Archive | April, 2010

It’s Not "Jazz Hands Green Day"

26 Apr

For many years, Broadway’s been trying to hop a ride on the rock and roll bandwagon. The results haven’t always been spectacular. For every Rent or The Who’s Tommy, there’s a less successful effort that’s not even worth naming. So it’s with tempered expectations that the Great White Way welcomes the latest attempt to bring rock to Broadway, American Idiot. The show, which opened last week and which I saw Saturday night, is about as authentic a “rock musical” as you’ll find and a real blast of youthful energy, but it’s not without its problems.

American Idiot uses every song from Green Day’s award-winning album of the same name, plus a handful from the band’s follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown, and a couple of unreleased b-sides. It enhances the music by adding a story of three friends who seek an escape from their dead-end suburban lives but don’t find any happiness: Johnny moves to the city and develops an addiction to a girl and heroin; Tunny decides to ship off to Iraq, where he falls victim to the horrors of war; and Will doesn’t even get to leave town because he’s accidentally impregnated his girlfriend.

As the show begins, we’re barraged by a wall of sound and screens — George Bush, American Idol, Donald Trump, etc. — that set the scene: We’re in the “recent past,” a time of media saturation and too much noise. Just this little burst of instant replay is enough to put you on edge. Then the opening guitar chords of the title song ring out and we meet the cast of angry young men and women. How do we know they’re angry? Because they stomp their feet, thrust their bodies forward in hard motions, throw their fists in the air, and sing with rage and intensity. (It’s not exactly subtle.)

But anyway, at first, it’s a little off-putting to hear Green Day’s songs sung with harmonies and to see them choreographed. After all, this is not exactly the kind of music you dance to. But don’t get the wrong idea: This is not “jazz hands Green Day.” By the end of the second song, “Jesus of Suburbia,” any awkwardness is moot. That’s because of two of the show’s biggest assets: One, Tom Kitt’s awesome arrangements/orchestrations. Kitt, who was in my high school graduating class, and who won the Pulitzer Prize recently for Next to Normal, has maintained the integrity of the songs’ punk rock origins while opening up many of them, and even making a handful of the tracks sound better. “21 Guns” is a particular favorite of mine. Maybe you saw the cast performing it at the Grammy Awards earlier this year.

The other asset is the incredible cast. You kind of wish the Tonys had an award for best ensemble (like the Screen Actors Guild Awards does) because this cast would win it hands down. Each person gives a high-energy, fully-committed performance, and they all work together expertly. While I hesitate to mention anyone in particular, one person did stand out for me: Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatshername) — and not because she spends most of her time on stage walking around in not much more than her underwear. When she first appears, during “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and adds her voice to the testosterone-filled air, it makes the song even more powerful. Jones’ other vocal contributions (“21 Guns” among them) are equally impressive. I wish she had more to do.

There are a lot of great moments in the show. I liked “Extraordinary Girl,” with its high-flying acrobatics, and thought “When September Ends” was a musical highpoint. I thought the direction of the show (by Spring Awakening‘s Michael Mayer) made the most of a stylishly minimalist set. And I liked that the 95-minute show moves forward at a great pace and doesn’t stop or slow down for an intermission. On the other hand, I didn’t think there was much about the three lead characters that made me want to root for them, other than the fact that one is played by John Gallagher Jr., best known for his Tony-winning performance in Spring Awakening. Johnny doesn’t really have a great story arc, and when he retreats back home at the end of American Idiot, you get the sense that he’s no better off than when he left. Also, I respect the show’s creators’ desire to preserve the order of the songs from the original American Idiot album, but after the emotional and musical peak of “Homecoming,” “Whatshername” feels like an unnecessary, rather anti-climactic coda. I’d have inserted “Whatshername” before the last section of “Homecoming” (i.e., “We’re Coming Home Again”).

American Idiot didn’t, ahem, rock my world like Spring Awakening did, but despite any issues I had, I still really enjoyed it. After all, the music is awesome, and as noted above, it’s put to great use in this show. I dare say this is the best, most hummable, most instantly memorable score on Broadway — at least compared to some other shows I’ve seen in recent years. I foresee myself listening to the original cast recording repeatedly, and I see American Idiot enjoying a long, successful Broadway run.

On the Town

12 Apr

In Date Night, Steve Carell and Tina Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, the prototypical suburban New Jersey couple who, with busy jobs and two kids, feel like they’ve too-easily slipped into the role of great roommates rather than happily marrieds.

Even worse: They’re in a rut and are too exhausted to do anything about it.

So one night, in an attempt to do something different (instead of their weekly dinner at a local restaurant where they always order the same thing), Phil decides to take Claire into New York City and to a hot new restaurant they’ve been wanting to try. Suffice it to say, “date night” doesn’t go as planned after they claim to be another couple at the restaurant.

Soon, the couple get caught in the middle of a case of mistaken identity involving corrupt cops, a mobster, and the District Attorney. Continue reading

Get Abby a SAG Card

8 Apr

Wanted to share the third video I made with my niece, Abby.

It’s definitely the best of the trilogy — partly because she’s totally cute in it and partly because I finally learned how to use my editing software to, you know, edit.

The video’s only 40 seconds long, so give it a quick play. As I said, Abby’s totally cute in it.

And if you smile, why not share it on your Facebook page or in your Twitter feed? Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkOo9i6cq48.

Thanks!

Taking It Back

7 Apr

The truth is, Passover really isn’t such a bad holiday. I’d rather have a limited diet for eight days than not be able to eat for one, as is the case on Yom Kippur. But that doesn’t make the end of the holiday any less enjoyable. Last night, as the sun went down, I indulged my two other Passover traditions: eating a pasta dinner from Bertucci’s and taking my extra food back to Star Market. After all, if I’m going to be overcharged for the food, then why shouldn’t I take back all the things I didn’t need when the holiday is over? (I like to think of it as my way of sticking it to the Man.) This year, I had plenty of extra food to return — due to the fact that I brought back a lot of leftovers from New York (mmm … mom’s brisket), and the fact that I ate smarter during the week. I brought back a box of Coffee Cake mix, two cans of tuna fish, a jar of gefilte fish, and a jar of jelly. The grand total for all that: $20.15. I’d call that a success. So … Happy end of Passover. Martin: 1, The Man: 0.

Sightseeing with Flat Stanley

6 Apr

Thought I’d share something fun with y’all.

At the start of the school year, my friend’s 8-year-old son, Sam, informed me that he had chosen me to represent the state of Massachusetts for a class project. Later in the year, I’d be asked to host his Flat Stanley and take him around to various places of my own choosing. At each place, I should take pictures. For months I waited while Sam’s classmates (who were responsible for two states each) covered the country, and finally, it was my turn. So, these past two weekends, I took Stanley around, showing him all the important sights you’d want to show a cardboard cutout. We went to Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall, the State House, the Freedom Trail, Harvard Square, Cheers, Copley Square, MIT, Sugar Heaven, and more.

I have to admit, it was good, albeit slightly awkward, fun for me. Every time I’d take Stanley out of the envelope, someone with a kid would walk by and yell, “Hey look! He has a Flat Stanley!” or something like that. When I stood next to a Duck Boat to take a picture, multiple people on the tour commented on what I was doing and laughed.

But that said, it was amazing to me how many people knew exactly what I was doing because they’d either done it themselves or had seen someone else doing it. And some were really nice about it. A guy at Fenway let me park in a no-parking zone so I could get a quick photo. One of those Revolutionary War soldier guys on Boston Common posed for a picture with Stanley. And a woman at the Coop in Harvard Square didn’t just refrain from laughing when I asked about putting Stanley in one of the tshirts — she went and got me some tape so he’d stay still.

Anyway … the photos from Stanley’s tour are amusing, so I thought I’d share. Anywhere else you’d have gone?

In Over His Head

5 Apr

In The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor plays, yes, a ghostwriter who is hired to craft the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), the former UK Prime Minister. (What? You thought folks like that wrote their own books?) McGregor’s character (who is never actually given a name) is on the clock to deliver a manuscript to the publisher in a month. As if that’s not already a challenge, Lang’s former ghostwriter has just turned up dead, the Prime Minister (clearly modeled after Tony Blair) is being accused of war crimes, and his life story is awfully suspicious. Soon enough, writing the memoir is the least of the problems the ghostwriter has to deal with.

Directed by Roman Polanski, and featuring a cast that includes McGregor, Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Timothy Hutton, Tom Wilkinson, and Eli Wallach, The Ghost Writer is a mostly engaging film. McGregor gives a great performance, the story is well told, and I was entertained throughout. That said, a few of the accents are not always convincing (Cattrall never convincingly passes for a Brit, for example, and that makes her a really weak link in the cast) and the film goes on a bit too long. I liked The Ghost Writer, but I’m only going to give it a B.

I Love These Days

3 Apr

During the cold winter months, my friend Todd often asks me why I don’t leave the northeast and move out to Los Angeles, where he lives. After all, it never snows there and the weather is near perfect more often than it’s not (just like Randy Newman sang in his famous song). Well, you want to know why? It’s because of days like today. Days so nice and warm and sunny and clear, days that come after a long cold winter and lots of heavy rain, days that you can’t help but appreciate because they haven’t happened for a few months. (Not including the tease a couple weeks ago.) Do the Los Angelenos notice the change of seasons? Doubtful. But we do here in Boston, and it’s awesome living here this time of year.

Everything’s better in the springtime in Boston. The temperatures are warmer. The skies are bluer. Clouds are fewer. Ice cream tastes better. People are more social. They’re better looking too. Baseball’s back and hope for the Sox springs eternal. Moods are better. More stuff’s going on. People are out in the street, shedding layers and smiling. I’ve got a more positive, optimistic outlook on life. To put it most simply, I’m happier. (I guess there really is something to be said for that Seasonal Affective Disorder crap after all.)

Today and tomorrow it’s going to be near 80 degrees. I’ve got my shorts on and a tshirt, and I’m ready to get outside and do stuff. Hopefully the bad weather is all behind us now. But even if it’s not, to paraphrase Billy Joel, “I love these days” and I can’t wait to enjoy them.