Friday, February 20, 2015

How To Pick The Best

It's awards season for Hollywood and people are placing bets and clambering to get behind their favorite movie, actor, writer - the list goes on.

It's a given that most of us love to win at whatever we are doing, but it's so difficult to compare apples and oranges in some of these races. Many years we see what appears as a clear cut winner and other years it narrows down to just a few (those who have producers with deep pockets to consider their work). But is there really a BEST or is simply a personal preference? What I love, you may hate (and vice versa).  

I don't usually blog or review things that I don't like, so I'll try to make a positive spin on this blog. But wow - I'm not impressed with the movies we get to choose from this year. Yes, there are some amazing acting moments in each of them (Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette,Edward Norton), but it seems we are honoring films that have an interesting plot device,  unique storytelling, or something else that makes them 'different'. Is different always best? I love to be moved when seeing a film, but not made to feel as if I've been on a ride and want to throw-up once the cinematographer has finished taking us on a trip. I've seen five of the nominated Best Pictures and I honestly can't say this season that any one of those jumps out to me and screams Best Picture.  

Star power is another thing that Hollywood loves! Who am I kidding - everyone loves it. So when someone comes along who isn't the <insert biggest name here> of the moment and gives a brilliant performance, their chances may not be so good of winning. Be happy you got nominated because you're not going to make it to the stage. Sad to say, but often true. Hollywood likes to celebrate their own.

Speaking of Hollywood stars…they have popped up so much on Broadway this year. I always want to cheer those that can rise above the hype and the fame and give amazing performances (Jake Gyllenhaal, Bradley Cooper) while others can't seem to save the river they are floating in from swallowing them whole (Love you Mr. Jackman, but I couldn't stomach "The River"). 

But I digress, this is about giving out an award for the best in each field. People will receive Spirit Awards on Saturday night for Indie Films and Oscars on Sunday.  Lives will change as their bankability will go up. Huge amounts of money will be made by studios and yes, I'll be tuned in to watch. I think I prefer those years when I've felt there was a movie I was pulling for to end up on stage.  

If by some grand chance my boyhood dreams place this American in the middle of that game one day…I'll be the no-name-person with whiplash from the experience repeating that old theory: it's great to just be nominated. (Sorry Birdman & Selma - I couldn't fit you in that sentence.)


Monday, February 9, 2015

Say Hello To My Little Friend

This week a blogger friend of mine came out of the closet on a subject and I thought it was time I did the same. Those close to me already know this secret, but the rest of the world doesn't.

I have a cat.

Not a real cat - that would take too much effort. My Kitty is a stuffed cat celebrating an 8th birthday this week. What started as a Valentine gift for my spouse has turned into a "Where in the World is Kitty" - a traveling gnome that goes on all vacations with us, often angering friends that think Kitty is treated too highly. My friends vacillate between jealousy over Kitty's travels to sometimes asking why the thing hasn't popped up in one of my vacation photos. When at home, Kitty will get in all sorts of mischief and naturally like a good parent…I grab my camera.
A few years ago, the store where I bought Kitty was going out of a business so I bought a backup cat in case we ever lost the original. (Needless to say, my hubby was pissed and banished the Clone Cat to a different room in the house.)

So that's my big secret. Happy birthday to my little friend. And now you all can enjoy some of the travels of Kitty. 

Maybe someday, Kitty will get a children's book created like Chicken Boy.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

This Application Packs A Punch

If you do not know Christina Bianco, go to youtube right now and see the wonder that is this woman. Known for an incredible singing voice and an uncanny ability to impersonate divas (both Broadway and pop), she has created quite a following on social media with millions of hits to her numerous videos. The musical theater performer is stepping out of that comfort zone of using her singing voice in her latest off-Broadway endeavor, but boy - her brilliance still shines through in the new play running at the Westside Theatre.

The play Application Pending was written by two friends Andy Sandberg and Greg Edwards who have tackled the dilemma of parents attempting to get their children into a prestigious school - all at the age of 5. It is a herculean task for many with an application process that can match that of a college. 

In their one act play, a young woman, Christine, has taken on the job in the application office of answering the phone and fielding all the calls that come into the Edgely Preparatory Academy in Manhattan; nervous parents anxiously waiting to know if their child has been accepted. But Christine also has to juggle teachers calling her, the principal of the school, her own child and his school, an ex husband, outside vendors, people searching for her predecessor, and a major event she has to plan for that evening - all within a days work. It becomes clear quickly in this one woman show that the power of this play is in the actress playing Christine. And what a find they have with Ms. Bianco.

Walking around the set of an office with a headset on, she transforms into every single call that comes in. 40+ characters that she switches back and forth (and returns to them several times throughout the evening). Each character is well conceived, thought-out and created to showcase the multi-talented Bianco. Sweet, sassy, loving, charming, abrasive, male/female - she has it all. She makes it all look so easy when there is absolutely nothing easy about what she is doing. Amazing yes...can anyone do it? Not a chance. The evening harkens back to the era when Lily Tomlin or Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney would do their multi-character shows. Put Christina Bianco right in that same ballroom to dance with those fine character-building impressionists. She is just THAT good.

The wonderful thing about Application Pending is how the writers have created this hectic life for their lead and still manage to tell a story, resolve conflict, and entertain us all under 90 minutes. Even if you are not a parent dealing with private schools, you will find yourself laughing out loud and being completely exhausted for the tirelessly working Christina Bianco. Huge kudos to the producers and creative team for offering such a unique evening of theater. 

Bravo, to you, Ms. Bianco, and all of those people living inside of your head. Each of you need to take a bow and people need to get to 43rd street to see each of them come alive! 



Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back Into The Woods

While the country is enjoying the film adaptation of the Sondheim classic musical "Into The Woods", if you are in New York you can indulge in yet another treat currently running off-Broadway. Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at The Laura Pels Theatre, this woods is unlike any other you have probably seen. 10 actors (and one MD) share the story of the beloved fairy tale characters that James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim weaved together in a story back in the late 80s. 

This musical has had three Broadway productions, another in Central Park, the film adaptation and numerous companies around the world have presented their version of this story. A story that goes beyond happily ever after to a much darker place when Jack (you know, the one that climbed the beanstalk), opens up a portal from the sky to the village where giants can roam freely destroying the kingdom. Or is it Jack's fault? Much blame is passed around this story from the witch to Little Red to Cinderella. Lapine and Sondheim used a baker and his wife's desire to lift a curse on their home and have a child to send them out into the woods to gather items the witch told them to fetch. And thus all the fairy tales are spun together in a beautiful score and book.  

While this off-Broadway show is presented by The Roundabout, credit must truly be given to the ensemble theater company The Fasco Theater that has conceived and re-imagined this production. Gone are the huge sets and large casts and instead actors play multiple roles, play instruments, become birds and crying babies - all while taking items from the stage and turning them into props and costumes. One should experience it freshly instead of me giving away something here...but let's just say playing multiple characters and creating exciting images (towers, step sisters, a giant's wife) are all part of the magic of this incredible production. The idea is not entirely new as it's something one would see in a college setting or a touring children's theater show (where items are pulled from a trunk and children use their imagine), yet it is a perfect solution for producing a big show on a smaller scale. It's also right up the alley for this 'family children's fairy tale' that can entertain all ages. Theater is about using your imagine and this group takes us by the hand, leads us into the woods, and we believe every single thing they feed us.

This ensemble theater is a well oiled machine, having worked together for years as graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Rep M.F.A. acting program. And it is obvious they know how to work off of each other and with each other - that is the joy of seeing an ensemble that has a history of presenting works together. One of the fascinating elements of this group is when reading the bio, so many credits are for straight plays and not musicals. You can tell they have attacked this piece as actors first (which I've always heard Sondheim say he'd prefer an actor to a singer in any of his shows). To single out any one performance would take away the beauty of what they have worked so hard to achieve. But I would tell you that you'll laugh, you'll smile, you may shed a tear, and you'll feel every glorious, frightening, enchanting moment that this remarkable team is feeling on that stage. 

Catch it before it closes! You'll be so glad that you did.

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!