Thursday, June 28, 2007


I got to see Hairspray last night, and it is just one big finger-lickin' bucket of fun. John Travolta is that wierd packet of squeeze butter on the side that comes with it, but you can ignore and not use while not having it effect the overall excellence of the the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cole slaw and biscuit. The stage play was a blast, too, so it's no surprise the movie is as well. Though some of the songs were cut, and some characters cut down in the process, the story moves along and is as fun as it ever was. Nikki Blonsky is adorable and a complete find. Amanda Bynes is funny and totally gets Penny. I liked Queen Latifah (though I still miss Ruth Brown's voice and manner-but who doesn't?), who is having a great time as well, and Elijah Kelly, who plays Seaweed, is a revelation. Michele Pfeiffer is having a blast and is great, as is Christopher Walken. Zac Ephron is all cuteness and plays with it, as is James Marsden, who came as a complete surprise to me--probably the "who knew?" performance of the film. And the kids are all great. It's not as broad as the play or the first movie, but it has enough winks to keep you going, and everyone's on the same page. They even pulled off the civil rights moment (for me--though not for a couple of others we talked to after the film). I miss the jail sequence, but the rest is still there.
That leaves Travolta, who isn't necessarily bad, just strange. For some reason, he's the only person in the movie doing a Baltimore accent, and it doesn't work. In fact, at times it gets in the way of the jokes. He seems to be enjoying himself, and that's perhaps the problem. I kept wishing for the warmth of Harvey Fierstein, who disappeared into the role in the first five minutes of the play and seemed to envelop the whole production with his warmth--it's one of the big "might have beens" of the last few years. Oh well. Shankman manages to work around it well--I just wish that he wasn't so aware of himself and playing at it in his performance. It felt like he was going "Look at me! I'm in drag! I love this!"
Still--the movie was a lot of fun and I'll probably go again, just to see the opening sequence. Loved it! Bucket of fun!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Show Business

So before you read this, know one thing. I am a theatre nut. Not as nutty (read: competetive,bithcy) as some theatre nuts, but still...there is no where I feel as comfortable as in a theater. I could spend all day in a theatre, and have. When I was acting, it was the place I loved being--I even catered once on the stage of the New York State theater and Lincoln Center and didn't want it to end. Catering, folks. On tour, with an execrable children's show, seeing theatre architecture across the country, and performing in theatres like this and this kept me going. So, just to let you know, I'm biased.

Last night I saw "Show Business: The Movie", about the 2003/04 season on Broadway. The film focuses on 4 musicals: "Avenue Q", "Wicked", "Taboo", and "Caroline, or Change", from rehearsals to the Tonys, and is directed by Dori Berenstien, a Tony award-winning producer herself. Charting the rise (and fall) of the shows, she gets great footage from actors, critics, producers, and talking heads. There's some excellent performance footage, and I remembered how magical it can be when a show works. The movie, though, feels like just an outline. Even at a little over an hour and a half, I was left with a glancing portrait of each of the shows, wanting to see more (she's a producer--perhaps that's the point). The footage she has is so rich, though, I was wishing this was a series of movies, as each show seems as if it could've supported it's own doc.

The film is divided into four seasons (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring), and follows the shows through rehearsal and opening-- Q, then Wicked, then Taboo, and finally Caroline. This is tracked, somewhat ingeniously, by a Greek chorus of critics, including Michael Reidel of the Post; Christopher Isherwood, late of Variety and now of the NYTimes; Linda Winer of Newsday; Patrick Pacheco of Show People; and Jacques Le Sourd from Gannett, who are all shown eating and drinking at a round table and discussing theater. Add to that, from remote locations, John Lahr and Ben Brantley and you have quite a slew of formidable critics. Reidel comes off as a complete ass, which is somewhat delicious (surprise, the Post gave the doc it's worst review). So, added to watching rehearsals and the creative process, we also see what the critics are predicting will succeed or fail (sometimes before opening). Reidel seems to have had a personal vendetta against Taboo, and when that show fails, it looks as if it's completely the media's fault. Winer even says that she doesn't think the show had a fair chance, and certainly the fans (some of whom had seen the show dozens of times) crying outside of closing night would probably agree. Boy George has a great line about the critics supposedly being there to champion new work but are completely responsible for its demise, and that they'll probably be stuck with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Certainly Wicked makes that point--though all the critics lambasted it, it is, and continues to be, the biggest financial success on Broadway. It's kind of wonderful watching thier cluelessness, and I'm sure the producer took not a little relish in making them look slighty pompous. The best laughs come from the critics.

Critics aside, the strength of this film is getting to see all of the performers and creators in rehearsal and in action, particularly Tonya Pinkins, Euan Morton, Raul Esparza, Idina Menzel, Joe Mantello, Stephen Schwartz, George C. Wolfe, Idina Menzel, Jeff Whitty, Jeff Marx, and Bobby Lopez, and Boy George, and co-producer of the film Alan Cumming, who all provide great interviews. But then again, it feels a little crammed, and all of these people you could watch for much longer. George C. Wolfe in rehearsal is fascinating, as are the Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner, who we get to see hitting a wall in one of the many humorous places in the film. My personal fave, though, is my new crush, Jeff Marx (co creator of Avenue Q), who has just the right amount of dorkishness, intelligence, cynicism and silliness to be adorable. And hearing his Dad talk about how he couldn't hold a job and that he was so wierd he had to do great things, you just want to give him a hug. He doesn't mention he has a law degree. Ah, parents. There's also a bit of the Tonya Pinkins story, and how that shaped the role of Caroline, which is legendary I think, at this point.

For all it leaves in, though, there are a few notable omissions: though much is made of Avenue Q and it's Tony suprise, no one mentions the "Vote with your Heart" Tony mailer song that the show sent out pointedly to sway voters; though Anika Noni Rose is shown in rehearsal, no mention is made of her Tony win for Caroline. And I actually could've used more Tony Kushner (but that's me).

The film feels like a fascinating conversation starter, with just enough to get you hooked in, but no payoff. It definitely made me miss New York, and the excitement of the theatre there that is unlike any other. Ultimately, though, it could've been an entire season of a reality show (and somewhat felt like it--"The Race for the Tony's"). Too bad the Grease show didn't work--it could've used a little of the sparkle of this film.

The thing that keeps coming up during the film is the love that people have for these shows, and for fighting this uphill battle. Euan Morton is heartbreaking on the pre-mature closing of Taboo, and you realize how much heart and soul can go into a show--magnified by hearing and seeing him perform. For all the cyncism I hear is rampant among performers on Broadway (calling in sick, complaining, etc) in Phantom, Beauty and the Beast, etc, it's nice to see that shows are still created for love of doing it, and for getting a story you can care about to an audience. The most poignant and joyous scene in the film is the passing on of the gypsy robe--a time honored tradition that never having been in a Broadway show I had never witnessed. The robe, with sewn patches from every show, is given to the chorus member who has been in the most productions, who then has to circle the stage 3 times and visit all the dressing rooms while wearing the robe. IT's a joy to watch, and a something to see how important this tradition is. With all the talk of money and how much a show costs or will profit, it's edifying to see this gift passed around, and how much emotional power it has. And that alone is a reason to keep doing it. I'm a sucker for nostalgia on some level, if it's done in the right way, and those traditions, the spaces, and the ghost light get me every time. Like I said, the film may have it's weaknesses, but on this subject I'm biased. Any information is good information.

Monday, June 18, 2007


It's been a while since I've posted here, so I figure the first day of my 40 th year (yes, folks, I turned 39 yesterday) is a good a time as any for resolutions. So, I am resolving to write more criticism/film/book stuff here, and then just blah on my other blog. Blogs a-poppin'.

So, since I'm one of the smackdowners over at Stinkylulu this month, this would be a good time to write about those performances. If I had seen them. So tonight's a double feature, and I will have watched all by this Saturday, lord willing and the crick don't rise.

Meanwhile--finished off the Armistead Maupin latest. It's like a new Tales in the City, but focused on Michael and his new, much younger boyfriend (just like the one Maupin has...hmmm..who is adorable, by the way). It's a little bent on trying to wring poignant moments about death and life out of the narrative, but somehow he works for me best when he's just inenting fun characters and plotting them. There is some plot summary of the earlier tales in this book, and you just long for how exciting and silly those were. I do like the ease with which he writes about sex, which has always been one of his strengths, as well as his writing about San Francisco. It's nice to revisit the characters, but I don't feel like it reaches the poignancy it's aspiring to.

And I did like La Vie en Rose, the new bio pic about Edith Piaf with a knockout performance by Marion Cotillard (that should be nominated for an Oscar). The perf is somewhat stagy, but it works beautifully for a woman who performed a great deal of her life. You always feel it's Piaf performing it, and I have no idea who this actress really is, besides great. I am most interested, though, that no one in the movie smokes. They are in France and New York from 1920 - 1960 and no one smokes. They drink, they fight, they visit prostitutes, but no cigarettes. much for historical realism. They may think it's glamorizing smoking, but watching La Vie en Rose didn't make me want to drink or prostitue myself. Anyhow...the only mis-step is Piaf's first concert, where suddenly we are not hearing her sing anymore, only montaged gesticulations of singing while some instrumental overly orchestrated plays. Why? Other than that, go to watch her.

That's all for now. And tonight, it's California Suite