't normally do; I gave in to the theatrical swag and bought me a blood red coffee mug which reads "Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pies, Since 1846 - London - Paris - New York - Tokyo - Boca Raton" It's an interesting piece of bric-a-brac, and I admit the Boca Raton is a bit of a non sequitur, but it just adds to the quirk. (And after the events of the dinner at Chinatown's Pho Pasteur before the show, however, I shall not be drinking pennywort juice from the mug. It looked interesting, at least, but it tasted like pureed pea pod. That's great if pureed pea pod is your thing, and Wikipedia says it's often used to treat leprosy, so hey, bonus, but I won't be ordering it again.)
spatch: (Admit One)
(Now there may be spoilers inside, just letting you know)

So I'm sitting there way up in the mezzanine of the Hilton Theatre in New York and the production of Mel Brooks' new musical Young Frankenstein is less than one number old and I am already groaning with my face in my hands. Mind you, it's one of those appreciative kinds of facepalms, but a facepalm nonetheless. The opening number -- a funeral celebration, by the way -- features a moment where Inspector Kemp, the Transylvanian figure of authority with two wooden appendages, is re-telling the story of his encounter with Dr. Victor Frankenstein's horrible monstrous creation.

"I went to stop him, but he attacked me!" Kemp tells the assembled villagers, all too happy now that Dr. Vic is now dead and in the ground. "He ripped my left leg off! And then he tore my right arm off and threw it aside! Later, I had to go all the way to Vienna to have replacements made, utilizing the services of one of the most pre-eminent surgeons in all of Europe."

Uh oh. I can hear the train in the distance.

"All the way to Vienna, huh?" one of the villagers marvels. "Was it expensive?"

Oh, no. The train's nearly here; the telegraph machine is on and whirring in full force. My hands are at the ready, and I brace myself for the impending punchline.

"Expensive?! It cost me an arm and a leg!"

Hand, meet palm. The entire theater groans in pain, but it's a good groan of pain. One of the oldest jokes in existence (Fred Allen would've said "The first time I heard that joke, I laughed so hard I bit the nipple off my bottle") telegraphed from a mile away. But wait, there's a turn. The villager holds for the laugh and continues.

"Which cost more, then? The arm or the leg?"

Kemp turns to the audience and deadpans, "We're going to need a new village idiot."

Now that's a Mel Brooksism if ever I heard one, and a decent topper. The show would continue its run on jokes about bodily appendages, mind you, but the appendages involved eventually became such things as, say, third legs.

The rest of the show flew along similarly. )

I had a great time at Young Frankenstein. It's quite the spectacle, the acting is top-notch, it does sci-fi up right, the staging is incredible and it's just plain fun besides, and I think it will do decent business. But it lacks the heart that The Producers had, as cynical and manipulative as it was, because it lacks characters with heart. Oh, sure, the characters have brains -- whether or not those brains are their own is up in the air -- but nothing behind 'em. Still, as this is an unabashed, unashamed farce which is well-aware of its place in theatre (the cast sings "Maybe next year, Blazing Saddles!" during their curtain call outro) too much heart may not completely be needed, but it sure would've been nice.

Do go see it if you have the chance. Help Mel pay the rent.
spatch: (HAMBONE)
Ever have one of those mornings that start off so well that you think "Well, the only thing that could make this morning complete is an ice cream sandwich" and what do you know, there's ice cream sandwiches in the freezer?! Nrom nrom nrom. Friday started off that way. Quite nice.

Friday was a very long day. I took the Acela into New York for an evening of musical theater and then a late-late-late night bus ride back. Earlier this autumn I picked up one of the last few remaining face value tix for a Friday night performance of Young Frankenstein, currently in previews at the Hilton Theatre. Was pretty excited to get the tick (er, ticket) because hey, Mel Brooks and his creative team did a good job out with The Producers; hey, Andrea Martin is in it; hey, Sutton Foster too; and hey, Young Frankenstein was a funny film to begin with so if it gets the Producers treatment and goes all bigtime and stuff, I can boast and brag that I saw it before you did neener neener neener (with the exception of katre and some Seattle people, apparently.)

By the way, I finally discovered the beauty and glory that is the Acela train's Quiet Car. No cellphone conversations, no loud yammering, no screaming kids, just blessed quietness, all politely and quietly enforced. I mean, the loudest noises in the car, besides station announcements, were tiny things such as someone went rustling through a bag or an occasional "hrumph" from the older businessman seated next to me (he had a throat-clearing tic, apparently, or he just constantly did not like what he was reading.) All in all well worth the C-note you gotta drop for Business Class. I'm not sure if the Quiet Car only exists on the Express trains; there certainly wasn't one the last time I rode biz class on the Acela's local service, sitting in the Kiddie Business Class car and stopping at every station stop, it felt like, in Connecticut.

I arrived in NYC with the express intent of visiting the Museum of Television and Radio first, then dinner at a favorite restaurant, and then the show. It was a one-man trip, a solo venture, and I was glad to enjoy my solitude in the midst of the most crowdedest city in this time zone. And while I handily accomplished all three tasks, hooray hooray, I was not prepared for the insane humidity. God damn! The rain I was ready for but the humidity played hopscotch with my internal thermostat. I waited for my E train on the 42nd Street platform, amazed at the humid blech that hung over everything, in October, even! Whenever the A express stopped on the other side of the platform, I rushed over and hung out by the open doors of the blessedly air-conditioned train, then hustled back over to the E side. When I got to 53rd and emerged from the underground into the rain, my hair was already soaked and I hadn't even been aboveground yet.

1. In Which Pooh Bear Visits The Museum of Television and Radio )

I had to cut my time at the museum short for dinner. I still had some time left; your $10.00 admission allows you an hour's worth of viewing though they gave me nearly two (must've been a slow day) but I'd seen all I could see at that point. I'd definitely return with the list of flops I'd been working on.

Bidding Sandy and Fred adieu, I stepped back outside into the humidity, ambled over to a 6 train, and rumbled down to the 20s for some food.

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