Because I Want To Get Better

Rocketman was billed as “A True Musical Fantasy” in all of it’s marketing. What was not highlighted nearly enough in that was musical. I went in expecting a rock and roll bio pic, in the vein of Ray and Walk The Line and yes, Bohemian Rhapsody. I think most people did.

Rocketman isn’t a rock and roll biopic. Well, technically it is. But it’s mostly a musical. Like a real deal, the characters can’t contain their emotions with dialog so they burst into song musical. It’s a musical that tells the life story of Elton John (well, the first half) with his songs, which is why it’s gotten miscategorized, but from about two minutes in, wehn Elton, in full devil drag, sits in a rehab circle and begins talking about his life, he visualizes preteen Reggie Dwight, and adult Elton and Young Reggie go through a verse of “The Bitch Is Back,” to introduce the stifling middle class suburb where he grew up, I realized, “Ohhhh, this is different.”

It’s different in a way that’s pretty well attuned to my taste. I’m a big Elton John fan, and even at their hackiest I love a rock bio (I think it comes from all those lazy Saturday mornings watching Behind The Music on VH1.) and I of course love musicals. (There were a couple of moments, especially the “Benny And Jets” orgy sequence where I was having trouble not thinking of the Fosse of it all.)

Rocketman is flawed, but even it’s flaws are hugely entertaining. Taran Edgerton is perfect, taking John from a wide eyed wunderkind to a sneering petulant spiraling superstar. It’s a powerhouse performance fueled less by physical resemblance than vocal and pure energy. Richard Madden plays John Reid as a kind of swoony devil on John’s shoulder, but it’s also great, because who could say no to anything let alone rock star decadence, when you have Richard Madden making bedroom eyes at you? (Also, it’s weird that Reid has been played on screen by both Petyr Baelish and Robb Stark in the past 2 years, yeah?) If Reid is John’s devil, then the movie casts Bernie Taupin as the voice of his better angels. Jamie Bell makes Taupin a stalwart figure, really the embodiment of the cinematic cowboys he idolized. It’s telling that the script has Bernie code switch between calling his friend “Reg” and “Elton,” and is the only one to do so. (He’s Reggie to his family for the most part, and Elton to Reid.)

The music numbers really make the whole thing worthwhile. “Honky Cat,” was probably my favorite, for it’s sheer MGM Musical on cocaine audacity, though I mentioned the Fosse feeling of “Benny And The Jets,” and Bernie finally walking away to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” is prettily done as well. I’m listening through the soundtrack now, and I’m not sure many of them work as standalone covers, but that’s not the point. (Also the only bio-pic soundtrack versions that I think do are Walk The Line, because Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were doing something very specific vocally there.)

Memory is also a major theme in this movie, and frankly I could write a whole other review just about the ways it deals with memory. I’m going to be thinking about and talking about this movie a lot I think.

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. Rocketman
  3. Detective Pikachu

Trailers

21 Bridges: This movie looks so dumb. If I still had cable I’d probably watch it 1000 times on TNT or whatever.

MIB International: SO SOON.

Yesterday: I can’t wait for this. It really does look wholly delightful.

Downton Abbey: SADHFUIFSHGNIRNBHIVNHGIDLSJLFGHIUFHGNRFJNRI. I am so excited for Downton Abbey. It’s embarrassing. No one should be this excited for the fucking Downton Abbey movie, but I AM. I can live with a disappointing GOT finale, I’ll even survive if The Rise Of Skywalker flounders but if Downton Abbey isn’t FAN FREAKING TASTIC, I will be quite put out, and I may even go to the garden to cry silently and miss the dressing gong.

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Rivers Belong Where They Can Ramble

Who’s watching Fosse/Verdon?

You should be. It’s remarkable.

Michelle Williams is a goddamned treasure and God bless the American theater!

Last week’s episode focused on Bob Fosse’s breakdown the year he directed Pippin and Liza With A Z and Cabaret opened in theaters.

Pippin is a show I love deeply and quietly. It’s a weird duck even as 70s musicals go. (It was a strange decade for Broadway.) But I love it’s quirky of it’s moment score, it’s sketchy easily reinvented book and it’s silly shallower than a frisby characters.

Fosse/Verdon uses the framework of Pippin, the story of a striver pushing to be the ultimate embodiment of glory and greatness, realizing how hollow that is, to show how Fosse couldn’t get there. The haunting rendition of “I Guess I’ll Miss The Man,” performed by Nicole Fosse here, fit perfectly, as her father fantasized about his own suicide cementing his place in history. (My God, he’d earned that place already, though Chicago was still a twinkle.)

They also show Fosse and Steven Schwartz arguing about the ending of Pippin, Fosse wants the blaze of glory, Schwartz says that’s not the point. (Think about the sun…)

This has been a weird few weeks for me. I’m circling the ending of Game Of Thrones and the step off point on The MCU has passed, and Star Wars is coming to a close as well. But one time last year, Katie shook her head, when I was talking about dating, and how annoyed I get when people aren’t interested in things. “Well, it’s annoying for you because you’re interested in so many things, and if there’s no overlap, that person is probably boring.”

I am interested in so many things, this is true. And sometimes I get tunnel vision and forget that. A part of the joy for me of this blog and of nerd life in general is getting to move around to things that are interesting me at the moment. Going back all in on superheroes the past six months has been fun.

Maybe I will get back into musical history after Fosse/Verdon, it’s certainly feeling like something I want to read about, and watch old musicals and such. And it’s not as though it’s something I don’t know a lot about.

Endings are also beginning.

I’m going to find my corner.

Also, watch this show, Holy crap it’s good!

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! 

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.

If You See The Wonder Of A Fairy Tale

Mamma Mia

The thing about Mamma Mia is that if you go in knowing what you’re getting, you’re going to come out completely satisfied. This is a bizarre fantasy world, situated somewhere between musical theater and karaoke where famous beautiful people hang out on a Greek island singing Abba songs.

It’s neither complicated, nor is it particularly great, but it’s deeply entertaining and delightful.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! absolutely delivers on those expectations and then some, thanks to some deeply earnest and lovely performances by Amanda Seyfried and Lilly James.

Then of course that all goes absolutely out the window because Cher shows up, playing basically herself, and she and Andy Garcia sing “Fernando” and it’s wonderful and perfect.

Look, this is an impossible movie to review, I just know that I’m really glad I saw it. First of all, I have more Abba songs to learn, and I have such a crush on Lilly James. Although the whole enterprise could have been improved by Mamie or Grace Gummer playing young Donna and either Bill or Aleksander Skaarsgard playing young Bill. (Or not, because Bill and Aleks are kind of terrifying.) (RIP ALAN PANGBORN!)

The movie is so great and fun, and splashy and lovingly performed and the end credits performance of “Super Trooper” might be the greatest rendition of the song ever. (Because CHER! And giving the dad’s BEERS! And Dominic Cooper’s costume! And everything.)

Mostly, I was happy to see this movie with my mom, and we both wished that Mary could be there too.

And I’m definitely watching Mamma Mia! as I write this review. And it’s as stupid and wonderful as I remembered.

Rankings

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

Trailers

The Wife: I’ve heard this is amazing. I might read the book before I watch it.

First Man: It’s been a minute since we had a NASA movie, so cool.

Boy Erased: Is conversion therapy the new AIDS of gay cinema? I’m ok with it, it’s fertile drama ground…but yeah. This looks like it might win Russell Crowe another Oscar…

 

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.

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!)