Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Ever Shrinking World

It is amazing how small the world gets after you travel. Not only do I get excited when seeing a place on Amazing Race I've visited - but my heart aches a little more when I see devestation as well. The fact I have visited one of these locations makes me feel a little closer to that spot. Pompeii ruins falling and knowing Italy is already at a loss to pay to build this place back up, the riots that occurred in Rome - recalling travelers were told to be extra careful when we were there...(the recent riots had nothing to do with terrorist however), terror plots in London when it was one of my favorite cities to visit, the tourist bus accident that killed people in Egypt (on the actual side we sat on in that bus when we had visited), suicide bombing in Alexandria and recently reading about gays in St. Petersburg Russia being assaulted for attempting to have their first gay pride parade. 

Each of these cities are so far from my day-to-day life, but each are full of regular people and families just like any town near me in New Jersey. The fact that I've walked through them just makes it all a little more real to me when I see the images on my television. And just as before when my brother spent over a year in Iraq serving our country, now my eyes will be on Afghanistan as I will have a part of me there while he once again serves this great country of ours. 

The world may be large, but it is actually quite small when you truly think about it. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Off The Streets

I think ‘come-back’ stories are what makes America who we are. Those stories that make us feel good about our own lives by watching people that have crawled through adversity to make something of themselves. I’m just as big a sucker for them as the next guy. Human interest pieces that tug at the heart strings. The moment I heard about Rufus Hannah was after he had already become an internet sensation as the bum who was doing fights on the street. Being taken advantage of by some thrill-seeking online producers  – exploiting him by paying him a few bucks a fight to feed his drinking habits. But a man took him under his wing, helped him to get clean and sober, offered him a job – and the two have since written a book about it. As a matter of fact, if you do a search on on “homeless” in the books section, you’ll find numerous stories of people who have come out on the other side. And everyone deserves that chance. 
Ted Williams
Today’s headlines have Ted Williams with his golden voice heading down that same path. Amazing story that morning news shows cannot get enough of. My only fear in this instance is that this poor man has been thrust into the spotlight so quickly – I hope he is given the chance for true rehabilitation before he becomes the new spokesperson for every product known to mankind. Watching him start to crumble this morning on the Today show (as he admittedly was desperately needing a cigarette) made me worry that it is all moving too quickly. It’s great that society wants to take these people and turn them into instant stars – but shouldn’t they each have the chance to slowly recover from the addictions and atrocities they have lived through first?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Expectation Theatre

This past Sunday, eight Broadway shows closed while one continues to EDGE towards an attempt to become a BONO-fide hit. (In all fairness, winter is the hardest time in NYC to get patrons into the theatre, so some of those were already scheduled to close.)  Stopping to think a moment about the numerous shows I've seen on Broadway since my first show in 1984, I began to think about those I attended without any preconceived notions - and was pleasantly surprised.  

In 1985, I attended a performance of the play As Is - an early play about the AIDS epidemic which made a 15 year old slightly nervous, but found the play enlightening in so many ways. (Plus I walked into a theatre memorabilia store and the salesperson tried to trade my free button from the play for any in their store. I refused.)  By 1988 I was living in New York and saw Romance/Romance, completely loving how two acts in different time periods were woven together. The following year, I volunteered as an usher just to catch some odd show called Starmites and witnessed the diva Sharon McKnight in all her glory.  In 1992, I found myself in the midst of the most exciting audience I had ever witnessed while watching the life of Jelly Roll Morton unfold in front of me in Jelly's Last Jam. I didn't know what to expect going in - but Wow! What electricity I saw and felt that evening.  

The following year, I celebrated my birthday inside The Music Box Theatre where by the second song I knew I was in for a treat with Blood Brothers. I made it back to that show five times including the late Stephanie Lawrence's final performance in NYC. What an incredible performer she was and gone from the world too soon. In 1995 I attended Love! Valour! Compassion! only knowing it was a story about eight gay men - but having no idea how it would affect me by night's end. I didn't see Nathan Lane in the role, but surprisingly found myself enjoying the replacement who had annoyed me so much with his screaming on his children's show 'Steampipe Alley'. (Sorry, Mr. Cantone  - But you did end up making me see what an actor you are in that show.) I didn't know what The Life was at all when I ended up at The Barrymore, except that a friend of mine was in it. By the time Lillias White has completed 'Oldest Profession' - I knew I could sit in my chair as long as they wanted to entertain men. In 2002, I saw what would become one of my favorite plays of all times about a man I never thought I cared much for. Say Goodnight, Gracie was the most romantic, beautiful love story I believe I've seen...and the one man show knocked me out. When I went to the theatre to catch Wolverine playing the real Peter Allen, I didn't know that I was in store for one of the best performances to hit Broadway in years. The Boy From Oz was one of those musicals I was so glad I could say I got to see. I was late to the game in catching Next to Normal on Broadway - but luckily - I still went to it not knowing anything about it. One of the best musicals I've seen in years...I could not get enough, downloading the entire cast album from iTunes. And I went back to see the replacement cast too. 

Sometimes, it's great to enter 'live theatre' without any expectations at all about what is going to transpire in the evening. It's what makes the entire experience so much more fulfilling. And now I can't wait to see what the next years bring my way...I'm sure there's a hidden gem out there that I'll attend without too much fanfare and I'll fall head over heels for that one too.     

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Spidey in the Air

So I did it. Saturday night I rang in the new year and joined the crowds of people that have been heading to the Foxwoods Theatre on 42nd Street in NYC (for one reason or another). I ordered my tickets prior to the unfortunate accident that caused many people to rush to the box office to order tickets in hopes of witnessing a train wreck. But long before the stunt accidents occurred, the show had plenty of financial and other issues which caused it to put off it's opening for months. And when I ordered my tickets, I thought I was attending the week before opening, but then that was pushed back to February. So I understand that I was witnessing something still going through changes. 
As an author/composer - I understand the need to continually re-write. We never know when it's 'done.' (Once I rewrote the title song to a show 3 nights before opening and the original song had already been used in two other incarnations of the show.) So I get that. People continue to think that Spider-man Turn off the Dark could go down as the biggest flop (or some still hold out for a 'hit') of the Broadway stage.  I am somewhat drawn to these types of shows. No, not comic book shows, but shows that others want to revel in the failure of. I saw Carrie (yes, the Stephen King horror) as a musical on Broadway. 
Dance of the Vampires
I also saw Dance of the Vampires, Taboo, The Capeman, and a short lived show called Mail where a man's mail came to life and sang to him. I believe as a musical theatre writer, I can learn just as much from problem shows as those that are brilliant. Each of those shows - I actually found things that I really liked. Carrie had parts with beautiful scenes between mother and daughter (though everything with the teens was awful.) Dance of the Vampires was great 'camp', even using the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart." And Taboo had a wonderful score, but it was a shame that Americans don't know Leigh Bowery enough to care about that part of the story. 

But Spider-man is something completely different. 

First let me say that I still believe Julie Taymor does inventive things as a director that come right out of some sort of hallucinogenic dream that she can magically place in her films or on stage. The vision she has for this show is unmatched (in my opinion). And I'm not talking about the flying man. I'm talking about the 'look' that you know she had her hands all over from the sets, puppet masks, break away walls, multi-legged spiders and so much more. There were sequences in the show that I thought "wow...this is truly stunning." If I had seen this in an arena I would have been thinking what an amazing performance piece it was. But the fact that it is a Broadway show means standards are different. Broadway musicals (either based on movies or original ideas) are a certain art form that calls out for the book and songs to be the main thrust of a show. A character sings in a musical when they can no longer convey their feeling or emotions in words. That is not the case in Spider-man. There are some really good rock voices on the stage, but I would compare the score to that of a rock group that puts out an album in which they attempt to tell a story through their album - sometimes telling a story through song and sometimes just getting lost in a music motif. Again - perfectly acceptable if this were a concert or an arena show. But my opinion is it just needs someone who has sat through a BMI or ASCAP Musical Theatre workshop to get a hold of it and follow the basic principals of musical writing. There are a couple of nice sounding songs, but they are placed back-to-back in some cases (two ballads in Act II and Peter's big number is overshadowed by the band so we can't understand what he is singing.) I don't feel that is the case with all songs. I listened hard and actually could understand most solos (can't say the same for group numbers, but I felt the group numbers are an afterthought anyways that no one will go out humming.) 
This show has been in previews for 28 performances and I completely understand they could not take this out of town and do all they are doing technically in some other theatre. And my complaints are not with the technical aspects of the show as I believe they are so cool. (We sat in the mezzanine on the 3rd row and witnessed spidey get hooked up as he went to fight the Green Goblin.) My issues are that I followed the show because I knew the movies. And the parts that need work (that many people have complained about on numerous forums and even some reviews that should not have been written yet) could/should have been worked out long before the technical aspects were added. Script work, pacing, songs should all have been addressed in the rehearsal process long before previews. 

Do I think there is an audience for this show? Absolutely. As the amount of people that are paying top dollar for previews show. Even though they stopped the show twice in Act I, the audience didn't seem to mind as we were told what was happening and they worked out technical issues. I've read they intend to tour this show in arenas and I think it will probably be received very highly there. But as a Broadway show - maybe I'm old fashion, but I prefer my musicals to have some sort of emotion attached to them. (Without giving too much away - I felt the most for Arachne in the piece. That's right - you don't even know who she is if you've only seen the movies.)  Perhaps Taymor didn't feel Peter Parker had enough emotional depth to carry a musical so she chose to write her own issue in the Spider-man series to fill that weight that was lacking. I still hold out that more changes can take place in the next month prior to opening, but I don't think the changes that this particular audience member feels it warrants will be addressed. Sometimes writers get too close to our pieces and need other eyes to point out the obvious. I don't think anyone will be doing the pointing where this is concerned. One last comment: my other half who I call "average theatre go-er" found it very entertaining and wanted Spidey to fly more in Act II. I have a feeling that's what most people will leave saying. If you're going for the audience that saw the movies - let the "boy fall from the sky" one more time.