Friday, August 14, 2009

"Performing Arts Renaissance" in Boston

This article annoys me.

First of all, having Jersey Boys come to Boston does NOT make a performing arts renaissance for the city as the article seems to imply. I love musical tours. I see the majority of musicals on tour. I do not think touring shows, by virtue of coming to Boston, can create a renaissance. A renaissance would include more Bostonians going to these shows, but unfortunately, I have not seen any noticeable increases in Boston theater audiences of late. To me, a city performing arts renaissance would mean higher quality and greater amounts of theater (and other arts) produced and performed by local regional people and attended by greater numbers of those local people.

This article doesn't even mention the BOSTON THEATERS. This is a major problem with the Globe. They never seem to cover the Boston-based theater which would actually be the basis of a performing arts renaissance. What about ART, the Huntington, the Lyric, the smaller companies like Company One? I don't go to nearly enough of their shows, but they are the Boston performing arts scene, not touring companies with no connection to our city! They are also the affordable options for people who like the arts, but can't spend over $100 on Jersey Boys.

Grr. Argh. This is why I rarely read the Globe Arts sections. I think I'll stick to sports. The Patriots look promising. : )

New York City, Center of the Universe

I was in New York City again last weekend with Nicki and Laura. Overall, it was a fun time and I visited some new places. It is always difficult for me to go there and not see a theater show, but we did a lot of other fun things. I'm gradually exploring less touristy places each time I go and I like feeling more like a "visitor" than a tourist. I think that with a subway map I could find my way around by myself at this point.

Our first stop was the MET and we chose to visit the European painters, sculpture, and arms and armor sections. We also wandered through some other sections like Chinese art and decorative art (is that what you call fancy furniture?). I'd love to go back again and see some of the other sections, but it was nice for a short visit--not too much and not too little.
Sometimes when I'm in museums for too long I get so saturated that I stop absorbing and appreciating everything and the works become meaningless to me. At that point a gorgeous painting just looks like another painting of Jesus to me. Luckily, this didn't happen this time. We stayed about two hours.

Most of the European painters' section was Dutch or religious paintings, which are not too of my favorite styles. I tend to prefer later styles like impressionism more. My favorite pieces were some beautiful Vermeer paintings. I love the light in his paintings and the sense of tranquility. I also saw a large painting of Cupid peeing through a hoop onto a naked Venus. Yeah . . .

After the MET, we ate at a cafe in the Upper East Side and wandered down to the flagship New York and Company store. It is big for a New York and Company, but much smaller than it looks on What Not to Wear. I unsuccessfully tried to find it on a few previous trips and it was nice to finally locate it. Someday I'll go into all those rich people stores in that area without feeling awkward.

Next we went to the Strand bookstore and I took a quick look in Forbidden Planet, a comics/gaming bookstore next to Strand. I have to say that the Strand didn't impress me much. I'm a big bargain girl and the bargains there weren't really good. Sure, you can get a hardcover for $8, but I could get the same book in paperback for $8 and it would be a normal price. Also, it wasn't very organized and it was extremely crowded. I'm sure I would like it better if I went on an off day instead of Saturday afternoon, but I felt very claustrophobic the whole time I was in there. It wasn't relaxing at all. You couldn't get down aisles because they were clogged with people and if you were looking at something you'd have to move every few seconds to let someone else squeeze by you. I like bookstore shopping to be leisurely and relaxing.

Also, their sci-fi/fantasy section was really small and not very diverse. Why is this always true? I've found that in order to get a good selection of used sci-fi/fantasy, I have to find a store that is only genre like Pandemonium Books here in Cambridge. Do fellow dorks just keep their good sci-fi/fantasy books? Forbidden Planet looked pretty cool for comic/graphic novel fans. The selection was huge, but not discounted. It was also insanely crowded there so I didn't stay very long.

We rested in Union Square for a bit and then wandered around the Village. On Sunday, we walked around the Upper West Side and I unsuccessfully tried to find Levain's Bakery, home to the most awesome cookies ever. Update: It is on the corner of Amsterdam and W74th. If you go there, you will not regret it!

The trip was tiring, but fun. I think next time I go I'll try to see the botanical gardens and the Bronx Zoo. I'll also see a show of course. I'm desperate to see Next to Normal before Alice Ripley leaves. : )

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rent: Broadway Tour review (Part 1. My Rent Background)

I first heard that Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp would be touring with Rent about a year or two ago and I've been eagerly awaiting their arrival in Boston ever since. My friend and I originally planned to see the show twice-once for free because she gets free tickets from her company and once in house seats for full price. When saw it the first time, however, we knew we had to go to an additional show. Adam Pascal's absence from the first show was a factor, but I probably would have wanted more even if he had been in the first show. I saw it three times total-twice from the center orchestra about 5-6 rows back and once from the second row of the balcony, partially obstructed. I could go on and on about my love for this show and this particular tour, but I'll try to keep my word count to a reasonable level by posting my thoughts in several parts.

First, a little background. To say that Rent is my favorite musical would be an understatement. Although I somehow managed not to know much about it when it first came out (I discovered musicals in 1995 and I was still in Andrew Lloyd Webber mode in 1996), I fell for it hard in 2000 when my college friends encouraged me to rush it my freshman year of college. At that time, the production still allowed people to camp out overnight at the theaters to assure themselves of getting one of the $21 front row rush seats.

Although it seems crazy, a bit dangerous, and probably unneccessary now, camping on the street overnight in front of the Wang Center (now the Citi Center) made the whole experience much more moving. There's nothing quite like learning about the musical with a diverse group of people who have lived many of the experiences depicted in Rent and there's nothing quite like sleeping on the street to make you relate to well, sleeping on the street and being homeless. There were gay people and straight people, guys and girls , people who had been homeless or addicts, and people like me (your run of the mill college kid who hadn't really experienced any of that) and we all had a great time playing cards, telling stories, talking about the show. Then, we all saw it together from the front row where the music was intensely loud, the energy and love for the show was crackling, and the cast and stage managers looked right at us and gave us prop posters and old guitar picks. I laughed and cried and mooed and was moved more than I ever had been before. I promptly bought tickets to another show later that week. That was the Benny Tour with Matt Caplan, Jeremy Kushnier, and Dominique Roy. I remember Mr. Caplan especially being a very down-to-earth, friendly guy at the stage door, which made it even nicer.

After listening to the soundtrack pretty much nonstop, I saw it again with my mother and brother a year or so later and converted them. I read everything I could find about the cast and the show and cried a lot about Jonathan Larson who I never met or even knew about until after he had been dead for four years. I listened to it loudly on a road trip to Virginia with my friends. It became the default for long family car rides because it was one of the few albums we all liked. Every Christmas Eve at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time, I listened to Anthony Rapp's voice, singing in the dark about connection in an isolating age. I saw Adam Pascal in Aida and in concert with his band and I saw Anthony Rapp on his book tour and in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's Henry V. One of my favorite Boston memories was walking around downtown many blocks away from the Common where Henry V was playing and hearing Anthony's voice echoing around the skyscrapers and filling the city night with poetry from a long ago age. Although my mom almost never goes to the movies, my family and I spent Thanksgiving 2005 in the theater watching the movie version together.

Rent came through Boston a few more times, but I thought it would be too upsetting and disappointing to see the show in a less than great state. (Disclaimer: I didn't see those tours so I can't confirm anything, but word-of-mouth comments and press reviews were very negative about the overall production qualities and some of the reviews of this current tour even continue to mention how much better it is than those previous tours.) I did go to see the Rent Live showing in the movie theater recently and it was the best $20 I've ever spent on a movie. You can see my earlier review of that, but it brought up all my old love for the show and enhanced my serious performer crush on Will Chase who rocked Roger. I'm forever grateful to have that record of the stage version now that the show will be closed for awhile.

That brings us to this week and Part 2, which I will post soon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Back to writing

I decided to start writing again today. I feel like I should do something creative and I have the time if I cut out some of my mindless tv watching. There's nothing on in the summer anyway. I'm going to ease back into it by writing for 30 minutes at least 5 times a week. It doesn't even have to be writing an actual story. I'm allowed to just work on notes for a story. I started today and the time passed quickly.

I have some ideas for a sci-fi/fantasy novel and I've always toyed with the idea of writing one since I know the genre very well. I figure even if I just write for 30 minutes a day I could write quite a lot--even a draft of a novel--if I do it for long enough. Not necessarily a good novel, but it's worth trying at least once. I personally think that if I can figure out the ideas I have in more detail and develop more of a plot, it could be really great. I'm just not sure if I can write it the way it deserves.

My lofty goal is to do for literary sci-fi/fantasy what the remake of Battlestar Galactica did for television sci-fi. I want it to be drama (or literary in this case) first and genre second. There's nothing wrong with sci-fi/fantasy elements if they are integral to the story and setting, but they shouldn't be used as gimmicks.

Also, it's not going to be straight sci-fi or straight fantasy. It will probably end up more on the fantasy end, but it will have some sci-fi elements. For example, if people or animals have strange abilities (ex. magic or telepathy), there will be a relatively plausible scientific explanation for them. I'm thinking the vibe of All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, which I recently reread. The world of Pern appears originally to be pure fantasy (a low-technology world with telepathic dragons), but at this point in the series the reader and the characters discover the origins of the inhabitants' ancestors and the scientific background of many things on their world, including the dragons.

In any case, I'm declaring this on my blog so that I'll have to stick with it. One day at a time!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spring Awakening tour review

I went with my friends to see the touring cast of Spring Awakening at the Colonial Theater last week. It was my second time seeing it and I was able to pay a bit more attention to the production aspects instead of being immersed in the story. As a result, I feel more up to writing an analytical review. There will be spoilers ahead!

Overall, I enjoyed the musical and this cast. It is definitely the best musical I've seen in Boston in over a year. With the exception of a decent production of Chicago, the other shows I've seen recently have been pretty abysmal (Dirty Dancing and Legally Blonde I'm talking about you!). Still, it is a compliment to Spring Awakening. It's a solid production that manages to entertain while presenting serious themes.

I appreciate a musical with original music, but (with a few exceptions) I don't think the music and lyrics for this show are great. They certainly enhance the atmosphere of the show and illustrate teenagers' jumbled emotions, but they aren't songs that I like to listen to when I'm not actually in the audience.

The lyrics tend to include a lot of thrown together vague images without much of a narrative. For example, the refrain from the Guilty Ones is "And now our bodies are the guilty ones/Our touch will fill every eye/Huge and dark, all our hearts/Will murmer the blues from on high/And whisper some silver reply."

Sure, it's kind of pretty, but what exactly is a silver reply? Where is the high where their hearts murmer? If their hearts are dark and their bodies are guilty wouldn't they be yearning for heaven instead of possessing hearts already "on high"? They are the type of lyrics that I suspect were created because the words sounded good together rather than Sondheim-like lyrics which manage to be pretty much of the time also without losing the clarity of their images and the direction of the song. I'm not even a big Sondheim fan, but he writes some amazing lyrics.

The songs, with a few exceptions, don't usually relate to the plot or move it forward. Instead, they convey only the emotion the character is experiencing at the time. As a result, a lot of them could be moved around in the timeline of the story without effecting it the narrative much (Ex. The Dark I Know so Well, My Junk, Mirror Blue Night, Mamma Who Bore Me).

I don't hate the music and lyrics at all, but they don't stand out for me for the most part when compared to other musicals. If I think of them as part of a montage of teenage feelings and issues (or more like an artsy concert), then I think they work better. Also, there are a few striking moments. I love the lyrics in Word of Your Body "Oh, I'm gonna by wounded/Oh, I'm gonna be your wound." They're describing an extremely common emotion in a very unique and yet still deeply evocative and accurate way.

The cast, on the other hand, does stand out, especially Blake Bashoff who plays Moritz (Yay Carl from Lost!). He allows his ticks, expressions, and lines to be funny for the audience, but maintains their absolute seriousness to Moritz. Although he is funny, you never sense that he is trying to be funny. The expressions appear to come from his inner turmoil and confusion very organically. His voice is pleasant but not amazing, however the raw emotion and energy in his acting make his performance incredible.

Two other standouts are Henry Stram and Angela Reed, the actors who portray all of the adults in the story. Their roles aren't flashy, but they each have to portray at least six different characters and they both make each character very distinct and real. There was only one part at the very end (when Reed goes from being Wendla's mother to Melchior's mother) that I was not sure exactly which character was present in the scene. Not only do they portray many roles, they portray some difficult roles very well. Moritz's father is only in two scenes and has none of his own background explained, but when he cries at Mortiz's funeral you know that character better than most of the other minor characters.

I find the character of Wendla annoying because she lets herself be everyone's pawn and spends a lot of time doing silly or stupid things. Christy Altomare portrays her well though. She makes me believe in Wendla's innocence (in the sense of her complete lack of knowledge and intentions, not her lack of responsibility for what happens). She has a beautiful voice, especially in the song Whispering.

The only slight disappointment for me was Kyle Riabko. He has the looks and the voice for the part, but his acting was a little one note especially compared to Blake Bashoff's. He does "in love" well and the more low key emotions like warm friendliness with Moritz, but I find the extremely passionate scenes like the beating of Wendla and the final graveyard scene to be not passionate enough.

I've never seen the Broadway cast so I don't know if other actors played Melchior differently, but I felt that Melchior as written in the book of the musical needed to be darker and more intense. He's not your typical noble hero/lover character. He writes and speaks fairly obsessively about social reforms and the wrongs of society and has a lot of anger about it, he beats Wendla badly, and, worst of all, he selfishly sleeps with her repeatedly knowing the possible consequences and not informing her. He informs Moritz, but not Wendla because informing Wendla would probably mean he wouldn't be able to keep having sex with her. Although Wendla as portrayed in this version does give in to Melchior, the first time they have sex she certainly protests at first and is not comfortable with it.

Kyle Riabko tended to play him more as a good boy who makes some dumb decisions rather than a potentially dangerous, angry, and passionate man. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't be totally suprised if Melchior grew up to be a criminal. His lyrics at the end of the show, "You watch me/Just watch me/I'm calling/I'm calling/And one day all will know" have a very ominous ring to them and not just because he's standing in a graveyard with a knife and some dead people who could have come from Les Mis.

My review has already gone on to long, but I'll conclude by saying that the set was simple and perfect. I'm a fan of the one set show since it lets you focus on the performances rather than stage wizardry. The historical paintings and seemingly random yet relevent items on the walls which lit up during different scenes were excellent and played into the artsy concert feel while giving a hint of the time period. The geometry of the round (boob-like) lights and straight lines of bold colored lights fit with the geometry of the frenzied rigidly shaped arm choreography that goes on at times. I hate that choreography, which resembles a crazy robot dance spasm to me instead of the release of repressed feelings as I assume it is intended to be, but I'll admit that it sort of fits when you think about it for a long time.

In conclusion, it is worth seeing for the great cast and originality. It's not among my all-time favorite musicals, but I do think it's a solid show, enjoyable, and well-performed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dollhouse-Contains Spoilers for Pilot

Friday was the premiere of Joss Whedon's new show Dollhouse. I've been looking forward to it for a long time, but I think I do have realistic expectations. Here are my thoughts after watching the pilot episode twice.

Overall, it was an okay episode==not amazingly compelling and it had some flaws, but it also had some intriguing aspects. I'm not worried yet because most pilots are inferior to normal episodes. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two really outstanding pilots that were great episodes on their own merit, highly representative of the eventual show, and instantly made me decide I needed to see the rest of the series. Neither was a Joss Whedon pilot. Welcome to the Hellmouth and City Of are hardly among the better episodes of Buffy and Angel and Train Job, the episode that Fox aired as Firefly's pilot, is probably also one of my least favorites from that show. For that matter, the first seasons of Buffy and Angel are my least favorite seasons. I still love them, but they did have some issues. (If anyone is wondering, the two amazing pilots were Battlestar Galactica and Ugly Betty.)

Also because of the later episodes are supposed to be much better and by virtue of the fact that it's Joss Whedon, I'm not going to stop watching. I'm willing to give it a season to hook me.

Writers try to do a lot of things at once in pilots. They try to cram as much expositional and setting information in as possible without it being too dry, they try to make it action-packed to draw people in (which I don't feel is necessary unless you're watching an action show like Alias, but I think it's a network thing, especially a Fox thing), and they try to get you invested in questions and characters that will make you want to watch next week.

I did think it was too expositional, especially with the first detective scene. I think Tahmoh's character was Paul, but I still think of him as Helo/Karl from Battlestar. I'll call him Paul though. The boxing part was awkward (despite the fact that he was mostly naked and kicking the butt of Toa from American Gladiators!) and the dialogue part was boring and a little confusing. I would rather have seen the incident where Paul first became interested in Dollhouse or seen him mess up the Russian case than hear some random boss guy talking about it while Paul threw in some exposition here and there. I didn't get a real sense of his passion/obsession about it in that scene. After seeing the first few seasons of Battlestar, I know Tahmoh is an awesome actor. Although his character wasn't especially captivating here, I have faith (heh) that he'll be better as we get to know him later.

The episode did get me invested in two characters-- the handler character and Amy Acker's doctor character. Sure, the handler was an amalgam of Giles and Marcus Dixon from Alias, but I like those two characters. I was desperately looking for a character to relate to and root for and I found myself focusing on him. Echo wasn't doing it for me. I like the doctor because she also seems to have more of a conscience and definitely has a mysterious background to explore. Seriously though, can Joss not have Amy play a smart, but shy science type in something? She can be really funny.

Unfortunately, I 'm not into Echo yet. I think Eliza is wonderful at certain types of characters. I love her as Faith. I'm not sure about her ability to carry this type of show though. She can be wooden and she always seems a little too Faithy for me. I think someone like Summer Glau would rock the part because she seems more able to shift between really different personalities. It wasn't that Eliza was bad in this episode, she just wasn't hugely impressive and as the title sequence made clear, she is supposed to be the focus of the show. I'm willing to believe that it will be easier to like her once Echo begins to remember her own personality. I hope this will start quickly. The show needs an emotional center. Joss shows usually center on relationships and there aren't many here yet.

I hated Topher. He looks like a cross between Andrew and Mal and has the malevolence of Warren. I didn't find him funny, just really off-putting and despicable. If he is the geeky humor guy on the show, I'm not happy. If they eventually make him outright evil, I might be into him. I never really enjoyed watching Warren though. He didn't have enough layers. I also thought the boss of Dollhouse was boring.

The main plotline was okay. Hostage storylines aren't very original, but it kept my interest. The little girl and the dad were convincing and the kidnapper really was creepy. Ellie's personality was annoying (Do I need to scold you?), but I liked Ellie okay when she was breaking down. I don't know what that says about me. The end was a great set up. I'm much more interested in rogue murderous dolls and ongoing detective investigations than one episode plots. I like arcs. I think Joss always starts out trying to do stand-alone episodes to please the networks and then moves to arcs later. I'm hoping this will be true for Dollhouse too.

The dialogue wasn't great. That is surpising coming from Joss, but I guess to be expected since this was a total rewrite and supposedly had a lot of network interference. I know it won't sound as stylized as his other shows, but it can still have more character and sound more natural. There were a few classics (Have you ever tried to clean a slate? Also, she has asthma). I'll chalk it up to too much exposition for now.

Finally, a random annoyance. Did we really need the sexy Faith dancing in the non-existent skirt and the motorcycle chase? For that matter Fox, I don't really need to see sexy Summer and Eliza soft core promos either. They made me feel sleezy. Hello, these are talented people. You can promote the show on it's merits rather than their bodies. Besides, if you're going to exploit them, at least include some Tahmoh promos for the straight girls and gay guys!

Overall, it was pretty much what I expected. Not bad, but room for improvement. I think next week's episode looks much better and I'm looking forward to it! Grr. Argh.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Resolution Update

Maybe if I check in on my resolutions more often, I'll actually do them! Here's an update for January.

1. Find and apply for publishing jobs.
Yep. I have a second phone interview Saturday with an editor. It's not the most exciting position, but it's a publishing job.

2. Work out 150-160 minutes a week.
Yep. No missed weeks so far. I'm also doing more strength and toning.

3. Be more decisive.
Sort of. I'm trying. The less important the decision, the better I am.

4. Be more positive about my body image.
Doing all right. It comes and goes. I am trying to think more positively.

5. Try new things.
I haven't really attempted anything new, but I haven't had the opportunity to try anything either.