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 Fiasco 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.