(Super Belated) Weekend Update – July 26, 2011

26 07 2011

“He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.

He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved … New York was his town, and it always would be.”

– Woody Allen as Isaac Davis, “Manhattan” (1979)

Empire State of Mind

In case you couldn’t tell from the epigraph, this post is going to have something to do with New York City.  This post is so late because I just got back from a fantastic vacation there, a “graduation trip” of sorts.  I chose this domestic locale rather than some European hotspot mainly for one reason: Broadway.  I’ve been so busy being in shows for the past four years – 10, to be exact – that I haven’t had the flexibility to get up to see shows.  So, as a celebration of my semi-retirement from theater, I chose to see four musicals in the hotbed of the business.

But before I get into the shows, I have to talk about the city.  Just walking around, you feel the cinematic quality of the town.  More than anywhere in the world, New York City has been a muse to countless filmmakers from Scorsese to Woody Allen, who might as well built a celluloid shrine to the place.  It’s a city full of character and life, beauty and squalor, successes and failures, but above all a sense of passion in the air, a passion that can only be found in truly great cities.

First, it was off to “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.”  Even those who don’t pay attention to musical theater HAD to have heard about this show, be it the cast members getting injured, the plot problems, the dreadful music, or the direction turmoil – all amplified by the biggest Broadway budget ever.  With all the problems and publicity, they made a wise move to stop the show for a month to iron out the kinks, and about a month ago, they opened a “reimagined” version.

It could have been absolutely dreadful originally; however, what I saw was nothing short of incredible.  The story wasn’t all that great, and some of the music didn’t really work for me.  However, as I often say about cinema, theater is not only a written medium, but also a visual one.  If a work can be truly stunning to the eye, showing innovation, creativity, and imagination, then it can still be successful.  So in that regards, consider the musical version of “Spider-Man” the “Avatar” of musical theater.  Both are breathtaking experiences that push the boundaries of what we consider possible from their respective artistic media.  Say what you will about them being shallow works of art, but we need them just as we need movies like “The Social Network” and “Pulp Fiction.”

Then it was on to “The Book of Mormon,” this year’s Tony Winner for Best Musical.  It was probably the main reason I wanted to come to New York this summer in the first place; I mean, who doesn’t want to see the guys from “South Park” and “Avenue Q” take on Mormonism in a musical?  And to have it win 9 Tony Awards just increased the allure.  It’s now the hottest ticket on Broadway, and we were very lucky to get seats as cheap and as early as we did.  Try getting one now and you’ll probably be asked for $900 to $1,000.  Unless you are a politician paying for love, that kind of money for that amount of time just isn’t reasonable for most people.

I don’t know if I could ever justifiably fork over that much for any one show, but I can tell you that I’d easily pay $500 to see “The Book of Mormon” again.  It’s the musical you’ve been praying to see your whole life – smart, funny, electrifying, and a rocking good time.  While musical theater has generally been considered an artistic medium solely for escapism, Matt Stone and Trey Parker turn the tables on the preconceived notions, delivering a shocking work that deserves to be deconstructed like any other piece of intelligent literature.

I may not personally agree with all that Stone and Parker have to say, but anyone who dares to tackle an issue as big as religion in this age of artistic repression amidst commercial domination deserves a listening ear.  “The Book of Mormon” is not anti-religion, but it will ask of you to keep an open mind and ponder certain notions that you’d probably prefer to leave alone.  It certainly weeds out the weak at heart by the fourth number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (if you want to know what it means/ruin the surprise, go ahead and listen).  It’s bold but never brazen, mocking but never disrespectful, offensive but never off-putting, and challenging but never condemning.  While art nowadays consists so much of staying far away from the fine lines of acceptability, “The Book of Mormon” takes joy in finding those lines and having a rollicking song and dance number on them.

I can’t recommend this show enough.  Now that you’ve read this, I’ve officially dubbed every day that you spend in New York without seeing this show a wasted day.  It’s a musical theater experience unlike any other I’ve ever seen, and if for nothing else, see it for a laugh.  I laughed more in one scene of “The Book of Mormon” than I have at the movies ALL SUMMER.  Yeah, it’s that good.

After “The Book of Mormon” blew my mind at the matinee, I moved onto the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” that evening.  Yes, that IS the musical with Daniel Radcliffe.  I’ve never had any reason not to admire him, but this was a very smart career choice.  While I’m sure Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are fretting about how to break away from their Harry Potter personas, Radcliffe has already proven that he can do just about anything he can put his mind to.  Here, he sings and dances like a trained professional Broadway star.  He has charisma and charm totally independent from his world-famous character.

It takes time to get used to him speaking in an American accent, but after a while, the strangeness subsides and the fun reigns.  He and John Larroquette are an awesome duo; neither are classical musical theater actors, yet it’s so evident that they are having so much fun on that stage that it reverberates through the whole theater.  Call it the anti-“Spider-Man” with its top-notch satire on corporate ladder-climbing and its simple, resourceful set design.

And then, because I’m stupid, I tried waiting for him Daniel Radcliffe at the stage door for a picture/autograph.  Big mistake.  Huge.  I even left the show before the bows on a tip that as long as you left a little early, you were all good.  Well, all the “Harry Potter” fans were already lined up, so I was WAY in the back.  Then everyone else came out, and I was caught in this claustrophobic clump of hot, sweaty fans all voraciously craving an autograph.  I like to think I was most deserving since I made him a big sign for his birthday, which I couldn’t even raise above my head due to the crowd’s tightness restricting the motion of my arms.  This picture is all I have to show for my hour of waiting.  He’s the short, scrawny looking one in red – not the big one in orange.

My last stop on the musical theater tour was “Anything Goes,” the Cole Porter classic that was this year’s Tony winner for Best Revival.  While everyone loves contemporary, there’s something to be said for the classics, and this one reminded me of why musicals keep getting revived.  This production featured the incomparable Sutton Foster, a name you should start knowing.  She’s the Bernadette Peters of a new generation, a fantastic performer abounding in skill and smiles.  In the past decade, she has been nominated five Tony Awards and won twice – and she has only been in six shows!  Those are stats that would make Meryl Streep blush.

So get on board the Sutton Foster train; you won’t be disappointed.

What Else …

Not much.  I had a bunch of stuff planned, but I’ll save it for next week when I can do a better job.  I’ll throw in a few links here so a few people will actually read this post.  But until the next reel, hasta luego.

  • Sam of “Duke and the Movies” premiered his interesting new series, featuring capsule reviews by a variety of bloggers published each Sunday.  I’ll throw my hat into the ring this week because I’m back home.
  • While I wished happy birthday to Daniel Radcliffe from afar on Saturday, Andrew at Encore Entertainment was wishing happy birthday to Philip Seymour Hoffman and did a picture retrospective of his roles.  Gosh, that man can act.
  • Jim Turnbull at “Anomalous Material” counts down the best 10 actor-director combos.  It makes me feel bad that A) I haven’t seen a Kurosawa movie and B) James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock weren’t the chosen combo.
  • The LAMB Photoshops turning adult films into kiddie flicks are great for a laugh; I highly suggest you click on it.
That’s about it for me.  In case you missed my reviews this week, I’ll save you the trouble of a scroll and link here.
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4 responses

28 07 2011
Andrew

I want Daniel Radcliffe to have an outstanding and long career. Truly.

Nothing more else to add, though I’d like the world to turn in unison and ignore Stone and Parker for, I don’t know, the rest of their lives.

28 07 2011
Marshall

You are going to have to explain that last bit. What’s your big gripe about Stone/Parker? I’m not the biggest “South Park” fan, but I think they are funny in a very intelligent way … that just happens to be a little crass. “The Book of Mormon” seriously increased my respect for them.

8 08 2011
Andrew

It’s not an issue of crassness but hypocrisy. I should actually revise my original comment a bit– I want people to ignore South Park, which is where my hugest criticism of the duo lies.

I don’t know how they can reasonably attack left-wing celebrities for vocalizing political opinions, as they so blatantly do in Team America as well as South Park, but then utilize their media as platforms to do the exact same thing themselves. I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment against blasting liberal celebs for speaking up, because most of them are kind of uninformed, but the blatant hypocrisy in criticizing the Hollywood Ignorati with one hand while behaving exactly the same way with the other makes me bristle. (Which is to say that Parker’s and Stone’s general grasp on sociological and political events is tenuous at best and flat-out embarrassing at worst.)

They’re funny, for sure. I’d like to see Book of Mormon because it seems to be a break away from the flavor-of-the-week, forced topical nature of the completely unwatchable South Park, and I’d like them to employ their humor in worthier endeavors. But man, if you’re going to get political, know your stuff and don’t go after other people for doing the same things. Stone’s “I hate republicans, but I fucking hate liberals” quote makes me want to smash my face on a desk, because he’s just as privileged at this point as the very celebrities he seems to be railing against– and he doesn’t even seem to recognize that irony. I find that infuriating.

8 08 2011
Marshall

I can kinda see what you mean on “South Park” – although in their defense, they have to put together those shows so quickly that I can imagine it’s hard for them to stay totally informed. But I give them credit for trying, even if sometimes its too surface-level, to engage Americans in discussions about the issues that matter.

Meanwhile, “The Book of Mormon” was a project they worked on for 7 years and have totally fleshed out so that it’s still crass, shamelessly offensive, but at the same time very intelligent in the statement it makes about Mormonism and religion in general.

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