Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Snow Day and Transparent

Thanks to Amazon's offer and a snow day, I binge-watched all 10 episodes of Transparent today. I've heard so much about this show since it aired last year and without ever having seen it, I was excited when it won the Golden Globe award for Best Comedy. That win demonstrated a shift in how we will continue to receive our entertainment. Film, TV, Streaming - there is a new world constantly changing and I definitely want to be a part of that world.

But I digress. Back to this show full of two things this blog is about: adversity and diversity. So many people think this show is about a divorced dad finally telling his family that he is transgender. And yes, Jeffrey Tambor gives a layered, understated and award-winning performance in the role of Maura. But creator Jill Soloway has given so much more with her new series. Based in part by her own father coming out to her family, Soloway has created a dysfunctional group of people that are more relatable than what one may assume. Even if you are nowhere on the LGBT line - she has offered a variety of situations from family dynamics, child-rearing, to simply understanding who you are at any given moment of your life. Straight, gay, trans - each group has plenty to deal with as we try and get through this world. 

What is most interesting is how she addresses the fear and phobia in each of us. The cross-dressers judge the transgender community. The straight son has issues with his father's new life. The youngest daughter has spent a lifetime attempting to figure out her own identity. The stories weave in and out of each other in a way that we are not being preached at or indoctrinated (as so many want to believe) and instead - Soloway and her writers are showing what great story telling is all about. I may not be able to relate to a group of men traveling to a camp in order to cross dress and feel comfortable, but I can understand their pain and need for acceptance. (Broadway offered a play about this very subject last year based on actual events.) I'm not a straight father, but my heart went out to the son-in-law standing there trying to figure out how to talk to his children in the new upside-down world he has dropped into.

I literally loved everything about it. From the way it is filmed, the music chosen, the
direction by Jill Soloway and Nisha Ganatra, the casting - there is a reason it won the Golden Globe. It utilizes multiple time periods the same way two other favorite shows of mine have done this year. (The Missing and The Affair) Judith Light as the mother can never do any wrong in my eyes. I find I'm enamored with Gaby Hoffmann and could not take my eyes off of every single choice she makes as an actress. Amy Landecker plays a complex character dealing with her own sexuality while also learning of her dad. And I think I've begun stalking Jay Duplass as a new favorite writer as well as actor. Plus it is amazing the amount of trans people have been employed on the show. That says how important the entire subject is to Jill Soloway as she pays homage to her own father. I also must say the casting of the kids for the flashbacks is spot on!

Thank you, Amazon, for the free day of binge-watching. I really can't wait to see what season two has in store. And I look forward to watching as producers begin to offer more original content on streaming sites. 

Hello, future.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Road That We Choose

Have you ever stopped to think how different your life would be if you had made an opposite choice on a major decision in your life? Playwright Nick Payne brilliantly explores the notion of multiple roads in a person's life - all happening simultaneously, in his new play Constellations playing at the Manhattan Theater Club. This 70 minute play takes us on a tailspin of a journey in the lives of two people from their initial meeting through dating, marriage and so much more. Only they will start a scene, a light will flash and they will do the scene again in a completely different delivery, changes lines/feeling/intent and sometimes completely different outcomes. It is A Wrinkle in Time meets the romance of Somewhere in Time as this time-skipping play is ultimately a beautiful love story. Perhaps something is in the stars now (or constellations) in that we already have a Broadway musical showing us a parallel world (If/Then); however this play succeeds in this realm where the musical fell short.
When the two stars took to the stage and started this play, I had no idea what to expect when I attended on opening night. The light would shift, they would quickly change positions and I felt I was sitting through an old acting class I had attended in the early 90s. But once I caught on to what was happening, I let go and was swept away by the journey and the moving narrative being shared by this two people. Director Michael Longhurst first directed this piece across the pond and now brings his remarkable touch to debut on Broadway with two actors giving what I believe to be the finest performances this season.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Roland and Ruth Wilson as Marianne are captivating, inspiring, ooze chemistry, working their tails off - and both making Broadway debuts. Sure we know Gyllenhaal from his numerous films and I'll admit to liking him in every film I've seen. I recently fell in love with Ruth Wilson from her Golden Globe winning role in Showtime's The Affair (where ironically she also gets the chance to show two sides to one situation). These two share an amazing love story full of humor, restraint, kindness, passion, indifference – all depending on which reality we are watching at any given moment. I was completely blown away by their dedication to the craft, the rhythm of their duet acting, and the sheer amount of choices they were able to convey in such a short period of time. The clock says 70 minutes, but my mind felt I had lived a much longer evening with this play.

It’s hard to say what Constellations is without sharing too much of this strange yet moving piece of theater. However, I am very aware that this will not be for all theater goers. Big Hollywood name does not always equal good theater. Nor does every tourist want to sit through what some would be quick to call a performance art piece. But as someone who enjoys being prodded to push my own boundaries of art, loves to have my mind messed with on what is real and what isn’t, and also is moved by an incredible love story – this show can’t be beat. Bravo MTC and everyone associated with this show. Thank you for showing the diversity of what Broadway is all about.

Friday, January 2, 2015

This American Goes to Paris

I've just returned from a trip abroad where I got to enjoy my first time in Paris. This trip was different than those I've taken in the past because I was taking my 21 year old niece for a graduation gift on a trip she has talked about since she was a little girl. We enjoyed the city of lights together and talked about some of our favorite moments on our last night in town as we welcomed in 2015. I decided to put together a list here for those that may be planning their own trip to this beautiful city.

Listing of favorite things in no particular order:

1) Our first day we walked along the Seine River and our anticipation grew as we got closer and closer to the Eiffel Tower and it grew larger and larger. It was very cool.

2) Climbing to top of The Arc de Triomphe to see the view of the city…I learned what breathtaking actually meant.  

3) While there, we saw the out-of-town tryout of the Broadway bound An American in Paris - first time this movie has been done on stage and it was electric. The casting, the dancing, actually being IN Paris while seeing it…definitely a highlight of our trip.

4) While we crammed many notable places into our trip, I couldn't wait to see Notre-Dame Cathedral. The first time I saw it was at night during a cruise on the river and it was glorious to come upon it all lit up. Then when we finally visited it on our last day, I loved climbing to the top to be among the Gargoyles!

5) My most favorite thing - seeing it all through the eyes of my niece.

Here are a few things that I'll think of whenever I now think of Paris.

1) Bread. 



2) Our lovely cobblestone street where the flat we called home in the 6th arrondissement was located.

3) Smoking a pack of cigarettes second-hand just by walking down the street. Even with smoking banned in buildings now in Paris, it's still the city of smoke.

4) Steps. Our flat, the catacombs, Notre Dame, Arc, walking through Versailles - everywhere we went…steps!

5) It's not called the city of lights for nothing. They truly know how to light beautiful monuments at nighttime. 

It was a magical and wonderful trip! A great ending to 2014 and one I'll remember for sharing with a special young woman about to start a new life as a special needs teacher. So proud of her!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best of New York City Theater 2014

As we come to the end of 2014, I wanted to recap some of my favorite show/moments on stage this past year (in no particular order).

I thought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime was an amazing evening of theater. From the way it was adapted to the incredible storytelling - this show created a new genre of theater for me.

Side Show returned to Broadway and even though (like it's predecessor) it's closing too soon, this version gave the story of the real life conjoined twins a grittier look and more compelling story. I am very sorry to see it end in January.

I am a huge fan of Terence McNally and he did not disappoint with his play Mothers & Sons (which I saw twice). Tyne Daly and the rest of the cast gave riveting performances and McNally's words of how we have grown to view that horrible period when AIDS was first mentioned was spot on.

The Realistic Joneses
I'm not usually a lover of the juke box musicals, but Beautiful didn't feel like one (even though it followed the format of using one singer's music). I felt we got to know Carole King's story and Jessie Mueller's performance as the legendary singer/songwriter was  wonderful.

Audra McDonald can make anything she touches turn to gold, but with Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill - taking us through a real-time concert of Billie Holiday - it was more than gold: it was electric! What an evening. What a performance. And one to catch when HBO airs it.

Hedwig & The Angry Inch
I can't even tell you why, but The Realistic Joneses was a play that stuck with me after I left the theater. The 90 minutes in that theater felt real and fresh and I ate up every second of it.

The most energizing and captivating moment in the theater this season was witnessing Neil Patrick Harris in his Tony Award-winning performance as Hedwig and the Angry Inch. What a show!

The time I spent with Alan Alda and Candice Bergen while they read Love Letters to the audience is a moment I'll definitely remember as we leave 2014.

One of the last things I saw this season was off-Broadway, but definitely makes my list with the musical that takes women's empowerment to a new level with all of the princesses we know from Disney films. Disenchanted! was completely enchanting! 

Honorable Mention:

Bridges of Madison County
I must give a shout out to Bradley Cooper who blew me away in how he escaped into the role of The Elephant Man.

Sex With Strangers
If Bridges of Madison County had only shown us the interior chamber musical of the two lovers, it would definitely had been on my list. Everything about that portion of the musical was wonderful.

I didn't love the musical as a whole, but the final scene of Rocky was pretty incredible to see on stage.

The chemistry between Anna Gunn and Billy Magnessen in Sex With Strangers was something to witness first hand.


Benjamin Scheuer's one man show The Lion was wonderful at MTC.

Nick Offerman's riveting performance in Annapurna was a masterclass in acting. The man completely disappeared into the role.

Can't wait to see what 2015 brings to New York City on and off Broadway!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Views of Others

When I was young, I always hung out with older people and thought I knew so much…now as I get older, I realize how much I still had to learn during those years. And yet - I don't want to be those older people that think their views are the only ones that are valid. Recently as Whoopi Goldberg played the "I'm a 60 year old woman" trump card on THE VIEW, it occurred to me the oldest in the room many times wants to share that badge with everyone. As if age always equals the most knowledge. Yet there is much to learn from a younger generation. Look at how quickly technology has changed the past ten years. Social media becoming a large part of marketing…and our lives. All from a new generation.

There have been many major events in the news this month and many of those have to do with history and change. From the changes in our relationship with Cuba to the racial tensions that continue to plague our country to even a certain film being shut down because of relationships with another country, history plays an important part in everything we discuss. 

I notice it even on a personal level. I started a new job this year where I must balance the incredible history of the place with the desire for change to occur. I realize this is similar to the events in the news. Everyone is seeking a balance. 

Change is never easy in any situation. People become afraid of it. Some don't even want to
Different 'Views" Should Matter
see it happen. But thankfully, it's the younger generation that doesn't carry all of that history with them and in those cases turning to them can be smart. They allow us to move forward because they don't hold on to the past. Yes, they need to listen to the oldest person in the room that announces their age and honor that history, but that older person needs to realize there are other possible ways to view a situation. It can be a peaceful protest, an online movement, or yes, Whoopi - even those not-of-color realizing what racism is…but sometimes the younger generation may have an answer that will work if we are all just willing to stop and listen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Princesses Take a Stand

It's amazing how our views of fairy tales are dictated by the mouse over at Disney. A land where every woman waits to be 'saved' by the man on a horse. (I actually think that Frozen did so well because that was one story about sisters taking control and not waiting for the dude…but I digress.) Over on 46th and 9th Ave in New York City, princesses are taking back the power, sharing their TRUE stories and making audiences laugh out loud (yes, a real LOL) in the musical Disenchanted!

I first took notice of the show when I saw a snippet on TV about it, but this show has been playing regionally for a few years (including the Orlando International Fringe Festival not too far from those other princesses walking around at Disney), and has finally made its way to New York (with many of the original cast in tact).

What a fun show! A mix of a vaudeville and variety show all hosted by Snow White as she (along with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty) try and set the record straight about who they are and where they came from. (Check out original stories on the musical's website.) Along with Belle, Mulan, Rapunzel, Pocahontas, and several others - each woman gets a chance to shine in this one act musical evening. 

These women are fabulous! And I mean that in every sense of the world. From their acting,

their timing, the camaraderie on stage, and those voices…WOW! I was completely blown away by each of them. (With a shout out to Snow who can belt with the best of them and then turn into an operatic soprano…look out Kristin Chenoweth!) Michelle Knight reminded me of a spunky Leah Remini with the control of a CEO running the show. Becky Gulsvig rides the naive line well as Cinderella without ever going too far in either direction. Jen Bechter is a wonderful Sleeping Beauty that teaches not all princesses need to be cut from the same mold. Alison Burns gets to show great comic chops as several princesses (and gives us a little Lisa Marie Presley at times). I fell in love with Lulu Picart the moment she stepped out as Mulan and found my eyes going back to her all night. And when Soara-Joye Ross shows up as the princess that kissed the frog…she had our audience in the palm of her hands.

Fiely A. Matias and Matt West keep the evening moving along quickly with a wonderful team that has paid special attention to costumes and the look/feel of the show. But it is the songs that make this show. Dennis T. Giacino has written the book, music and lyrics and I want a cast album of this show NOW! This man knows how to write for theater. Each song constructed perfectly with ingenious lyrics, beautiful melodies and a heck of a lot of soul!

Give yourself the gift of a fun night out this holiday season! Get a group of friends and go see this show  (limited run). You will not be disappointed. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A New Side Show Has Much to Offer

Back in 1997 I fell in love with a new musical from the creators of Dreamgirls. Side Show was one of the musicals that developed a cult following in the three months it lasted on Broadway with people loving Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's Tony nominated performances as the real life Hilton sisters. I bought the CD and listened to it over and over. But as quickly as it arrived, it left New York with many believing Broadway audiences were not ready to embrace a musical about conjoined twins. All of these years later, it is back. And more than a revival, it is a revisal as so much has been rewritten and removed. Director Bill Condon has added new book material to what Bill Russell and Henry Krieger originally had. He has also rethought the work as a director and has given us a grittier look into the world of carnival side shows.

I will admit that I went into this production expecting to not like all of the changes that I've heard about. I was worried I wouldn't enjoy it as much as before. Wow - wrong. Erin Davie (Violet) and Emily Padgett (Daisy) are wonderful as the sisters who want so much more in life. One to be seen as normal and settle down in marriage and the other seeking fame and fortune. The two are believable as twins onstage and yet carry their own personalities to show a uniqueness while strongly connected. Davie plays vulnerable and fragile so well that Padgett's sassy over-protective sister is a layer that
The Hilton Sisters
keeps her own sensitivities well hidden. The two sound amazing both alone and together. Their soaring ballads are very different from what we all came to know from the original cast album, and yet I was moved to tears in their Act II number (thanks in part to a certain direction from Mr. Condon). 

I think Condon's decision to make 'the freaks' truly deformed and different (with amazing makeup and costumes) allows us as an audience to be more sympathetic to the plight of everyone on stage. The 1997 production was met by laughter from the audience because of the twins joined at the hip, but in this new production we see such diversity on that stage - laughter is not an option. We feel the pain and sadness of each person doing what they must in the family they have created. We now get a backstory to the twins life and we internally cheer for them to succeed. Either in love, career, or life. And all of those themes are addressed in this show.

I actually believe the book changes (as well as some of the dropped songs) really help
propel the story and pull us in as an audience. For anyone that has ever felt like an outsider or been thought of to be different, Side Show shows us examples of each of those people from the obvious (the sisters) to some that hit closer to home (Jake: racism, Terry: career changes, Buddy: sexual identity). David St. Louis, Ryan Silverman and Matthew Hydzik all three give wonderful performances as the men in the twins life.

Side Show touches on many themes, but while it is set during a period of yesteryear when people would gawk at those less fortunate - we really haven't changed that much as a society when reality TV and social media allow people to constantly point, stare and comment on the lives of others. Or if Daisy Hilton were alive today, she'd probably be running her own youtube channel to chase her fame and fortune in whatever way she could. Don't miss out on a truly moving and wondering evening of theater. Get to the St. James Theatre to see this one!