No Day But Today

Sometimes I have to make myself very strict rules, when it comes to my media consumption. It’s usually for my own good, sometimes it’s completely arbitrary and it’s often for a reason that would seem nonsensical to an outsider.

A big one, that some people might think is very strange, started a few years ago. “I’m not ever going to encounter Rent on purpose.”

I won’t listen to it.

I won’t watch the movie. (Not that I’d want to, ugh, it’s so awful)

I won’t watch the filmed closing night performance. (Much better than the movie and still includes Tracy Thoms’s transcendent Joanne. With JV Elphaba Eden Espinosa as Maureen no less!)

This rule is in place for a few reasons. It keeps me from swirling down a bizarre hole of nostalgia, disappointment and obsession. It keeps me from poking holes in a piece of art that meant a lot to me once, means less to me now and which I know is DEEPLY, DEEPLY flawed. And mostly, it keeps me from boring the people around me with conversation about Rent. Because, and I mean this kindly, most normal humans ran out of things to say about Rent in either 1998, or when they turned 19. Whichever came first.

I could talk about Rent forever. I could talk about the original cast and how I still clap with raucous joy every time I see any of them in anything. (Remember on Smash when Daphne Ruben Vega and Jesse L. Martin were on it?) I could talk about how the replacement casts shaped Broadway talent for a generation and are still shaping it in certain ways. (Not least of all because of Hamilton and Lin-Manuel’s admitted affection for the show and it’s style.) I could talk about Jonathan Larson, the stranger than fiction circumstances of his death, the good work done by his family in his name, and speculate about what theater would look like if he’d lived. (My guess? A lot fewer revivals & movie adaptations. A lot more rock operas about gay people.)

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that on Friday, I half broke the rule. I was listening to my Spotify “Weekly Discovery Playlist” and the first track off of Anthony Rapp’s Without You: A Musical Memoir, his recreation of his audition for Rent came on. I then spent my lunch hour listening through Without You, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, since the book Without You is one of my all time favorite memoirs. (It’s about his mom dying as much as it’s about Rent and it.is.stunning.) And as Anthony recreated his memories of the show, my own came rushing back and I knew that I needed to at the very least listen to the OBC again.

Since I had a 2 hour drive to Juli’s that night, I had the perfect opportunity.

It’s funny, the things that come back to you with music. Seeing Rent for the first time with my brother. Parking lot and diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with my summer stock friends after rehearsals. Learning the alto line to “Seasons of Love” with at least 3 different choir directors. Screaming with joy as my name got called for the front lottery when Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp were back in the show for a few weeks. My friend Ali and I dressing in our bohemian best to go see the movie on opening night. (Cannot reiterate it enough, DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE. Do however, listen to the movie versions of “Seasons of Love,” “Out Tonight,” and “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” Jesse Martin, Tracy Thoms and Rosario Dawson make those songs worthwhile.)

And then there’s the show and the album itself. The beauty of the music, the emotions of the story, and the urgency and earnestness of the whole thing. Looking at it as an adult, “One Song Glory,” and both versions of “I’ll Cover You,” feel much more at the heart of the whole thing than “La Vie Boheme” and “Seasons,” though as an adult, I’ve also come around on “Seasons of Love,” which while overused and misused as it has been, is just a beautifully composed choral number and achingly melancholy in a way that a teenager could never in a hundred years understand.

But there’s also an oddness to the show now. It was written when Idina Menzel’s wailing belt was trangressive and edgy, when thinking about Angel’s gender identity was taboo and confusing, when the New York I know didn’t exist, and gentrification wasn’t yet a foregone conclusion. That gives it a time capsule quality that makes it hard to evaluate outside of it’s moment.

Idina’s probably the most interesting case of the original cast. Rent made her a star theatrically, and Wicked cemented it, and while I love that I now live in a world where she and Lin-Manuel Miranda are household names, it’s weird, and half the time when people talk about Frozen, I really really want them to listen to “Over The Moon.” Not just because making people listen to “Over The Moon” out of context is hilarious, but because the image of Elsa shouting, “NOT IN MY BACKYARD UTENSILS GO BACK TO CHINA!” breaks a lot of people’s brains. The rest of the casts’ evolution makes more sense. Adam Pascal is still a theater guy, Anthony Rapp and Daphne Ruben Vega became working character actors, who it is always a joy to see. Jesse Martin became everyone’s favorite cop/dad (Sometimes both!). Taye Diggs was swallowed into Shondaland. (I actually think Taye should be a much bigger star than he is, but you know…whatever.) But Idina as Disney Supernova still baffling to me, in a very good way.

As you can see, I could keep babbling for ages about this. Which is why I have the don’t listen to Rent rule.

 

There Are Other Worlds Than These

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, which way to Never never land?

Emerald City’s gone to hell, since the Wizard blew off his command.

On the street you hear the voices, lost children, crocodiles.

But you’re not into making choices, Wicked Witches, poppy fields or men behind the curtain.

Tiger lilies, ruby slippers, clock is ticking that’s for certain. – “30/90”, Tick, Tick…Boom, by Jonathan Larson

Because of my foray into The Dark Tower (I’m through The Wastelands now, and it’s amazing, and I love it, and I remember the face of my father.) I’ve been thinking about other worlds in fiction.

I’m not talking about other planets, or even alternate realities. So that leaves out things like Mirror Worlds and Bizzarro Worlds, and even realms like Middle Earth, or Westeros or Tortall.

I’m talking about other worlds, that exist in some space near or in our own, and you access them through some sort of magic. I’m talking about your Narnia, your Wonderland, your Neverland, your Oz.

While I’m not sure if there strange desert world of Roland The Gunslinger is actually another world, and not a far flung future of our own, (NO SPOILERS! I’ve been spending the month restraining myself from Googling more about this series because I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW UNTIL I KNOW!) for the moment I’m treating it as someplace else.

Mainly I’ve been thinking about how you view those worlds as an adult, as opposed to as a child. The lyrics I posted above are from Tick Tick…BOOM, and are technically about anxiety about turning 30, which also, coming, and also, GAH trying so hard not to think about…although if in the next 6 years I can create something as indelliably awesome as Jonathan Larson did with Rent I think I’d be OK…I mean, not the dying at 35, without ever SEEING my creation completed part, but the writing something as resonant as Rent part. So much art about aging anxiety is about the destruction of childhood, and the wish expressed in “30/90” is to trade Oz for Neverland, as if one imploded and the other is just there waiting.

“Go on then,” Jake, the young boy who becomes the closest companion of Roland, says as he falls to his death in The Gunslinger, “there are other worlds than these.” Maybe there’s something about 30 that makes me want to seek out new worlds, or giving up on seeing them altogether, but this year has me being really introspective and kind of wishing I was someplace else. This is a general feeling, not one that I plan to act on and since the places I’m dwelling on don’t really exist, they aren’t really an option.

Emerald City’s gone to hell, since the wizard blew off his command.

 

 

I Didn’t Ask To Be A Half-Blood

LightningThiefPlay-300x300In case you’re new, you may not know that I have a few what I call “baseline” obsessions. They’re not the fundamentals of nerdiness, as deep in my bones as Star Wars, Harry Potter or Les Mis. But they’re things I come back to over and over, with love and joy and excitement, but I can detach myself enough to view them critically. Batman, The Collective Television Work of Aaron Sorkin, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, Game of Thrones. 

A big one, a big big one is the connected mythological work of Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson And The Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase And The Gods of Asgard, and The Trials of Apollo, are semi-annual joys to visit. (One book generally comes out in the spring, another in the fall…) They’re also, one of the earliest bits of nerd bonding that Aless and I came to. (The summer we became besties Sea Of Monsters, the movie, came out. We moaned over it’s disappointments together.) So, when we learned the there was going to be a musical of The Lighting Thief, we got tickets as soon as possible for the first Saturday night performance.  I also reread all of the Greek/Roman books.

The show itself is really great, capturing the sort of cheeky, totally epic fun of the books, and giving fans a lot to grab on to, especially given the various characters on display. At Camp Halfblood, necessary for the plot characters Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Luke are joined by Clarisse LaRue, Silena Beuaregard and Katie Gardner, with a brief mention of Charles Beckindorf. (Though it’s that he’s cheating on Silena, something he would NEVER DO. HE DIED LOVING HER SO MUCH THAT HE WAITED TO ENTER ELYSIUM FOR HER!) Grover sings a whole song about Thalia’s sacrifice, and there’s even a cameo in the Lotus Hotel and Casino of a girl who’s been there since May of 1939. (Yes, demigods, we see, though only for a moment, Bianca DiAngelo! She also mentions her brother. Aless and I spazzed accordingly)

As a musical it’s entertaining, with a few truly good songs, though the theater lover in me, did have to roll my eyes at a few elements. “We get it, you love Rent!” I mumbled at one point, while Chris McCarrell as Percy raged against his bad luck to a pounding drum beat while jumping around a set constructed mostly of scaffolding. But McCarrell really did well with a character I have a great deal of affection towards and said song, “Good Kid,” has been stuck in my head since leaving the theater. I was equally impressed with Kristen Stokes as Annabeth, particularly her big solo song, but my favorite cast member was James Hayden Rodriguez, who played Luke Castellan as well as Ares and a couple of other parts. (Most of the cast doubled or tripled roles.) Luke is definitely in my top 3 favorite Riordan characters (Number 1 is Leo Valdez and the 2 spot rotates between Luke and Rachel Elizabeth Dare, depending on my mood.) And this performance really got what I liked about Luke, the charm, the anger, the sheer heartbreaking grief when this guy you can’t help but like stabs you in the back.

I was really happy with the show and even happier to see it with my best friend. (I came cosplayed as Annabeth, and Aless provided us some blue food.) We then proceeded to drink approximately all of the Tequila in The Village, but overall we had a great night, and now I’m just waiting on the cast album.

And the possibility of a sequel? Maybe? While the escalating weirdness and ballooning cast of Percy Jackson might make for a tough fit on stage, I’d still love to see this group give it a shot.

You Can’t Stop The Beat

hairspray-promo-gives-first-look-at-cast-in-costume

 

I love Hairspray.

Like love it, love it.

There were nights in high school where it seemed like the only thing helping me hold on to my sanity was belting “Good Morning Baltimore” in my friend Lauren’s car.

“I Can Hear the Bells,” was a go to audition piece when I needed to show that I could “act.” (I cannot act, I can be cute in “I Can Hear The Bells,” and mildly affecting in “Nothing,” from A Chorus Line.) A theater camp show where a group of us acted out scenes and songs, as though we were girls at a pajama party in the 60’s was a highlight of my career. (The high point was playing Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man.) 

Anyway, this show matters to me in a big way. So, I was excited for NBC’s live version, especially after The Wiz was so fantastic, and Grease Live, upped the ante on what this kind of programming could do.

Hairspray Live, did not live up. It wasn’t actively bad, but it wasn’t anything special, outside of a few really great performances. Overall, I think moving the production to LA and away from Broadway talent was a big mistake. The things that propped up even the weaker points of The Sound Of Music Live and Peter Pan Live were the true blue Broadway vets giving it their all. And the pros pulled it out again for Hairspray.

Harvey Fierstien, Kristin Chenoweth, Martin Short, Derek Hough and Jennifer Hudson were outstanding. Even newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy turned in a decent performance, full of vulnerability and she’s got the voice for sure. But with the exception of Dove Cameron’s consumate mean girl Amber, the young cast seemed out of sync with each other and the piece. Garret Clayton and Ariana Grande in particular seemed miscast, neither of them understanding the comedy of their characters and in Grande’s case, a bad fit for the singing too.

This felt like a huge step back. We’ll see how things go next time around with a Jennifer Lopez lead Bye Bye Birdie. (Now, Clayton I could see doing very well as Conrad Birdie, as the swoony “It’s Takes Two” was the only part of his performance that I liked.)

But I’m still happy that this exists. This has been a big couple of years for musical theater, and it feels like we’re not going to get shoved back in our weird little corner anymore, and I’m psyched about that.

But this performance, when Billy Eichner came out at the end, I expected him to start shouting and smashing things, telling them that they were desecrating something beautiful.

He didn’t, but that would have been funnier than “Without Love,” a hilarious song that was played straight.

Things I’m Obsessed With Right Now: Indian Summer

Summer seems to be finally breaking and I’m thrilled about that. I love fall and here’s a bunch of the stuff that I’m using to wait out the heat, so we get to the time of year of tights, sweaters and boots. (I’ve already started with boots though…)

Anyway, here we go:

  • Gilmore Guys: I mean obviously, but I’ve been listening to it like crazy, not at the expense of my other podcasts, but a whole lot.
  • “Nobody’s Crying” a song by Sutton Foster about her divorce from Christian Borle. It’s on her solo album Wish. It’s melancholy and heartbreaking and perfect, and I’ve loved it for a while, but Crystan and I listened to it while we were driving into the city on Saturday and my love for it has sprung anew. Listen to it, I swear you won’t be disappointed.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena…WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW? I should explain, despite a long list of anime that friends I love and trust have recommended to me, I decided instead to dive into this one because, “The Mary Sue says that it heavily inspired Steven Universe.” As I have previously noted, I will do just about anything The Mary Sue tells me to, so I clicked it on Hulu and now I’m sucked in when I should finally be watching Stranger Things or at least Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood like everyone I know told me to. And yet now I’m sucked into this weird anime about sword fighting and lesbians and incest where everything might just be happening inside of the characters heads or whatever. But it’s fantastic and I love it and I think Utena might be my new favorite protagonist in anything (Sorry Korra.) Mostly because I love a passive protagonist. (Sup Harry Potter?) And Utena doesn’t really do anything except wear a totally stylish blazer and get dragged along by the plot. I’ll do a full post about it when I finish, but it’s taking up a lot of my time and brain power.
  • My friend Lora’s daily closet cosplays! She’s putting me to shame you guys! Check out her Tumblr and Instagram (@dailycasualcosplay)!
  • Party Planning! I made the facebook event for my birthday party this year and I’m really excited about it. My costume is done, which means I can focus on the other fun stuff, liked themed food and drinks, decorations, and entertainment options! I’m really excited about it.
  • Comic Con planning. I’m so organized that I’m worried I’m missing something. But I’m going to just let it go. (LET IT GOOOO…)

So that’s what I’m doing right now. See you tomorrow with more stuff!

Jellicle Cats Come Out Tonight

I went to go see Cats on Broadway last week. And here’s a thing that I’d forgotten, how much I love Cats.

I’ve said a few times that I’m trying really hard to remove ironic detachment from my cultural experience. There’s too much content that I do enjoy to spend time on stuff that I don’t like but want to mock. But I went to Cats deeply unsure if I was going to be able to enjoy it genuinely or not.

It’s an easy show to mock, because it’s weird enough that you can’t quite call it mainstream, but schlocky and successful enough that it’s certainly not considered “arty.” But it’s most certainly experimental, and strange and oddly beautiful.

Cats is a show that I think means more to theater performers my age than just fans. We saw this show when we were little and we sang these songs and approximated these dances and there’s something beautiful about that.

So I didn’t ironically enjoy Cats,  didn’t laugh at it’s corny approach, didn’t mock the actors. I loved every moment of it, genuinely and deep in my bones. I walked around for days after singing “Skimblehshanks The Railway Cat” and practically skipping.

It was all great.

West Covina!!!! CALIFORNIA!!!!

I did a thing this weekend. I mean, I didn’t actually do much. I sat around a lot. But I did a bunch of cosplay work, and watch a ton of TV and so, here we are.

I had a plan though. I was going to eat left overs, and binge something. I landed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

This show is perfect. I should have always been watching this show. I mean, I enjoyed watching Supergirl live, especially because it was a piece of superhero material that my mom liked. But a dark comedy musical about a girl who stalks a summer fling to his crappy LA suburb ten years later? That is a show my mom would have liked even more. (And I like a LOT more.)

My favorite song is probably “I’m The Villain In My Own Story,” just for fun factor, but oh my god is “You Stupid Bitch,” the soundtrack of my life. And “If I Wanted To,” is a joy.

I’ve drunk the Kool Aid. At the moment that I write this, I’m sitting in my room, listening to the soundtrack (with the commentary! There is so much to get overly analytical about!) I can’t believe that I waited so long to get into this show.

Oh, and obviously, Team Greg! And not just because Santino Fontana is the best. (He is. This is objective truth…) But because Greg likes Rebecca even though she’s a nutbar. AND HE’S A LITERAL DISNEY PRINCE. But, he’s probabaly an alcoholic, and totally miserable, and that’s not great.

I get the Josh thing, though, he’s adorable. And sweet and can do so many backflips!

I also understand that the show is trying to show us that love triangles aren’t the point. I see that, but I’m a horrible shipping garbage person and this show makes it hard for me to totally disconnect that.

Anyway, I like the show, I love the characters and I super love the music. You should watch this show. The End.