Friday, April 29, 2011

The Ultimate John Williams Playlist

So, for the past week I've been listening to a lot of John Williams music as I haven't been able to get the concert I attended a little over a week ago out of my mind.  So, for your listening enjoyment I give you my ultimate John Williams playlist.   Audio clips from Amazon are below - take a listen!

  1. Main Title from Star Wars
  2. Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back
  4. Flying Theme From E.T.
  5. Main Title from Superman
  6. Main Title and First Victim from Jaws
  7. Out to Sea / The Shark Cage Fugue from Jaws
  8. Theme from Schindler's List
  9. Bugler's Dream and Olympic Fanfare
  10. Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan
  11. Suite from Memoirs of a Geisha
  12. Theme from Jurassic Park
  13. Close Encounters of the Third Kind / When You Wish Upon a Star
  14. Prologue from JFK
  15. Princess Leia's Theme from Star Wars
  16. Duel of the Fates from Star Wars Episode I
  17. Catch Me If You Can Main Title
  18. Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  19. Main Title from Home Alone
  20. Overture from The Cowboys
  21. The Poseidon Adventure - Main Title
  22. The Towering Inferno- Main Title
  23. The Basket Chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark
  24. March from 1941
  25. The Mission Theme (from NBC News)
  26. Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  27. The Hologram/ Binary Sunset from Star Wars
  28. Ben Kenobi's Death/ Tie Fighter Attack from Star Wars
  29. Harry's Wondorous World from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  30. Across the Stars - Love Them from Star Wars Episode II
  31. Battle of the Heroes from Star Wars Episode III

John Williams - Greatest Hits 1969 - 1999

The Music of John Williams: 40 Years of Film Music

By Request: The Best Of John Williams And The Boston Pops Orchestra

John Williams Conducts John Williams: The Star Wars Trilogy

The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration Classic Scores for the films of Steven Spielberg (Film Score Anthology)

Summon The Heroes

theatre review- WONDERLAND, Broadway, April 28

Wonderland, the new Broadway musical, has a lot going for it.  It has a talented and eager cast, some excellent costumes, fun choreography and a simple yet effective set design.  What it doesn't have is a more than serviceable book and score.  It is a fun family show but doesn't quite succeed at being much more than that.

Sure there are some great show stopping songs, and the book manages to update the story of Alice in Wonderland to modern times with some humorous jokes, both ones that are hip as well as some that aim for the theatre insider.  But in order for a musical to be successful and survive on Broadway it has to be more than just okay.  It needs to excel in story and score, and that is where Wonderland doesn't quite make it over the finish line.  

This is actually the fate that has befallen Wonderland's composer Frank Wildhorn numerous times.  His Jekyll and Hyde might have had a decent run on Broadway, but every other show he's written hasn't been able to survive on Broadway very long.  I have a feeling Wonderland won't break his record.  Call it the good score/ bad book syndrome.

Jose Llana and Janet Dacal
The plot of the show is fairly simple, modern day New Yorker Alice, a recently separated mother who can't quite find success as a writer, finds herself in Wonderland and has to figure out how to get home, learning from the past what she needs to help her in the present.  Along the way she finds the characters we have come to know from the Lewis G. Carroll Alice books who help her on her journey.  Of course actors play the animal parts, some more effective than others.  Add in a female Mad Hatter, a Queen of Hearts who is basically just misunderstood and a standard journey home plot and you end up with a ho hum evening with only a few standout moments.

Darren Ritchie and the "knights"
Now I did say above that the cast was very good and they give it their all.  Janet Dacal is Alice, and she puts a hip spin on the character and sings with a nice strong and clear voice.  It's just too bad that the script pretty much only attempts to give her character some type of an emotional depth that is basically lacking in every other character.  Darren Ritchie, Karen Mason and Kate Shindle are the trio that play the main secondary characters.  Richie is the White Knight and plays the hero of the piece perfectly, not really caring about what it is he needs to do, as long as he gets to be the hero.  He also has good chops, singing and dancing very effectively in both the fun boy band songs with his fellow knights as well as the love scenes and musical moments with him and Dacal.  Mason plays the Queen of Hearts as well as modern day Alice's mother in law.  Mason gives both characters their own personalities, in fact if you didn't read the playbill you probably wouldn't realize she was playing both parts. She also has a great voice, and has a lot of fun with her two songs and her dialogue.  Shindle is the Mad Hatter and I don't know if she was having an off night or what, but Shindle is known for her amazing voice, which she seemed to be holding back last night.  Still she sounded good, looked great in her costumes and also had a lot of fun playing the villain of the piece.  As far as the "animal" characters, I especially liked Lose Llana who plays El Gato, the Cheshire cat, and E. Clayton Cornelious who is the Caterpillar.  Both effectively made their characters individuals in both gestures, accents and stage presence.  But unfortunately for both, once they had their solo scenes and songs in act one, they were virtually given little to do in the second act.  And I must comment on Carly Rose Sonenclar who plays Alice's daughter. For a young girl she has an amazing voice, great stage presence and completely holds her own with all of the adults.  I have to believe she has a very bright future ahead of her.

Karen Mason
The score has some nice moments, including a very catchy act one closer, "Through the Looking Glass," the aforementioned boy band songs for Ritchie, a beautiful duet for Dacal and Sonenclar, " Home," and a fun solo for Mason, "Off with Their Heads."   Unfortunately the rest of the score is barely memorable the day after.  The costumes by Susan Hilferty are pretty much all knock outs, I can't imagine her not getting a Tony nom for her work.  The set design by Niel Patel was actually fairly minimal but managed to use the moving flats and video projections by Sven Ortel effectively to keep the show moving.  Ortel's projections create some really effective, almost cinematic, stage images as well.

I did like the ending, though it was lacking in a real emotional connection to the characters, something again you can blame on the book.  And you can also blame the book for a somewhat convoluted second act.  I think this is one of the shows that has either been work shopped and revised so much that they've lost focus of what their original idea was or just doesn't have a good enough director to understand what needs to be fixed.  I mean, some of the actors play characters in both the modern world and in "Wonderland" but not all of them- if they're trying to put a Wizard of Oz spin on the Alice books then go all the way and have everyone play characters in both worlds, not just a couple. I do think the idea is a good one, and the score is only missing a good book to make it all work.  The fact that director and co-book writer Gregory Boyd and lyricist co-book writer Jack Murphy have worked on some of the previous Wildhorn shows that didn't succeed makes you wonder if maybe he needs to find new collaborators.    

Shindle and Sonenclar
While I think this is an enjoyable family musical and that it will probably run though the Summer, I have to imagine that repeat business or word of mouth won't be so great and that the Marquis Theatre will have a new tenant come Fall.  However with the Alice in Wonderland title, the Frank Wildhorn connection and the fact that it is an extremely family friendly show all combine to make me believe that this show will have a healthy life in regional and community theater in the future.

Official Show Site

Amazon link for the Original cast cd of  Wonderland

Highlights from the show -

Backstage with Jose Llana -

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Classic Film Flashback" - Royal Wedding

Since "royal wedding fever" is upon us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the 1951 film Royal Wedding.  Starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell, the film is set during the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  It tells the story of brother and sister dance team Tom and Ellen Bowen, played by Astaire and Powell, who get booked to play their show in London during the time of the wedding.  Stanely Donen directed the film, Alan Jay Lerner wrote the script and lyrics and Burton Lane wrote the music

 The film begins in New York at the closing of the team's current show, takes our team on their boat journey that gets them to England, then features many scenes set in the London streets, hotel rooms and theatre where the Bowen's show is running.  Royal Wedding is your typical MGM 1950's backstage Hollywood movie musical, with minimal plot but maximum musical sequences.

And this film has several musical sequences that have become "classic" movie musical moments.  The first one has Astaire doing a solo dance, set to the instrumental song "Sunday Jumps." First he dances with a coat rack then with various other set pieces and props including barbells that are in the dance rehearsal room.  Notice how there are very few edits in this sequence and that the shot always includes Astaire's entire body so you can see what his feet and hands are always doing.

This is almost immediately followed by a great number that includes Astaire and Powell dancing in a ballroom on the ship.  The sea gets a little bumpy so the ship starts to rock while they are dancing so the couple have to adjust their dance accordingly.  A very funny and lovely sequence.

And, one of the most famous musical scenes in a movie musical appears in Royal Wedding - where Astaire literally dances on the ceiling - see video clip below.  Warren Newcombe was responsible for the special effects in the film, and this scene is simply breathtaking.  I can't imagine what it was like to see that scene in theatres back in 1951. I'm sure there were gasps in the audience when Astaire started to walk up the wall of his room.

The film is a very enjoyable one, with a fairly basic plot but the musical sequences alone are enough to warrant a recommendation.  And while stock footage of the royal wedding is included, the film pretty much has absolutely nothing to do with a royal wedding except for the title!

Amazon link for the dvd of Royal Wedding

"Sunday Jumps" -Astaire solo number -

The dance sequence when the boat starts to rock- starts at the 1:00 mark -

The infamous dancing on the ceiling number -

Here is a BRILLIANT video that shows how that sequence was filmed -

theatre review - THE NORMAL HEART, Broadway, April 26

Hailed by London’s National Theatre as “one of the greatest 100 plays of the 20th century,” Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart has returned to New  York and opens on Broadway tonight.   I caught it last night and here is my review.

The play originally ran Off Broadway in 1985 and chronicles the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City, told mainly from the viewpoint of the author who was one of the founders of the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GHMC) in New York City. It is hard to believe that it was almost exactly thirty years ago when the NY Times ran their first story about the "gay cancer" buried far back in the paper.   The Normal Heart begins at that time in the history of the AIDS crisis and for 2 1/2 hours never let's down on it's attack on the apathy of the gay community and the medical establishment and government's unwillingness to do anything to stop it.  It is an emotional, profound and moving play, but filled with laughter as well, and I highly recommend it. I also have to believe this is the front runner for this year's Tony for Best Revival of a Play.

The cast that directors Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe have assembled is a pretty stellar one.   Joe Mantello is Ned Weeks, the part modeled on Kramer as well as his real life involvement with starting the GMHC.  Mantello has the ferocious passion that Kramer was known for and he plays it expertly, never making it feel forced but instead making it more of just another natural part of Ned's personality.  He is a volcano, erupting throughout the play and Mantello will definitely find himself with a Tony nomination next week.  Mantello is now more known for his directing, including having directed the mega- hit Wicked, but I first saw him act in the original Broadway cast of Angels in America on Broadway, and he was excellent in that.  It is nice to see him back on the stage again.

Joe Mantello
John Benjamin Hickey is Alex, Ned's lover who is diagnosed with the disease.  I believe I first saw Hickey in another groundbreaking gay play, the mid 90's hit Love! Valour! Compassion! and he currently co-stars on the Showtime series The C Word.   He is the grounding center and emotional counterpoint to Ned's exuberant state and the passionate connection between the two men comes across as truly legitimate, real and layered, just like any relationship.
Ellen Barkin

Making her Broadway debut as Dr. Emma, the woman who Alex and most of his friends go to for diagnosis and treatment is Ellen Barkin.  Considering that she is the only woman in the cast and that her character has polio so is wheelchair bound, you would think she might find it hard to compete with the large male cast.  But Barkin delivers in spades with a performance that is as emotionally grounded and passionate as Mantello's is, just without the shouting. 

I have to believe that Hickey and Barkin will also be getting Tony nominations next week.

Pace, Parsons, Mantello and Breen

The cast also includes three men better known for their tv and film work and all making their Broadway debuts.  Lee Pace, who starred on the tv show Pushing Daisies as well as got a Golden Globe nom for his starring role as the transgendered title character in the Showtime movie Soldier's Girl, is Bruce.  He is the handsome volunteer who becomes the president of GMHC even though Ned founded it since Ned's views of how it should be run sharply conflict with the views of the rest of its members.  Bruce is a VP at Citibank and fears his homosexuality, if found out, could get him fired.  You have to remember that in the early 80's gay men had very little protection against any form of discrimination, employment, housing, etc.  Needless to say, the completely out Ned and Bruce clash on their views as well as their differences of opinion.   Pace is perfect in the part, effortlessly demonstrating the passion that he has for the cause but can't always show in public for fear of his job, which is a major problem when you're the President of a gay organization that often makes the news.  The fact that Pace is at least 1/2 foot taller then Mantello makes the arguments between the two resonate even more.  It's almost as if there is no way Mantello can win as Pace towers over him, just like Ned feels the government and medical community towers over him in his fight.

Jim Parsons is Tommy, the young volunteer who often gets in the middle of the arguments that Bruce and Ned have.  Parsons won the Emmy and Golden Globe for his starring role in the hit tv comedy The Big Bang Theory and his comic chops are used to perfection here as he gets most of the laughs with his line delivery, a look or just the way he leaves a room.  But he also displays a complete focus on the dramatic and emotional parts as well.  Also making his Broadway debut is Luke MacFarlane, best known for playing Scotty on the tv show Brothers and Sisters.  MacFarlane plays two smaller parts, but plays both nicely.  The first part he plays is of one of the early men who gets the disease and he displays the requisite passion and fear one would expect you'd experience when you have been told you have something that no one knows what it is and you are going to die.

Complete cast, from left- MacFarlane, Breen, Barkin, Parsons,
Mantello, Pace, Topol, Hickey, Harelik and Wayne Wilcox
Rounding out the cast is a list of seasoned Broadway actors including Mark Harelik as Ned's straight, older brother who is a partner in a law firm that helps GMHC get up and running legally as a not for profit.   Harelik captures the older brother who, though not disapproving of his gay brother, still doesn't believe he is his equal.  Something that alot of gay men experience with dealing with family, especially still today with the right to marry.  Patrick Breen is one of the volunteers who also fears for his job since he works for the city.  Breen has an emotional meltdown in act two that perfectly shows the pain, suffering and emotions that the association with this cause brought to many people.  Richard Topol has two smaller parts and one is of a closeted member of the Mayor's team.  That character and his portrayal of him, clearly shows the struggle that politicians were going through at this time - including President Reagen - in their refusal to deal with the issue, or even say the word AIDS in fear that it would hurt their political future.

Together the cast works in perfect harmony to present a moving story of how a group of people can come together to fight something that at many times it seems they are the only ones who truly care about.  I found it completely intriguing and moving.  And, even though the opposing views often lead to frequent arguments that threaten to undermine the group's mutual goal, the fact that each character is based on an actual person and that the events in the play really happened, make the passion that each character has for this cause something that should make everyone stop and take notice -and do something about it themselves.

Now, one could criticize the play and say that for the most part it is presented as a one sided argument.  But when the argument deals with hundreds and then thousands of people dying when the government does nothing, it is hard to quibble.

GMHC is the largest private organization that assists people with HIV so Larry should be proud of what he was able to begin.   And, Kramer is still fighting the fight.  He is having letters passed out when you leave the theatre that drive home the points the play makes with the main emphasis being that it is 30 years later and there is still no cure, the funds being spent to try to find a cure are small and totally uncoordinated and that many people will continue to needlessly die due to the inability of the government and the drug companies to not make finding a cure a priority. 

Official Show Site

Amazon link for the paperback of the play and it's sequel - The Normal Heart and the Destiny of Me

Highlights from the Broadway revival -

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Top of the Queue Review" - Tangled in 3D!

We just gave Tangled in 3D a spin and I have to say that the movie and the in-home 3D experience is top notch by all accounts.  Now I previously wrote about how much I'm enjoying the at home 3D experience.  The outcome is the same as seeing a 3D movie in theaters but without all of the annoying things that come with going out to see a movie:  noisy people that always seem to sit in front of you, people texting and, most thankfully absent, the ads before the film which is the biggest annoyance that I'm glad is missing when watching a movie at home.  The experience is so enjoyable that I'm actually surprised that it seems it is taking a longer time for home 3D to be embraced. 

For those of you who missed this and all of the commercials for it, the plot of Tangled is basically a revised version of the classic early 1800's fairy tale "Rapunzel" by the Brothers Grimm.    While the basic plot is the same- girl locked away in the tower by an old woman, young man stumbles upon the tower, etc. - the more tragic parts of the story like where the young man (a prince in the original story) is blinded by thorns below the tower when he leaps from it in despair upon learning he will never get to see Rapunzel again, have been eliminated, as it is a Disney film after all!  Of course there is plenty of singing and two cute animal sidekicks as well - again, it is a Disney film.  Fortunately they've eliminated giving the two animal characters the ability to speak, so at least it is slightly more realistic in that regard.

Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore
The strength of any animated movie lies on three things, the story, the songs and the cast.  Fortunately for Twisted, all three exceed.   Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are the two leads.  Moore is "Rapunzel," and in this story, she is a princess who was kidnapped by an old woman when she was just a baby. 

The old woman knew of a secret flower in the forest that would make her young.  But when the Queen is dying in childbirth the King, also aware of the flower, sends his men out to the forest to find it.  They find it, and after the flower heals the Queen, she gives birth to Rapunzel.  The old woman, no longer having the flower to keep her young, steals the child as she knows that since the Queen drank a potion made from the flower that the child's hair now has the same magical powers as the flower.  Levi is "Flynn Rider" who is nowhere near on the calibre of a prince, like in the original Grimm story, but instead is a thief who gains entry into the tower as a means to escape being caught by the Palace guards after having robbed them of the tiara that was once worn by the baby Rapunzel. I liked how they updated the classic fairy tale and now made Rapunzel the one with royal ties instead of the main male character. (Though of course this does tie perfectly into the "Disney Princess" line of merchandise.)

The score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater includes songs in the typical Disney Animated style - the "I want" song for the lead, that is reprised a few times, the "misunderstood villain" song, in this case for "Mother Gothel" - the old woman who stole Rapunzel, and the love song where our two leads express their inner feelings and ultimately end up singing the song to each other.   Think of any of the songs from previous Menken scores for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin and you'll know what I mean.  And while the songs may not be the groundbreaking Oscar winners that Menken wrote in the past they are good and serviceable.  Another nice bonus is that they are sung by our three leads who not only speak but sing their roles as well (unlike a lot of previous Disney animated films.)

Donna Murphy as "Mother Gothel"
Which brings me to my favorite part of the movie- Donna Murphy.  The two time Tony winner is "Mother Gothel" and she gives one of the best performances in an animated film.   While she may not be as over the top as Pat Carroll was as "Ursula" in The Little Mermaid, or as evil as Jeremy Irons was as "Scar" in The Lion King, the accent she has picked to use and her soaring voice on her songs really makes her stand out above the rest.  Check out the clip below to get a sense of her performance in the film.  Also, Levi who is best known for playing the title role in the tv show Chuck, is a really good singer, who knew?

I also liked Maximus, the Royal Guard horse and Pascal, Rapunzel's best friend who happens to be a chameleon - both are prominently featured in the poster for the movie above and both are in the line of Disney animal characters that are stand alone individuals even though they don't say a word.

The film in 3D includes a beautiful color scheme with fully fleshed out three dimensional characters and settings.  And while there aren't a lot of the "in your face" moments that some more gimmicky 3D films use, there is a sense of depth to the film where you feel you could step into your tv and walk for miles before reaching the end of the settings.  This is definitely one of those films that if they demo'd it in 3D in a Best Buy they would definitely sell 3D tv's. 
the original logo for the film
Concerning the title, I heard a little before the film was released that Disney did originally plan to call the film Rapunzel, but decided to change the name to give it a more modern title as well as to hopefully not alienate the male and especially young boy audience.  And while the character of Flynn is in a lot of the film, and is featured on the movie posters, this is really Rapunzel's story, so maybe the title change got the male demographic into the theatres, but the story, cast, songs and the 3D experience is what got them to stay and to recommend it to others.  This is Disney's 50th Animated feature film as well.

So go out and buy a 3D tv and a 3D blu-ray player so you can start to enjoy the 3D at home experience yourself.  Disney just announced that they are updating both The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast to be 3D and the 3D blu-rays of both are coming out this Fall.  I'll definitely be picking those up!

Amazon link for Tangled (Four-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)

Amazon link for Tangled (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Amazon link for the cd of Tangled

Amazon link for the 3D Blu ray of The Lion King (Four-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy)

Amazon link for the 3D Blu ray of Beauty and the Beast (Five Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy)

Trailer for the film -

A fun compilation clip that shows Donna Murphy as "Mother Gothel" -

theatre review- THE HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES -Broadway April 25

John Guare's play, The House of Blue Leaves, is a black comedy set in 1965 Queens  and filled with dreamers caught up in the celebrity centered world on a day the Pope visits New York City.  Starring Ben Stiller, Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh  the show opened on Broadway last night and we were there.  Stiller actually played a different part in the 1986 revival of the play, which I also had the pleasure of seeing.

Edie Falco
Stiller is Artie, a zookeeper who writes songs.  And not very good ones at that.  His wife Bananas is just that, and Artie is arranging for her to be moved to an asylum so he can run off to make it big in California with his girlfriend.  Falco as Bananas gives yet another nuanced performance that perfectly captures the pain and suffering that one assumes a schizophrenic must experience, especially one who is completely aware of her husband's plans.  She has the less showy role, especially when compared to the high pitched frenetic delivery that Jennifer Jason Leigh brings to Bunny, Artie's girlfriend.  But Falco knows how to play the quiet, distraught anguish perfectly.   With long blond hair, and wearing a nightgown and little makeup for most of the play, Falco's appearance is virtually unlike any of her more famous tv roles, but she uses that simplicity to ground her character and even when she is in one room quietly eavesdropping on the action in another room we are drawn to her and always aware of her presence.

Stiller gives a polished performance.  Even though the one sentence plot description might make it seem that his character is a jerk to his wife and he has obviously suffered a lot in dealing with her illness but he still has several moments when the love he once had for her clearly shines through.  Stiller plays these scenes expertly.  Leigh adds the majority of the humor to the play, and her delivery of the material is perfect.  She easily captures the woman who believes her man can do anything that she says he can, especially if she pushes and prods him to make it happen. 

Guare's play is also a study on the celebrity focused world we live in, which is even more intense today then it was when the play first premiered in the mid 1960's.  Bunny is so obsessed with celebrities that we don't truly realize until late in the play to exactly what extent her fascination is.  But Bunny isn't the only one obsessed.  Artie and Bananas' son Ronnie (the part Stiller played in the 1986 revival) and even the nuns who show up in act two, are just as celebrity focused, though for very different reasons.  Even the nuns, with cameras in tow want their pictures taken with Jackie Kennedy, even if she is just on the tv they are standing next to.  I actually find it quite interesting that this play opened this week, only days before what will most likely be the most heavily celebrity focused event of the early 21 st century, the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. 

Together Stiller and Leigh play the part of dreamers, pushing to be find a way into the celebrity world but caught up in the realities of the world they live in, a world that they quickly realize is one that had too many boundaries for escape.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ben Stiller
Guare's play is one that is a little bit of everything, a farce, a melodrama, and a serious drama, and director David Cromer hasn't seemed to quite find the right balance to expertly keep the play in sync to reach it's goal.  He focuses more on the dark elements but in doing so the drama somewhat outweighs the humor to the point that the humor seems like it doesn't always belong.  When in order to make it have more of an impact the humor needs to take the lead so the emotional pieces, especially the ending, resonate more.  Spolier alert: Cromer's staging of the ending of the play was also a little confusing- the left part of the apartment set starts to slowly separate from the rest of the living room, leaving Artie and Bananas seemingly stranded in the room as if they were the only ones left on a desert island.  At least that's the point I thought Cromer was trying to get across.  But we were upstairs on the left side, so the separation was fairly obvious, not sure if people downstairs on the right side would even notice the separation, so I'm very unclear as to exactly what point Cromer was trying to make.  If both sides of the set separated from the middle where Bananas and Artie were then that would make perfect sense, but that isn't the way it was staged.
Stiller, Falco and Leigh
I did enjoy this revival, and it was nice to see Falco, Stiller and Leigh on stage.  Also Alison Pill was very funny in her one scene where she is a deaf starlet always giving the wrong answer to a question, but since she's from Hollywood, none of our celebrity focused characters seem to mind.  I knew Falco would excel in her part but I was also surprised by Leigh, she so expertly nailed the role of a person who wants something so bad that she will almost go to any means to get it.  Interestingly enough, Stiller's mother Anne Meara played that part in the 1971 Off Broadway run of the show.

And, concerning it being Opening Night- we did get an up close personal view of Melissa Etheridge and I personally thought she looks amazing.  Also saw Alan Alda outside the theatre- though we missed seeing Liza, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, oh well!

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Broadway Birthday!" - Happy 20th Birthday to The Secret Garden! Opened on Broadway April 25, 1991

Twenty years ago today the musical The Secret Garden opened on Broadway.  Based on the classic 1911 children's novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the musical has music by Lucy Simon with the book and lyrics by Marsha Norman.

The story of the musical follows young Mary Lennox, in the early 1900's, as she finds herself an orphan in India, due to a cholera epidemic.  She is quickly whisked away to her Uncle Archibald Craven's huge estate in the moors of England.   But her Uncle Archie, who she has never met, gives her little attention as he is still in mourning from his wife Lily's passing. Archie has a slight hump on his back and keeps himself isolated and often makes trips to London to get away from the memories of Lily that the house remind him of.   We soon learn that Lily passed away while giving birth to Mary's cousin Colin, a
cousin Mary didn't even know she had and who is bed ridden believing he has the same curse his father has and that he will grow up to be a hunchback as well.
Daisy Egan and Alison Fraser
Archie's brother Neville is Colin's Doctor and also has control of the mansion since Archie is unable to, and we soon discover that Neville in his iron fisted control over the mansion and of Colin might just have ulterior motives for his actions.

Mary develops friendships with her maid Martha and Mary's teenage brother Dickon.  Through Dickon and the groundskeeper Ben, Mary also hears about a garden that belonged to her Aunt Lily, but the garden hasn't been cared for since her Aunt's passing and is hidden away and locked up with the door to the garden completely grown over with ivy that no one can find it.  Mary makes it her mission to find the garden and with Dickon, Martha and Ben helping her, bring it, her Uncle and her cousin back to life.

While the main plot of the musical is the same as the novel, many elements have been added by Norman, especially the fleshed out relationship of Archie and Neville and the inclusion of Lily, to create tension, somewhat of a love triangle as well as an antagonist in Neville. 

Robert Westenberg and Mandy Patinkin
 The original Broadway cast included Daisy Egan as Mary, Mandy Patinkin as Archie, Robert Westenberg as Neville, Rebecca Luker as Lily, Alison Fraser as Martha and John Cameron Mitchell as Dickon.

Directed by Susan H. Schulmann, who in 1990 was Tony nominated for her direction of the Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, the creative team also included costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge and set design by Heidi Landesman.  The set included a large doll house that hung over the stage with specific rooms in the house illuminated to represent the setting for each scene. Nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the show won three Tony awards including Egan as Featured Actress, best set design for Landesman and best book of a musical for Norman.  Daisy Egan, who was 11, was the youngest female to win a Tony.

John Cameron Mitchell and Daisy Egan
The show had a fairly healthy run of 709 performances, closing on January 3, 1993.

This musical is in my Top Ten of Best Musicals.  I love how the characters are all realistic, how Mary truly learns from the people around her and how she wants to actually help other people out when at first she is only concerned about herself.  Egan was able to effortlessly capture the personal journey that her character makes and truly deserved her Tony win. 

The final scene where Archie sees Lily's Garden in full bloom for the first time since she died and sees Colin walking, gets me every time, and when he realizes that Mary was behind everything, I start to sob like a little girl.  Most of this scene is captured on the cast recording and I've actually gotten chocked up when listening to it.

But it is more than the story as to why this is in my Top 10, it is the score as well.   Lucy Simon is Carly Simon's older sister and The Secret Garden is her only Broadway credit, which when listening to the score I find shocking as the music so effectively captures the emotion of the story and has such breadth.   It features major ballads and duets, folk songs and chants, a waltz, huge ensemble pieces and quiet solos.   I read an interview with Alison Fraser when the show was running and she said that her second act scene with Egan, that includes the song "Hold On" where her character tells Mary that all isn't lost and that she just needs to hold on a little longer to see things through, was a very emotional one for the two of them, as Egan's mother had been diagnosed with cancer.   When I listen to that song I always think of what the two of them went through, as Egan's mother passed away in 1993 and ten years later, in 2003, Fraser also lost her husband to cancer.

Rebecca Luker with John Babcock who played "Colin"
Besides Fraser, the show also was one of the earliest Broadway credits for John Cameron Mitchell and Rebecca Luker.   Both have gone on to huge careers, Mitchell created and starred in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as well as directed and starred in the film of that musical, and he just directed the film of the Broadway play Rabbit Hole that got an Oscar nomination for Nicole Kidman.   Luker has gone on to many starring roles on Broadway including the revivals of Show Boat, Sound of Music and The Music Man as well as Mary Poppins and she has received three Tony nominations.  Luker and Fraser sing a duet of "Wick" from the show on Luker's "Leaving Home" cd.

I saw the show twice on Broadway, once with the original cast and a second time when Howard McGillin had taken over the part of "Archie."

I saw the first Non-Equity tour of the show that used a different set design and a somewhat smaller cast as well as the sumptuous production at the Paper Mill Playhouse that changed some of the lyrics.

One of the complaints about the original production was the use of the ensemble as the "ghosts' in Mary's life.  They were always present, lingering off to the sides and back of the stage and some audience members found it confusing.  In 2000, the Royal Shakespeare Company mounted a production at their Stratford upon Avon home.  With the participation of Simon and Norman, the musical was
revised with songs moved around as well as some cut to focus the story more on Mary.  Mary is now included in songs such as "Winters on the Wing," where in the
original production she wasn't.   The ensemble was now used more as the mansion's housekeeping staff and less as the ghosts.   While I enjoyed this production, which I saw at Stratford Upon Avon, before it transferred to London, and the way it attempted to clear some things up, I still find myself listening to the original cast recording and remembering the joy I felt when I saw it on Broadway twenty years ago.

Favorite songs from the show:

I Heard Someone Crying
Winter's on the Wing
A Bit of Earth
Lily's Eyes
Hold On
Where in the World?
How Could I Ever Know?

Amazon link for the cd The Secret Garden (1991 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the MP3 download of The Secret Garden - The Original Broadway Cast Album

Amazon link for the London Cast cd of The Secret Garden

Amazon link for the paperback of the novel The Secret Garden

Amazon link for Secret Garden: Vocal Selections

Amazon link for the dvd of the 1993 film The Secret Garden (Keepcase)

Original Broadway Cast - Tony Awards Medley Performance -

My favorite song from the show is "Lily's Eyes" - here are Anthony Warlow and Philip Quast singing the song- they starred as Archie and Neville in the Original Australian cast of the show and Quast later played Archie in the RSC Stratford Upon Avon and London casts -

Here are Broadway stars Jason Danieley and Will Chase singing the song -

and here is Patrick Wilson and George Psomas singing the song!

"Lily's Eyes" from a regional theatre production of the show

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Top of the Queue Review" - The Tourist

The Tourist is the type of movie that Alfred Hitchcock would be making today if he were still alive.  It has A list Hollywood stars, exotic locales, mistaken identity, high speed chase scenes, romantic tension and our leads followed by both the bad guys and the police - all necessary elements for the best Hitchcock films. The only thing it is truly missing from a Hitchcock film is a really gruesome murder, but then sometimes Hitchcock didn't always include one of those in his films.

Now, I'm not saying that The Tourist is as good as any of Hitchcock's movies, all of which are pretty much considered classic examples of motion picture suspense movies.  But this film is an enjoyable two hours, with some of the most beautiful cinematography you'll see, thanks to the location at the center of the film- Venice, Italy.

Jolie and Depp in route from Paris to Venice
The film begins in Paris with Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward, a British woman who is followed by the French police and who's every move is analyzed by them and communicated to Scotland Yard.  She receives a note from Alexander Pearce, a man with some connection to her past, that tells her to board a train to Venice and to find someone who looks just like him and to convince the police that that man is Pearce.

Of course that man she finds on the train is Johnny Depp, "the tourist" - a math teacher from America.  He plays the part that Cary Grant played in many Hitchcock movies - the "everyman" pulled into something that he never thought he'd be involved in. I don't want to say anything else about the plot, just watch it and enjoy how the film builds to it's climax.

Jolie and Depp arrive in Venice.
Now there are some things in this movie that go a little bit beyond reality, but for the most part the action and intrigue and the acting by Jolie and Depp are well within the boundaries of many classic suspense films.  The movie also stars Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton as the men from Scotland Yard who are following Jolie and Depp.

Now the film got mixed reviews last Fall, not exactly sure why that was as I had a good time watching it.  It was also nominated for Golden Globes for both Jolie and Depp as Lead Acting in a Comedy- which I find quite odd as even though there are a couple of humorous moments in the film, this is definitely more of a suspense movie than a comedy.

Directed by the German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who's first film The Lives of Others was a truly great movie, The Tourist has plenty of twists and turns and keeps you watching and guessing until the final minutes.   Jolie looks absolutely stunning in the movie, her hair, her make-up and her clothes are simply amazing.  But even Jolie can't compete with the beauty and splendor of Venice.  I'm sure this movie has increased that cities tourism.

Recommended for a fun night, put it in your Netflix queue if you like suspense movies with plenty of intrigue and romance, or if you just feel like a trip to Venice -and Mom, this is a movie I think you'll really enjoy.

Official Trailer for the movie -

Amazon link for the Blu-Ray of The Tourist (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Amazon link for the dvd of The Tourist

Amazon link for the Blu-ray of von Donnersmarck's first film The Lives of Others [Blu-ray]