- Email - My addiction to email does not stem from a love of email. I could actually take or leave it. However, I hate having a full inbox or unread messages. As soon as I get a message, I will read it and respond to it if possible. It drives me more than a little crazy to know that I might have a message that needs attention. If I ever get an iPhone, there will be no going back
- Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! - I listen to Wait, Wait... on a regular basis (particularly when doing office work at one of my jobs). I keep working through all of the different episodes and I listen to the current episode all week on my iPod. However, it is an NPR show, so it can't be an addition that is too bad...
- Books - This should come as no surprise, but I adore books. I would (and have) lived off of peanut butter sandwiches just so I can use money for books rather than food. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat problematic addiction. For one, buying books (which makes me really happy) is expensive; even buying remainders (which are deeply discounted overstocked books) or used books can be expensive. Even though I use BookMooch, I can't always find what I'm looking for. The other problem that comes with constantly buying books is the fact that I have run out of shelf space, and my one-bedroom apartment isn't necessarily conducive to collecting books.
- Magazines - I suppose this goes along with my book addiction. Right now, I'm trying to convince myself that renewing all of my 7 magazines is not necessary.
- The Food Network - There's something about this channel, which is really just food porn, that intrigues me.
- Harlequin Presents romance novels - I don't read these, but I do find the titles and plots so bizarrely amusing that I can't help but chortle to myself when I pass a display in a bookstore. What makes them so funny? Well, these books seem to feature an absurdly large number of Greek tycoons, sheiks, millionaires, and virgins. Any book entitled The Spaniard's Defiant Bride is guaranteed to make me laugh.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
At his best, Sedaris is able to evoke laughter from his readers while also causing them to think about what they have just read. Reactions often range from relief that the event in question has not happened to them to the dawning realization (or horror) that they have been in a similar situation. Past essays such as "Dinah, the Christmas Whore," "Rooster at the Hitching Post," and "Baby Einstein" all find the balance between being funny and being reflective without falling into the writer's sand trap of bathos.
If the essays in When You Are Engulfed in Flames do not always reach the giddy heights of Sedaris's past works, they still have the wry, trenchant humor that has made Sedaris famous. From discussing his fashion mishaps (shopping in the women's department with his sister) to detailing his attempts to stop smoking, Sedaris's wit is as sharp as ever. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Sedaris's earlier works (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, etc.) and When You Are Engulfed in Flames is a prominent shift in subject matter. While many of the essays in his other books are about growing up and dealing with his various family members, this book focuses more on Sedaris's present. Hugh, his boyfriend, plays a more prominent role in these essays, while Amy, Lisa, Paul, and the rest of the Sedaris clan are the featured players.
This approach is not, by any means, a bad thing. Instead, it offers readers a different perspective on Sedaris and his world, and it allows Sedaris more time for self-exploration and social commentary. Furthermore, the essays in When You Are Engulfed in Flames build upon the traits that Sedaris discusses about himself (and his family) in his other works. "The Smoking Section" makes an interesting follow-up to Naked's "A Plague of Tics." Lisa's reaction in "It's Catching" is more understandable after reading "Repeat After Me" in Dress Your Family... Consequently, Sedaris's new book is able to give readers a new look at the author while also expanding upon ideas and themes in his past books. This is not necessarily a kinder, gentler David Sedaris, but it is a look at his adult life that we haven't seen before. While I would like to hear more about his brother Paul and niece Madelyn (whom Sedaris has said he would not write about), I am enjoying the new view of Sedaris's world.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
You may wonder how this is possible; well, head over to the site and check out the FAQs and About section to get more information. While you're there, spend some time playing and learn some new words. This makes me feel much better about the forced vocabulary lessons, quizzes, and tests I used to give my students (a surprising number of words were in our old vocabulary books). Sure, I will probably never use some of the words that I am learning (lignify comes to mind). However, it is a great brain workout (which never hurts) and it is for a worthy cause. If I'm going to waste time online, there are far worse things I could be doing.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Of course, this has to do (partially at least) with supply and demand. While straight plays can be a hit, musicals can generate a ton of money. I suppose it seems economically sound for the Tony Awards to hedge its bets and focus on bringing home the bacon. There is also the problem of figuring out what to do with the plays. It is harder (in theory) to show a brief excerpt from a play and have it be entertaining and understandable than it is to have an engaging (and somewhat comprehensible) song and dance number. They tried short excerpts for a while, and those didn't seem to get a lot of response. I also vaguely recall the one painful time they tried to combine excerpts from all of the different plays into a reading.
This leads to the question: Should plays get equal (or, at least, more) coverage on the Tonys? If so, what should the Tonys do to fix this?
- The number from Gypsy was incredible (even if Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti weren't given that much to do). Patti LuPone is a force to be reckoned with, and I have little doubt that she would have stalked Kelli O'Hara under cover of darkness if O'Hara had won Best Actress in a Musical.
- Speaking of Benanti, I thought that she was charmingly flustered during her speech. Too many times, winners for any awards come off as being so cocky and self-assured that they are going to win that I just want to take their Oscar/ Tony/ Golden Bucket of Popcorn and clock them with it. Benanti was obviously happy and excited and I will take that any day over a planned, pretentious speech or a nonsensical one (see the lowlights for some examples - I'm talking to you Mark Rylance).
- I also liked Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech for Best Score. How many times do you get to combine rap, Broadway, and the Tonys? Special props to him for mentioning Sondheim. "Mr. Sondheim, look I made a hat.Where there never was a hat. It's a Latin hat at that."
- The entire vibe from the In the Heights crew was infectious and didn't reek of the "we are reinventing/ saving a dying art" vibe that I got from Passing Strange (and got last year from Spring Awakening).
- In the past, in order to give a performance at the Tonys, a musical had to be nominated for "Best New Musical" or "Best Revival of a Musical" (and typically had to still be running on Broadway). They changed things a bit this year in an attempt (I guess) to boost ratings and ticket sales. As a result, we were subjected to "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, a song from A Catered Affair (I honestly don't remember what it was), and "Deep Love" from The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. Great, we have a singing mermaid and a penis joke.
- They presented a frightful number of awards before the televised portion of the ceremony. I think I would rather watch someone accept the "Best Book" awards more than hearing Megan Mullally sing about a monster's little friend...
- There were some really bad speeches this year. I've already mentioned Mark Rylance, but his was so odd that he deserves yet another mention. I don't care that he was referencing something else. Also, Patti LuPone's speech was just a tad too bitter for my tastes. Yes, she hasn't won a Tony since 1980 (for Evita). Yes, she probably deserved to win for Sweeney Todd. Yes, the Tonys can be a fickle lot. Get over it, take a cue from that Sondheim number, and move on.
- Although I vastly prefer to watch the Tonys than the Oscars (I'm strange like that), the Tonys could take a pointer or two from the Oscars in terms of giving out a Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year's presentation (for Hal Prince) was anemic. This year's presentation for Stephen Sondheim was even more anti-climatic (Sondheim wasn't there, so Mandy Pantinkin read a very gracious speech penned by Sondheim). Tony producers, please watch the 1998 Oscars, see the presentation for Stanley Donen's Honorary Oscar, and adjust accordingly.
- Trotting out the original cast of Rent only illustrated that none of them have any business doing the show anymore (Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp are supposedly doing a national tour of the show in 2009). Since I'm not a Rent fan (for reasons too numerous to list in this post), I wasn't thrilled about the entire "Seasons of Love" sing-a-long, but Marissa Tomei's reaction clearly shows that I'm in the minority on this one.
"Best Revival of a Musical" - These numbers were better or perhaps I just understood them more since I knew how they worked within each show's context. There were actually some great revivals this year, even though you wouldn't know it from listening to the hype, which pitted Patti LuPone and Gypsy against Kelli O'Hara and South Pacific (now there's a cage match that would be short but very frightening!). Sunday in the Park with George got lost in the shuffle (which is really a shame), and Grease didn't get a lot of attention except that the leads came from a reality television show no one watched (You're the One That I Want).
- Gypsy's number was "Everything's Coming Up Roses," which (when taken in context) is one of the scariest songs in musical theatre. No one writes a good breakdown in verse form like Sondheim (with help Jule Styne's intense music). The LuPone acts the hell out of it, and I back slowly away from my television set. Boyd Gaines (Herbie) and Laura Benanti (Louise aka Gypsy) don't have much to do but look frightened (Patti gives them plenty to be frightened about). It gets a well-deserved standing ovation, Arthur Laurents (the director and author) looks like he's going to cry, and Mandy Patinkin looks awfully happy.
- South Pacific opts to go the medley route; this is usually a tough sell, but since everyone who watches the Tonys probably knows the story and the songs, this is probably safe. A few random thoughts regarding this medley:
- Is it just me, or is a bunch of sailors singing "There is Nothing Like a Dame" just wrong, particularly given what we know about musical theatre? I believe that musical theatre in general and La Cage Aux Folles in particular have disproved this theory.
- I hate (with the fire of a thousand suns) "Some Enchanted Evening." I don't care how good the singer is, it just sets me on edge.
- On the other hand, I love "A Wonderful Guy" and Kelli O'Hara did a nice job with it (even if I dislike the choreography she's given).
- Grease does a strange combo of "Grease" (the theme song used in the movie) and "We Go Together." The end result is decidedly "meh." Incidentally, I've always been freaked out by Grease's moral (dress like a skank and get [or keep] the man of your dreams!) and this number is not redeeming the show at all.
- Sunday in the Park with George's contribution is "Move On." As much as I love Sondheim, even I have to admit that his work tends not to translate well into an isolated number. However, after seeing Sondheim characters play instruments (thanks John Doyle), it is nice to see a relatively straightforward interpretation.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
The host - While Whoopi's attempt to have a surprising entrance based on every show on Broadway became a little tedious (the very thought of A Chorus Line starring just Whoopi and Mario Lopez is enough to scare me), she wasn't a terrible host. I must admit that she had a few inspired moments, and the scene with her and the Phantom was kind of awesome. I also loved that she inadvertently smacked down Clarence Thomas. It probably was a genuine mistake, but I still thought it was funny.
"Best New Musical" production numbers - I was underwhelmed by some of the production numbers from the new musicals this year.
- Although I'm not familiar with Passing Strange, I wasn't terribly keen on its number, which reminded me of an amalgam of "Light My Candle" from Rent and the choreography from last year's Spring Awakening excerpt.
- I liked the number from In the Heights simply because it seemed very original. The music was good, and the choreography was awesome - it had an authentic feel without being too disorganized or messy. Kudos to the fact that they managed to feature the entire company on stage without it looking or sounding fragmented. Too many shows try to shoehorn the entire cast and it looks really awkward (i.e. the Mary Poppins number from last year).
- Xanadu was okay - nothing horrible, nothing great. Like In the Heights, they were able to include the entire cast in an organic way and still feature the main characters prominently (a difficult feat in and of itself). The little moment with Tony Roberts was nice, and Cheyenne Jackson is nice to look at.
- I almost forgot Cry-Baby (which should tell us all something). It looked fun enough, but it is certainly no Hairspray. The choreography was very clever, the music not so much.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
While Brockes grew up in England (which has a richer theatrical history than the US), her views on musical theatre (a decidedly American art form) are understandable and probably familiar to most people. Brockes's introduction to musicals came from her mother, a person who figures prominently in areas of the book. Despite her initial dislike of musicals, she eventually realizes her affinity for them even as she mocks their inanities. For instance, she does a fabulous job showing just how ridiculous the average musical plot is; in one case, she notes that Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is about how "the women of a nineteenth-century town in Oregon respond to being kidnapped by hillbillies by singing."
What is particularly compelling about this book is that Brockes is able to simultaneously show the foibles musicals while illustrating how many of these shows are much deeper and less sentimental than many recognize. Her discussion on Mary Poppins is very nuanced and filled with some notable ideas in terms of the movie's adaptation of the P. L. Travers's story. However, Brockes's gift for showing her affection for her subject while pointing out the faults is at its peak when she discusses Barbra Streisand. Despite her admiration for Barbra, Brockes is quick to note some of Streisand's excesses, such as her self-aggrandizing turn in Yentl or the fact that Streisand sometimes sings trios with herself (by bringing in a child to play her younger self and having a playback on a screen) in concert.
What Would Barbra Do? is not perfect; some of the chapters seem repetitive and the organization is often fast and loose (to say the least). However, it is an enjoyable, entertaining, and often thoughtful look into musical theatre. By circumventing the adoring-fan route in favor of a more critical and sometimes satirical tone, Brockes allows readers to gain a greater understanding of musicals while also laughing at her trenchant remarks. I sincerely hope that Brockes writes a follow-up, if only to hear her insight into Legally Blonde the Musical and Spring Awakening.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Unfortunately, today was an aberration. I went downstairs and noticed that the washer was free but someone had left clothes in the dryer. They seemed clean and dry, so I figured that this person was probably en route to the basement and started my laundry. Thirty minutes later, I went down to remove my clothes from the washer. The other person's clothes were still there in the dryer. I decided to wait a little longer, thinking that perhaps he or she had fallen asleep or went to run an errand and would be back soon. I was wrong.
After waiting an hour and a half after my clothes were washed for this person to pick up his or her dry laundry, I finally got annoyed and brought my heavy basket of clean (but wet) clothes up to my apartment. I now have clothes hanging from every hook, rack, bar, and chair back at my disposal. While I saved a little money, part of me wishes I were mean-spirited enough to reenact this Cheetos commercial.
Unlike TMIS, which takes some creative (if not entirely successful) approaches to discussing the songs (i.e. fake journal entries, recreated dialogues, etc.), I Hate Myself and Want to Die’s essays are fairly straightforward, with Reynolds discussing the song’s origins and content as well as dissecting why the song is depressing. This allows Reynolds to focus on the songs, which are all hilariously depressing. From Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen,” Reynolds entertainingly dissects the songs and shows why they are unrelentingly dismal.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I Hate Myself… succeeds where TMIS fails is that (as Reynolds himself notes in TMIS) it is surprisingly easy to think of songs that are depressing, but it is much harder to think of songs that creepy (one person’s idea creepy is another person’s idea of touching). Consequently, I Hate Myself… had a treasure trove of songs to use. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of these songs, such as Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” in which a circus acts as metaphor for love and life, are actually very funny without any added commentary.
Although Reynolds does have some misfires in this collection (he admits that his analysis of “Brick” by Ben Folds Five is based on a faulty assumption), they are few and far between. While Touch Me, I’m Sick has some laughs, I Hate Myself… is a far superior collection in terms of humor. Read it, if only to enjoy the chapter in which Reynolds completely eviscerates “The Christmas Shoes,” a song I loath beyond almost all comprehension. However, my hatred of that song is a story for another post…
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Many of the nominated shows (with the exceptions of Grease! and Cry-Baby) had reviews that ranged from good to excellent. I'm particularly excited about seeing the numbers from Gypsy (starring Patti LuPone) and Sunday in the Park with George. As an added bonus, the official site for the Tony Awards has put clips of the nominated shows up, so you can make your judgments before the actual awards show.
In addition to the surprisingly good slate of musicals that are up for "Best Musical" and "Best Revival of a Musical," Stephen Sondheim is receiving a special award for "Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre." As long as the presentation is better than Hal Prince's from last year, I will be happy.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
- Entertainment Weekly gave the book a "B," noting that, while there is little never-before-published work in this collection (several of the essays come from The New Yorker and other publications), it makes a good intro to Sedaris's writing.
- The critic from The New York Observer gave the book (and the author) high marks for humor and originality, even as she observes that "his most poignant material comes from the time before he was a writer."
- The most recent issue of People magazine gave the WYAEIF a very positive review; unfortunately, it does not seem to be on www.people.com
- Sedaris himself appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night to promote the book; from the way he and Stewart discussed it, it sounded very funny.
I have to admit that, as a poor graduate student who is on the cusp of writing a dissertation, I have shopped Amazon.com in the past. In my defense, the majority of books I have ordered through them were out-of-print books that are difficult to find. However, while Amazon.com is fun to browse, I must admit that I don't get any real pleasure out of it. Part of this is that I like immediate gratification; if I am going to spend money, I like having something to show for it immediately. The other problem I have with Amazon.com is not being able to physically browse books. Shopping online is all well and good if you know exactly what you are looking for; however, if you want a chance to read excerpts and know more than the back blurb has to offer, you are out of luck. The importance of books' physical aspect also prevents me from getting behind e-readers (such as the Kindle). Despite my limited amount of space and the problems that come with owning books (storing them, organizing them, moving them), I still like being able to highlight, note, and otherwise interact with books.
In terms of chain bookstores (Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.), I must admit that I can be a little ambivalent. (My first job in Boston was at a chain bookstore, so I definitely feel some loyalty to that store.) I could give or take Borders; for some reason, it always seems more expensive than other stores, even though I know that it has the same prices as B&N. On the other hand, I happen to have a very soft spot for B&N. When I first moved to Nashville, I lived very close to a Bookstar that was run by B&N and spent countless hours in the store. (Added bonus: it was inside a converted movie theatre, so it was a particularly cool space.) I still enjoy going to B&N; for some reason, B&N stores always seems quieter and cozier than Borders stores (I know that this is purely subjective). I probably go into a B&N an average of three or four times a week.
With all of that said, I am trying to embrace independent and used book stores. Part of the reason is financial (at least in terms of USBs) and part of the reason is because some of these stores have store cats (I can be very easy to amuse). However, as a person who grew up in a small town, I also want to try and support independent businesses. Although the most popular shopping destination in my hometown was (and continues to be) Wal-Mart, I always had a healthy dose of guilt when shopping there.
Ultimately, this entire dilemma begs the question: Is it possible to still patronize chains and still support small businesses? Right now, that is one question I will have to answer at a later time.
Monday, June 2, 2008
The good news is that, unlike the MTV Movie Awards, it held my attention. It was like a very pink and blond car wreck - I knew that I shouldn't watch it but I couldn't look away. The insanity started within the first few minutes, as the director and producers decided to try to mesh the opening number of A Chorus Line with auditions for the Pussycat Dolls (I know the girls were doing actual choreography from Legally Blonde but still...). Things got even more preposterous when they introduced Haylie Duff as the contestants' mentor. Yes, she has been in one show on Broadway and she is the reality show's producer, but she doesn't really have any Broadway street cred (at least in my opinion).
However, it was when they kept referring to Jerry Mitchell as legendary that I really started seeing how crazy things were going to be. Please don't get me wrong - Mr. Mitchell is very talented and has done a considerable number of shows (Hairspray, Never Gonna Dance, etc.). My problem is the use of the word "legendary." When I think of legendary figures in theatre, people like Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, or Stephen Sondheim. I could even make a good argument that Andrew Lloyd Webber is legendary. The connotation for legendary is that the person in question and his or her notable work have spanned a number of decades. As impressive has Jerry Mitchell's career has been so far, he doesn't quite strike me as legendary (yet).
Other things that stuck out:
- All of the contestants have sorority girl/ pageant names: Lindsey, Cassie, Chloe...
- Elle's choreography to "What You Want" looks very stripperesque when done en masse
- Stupidest lines of the night:
- A contestant actually tells the judges that "There's a little Elle Woods in all of us."
- One girl said "I feel awesome blossom fabulous fantastic." (I really wanted to smack her for it)
- There is the claim (by Haylie Duff) that "So Much Better" is the "hardest song on Broadway." I want to know how they determined that. Also, I want Haylie Duff to say that to Kelli O'Hara (who is playing Nellie in South Pacific) and Patti LuPone (who is playing Mama Rose in Gypsy) just so they can laugh at her.