The quick brown fox jumped over the good, but lazy Parker family.
and by “together” i mean that she decided to stay home and sleep, and i went to see “true grit” with my father and brother instead.
i’ll stay quiet on my own thoughts because my brother’s review is better, and heck friend/slash/literary illuminati robert lalasz’s review is better, too.
but, i overall i’d give the movie three kumquats and a banana — it was better than Cats!
this week, it’s the Bolshoi Ballet’s turn.
i won’t bother reviewing the show (there is no need, as Robert Greskovic of the wall street journal saw the exact same show) but it was both outstanding, and thoroughly un-Russian.
just as glasnost melted Soviet politics, it also melted the soul-crushing need for Russian conformity. in ballet, that means everything is a step less precise — likely because the off-stepping member of the corps is no longer shot on sight.
don’t get me wrong, the production was beautiful — awash in color, with incredible individualistic performances, filled with old world emotion — and nearly perfect by today’s standards.
it’s just not the mechanical, stunningly in-unison, and bombastic production that i grew to love back in the day.
… which puts me in a small circle of people (along with the military industrial complex) secretly wishing another cold war would breakout.
at the offer of a very good friend (who’s taste in theater I trust without question) I saw this beautiful city at NYC’s the Vineyard.
the show is a product of two outstanding city institutions, the vineyard (who brought you avenue q) and the civilians (known for investigative, collaborative theater), the musical is an even-handed look at the conflicts and interactions between believers and non-believers in and around the evangelical hotbed of Colorado Springs.
why this show
the first thing that popped to mind as i settled into my seat, was “i wonder what pitch meeting could possibly have lead them to this show…”
seriously, we are in the middle of a partisanship-amplifying recession, which means people are buying fewer tickets, which means theaters tend to push commodities that they know will put butts in seats — decidedly not (a) brand new (b) fair-minded (c) musicals about (d) evangelical Christians, especially not in (e) left-leaning NYC.
but, thank God they did (pun not-necessarily intended) because what came out of said pitch meeting is exactly what we as a civil society need to be seeing in times like these.
the foundation of a Civilians production is the way it is put together … the company sends the actors and production staff/directors out to a location, and they interview hundreds of people, on all sides of an issue.
in this case, each word and every character in the show is a direct result of interviews with the people of Colorado Springs, which gives the production a view point and a legitimacy that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
through the first act, the plot is based largely around the interviews themselves, with the characters explaining to unseen questioners what the migration of evangelicals to the small mountain town was like for all involved.
everything you’d expect is here, from Christians seeking a homeland, to locals looking to retain the identity of their town, to outrage (on both sides) about lack of tolerance of from outside their parts of the community.
the haggert controversy
these real issues gave the company quite a plot to work with throughout, but the show got a heaping dose of drama when the head of Colorado Springs’ largest mega church (Ted Haggert of New Life Church) got himself embroiled in a sex and drugs scandal during the course of the interviews.
such a dramatic change in the story arch could have over-amped the production, but it actually gave the second act a new prism through which to see the more general debate highlighted by the migration stories.
even more surprisingly, the controversy added a level of depth and nuance to the evangelical characters (as the community affected) that could have been lost otherwise (as the people who tried to shift the balance of the city through migration).
tolerance through exposure
in the end, all the characters are real people with real issues. it’s often said that exposure (over the long term) breeds understanding, and the exposure I had from this beautiful city gave me a window into a world that is all too easily dismissed by hippie-progs on the right coast.
maybe the most stunning experience for me in this vein was the song “take me there,” which is a spot on show of an evangelical youth service, in all its swirling-lighted, acoustic-guitar-playing, headset-microphone-yielding, rock-concert glory … I almost walked out born again myself.
but, the more poignant exposure came from the characters relating their experiences, including one conversion experience that was a direct result of a drug-fueled lifestyle brought upon by a dysfunctional family. it’s easy to disregard someone’s politics, but harder to disregard their stories.
I will forever remain intolerant of intolerance, but knowing some of the back stories involved makes it easier to embrace the person … a lesson that is core to this very production.
but, someone is giving it a go and sending it back to broadway. it’s hard to revive a classic … each of us has waaay to many preconceived notions about how the production should go.
as with the original staging 40+ years ago, the out of town previews are here at the national threatre before the show heads to broadway in the spring.
first the good things:
they obviously cast the show based on the singing and the dancing, and both were top shelf through out. the orchestra was great, the sets and lights were good enough to move the story along but not so much to upstage the story.
did I mention the music and dancing were superb? the dance hall scene was perfection on a stick. (everything good is even better on a stick.)
but best of all, they didn’t screw with the show. the play wasnt set somewhere crazy like last year’s super bowl (the jets weren’t the giants, the sharks weren’t the patriots, and Eli manning wasn’t tom Brady’s star crossed lover.)
they also had an interesting language twist, in that much of the puerto ricans dialogue was spoken in Spanish and (more importantly) many of their songs were rewritten for the mother tongue as well, including show tune standard “Sesiento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”).
fwiw, the linguistic face lift largely worked, boosting the show’s authenticity. i was skeptical, and i will say it felt forced in spots — mostly when there were too many Spanish words to smush into the English-paced music — but that could just be because I am white … and know every last syllable of the original production.
now time for the bad stuff:
they cast the show for singers and dancers. which means that precious few (past the very solid principles) could act their way out of a wet paper bag. there was at least one kid on the jets who i am sure started acting last Tuesday.
To make matters worse, there were a few scattered portions of the production that seemed to have no direction at all, which is disturbing considering it was directed by Arthur Laurents who crafted the original book.
two examples: the ode to officer krupke was basically sung at the audience, almost in a concert staging. there was none of the great repartee that i came to expect from the last 100+ productions.
then, in the quartet scene, anita sang her part (usually done in a négligée from her boudoir) from a highway overpass instead. she was still acting like she was in her bedroom, but the skimpy costume on an overpass shifts the meaning of “anita’s going to get her kicks tonight” to someplace I wasn’t prepared to go.
anyway, there were definitely a couple of places where i was biting my lip, but overall it was a solid production. maybe not a Broadway production (more on that later) but certainly a respectable regional production.
unfortunately, the two 40-something suburban house cows sitting behind us probably wouldn’t agree with such a rosy assessment … which was fine until they laughed their way through the whole death scene.
and by laughed, I mean cackled.
the started roaring with laughter when tony got shot. when maria was halfway through her soliloquy — the hardest scene in musical theater if you ask me — they were still kvetching. towards the end, I had finally had enough …
s.h.c. #2: “it can’t possible come fast enough!” more cackling.
me: turning around. “could you just leave now? leave. please.”
tony “kicks it” as it were. the cows get up to leave…
(oddly enough, she was my size, and then some.)
anyway, it was that kind of a night… which that makes me a *little* nervous about the show’s chances on broadway.
I know out of town previews are always dicey — and things will tighten up — but I’m worried about whether the show can make it with the type of cynical, over-stimulated audiences my house cow friends represent to me.
the staging wasn’t elaborate or expensive, and the show couldn’t have taken that anyway. there isn’t a big gimmick or hook. the book hasn’t been rewritten to tell the hidden story of chino’s childhood abuse by maria’s illegitimate father. enrique iglesias isn’t playing bernardo, and there is certainly no heart-wrenching robin Williams cameo as the lovable, but befuddled “doc.”
personally, these are all pluses in my book, but it’s not exactly following the new prototype of how to succeed in this brave new world of the great white way.
well, we shall see. for the show’s sake, i hope the cows won’t come home to roost.
Well, it’s been exactly one year since we moved to D.C. proper, after a combined 20 years of living around the periphery (well, I did 2 years in Glover Park, but that hardly counts). so, in the spirit of the new(ish) local blog We Love DC, the lady sparkler and I spent a walk through the neighborhood recounting why we love this place.
Denizens of Mount Pleasant refer to the Zoo as their “backyard” and in a lot of ways it is. I know more about the Prairie Dogs than I do some of my friends. Free summer concerts on lion hill, winter solace because the tourists stay away, spring babies, and the best fall foliage in the city.
It’s easy to take this for granted, but we are reminded everytime we leave the city … everything in D.C. is free. From concerts, to movies on the mall, to museums, to monuments. The first time the lady sparkler and I went to NYC together, we just couldn’t shut up about the $18, $25, $30 tickets to see anything of culture. No wonder they are so grumpy up there.
Truely the greatest “monument” in D.C., the Kennedy Center presents an amazing array of theatre, music and culture to the city. Sure, we should give a shout out to the Woolly Mammoth, Arena, Signature and Shakespeare Theatres too, but the top class productions in D.C. are good enough to rival those of other major cities around the world.
A decade ago, “food” would certainly not make an area top list, but D.C. is now home to quite a few decent restaurants. Maybe they aren’t the most daring menus on the planet, but the food is top-shelf and the service is legitimately okay. Going out, we have had as many great meals as we do mediocre, and that’s a step in the right direction.
It’s hard to believe in a city, but we really have trees and parks all over the place. Rock Creek is enormous, and just about every intersection of the big avenues has a park of some kind. Large and small, these parks are one of the reasons DC-ites are out and about so much.
While a source of scorn for a lot of people who just don’t get it (D.C. United’s owners to name a few), RFK Stadium is the last great municipal stadium in use in the country, and one of the truest places to watch a ballgame in the country. No doubt: we will cry if it ever gets torn down.
Meridian Hill / Malcolm X Park
Parisian fountains in the middle of the District … who can argue with that? Almost by definition, spring starts in the city when the park’s fountains are turned on, and it plays host to everything from picnics to drum circles. The best news, is that ten years ago it wasn’t save to think about entering the park. Now? Oasis in the city.
I loved Mount Pleasant before I even knew what it was. I got lost here in the late 90s and again in 2005, both times thinking it was the most beautiful neighborhood in the world. I’m here for the amazing. She is here for the farmer’s market. It’s a win, win.
Now, the one reason we hate this place: no one stays here … in the last 4 months, we’ve lost a handful of our closest friends to Seattle, Boston and now Mississippi. Mississippi?!? When you start losing people to the deep south, you have to wonder how great your city actually is … but why we hate D.C. (politics, interns) is a posting for another day.
so, when the n.s.o. had to discount tickets to their production because they weren’t selling — trouble selling a russian opera, who’s heard of such a thing?!? — we grabbed us some $25 tickets like the materialistic capitalist scum that we are.
the production was sublime. eugene onegin — or ??????? ?????? for those people who took six semesters of russian that they don’t use and feel the need to show off to justify the time, pain and expense — is a tchaikovsky adaptation (the nutcracker guy did some opera, too) of a pushkin poetry classic.
unlike the awful sanitized version of tchaikovsky’s swan lake — the one where the swan lives — eugene does bad things he actually pays for it. (the swan lives?!? really people, are we so devoid of vertebrae that every story has to have a happy ending?)
actually, onegin’s demise is the story of russia itself: men behave like twits, women get royally screwed, men realize their error, women quickly marry the next guy they find (ie. before he can be a twit and, thereby, restart the opera).
of course, this story arch serves as a stark contrast the classic story of america, where man screws up for 10 minutes, covers it up for 10 minutes, and then apologizes for 10 minutes.
with this as background, it’s not hard to believe that russia has created great opera, while all we’ve managed to pull off has been “mad about you” and bill clinton’s life story.
i normally don’t stoop so far as to shill for touring companies, but we saw monty python’s spamalot at D.C.’s national theater tonight and it was just incredible.
i haven’t seen Holy Grail since college, so i’m by no means a connoisseur. (actually, most of the complaints i have heard about the show have come from hard-core fans.) even so, i thought the show was smart, bawdy, funny (with a minimum of toilet humor) and just consistently great.
in my experience, it’s pretty common for a show to have 4 great songs, and then a bunch of crap filler to pad the rest of the show. while Spamalot didn’t really have a marquee song per say, there wasn’t a single bad song … and i never once looked at my watch wishing the show would hurry along. that, and the lady sparkler didn’t stop laughing for 2 1/2 hours straight.
oddly enough, i just heard it is playing in Vegas now (fitting!), along with the usual london and new york. needless to say, if you have the means, i highly recommend.