Tuesday, January 26, 2010


1. I saw Billy Elliot a couple months ago. That movie was destined to become a musical from its inception. What a great dance show it could have been! But whose moronic idea was it to have Elton John write the music? And where was the choreographer for three quarters of the numbers? What dancing there was I enjoyed, but for a show about dancing, the choreo was awfully sparse. Also, did the book even exist?

I'm not a fan of Elton John anyway - schmaltzy bombast is not super exactly my style - but it was so so so so so wrong for this show. For Lion King, fine, I can deal. For Aida, who cared in the first place? (Ok, maybe I just didn't care. Reasonable people could probably love that story. I have never yet found myself in a discussion about it.) But for a serious, down to earth drama about a devastating strike, tied together with the so-genuine story of a boy learning to dance? I was laughing my head off through the second act.

2. Alex's parents took us to see Next to Normal last week! I really enjoyed the first act - until at intermission Alex enumerated all the things about it he found frustrating, and I realized to my dismay that part of my enjoyment came from my uncritical nature. (Actually, I have not had an uncritical nature regarding theatre for some years now, but I usually enjoy whatever I'm watching in the moment and then spend the next two weeks taking it apart. It is a bummer to be pushed into criticism in the middle of everything!) Anyway, the biggest problem with the first act was that the music was sort of all the same - dramatic musical theatre rock - because the tone of the first act was uniformly dramatic. Basically, the whole act was a climax, which sort of eliminated any real drama. This could reasonably have been the intentions of the writers; the show is about a woman who is bipolar and has hallucinations, and about the way she and her family deals with this. In the first act, she and her family are constantly constantly constantly plummeting off the edge, or at least feel that way. So it makes sense, in a way, for the music to reflect that. But it isn't very effective; it didn't quite take us over the edge with them, because there was never tension, only release. (I did, however, love the song "Super Boy and Invisible Girl." That was my favorite!)

That said, the second act was a vast improvement. The music got a lot more subtle; the high points were distinguishable from the rest. Alice Ripley is a brilliant actor; I totally see why she won the Tony. The woman who plays her daughter, and the actors who play her son and her psychiatrist, are also very strong.

Here is what I think about Tony-winning musicals in the last twenty years or so, although I have not yet looked up what they all are in order to support my conclusions: There are so few musicals released every year in the last couple decades, and so few of them have original plots and original music, that whenever one of those exciting new stories comes around, it is pretty much a shoo-in if it is at all good. In order to discern which shows are really great, you would probably have to look at about five years' worth of Tony-winners and pick the best of those; I'm thinking that every few years a musical actually worthy of "Best Musical" comes around. Maybe sometime soon I'll look up the last couple decades of winners and spout some opinions :)

3. Birdland! Birdland Birdland Birdland! For those who are not familiar with it, Birdland is a historic, renowned jazz club in Midtown. Look it up if you don't know about it! I've wanted to go there since I was on the Satellite program, but I never did. But Alex's parents took us there when they were in town (Alex's parents are great! :p), and it was as glorious as I imagined. We saw the 7:00 show on a Monday night, which featured the work of (musical theatre) lyricist Amanda Yesnowitz. I didn't expect musical theatre, Birdland being a jazz club, but it was a delight nonetheless. Yesnowitz is a little heavy on her rhymes, but she's very clever, and some of her songs are great - and they were sung by a wide variety of talented (and occasionally famous/successful on Broadway/other professional venues) performers.

But that was not the high point of the evening! Oh, no! Little did we know (until it was announced after the show) that open mic night is every Monday at 9:30! After a brief conference, we decided to stay; it's $10 for the night plus $10 minimum order each, which is a bargain if I ever saw one. Alex and I got pressured (and pressured ourselves) into seeing if we could go up and sing; Jim Caruso, the manager, instructed us to consult with the pianist and see if we and the band had any "upbeat and fun" jazz standards in common. Upon said consultation, Alex planned to sing "Once in Love with Amy" and I prepared for "It's Only a Paper Moon." Naturally, after I had already talked to the pianist (Tedd Firth, who possesses the kind of sightreading, improvising, sight-transposing, bad ass skill that makes me wonder why I even try to play the piano) and after the show had started, I began thinking of all the other upbeat jazz standards I knew, which had not been so kind as to rise to my mind at a more appropriate moment.

My nervousness grew. I have never sung "Paper Moon" full out! What was I thinking? And then someone sat down to play the piano and sing. I remembered that I know by heart exactly one of the songs I have written, and it is upbeat and fun. So when my turn came (about two and half hours in!), I asked (doing this sort of set of silly, cute mannerisms that I don when I am on stage and nervous and trying to be fun) if I was allowed to change my mind - I was, Jim Caruso, who P.S. is a riot as an MC, informed me - and I sat myself right down at that piano!* I played "Fifth Wheel" - like I said, the only song I've written that I've memorized (I need to get on that!) - and was shaking so hard that I missed some notes when my hands shook right off the correct keys. Also, I forgot the words and had to stop and wiggle my tongue around and go, "I promise I know these words!" which everyone assures me was very cute (I just felt super awkward!), and rearranged the verses accidentally, but I think I pulled it off! Jim Caruso said he liked it, anyway, and so did the very sweet (and talented) woman sitting behind me. (Have I mentioned that everyone who performed at Open Mic Night was super super talented, and a number of them have been on Broadway/Australian Broadway, whatever they call it/The West End? Anyway, it is true. And intimidating. But great.) And then Alex went up and changed his mind and sang a cappella: "A Change in My Life" by Rockapella, which is a great song and which you should look up if you don't know it. Anyway, he was also super nervous but great, and Jim came up and shook his hand when he finished because he was surprised at how great he was.

And that was Birdland! I already have a list of probably 12 songs I want to sing there. Must go back! Many times! It is heaven. Everyone should come to New York and visit me and come sing at Birdland!

4. That is all for now, actually, but next up is Stew and Heidi Rodewald! February 17, Making It. I will post about it after I see it, if I haven't expired yet from the Glory That Is Stew.

*Was that a complex sentence or what? I did warn y'all that I am overfond of parentheses. I probably should have mentioned my barely restrained passion for m-dashes while I was at it....

No comments:

Post a Comment