Saturday, December 21, 2013

My favorite cold open.

"It's been a long December and there is reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.... I will walk along these hillsides in the summer 'neath the sunshine. I am feathered by the moonlight. I am feathered, I am feathered, I am feathered, I am feathered, I am feathered and I guess I should."

I love love love this song, particularly this version of it with "A Murder of One" alts (which inspired my feather tattoo). (And I think it might be the most-viewed video I've uploaded on youtube, with close to 200,000 views, so other people must like it, too.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

 I've seen a LOT of theater lately but haven't written about it, so right now I'm going to focus on the two shows I've seen most recently and list a few other highlights.

This weekend I had two amazing theatrical experiences, and they were both off-Broadway musicals. There are so many things to see in New York that most people don't know about, but I am so, so glad I found these two shows.

Fun Home
Wow. In his New York Times review Ben Brantley calls this a "beautiful heartbreaker," and that's a fitting term for it. It's simply brilliant. The musical is based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel of the same title (Time Magazine's Book of the Year in 1996), which is a memoir about a girl's relationship with her father. She realizes that they're both gay, and she tries her hardest to connect with him and understand him. It's a specific story being told, but it feels universal (I'm not gay, and I don't have a tyrannical father, but I still identified with it). Alison is played by three different actresses to convey different stages of her life, and this device really worked. All three actresses are amazing. Michael Cerveris plays the father; I feel like he's one of the best stage actors working today, and he is as wonderful as always in this musical. The score is absolutely gorgeous. The show is playing at the Public, which is an intimate house. I was in the second row and felt like I was literally in the "fun home." It's been extended multiple times and keeps selling out, which is awesome; I'm so glad I managed to snag a ticket (even though it wasn't cheap, it was worth every penny. I've read speculation of a transfer to Broadway, but I think this show really belongs in a small, intimate setting. I need them to make a cast recording, especially because I have to hear "Ring of Keys" (sung by Sydney Lucas, who plays small Alison) again. Here's a great new article about the development of the show, and here's a nice montage from the show:

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
I might have been surprised if someone told me one of my favorite shows of the year would be an off-Broadway pop opera based on Tolstoy's War and Peace. I ended up loving everything about this show. All the production elements are top notch; I especially loved the lighting. The show is staged in a supper club-type setting; the audience sits at tables where they are served Russian food and drinks (I liked the pierogis and scones but hated the borscht), and the action takes place all around and throughout the audience. The actors interact with the audience, which is fun. The score of this show is gorgeous (I immediately bought the cast recording).

This is probably my favorite song from the show (actually, it's tied with "Pierre and Natasha" for my favorite). It's Sonya singing for Natasha, her cousin and best friend. It made me cry (so did "Pierre and Natasha," actually).

The music in this show is so diverse. There are a few beautiful ballads (like the one posted above), and there are songs that feature Russian folk melodies interwoven with pop and dance beats. In the second act, they go from "Sonya" to an upbeat song like "Balaga" (which I'm having trouble posting).

Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance is brilliant. This is not news; if you saw Boeing-Boeing and Jerusalem, you experienced his genius already. He just keeps getting better and better. In Twelfth Night he plays Olivia (yes, Olivia; it's an all-male cast), and he is incredible. Ben Brantley calls his Olivia the best he's ever seen. You should just read Ben Brantley's rave review in the New York Times; he tells you everything you need to see this production, which he calls "peerless." I agree. This might be the most enjoyable Shakespeare experience I've ever had (and I've seen a lot of Shakespeare). I was sitting onstage, which was, of course, awesome. This play transferred from the Globe in London and is being performed in repertory with Richard III, and I don't know how the cast (which also includes Stephen Fry) manages that, but they somehow manage it extremely well.

Little Miss Sunshine
I attended opening night of this new musical, and it was fun, although it was missing some of the movie's edge. Hannah Nordberg, who plays Olive, is wonderful.

The Winslow Boy
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this play based on the real court case of a British boy. It got a great review in the New York Times, which says, "The Winslow Boy opens out to become both a stirring drama about the rights of the individual in conflict with the imperatives of the government (a topic that could hardly seem more pertinent, in the post-Edward J. Snowden era), and a moving, surprisingly ambiguous tale of the price to be paid for the relentless pursuit of even an honorable goal." The play really is moving and lovely.

Big Fish
I love Norbert Leo Butz (I highly recommend you read this article about him; he seems like such a great guy who has dealt with tragedy with grace), so he made this musical enjoyable for me. Even though the music wasn't all that memorable, I enjoyed the show and was sad to hear it's closing next month.

Did I write about Romeo & Juliet (either production?) I'm not sure. Anyway, there are two productions currently playing in New York. Go see the off-Broadway version, with Elizabeth Olsen (my favorite Olsen sister). Avoid the Broadway version with Orlando Bloom.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

"I'll tell you one thing, we ain't gonna change much. The sun still rises even with the pain. I'll tell you one thing, we ain't gonna change, love. The sun still rises even through the rain. Can we go on like it once was? Can we go on like it once was? Everybody feels a little crazy. Like it once was. Everybody feels a little crazy. Like it once was. Can we go on like it once was?" ~the head and the heart

I got lucky and was able to see The Head and the Heart at Terminal 5 last night. The show sold out quickly a long time ago, but I managed to get a last-minute ticket on craigslist. As usual, I showed up early and got a front row spot on the rail. I wasn't in the center, but the front row is the front row (for a short person like me at a GA concert venue like Terminal 5, it's ideal). I saw The Head and the Heart at Terminal 5 almost two years ago (blog post here) and they blew me away, so I was super excited to see them again (especially because I love their new album and wanted to hear them play songs off of it).

The concert was fantastic. They played all my favorite songs from the new album, including "Another Story," "Gone," "Josh McBride," and "Let's Be Still." They also played the best songs from their first album. "Rivers and Roads" started as a gorgeous sing-along and built to its complete and glorious epicness (Charity killed it as usual). "Down in the Valley" was a great closer (they closed with it the last time I saw them, too). "Lost in my Mind" was a wonderful catharsis in the middle of the show. I don't think I could have crafted a better setlist myself.

Here's my audio recording. I sang. These concerts I record are basically for me, so I let myself go. I apologize. I'm afraid I'm particularly loud during "Rivers and Roads" and "Down in the Valley." And maybe "Lost in my Mind."

 I recorded some video snippets with my phone of my favorite songs, so here they are (the first few clips are super short, but they get longer, and I think they're worth watching):

And here are some photos (taken with my phone, so they're not very good):

I got a setlist! They crumpled them up and threw them at the crowd, and I caught this one with my neck. It was pretty awesome.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

This year in movies, I've seen some very strong female performances (Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine immediately come to mind), but right now I'm super impressed with some incredible male performances I've seen recently.

This weekend I saw Dallas Buyers Club. This is an incredible year for Matthew McConaughey; he's definitely proven that he's so much more than just eye candy. I loved him in Mud earlier this year, and in Dallas Buyers Club he further demonstrates his acting range. As Ron Woodroof, a homophobic Texan fighting AIDS in the 1980's, he's tough, vulnerable, charming, and fiercely determined. His brings his character to life and is magnificent to watch. 

Now let's talk about Jared Leto. When I hear Jared Leto, I think of Jordan Catalano, the brooding, super cool, super sexy object of Angela (Claire Danes)'s affection on My So-Called Life. That's who Jared Leto is to me, even though the TV show is almost twenty years old (can that be right?!). After seeing Dallas Buyers Club, I have a whole new picture in my head. Jared Leto's performance is remarkable and unforgettable. He broke my heart as Rayon, a transgendered AIDS victim who becomes partners with McConaughey's character.

Both men completely embody their characters; you never feel like they're acting. They also have great chemistry together; it's a joy to see Ron and Rayon put aside their many differences and build a real friendship. McConaughey and Leto each lost over 40 pounds for the movie, but their weight loss doesn't feel like some gimmick. Instead, it makes the characters' experiences feel more real. I'm guessing both men will be nominated for Oscars (McConaughey for best actor and Leto for best supporting actor), I'd be happy to see either one (or both) win (I think Leto has the better shot right now).

Another film I've seen recently with a strong male performance is Twelve Years a Slave. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free African American man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Sometimes it's hard to watch the horrors through which Solomon suffers, but at the same time you can't turn away. The true story is not told in a melodramatic way, which actually makes watching the events unfolding especially uncomfortable to watch. There was one scene that I won't spoil, but I'll say that it included no music and no dialogue and yet had me in tears as I forced myself to look at the screen. Ejiofor does a fantastic job in his portrayal of Solomon; he beautifully conveys all the character's layers. When we first see Solomon he is living a happy life with his family as a free man, and we see his devastating transformation into a slave who struggles to suppress his knowledge in order to stay alive in his new life. I think everyone should see this movie. I wouldn't be surprised if Chiwetel Ejiofor wins the Oscar for best actor.

This will be shorter mostly because I don't have time to write a lot more, but the third performance I'll mention is Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips. It's impressive that an actor with such an extensive career still manages to surprise audiences. Hanks's performance as Richard Phillips is subtle, nuanced and entirely convincing. He allows us to see many aspects of his character; at he beginning we see Captain Phillip's calm yet commanding nature, and later we're able to see him completely let go and succumb to the terror of being kidnapped. Barkhad Abdi is also fabulous as the lead pirate who kidnaps the captain; he might even get a supporting actor nod in his first film role.

These are three incredibly good movies, and I think they're so good because of the men who carry the films. I think it's interesting that they're all based on true stories. Go see them; they really are wonderful.

I've seen a bunch of Broadway shows that I should write about. That'll be coming soon. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

 "Caroline laughs and it's raining all day, she loves to be one of the girls. She lives in the place in the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight. She turns her self round and she smiles and she says, 'This is it, that's the end of the joke.' And loses herself in her dreaming and sleep, and her lovers walk through in their coats. Pretty in pink, isn't she? Pretty in pink, isn't she?" ~the psychedelic furs

The song was written by The Psychedelic Furs, but the version posted above is a cover by The National. I love The National's version. It's more melancholy than the original, which I think fits well with the lyrics.

Just a few random things:

1. I love Mandy Patinkin as Saul on Homeland (Mandy Patinkin, Holla!). I really love Mandy Patinkin, though, because of his musical theatre talent. He's been nominated for three Tony Awards and won one (for Evita). My favorite role of his is Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden. Of course I was about eight years old when I saw him in the show on Broadway (it was the first Broadway show I ever attended) so I don't remember seeing his performance live, but I listen to the Broadway cast recording all the time. I pretty much have the whole thing memorized. Mandy has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard.

Here's the show's performance on the Tony Awards. They did a medley, which includes an excerpt of my favorite song from the show, "Lily's Eyes." Listen to how awesome Mandy is (and notice how young he looks!).

2. Halloween! I went to my friend Kim's party over the weekend, which was an 80's-themed party. I wanted to be Andie from Pretty in Pink (one of my favorite 80's movies) but couldn't find a perfect outfit, so I went for more of Pretty in Pink as a concept. It was fun. Here are some of our costumes:
I was Rosie the Riveter at school for Halloween. Of course no one knew who I was. What is the state of public education in America coming to? My denim jumpsuit was so comfortable I wish I could wear it every day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Team Logan. Always Team Logan. I know Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell, isn't on Team Logan. I know Piz is the more sensible choice. Please just let me be insensible when it comes to this one issue, okay? I'm sensible when it comes to most other things. Also, is it spring 2014 yet?!?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Satellite's gone up to the skies; things like that drive me out of my mind. I watched it for a little while, I like to watch things on TV. Satellite of love, satellite of love, satellite of love." ~lou reed

This is the original version of "Satellite of Love": 

 And here's my favorite version of it, by U2 featuring Lou Reed (this video can make me cry on a normal day, so you can imagine I'm a mess now):

And here's what is probably my favorite song by the Velvet Underground, before Lou went solo:

I'm sad. I'm sad about Lou Reed's death; he was a legend in the music world, and his influence can't be overstated. I'm so grateful I was able to see him perform live at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concert; he was a true genius, and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Lou. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"You can get lost in the music for hours, honey, you can get lost in a room. We can play music for hours and hours, but the sun'll still be coming up soon. The world's not forgiving of everyone's fears. The days turn into months, the months turn into years. So just for a moment, let's be still." ~the head and the heart

 ETA: The Head and the Heart performed on Hart of Dixie last night (Monday, 10/21)! It made me really happy. It was a great episode, too, because of the band's appearance and some other awesome moments (Have I mentioned I love Lemon now? She's become one of my favorite characters. There was also some great Zoe/Brick stuff.)

You must check out The Head and the Heart's new album, Let's Be Still. It's absolutely lovely. They're one of my favorite bands, and I was so excited to hear their sophomore album and fall in love with it as I did with their debut. The track posted above is the title song from the new record.

Here's video I took at a concert of theirs about a year and a half ago. They put on a great show. My friend Leah and I told each other before the concert that we'd be lucky if we got through seeing them perform "Rivers and Roads" without crying (we're hardcore Chuck fans, and Chuck fans know the significance of that song), and we did, but boy was it difficult. The video is the second song in the playlist below.
You can also visit my post here after the show, in which I posted audio (and a downloadable version) of the whole show. Looking back at it, I realize I meant to upload more video but never got around to it (this was when I didn't have internet at my apartment). Maybe I'll do that now. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yesterday I went to the second annual Global Citizen Festival. I went last year (and posted about it here), and I was excited to return this year. The weather was beautiful; it was a perfect day to spend in Central Park with 60,000 other people. We got a great spot in the front of pen 1 on the rail, right behind the VIP section. Kings of Leon opened, and they were followed by Alicia Keys, John Mayer, and Stevie Wonder. Between sets, appearances were made by Elvis Costello (who performed two songs), Janelle Monae (who performed one song), Bono (who presented an award), Katie Holmes, Olivia Wilde, Gerard Butler, and more. Here's a video I made of some highlights (the concert was streamed online, so I'm sure official videos will be popping up online):

Tonight is the finale of Breaking Bad (the show that many have argued is the best TV show ever made). It's weird to think that after tonight it will be over. I'm hoping Walt dies and Jesse lives. In honor of the finale, here's Los Cuates de Sinaloa performing "The Ballad of Heisenberg" on Conan.

Monday's entire episode of Conan was devoted to Breaking Bad, and it was pretty awesome. It was the day after the show won the Emmy Award for best drama series, and the whole cast seemed very happy. Here's the show if you want to watch it. And here's a great compilation of "five years of awesome interviews in 176 seconds" (no huge spoilers in this video, so I think it's safe to watch if you haven't seen the show).

Nic and I are watching the finale air tonight, and she's making a themed menu. My themed contributions are homemade funyuns in honor of Jesse Pinkman, Ben and Jerry's in honor of Landry Todd feeding Jesse in last week's episode (sorry, Jesse Plemons will always be Landry from Friday Night Lights to me), and this (crushed blue jolly ranchers):

 Happy finale, bitches!
(Okay, last of the videos. These are the best ones. I never ever curse, but this has become such an integral and entertaining part of this character.)

And finally (this is it, I promise; I'm going all out for the finale), 35 Reasons Why Aaron Paul Should Be Your Favorite Actor on Television.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Emmys last night were a freakin' disaster; whoever directed that telecast should not get the job again next year (and Neil Patrick Harris bombed). The highlights for me were Amy and Tina heckling NPH, Tony Hale winning for Veep(!), Anna Gunn winning for Breaking Bad, Breaking Bad winning best drama series(!), and these two acceptance speeches:

I love Merritt Wever, and this further solidifies my feelings. Best acceptance speech ever?

And Julia Louis Dreyfus enlisting her costar Tony Hale in this bit based on their characters' relationship in Veep (with a cameo by the awesome and hilarious Anna Chlumsky, also in character):

Of course I was rooting for Amy, but I do love Veep and realize how fantastic Julia Louis Dreyfus is.

It was a great weekend. Sunday not only featured the Emmys but also the BC/EFA Broadway Flea Market, one of my favorite events of the year. I got lots of cool Broadway swag. This weekend I also got to catch up with my friend Kelly, who came to visit. We explored the awesome exhibit on children's books that's currently on display at the NYPL, and we went to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was the perfect day to be outside and see some beautiful flowers, and I was glad to spend time with my friend.

Next weekend is the series finale of Breaking Bad! Nic and I are having a viewing party (I hosted the Emmys so she's hosting the finale) and I can't wait to see how it ends. Yesterday's episode kind of tore me apart.

Friday, September 13, 2013

"I need a word so I can say what I'm feeling today, I need a word so I can say how I feel. I need a word to say what I'm meaning to say, and tell you the way that I'm feeling." "~dave matthews

I love Sesame Street.

It's pretty sad that I've spent time watching Sesame Street videos on youtube, but there are fun songs by Feist, Train, Hootie and the Blowfish, Johnny Cash, and lots more. Here are a couple more favorites, just for fun:

And finally, just because:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"I'm just gonna dance all night. I'm all messed up, I'm so outta line. Stilettos on broken bottles, I'm spinning around in circles. I'm in the corner, watching you kiss her, ohhh. I'm right over here, why can't you see me? Ohhh. I'm giving it my all, but I'm not the girl you're taking home, ooh. I keep dancing on my own. I keep dancing on my own." ~robyn

Back to music for a quick minute. Robyn. "Dancing On My Own." Two very different versions of this song. Here's Robyn's original version featured in an episode of Girls (this might be my favorite scene of this show):

And Kings of Leon's cover, fromBBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, September 10th, 2013. 
So. Freakin'. Good.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

 I can't believe this is post #700!

I realize I haven't written here in awhile and haven't posted any recent pictures. I've had lots of great experiences in the past month, and you can see some photos from those experiences here. I visited New Orleans (great food and great music), saw The Bridges of Madison County at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and, most recently, went to the U.S. Open.

I just finished Marisha Pessl's Night Film; I read it in two days (and it's not exactly a short novel). I couldn't put it down. I love Marisha Pessl. I haven't read Special Topics in Calamity Physics since it came out (seven years ago), but now I want to go back and reread it just so I can hear more of Marisha Pessl's voice. I hope she doesn't wait seven more years before publishing her next novel.

I've seen three shows in the last two days, two of which were fabulous. (Mr. Burns was not fabulous in my opinion, so I won't talk about that; I usually only write about positive theatre experiences here. Ben Brantley loved the show, though, and called it "downright brilliant," making it one of his critic's picks, so what do I know? I think the fact that I've never watched The Simpsons hindered me with that one.) I saw The Tempest at Shakespeare in the Park on Friday. It's a magnificent production featuring some great Broadway performers, including Norm Lewis and Laura Benanti, as well as 200 New Yorkers from various community organizations. It's quite ambitious to have so many people onstage, but it made for some fantastic moments of theater. It was well worth the 4.5 hours I spent in line for tickets (and it was a beautiful day to wait in Central Park).

Last night I saw The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. I remember studying this play in college and writing essays on it; it greatly moved me when I read it, so I was eager to see it performed onstage. This production is absolutely perfect; it's simply exquisite. I cannot say enough good things about it and cannot imagine a better staging of the play. The production transferred to Broadway from Cambridge, and Ben Brantley's New York Times rave review of that production expresses my feelings better than I can. Zachary Quinto plays Tom, and I'm a fan of his so I was eager to see his performance; I loved seeing him onstage in Angels in America (he's probably best known as Sylar on Heroes, Spock in the new Star Trek movies, and for his role in American Horror Story). He plays Tom with weariness that weighs down his every step and anguish and vulnerability that contort his face; his performance made the character resonate with me in in ways that didn't hit me when I read the play. He's heartbreaking, and he's the soul of the play. Cherry Jones (whom Mr. Brantley calls "perhaps the greatest stage actress of her generation") is fantastic as Amanda. When she reminisces about the past to escape the reality of the present, she transports you into those memories, and the shift back to reality is painful. Celia Keenan Bolger (a theatre favorite of mine; she most recently starred in Peter and the Starcatcher) is Laura, and she's a perfect mix of fear, hope, surprising strength, and eventual devastation (which sounds like a strange assortment of feelings, but it's what I sensed and it works). This play is gorgeous and devastating and proof that Tennessee Williams was a genius. This production feels like the perfect example of what the play should look like onstage. If you are in New York in the next few months, go see it.

Friday, August 09, 2013

I'm not sure why I don't write about books here very much. I love books, and I'm an English teacher. I did write a post about my favorite books of 2012, so check that out if you haven't yet. Right now I want to talk about YAlit. One of the current trends in YAlit is dystopian series. I love dystopian novels; I guess Lois Lowry's The Giver is one of the earliest ones that captivated me, and I've been addicted to the genre since I read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in high school (that book was also the beginning of my obsession with Margaret Atwood). Just the concept of dystopian lit fascinates me; I love seeing different authors' visions of what our world might become. I love reading about the past, but I also love seeing visions of the future; I understand we learn from the past, but I also believe these imagined future worlds can inform the decisions we make as a society going forward.

 There are many new dystopian series/novels out there, but there are three trilogies that are probably the most popular. They're also really, really good. It seems like pretty much everyone has read The Hunger Games trilogy. The second one is the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie. The series follows a girl named Cassia who struggles against the path that her society has planned for her. I mentioned this series in the post I lined earlier (my favorite books of 2012). I love the importance of art and creativity in the series (especially the significance of writing). The third is the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, and it might just be my favorite (or maybe that's because it's the most recent one and I'm eagerly awaiting the conclusion; the third book in that series is scheduled to come out this October, and I can't wait to read it). The Divergent series is about a girl named Tris (Beatrice) who lives in a world that is organized around five key virtues (bravery, selflessness, intelligence, honesty, and peacefulness) and has to deal with the growing divisions between these factions.

What I love about these three trilogies is that each one portrays a strong female protagonist who must make difficult choices. These are great books for young adults because they're full of adventure, but they also make kids contemplate difficult issues and consider the effects of different social and political structures. These books aren't just for kids, either. I'm an adult and I devoured them all. So if you're looking for some entertaining and thought-provoking reads, check out these series.

On a related note, this leads into a quick discussion about one of my favorite actresses, Shailene Woodley. She was fabulous in The Descendants, she was lovely in The Spectacular Now (currently in theaters), and she happens to be starring in two upcoming movies based on books that are favorites of mine. She's playing Tris in Divergent, and she's also starring in John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. If you haven't read that book, go buy some tissues read it right now (it was Time Magazine's #1 Fiction Book of 2012 and it's fabulous). I'm always nervous when books I love are adapted for the big screen, but the casting of Shailene Woodley in these two films gives me hope.

Add me as a friend on Goodreads if you want to keep up with what I'm reading. I'm very excited for Marisha Pessl's Night Film to be released (August 20th!). Her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, is one of my favorites (add that to your reading list, too!). I saw her speak when she was promoting that novel (in conversation with Jennifer Egan!) and was very impressed with her. I wrote about the event here. I can't wait to read her second novel.

Since I'm full of recommendations today, I'm adding one that's not a book. Go watch Top of the Lake. It's a miniseries that's available on Netflix, and it is so. Freakin'. Awesome. I finished it today and I'm sad that it ended because I want to keep watching I love it so much. It'll probably win a bunch of Emmys. Check it out. 

Finally, just because:
 photo 2we77_zps2e108a3a.gif

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

"So when your hope's on fire, but you know your desire. Don't hold a glass over the flame, don't let your heart grow cold. I will call you by name, I will share your road. But hold me fast, hold me fast, 'cause I'm a hopeless wanderer. And hold me fast, hold me fast, 'cause I'm a hopeless wanderer. I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I'm under. I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I'm under. The skies I'm under." ~mumford & sons

It feels like I'm spending more time outside of NYC this summer than I'm spending here at home. This summer I will have spent time in upstate NY, Greensboro, NC, Iowa, Colorado, Williamsown, MA, and New Orleans. I'm back for another brief stint before heading to the Williamstown Theatre Festival this weekend and then going to New Orleans next week. I spent last week in Iowa (for a family lovely reunion) and in Colorado visiting my parents, and it was nice to spend time with so many family members, especially because I don't get to see many of them very often.
Here I am with some of my cousins and our grandmother:
 And here I am in Colorado after a long hike:

You've probably already seen this, but it's still worth posting. I love Mumford & Sons (search my blog for my concert post on them), and I love that they have a sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously. I also love Jason Bateman, Will Forte, Ed Helms, and Jason Sudeikis, so this is pretty awesome.

I'll hopefully have a good review of the musical The Bridges of Madison County (music by Jason Robert Brown!) to share after this weekend.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

 "Jesus said, 'Mother, I couldn't stay another day longer.' He flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face. While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory, Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place." ~patty griffin

I'm going to try and post more often now. My latest catch-up entry was a long one (scroll down), so I'll try to stay more up to date so I don't have to do those catch-ups.

My initial reaction to the Emmy nominations, announced this morning:

I'm disappointed that the Emmys still fail to recognize that Parks and Recreation is the best comedy on TV. At least Amy Poehler was nominated (she better win this time). Where's the nod for best comedy, though? And why didn't Adam Scott get a nomination this year? And Nick Offerman? I honestly believe this is the best comedy on TV, and I'm baffled as to why the Emmys continually fail to acknowledge it. 

I'm happy for Homeland. Of course Claire Danes and Damien Lewis were nominated for their leading roles, which is awesome but not surprising. I'm SO thrilled that Morena Baccarin and Mandy Patinkin were nominated in the supporting categories, and Rupert Friend in the guest actor category. Five acting nominations ain't bad! (Along with noms in the categories for writing, directing, and best drama.)

I'm super thrilled for Anna Chlumsky being nominated for best supporting actress in a comedy. She's my favorite thing about Veep, I've been a fan of hers since she was Vada Sultenfuss in My Girl (oh, My Girl, how I love you), and it's been lovely seeing her all grown up and showing her comedy chops on this show.
(Sidebar on Anna Chlumsky: I also love that she's a New Yorker and a theater junkie. She was super sweet when I met her at a show I was ushering for. And she just had a baby, so congrats to her! And I love the name Penelope.)

I'm also thrilled for Kerry Washington's nomination for best actress in a drama. She's fabulous in Scandal, so I'm glad she was noticed. I think the show should have been nominated for best drama, and it would have been nice to see Jeff Perry get a supporting nod, but at least Kerry Washington got nominated.

How did Hayden Panettiere not get nominated for supporting actress in a drama for her work in Nashville? Her performance in the season finale alone should have WON her the award. Seriously. I've watched it multiple times because I'm so in awe. I'm glad Connie Britton was nominated for best actress in a drama for Nashville, but her costar should have also been recognized.

I wish The Walking Dead, Parenthood, and Covert Affairs had been recognized.

On a related note, Covert Affairs is back! The fourth season premiered this week. This is one of those shows where each season is better than the last (I absolutely loved the third season), so I have high hopes. They're already dropping bombshells and bringing the action.

That's all for now. I'm heading to North Carolina for the weekend, and hopefully I'll return with some pictures to share.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Oh my goodness, it's summer and I'm busier than ever. I know I haven't posted in forever; I just haven't had time. I have many concerts and Broadway shows to write about and can't review in depth right now, so I'll give you some highlights. Here's some bullet points on the last couple of months:

Matilda was my favorite new show of the season. I absolutely loved it (and my students did, too; they also loved the backstage tour we were fortunate enough to take). It's a lovely, lovely show.

Big Star's Third was a highlight. Big Star is a tragically under-appreciated band, so it was wonderful to see this tribute to them. I was thrilled to see Pete Yorn, Sharon Van Etten, Kurt Vile, Mike Mills (those four are pictured in the first four photos on the left), and many other talented musicians sharing the stage to perform this brilliant album. I'd pay money to see each of those artists, so to see them all together was perfect. The concert was at Central Park Summerstage, one of my favorite venues, and I got a spot in the front row.

Another highlight was Dave Matthews Band at Woodstock. This is an ideal venue for the band; it's a beautiful outdoor setting. I went with my friends Bill and Amy and a bunch of hikers (more about that later). We tailgated before the show (let me tell you, DMB fans know how to tailgate) and then grabbed seats on the lawn to enjoy band, who definitely know how to put on a live show. They seriously are one of the best live acts around; they're all incredible musicians, and they've spent so much time touring over the last couple of decades that they're constantly exploring their music and continue to find new ways to make their songs fresh and meaningful. Highlights of this show for me were "Warehouse" (oh my goodness, I love that song), "Jimi Thing," "So Damn Lucky," and the closer, "Ants Marching." I remember memorizing "Ants Marching" in high school by listening to it over and over and over again, and by looking up the lyrics so I could perfect the "Candy man, tempting the thoughts of a sweet tooth..." part. I still have the song completely memorized more than ten years later, and hearing it close out the concert was a perfect ending to the show.

I've spent time with my friend Kim, and I also stayed with Bill and Amy. Bill and Amy live right next to the Appalachian Trail, so they give thru-hikers a place to stay. A bunch of hikers came to the DMB concert with us, and even more came to Bill and Amy's Fourth of July party. Every year they have a party on the 4th, and they invite hikers along the trail. This year there were 38 hikers (and 50 people total at the party). It wasn't just a day-long party; for the few days that I was there, the house was filled with people. I got to meet so many interesting characters; it was an incredible experience. I already can't wait for next year.

I went to the premiere of The Way, Way Back, which was a blast. I loved the film, and it was cool to rub elbows with Toni Collette (LOVE her, and she's even more gorgeous and sweet in person), Steve CarrellSam Rockwell, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, and more. The movie is funny and bittersweet and I highly recommend it.

Another movie I really enjoyed was Fruitvale Station. It broke my heart. Even though you go into it knowing the story and knowing how it will end, it still has a tremendous emotional impact, mostly because of Michael B. Jordan's performance. I've been a fan of his since Friday Night Lights (and I enjoyed him on Parenthood), and it's great to see him carrying a film.

I went to a taping of Live with Kelly and Michael (Nick Cannon and Sasha Alexander were the guests), I went to Random House's Annual Author's Event for NYC Educators, and I've seen some cool performances at Lincoln Center through the class I've been taking.

So basically I'm busier than ever, even though school's out. I have lots of mini-vacations coming up, which I'll share about. 

ETA: Today's a sad day for a few reasons. Here's one of them. I took this photo a few years ago, and I love his smile in it. RIP Cory Monteith. 

Today I'm cheering myself up by going to see Zachary Levi on Broadway in First Date and then going to ASSSCAT at UCB in the evening. 

I'll leave you with a recent cuddle session. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

 "You didn't see me, I was falling apart. I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in a park. You didn't see me, I was falling apart. I was a television version of a person with a broken heart. You didn't see me, I was falling apart. I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in a park. You didn't see me, I was falling apart. I was a television version of a person with a broken heart." ~the national

I can't believe I haven't written about meeting The National yet (and seeing them in concert from swanky box seats that I won). I've been busy, and this blog post seemed like a massive undertaking that I wasn't ready to handle. But it has to be written (even if it's just to remind myself that it happened, because sometimes I think I dreamed it up), so here goes. Get ready; this is a long one, and it's mostly for myself.

 (With Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National and my favorite musician)

I won a radio contest for a Meet-and-Greet with my absolute favorite band in the world, The National (included in the prize were box seats to their concert at the Barclays Center, but I already had two pairs of tickets to the concert before I won, so the tickets were just an added bonus to the Meet-and-Greet for me). I've seen the band live 16 times, I've memorized all their songs, and I cannot put into words how much their music means to me. My main goal was to remain sane when meeting them. I arrived in the suite before the show, and it was stocked with lots of yummy food and drinks. There were a few other contest winners there. After about half an hour, the band walked in. It was surreal; they were just some normal, friendly-looking guys walking into a room, and it seemed like such an everyday occurrence, yet it was also like I was watching their entrance from outside my body and completely freaking out because I knew these seemingly average guys were geniuses. They extended their hands in greeting; Scott approached me first and seemed surprised that I knew his name when I said, "Hi Scott, I'm Claire." I shook all of their hands, and they explored the suite; Matt poured himself a vodka and Red Bull. I started out talking to Scott and Bryce (I'm 99% sure it was Bryce; he and Aaron are identical twins, and although I can usually tell them apart, my brain is a bit fuzzy about that night). People mingled, and Matt (the lead singer) ended up starting a conversation with me. I miraculously managed to keep it together and maintain a conversation with him. I loved listening to him. He is funny, kind, humble, self-deprecating, and charming. I talked to him about the recent PS1 exhibition "A Lot of Sorrow" (which I attended and blogged about already) and told him that I was surprised to see the song "Sorrow" on recent setlists; I thought they'd be sick of it after playing it for six hours straight. He said he thought it was on their setlist for that night's show (Aaron writes the setlists so Matt wasn't sure at the time; they did end up playing it that night), and he said that the PS1 experience actually helped the band better understand the song. I asked if the band would consider doing another run of shows at the Beacon Theatre (they did six shows in a row there in December 2011), and he said possibly, although it was a tiring experience. I told him I liked that run because they varied the setlist each night, and he seemed surprised, like he didn't remember. He said on a tour usually 90% of the setlist stays the same (which I knew), but I told him they did a handful of rarities spread out over those six shows that I was thrilled to hear, like "Santa Clara." He seemed happy to hear that. We talked more about "A Lot of Sorrow" and about the Barclays Center and Brooklyn. There was more I wanted to talk to him about (like his brother's fabulous documentary Mistaken for Strangers), but the band had to go get ready for the show, so we took some photos and they left. I actually had a long conversation with my favorite musician. I wasn't distracted enough by those piercing blue eyes to be struck dumb; I actually spoke to him and listened carefully to him, soaking in everything he said. It's one of those occurrences that you dream about but never expect to actually happen, so I still can't believe it was real. It made the concert even more special, because I kept thinking about how those guys who were onstage captivating 18,000 fans had just been in the same room as me, talking to me.
(With the band and the other winners)

The concert was great. Given what I know about their setlists (I knew they weren't going to bring out some crazy, rare song like "The Thrilling of Claire"), I was thrilled with that night's setlist (and I'm proud to say I predicted the encore exactly). They played my favorite songs from the new album ("Graceless," "I Should Live in Salt," "Pink Rabbits," "Humiliation") and a good mix of older songs. I love hearing my favorites "Apartment Story" and "About Today," and "Mr. November," "Abel," "Squalor Victoria" and "Afraid of Everyone" are great arena songs. They somehow made the concert seem simultaneously epic and intimate. There are many glowing reviews (from professionals) about the concert which are interesting; Vulture's includes interviews and presents a nice look at the band's progress, Consequence of Sound's emphasizes the specialness of the hometown show (the band is from Brooklyn), The Village Voice's praises the ability of this indie band to captivate a large arena, The New York Post's marvels at the band's ability to achieve both power and intimacy, and Rolling Stone's raves about the band's triumph in doing what they do best and constructing a finely-tuned set that perfectly displayed their musicality. In some ways it's difficult to watch my favorite band become so popular that they end up headlining arena shows, because it makes it less likely for me to be able to see them in smaller venues, but I'm happy for their success. I honestly think Matt Berninger is the best lyricist currently writing music, so more people should be listening to him.

The show was broadcast on the radio, so here are the songs for your listening pleasure* (it's on two playlists because it wouldn't all fit in one; the second one is the encore). It's obviously great quality because it's from a radio broadcast, and it was a fabulous show, so you should listen:


I haven't even written a review of the new album (Trouble Will Find Me) yet. Soon?

*Audio kindly ripped by solace and tracked by mgico at the forums.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

 This is a theater post. I've seen four shows in the past week that I need to write about, but that will have to wait. For now, this is more important:

The Tony Awards are tomorrow! I love the Tony Awards, mostly because of the performances. I don't take the awards too seriously anymore because I believe the most deserving people often don't win just because of stupid factors, like celebrity (Tom Hanks will probably win just because he's Tom Hanks, and that really frustrates me because Tracy Letts was absolutely brilliant in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Anyway, I'll still enjoy watching the telecast. Here are my predictions (who I think will win, not whom I want to win):

Best Play 
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Best Musical 
Matilda The Musical
Best Revival of a Play 
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Best Revival of a Musical 
Best Book of a Musical 
Matilda The Musical - Dennis Kelly
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) 
Kinky Boots - Music and Lyrics: Cyndi Lauper
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play 
Tom Hanks - Lucky Guy
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play 
Cicely Tyson - The Trip to Bountiful
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical 
Billy Porter - Kinky Boots
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical 
Patina Miller - Pippin
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play 
Danny Burstein - Golden Boy
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play 
Judith Light - The Assembled Parties
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical 
Terrence Mann - Pippin
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical 
Andrea Martin - Pippin
Best Direction of a Play 
Nicholas Martin - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Best Direction of a Musical 
Diane Paulus - Pippin
Best Choreography 
Chet Walker - Pippin
Best Orchestrations 
Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook - Motown the Musical
Best Scenic Design of a Play 
John Lee Beatty - The Nance
Best Scenic Design of a Musical 
Rob Howell- Matilda The Musical
Best Costume Design of a Play 
Albert Wolsky - The Heiress
Best Costume Design of a Musical 
William Ivey Long - Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Best Lighting Design of a Play 
Donald Holder - Golden Boy
Best Lighting Design of a Musical 
Hugh Vanstone - Matilda The Musical
Best Sound Design of a Play 
Peter John Still and Marc Salzberg- Golden Boy
Best Sound Design of a Musical 
Johnathan Deans and Garth Helm - Pippin

Monday, May 27, 2013

"In New York he is laid in a glass covered case. He pretends he is dead, people crowd 'round to see him. But each night she comes 'round, and the two wander down the halls of the tomb that she calls a museum. Often he stops to rest, then less and less, then it's her that looks tired, staying up asking questions. He learns how to read from the papers that she is writing about him, and he makes corrections. It's his face on her book, more come to look. Families from Iowa, Upper West-Siders. Then one day it's too much, he decides to get up, and as chaos ensues he walks outside to find her. She is using a cane, and her face looks too pale. But she's happy to see him, as they walk he supports her. She asks, "Are you cursed?" But his answer is obscured in a sandstorm of flashbulbs and rowdy reporters." ~josh ritter

I've posted a lot about The National lately, and there's more to come (including my thoughts on their newest album and a concert post after I see them next week), but for now I'm taking a break to write about a concert I went to last weekend. I've been so busy that I haven't had time to track and upload audio/video until today. It's a lot of work.

On May 18th, I went to see Josh Ritter and The Felice Brothers. I got a spot in the front row, which is always nice, especially for a shortie like me. I mostly went to see The Felice Brothers, who were the opening act. I think I've posted about them a lot; they're one of my favorite bands (in my top 5 at least). They're a lot of fun live, and this show was no exception. I always like to hear new songs, so a highlight for me was "Butch Cassidy." It was also nice to hear a couple of my faves, "Frankie's Gun" and "Saint Stephen's End." Here's my audio:

and some photos:

The coolest about seeing The Felice Brothers this time was meeting them after the show. They were hanging out at the merch booth, so I went and talked to them, and they were SO incredibly nice. They signed a CD for me (writing, Thanks Claire, we love you) and were perfectly happy to stand there and chat. I took a photo with Ian Felice (the lead singer). They were just so kind and friendly, and it made me really, really happy.

Josh Ritter was the headliner of the concert, and his set was one of the most uplifting, feel-good sets I've ever heard. He had the biggest smile plastered on his face throughout the show; he seemed so grateful and happy to be there, and he made the most of the experience. He played a lot of songs from his newest album (which is awesome) as well as some old favorites. I was most excited to hear "The Curse" (quoted in the opener of this post; I love the story it tells), "Change of Time," and "Joy to You Baby." Do yourself a favor and listen to my audio or video. I recommend starting with "The Curse," which starts my favorite part of the show. After that he does the two best songs from the new album (in my opinion), "Joy to You Baby" and "New Lover."

I took video of both shows, but my video of The Felice Brothers is really shaky because I can't help but dance to their music, so I was moving around a lot. I haven't uploaded those videos yet, but I might later, so check back here. I controlled myself a bit more during Josh Ritter. I uploaded my favorite videos from his set; I could only limit myself to eight (I loved the whole show). If anyone reading this is dying for a video of another song (or of The Felice Brothers), let me know. Here's the playlist (definitely check out "The Curse," "Joy to You Baby," and "Change of Time"):

Overall it was a great concert, and I was thrilled to be there. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"And wouldn't you  rather be a left-handed flea, a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea, a newt on the root of a banyan tree, or a fig on a twig in Galilee, than a man who never learns how to be free?" ~stephen schwartz, pippin

Last weekend I went to see the Broadway musical Pippin. Oh my goodness, it was absolutely wonderful. It just won more Outer Critics Circle Awards than any other show, and I'm betting it will win a bunch of Tony Awards as well. I really hope Patina Miller wins Best Actress in a Musical. She's playing the Leading Player (the role played by Ben Vereen in the original production), and she's giving a great performance. You can see her sharp edges behind the brilliant smile she displays. Andrea Martin should also win a Tony (for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical); she brings down the house in her one big number. The production's acrobatics are astounding, and it's a well-done show all around. The cast recently performed "Simple Joys" on The Late Show with David Letterman, and although it's an incredibly scaled-down performance that doesn't showcase what they really can do (and it's not the song I would have chosen), it's still fun to watch. I really hope they do "Magic to Do" at the Tony Awards.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Last weekend I was able to attend a really special event that maybe not everyone would have enjoyed but which meant a lot to me. My favorite band, The National, played their song "Sorrow" for six hours straight at MoMA's PS1. They played the song 105 times. It's hard to describe the experience, but this article does a really good job and I recommend reading the whole article. Here's just an excerpt:
Repetition is a commonly used motif in both art and music, but how many hours of despondent wallowing can one audience handle from one of the world’s most gloriously depressing bands?
“Sorrow” is a dirge of a tune, fueled by an almost break-beat-like drum line, a brass section and Matt Berninger’s purposeful, harrowing baritone. A track off their 2009 album High Violet, it begins in a typically National-istic manner: Sorrow found me when I was young / Sorrow waited / Sorrow won.

....It wasn’t until Berninger began to cry, choking on his words in the last ten minutes of the performance, that the well of emotion seemed to finally overflow, and we realized it was our turn to take over. An incredibly passionate a cappella delivery from the crowd ensued, as naturally, we had all 142 words etched in our brains’ gray matter by that time. There’s a shared experience in trauma. We were in this together. And perhaps that’s why, once the band left the stage and Kjartansson thanked us all for enduring it, we screamed for an encore. After a few minutes, the band stumbled back on. Glass of wine in hand and with a weary yet devious smile, Berninger leant into the microphone. We held our collective breath.
“This one’s called ‘Sorrow,’” he said.
 I recorded a good chunk of the performance (I made sure I got the last four hours), and here's the version where Matt broke down in the middle of the song (it's version #100):

Here's the encore (version #105):

I love unique stuff like this, especially when my favorite band is involved.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

 So I went to a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday and was on the Band Bench for The National's performance, which was fabulous. I'm here to share video. I'm not as visible as I was last time:

but you can definitely see me! Here's some help:

 Here's a link to the whole show (it's worth watching for a few reasons, one being Susan Sarandon's crazy, miniature killer dogs taking over the studio, another being Anthony Mackie being awesome and breaking into song).

 Sea of Love (This is the first time they've played this song, and I need to listen to it a few times to really get a handle on it, but I think I love it. It's very different from the band's usual sound.):

I Need My Girl (I love this song. It's on the new album but they've been playing it live for awhile, so I've heard it in concert a few times and have recordings of it. This version is a bit different, and it's even better than the earlier version they played.):

I cannot wait for this album to come out.

I was lucky enough to see Mistaken for Strangers at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, and it was absolutely amazing. It was the Opening Night film of the festival. I wanted to see it because of course I'm obsessed with The National, but you don't have to be a fan of the band to enjoy the movie. It's a film by Tom Berninger, the brother of Matt Berninger (lead singer of The National). Tom went on the road with the band and filmed the experience. It features some great footage of the band, but above all it is a movie about brothers. It's surprisingly hilarious and also very touching at times. I hope it gets a wide release eventually, because it's definitely worth seeing (scroll down to my last post to see the trailer). There was a Q&A session after the film with Tom Berninger, Matt Berninger, Carin Besser (Matt's wife, who was very involved in the making of the film), and Craig Charland (the film's fourth producer, who also worked on Win Win, one of my favorite movies). It was interesting to hear them speak about the film.

I'll be back soon with some more amazing LNJF video (unrelated to The National).

Monday, April 22, 2013

ETA: If you're reading this Thursday night (4/25), tune in to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The National is back on the show, and I'm back on the Band Bench! The video below (just click the link) shows my first appearance with The National.

Just because I'm in the mood, here's one of my favorite moments, and the best talk show I've ever been to (look for me wearing a light blue shirt, gray sweater, directly over Matt's shoulder during most of the video):

ETA: If the video doesn't work, try this link (I'm having trouble with embedding, have been playing with html code for what feels like forever and I'm sick if it). 

Mistaken for Strangers was the opening night film at the Tribeca Film Festival, and I'm going to try for a rush ticket to see it this weekend, so wish me luck. It looks awesome, and I've heard great things about it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Have you ever felt nostalgic about a time or place you've never physically experienced? Reading Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool makes me conjure up an image (no, more than an image: a feeling) of myself sitting in a rocking chair on an old Southern porch, sipping lemonade and eating pecan pie, basking in the summer heat that wraps around me like a blanket. I can picture my surroundings perfectly, although it's not an exact place or time I've been to. I love, love, love the setting of a sleepy Southern town. I can't say why, but it's always fascinated me. I love reading books that take place in the South (Gone with the Wind is a particular favorite). I've got Southern blood (according to my family tree I've had family there since before the Revolutionary War), and I was born in the South (South Carolina), so it's a setting that's in my bones. I'm drawn to the region's past more than it's present. Moon Over Manifest is the perfect book for me. It takes place in the 1930's in the small town of Manifest, Kansas, which seems more Midwestern than Southern when you look at a U.S. map, but the town feels Southern. The novel won the 2011 Newbery Award, and I already love the protagonist, a brave, adventurous girl named Abilene Tucker who has always been a wanderer and wants to develop a deeper connection to her father, who has sent her to Manifest while he works on the railroad. I love YA Lit. There are so many good books aimed at young people that can be enjoyed by a much wider audience. Speaking of good YA Lit, go read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. I cried a lot, just as I expected, but it was so, so good. I love that this novel has been included in most of the general "Best of 2012" lists; usually you don't find YA Lit on those lists. Time Magazine named it the Best Fiction Book of 2012, and it's awesome that that honor went to a YA book. Hopefully it will help inspire people to broaden their horizons and begin to cross genre lines when choosing books.