Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Musical Theater Therapy wants you to know that life doesn't make narrative sense.
And we know this because Josh Groban told us. Well, he sang it to us, in a song from the delightfully smart, fun, and poignant Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show's first season was fun, and the second season avoided being too predictable for a show with this basic premise (cause it's not like there are a lot of musical comedies about women pursuing the guy they've retroactively decided was the one... it's this, Ally McBeal, and Law & Order: Special Tap Dancing Unit).
But the third season, in progress, reminds us all that the first word of the show's title is crazy--the new credits are a nice reminder of the many facets of "crazy".
The show's writers treat various manifestations of mental illness with a deft hand. That the crazy ex-girlfriend attempted suicide by over-dosing on "nerve pills" on a flight to LA (after the flight attendant told her they couldn't drop her off in Kansas City or something) was a gut punch they did not play for laughs, nor for some super-heightened "very special Blossom" melodrama. It's kinda got a Bojack Horseman feel to it (which is the highest praise I could give for anything not directly involving Liza Minnelli).
Rachel Bloom is the dynamo of talent at the heart of the show, but the ensemble is filled with great performers even if they don't all get the screen time they deserve. She started her professional life as Seth Meyers's intern at SNL and has worked behind the scenes on a few shows while her "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury" video went viral and earned her a Hugo Award nomination (Best Music Video About Having Sex With a Famous SciFi Writer--she lost to Drake's "Going Downtown With Ursula"). I suspect her myriad connections are how she attracted the wonderfully talented Josh Groban to the show, then I remembered that Groban is always eager to parody himself on camera: CSI NY; It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Parks and Recreation; The Muppets. If you need someone to play Josh Groban, just call--he does his own hair and make-up!!!
Here's the set-up for this scene for those of you not current on season 3 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. At the end of the last season Rebecca gets left at the altar by the guy she moved to West Covina to, ugh, it's very complicated, things have really gone to shit and at some point she runs into a different ex's dad and ends up hooking up with him. Some people might consider this hitting rock bottom, but I say it depends on the dad.
Today's song is "The End of the Movie" from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend S3E4 "Josh's Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy." Today's lesson is that when a movie is about real life, it doesn't make narrative sense. This is why Boyhood isn't actually a good movie. Great idea for a movie, but ultimately, yawn, not.
Monday, November 13, 2017
Musical Theater Therapy jumps back 4 decades (1980) to Paul Simon's only writing credit for a theatrical release--he was among the writers for The Paul Simon TV Special and shares an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special with Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase (so that's why he was in the "Call Me Al" video), Tom Davis, Al Franken, Charles Grodin, Lily Tomlin, and Alan Zweibel: One-Trick Pony.
What a coincidence that he got a job writing for a special where his name was in the title.
One-Trick Pony is a naturalistic musical (where people are singing because they're actually singing, and other people can hear them, and there's usually not a lot of choreography); and while it's not a great movie, it's a really good movie.
A pretty good movie.
To appreciate it, you have to contextualize it among American auteur movies of the late 70s and thus not expect anything good for the lead character. It's like what if Kramer vs. Kramer was about one Kramer constantly on the road with his band and struggling to make new music while Dustin Hoffman broods while watching the kid. Or if The Deer Hunter was a musical, except nothing at all like that.
It's a semi-autobiographical work about Simon's change from Columbia Records to Warner Bros. Records. The presence of other notable Warner Bros. recording acts like The B-52s, David Sanborn, and Lou Reed is purely coincidental... as is the fact that the film was distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.
NOT! That's called synergy, and if you don't understand the importance of leveraging existing organizational assets to minimize external costs and maximize profits, then the terrorists already won.
Synergy: it's like nepotism for things. And nepotism always works out just fine.
Fun fact: it's likely that letting Paul Simon star in the movie he wrote (but did not direct) was part of the deal that Warner Bros. Records offered him to lure him away from Columbia Pictures, and thus the entire movie was probably just a planned to be charged off toward their business development activities. My best guess is the movie gave WB accountants a way to write-off 3 to 5 months worth of cocaine. Okay, that might just be a fun speculation.
Fun fact: One-Trick Pony marks the film debut of which remarkably talented "Brat Pack" member? Hint: her distinguished career includes a Tony nomination, an Oscar nomination and 2 Emmy awards. She's also a singer with the voice of an angel and does a rather charming version of "Me and Bobby McGee" sitting naked in a bath tub on the lap of Paul Simon (because it was filmed in the very late 70s let's say that Simon is also naked because, reasons).
A: Robert Downey Jr. hash tag the more you know
The band in the film if portrayed by Paul Simon's actual touring band from the same period... synergy! Also, it's clear these guys are not actors. Listen to the, um, casual nature of their dialogue over the beginning of today's song, "God Bless the Absentee." It's a sweet song from Simon's pre-Graceland oeuvre and crafts a nice mood for this scene. This album (and movie, to be honest) is a personal favorite. It's not Simon's best work, but watching it at random hours of the day or night on The Movie Channel, one of 2 premium cable channels even available to us, is one of only 3 happy memories I have from 1982.
Fun fact: The Movie Channel began as a way to promote the Warner Bros. film library... SYNERGY!
Today's lesson? Obviously it's the thing about synergy.
Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me is Martin Short's send up of Broadway's memoir movement: think Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays or Elaine Stritch at Liberty. But really it's a chance for the brilliant Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who might be brilliant, or might just be smart enough to work near Shaiman) to be snarky and meta simultaneously.
Exhibit A: some lyrics from today's song "Stop the Show"
"Yes I have just one question"Stop the Show" is *the* show stopper from Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (based on the novel Push by Sapphire). Capathia Jenkins tears this song up (you might know her as the washing machine from Caroline or Change [and I am not even making that shit up]). I'm pretty sure she was the only person of color in the show.
that i'll ask if I may
why the hell did they name it the great white way
cause if you want a hit
learn what Sondheim doesn't know
and let a big black lady stop the show
next the audience will stand
nobody ever dares walk out
when a big bold mama starts to wail and shout"
MS:FBM ran for fewer than 200 performances so clearly they could have used another big bold mama (or 2).
Today's song is "Stop the Show" and today's lesson is pretty clear: put a plus-sized soul diva in your musical, always (you can't be too careful).
Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire is hugely popular, but not particularly good (in my never-humble opinion); and yet I found myself unable to put the book down when I read it 25 years ago. Eventually I realized it was the layout of the book that was keeping me from putting it down: the chapters way long, and paragraphs rarely ended at the bottom of a page and I just can't stop without a clean break.
Or a clean-ish break: If I'm desperate I'll take a complete sentence as the end of a page even if the paragraph continues.
Yes, I could read to the end of a sentence on the next page, but once on that page I'd need to finish it. The novel seemed to be formatted in ways that used my quasi-OCD reading rules against me (and yes, by "against me" I mean pushing me to read more in a single sitting).
IWTV was the first of The Vampire Chronicles, Ann Rice's gay gay gay (sorry, homoerotic) novels about "lost souls" who stay out until all hours and sleep through the cursed burning sunlight that also include The Queen of the Damned, Chicken Soup for the Immortal with No Soul, and Eat Pray Love Blood. The film version of IWTV took the bold move when casting the tall blond charismatic Lestat of skipping Julian Sands, David Bowie, Carrie Elwes and Tilda Swinton, and opting for the bitchiest version of Tom Cruise we've ever seen (Tom Cruise's actual height: 5' 6" is probably generous).
Or maybe that I've ever seen (and I haven't seen Jack Reacharound yet).
But this isn't about that. This is Musical Theater Therapy and today's musical is Lestat with music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It opened in 2006 and closed very soon after, also in 2006; its total performances (39) outnumber its previews (33), but not by much. It received 2 Tony nominations.
Today's song is "I Want More" sung by Claudia, the little girl turned into a vampire and cursed to spend eternity trapped in the body of a little girl (Roy Moore's dream). Also kids turned vampire have more demanding needs in the way of blood. Poor Claudia: she was already going to have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, thanks to Lestat she also had to spend eternity being hit on by perverted men and had to feed a constant blood lust to boot.
Today's lesson: keep your vampires away from Broadway. I'm looking at you, Twilight.
Friday, November 10, 2017
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me. Jet lag combined with the switch off of daylight savings then got immersed in a reduction of, I don't know, too tired to make this work. But 20 minutes ago I thought of one of the darker "musicals" we might feature here and BAM, I'm driven to write about it. It's Georgia, an indie drama with music starring the woefully underappreciated Jennifer Jason Leigh and the very talented Mare Winningham. No, for real, she is super talented.
No, shut up and listen, she is.
Yes, she was the St. Elmo's Fire and gave the "best peanut butter sandwich" monologue, but I think if you look at Rob Lowe today you'll forgive that in like 2 seconds (fun fact: on a tour of the Warner Brothers Studios lot with Broadway Genius John, possibly the first weekend we met, we passed Rob Lowe, Bradley Whitford and Richard Greico [pretty sure that was the third guy] dressed for a shoot in their suits and sunglasses and OMFG Rob Lowe is handsome... well also saw Kathy Najimy eating a nectarine or plum or possibly a peach that wasn't ripe while driving a convertible because, Hollywood).
Mare has 2 Emmys, which is 2 Emmys more than Rob Lowe. She was nominated for a Tony for Casa Valentina
The story behind Georgia is so sweet that it almost undermines the gritty nature of the story in the movie (a young Jennifer Jason Leigh came home from summer camp telling her screenwriter mother, Barbara Turner [the writer of Georgia] all about her camp counselor who sang with the voice of an angel [Mare fucking Winningham bitches, pay attention]). Oh, yeah, Winningham is also a great singer.
Fun fact: in high school she performed as Maria in West Side Sound of Music (now you're not sure which show I mean) opposite Kevin (you're not a pedophile if you're gay and drunk) Spacey as Capt. Von Trapp. Kevin has 2 Oscars, no Emmys, and a growing list of people accusing him of attempted rape.
Fun fact: Mare Winningham is the second Supporting Actress nominee whose character name is also the movie title. The other was Joan Allen for playing Pat Nixon in Nixon (not really, but can you name the other? she won her year... hint, it's not Lynn Redgrave).
Today's song is "If I Wanted" a song written by Mare Winningham (OMG TALENTED) and recorded for her What Might Be album (oh yeah, she also does music). Listen to the original version (which is down at the bottom) to get a sense of what her first album was like). JJL embraces her, um, unpolished vocals for the movie (which is all about a someone growing up in the shadow of a sibling and also about the FAA's stringent footwear policy [seeing Georgia is all you needed to know James Frey's A Million Little Pieces was complete bullshit--look it up, he made Oprah mad]).
Today's lesson? Shit, grab any 2 you like (the mediocrity of Perlich and Rapaport, Spacey's history of sexual harassment, or even the surprise revelation that Richard Greico was in the West Wing) so long as one of them is that Mare Winningham is legit talented (and not merely because the rest of the St Elmo's Fire cast was just Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, and the rest--OMG let's remake Gilligan's Island using the cast of St Elmo's Fire!!!).