Sunday, August 29, 2010

Touhill Preview: THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

First of all, let me just start off by saying that you can get some pretty interesting looks when you're listening to cast recordings in the car with the windows down.  "Yeah, I'm listening to some GREY GARDENS!  You gotta problem with that?!?"  Geez…

Anyway, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS has recently popped up on the radar (C.S. Lewis' novel adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean).  This play is enjoying an open run in NYC and stars Max McLean as Screwtape -- McLean will take a short break from the New York production to perform the role in St. Louis -- and I'm really kind of annoyed that I'm not going to be able to go.  I've got an HRC Dinner Gala to go to that night.  <--- Ah… see that's where I reveal a bit more about myself.  Now there's like a little bond between us!  There will be two showings -- 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. for one day only -- September 25.

The premise sounds very interesting.  A Wikipedia quote that talks about the novel says, "The Screwtape Letters comprises thirty-one letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew, a young demon named Wormwood. Screwtape's letters contain advice for how to turn Wormwood's "Patient", an ordinary man living in war-time England, toward 'Our Father Below'".  Cool, right?  Here's a quote from Lewis on writing the novel - "Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment... though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The work into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded.”  Hmm... Maybe I could skip out on some of the HRC Gala festivities…

The novel, first published in 1942, is considered one of Lewis' most influential works.  Here's a little more detailed info. from the Touhill Performing Arts Center's website.  

I've been to the Touhill a couple of times and the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall is a sweet theatre space with a capacity of about 1,600 seats or so.  The good seats are a little pricey - more than our Regional Theatre, cheaper than NYC, but from what I've read, this show will be worth checking out.

I may try to sneak this show in that day, but in case I don't, let me know how it is!  On another note, I've been told that folks aren't able to easily leave comments on this blog which is aggravating.  I'll see if I can figure out what the deal is and try to get it resolved.  In the meantime, if you want to leave a comment, try logging in as "anonymous".  Hopefully this will help.

In conclusion, I see blinded horses, green ogres and swingin' 70's couples in my immediate future…
Until then -- thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fox Preview: SOUTH PACIFIC

Last week PBS aired a "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast of SOUTH PACIFIC.  This show with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, debuted in 1949 and is considered by many to be one of the greatest musicals of all time.   

It was revived on Broadway in 2008 and was initially supposed to be a limited run, but ended up going for two years -- it closed a couple of days ago, on August 22.  The revival won seven Tony Awards when it opened and the original production won ten as well as the Pulitzer Prize.  I watched the broadcast to see what was up, honestly thinking I would be kinda bored, regardless of the number of songs from it that have become classics like "Bali Ha'i", "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair", "Some Enchanted Evening", "There is Nothing Like a Dame" and "Happy Talk".  Well, I was really charmed by it.  I was also unaware of the fact that this show dealt with racism as much as it did.  Pretty ballsy for a musical from the late 40's.

As you may have guessed, the setting is an island in the South Pacific during World War II.  A young Navy nurse, Nellie Forbush, falls for an older Frenchman named Emile de Becque.  I love how in musicals people can fall in love during the course of a two and a half minute song.  Then there's the handsome Lieutenant Cable who arrives on the island to head a mission to try to spy on the Japanese.  He's set up with Liat, the daughter of a Tonkinese "entrepreneur" called "Bloody Mary".  Things go sour though when Nellie finds out that Emile has two children by his Polynesian wife who has since passed.  Then those Little Rock roots come out and she starts to have second thoughts -- just as Lt. Cable has second thoughts about bringing a Tonkinese girl home.  There's a song called "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" where Cable explains to Emile that prejudice is not something you're born with -- it's something you have to learn.  That song may seem a bit ordinary nowadays, but again, ballsy for its time.

Okay, I gotsta tell you about a little part of this show that stuck with me.  In Act 2, they're having a Thanksgiving variety show for the troops, and Nellie Forbush, wearing a sailor suit, sings the catchy "Honey Bun" to Luther Billis, a sailor you come to love who's wearing that iconic coconut bra and grass skirt.  It's a light-hearted happy moment, and everyone's having fun.  Later, near the end of the show, the sh*t hits the fan, the troops are finally able to go on the offensive, and these sailors who you've come to know as a group of swell guys hangin' on the beach, passing the time, waiting for action are now armed with their rifles and dressed in their combat fatigues and helmets.  During a bit of dialogue where the sailors are getting ready to head out, there's this tympani faintly droning out a military rhythm in the background.  A voice over the loudspeaker directs the sailors and nurses to their respective carriers and combat planes as the droning continues.  The troops line up in two rows across the stage marching slowly, taking a step every 4 counts, and then once the loudspeaker instructions are over, everyone, in unison, barely above a whisper start singing, "A hundred and one pounds of fun, that's my little honey bun… get a load of honey bun tonight…"  It's haunting I'm tellin' ya!  I can't believe that that scene was originally staged that way -- seems like a more contemporary thing to do.  Regardless, Bartlett Sher, the director of this revival, is an effing genius.  The juxtaposition of the image of this anonymous military unit and that song that hearkens back to a time when they were idle and jovial is very powerful.  Love…

So, here's the point -- I realize it's a bit early for this, but this little nugget of theatre history is coming to the Fabulous Fox Theatre November 9th through the 21st.  Don't miss it.  I'll be there, for those last moments of the show if nothing else.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

MAN OF LA MANCHA • Insight Theatre Company

8.20.2010

Tonight after a lovely dinner with my favorite Jew, Amy Fenster Brown, we headed to Heagney Theatre to check out Insight Theatre Company's production of MAN OF LA MANCHA (book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh).  Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves is a nice little space with around 350 seats.  Not really a bad seat in there.  I'd never been in there before, nor had I seen this show, that debuted in 1965.

So, it's Spanish Inquisition time and our protagonist Miguel de Cervantes -- poet, playwright, actor and tax collector -- has been thrown into the slammer for foreclosing on a church that failed to pay its taxes.  A Catholic church.  Not the best move during the Inquisition.  Upon arrival, the other prisoners inform Cervantes and his attendant that before he faces the Inquisition, he must face a mock trial by his fellow inmates.  If they find him guilty, they get all of his belongings.  In an effort to save his stuff, most importantly his cherished manuscript, he agrees and offers as his defense, a play.  The prisoners agree -- I mean, who cold turn down a little entertainment when you're awaiting the Inquisition -- and with them joining in, the play within the play begins.

Cervantes transforms into Alonso Quijana, a retired gentleman who’s maybe been reading a few too many books about chivalry and imagines himself a knight-errant, Don Quixote de La Mancha.  He and his loyal servant Sancho set out to right wrongs, fight evil and "... add some measure of grace to the world".  Along the way however, he mistakes a windmill for a giant, a roadside inn for a castle, Aldonza, a feisty bar hooker for his true love, Dulcinea, and a traveling barber's shaving basin for the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, which Don Quixote believes will make him invulnerable.  Quixote can celebrate a couple of victories during his quest: he wins a token of love -- an old rag that he believes to be a silken scarf -- from "Dulcinea", a triumph (with help) in a huge brawl he instigates when he sees Aldonza/Dulcinea being mistreated, and he talks the innkeeper... that is, the Lord of the castle, into officially dubbing him a knight.  For all his efforts though, he's usually seen as a foolish old crackpot.  His family is embarrassed by him, he's humored and laughed at, and often considered kind of pathetic.  But at one point, the Padre says of him, "There is either the maddest wise man or the wisest mad man in the world".  Quixote's constant devotion to his ideals is expressed in the show's most popular song, "The Impossible Dream". 

Is it mad to hold on to your ideals, no matter how ridiculous they may seem to others?  For me, that was the bottom line of the whole story.  Don Quixote says that, "Facts are the enemy of the truth".  Even though his view of the facts can be off-target, Quixote's truths are noble.  They strike a chord with not only the other characters, but the audience as well because they give us a glimpse of an idealized world where we could all be courageous enough to "follow that star".  Aldonza for example, used to constant abuse, is at first irritated with him and his insistence that she is a lady of nobility, virtue and beauty.  She eventually sees herself as he sees her and is better for it, if only temporarily.  At the end of the play, the other prisoners are also touched by Cervante's tale, find him not guilty, return his manuscript, and sing "The Impossible Dream" as he's called to face the trial of the Inquisition.

Joneal Joplin
Photo from late July rehearsals, courtesy Dawn Majors
Joneal Joplin made an endearing and sincere Cervantes/Don Quixote and Christopher Hickey provides a nice bit of comic relief as Sancho.  Julie O'Neill made a lusty Aldonza and Laura Ernst as Alonso Quijana's niece, Elise La Barge as his housekeeper and Conor Dagenfield as the Padre had great voices.  The whole cast was strong and sounded solid together.  They had a nice little 9 piece orchestra but at times it tended to drown out the dialogue a bit.  Amy thought the action was a little static at times, but the couple sitting next to us more than made up for that.  So, you can have your hands all over each other, but not applaud after the big number?  Nice.

Check out the St. Louis Theatre Calendar and go see a show!  Lots of good stuff coming up in September.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Heart EVITA

So, I'm a little obsessed with EVITA (Thank you, New Line Theatre).  Yes, I know -- I'm quite late to the party.  I know this thing has been around for forever, but this happens every now and again (okay, it happens a lot) when I see a show that I've never seen before, and fall in love with the music and/or the story. In this case I fell for both.

I got the Original Broadway Cast Recording in the mail a few days ago, and have been listening to the piss out of it.  With very little dialogue, this rock opera has such a mix of styles I never get bored.

Okay, bear with me -- one of the first songs in the show, “Requiem for Evita/Oh, What a Circus”, is a great example.  In this song, Che (our cynical narrator) begins by reflecting on the hysterics that ensue in Argentina after the announcement of Eva Perón’s passing.
Okay, here we go...

- After the opening "Requiem", which is very requiemy... requiemesque... requiemish...? you hear for the first time the most recognizable leitmotif in the show at 3min. 03sec.
- Later, it goes into this kind of contemporary rock thing (well, contemporary for the 70's) at 5min. 22sec.  Che is angry...
- That goes right into this beautiful choral action a minute later at 6min. 22sec.
- And my favorite, they bust out into some orchestral splendor after which I immediately get chills at 7min 08sec. Yay tympani!!
- Oh yeah, and then Patti LuPone sings right around 8min., repeating the musical theme we hear Che sing at the beginning that's carried through that orchestral part.




The musical themes are so distinct that after a short while, when you hear them you immediately feel a sense of familiarity.  Like Les Miz or Sweeney Todd.  You know what those themes are connected to, and that always pulls me deeper into the story.  Love...  Not only that, but the show really seems to do justice to the weight of Eva's life, instead of relying on some cliche ending to bring it all together at the end -- like the unfortunate PIRATE QUEEN.

*sigh*  THE PIRATE QUEEN...  Oh well, that's another post.

Thanks for reading!   Until next time...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Soundtracks vs. Recordings and Other Ramblings

Yeah, those serious theatre folks can really get their panties in a knot about referring to cast recordings as soundtracks.  "Soundtracks accompany films. Cast Recordings refer to the recording of a stage show's songs.  The phrase 'Broadway Soundtrack' is a contradiction!  If live theatre had a soundtrack, it wouldn't be live theatre!  YOU MORON!!"  Yep, that's what they say...

So anyhoo, I recently bought the original Broadway cast recording of THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  I was actually looking for the soundtrack but they didn't have it.  I was a little apprehensive because the soundtrack was so strongly seared into my brain I was afraid I might be a little let down.  As mentioned a couple of posts ago, the realization that there would be no marionettes in the stage version was a bitter pill.  I got the cd anyway, thinking it would be nice to have the lesser listened-to 1959 original.

Did it sound different?  Sure.  But I really like it.  I mean you know, for the most part.  I'm still a little partial to Julie Andrews over Mary Martin, the tempos are a little slower and I miss the extra music breaks and kids singing along more during "The Lonely Goatherd", but whatever.  There are always little variations here and there that make listening to different versions interesting.  The songs still make me happy and there's such a nice full orchestra.
... ... ...

Aw hell, who am I kidding?  I'll probably order the soundtrack before the week is out.
:)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

EVITA • New Line Theatre

7.31.2010

Last night -- EVITA (music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice), presented by New Line Theatre, the "Bad Boy" of musical theatre here in the Lou.

Now first off, I can't tell you how wonderful it was, after seeing a couple of things recently at the Muny with its 11,000 seats, to be back in the intimate 210 seat Washington University South Campus Theatre.  There's something about small venues I'm tellin' ya.  To me, theatre is all about getting your visceral experience on.  I think a degree of that tends to get lost in huge houses, but those smaller theatres where it's right in your face?  Love...  Also, at the start of the second act as the lights were dimming, I could hear a couple of audience members politely shushing their neighbors.  I like that.  In other words, STFU.

It had been awhile since I'd seen a New Line show, and I was once again reminded of how great their productions are, no matter how downsized they might be.  I'd also never seen EVITA before and this company did not disappoint.

The story follows the life of Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón.  Her rise to power was one that to me seems almost archetypical.  Take one eager, dynamic persona, mix with a country looking for a savior and what do you get?  An icon.  Eva came from a lower-middle class family, gained power through sleeping with the right men, eventually married an ambitious Colonel who became President, used her celebrity to appeal to the lower classes, won them over, and milked that puppy for all it was worth.  She did do much to help the working classes of Argentina, but her motivation was often called into question by Che, our narrator, who wasn't worshipping Eva like the rest of the country.  From the moment the show starts, as unsuspecting theater-goers are informed of Eva's death, you're sucked in.

Taylor Pietz (Evita Perón), John Sparger (Che)
and Todd Schaefer (Juan Perón).
Taylor Pietz was a convincing Evita and delivered a compelling "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina".  She had a really powerful, confident voice.  Nice bone structure too.  John Sparger was Che, perfectly disgusted and commanding.  Guys with long hair are sexy.  The whole cast of about 15 or so were committed and impressive and I was never taken out of the moment by any missteps.  A true night of escape.

We have so many marvelous regional theatre companies here:  http://stlouis.missouri.org/ae/
Do yourself a favor -- if a show piques your interest, go see it.  You won't be sorry.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC • The Muny

7.30.2010

It’s been a Muny kind of week!

Last night, I saw THE SOUND OF MUSIC under the stars at, once again, the Muny.  A musical about the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany?  Why not?!

Of course it’s about much more than just that.  This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that opened on Broadway in 1959 focuses on Maria Rainer, a postulant turned governess to the seven children of a military man.  In the process of finding out whether or not she is ready for the monastic life, Maria wins over the kids, reintroduces music back into the family and melts the heart of their father, Baron von Trapp.  Aww…

I’ve only ever seen the film version, so I was anxious to finally see it onstage with my best friend Kay.  I’m glad I read up a little online about the stage production, because there are a few differences between the film and stage versions, so I went in with a pretty open mind with no expectations to see a replica of the movie.  I must admit though, the absence of marionettes made me sad.

Ashley Brown headed the cast as Maria.  Kay and I saw her as Mary Poppins at the Fox last year.  She kicks ass.  There was only one instance of the influx of Muny kids during “Do-Re-Mi”, but it wasn’t too obnoxious.  There were a few more talkers around us this time around, which is always annoying to me.  People, catch up on the soaps later -- there’s a show going on!  There was a couple behind Kay that I swear I thought was busting out a 5 course picnic, but they were older, so they get a pass.  I’m sure at one point they were carving a turkey or something back there though.

Sadly, I can’t include any video from the Muny’s performance because… you know… that would be illegal.  But everyone loves marionettes right?!  So, as a feel good little happy ending, I’ll include a clip of one of my favorite songs from this show, “The Lonely Goatherd”!

If you’re not bobbing your head along with the music midway through this song, there is something wrong with you.

CATS • The Muny

7.25.2010

Hey, it’s my first post!

So, I saw CATS this weekend at the Muny.  I’ve had my issues with the Muny.  Sure, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor theatre and has a long and established history.  No question, St. Louis is lucky to have it, but all forms of theatre etiquette seem to go bye-bye when you’re outdoors.  I went anyway with a couple good friends of mine for two reasons:

1. CATS, (composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber) was one of the first musicals I’d ever seen so I have a little soft spot for it.

2. Stephanie J. Block was featured as Grizabella the Glamour Cat.  I love her, and nobody can deliver an eleven o’clock number like she can.  “Memory”, anyone?  I teared up a little.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing her before as Elphaba in WICKED at the Fox, (the musical that started my obsession with becoming an avid theatre-goer), THE PIRATE QUEEN in Chicago and NYC and 9 TO 5 in NYC.

Luckily, there was only one talkative child behind us, and nobody sang along.  There were however, several people who left at intermission.  Attention span of a fruit fly, I’m tellin’ ya.  Who cares if we miss the big moment of the show -- me and the wife need to get us some Ted Drewes!  Seriously?

*rolls eyes*

For those interested, here’s a neat entry on the character of Grizabella in Wikipedia:
Here kitty, kitty...

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