Thank You, Jonathan Larson

One of my arbitrary rules for myself is that I don’t seek out Rent on purpose. This isn’t because I don’t like Rent, it’s because I love and obsess about Rent so completely that all other thoughts, interests and delights become moot.

Rent is perfect. Rent is a trashfire. Rent is a phenomenon. Rent is overrated. Rent was a revolution. Rent was a mainstream sanitizing of the queer experience by a straight white dude. The thing that’s infuriating, I think, to non Rent-heads, is that the show is all of these things at once. It’s a mess. But as was made abundantly clear if you were anywhere near social media Sunday night, Rent is our mess, and we’ve all got a lot to say about it.

For me, Rent: Live (which wound up being mostly the taped dress rehearsal due to Brennin Hunt breaking his foot the night before.) was just a reminder of something very visceral, this show tatooed itself on my heart when I was 15, and so I will love it forever. (Not without criticism. It isn’t Les Mis which I refuse to examine critically.) But there’s too much emotion tied into it for me to turn my back completely. There’s too many late night diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with friends. (We were a delight!) Too many karaoke duets to “Take Me Or Leave Me,” and “Another Day.” To many doodled “No Day But Today”‘s scrawled in notebooks. To many hours spent arguing whether OBC Mark and Roger, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal were better than long time mainstays in the roles like Matt Caplan and Jeremy Kushnier. (I actually prefer Matt, who I’ve always called, “My Mark,” to Anthony, I saw Rent on Broadway 4 times, 3 of those, Matt was Mark. I prefer Adam to everyone though.)

There were plenty of moments in Sunday night’s broadcast that landed like a thud. When you know the show backwards and forwards, changes are jarring. Some of those really soared though. I’m madly in love with the ways, “Will I,” and “Seasons Of Love,” were redone. Especially “Seasons,” which is about remembering the good things in life in the face of imminent death, but has become a kind of treacly, feel good catch all out of context. Jordan Fisher’s Mark was adorable, Vanessa Hudgens continues to remind us all that Kenny Ortega did a really good job picking some top tier musical theater talent back in the day for High School Musical, and of course Brandon Victor Dixon brought the house down as Collins. (They were the MVPs, but also Keala Settle as the “Seasons” soloist and the rest of the cast was uniformly good.)

But the real kicker came with the finale. Finally moving into live mode, after the new cast sang through “Finale B,” (the overlapping of “Without You,” and “Life Support” reaching it’s breathtaking energetic conclusion with a projection of Jonathan Larson’s smiling face blessing the whole enterprise.) the chords of “Seasons Of Love” began anew, and the original Broadway cast ran onstage and my heart burst.

Even that raised my hackles in places. Idina sings the female solo? Why? (I know why! But seriously, world, she’s amazing and I love her, but we need to Let It Go!) Daphne and Fredi got to riff on the final, “measure your life,” but only Jesse got to sing out of the boys.  (Mostly I’d like to see Adam and Anthony, but also Wilson and Taye!) (Also, though, Jesse and Brandon singing together should be illegal. Nothing that beautiful should exist.)

As I meditated on this beautiful, perfect, stupid, problematic mess, I realized, that the thing about Rent, and why theater nerd kids love it so much, is that it is us. It’s an unlikely creature, optimistic and nihilistic, heartbreaking and silly, and refusing to be tamped down and shut up. The universe doesn’t seem to want Rent but we don’t care. Jonathan Larson died before he could really finish it. The movie crackles with possibility despite iffy choices all around. Rent: Live almost didn’t happen because of a star injury. People continue to take it apart and say it’s dated, but it persists.

So, Thank You, Jonathan Larson. Your last breaths have given a couple of generations of kids a way to articulate something that’s inside of them and that’s really worthwhile.

The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation! 

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Grown Ups Always Forget

Mary Poppins Returns

There are moments during Mary Poppins Returns where it feels like the whole precarious exercise is about to go off the rails and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda pull it back from the brink with sheer charm.

Like the very large shoes the pair are stepping into, Blunt and Miranda are just so damn likable, you find yourself fully tapped in to this movie, even when it maybe doesn’t all hang together cleanly.

There are genuine joys in this movie. “Imagine That,” Mary Poppins’s first number with the new generation of Banks children is a technical wonder and Blunt delivers it beautifully. A few of the songs get the music box style quality of The Sherman Brother’s on point, though I’m perhaps a little bit too familiar with Mark Shaiman’s style to not see the seams there.(Hairspray! And also Smash….but mostly Hairspray…) “The Cover Is Not The Book,” uses it’s music hall styling to organically allow Miranda to rap. (I mean, they hired the man, they had to find a way to work it in, right?)

I didn’t quite connect to grown up Michael’s story, which involved losing his wife and giving up his artistic dreams to go to work at Fiduciary Fidelity Bank in order to support his young children. (And taking out a loan on the house. Michael had a lot going on.) But I adored Jane’s story, which has her picking up her mother’s social justice causes (Mrs. Banks was a sufragette you may recall) as a union organizer,  and resuming what must have been a lovely teenage flirtation with Miranda’s Jack.

The new kids, John, Annabelle and Georgie are sweethearts, forced to grow up before their time due to the family’s financial difficulties. Colin Firth is the villainous banker trying to foreclose on the Banks house which is a perfectly fine use of him, I guess. A few other cameos do the hard work of selling that this is the same world, that’s just moved on a bit. Even if it’s very clear that Angela Lansbury’s balloon lady was clearly written with Julie Andrews in mind.

Rankings:

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
  2. Aquaman
  3. The Incredibles 2
  4. Bohemian Rhapsody
  5. A Star Is Born
  6. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  7. Creed 2
  8. Mary Poppins Returns
  9. Deadpool 2
  10. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  11. Ocean’s 8
  12. Infinity War
  13. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  14. Venom

Trailers:

Many the same as Spider-Verse, but also The Lion King! Which, I will see. Whether I like it or not is a different conversation, but I’ll see it.

1+1=3

There’s a moment towards the end of Springsteen On Broadway where The Boss, after talking about the darkness of our times, the difficulties of absorbing the world as it is right now after making a study of the American soul over the course of his life, and his hope in the youth of our country, plays the mournful Grapes Of Wrath themed masterpiece of a ballad “The Ghost Of Tom Joad,” and the lights go out, as he finishes, and they turn blue as they switch back on, and he plays, “The Rising.” It’s a moment of art and wonder, symbolising the fall and rebirth of the American dream, the inevitability of each generation. It’s a beautifully artistic moment bringing you into the end of an evening where things that were infinitely familiar to me, were stripped down, re contextualized and elevated.

I was born, and I was a Bruce Springsteen fan. I was baptized twice, once with water and Chrism and once in the surf of The Jersey Shore (which, Bruce assures us, he invented, pretty much.) (He also assures us, several times throughout the evening that he’s full of shit.) At fifteen I stood before a bishop and took a new name, confirming my place as an adult in the church, but the year before I’d heard Clarence whale the sax on “Thunder Road,” confirming my life long love of this music.

Springsteen On Broadway is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and that includes the ten or so times I’ve seen the man perform live before. The stripped down arrangements of the music, the sheer raw intimacy of the thing, is beyond compare. It’s uplifting and emotionally exhausting, and a singularly illuminating look into a mind of artist, who’s work has meant so much to me.

Anyway, the show goes onto Netflix in 10 days, and I’m immensely grateful for the chance to see it live. (Even if my credit card company isn’t.) I’m sure I’ll watch it many more times, because it’s deeply moving and truly special, an essential entry for any Springsteen fan.

Any Way The Wind Blows

Bohemian Rhapsody.jpg

Like many people my age, I first came to the incredible power of the music of Queen in the movies. I was born in 1987. I fell for “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” during The Mighty Ducks, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” during Wayne’s World.

Which is why sitting as the lights when down in Bohemian Rhapsody  yesterday, it felt, right, to be hearing it there.

Bohemian Rhapsody is getting dinged for being a by the numbers biopic. It definitely is, which also makes me kind of a sucker for it, since along with “heists,” and “lady with a fancy job,” “musician biopic,” is one of my favorite genres of movie.

Here are some things that I didn’t expect in this movie, to cry during the recording of “We Will Rock You,” to cry pretty much the whole back half of the movie, and for Gwylim Lee to possibly have shapeshifted into Brian May…

Obviously the story of Freddie Mercury has the beats of many many rock star stories. Reinvention, desperation, loneliness, debauchery, redemption. This is the myth arc of these men. (And Stevie Nicks) His diverges a bit, of course, because of his cultural background (Farsi Zoroastrian), his sexuality, (One of the greatest queer icons of all time) and his tragic death from AIDS.

The movie is also a tough pill, because of it’s director, who is one of those men who’s name we no longer speak after this year, although, being very familiar with that man’s previous work, this feels nothing like it. Which supports the narrative that he didn’t really direct the movie at all, pretty much excepted at this point.

Rami Malek’s performance is moving in the extreme, and the cast around him, a bevy of British TV actors who’s faces I’m always glad to see. (Aiden Gillan is going to go a long way playing smiling men who you’re not sure if you should trust or not. I despised Paul Prenter so much by the end that I had to watch like six episodes of Downton Abby to remind myself I once loved Allen Leech so…)

But overall, this music what it got into me again. Not that this is hard, it’s music that’s always with me. Leading crowds at football and baseball games with foot stomps and claps for “We Will Rock You,” as a cheerleader, singing Freddie’s part in “Under Pressure” with my sister at karaoke. (Mary is always Bowie. ALWAYS) Arms wrapped around my cast mates at parties swaying to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” twirling and laughing to “Don’t Stop Me,” with my college friends at parties.

Maybe it’s the theater kid in me, but seeing something that’s inside of you dramatized feels incredibly powerful.

Rankings

  1. The Incredibles 2
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody
  3. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  4. Deadpool 2
  5. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  6. Ocean’s 8
  7. Infinity War
  8. Ant-Man And The Wasp

Trailers:

The Mule – “I reject everything about this movie” – Aless (I’ll probably wind up watching it when it hits HBO, because I find Clint Eastwood’s directing fascinating)

Rocket Man – Ooohh, bring on the sparkles Elton. BRING THEM ON!

Widows –Oh, sure, yeah, gritty heist movie starring Viola Davis, I’m gonna skip that. (/s)

 

 

My Fair Lazy, Culturing Up, and Six Months Of Lovely Accidents

So, a lot of people are writing, “it’s halfway through the year, here’s a check in posts.” I wasn’t planning one, but last night I has a realization that made me very happy.

A few years ago my favorite non fiction writer Jen Lancaster, wrote a book called, My Fair Lazy that was about a year long project to expand her horizons and get a bit more cultured. The project included exploring fine dining, attending theatrical performances and reading “important” books.

Y’all, between The Epics Project and The Best Theatrical Year of My Life, this sort of happened to me by accident, I realized as Aless and I picked up our champagne at the second intermission of ABT’s production of Don Quixote. (Partially, realizing that this wasn’t a terribly unusual outing for us anymore. We’ve come a long way since those $5 margaritas on 34th Street!)

Here are the cultural milestones I’ve had this year:

  • Read: War And Peace, Ulysses, Middlemarch, Don Quixote, Dune, David Copperfield, The Alchemist and Lincoln In The Bardo. As well as several other books that are probably not as culturally important but I have enjoyed quite a bit. That I’m reading a lot again is good. It means I can read things that are important and literary and the crap that I’d been consuming for the past few years. And I’ve got six more of the biggies (and a few smallies I’ve been putting off) before I’m through that project.
  • Watched: I’m still not good at watching things that are good for me. I’ll hit an occasional indie film or documentary, but for the most part, what I’m watching is still junk food. Often very well crafted junk food, like those sundaes from Serendipity or whatever, but still, empty calories
  • Attended: BEST THEATRICAL YEAR OF MY LIFE! It’s amazing how no longer participating in theater has made seeing theater feel essential to me. The Children, Children Of A Lesser God, Once On This Island, My Fair Lady, Angels In America, La Boheme and Don Quixote. I’ve still got a revisit to Hamilton and Springsteen On Broadway coming up and likely a few more.
  • Food: Most of my food exploration has come from cooking rather than eating out and my skills are still basic but improving. I can make Chicken Korma, which is exciting (Though I’m still tweaking my spice mix. It comes out a little too sweet for me every time…)

So that’s my culture year so far. It’s been good.

Fangirl Concert Series: Flogging Molly & Dropkick Murphy’s at The Stone Pony

I’m seeing a bunch of concerts this summer so I figured that I’d talk about them a little bit, y’all up for it?

Anyway, my summer concert scheduled kicked off with seeing the two most famous Celtic Punk bands in existence. (As these things go, I know it’s a niche genre.) Also, the show was at The Stone Pony, (Well, their outdoor summer stage…not the club itself…) which if you know a lot about Rock history, you’ve probably heard of. (As a primer, it’s the small club in Asbury Park, NJ where Springsteen first assembled The E Street Band.)

I was excited for this show, I’ve been a fan of both Flogging Molly and Dropkick for a while, and hadn’t seen either of them live. This was mostly out of fear, if I’m honest. I like a lot of punk music, but a lot of the crowd action freaks me out. I hate moshing and crowd surfing, so if a venue isn’t big enough that I can hang back, I tend to skip it.

Dropkick’s shows in particular, are notorious for their heavy violent pits, because you know, drunk Irish dudes and angry music.

Anyway. I drove down to Asbury on Sunday, worked my way into the summer stage area (gorgeous, really well laid out.) picked up a Coorrs Lite (Only $6! AT A CONCERT VENUE IN THE TRI STATE AREA! I was floored!) and prepared for the Shenanigans.

Shenanigans were had, friends were made, dancing occurred. I preferred Flogging Molly’s set. I’ve always preferred them though, being more of a Ramones type punk than a Sex Pistols one, and thus I place more emphasis on general songcraft than loud emotion. (There are merits to both) But man, when both bands came out and closed the show with “Shipping Out To Boston” it was such a joyous explosion of musical joy that Dropkick may have won the day. (If this were a competition.) Also enjoyable? Flogging Molly congratulating the Mexican World Cup team on their win, and dedicating their song about parenthood to the separated families at the border, to the general uncomfortable rumblings of their audience. (I had found a lovely group of queer ladies by then, and we all WOOOED and clapped, but it was quiet when they said it.) (Also, I was not like, blown away that discussion on ICE activity brought on uncomfortable grumbling from this audience rather than wild applause, but I’m glad it was brought up.) (For the record, I am staunchly AGAINST ripping children away from their parents and putting them in cages and warehouses.) (I have already called my reps about it and so should you. ALSO VOTE IN NOVEMBER!)

Discussion of human atrocities aside, I also just liked their vibe more. Flogging Molly plays like a prototypical rock and roll group, letting the music largely speak for itself, which I think suited the laid back beachy vibe of the venue. Dropkick puts on a heavier show, which was also fun, but way less my scene for this kind of thing.

I’m glad I went and I’ve broken another “single girl” barrier, by going by myself. More solo concerts to come, I’m sure!

The next concert (that I know of, unless something comes up) is Taylor Swift at MetLife Stadium on July 20.

So…that’ll be different than this…almost entirely.

 

I Could Have Danced All Night

Sometimes I just wind up going to see Broadway shows all the time.

Seriously, I’ve had a very good theater year, and I’m planning on taking the summer off, mostly, because of my wallet.  And I’m doing a bunch of concerts instead!

So, on Sunday, after the ultimate theatrical binge watch the was Angels In America, I went for something completely different and took my dad to see My Fair Lady at The Lincoln Center Theater.

My Fair Lady is easily my father’s favorite musical so this was a no brainer. I’m also a fan, and genuinely love all of the music. Also, as a bonus, the cast featured Dame Diana Rigg (YESSS) and Norbert Leo Butz (Widely considered by people who are related to me as the greatest musical theater actor of  his generation.)

The production is beautiful, as one would expect from Lincoln Center, with firm beautiful music direction, strong comedic acting performances, particularly Lauren Ambrose and Harry Hadden-Patten, both of whom I’ve enjoyed in various 90’s teen comedies and X-Files Episodes (Ambrose) and favorite British TV period dramas (Hadden-Patten). They were electric together, as Eliza and Higgins should be, and she hit Eliza’s Julie Andrews Mandated high notes with ease, while he infused actually melody and range into Higgins’s Rex Harrison Mandated talk-sing patter.

The set was beautifully constructed, especially 27A Whimpole Street being on a turntable, which allowed us to move between the study, hall, and front stoop with ease. A directorial choice makes the ending a bit less questionable from a modern sexual politics angle. I loved the details of the costumes, and in general the show was played very naturalistic-ally which with visual gags throughout with the ensemble. (As a frequent flier of the chorus back in my performing days, I always appreciate that kind of thing)

I was happy to see the show and of the big budget revivals currently running, I’m glad a chose this one over the one with the wife beating and carnival. (Carousel sucks!) And in general, I’m happy about my theater in take for the first half of the year. I don’t feel as blindsided by the Tony’s as I did last year. (Though I haven’t seen any of the new musicals. I’m cool with it. I’d like to see The Band’s Visit but Spongebob and Mean Girls can wait…) and I’ve fallen in love with seeing straight plays, something that I used to avoid like the plague. (Turns out all it took was comped tickets, former teen idols and you know, arguably the greatest American play ever written! WHO KNEW!)