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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Never-Ending Quartet

I’ve never liked Elvis or Johnny Cash much, and I’d never even heard of Jerry Lee Lewis or Carl Perkins before this show. So, I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Eric Shaeffer’s Million Dollar Quartet on March 27th at the State Theatre as much as other musicals I’ve seen. The acting was sturdy, the singing was great, but the real-life story of those four now-famous musicians working together at Sun Records in Memphis didn’t personally intrigue me.

At the beginning, the dialogue was a little over my head. Not because they were saying anything particularly complicated, but because they were talking in their southern accents a mile a minute and using phrases that were completely foreign to me! I got used to it after a while and could better understand what was being said.

Sam Phillips was played by understudy Scott Moreau, but his performance was that of a lead. All of the characters seemed natural, with the exception of Martin Kaye’s Jerry Lee Lewis. I’ve no idea how Jerry Lee Lewis acts in reality, but I hope he isn’t as obnoxious as this portrayal. Loud and self centered, he was a comic relief character with little depth. I thought Cody Slaughter made a great Elvis Presley. As soon as he was on stage I recognized his look and the way he walked and moved just screamed “Elvis!” (I said I wasn’t an Elvis fan, not that I didn’t know who he was, eyebrow-raising readers out there.) Lee Ferris played Carl Perkins, who seemed like a natural, though unpleasant man. I was just amazed by how believable the characters were. They seemed like people, not characters. They are based off real people in this real situation, but I wasn’t expecting the portrayal to be so successful. Derek Keeling’s Johnny Cash stole the show. His character made others seem like uptight losers compared to how relaxed he was. His voice was so low and soothing, when I thought whales were probably singing along with him, he dropped a few more notes. When he wasn’t singing, I wished he were. And honestly, I’d listen to Keeling’s singing over “Ring of Fire” by the real Johnny Cash any day.

The majority of the show took place in a small recording studio. The background of the stage was composed of tall pieces of brick wall with painted signs that made it feel like a warehouse district. The lighting was always changing colors with the mood of every song and helpfully conveyed indoors and outdoors. One thing that I couldn’t help but be distracted by was that the tiles on the wall of the recording studio looked like crackers. And no, I wasn’t hungry.

My favorite effects were at the end of the show. After being urged by Tom for a picture, the stage went black, there were large flashes, and camera shutter noises were heard. When the lights went up, there was a picture of the actual event, with the poses of the actors matched perfec... Wait. Their clothing. Oh. The costume designer, Jane Greenwood, should have paid more attention to that photo. It was close to being the same, but far enough that it pulled me out of the moment and made me shake my head at the costuming instead of smiling at the well-done effect.

The lights dimmed on the frozen scene and a closing monologue by Phillips. The applause started and people gave a standing ovation as we plunged into end-of-show-darkness.
...Then they brought the lights back up, to reveal glittery jackets descending from the ceiling and a giant wall of lights waving behind the actors in the middle of the stage! They each gaudily sang one of their greatest hits for maybe fifteen minutes, and walked off the stage with the lights dimming after them. It added a level of closure to the musical by showing how far their promised careers had gone.

...And then they walk back on stage again, Jerry Lee asking if we want to hear more of him. I personally could have gone without. It had been a long night, I was tired, but he ignored me and went on with the closing song, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

...And then you could say the musical ended.

I felt this was a natural, well-done musical. I enjoyed it, but lacked the culture and musical knowledge to fully appreciate it. Maybe it’s not my thing, but any of you crazy rock’n’rollers out there should come to enjoy the show (or at the very least to enjoy Derek Keeling’s voice).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga is a gripping murder mystery.The story follows Jazz, the teenage son of an infamous serial killer, with a horrible childhood and unwelcome understanding for how murderers think.
This book starts at a normal pace and just keeps getting faster. Every time I turned the page, there was a new, crazy plot development! It was hard to put down because I needed to know what would happen! It was also very detailed. Now, I usually think detail is a wonderful thing, but when it’s murder scenes that are being described, let’s say the level of detail stepped somewhat farther than most people may be comfortable with. I had a few debates with myself about whether to walk away and think about bunnies for a while or to keep reading and get closer to discovering who had created this disturbing scene. Props to Lyga for being edgy, I suppose, but I’d rather have the gore a little scaled back.
My biggest bone to pick with this book was the ending. It was left open for interpretation.
I hate that. The rest of the book was absorbing and intense and I wanted desperately to know how it would end... But the ending only told enough to make me assume what happened. It gave some information, but it was confusing enough that it’s still driving me a little crazy. Leaving stories open to interpretation can be a very powerful tool when used in the right circumstances. This book is about crime solving and mysteries. That’s not genre that benefits from an open ending.
If you like to hear all the gory details or are looking for an intriguing murder mystery, this is one exciting read. Just beware of a potentially frustrating ending.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

American Idiot lives up to its name

On February 21st I waited in the lobby of the Orpheum Theatre, decked out in red and black soft punk attire trying to maintain my cool and not bounce on my toes with excitement as I waited to see Michael Mayer’s American Idiot. I have been an avid Green Day fan for years. When I was nine I knew the lyrics and track order of the whole American Idiot album. For my thirteenth birthday my Dad treated me to a Green Day concert at the Target Center, which I loved.  I was ready to love this Broadway rock operetta adaptation of a favorite album.
When the curtain rose, my first impression was, unsurprisingly, angry. And I loved it. The black, grungy set was unique and detailed. I found myself trying to read what was written on the heavily postered walls. All the set pieces, composed largely of a few ladders and some furniture, moved smoothly and could be used in every scene. The combination of chaotic, tense TVs covering the stage and slightly painful strobe lights satisfied my teenage angst. However, my need for an intriguing, well told story was left woefully unfulfilled.
The story was treated as a side note, so lax it was barely there; the post-9/11-disaffected-young-men-making-their-way-through-life plotline was often difficult to follow. I feel that an operetta was the wrong format for this musical. Being limited to songs that don’t have straightforward lyrics detracted from the story and made it that much harder to understand.
The characterization was cringe-worthy. The three main characters were caricatures throughout the musical, lacking convincing development. The most notable example of this was Tunny, who suddenly changed from incessantly-sleeping-slacker to to patriotic-American-soldier after one apparently very convincing number. The acting was solid, but not inspired.
The music was the high point of the production. Each song was consistently emotionally charged, changing from loud and angry, to slow and sad, to quiet and sweet. There were points when I teared up. I appreciated every musical number, and they helped me forget my frustration with the lack of storyline and characterization.
If you have a need for storytelling in your theatre experience, a tendency to seize from flashing lights, or delicate sensibilities, don’t bother. If you are a Green Day fan or a person who needs an outlet for their angst, then you’ll enjoy American Idiot. The experience is like a well done artistic tribute concert. Go for the music and spectacle and you won’t be disappointed.
The headbanging was severe and incessant. I hope they have a chiropractor on tour with them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

There's Much to Take in Here

As a child, The Lion King was my favorite movie. Nothing could compare to the deep emotions I felt while watching it. The story of Simba, the proud king-to-be, and the rivalry between his father Mufasa and Uncle Scar never failed to make me laugh and cry. This musical brought back all the magic I felt as a child and so much more. For one night, January 17th, at the Orpheum Theatre, I felt the pure joy and fascination of my four year old self mixed with a depth that only my more mature self could fully appreciate.

The acting, dancing, and singing were exceptional. Ntomb ‘Khona DIamini as Rafiki made me laugh, and Adam Kozlowski’s performance of Simba was just as heart wrenching as Sydnee Winter’s of Nala. Young Nala (Kailah McFadden) and Young Simba (Niles Fitch) impressed me to no end and pulled my heartstrings. However, the graceful ensemble dancers made the biggest impression on me. They played lionesses, birds of paradise, jungle plants, and various animals. Their dancing was beautiful and their use of puppet inspired costumes brought eveerything alive, from savanna grass to giraffes. When the animals walked down the aisles, nothing could have wiped the delight from my face.

And now we come to what I’m probably most excited about! The very first scene drew my breath away by turning the stage into a warm, glowing sunrise. The lighting stayed on point the whole show, beautifully conveying the mood and the setting. The bright yellow light and minimalist use of fog made me feel like I was on a dusty, hot savanna. At night, what seemed hundreds of stars twinkled clearly against the black sky. Clever scenes utilized shadow puppets in small spotlights adding the perception of distance.  A tiger-striped, diagonally lit backdrop added visual tension to serious dialogue. In the Shadowlands, the stark contrast with cold white light and a grey set gave me chills. The sets and effects looked impressive, but were still the simplest answer for what needed to be achieved, and they worked elegantly.

I have spent a good amount of time trying to identify ways in which this production disappointed or fell short. After much effort, I have to admit that either this musical was perfect (unlikely), or that I was unable to maintain a critical eye in the face of such a sweeping personal experience. My inability to criticize first made me feel as though I were failing in some way, but after much reflection, all I can think to say is “thank you” to the cast and crew for the gift of The Lion King.

The Lion King was a nostalgic, magical visit to my childhood, and a beautifully put-together musical I would recommend to kids from 6 to 66.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Incarnate by Jodi Meadows was a compelling read. My fleeting initial reaction to Ana, a new soul born after thousands of years of reincarnation, was Cinderella. Li, Ana’s mother, reminded me too much of Cinderella’s evil stepmother. The only redeeming factor about her was that she didn’t starve Ana to death, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. There seemed a large theme of black and whiteness insofar as good and evil, which I was not fond of. 
  The farther I got, however, the more intriguing this world became. This story lends an interesting new outlook to the idea of reincarnation and deals with the hardships of facing both exciting fantastical danger and all too real discrimination. Ana is a strong girl who refuses to let others take charge of her fate, which is one of the things I look for most in books for teenagers. I was wary of the romance at first, but it was well done. There was enough fluffiness to satisfy readers of romance novels but it was realistic enough to satisfy me. The time it took time to develop made it heartfelt and believable.
  I enjoyed reading Incarnate. I'd recommend this book to those who like light fantasy adventure and romance.