Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Purple Shines on Broadway

Midway through the musical The Color Purple, the character Shug Avery says “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”  Well, I think he'd be pissed off if you missed this revival directed by the talented John Doyle. Wow! What this man has done with this production - completely stepping back from the original production in 2005 - stripping away the pageantry of a big showy musical and telling a beautiful story in an intimate fashion. Mr. Doyle has done it with previous musical revivals and has struck gold again.

I'll go on record as saying I loved the musical the first time around and saw both LaChanze and Fantasia play the role of Celie. I thought it was a great extension of the beloved film with a book by Marsha Norman and music & lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. I was absolutely thrilled to see it in musical form. I had never read Alice Walker's book, but always loved the film and what Whoopi and Oprah had done in it. 

After seeing this revival playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, I now realize that original musical wasn't so original after all. Looking back, it seems that cast was told to recreate the moments, acting choices, memories of the film. That is NOT the case in this new version. Gone are the big sets, costume changes, projections. Chairs, sheets, and baskets are used to convey numerous settings and objects. We pay attention to the characters, the lyrics, the beautiful songs. This cast (under the watchful eye of their incredible director) approaches the piece as fresh and new. None of them 'copying' what has come before. They are an incredible ensemble in all senses of the word: both with body in moving and setting scenes as well as creating a glorious sound when opening their mouths.

To point out a few players almost seems unfair, but I have to praise Cynthia Erivo as Celie who came with the show from London. This woman is a gem and a wonderful gift to the stage. Her voice is clear as a bell. She has such vocal control to be as soft or powerful as needed. Her Celie is more in tune and self aware - almost giving in to the life she has instead of searching for blame. It's a more harsh take, but still so incredibly believable. I hope she runs in the show forever.

Jennifer Hudson is the 'name' producers use to bring in audiences and her powerhouse of a voice is right there on display. I personally feel her acting isn't as strong as others around her, but I say a huge kudos to her for not coming across as a 'star' and blending into the ensemble when it is called for.

I loved every voice in the show, but I must give a shout out to Rema Webb who has me captivated each time she is onstage. Her voice, her face - I can't stop watching her. I felt the same way when I saw her in Violet & A New Brain - what a talent!

Do yourself a favor and add this show to your list. You will NOT be disappointed. I left on such a high and felt as if I had just gone through a life-changing event...or back in my Southern Baptist Church.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Weekend of Oscar Nominated Films

When the Oscar nominations came out, I knew I needed to get to the movies to catch up as it's not that much fun to watch if you have no one to cheer for. So this weekend, I caught three of the Best Picture nominations; all of which definitely stick to my theme of adversity...though not really DIVERSITY.

Spotlight has the feel of an indie film with a much larger budget. An amazing ensemble of actors telling a true story that will definitely cause a reaction from viewers. It doesn't matter if you are Catholic or not, we've all heard the horrible stories told in this film where the Boston newspaper writers brought it out in the open in 2002. 

Next I watched The Martian and even though the Golden Globes put it in the wrong category, it is a highly entertaining film. Moments where you hold your breath, you cheer for Matt Damon while stuck on Mars, and it pulls at heartstrings in the way that Hollywood knows how to do.

And then there was The Revenant. I have waited since What's Eating Gilbert Grape to see Leonardo DiCaprio rise to that same kind of acting. I know, I know - he's been in a million films and people want him to win an Oscar every year, but for me - nothing has matched his earlier performance. Until now. He throws his entire being into the role of Hugh Glass - many times acting with nothing more than his eyes. I was enthralled by every choice he made and how he acted the heck out of the role.

The film, however - not as engaging as I had hoped. It was entirely too long at 2.5 hours with very little story. I don't want to give things away there - but google the real story and you will see what all director Alejandro F. Inarritu has added to beef up the story (and the mysticism). Unfortunately, an entire film built around revenge doesn't pull me into the character and cause me to care in the same way a movie with more substance does. I also am not sure the amount of time that goes into creating the long single-shots, steeped with so much realism that blood and Leo's breath ends up on the camera lens makes up for what is lacking in story telling. This poor man goes through everything that by the time I saw an avalanche in the distance...I was done.

This really got me to thinking about how films get made. Does it take an all-star cast to cause audiences to flock to a movie or do movie-goers want story and substance? I'm not saying you can't have both. Spotlight definitely is packed with big names and plenty of substance. I'm just not sure if The Revenant would have been made without such a star (who I do believe deserves the Oscar) attached.

I still have plenty of others to see, but currently - my favorite is The Martian. Though I do hope others on the list will offer more diversity since I felt I saw three white male driven films...back-to-back.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

It's Noisy on Broadway!

The play Noises Off has been around since the early 80s when playwright Michael Frayn wrote it because he wanted to share a farce about what happens backstage during a production. The British play appeared on Broadway in '83, again in '01 and now is back for '16 better than ever!

I've seen it numerous times because every community theater loves to get their hands on the play about doors and sardines and give local actors a chance to share the shenanigans of performers. However, seeing it in the hands of the professionals in the Roundabout Theatre's production at the American Airlines Theatre is truly SEEING this play. This ensemble is brilliant! Director Jeremy Herrin has incorporated some of the many changes the playwright has done over the years and gives us three fast-paced acts that fly by so quickly, you'll believe you must be missing things the way the audience is laughing at every single moment.

If you don't know the play (who doesn't at this point), an acting company is opening the play "Nothing On" and it is the final rehearsal before opening night. It is past midnight and they continue to rehearse - still having issues getting used to the set, the business the director has given them, an actor with a drinking problem, and theater relationships - that all wreck havoc on the production they are doing. Then you see it all again...twice more at two performances. And trust's wonderful!

Andrea Martin makes her first entrance to thunderous applause and rightfully so. Her comic-timing has never been better than as the grand dame actress Dotty Otley playing the housekeeper of the estate. The woman is comic gold. Megan Hilty (known mostly for musicals) completely impressed me as the sex-pot Brooke Ashton. I could not stop laughing at her 'presentational acting' throughout the matter WHAT is happening around her onstage. Campbell Scott will forever be the young man from Longtime Companion for me, though his stage, film, and TV credits are huge. Here he takes on the director of the play with gusto, hubris, and comic chops I never knew he had. 

One of my favorite NY actors is Jeremy Shamos and as Frederick Fellowes (an actor that needs to know his backstory and has constant issues with nose-bleeds), he is brilliantly funny in everything he does. I fell in love with Rob McClure when I saw him as Chaplin and man - this man should be a star. He inhabits comedy throughout his entire body.  Daniel Davis kept us laughing as Niles in the "Nanny" on TV and adds so much to the comic stew of this ensemble which also includes Kate Jennings Grant as Belinda Blair who attempts to hold the group together, Tracee Chimo as the stage manager having to deal with the crazy lot, and David Furr who I've never seen, but will seek him out now. What a genius this man is in his delivery - both spoken AND physical. They all have moments to shine and they do just that.

The set, costumes - all are wonderful. My only complaint would be at times I had an issue with sound. Perhaps its the accents or the fact the audiences is laughing so hard that you miss words. But even with that, it's an evening I highly recommend. (My hubby doesn't always go with me to every show I see, but attended this and I thought I would need a medic to resuscitate him from all of his laughing.) 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Handle Opinions During Political Year

It's 2016. It's an election year. UGH!

It's that time where I spend 1/2 the time wanting to stay off of social media and the other half looking at (and responding to) everything that annoys me. Yes - I admit it: I'm just as bad as the next one. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, it's so easy to hear anything other than your views as noise. And to counter that noise, we scream louder.

So what to do to make it through this year and keep all the hair on your head.

I've seen people say we should be able to respect each other even if we don't agree politically. I do have people in my life that I don't see eye-to-eye on every issue, but we still can have civil conversations. It's hard and sometimes you have to declare a politics-free-zone - but you can make it work if you really care about the people.

Here are a few pointers I'll share - may not help. May just be yet another view that anyone else out there has. But for what it's worth...

1) Take some time during the day and shut down the news. I tend to listen to talk radio now and I'll admit to getting riled up by that at times. Turn it off. Turn on music. Watch something other than 24/7 news channels. You might be able to breathe easier.

2) Stop believing your truth is the only truth. We can't get someone to change their opinion because of what we say. AND - it's an opinion! We all have them. Many people were upset that the president didn't mention anything about the sailors that were detained in Iran while doing his State of the Union. Their opinions were more important than why the leader of the free world may have chosen NOT to bring it up on the air. There are two sides to everything that stop for a moment and consider that perhaps your truth may not be the absolute in every situation.

3) You want to share that Meme or that are chomping at the bit to hit share on social media. Double check your facts 1st...find it on another site. Check the dates. Make sure you're not part of the problem by sharing wrong information across the internet.

4) Is it personal or is it not? We all have hot-button issues that make us feel personally attacked by someone. Perhaps they really aren't coming after you - they have their own issue and the fact that a certain candidate doesn't share their views makes them want to pounce on anything that candidate does. It's not your mom or dad in the line of fire so breathe before responding. (Your favorite candidate doesn't always need you to stand up for them.)

5) Throw out my suggestions and start a civil war! Because sometimes, that's where I feel we're heading. America is fighting among their own parties as well as across party lines. So if it makes you feel better to lash out anonymously to someone it! (I'll admit that I tweet to certain political people and often times...I'll delete it after the fact. If only I could count to 10 before hitting the POST button.)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016: Who Dictates The Right to Share Your Art?

2016 has started and I feel I'm drying up creatively. I'm not certain what I should be working on next and how I should go about it.

I'm also frightened. Frightened by the obsessive need people have to dictate other people's art. What one is allowed to do or not allowed to do. If I were to adhere to the rules being laid out now across social platforms, blogs, personal essays - I can only write about the plight of a 46 year old white gay male born in Texas who traveled to NYC to become an actor. That would be my life in a nutshell. There appears to be more and more backlash against white males attempting to write or direct stories that do not involve them.

As a white man, I'm not allowed to speak to female issues, other cultures, or religions that are not my own. If I do, I am thought of as perpetuating some sort of white dominance and supremacy that truly has nothing to do with how I live my life. Those words conjure up images that do not sit well with the man that has spent years as a proponent of diversity. 

Perhaps I should be glad that I co-wrote a musical in the 90s that dealt with racial tensions in the 60s and centered around a bi-racial woman being trapped between two worlds as I would be crucified if I were to write that today.

Or that an award-winning film I directed was called MOTHER and I'm obviously not one.

Maybe I should have caught on when I wrote a novel in first person perspective from that of a 30-something year old woman...and a reviewer said they were nervous when they saw a man's name as the author (yet they went on to love the book, my sensibilities with the character, and recommended it to female readers).

I don't write all of this to toot my own horn or my abilities as a director or writer. I write it to say as much as I am about stories of adversity and diversity, I think it is wrong to put people into a bubble and only allow them to do one thing. To neuter what a writer/director can or cannot do means certain stories may never be heard. I pride myself on writing outside of my own world. I research religions, history, settings in order to share many stories and not tell my own over and over. I applaud men like Sean Penn who take on the challenge to bring Harvey Milk to life for us and do not cast stones because he is not an openly gay man.

If we continue to say that people should only write, direct, speak to what they know, we run the risk of people not attempting to understand the lives of others. In no way do I say that people should not share their own stories, but I think there are numerous ways for us to learn about each other. 

But fear, uncertainty, and back-lash causes my creativity to shrivel up and wonder what 2016 will hold.