Saturday, May 30, 2009
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 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,
Ohnotheydidnt.com 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
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, DidHeLikeIt.com is a great place to start.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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.
"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
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
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
- 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
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 :)
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
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.