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.

Ever Just The Same, Ever A Surprise

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast is not my favorite Disney movie. I love it a lot, and I still think it’s one of the greatest examples of a film musical. (Right behind Singin In The Rain and The Sound Of Music.)  So I had similar if not the same expectations as everyone going into the movie last weekend.

I wasn’t disappointed. Baffled, unsure, and impressed, for sure, but never disappointed.

The basics of Beauty And The Beast remain as they always have been, but the new film manages to add wrinkles and twists to the story you know that are surprising enough to make watching the film engrossing. The characters we know and love are given turns in their paths and depths revealed in their wake.

If I sound a little too poetic I’m sorry, but I was very happy with this movie. I’m obsessed with this cast, with the decision made in it’s screen play, and I could babble on for days about the visual, but I guess I have to focus on one thing at a time.

Let’s start with the cast. Emma Watson is delightful as Belle. There’s none of Hermione’s intensity or bossiness in her quiet thoughtful French village girl, and that’s something of a relief. Watson’s voice is noticeably autotuned in spots, but when it isn’t has a lovely sing song quality that I think suits the piece quite well. Dan Stevens brings a mournful heartbreak to the Beast and “For Evermore” is an excellent addition to the canon of Howard Ashman penned Disney songs. These two were also wonderful together. Kevin Kline. I wish Kevin Kline were in more movies. The only reason I can think that he isn’t is that he is not inclined to be, because he’s ALWAYS SO GOOD! Ian McKellan is wonderful if underused. There’s a lot of comedy to Cogsworth that I think got lost in the more serious tone taken on the overall film, but both he and Emma Thomspson do exceedingly well with their limited scope. I would watch Audra McDonald read the phone book as long as she got to hit a few above the staff notes and the movie grants her that and then some. Ewan McGregor acquits himself well with Lumiere, the one of the servants who I think gets to maintain their original charm. This is probably because Lumiere is the most *ahem* flamboyant, (pun  not intended) his light (Damn, keep walking into those) is harder to dampen.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad are flawless and I want more of them doing musical theater. I hope this movie shows the mainstream what theater people have known about Gad for a long time. There’s more to him than Olaf, not that mainstream comedy has the kind of roles that really suit Gad, but he’s really great here, and Evans makes Gaston’s particular brand of masculine menace chilling.

The screenplays new wrinkles would constitute spoilers if I talked about them too deeply, but I will talk about the deepening characterizations, starting with Gaston and LeFou! The codifying of LeFou’s queerness is interesting, especially as it dawns on him that his adoration of Gaston is both troubling and misplaced, giving a comic sidekick an actual arc is something that I always support and it’s executed well here. Gaston is shown here as a soldier and returning golden boy who finds the provincial town dull after the horror and glory of war. Which is way more interesting than a blustering hunter and a good deal more frightening. He’s enamored of Belle not just because she’s beautiful (though that helps) but because she’s, well, disinterested. There’s an undercurrent of “yes, you and I are above this place” to his attempts to woo her, and that’s fascinating to me.

Maurice also gets a makeover, made less of a buffoon and more of an eccentric and it works. Belle and The Beast, both become wounded motherless children, searching for a connection anywhere they can find it, and it makes their romance deeper, sweeter and sadder all at once.

I didn’t love all of the changes. It seemed strange to turn the village from a quiet, sleepy, slightly backward hamlet to some kind of patriarchal hellscape a la The Republic of Gilead where women aren’t allowed to learn to read and if they’re unmarried or without a father’s protection they’re thrown out into the streets to beg. This seems extreme for a fairytale that’s about seeing past first impressions and I did feel the loss of some of the comedy.

But there’s something deeply instinctual about fairy tales, and Disney’s take on these stories that have been with us forever is so deep in the company’s roots, I’m not surprised that they’re able to execute things well.

City of Stars

la-la-land

In the first time since I started movie season, I walked out of a movie thinking, “this might be one of my new favorite movie.” Not my new favorite super hero movie, not my new favorite comedy, not my new favorite feminist deconstruction of an 80’s classic, but my new favorite movie.

And that’s La La Land. I mean, I’ll have to watch it a few more times to really know if it will stand along side Good Will Hunting or D2: The Mighty Ducks or Dogma or Sabrina or West Side Story, but I think it’s got a good shot. (Yes, I am aware that two of those movies don’t quite fit on that list. And yes I’m leaving it up to you which two those are.)

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling reunite (Crazy Stupid Love once got close to this list.) as two Hollywood dreamers, Mia wants to be an actress and Seb wants to save jazz, specifically by opening his own club. They have a whirlwind romance, punctuated by several old fashioned Hollywood musical numbers and blowing up when their dreams don’t pan out quite how they plan.

I was enjoying the movie the whole time, it’s hard not to be enamored of Gosling and Stone, but it’s the final piece that  pushed it over the top. Flashing forward five years, we see that Mia and Seb’s dreams have come true, but they’re apart. They collide for a moment and in a stunning tribute to An American In Paris, we see a fantasy, all in dance and pantomime of the road not taken.

La La Land is my favorite movie of the year, and might well make it to a totally different level of love for me. We’ll see.

Rankings:

  1. La La Land
  2. Moana
  3. The Nice Guys
  4. Arrival
  5. Don’t Think Twice
  6. Star Wars: Rogue One
  7. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  8. Queen of Katwe
  9. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
  10. Pete’s Dragon
  11. Ghostbusters
  12. Captain America: Civil War
  13. Kubo And The Two Strings
  14. Star Trek Beyond
  15. The Magnificent 7
  16. Doctor Strange
  17. X-Men: Apocalypse
  18. The Legend Of Tarzan
  19. Suicide Squad
  20. Finding Dory
  21. Independence Day: Resurgence
  22. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers:

There were a bunch but mostly FENCES…Oh Good, god Fences. I’ve seen the trailer so many times and I’m still blown away with each one.

 

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.

Cosplay Corner: WORK!

Hey all, Renn Faire got bumped again. (I was able to take pictures this time, but, well, something came up.)

What did happen this week was that I saw Hamilton. So, I decide to pay tribute to it via my closet cosplay this week, and…because of Lora, I’ve very much felt the need to up my game.

I decided the Schuyler sisters were the best way to go, so let’s start.

Angelica Schuyler


This is what I wore on Tuesday to the show. So, I went with a black flippy skirt, a pink tank top with some macrame on top.

I decided to do some focus on jewelry for these in a big way. Angelica got some Tory Burch style earrings (You just know that the Schuyler sisters would be preps.)  and a necklace that was a gift from my friend Cha that says, “Nothing is impossible to a determined woman.”


I wore my riding boots (again prep!) because they also look straight out of the Hamilton costume closet.

Eliza Schuyler


Eliza felt the need to be softer and a little more traditional than Angelica. So, I went with a breezy blue crop top and my pencil skirt, super feminine and very sweet. I also did combat boots though, because she’s sweet but also tough as nails.

Eliza’s jewelry is my oversized pearl earrings and a small necklace with a blue stone and pendant that says “ma soeur” (my sister in French) that my sister got me for Christmas a few years ago.


Peggy Schuyler


Peggy’s the yellow one! Anyway, for Peggy I wore a yellow peasant top and jeans and my frye boots. Again, I’m pushing the prep factor.

Peggy’s jewelry is a pair of stone set earrings and a blue a yellow colored glass pendant that my uncles gave me for Christmas one year and a yellow wooden bangle.

Anyway, that’s what I did this week. I had a lot of fun with it.