Thanksgiving At The Theatre: Fun Home

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(from L-R: Beth Malone, Michael Cerveris, and Sydney Lucas)

Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel of the same name by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, Fun Home at the Public Theater is being called the first “mainstream lesbian musical.” It’s also heartfelt, daring, funny, one of the best musicals I’ve seen in recent memory, and one you won’t see on Broadway anytime soon. Be warned, I will be gushing a lot about this show for the next few paragraphs.

The piece is autobiographical in nature, with Alison (Beth Malone) working on a graphic novel about her father, Bruce (Michael Cerveris, in one of his best stage performances to date). Alison’s family consists of her two brothers, Christian and John (the adorable Griffin Birney and Noah Hinsdale, respectively), and her mother, Helen (A beautifully reserved and emotionally distraught Judy Kuhn). When in college, Alison learns that her father is gay. Four months later, he commits suicide. The bulk of the musical is Alison looking back on her childhood and her college years, and finding the traces of where she discovered both her own sexuality, and that of her father, and how the man she always felt distant from wasn’t so different after all.

With music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change) and books and lyrics by playwright Lisa Kron (Well), the show is filled with a perfect balance of heart and humor, not to mention songs that will fill your heart with joy, then immediately break it in two. With slick and tightly focused direction by Sam Gold, the show moves along at a brisk pace, gliding from moment to moment like the graphic novel of its’ genesis. The show jumps around in time, highlighting different moments of Alison’s life as they connect thematically, rather than how they fit in linearly.

The performances are outstanding, simply put. Alison is split up into three actors. Malone takes on adult Alison, guiding us through the story and gracefully trying to put the pieces together. Medium Alison (played magnificently at my performance by Emily Skeggs) shows the character in her college years, and practically steals the show with her song “Sex With Joan” about her first lesbian sexual experience. It’s a song unlike any other I’ve heard at a musical in recent memory; full of joy and surprise and deep moments of revelation. A perfectly crafted song. And Small Alison, played by one of the best child actors I’ve ever seen on the stage, Sydney Lucas, is in full awareness and full control of her role of a young girl who doesn’t know who she is quite yet, but knows that she doesn’t want to be the sort of girl her father wants her to be.

This moment is encapsulated in the song “Ring of Keys,” where Small Alison spies a butch woman in a diner, and finally is able to identify with someone, someone who is the physical embodiment of everything Alison is feeling inside. It’s a gorgeous song brilliantly performed by Lucas, but is it one that a Broadway audience could ever watch? That of a young girl discovering her queer identity at such a young age? The sad truth is, this is not the sort of musical that could ever survive in a commercial market. Musicals rarely deal with sexual discovery and queer identification in the smart, adult ways that this show does. The piece never shouts in your face or tries to preach a message of any kind. And smart, subtle shows rarely thrive on Broadway. The show has been amazingly successful at the Public, and I wouldn’t be that surprised if it made the Broadway move, but don’t count on it.

The point is, this is where the future of musical theatre is. Daring new shows that ask us questions about ourselves and the people around us. Fun Home is an outstanding piece of theatre that will hopefully be remembered for years to come. Excuse me while I cry some more.

 

Thanksgiving At The Theatre: Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine Second Stage Theatre

(from L-R: Stephanie J. Block, Rory O’Malley, Hannah Nordberg, Logan Rowland, David Rasche, Will Swenson)

I don’t have such a problem with movie-to-stage adaptations as some other people do. But I think there are certain rules that you should follow when doing so, and above all, future movie-to-stage adapters should keep in mind one important thing;

Do not try to bring the movie to the stage.

When I say this, this is what I mean; do your best to not replicate very specific lines of dialogues (especially jokes, or memorable lines) from the film in question. All you’re doing is taking the audience’s minds off of what they’re watching on stage. One should do their best to use the film as inspiration, and create something vital and new from that.

The problem I found after seeing the musical adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine is that William Finn (Music and Lyrics) and James Lapine (Book and Direction) are trying to have their cake and eat it too. There are hints of the show they’re trying to make, plus hints of them just bringing the movie to the stage. Moments and scenes are just taken verbatim from the screenplay, which does nothing but remind us of the movie, and how much more memorable the scenes were in that context.

And again, there are glimmers of the show that could have been. Take the famous yellow VW Bus from the film. Lapine and his team very creatively decided to just use yellow chairs to symbolize the bus. This restaging of the vehicle might not work for everyone, but I found it a very clever way to create a dynamic vehicle on stage that didn’t look super awkward like a VW replica might have. The moment where the family has to push the bus to get it started, followed by each family member jumping on the bus is staged tremendously, with Lapine’s direction, mixed with Michele Lynch’s choreography and Beowulf Boritt’s projections creates a theatrical moment which truly wows you.

For those not so familiar with Finn’s other work, his musicals Falsettos and A New Brain also follow off-the-wall, damaged individuals. Yet much of their frustration, quirk, and character is expressed through song, with very little actual dialogue in those shows, especially Falsettos. Perhaps this show could have used more musical moments like that, as songs appear too few and far between, with too much of the show existing in transferable dialogue from the film. Scenes were screaming out to be sung in that bouncy, quirky style that Finn does so well.

And the songs that shine here really do shine (There wasn’t a song list in the Playbill, so forgive me for not having specific/correct names for the songs). Stephanie J. Block has a gorgeous song called “Something Better Better Happen” which is gorgeous and aches of the pain of her character, and Rory O’Malley has a fantastic song/scene (“I’m Doing Very Well) confronting his ex-lover (Wesley Taylor) and his academic rival (Josh Lamon) in a men’s bathroom. O’Malley in particular took a very memorable character from the film (played by Steve Carell) and made it his own. The other actors, sadly, stick to the characters as they stand in the movie.

So the potential definitely exists in Little Miss Sunshine, and perhaps by changing more of the scenes into songs, this could be another William Finn/James Lapine classic. One hopes perhaps they will take this show back to the shop and give it another fine-tuning.

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) at the Reaping Ceremony.

I’ll start this by noting that I am a big fan of this franchise, as a whole. With that said, my bias towards this series isn’t as strong as it is towards, say, Harry Potter, where I’ll basically go apeshit for anything HP-related even if it’s not that great (I’m looking at you, entire Harry Potter film series). The first Hunger Games movie was exciting and felt great when I watched it at midnight, but upon multiple viewings, it became pretty apparent that the movie didn’t really have the appropriate gravitas when we’re talking about a nation of starving families and slaughtered children. Plus, the shaky-cam was absolutely unbearable and the CGI was definitely lacking (remember those cheesy-looking muttations at the climax of the Games?). While it had its moments, Hunger Games just fell short, both as an adaptation and as an overall film.

Spoilers ahead, obviously!

Continue reading

ICYMI: 11/22/13

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FREEDOM! SWEET FREEDOM!

Another week is over, and that means another “In Case You Missed It.” Here are the stories from this week you might have missed…

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is closing on Broadway this January. I think most people forgot it was a thing, honestly. Life goes on.

-The new Hungry Games (are you sure that’s not what it’s called?) movie is out! And it made LOTS of money last night! Nina will have a review up in the next few days.

-Bill Cosby and Sarah Silverman have stand-up specials this weekend on Comedy Central and HBO, respectively. They’re both funny people, despite what some people might say, cough cough.

-Fox has put two of its comedies on hiatus; The Mindy Project (The show people want to love, but can’t) and Dads (The show people want to hate, and they succeed at it very much so). What this means for each show’s future? That’s for Fox to decide. As long as Brooklyn Nine-Nine is safe, that’s all I care about.

-Jimmy Fallon, John Goodman, and Paul Rudd are each hosting SNL in December. That makes life so much better, don’t you think?

-All the Whos down in Whoville like the Doctor quite a bit.
So the Special this weekend hopefully isn’t a piece of shit.

The Chris Gethard Show, a very, very, very odd public access comedy show with a very, very, very loyal fan base, is filming a pilot for Comedy Central in January. Look out for a column in the next few weeks about my thoughts on the show.

-Did you know that they made a companion short film to Gravity? You probably shouldn’t watch it if you haven’t seen Gravity yet, but I can tell you that it’s something you don’t want to miss. It’s lovely.

-Monty Python is reuniting for a single reunion show in England. And what a very, very lucky audience they will be. Bravo! Huzzah! British Things!

And now, an announcement! I’ll be in New York next week for Thanksgiving, and I’ll be checking out some theatre while I’m there! Expect some reviews of some great New York Happenings. Here’s a schedule of when reviews will be posted.

Tuesday November 26th: Little Miss Sunshine
Wednesday November 27th: Fun Home
Thursday November 28th: Twelfth Night
Friday November 29th: No Man’s Land
Sunday December 1st: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

A Piece of My Mind: Variety’s Sexist Article About Sarah Silverman Is Sexist.

Sarah Silverman - "We Are Miracles" ; Standup at The Largo

“HBO special ‘We Are Miracles’ highlights how edgy material is limiting a promising career”

This is the sub-heading of a surprisingly sexist article from Brian Lowry, a TV columnist over at Variety.com, about Sarah Silverman’s latest HBO special, We Are Miracles. But how this got past the editor straight to being put up on the website is beyond anyone’s guess. The article, titled “Sarah Silverman’s Bad Career Move: Being as Dirty as the Guys” doesn’t even bother to hide the inherent sexism in what the writer is trying to get across;

Sarah Silverman is a woman, and therefore must follow the “rules and boundaries” of a female comic.

This thesis statement of Mr. Lowry’s is beyond despicable, and frankly, is quite appalling, and something I didn’t think I’d ever see from the likes of Variety.com, a website I frequently go to for entertainment news and opinion pieces (Will I do that from now on? It’s hard to say now). Also, feel free to find the article on your own, but for the sake of not giving him even more traffic, I am not providing a link here.

Lowry digs in to criticize Silverman’s pilot for NBC, “Susan 313,” which wasn’t picked up, and Silverman even admits that it was the best decision for them not to pick it up. I suppose I can attempt to see Lowry’s logic in picking apart a project of Silverman’s to evaluate her as a comic, but it was clearly a piece that, Silverman agrees, had some issues, and shouldn’t necessarily reflect Silverman as an artist. It was a work in progress that never reached the point it needed to as a pilot. Therefore, Mr. Lowry, do NOT use an artist’s unfinished product as means to evaluate said artist.

Furthermore, back to the remarks which inspired this particular blog, Lowry almost comes off as he thinks he’s making a valiant effort to save Silverman’s career. He laments her playing in a 39-seat house, rather than playing somewhere like Madison Square Garden, saying it’s “a pretty good metaphor for her career, opting for the intimacy of a side room instead of the main stage.” Because we know only the great comics make it to MSG (Everyone still loves Dane Cook, right?) You can hear his desperate appeal coming off of the page.

“Oh poor Sarah! She’s got such great abilities as an actress, I know she does! She’s got the potential! Why doesn’t she just do what all other female comics do and follow their path? She can and should do more!”

That last italicized line is pulled from the article itself, and it raises even more qualms. Sarah Silverman knows EXACTLY what she’s doing. Comedians and artists (for the most part) have a decent grasp of their career trajectory, especially the modern stand-up comedian. They work on the project they want to work on, and they don’t need the general public telling them how to navigate their career. Obviously I don’t want to speak for the entirety of the stand-up comedian community (I have little-to-no right to do so), but in today’s world of comedy, from my own vantage point, comedians seem to know what they’re doing.

I feel like my point has come across pretty clearly, but just to reiterate.

Mr. Lowry; welcome to 2013! Here, we let comedians be comedians, male or female, white or black, gay or straight, and we don’t judge them for it, or tell them what the “right career move” is for them. Perhaps the “right career move” for you would be to retract your article and apologize.

And then watch another Sarah Silverman special. Seriously, she’s damn hilarious the way she is.

ICYMI: November 15, 2013

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Let’s get ready for this unseasonably warm weekend (on the East Coast, anyway) which also happens to be MY BIRTHDAY WEEKEND and therefore a national holiday with an ICYMI!

-Vulture has a really great piece up with a behind the scenes look at 12 Years a Slave, which I promise I will put up a review of one of these days. McQueen is a very precise director, and it’s fascinating to get an inside look at why he made the decisions he did – those who have seen the movie know how effectively he uses tight shots and uncomfortably long moments to push his audience to the breaking point in an already difficult movie.

-And, going from good movies to horrible ones, Fifty Shades of Grey is being pushed back to a Valentine’s Day 2015 release. Damn! Now it won’t be eligible for Oscar consideration!!

-You should click the following link if you want to see Tom Hiddleston singing “Stand By Me” and juggling in a car, which, of course, you do.

-This week in Jennifer Lawrence, she cut off all her hair and it’s just looking cuter and cuter; she kind of not really “blasts” Miley for being too young and too sexy but then basically says live and let live; and then she and I got Indian takeout and hung out on my couch binge-watching Scandal. Guess which one of these is a lie!

Don Cheadle is starring in a Miles Davis biopic, because sure, why not?

-Somehow, Lucky Magazine made the usually insanely beautiful Kerry Washington look like a freaking nightmare on their cover this month. Why? How? What hath we wrought?!

-The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show happened on Wednesday. For some reason Taylor Swift performed and they were dressing ladies up like football players and Candice Swanepoel modeled a $10 MILLION FANTASY BRA
which I imagine is studded with diamonds, sapphires, rubies, Philosopher’s Stones, and moon rocks.

Jack Black and Tim Robbins have joined the cast of an HBO comedy called The Brink about a geopolitical crisis, with Robbins playing the Secretary of State and Black playing a foreign service officer. Um, sounds… hilarious? Sounds like Homeland, actually.

-And last but most importantly, one of my all time favorites, Lily Allen, is back, with a controversial new single and video called “Hard Out Here,” which makes fun of Miley, Robin Thicke, Three Six Mafia and the patriarchy all at the same time. I think it’s fucking fabulous but some people are being maybe a little too butthurt about it. One woman’s opinion.

See you next week for more AHS recaps, an Oscar prognostication, and more! Have a good weekend, kids! Make good choices!