Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Professor and Mary Ann

Ok so I'm obviously not going to write about the rest in any detail. In the interest of some kind of misguided completism, thumbnail sketches of everything I can call to mind.

Billy Elliot: incoherent first act, musically and dramatically mixing up two themes (the personal and the political, in effect) that don't really make sense together until the much more enjoyable second act. Excellent class and gender politics for a B&T blockbuster, some clumsy cheap sentiment, set design that's busier than it needs to be and (outside of what is basically a socialist anthem) not much music you will remember half an hour later. Reminded me how wonderful Chaikovsky is (!) One "how did that make it past previews" scene involving nightmare-inducing giant dancing garments. Lovely showcase for some gallingly talented kids. Weird that Gregory Jbara and Carole Shelley are nominated in such uninteresting roles.

Norman Conquests: Only saw the Table Manners section. Deft ensemble stuff, genuinely amusing though as usual, hard to feel quite a part of the uproarious guffawing of the audience. Probably I've missed what makes it special as I saw only one, but is Alan Ayckbourn a bit gimmicky often or something? One hears the other parts are less comic and more introspective. On the basis of only one part, should win some acting trophies and not Best Revival.

Exit the King: like a draft of Beckett run long, but for all that, cumulatively troubling in a way that feels true. Geoffrey Rush, clownish, tireless, sometimes appropriately uncomfortable to watch. Andrea Martin I don't think has been mentioned much but she's strange and hilarious. Susan Sarandon YMMV, I find her dull in imperious mode (even in Enchanted, but there it was fine to be an inch from camp. Here, arguably less so.) Fantastic sound design, which I don't usually notice but I was sitting right behind the guy w/ trumpet & drums. Who is hot. But that's not why.

Next to Normal: Much more than the sum of its parts. Alice Ripley is the heart of the show, and this despite very significant, Behrens-in-the-late-90's vocal issues. Under a yell, she doesn't have the support to stay on pitch for more long at all; at a yell, she mostly does. And yet...she's good. She's Kunst. What she's working with has undergone a lot of revision, apparently used to be a lot more cutesy and a lot less dire. The only parts that feel off now are the remaining winks and nudges. It's not a happy show, but it claims a few honest, uplifting moments. The lyrics falter with some regularity, but the book and the music hold it together. Good supporting cast, Jennifer Damiano in particular. Hilariously needless shirtless scene for hot, reasonably talented Aaron Tveit presumably intended to rake in the queens by word of mouth.

Mary Stuart second viewing: still fucking splendid. Pity we won't get to see if it wins best revival, those of us at home, since apparently the broadcast has jettisoned a number of minor awards for such as the writer and director in favor of, I kid you not, excerpts from Jersey Boys and Mamma Fucking Mia, if the Post is to be believed. Jeez, why not Phantom? I'm sure there's still someone in Paramus who would see it and go "a Phantom?! At the opera?! Why that sounds too good to miss!"

33 Variations: Now closed. Fine star turn for Jane Fonda, backup band more hit or miss. I saw that Zach Grenier was playing Beethoven but flashed on Adrian Grenier, and at least it was less hilarious than that. The history lesson parts fit awkwardly with the parts about intellectual curiosity, the interpersonal expense of having lofty goals, and so on. And when I say they fit together badly, what I really mean is the latter is good and the former mostly not. You'll have to forgive me if I use the rotten descriptor "heartwarming" to describe the work of Susan Kellerman in her supporting role, but I think it's apt and the internal thesaurus seems to have snapped decisively shut for the evening.

Ok, I think that's surely enough. I saw a couple of other things but who cares, Edith? I read what Ben Brantley said today about Coraline and, Seagull review notwithstanding, I think he's a fair and intelligent critic, and I suspect I just am not the right audience for Coraline. God knows I could fill a page here mocking Neil Gaiman but this is not that kind of blog!

Next up: um? I dunno. Vague thoughts of attending Les Huguenots, Les Hugues to its friends, at Bard. Maybe some kvetchy liveblogging of despair during the Antoinette "My Career is Being Immortalized through Hourlong Commercials for Jukebox Abba Musicals? I'm Glad I'm Dead" Perry awards broadcast.

2 comments:

jfmurray3 said...

I still haven't seen the NYC Billy Elliot, but I loved the London version, and I don't think it's much different here. I did have a very hard time understanding the accents, and it has taken many listenings of the CD (while working out at the gym) to understand most of what is sung.

I thought the score was quite memorable. (Of course, I am so gay that I play the vocal selections on the piano only slightly less than I played Les Miz in the 80s and Rent in the 90s.)

I found the mingling of personal and the political to be cleverly done right from the outset. In "The Stars Look Down" the miners sing about living a "proud and honest life". Later in the song, Billy's opening lines to the same melody, "take me up and hold me gently" speak of the longing for acceptance, which he soon receives from the mother-substitute Mrs. Wilkinson and from his memories of his dead mother, but which he longs to receive from his father, brother, and ultimately the community.)

It is one of the gayest musicals (if that isn't already redundant) that I have ever seen - its connection of personal freedom with political freedom is audacious.

There are many superb musical-lyrical-dramatics moments (although I agree that the closet full of dancing dresses is over the top, as well as the wired flying in the finale).

One side Elton John note - I particularly love the song "Shine", which has some very clever lyrics and asides ("It doesn't matter if you're 'special needs,'/maimed or lame, or born in Leeds" and "I don't care if your mother has got cerebral palsy, Keely, you have to bring your shoes: go home and get them.") And near the end of the song, the "Crocodile Rock" Elton John breaks out with a walking bass line that makes one want to head back to the 70s and wear bright-colored polyester.

Joe

jfmurray3 said...

"Billy Elliot" on YouTube:

"The Stars Look Down"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFYhZ3njn34

"Shine"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2YjqBU8OWY&feature=relate

(enjoy the buildup at 4:40 - through the "Smoke Mr. Braithwaite" and the bassline at 5:02...)

"He Could Be A Star"

And don't forget about the amazing chord progressions veering from B, A, G, f#, d, C, Bb, all in the 4 bars it takes to sing "I couldn't take it anymore son/it was tearing me apart/We're lost; we're finished man, we're through". The rootlessness, the longing for something secure and stable - this song is so powerful. Indeed, it it not until the miners (the community) comes together that the song seems more anchored and have more direction forward. It is the ultimate merging of the personal and the political.

"He Could Be A Star"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7B4V6bEvec&feature=related

Joe