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.