Friday, January 25, 2013

Aida: A Lyracal Love Story

Aida, directed by Peter Rothstein, is presented as the touching love story of a captured Nubian princess and an Egyptian Captain. As it was, I felt the romance was a stumbling block to the part of the story that was, for me, far more interesting, the politics and friendship between Aida and Amneris. If Aida is a great love story, than the direction could have been improved, as I found the romantic plot to be an obstacle to the more interesting plot points.

While the aerialists were not a necessary part of the story, they were certainly a successful part of the spectacle, and for me, the highlight of the show. The gorgeous lyra routine was performed by aerialists José Bueno and Justen Pohl. Their kneebacks and straddle back balances had perfect form, with their toes pointed, their knees straight, and their backs curved in crescent moons. They performed impressive foot and neck holds I had never seen before (and would like to try), all while adding to to the ambience of the show instead of detracting from the story.

I was impressed by the vocals for this musical. There was a moment when I thought Radame was singing, but it was in fact Austene Van as Aida . Her voice is gorgeous and strong, and her range is amazing!

I also loved Amneris’ (Cat Brindisi’s) voice and performance. She started out as comedic and somewhat shallow, then developed into a strong, intriguing character.

The combination of Elton John and and ancient Egypt seems like it would be, as Peter Rothstein wrote in the Playbill, “a disconnect between content and form,” but it worked quite well. It wasn’t authentic to the time period, but it matched the cheekier characters, was used in appropriate places in the scenes, and was arranged to fit the feel of the show.

The historical accuracy was-- Wait, there was none! Silly me. I guess I shouldn’t have expected it, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

I was pulled out of the performance somewhat by the costume choices. Jeans, Converse... kilts? Where did that come from? I was informed that this was intentional, but had I been the costume designer (Tulle & Dye), I would have definitely taken a more realistic route.

I was surprised by the choice of eye-candy. Besides Amneris’ costumes (which actually served the story), none of the women’s costumes were remarkably revealing. Radame, however, must be allergic to Egyptian cotton. He wasn’t the only one. The men hated shirts. Shall I go on a rant about the sexualization of men in our culture? Well, I shouldn’t rant about gender equality in my reviews, so I won’t continue (you narrowly escape). But this is an issue. I must admit though, I found the contrast a little amusing.

I’d recommend Aida to anyone who is in the mood for a vastly inaccurate but surreal look into ancient Egypt and it’s politics, good music, and a magical lyra routine.

Priscilla Queen of Disappointment

Sitting at the Orpheum watching Priscilla
Gaudy set and costumes burn my eyes
l feel a little awkward
So many nearly naked guys
But I swallow my pride
And wait for an emotional plot
But this, ladies and gentleman
Priscilla demonstrated not

It all started with the laughing at a funeral
What the heck?
I feel like I’m watching a train wreck.

Making dirty jokes
And dirty jokes
And more dirty jokes...
Okay, this is getting pretty annoying.
I’m sure drag queens have better things to do than make dirty jokes all day.

Oh and look!
It’s an over-average sized woman who’s the blunt of a joke
I’ve covered this before
I’ll stop this rant before flames are stoked.

If I were one who goes to the theatre looking for a mindless and careless laugh
I may have enjoyed this show quite more
However, the plot looked up in the second half

I felt real concern and actual fear
At the abuse of poor Felicia*
There’s an actual emotion here.
As well as a large splash of reality.

Wait. But then... what is this?
A ridiculous unidentifiable accent with a stupid attention hog personality
About half the age of her husband
Wearing only a bikini under an apron
And now flouncing around on a stage
Wait... What is she doing?
This is so awful I’ve temporarily lost the ability to rhyme.

“Pop Muzik” excepting, I must give credit where it’s due
The music was catchy and made me tap my shoes
And on that, Divas,* I congratulate you.

Parts of this were good, I suppose you could say.
But would I see this again?
There’s no way.

*Divas played by Emily Afton, Bre Jackson, and Brit West
*Felicia played by Bryan West

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Catch Me if You Can Caught Me

Catch Me If You Can (directed by Jack O’Brien) is based on an account of Frank Abagnale Jr.’s exploits as an impersonator and con artist in the 1960s, beginning when he was only 16.

I enjoyed this show enough to mostly ignore the obvious sexism, which is an impressive feat on the director’s part. The plot was fascinating, and strikingly different from other Broadway musicals. Though a criminal, Frank’s growth and development throughout the show gained my empathy and investment in the story- it helped that his criminal activity was so clever and entertaining.

To my chagrin, the main male characters were surrounded by scantily-clad, sexy, obsessive women behaving in irrational and unrealistic ways (a.k.a. the chorus line). When Frank Jr. posed as a doctor, the nurses chased after him and tried to seduce him. It seemed like some weird nurse-fetish strip show. To give credit where it’s due, the women were impressively racially diverse for Broadway. The message seemed to be that “racism isn’t okay, but sexism certainly is.”

The set was simple, effective, and pretty. It had quite a few layers of scenery in the foreground, including a gauzy curtain, a backdrop of moving clouds projected on a sky-printed scrim, and several movable black panels, some of which were suspended. I loved how versatile these were; they made for seamless transitions as they were moved to block out different parts of the stage. At times they left only a dramatic square of light surrounded by darkness, while other times they set the scene of a motel room or a family’s home.

Seeing the full orchestra on the tall curving riser was impressive. Behind the musicians, a screen displayed the background or additional glitzy lights and other effects. It caught my attention, but not to the point of distraction. It added nicely to the atmosphere, as did the lighting.

The lighting set the mood well in every scene, helping to create a different atmosphere for each setting. In the office of the FBI, dark, mysterious lighting. In a classy French bar, bright white lights, suiting the decor. In Brenda’s home, a rich, warm glow. The more glamourous numbers were lit with a multitude of colours.

The scene transitions were so smooth that I didn’t notice them at first. Once I realized how seamless they were, I paid attention to the set changes. There was never complete darkness, but some of the stage was darkened or covered by drapes so the scenery could be stealthily changed, which was clever and effective.

I found Stephen Anthony’s performance as Frank Abagnale Jr. sometimes cheesy and overdone, but still somehow endearing. His voice was very clear in the beginning, evolving into an emotional crooning tone by the end. Brenda’s (Aubrey Mae Davis) powerful voice was impressive, but was only showcased in “Fly, Fly Away.” The one performance I actively disliked was Caitlin Maloney’s Paula. She had an overstated, unbelievable, and eye-roll inducing French accent.

In conclusion, let’s ignore the annoying French accents and ridiculous sexism and enjoy (a glamorized version of) the impressive life story of Frank Abagnale Jr.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Disney's Beauty and the Beast: I Give Up on This Hunk of Junk

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (directed by Rob Roth) matched my expectations perfectly. It was very Disney; colorful, predictable, cheesy, misogynistic, and boring.

As far as Disney cartoons, I grew up with Mulan and The Lion King. I’ve never been familiar with classic Beauty and the Beast, and I’m relieved. On October 16th at the Orpheum, I discovered it was unsurprisingly easy to tell where it was going. Now that I’ve watched the whole thing, I don’t feel like watching it again, as a movie or a musical. Ever. How would I have turned out if beautiful, center-of-attention, malleable Belle was one of my childhood idols instead of Mulan? The thought makes me shiver.

While Disney’s The Lion King was adapted beautifully for the stage, this looked like a cartoon dropped into a theatre. The characters mostly matched what they looked like in the movie, which I suppose could be a good thing to some people. I just found most of the costumes underwhelming. The set, however, was anything but underwhelming. Oh no.  Clashing patterns everywhere, too many layers of giant flowers, over-complicated designs on the architecture... It was all very busy (the whole set hurt my eyes).

I wasn’t intrigued specifically by anyone’s performance. Hilary Maiberger as Belle had a voice that was nasally and chock full of vibrato, like most Disney voices are. The Beast (Darick Pead), to his credit, did sound enamored during “If I Can’t Love Her.” Gaston (played by understudy Jeff Brooks) acted appropriately obnoxious. Although none of actors or actresses in this show garnered any of my specific interest, some of the characters did.

I know Gaston is supposed to be a chauvinistic pig. That doesn’t mean all the townswomen need to follow him around and drool over his every move. Every woman I can think of with half a brain would hate him with a passion. Don’t make bad examples of half the women in the show when the target audience is 4-8 year old girls! Children are impressionable.

And on that note, my biggest bone to pick...

This is a children’s show! I don’t understand how they can be making such childish jokes (such as slapping around Lefou, which lost it’s funniness the first time) one moment and then using obvious bawdy (or you could say body) humour the next. Babette (Jessica Lorion), a Feather Duster, was wearing thigh-high fishnet stockings that could be seen from every angle. They were especially evident when she faced away from the audience and bent over, all the while shimmying her ass at us. How many times did that happen? I lost track. There were many dirty jokes revolving around her, and she and Lumiere (Hassan Nazari-Robati) were having some blindingly apparent fun times. The Burlesque-like costumes in “Be Our Guest” didn’t help either. The whole scenario drove me up a wall. If you’re going to be a kid's show, be a kid’s show. Come on.

I can’t count how many little girls I saw dressed up as Belle or other nondescript princesses at this show. The highlight of the experience for me (and the only thing that evoked my true laughter) was the girl who was sitting in front of me,  crawling all over her mom the whole time. About a quarter of the way through the show, she impatiently asked “When is it gonna end?” I was SO there with her. During intermission I asked her how she liked the musical, and she answered with a nervous combined smile, shrug, and nod. Shortly after intermission, she and her mother left. In a way, I rather wish I could have followed suit.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon

I have a terrible proneness to carsickness, but Michelle Gagnon’s Don’t Turn Around miraculously overrode my admonition against reading in cars even while on a roadtrip. Though nauseous, I was thoroughly intrigued by this suspenseful novel. Even when staring out a window, I would puzzle over the mystery in this book. It begins with a teenage computer hacker, Noa, who wakes to find herself post-operation in an unidentified hospital. United with another hacker, Peter, they work to uncover a frightening scheme of immeasurable proportions.
Though it sometimes could be predictable or repetitive, it was in small enough fragments not to take away from the story. As the book had fewer and fewer pages to turn, I was afraid that the ending would be either blunt and disappointing, or ambiguous and unfulfilling. However, I was pleasantly surprised by an ending that wrapped up quickly and effectively. It definitely left room for wondering what happens next, but appropriately so for the nature of the story.
The plot is intense and complicated, the characters are believable, and the writing is detailed. I highly recommend this book to fans of thriller and suspense or to anyone who’s willing to take a shot at an interesting novel. Either way, any reader will be holding their breath while reading Don’t Turn Around.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mamma Mia! A Recipe for Disaster

Mamma Mia!, based on the book of the same name by Catherine Johnson, is directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Johnson and Lloyd both, oddly enough, appear to be women.

First, the positives: the lighting was nice and some of the costuming was fun. And... we’re done.

Next, a brief look from a casual viewer’s perspective: Like ABBA? You’ll like this. Don’t? You won’t.

Now let’s take a look from my personal feminist cuisine perspective:

How to make your own nauseating ABBA musical

Prepare Orpheum for the 24th of April.

Main ingredient:

  • Sophie, a silly girl who believes she doesn’t know who she is without a father to "give her away" on her upcoming wedding day. She goes through her mother’s diary to find and invite all three of her possible birth fathers to her wedding.

Secondary ingredients:

  • Sky, Sophie’s stupid, lustful fiancĂ©, whose most memorable line was, "You don't need your father, you have me."
  • The mother of the bride, Donna, who flip-flops between being a strong-independent-woman-who-don't-need-no-man and a heartbroken hopeless romantic still mooning over a guy who cheated on her 21 years ago.
  • A heavy character, for a fat joke throughout the musical.
  • Two inconsequential bridesmaids/best friends who are never approached for advice... her man can fix everything, right?

Combine ingredients. Then:
  1. Sprinkle in an obsession with money – oops! Accidentally spilled in the whole jar.
  2. Add as much cheese as you want. The more the better!
  3. Enforce with racial stereotypes.
  4. Throw in a pinch of creepy why-is-that-15-year-old-girl-marrying-a-25-year-old-guy? Oh wait, she's 20?  Funny, she looks and acts like a barely-pubescent teenager.
  5. Whip in Chloe Tucker’s nasal voice and Christian Whelan’s cracking, strained tones.  
  6. Bake with a partially drunk and glowing-headgear wearing audience for two hours.
  7. Slather with tasteless sexual innuendo and content.
  8. Frost this toxic wedding cake with ABBA earworms.
  9. Top with ranting. It's my favorite part.

Or, if you’re not fond of cooking, I have a rewrite in mind. Sophie could request a DNA test and prevent this misogynistic musical from ever happening.

I would recommend this only if you’re a die-hard ABBA fan who is somehow not offended by any of the above.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Disturbing. Heart-wrenching. Powerful. So many evocative words describe Never Fall Down. Written by Patricia McCormick, this novel is based on her many long interviews with Arn Chorn, a human rights activist dedicated to preserving traditional Cambodian music. Growing up during the siege of the Khmer Rouge, this story spans four years of Arn’s war-ravaged childhood (filled in by McCormick where his memories are lacking) as well as his older life in America. Written in the first person with broken English, I connected deeply to Arn and his story. While connection is a good thing, it was also painful in this case. The one negative comment I can make about this book is that the horrifying story is true. Yet at the end of the sadness, there is a truly inspiring conclusion.