Saturday, May 30, 2009

More Neil Patrick Harris Love

Aw, who could forget the Doogie Howser theme? Especially when its played by an orchestra and features dancers?

Home and Back Again

First, I must apologize for being MIA the past two weeks - I've been visiting my family in Tennessee so my blogging time has been seriously limited. After 10 great days relaxing and enjoying the south, I'm back in Boston. Unfortunately, the past two days have me convinced that the universe is trying to slowly annoy me to death. Lots of little inconveniences (problems with my mail delivery, issues with accessing my online accounts, etc.) have frayed my temper.

With all this said, I am back to blogging on a fairly regular basis, and I am looking forward to next weekend's Tony awards. While the past few ceremonies haven't been all that entertaining, I'm hopeful that Neil Patrick Harris (aka Barney Stintson on How I Met Your Mother) can make this year's broadcast entertaining (and possibly even funny). Case in point - this SNL skit:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Premier Episode of "Glee"

I currently have 4 channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS), so I wasn't able to watch the premier episode of Glee on Fox on Tuesday night. However, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I was able to watch it today, and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are the fan of jukebox musicals, comedies set in high schools, or musical theatre, you should definitely watch the show when it returns to Fox in the fall (or you can watch the first episode here).

The basic premise will probably sound familiar: a young, idealistic teacher decides to take over his high school's glee club. He only gets a handful of participants, all of them outcasts (and all of them very talented). He tries to recruit some of the more popular kids, but he only gets one by some trickery/ blackmail. He has problems at home with a wife who doesn't understand his passion. He has problems at school with the administration and the other teachers. While this very basic plot outline might not sound interesting, keep in mind that the show was created by Ryan Murphy (who also created Nip/Tuck and Popular) and stars Matthew Modine (he was Broadway's original Link in Hairspray) and Lea Michelle (most recently seen in the musical Spring Awakening). Future guest stars include Victor Garber (John Wilkes Booth in Assassins! Jesus in Godspell! Spy Daddy on Alias!) and the always adorable Kristin Chenoweth.

For those of you who think that the show is a rip-off on the travesty of High School Musical, it isn't. Yes, there are some similarities (just as HSM was "similar" to [some might argue "ripped off from"] creator Ryan Murphy's other show, Popular). There is the jock who joins the glee club under great duress and endures peer pressure because of his decision. There is also the snooty princess-type who is wicked talented but exceedingly unpopular. However, whereas HSM had cookie-cutter characters and flat jokes, Glee has a sly sense of humor and a great blend of Broadway, R&B, and Top 40 songs. The best analogy I can come up with is that Glee is to HSM what reality is to Disney World. In the world of Glee, no one spontaneously bursts out into song nor do the popular kids gently tease the cool kid who decides to join the choir. This is the (relatively) gritty reality of high school, where hazing and bullying are common practice and the school hierarchy is readily apparent.

What I enjoyed the most about Glee (besides the awesome cover of "Don't Stop Believing") was the portrayal of what high school is like, particularly from the teachers' perspective. Yes, there are some cliches, but Glee also addresses the bargaining that goes on between teachers and the administration as well as the power struggle and social Darwinism that happens among the teachers and the students. It was also nice to see that, contrary to what Disney/ HSM would like for us to believe, the theatre kids are usually the bottom of the school totem pole. In Glee, the tomato soup/ drink thrown on Rachel Berry would be kids play to what the jocks and cheerleaders would to Sharpay Evans is she even dared step foot in the school's halls.

So far, the buzz around the show has been good. Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker gave the pilot an "A," and the New York Post gave it a very positive review as well. Additionally, has a great article on the show. However, as shows like Arrested Development and Veronica Mars have proven time and again, being a critical darling does not necessarily translate into a large viewing audience or appreciation from a network. Now all we have to do is wait 4 months for the next episode and pray to the broadcasting gods that Fox does not prematurely kill this show.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 A Web Tour of Reviews

Okay, so I know that, in my last post, I said that the collection of reviews for the Tony noms would be a series. However, I have discovered a wonderful site that collects the most prominent theatre reviews in one handy place. is run by Ben Brantley of the New York Times. Besides Brantley's reviews, the site also has excerpts and links to other reviewers' (such as USA Today, Variety, and Entertainment Weekly) opinions on a given show. Since the alternative is to do the Google hit-and-miss searches for reviews, this is actually a very nice site for theatre lovers.

The site isn't perfect. For instance, the humorous pictures that signal what a given reviewer thought of the show (happy Ben with a thumbs up is for a positive review, apathetic Ben sitting on a fence is for a mixed review, sick/ disgusted Ben with a thumbs down signals a negative review) do not hint at the nuances of the review nor do they seem all that accurate (Brantley really thought his West Side Story review was positive? Really?).

Despite these small issues, if you are looking to kill some time on the internet or wanting to do some research on the upcoming Tony awards, is a great place to start.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"West Side Story": A Collection of Reviews of the Revival

One of the most challenging things about watching the Tonys and getting excited about them is that, unlike movies, the nominated shows are not readily available to watch unless you live in New York and/ or have a lot of disposable income to see numerous Broadway shows a year. Since I am not able to get to NYC and see all of these shows, the next best thing is to watch the available clips on YouTube and read the reviews. Consequently, here is the first in a series of collections of reviews and YouTube clips for the nominated shows. This post will focus on the revival of West Side Story, which had decidedly mixed reviews.

This revival, directed by the show's librettist Arthur Laurents, takes a different (if not entirely successful) approach by having the Sharks do much of their singing in Spanish. Laurents hoped that, by showing the different languages, the disconnect and the tension between the Sharks and the Jets would be much more evident and realistic. While this bilingual approach is interesting, the revival hasn't enjoyed complete critical acclaim:
  • Ben Brantley, from The New York Times, reviewed the show and found it enjoyable if somewhat uneven.
  • Entertainment Weekly's review gives the show a "B-" and applauds Laurents's bilingual approach and the performances of Karen Olivio (Anita) and Josefina Scaglione (Maria).
  • The New York Daily News cited some of the show's strengths (specifically Olivio and Scaglione) but decried the male performers, who seem "boy-next-door to be thug-down-the-block."
  • John Lahr's review for The New Yorker is probably one of the most glowing the show has received. In it, Lahr praises Arthur Laurents, noting that Laurents's "attempts to heighten the show’s realism only enhance" its beauty.
  • Variety also gave the revival a very positive review, with reviewer David Rooney singling out Olivio and Scaglione.
To get a better sense of what these reviews are talking about, here are a few YouTube videos of the cast performing:

"America" performed on Good Morning America

"Cool" performed on Good Morning America

Watching this clip, it is easy to see what the reviewers mean when they complain that the boys aren't terribly convincing as gang members. However, to give the actors the benefit of the doubt, it is hard to pretend to be a bad ass when dancing under a bright yellow sign reading "Good Morning America Spring Concert Series." On an even more shallow note, the boys' costumes are pretty good, but the girls look awful.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mo Rocca's Interview with Arthur Laurents

Who knew that Arthur Laurents was so obsessed with sex and that Mo Rocca could ask such pointed questions? I admit that, when I first stumbled across this interview on YouTube, I was very skeptical. However, Rocca does a good job talking to Laurents about Laurents's reputation. I also think that Laurents is adorable (even if he is rather blunt :).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Isn't She Lovely" - A Song for Mother's Day

Although my family will be celebrating a belated Mother's Day later this month (this is what happens when all of the kids are in different parts of the country), I'd like to wish all of the mothers out there a very happy Mother's Day. Even though the recent news seems to be fraught with stories about bad parents who do all sorts of horrible things (abuse, torture, neglect, and abandonment), I like to think that these miscreants are in the minority. Please take the time today to thank all of the good mothers (and grandmothers, aunts, etc.) you know.

In this spirit of celebration, here is "Isn't She Lovely," an oldie but goodie from Stevie Wonder:

Aw - this song provides instant uplift, and it is probably one of the sweetest songs ever. Written to celebrate the birth of his daughter Aisha (she's the baby crying at the beginning and can be heard throughout the song), the song also thanks Yolanda Simmons (Aisha's mother). Enjoy and have a wonderful Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coming Soon...

I'm (almost) done with the spring semester, so I hope to get posts out more frequently (at least until I start teaching for the summer term). With this in mind, here are some posts that will be coming soon:
  • A book review of Beyond Heaving Bosoms
  • My love-hate (or maybe its hate-hate) relationship with Facebook
  • More movie musicals that deserve to be mocked
  • More blogging about the Tonys
As always, I appreciate input on what you might like for me to blog about. Stay tuned!

The 2009 Tony Nominees

The 2009 Tony nominees were announced earlier this week. Billy Elliot, following in the tradition of movies turned into musicals, leads the pack with 15 nominations followed by another new (and original) musical Next to Normal, which has 11 noms. Truth be told, since I am not that familiar with the new shows on Broadway, I am not terribly excited about the musical nominees. I know absolutely nothing about Billy Elliot or Next to Normal, and even though I have no clue if Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 is any good at all, I sort of hope she wins Best Original Score because Dolly would be a hoot at the Tonys. (Incidentally, she occasionally shopped at the store I used to work at in Nashville, and she was always very sweet and polite.)

Despite the rather unspectacular race for Best Musical, it should be interesting to see who gets Best Revival of a Musical. There are four strong shows (West Side Story, Hair, Pal Joey, and Guys & Dolls) up for the award, but none of them got rave reviews. Even more competitive is the field of Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. Sutton Foster, who seems to be an almost perennial nominee and is a two time Tony winner, is nominated for her turn as Princess Fiona in the uneven Shrek. She is facing off against Alice Ripley (Next to Normal), Allison Janney (9 to 5), Stockard Channing (Pal Joey), and Josefina Scaglione (West Side Story). My completely uninformed guess is that it is going to come down between Scaglione and Foster, but they may end up splitting the field, allowing one of the other three ladies to get the Tony. However, they are all incredible actresses, so it is sort of a toss up.

Even though I'm not usually a straight play fan, I'm stoked about the nominees for the straight play categories. Straight plays had an incredibly strong season. A quick glance at the nominees for Best Performance by a Leading Actor (James Gandolfini, Geoffrey Rush, Raúl Esparza) and the Best Performance by a Leading Actress (Marcia Gay Harden, Jane Fonda, Janet McTeer) illustrates this.

If you are interested in more Tony coverage, the New York Times site has a section dedicated to the Tony Awards. One warning - it can be very addicting :)

Virtual Spring Cleaning: Customizing Your Blog (Even if You Are Technologically Inept)

In an attempt to spruce up the old blog, I've tried implementing some changes to the blog template. Since I am not very technologically inclined, I found this great article from Blogger Buster that gave very thorough, step by step instructions on the entire process. I also used this site to help me figure out the right color codes (Blogger Buster's tool caused my Firefox browser to crash numerous times).

Please let me know what you think of the the blog's new look. I'm fairly happy with it, even though I still haven't found the right header yet...

ETA: I found/ made a new header that I think works, but feedback is welcome!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Movie Review: "Every Little Step"

Almost every group has a movie, show, or song that serves to define it. For actors and dancers in the theatre, no other song encapsulates the struggle of getting defying the odds and getting a job than A Chorus Line's "I Hope I Get It," the show's opening song that shows dozens of hopefuls vying not for stardom but for a part dancing in the chorus. Quite fittingly, "Every Little Step," a documentary that gives audiences an unprecedented look at the arduous audition process for a Broadway show, opens with "I Hope I Get It." While the documentary is not perfect (what in this life is?), it is a wonderful and eye-opening look at what happens long before the curtain goes up opening night on Broadway. Furthermore, it provides an equally heart-breaking and exhilarating alternative to faux-audition shows (I'm looking at you Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for the Next Elle Woods and You're The One That I Want).

Every Little Step focuses mainly on the audition process of the recent revival of A Chorus Line. During the two-hour documentary, we see the huge crowds lined up in New York to audition for the iconic roles of Cassie, Paul, Shelia, and others. From over 3,000 auditionees, the crowd is whittled down, and the film follows several of the actors, ranging from those who are established (Charlotte D'Amboise) to those trying to break into the business (Jessica Lee Goldyn), as they prepare for callbacks and battle nerves. Interspersed with the vignettes of the auditionees are interviews with Bob Avian (the revival's director), Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie and Michael's Bennett's friend and muse), and Baayork Lee (the original Connie and who restaged Bennett's choreography for the revival) as well as some footage from the original production and the audio footage from Bennett's recordings that helped launch A Chorus Line.

The documentary is surprisingly free of the gossip, cattiness, and snark that serves as the hallmark of much of reality television. Instead, the actors and the revival's creative team are refreshingly professional. While Avian and his team will often comment that a particular actor is not right for a role, this criticism lacks the needless anger or sarcasm of Simon Cowell. The actors are, for the most part, more focused on their own performing than undermining each other and most understand the capriciousness of show business. Even as Nikki Snelson watches competitor Jessica Lee Goldyn (who eventually wins the part) audition for "Val," her expression is simultaneously wistful and hopeful.

As I mentioned earlier, this documentary is not perfect. Devotees of A Chorus Line will not learn anything new about the show, and the documentary is very (and perhaps overly) reverent of Bennett's legacy and memory. No where does anyone address the many issues that arose regarding mining actors' lives and personal heartache for the purposes of creating a show. Furthermore, given the fact that the documentary wants to look at the different people auditioning for the show, it skips around and does not grant equal time to the different people.

However, these are small issues and, given the film's many merits, can be easily overlooked. Ultimately, this film is a case of art imitating life imitating art. Watching these actors audition and deal with the highs and lows of working in theatre is much more real than any reality show could ever hope to be.