Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lady Gregory is a Nationalistic BAMF

Lady Gregory’s belief in the necessity for and potential vitality of a true Irish National Theatre acted as the essential driving force in her creative, literary and political endeavors. For her, these three facets of self were one in the same and, subsequently, her work was indeed not intended to serve as lighthearted amusement, but as serious action, a literal living drama, to be taken seriously. Although a great deal of Gregory’s language and situational circumstance does read as comical, it is also very directly cutting and unrelenting. This notion is specifically exemplified in an examination of her portrayal of “figures of authority” within her plays.
Spreading the News opens to find a conversation underway between a policeman named Jo Muldoon and the town’s newly appointed Magistrate. Muldoon is giving the Magistrate a tour of the area and updating him on relevant local affairs. The dialogue that takes place between the two men reads as entirely misunderstood as the Magistrate begs question after question without the slightest regard for the answers he receives. He answers his own queries as he projects his apparent prior experience in the Andaman Islands, a former British penal colony. For all practical purposes, these two men may as well be speaking two entirely different languages. Muldoon is simple and literal where the Magistrate is overcomplicating, thoughtless and repetitive: all airs and little to no substance.
MAGISTRATE: I suppose there is a good deal of disorder in this place?
POLICEMAN: There is.
MAGISTRATE: Common assault?
POLICEMAN: It’s common enough.
MAGISTRATE: Agrarian crime, no doubt?
POLICEMAN: That is so.
MAGISTRATE: Boycotting? Maiming of cattle? Firing into houses? (Gregory,

Gregory’s wordplay has a humorous effect, but her assertions have much higher stakes. These two men do appear to embody an element of the “buffoonery” that Gregory so expressly loathed, but she employs them as a comment on the essential fractured nature of law enforcement on both local and national levels. The policeman seemingly does not have the intellectual capacity to understand the Magistrate’s questions and intentions and the Magistrate speaks in questions that are actually statements and assumptions, using phrases such as “I suppose” and “no doubt”. He already has the answer that he requires and has created for himself.
If these two men can literally not understand one another, how can the people that they are “responsible for” be expected to behave with any greater level of tact, forethought or logic? As the action of the play unfolds into a downward spiral of total misunderstanding and lack of communication, the audience sees the same destructive divide within the community as is seen between the men of the law. Despite the fact that in a great deal of Irish drama one might be predisposed to assume that the policeman is the “bad guy”, Gregory is affiliating the people of the town with the policeman and Magistrate and calling all of them into question. She is forcing her audience to see not one person or establishment as being at fault, but to see essentially every character as being at fault and then posing the ultimate question of how something so absurd could have possibly happened.
Lady Gregory again employs the figure of the policeman in another one act, The Rising of the Moon. Here, the scene is quite different from that of Spreading the News. She begins at the “Side of a quay in a seaport town” and the time is night when three policemen enter. (Gregory, 54) They are staking out the area in search of a man at large after having escaped from the local gaol. These men are not named specifically, but rather arbitrarily as Sergeant, Policeman B and Policeman X, producing a very everyman (or, perhaps, any-man) effect. The feeling is quite somber when, quickly, the Sergeant is left alone by the quay to wait for the criminal to appear and, instead, a ragged man selling ballads does in his stead, or so the audience is led to believe. The dialogue that occurs between these two men is quite different from that between Muldoon and the Magistrate. Here, the audience sees two men who, although they are clearly of different social backgrounds, appear to be more on par with one another, perhaps because of the vulnerable nature of the situation, the safe cloak of the night, their momentary isolation, as the conversation progresses and initial tensions lapse.
In Spreading the News, emphasis is placed on the blunder of miscommunication. Here, Gregory places her emphasis on the opposing power of listening. The ragged man is quite romantic, a dreamer, and although the Sergeant is initially unsettled by his singing and hypothesizing, he is eventually capable of consideration:
SERGEANT: That’s a queer thought now, and a true thought. Wait now till I
think it out…If it wasn’t for the sense I have, and for my wife and family, and for me joining the force the time I did, it might be myself now would be after breaking gaol and hiding in the dark, and it might be him that’s hiding in the dark and that got out of gaol would be sitting up here where I am on this barrel. (Gregory, 59)

There is irony in this in that, although he is not (at this juncture) aware of it, he is sitting on the barrel with just the man he has described. It is interesting, however, that in this moment he truly does adopt this man’s thoughts as his own. He expressly says “Wait now till I think it out”. These men, despite their apparent differences, could very logically be interchangeable.
Another essential moment that defines the interaction between these two characters is the point at which the ragged man is singing a ballad and the Sergeant corrects the lyrics he is singing. It is no coincidence that the song in question is extremely nationalistic and that the line that the Sergeant fills in is “’Her gown she wore was stained with gore’”, referring, of course, to Ireland as embodied by a woman. (Gregory, 58) In this instance, the audience sees the two men not as Sergeant and poor man (or, correctly, as Sergeant and criminal), but as Irishman and Irishman. They have both sang the same songs, sang for the troubles of their country. The difference is simply that their “Irishness” has evolved to mean different things to each of them. The Sergeant is “with the law” and the man is “with the people”. (Gregory, 60) Although he wears a uniform, Gregory still shows her audience the Sergeant as a man, first and foremost. He has joined the police force in order to support himself, his family, but it doesn’t take much for the ragged man to evoke intense and genuine national sympathies in this moment. They are, at least on some level, already there. This dynamic is complicated because, as Gregory clearly illustrates, these respective alliances both mean “with Ireland” to each man. They merely have different interpretations of the same ultimate ideal. Perhaps this is why, in a moment of beautiful ambiguity, the Sergeant ultimately allows this criminal to escape. He understands that although their means have been different, they come from the same essential point of origin and, as the criminal pointed out, could have just as easily been in the other one’s shoes.
Ultimately, Lady Gregory utilizes two very different scenarios to communicate the same fundamental cry of distress. The policemen in both Spreading the News and The Rising of the Moon characterize a need for unity which Gregory sees as fundamental to an eventual reimagination of Ireland as a solidified country. It is the complete lack of unity and communication that is the downfall in Spreading the News and the fleeting moment of understanding and brotherhood in The Rising of the Moon that creates a moment of hope. This is also reflective, on a smaller scale, of the way in which Gregory envisioned an Irish National Theatre. For her, this Theatre represented not only a marginalized cultivation of art and literature, but an absolute forum for discussion and unity and means for national self-examination. The issues of Irishness and nationalism are complicated ones, and Gregory does not deny this. She honestly explores the tensions surrounding these ideas and, again, her vision of an Irish Theatre does no less. For Gregory and her contemporaries, these were desperate needs not only for their own work, but for all of Ireland.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Play With Fire

Burlesque as a tradition of performance has a history that stems back to the legacy of music hall and vaudeville shows and evokes memories of such performers as Gypsy Rose Lee and Fanny Brice. The variety show, a once standard and well-loved style of artistic presentation, was marked by “comic effects, erotic stimulation, or imaginative astonishment”. (Marinetti, 421) A pastiche of musical numbers, spectacle and circus acts, exotic dancers and any number of other niche routines were ushered on and off the stage in a wonderfully irreverent amalgamation of the beautiful and the grotesque. The contemporary theatre, or sphere of performance art as a whole, however, seems to have veered away from this longstanding tradition in favour of a (very generally) much more naturalistic and narrative-heavy aesthetic. Although we may fancy ourselves a more progressive and liberal generation that those of the early 20th century that gave birth to the burlesque and variety traditions, we seem to have effectively quelled the impulse to examine the marginal and extraordinary that these forms celebrated.
The question stands, then, whether or not burlesque and the variety show still have a place in today’s theatrical spectrum. A relatively small and underground community that has re-emerged and thrived over the last several years, especially in New York City, would suggest that they do. Currently celebrating its one- year anniversary, The Sunday Show at the Lower East Side’s burlesque haven, The Slipper Room, has worked to create (and made tremendous headway in doing so) “a censorship-free monthly exposition of performance artists which aims to sharpen the lost edge of Lower Manhattan’s underground art and music scene in the form of an unpredictable variety show.” (About…) Created and hosted by Kiki Valentine, The Sunday Show brings together a diverse cast of performers who represent a range of talents from fire swallowing, knife juggling, strip-tease, fan dancing and more. One such staple performer at the Slipper Room every month is Justina Flash, a hula-hoop burlesque dancer and fire specialist. It should be noted that (as the author of this analysis) I have the privilege of living with Justina Flash and knowing her intimately as both person and performer, which has offered me a unique perspective on the nature and intention of her work.
In his essay 1913 “The Variety Theatre”, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti outlines essential elements of the variety show of his time that remain completely applicable to Justina Flash’s performance at the November installation of The Sunday Show and to contemporary burlesque. The emcee comes onstage, scantily clad in a sequined and beaded brassiere and briefs, a headdress and braids; ironic and somewhat disdainful homage to Native Americans, the theme of this month’s show being “Thanksgiving on the Lower East Side”. At once, Marinetti’s “powerful caricatures…abysses of the ridiculous…delicious, impalpable ironies…all-embracing definitive symbols” are brought to mind as she introduces the opening act. (Marinetti, 421) She says that this Thanksgiving, Justina Flash is thankful for love and for danger, winks, manually draws the curtain on the tiny proscenium stage, and exits as the routine begins. The song “Lovefool” (by The Cardigans) begins to play and Justina turns to face the audience, framed by her already ablaze hula-hoop and blows a kiss to all of the faces hidden in the otherwise dark and dingy room, a definite scent of alcohol and clinking of glasses and bottles underscoring the coy air with which she greets her spectators and lowers her prop around her tiny waist and begins to spin.

To give a descriptive account of the beginning of her routine calls to mind certain notions of familiar ritual that can be identified even by an inexperienced onlooker. The imagery of the bawdy host(ess) and the exaggeratedly made-up performer, the anticipation of some risqué revelation in tandem with the physically dirty performance space is well-known to many individuals who have a familiarity with the cinema or with the area of popular culture that can be exemplified by works such as Kander and Ebb’s infamous musical Cabaret. This type of performance is inherently nostalgic at first glance in a modern context, despite Marinetti’s insistence that is “born…from electricity, is lucky in having no tradition, no masters, no dogma”. (Marinetti, 421) Although Justina Flash’s performance is very much of the moment in which it occurs, its roots are not unfamiliar: the spectator expects unusual talent, the removal of clothing, the closing of the musky curtain in completion, and that is what they get. It is also true, however, that burlesque is bound up in so much intention and implications about the body as a social and political object and subject.
Justina’s performance could indeed be classified as spectacle based and exhibitionistic, but what is important to understand is that it is also very conscientiously an act of subversion that trumps any assumptions of base behaviour for the sake of base behaviour. Burlesque, while highlighting the female body that is absolutely sexual, works also to undo conventions of gender and sexuality. Judith Butler provides a helpful means by which this assertion can be expanded upon through the lens of the drag act, which is actually quite similar in nature to the burlesque act. One could even argue that burlesque and strip-tease are themselves forms of drag as Butler describes it. She asserts: “In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself – as well as its contingency”. (Butler, 75) Justina’s costume is absolutely performative of the objectified female: a partial corset, a black lace brassiere and matching tutu. She wears a great deal of make-up that accentuates her eyes and lips, hyper-erogenous aspects of the face. Her legs are bare and amplified by high heels. When she slowly and teasingly removes the brassiere, a cascade of pink rose petals fall to the floor and in place of pasties are more petals framing her nipples, an ingeniously obvious image of stereotypical femininity if not specifically female innocence, an ironic nod to the act of stripping itself. All of this she circumscribes with her burning hula-hoop, which inherently necessitate both sensual movement and danger. The synthesis of all of these elements amounts not simply to a woman exposing herself to a crowd, but to an individual imitating and mocking the idea of “gender” as it has been constructed by society, as Butler suggests: Justina’s act observes, interprets, imitates and disembowels. By (in a way) making her femininity the focal point of her act, she fights her own objectivity as both woman and subject.
This notion returns to Marinetti, whose Variety Theatre
is a school of heroism in the difficulty of setting records and conquering
resistances, and it creates on the stage the strong, sane atmosphere of danger…disparages and healthily tramples down the compulsion towards carnal possession, lowers lust to the natural function of coitus, deprives it of every mystery, every crippling anxiety, every unhealthy idealism. (Marinetti, 423)

Because Justina, as the performer who dictates her own relationship with her audience, very forwardly presents her own body onstage, she takes the power out of the audience’s potential for desire and reclaims it as her own. Very little is left to the imagination, as some would say. Although it may appear to be quite the opposite, this solidifies her identity as unstable as the spectator is able to grasp it. With “everything” put out in the open, what does the audience have left to hold over her? This act of unexpected empowerment is what Elizabeth Grosz describes as “abjection”, which she defines as
the body’s acknowledgement that the boundaries and limits imposed on it are
really social projections – effects of desire, not nature. It testifies to the precarious grasp of the subject on its own identity, an assertion that the subject may slide back into the impure chaos out of which it was formed. It is, in other words, an avowal of the death drive, a movement of undoing identity. (Grosz, 145)

Grosz, like Marinetti and Butler, is interested in the social stigmas placed on the body as both object and subject. By creating a caricature, an amplified image of woman and of the female body as there to please, there for the taking, without actually being either at all, Justina Flash embodies the ideas of all three of these writers.

The subversive and underground nature of the burlesque scene and the variety show framing of such performance art, while perhaps initially appearing sentimental and less than topical in form and content, are, in reality, quite charged as a form of social commentary. Justina Flash’s act, specifically, raises questions about what place, if any, the construct of gender has in contemporary culture and (subsequently) on today’s stage. Her performance is not one that should qualify her as vulgar, shameless or ostentatious as many may ignorantly presume. On the contrary, her act is completely courageous, progressive (even with its roots in a very familiar performance tradition), and socially responsible as she strives to undermine exactly these misconceptions. In a generation saturated by fantastical notions of sex and sexuality in performance, what could be more appropriate or necessary?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Walk with me, walk with me...

This post goes out to Daniel Darwin and Carlee Ryan, the only people who tolerate (and, on a good day, embrace) my theatre-related YouTube binges. It happens more than you might think. The following videos are some tried and true favorites. Classics happen.

Okay, we all know that Raul Esparza is a badass. A huge one. I dare you to sing like that. This video, however, is not awesome so much because of his fucking out of this universe vocal clout, but because of the circumstances: He's just hanging out with theatre dork extraordinaire Seth Rudetsky (I want to be him when I grow up...He's uh-mah-zing, I'm obsessed...) - no big deal. He's singing "Defying Gravity", one of the most overplayed musical theatre numbers of this decade, and doesn't know the words. Thank you. Some people have better things to do than listen to Wicked, get wet over Idina's over-glorified belting and (subsequently) pretend they know something about the American musical. Raul Esparza is one of them and I love him for it - thank god he is a real musician and can sight read. Lastly, bombastic gestures are a plus here. A big plus.

Alan Cumming: I can't decide if I would rather fuck him or be him. Joel Grey: A huge legend of minuscule physical proportions who will always creep me out in the best way possible. Fosse dancers: Always sexy. Kander and Ebb: Know how to write a fucking musical. All of these things combined? Please excuse me while I tend to my sudden physical needs.

This one is specifically for Carlee because she has spent so many hours on our couch with me crying like an idiot over the final scene of Funny Girl and playing "Don't Rain on My Parade" whenever I'm acting like an emo turd. Carlee, you're a queen.

Daniel Darwin stalked this man and I had nothing to do with it. Nothing. Except those 9 times we went to see Spelling Bee, including the day of Barrett's last performance when we won the lottery for both the evening show and matinee. Oh, and the time he was in that G.B. Shaw reading nobody knew about. Right, and that time he was in Washington Square and I followed him with Daniel on the phone. It was all Daniel.

Patti LuPone is playing Argentinian. Mandy Patinkin has a false beard that would make the Yeti quiver. Eva Peron and Che Guevara. Come on.

Jonathan Groff can do no wrong. (Except when he was in the ensemble for In My Life but that wasn't his fault and I'm willing to overlook it.) This song is very simple and very sad but he sings the shit out of it. Also, who in their right mind would break up with the hypothetical "him" of this song? He can spit all he wants when he sings, it's okay with me.

This kid is fat and awkward. But let's get real. This is what I was totally doing when I was ten except I didn't have the balls or technology to tape myself doing it. This cast, as if hey weren't amazing enough, is fucking awesome for getting in touch with this kid, giving up their one afternoon a week of rest and filming the finale of the show with him. In The Heights is a Broadway show but this is a downtown mentality. Lin Manuelito (as he is commonly called in my household) is simultaneously on the verge of hysterical laughter and hysterical tears the whole time. That's pretty much how I feel about this. P.s. check out the videos this kid made that led to this happening in the first place. They're pretty much the best thing ever.

Yea, I know. Two videos of J.Groff. Don't judge me. This video is awesome because it was filmed at the Atlantic mainstage before the audience for this show was substantially comprised of hormonally challenged 14 year old girls and their uncomfortable mothers. I think this is an amazing closing number and should have been left on its own. (I can't express enough the extent to which I loath "The Song of Purple Summer".) Listen to the last harmony of the song - for those who are as pathetic as I am, you will notice that it is totally different and is kind of awesome despite the fact that I never had any qualms about the way it was by the time it made it to the Great White Way.

Broadway. Just for comparison's sake.

Let me introduce you to Iwan Rheon. I interviewed him while I was in London (the transcript of said interview is posted earlier on this blog). He is ridiculously talented. The London cast of this show in its entirety was mind-blowing. Their producers didn't let them record a cast album and the run ended way before it was scheduled to. I actually feel really priveleged to have been there for the whole run and (maybe excessively) attached to this specific production. This is where YouTube and our internet generation makes me really happy: Although I wrote a lot of my thoughts down every time I went to see it, these videos are pretty much the only thing that viscerally archives the fact that this even happened. If you want to see more clips from this cast (and you should) search SALondonFan on YouTube - most of the musical numbers are there. Specifically, check out "Whispering" because for the London production the Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik added a solo for Melchior that completely changed the function of the song for me. (And yeah, blah, blah, blah...I have obviously included quite a bit from this show - so kill me. I saw it 29 times and have no shame whatsoever.)


It's things like this that rmind me why I have a portrait of Stephen Sondheim tattooed to my arm. This is hardly the most well-known song from this show, but I think the lyrics are delightful and it's awesome that it is performed by proper opera singers, as so much of Sondheim's vocal demands are suited to their skills. This is also a tip o' the nib to the upcoming Broadway revival...Catherine Zeta Jones had better not let me down. This shit ain't no joke.

This is biased. Ths song is from Floyd Collins - if you don't know it, get to know it. I worked on this show a couple of years ago at NYU and this guy - Jay Johnson - played Floyd. Pure fucking gold. The closing number is beautiful. I'm a total atheist, but this is a song about "God" and "Heaven" and all that lovely nonsense and I'm absolutely sold. He is now understudying Claude in Hair on the big BWay and that is super awesome for him. Keep an eye out for him because he'll be around.

To end, I gift you this. A classic through and through. When I was 13 I was certain it was written for me. Welcome to the club, former self.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Because I'm a (Closeted) FanGirl...

Okay, I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who is probably a little too excited that Jonathan Groff publicly outed himself at the March for Equality in Washington D.C. That is ridiculously awesome, and what better place to do it?
This is not a gossipy thing I'm trying to do here. I just think it is really wonderful that a performer as talented, important and in the public eye as Groff (now beyond his stage reputation, having recently made his film debut in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock and on an upcoming guest spot on the popular TV show Glee with former Spring Awakening co-star Lea Michele) is confident and proud enough to be open about who he is. There are so many people who look up to him and the example that he sets by coming out is an invaluable one.

What's more (and this is a bit Gladys Kraviz of me, I admit) is that he is reputed to be dating Gavin Creel, the successor to his Shakespeare in the Park Claude. It's kind of funny, but who can care when they are both so damn amazing? I hope they harmonize when they get all sexy.

Yes, please.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Onwards and upwards!"

The final line of Neil Simon's coming of age time Brighton Beach Memoirs rang all too sonorously this afternoon as the just-open production came to an untimely close. The show's producers announced last night that the show would end its run today and the currently rehearsing sister production of Brighton's sequel Broadway Bound (or not) would be cut short before going into performances. Not cool, producers.

Admittedly, I went into the performance with varying degrees of bias and pretense. On the one hand, I had nostalgic stock in the show having played the part of Laurie as a high school student. On the other hand, I had a sneaking suspicion that if the producers were so eager to close, there must have been something lacking. Also, and this is really neither here nor there, I was hiding several rows behind my roommate and his hot-to-trot boss, a certain cornerstone in the world of commercial theatre. When introduced to me she barely looked me in the eye and I was left outside alone to finish my cigarette while my friend allowed himself to be apologetically whisked away. What those fools didn't know is that I was sitting in front of Neil Simon himself. Yes, I am enough of a dork to recognize him.

What I found, despite all of the nonsense I had festering in my head and the overdose of Vitamin C I was popping throughout to counteract my impending cold, was a very much needed performance of sentimentality. This play is not extremely topical, dealing only very tangentially with the second World War, but it hits right on the mark in terms of presenting the "family" as it exists in the uniquely American melting-pot sense. Everybody is struggling and complaining, but everybody is supporting each other. Noah Robbins, in his Broadway debut as Eugene, never missed a beat: his timing was genius and he was the perfect amounts naive and snarky. Backing up Robbins was a generally "good" ensemble, none of whom particularly shone on their own save the fabulous Laurie Metcalf in the role of Kate, Eugene's mother. Although Eugene narrates, Kate is really this show's lynch pin and Metcalf played the hell out of the role.

My one glaring point of contention with this production was Alexandra Socha. I don't like her. She was horrible as Wendla when she replaced Lea Michele in Spring Awakening and she was horrible today. At least in Spring Awakening she wasn't trying to imitate a 1930's Brooklyn Jewish accent. She couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. Go back to drama school.

Brighton Beach Memoirs doesn't have much to offer beyond its ability to put a smile on your face. Arthur Miller really took the family setting of Simon's work and made it far more interesting, topical and high stakes with plays such as A View From the Bridge. However, that doesn't make it any less of a shame to see a perfectly formidable production of a delightful (and thoroughly American) play flop before really being given a chance to thrive. When the curtain fell at the end of the second act I turned around, momentarily contemplating thanking Mr. Simon for his work, but, like his play, he had slipped away almost as quickly as I had noticed his presence.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

With so little to be sure of...

...if there's anything at all.

There are few things that I can say that I am sure of at this exact point in time (other than "here and now and us together"...). For one thing, I am sure of what makes me go all a-tingly in my theatrical nether regions and what makes me want to vomit old sheet music. With the summer drawing to an imminent close, there is much on the horizon to be aware of. Here is my own personal and biased lineup:
The mucho gustos:
Othello (Produced by the Public Theatre, directed by Peter Sellars, starring John Ortiz as the Moor himself and P.S. Hoffman as Iago) This one speaks for itself. Right off the bat, I question the sanity of anybody who is not eager to see one of the greatest living American actors grace the stage as one of dramatic literature's greatest and least apologetic villains of all time. Peter Sellars is infamous for his work with opera, lending a modern lilt to classic work and breathing a tour de force life into contemporary work (as in his close working relationship with living American composer John Adams). He is sure to do great things with a straight play that hardly lacks the emotional charge of the operatic canon. In a totally selfish light, as an NYU student I score big time (for once) with access to $12 student tickets because the venue is the good old Skirball Center. Ra ra. Finally, the Public can really do no wrong. Q.E.D.
The Understudy (Written by Theresa Rebeck, Roundabout Theatre Company, starring Julie White, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Justin Kirk) Okay, this is a big season for names and this off-Broadway production of Rebeck's new play is stacked. After the recent appearance of Mario Lopez in A Chorus Line, why would producers NOT find a vehicle for Zack Morris? (Maybe next year we will see Dustin Diamond in the title role of Hamlet...) Justin Kirk, although popularly known now for his work on film, is no stranger to the stage and his return is much welcomed by yours truly. His capacity to adapt to roles that couldn't be more polar opposite (what would happen if Andy Botwin and Prior Walter went out for coffee?) leaves me soundly expecting a performance worth talking about. Finally, who doesn't love Julie White? She won the Tony for The Little Dog Laughed, appeared on Six Feet Under and playwright Rebeck has written specifically for her in the past. This woman has obviously been doing something right. (Also, who among us, whether admittedly or not, doesn't like a little backstage inside joke in their theatre-going lineup? The play focuses on "one of the most notorious roles in the theatre: the understudy.")

The Bacchae (Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, starring Jonathan Groff) Has anybody else been watching the new season of True Blood? Is anybody else getting a little miffed by Mary Ann and her Dionysian tomfoolery? Thank fuck the Public will pull us back to the roots with this production. Can you really think of a better play to be staged outside? And with a new (under)score by Philip Glass? I will not soon forget Alan Cumming's performance as Dionysus (at the Lincoln Center last summer) but am very eager to see what the much younger, much more innocent Jonathan Groff will do with the role. Oh, yeah, and it's free, lest we forget. Again, I assert that the Public can do no wrong. (Ten points deposited in the posthumous bank of awesomeness for Joe Papp).

The No Me Gusta Column:

American Idiot (Berkeley Rep, Directed by Michael Mayer) What the hell, everybody? Are you really making another jukebox musical? Does it really have to be formed around the album that reminds everybody what Green Day once was (wank-worthy) and no longer is? Does everybody involved have to be so legit that I am probably going to have to see it when it (inevitably) comes to New York? Damn all of you. Truly, why is everybody involved in this puke-prompting project really established and talented? Michael Mayer, John Gallager Jr., Tom Kitt, DO YOU REALLY HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO? Good luck super-imposing a narrative onto that piece of rubbish...

Catch Me If You Can (Seattle's 5th Ave. Theatre) All I have to say about this is that A) we don't need another movie cum musical B) Aaron Tveit traded in a wonderful role in an excellent ORIGINAL work for a wardrobe the size of a small country and C) this speaks volumes.

Heed my musings or don't. I'm just one small girl (in a tree).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

This is the dawning of the age of...the internet musical?

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the internet. Good timing, right? I might be a good decade or so behind the 8 Ball on this one. All the same, my musings are not entirely untimely when you take the current recession into consideration. With little to no money to spare, many of us who would rather be sitting in on live performances have had to resort to other media for our doses of modern performance. Whether it be watching clips from the Tony Awards on YouTube or catching up with Mary Louise Parker's latest antics on Weeds, we have all had to adjust to new budgets that don't leave room for weekly trips to the theatre.

A few days ago, a good friend e-mailed me a link to CollegeHumor's new online musical "Web Site Story". This short video (obviously) draws from the classic musical West Side Story not only for its name, but also loosely as the basis for its plot. Tony and Maria meet online (after Tony comes across Maria's Twitter updates via Facebook) and the two plan a romantic meeting. All that they know about eachother comes from their respective online haunts and profiles: Tony knows that Maria is an avid fan of Jason Mraz and he sings a song (to the tune of "Maria") in praise of Pandora, which allows him to "educate himself" in the ways of such devotees. Maria's friends (in a scene directly reminiscent of "I Feel Pretty") sing about the joys of Twitter, which allows everybody to know what she is doing at every moment of the day. Other popular internet phenomena that are touched on include the popular dating website eHarmony, Google Earth and e-vites. Tony and Maria even admit to the excitement of blogging about one another after their date is over.

While the video certainly makes fun of all of the aforementioned forms of "communication", it also is targeted at exactly those people who have made such forms as prominent as they are. The friend who sent me the link is a complete computer junkie who most likely came across this project via somebody's "tweeting". It is interesting that the form of the musical has translated so popularly to both video and the internet (see also things such as the web series The Battery's Down and Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog). "Web Site Story" appeals to very different crowds of people: those who are (to quote a friend) "married to the internet" and theatre junkies such as myself who are more interested in the reshaping of classic work and forms for a contemporary audience and, specifically, this generation. What does this say about the future of the musical? While such an overwhelming amount of what is being staged is either a film adaptation or a jukebox musical (for example the upcoming Spider Man Turn Off the Dark or American Idiot), is it necessarily a negative thing that young people are taking advantage of more modern resources in order to reimagine what this form can mean to a generation so plagued by moment to moment updating and instant gratification? I am certainly a life-long proponent of live performance and musical theatre proper, but at a time when resources are scarce and producing a successful original work is becoming increasingly difficult is it a negative thing to find an alternative route to creation? The material is certainly topical and original, if nothing else.

So, I end these scattered musings on a note of uncertainty. Are internet musicals effectively destroying the future of musical theatre or simply providing an outlet for a generation that has clung to a new form of communication and expression?