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Yes, I Hear the People Sing. Please Make Them Stop

19 Dec

les_miserables_french_posterI had a dream Les Miz would be … so much better than the movie it is.

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but despite all the hype that would lead you to believe the big-screen adaptation of the beloved musical Les Misérables is the best thing since sliced bread, the movie left me feeling lukewarm.

And I don’t say that lightly. Like so many others who grew up in New York, Les Misérables played a significant role during my formative years. I first saw it in 1987, in London, on a trip with my grandparents. I also saw the show on Broadway, and I heard songs like “On My Own” over and over in talent shows at summer camp and in school, and at other performances where young girls got up to sing.

So suffice it to say, I had a bit of history going into this one, and expectations were high.

Oh well.

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Do You Wanna Rock?

14 Jun

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you do it.

So much more than simply Glee for Grownups, the big-screen version of Rock of Ages features a cast of big-name stars (mostly) letting out their inner rock gods and giving audiences what may be the most fun movie of the summer.

I mean, what else do you expect from a movie that’s set in 1987 on the seedy side of the Sunset Strip, and features actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Paul Giamatti, and Russell Brand singing classic cheesy hair-metal songs by Whitesnake, Poison, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, and others?

I’m not sure I’d say “it don’t get better than this,” but if you’re looking for “nothin’ but a good time,” then Rock of Ages is damn near close to, yes, Paradise City. Continue reading

The Song Remains the Same for “Once”

11 Apr

Like the movie it’s based on, Once the stage musical (which I saw last week) begins in unassuming fashion.

The stage has been “converted” to a pub, where audience members can go for a drink before the show (and during intermission). The ensemble is right there on stage performing Irish and Czech folk songs, in a seemingly impromptu jam session, and patrons are treated as if it’s just another night in the pub.

Gradually, all the audience members are led back to their seats, and without any fanfare, there’s someone “new” on stage, who the ensemble parts ways to let sing.

And does he ever.

With broken-hearted passion, this Guy belts out “Leave,” a slow-burn song about his girlfriend, who has left Dublin — and him.

Slowly the lights go down and the show has begun.

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29 Nov

What can a guy like Harry Potter teach me about how to succeed in business without really trying?

Well, maybe not a whole lot, but he sure can school me about how to succeed on Broadway.

In the current revival of the musical, the boy wizard himself, Daniel Radcliffe, plays window cleaner J. Pierrepont Finch, who, with the help of Shepherd Mead’s book of the same name, quickly rises up the ranks at a large corporation where no one really knows what anyone else is doing, and a smart, savvy, and charming guy like Finch can get ahead just by knowing the right people and saying the right things at the right time.

The show was first produced in 1961, and was revived in 1995 with Matthew Broderick and a pre–Will & Grace Megan Mullally in the lead roles.

This production opened in March, and I finally got a chance to see it over the weekend when I was in New York. Continue reading

Those Good and Crazy People

16 Jun

The truth is, I’m not anti-marriage. One day I hope to find someone I love enough to want to spend the rest of my life with — and hopefully she’ll feel the same way about me. But until that happens, I’m a perpetual third- or fifth-wheel. And admittedly, I go back and forth between being alright about it and yes, being lonely. Kind of like Bobby, the lead character in Stephen Sondheim’s Company. The classic musical, one of my all-time favorites, was recently revived in New York with a cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Patti LuPone, Jon Cryer, and Christina Hendricks, and for a brief time, you can watch a recording of those performances on the big screen.

Company has no real plot. It’s basically a collection of anecdotes strung together as 35-year-old Bobby (Harris) goes from couple to couple, each of them either doting on him or too wrapped up in themselves to notice Bobby’s not comfortable being around them. None of the couples presents a real good example of why Bobby should want to be married, and yet they all feel sorry for him because he’s not married. What does Bobby himself want? He doesn’t seem to know, nor does he seem to be in any rush to figure that out. As a result, he continues to be emotionally detached, watching everyone live their lives while he is essentially watching from the outside. As one friend tells him on her wedding day, “I’m afraid to get married, and you’re afraid not to.”

The show is awesome for a number of reasons, one of them being Sondheim’s songs, which at times have such a contemptuous attitude toward married people, and at times hit the single person’s conflicted attitude toward settling down right on the nose. The show is funny, thought provoking, insightful, and not the typical “jazz hands” kind of musical. And as a 37-year-old singleton, I can identify with a lot of it.

The last time I saw Company, five years ago, the show left a real impression on me. So any future productions get measured against that one. This one just didn’t have that same effect. Produced by the New York Philharmonic, the draw here was certainly the cast. However, the talent across the board was mixed. Harris makes for a truly charming Bobby; it’s not hard to see why all these people would love him. He’s more than capable of carrying the show, and his performance is eager to please. The problem is that while Harris has a fine singing voice, it’s just not as strong as the character requires. For example, “Marry Me a Little” was fine, but “Someone Is Waiting” sounded like it was more of a challenge.

Among his co-stars, the acting was good, but again, singing was the real problem. Songs like “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” sounded off, and, well, Cryer, Colbert, and Hendricks aren’t known for their singing anyway. Better were Martha Plimpton and especially Kate Finneran, whose “Not Getting Married” was one of the show’s highlights. And then there was LuPone, whose performance was the best of the lot, not surprisingly. “The Ladies Who Lunch” was definitely the show’s peak.

In addition, the show felt long and it dragged at times. I seem to recall the 2006 revival using an abbreviated book, and this production had no such tweaks. Also, the recording was basically a video of the show and not a high def film, which made watching the show on screen instead of live less engaging and fun. It wasn’t exactly a home video, and it wasn’t a film either. I never knew if I should be applauding, even though that seemed to be the natural reaction.

So is it worth finding a theater showing Company in the next couple days? Perhaps only if you’re a devoted fan. Otherwise, check out the well produced DVD from the much more elegant 2006 revival.

2010’s Entertainment Stays with Me

31 Dec

A couple nights ago, I re-watched the series finale of Lost for the first time in about four months.

I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it as much, if not more than, I did when the episode first aired in May, and the last time I watched it back when the DVD was first released in August — and that’s not just because I’m still blown away by how great Evangeline Lilly looked in that black dress.

That’s a relief, because when the finale aired, I was lamenting the end of one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

The last episode of Lost not only lived up to the hype, but it endures and continues to be great. Continue reading

Chatting About Culture with Mr. Crane

3 Dec

There’s a pretty good chance that David Hyde Pierce won’t see this. That’s because when I interviewed him for Continental magazine a few months back and I asked him about whether he uses social media and is on Facebook or Twitter, the erstwhile Niles Crane responded rather quickly and tersely, “I’d rather die.” Alright, fine. So that subject was a dead end. But thankfully, there was plenty else for us to discuss, and some of that conversation is now on planes and on the magazine’s website for all to read.

No surprise, the man folks know from his TV, film, and stage roles is not much different from the man I “met” on the phone back in August. He was well spoken, even-keeled, polite, and calm, and happy to chat about subjects as varied as Alzheimer’s research and the difference between theater audiences in New York and London. I thought he’d be turned off by a question or two about Frasier, the show on which he starred for 11 years, but instead he told me he’s always happy to talk about it. “I have only been blessed and not been cursed by 11 years of Niles,” he said of the role for which he won four Emmy awards.

Pierce and I conducted the interview so he could promote his role in the current Broadway revival of La Bête, which opened in mid-October and is scheduled to close in early January. In the play, Pierce plays a sophisticated director who clashes with a boorish performer, and that gave me the perfect opportunity to ask him for his thoughts on the current state of pop culture. I figured he’d have something to say about the gap between silly reality shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and more substantial fare, and I was right:

“There’s always going to be a large market for crap, and there’s always going to be a smaller market for high art. And the really great works of theater are the ones that manage to bridge the gap. Shakespeare did that. He had his clowns smack in the middle of Hamlet because he understood not only the theater, but that life is a mixture of extreme comedy and extreme tragedy. Life very seldom separates itself into one or the other. The things I’ve been drawn to, Frasier included, are things that mix both the high art and low art, or comedy and seriousness.”

It was truly a pleasure to speak with David Hyde Pierce. If you’d like to read my article, just click here.

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