29 December, 2005

Logical Foolishness

    There is a very short, but packed, list of reasons why a Christian should not pursue a career in theatre and I have often struggled with my choice to pursue this career because of them.

- Rehearsals and performances inevitably fall on the Lord's Day.
- The number of roles and shows that do not compromise a Christian's principles continue to dwindle.
- A sort of unorganized "gay mafia" pulls the strings of Equity theatres forcing the Christian to speak carefully regarding his God's abhorrence of sodomy.
- A strange and disgusting sort of openness about sexuality pervades rehearsals and backstage during shows. 

    Perhaps it is my tenacity, perhaps it is my enormous love for the theatre, or maybe it's just my stupidity, but, despite all the possible arguments against it, I can't seem to give up my pursuit.
    There is one thing that keeps me hanging on.
    I've often heard it said that Christians should not pursue theatre today.  My question is, if not today, then when?  If Christians abandon the theatre world, not encouraging those with the talent -- maybe even the call -- to pursue what may be their vocation, then we have given over theatre to the pagans and Christians will never be able to participate.
    The surrender is already happening.  Christians, as a whole, have been withdrawing themselves from the theatre-at-large for a long time -- or, if they have not, then they (like Kristin Chenoweth) have compromised their principles to satisfy the "gay mafia".
    The Christians who have not completely abandoned the theatre in physical sense have done so artistically.  These are the people who write campy, trite, and laughable theatre that preaches more than it entertains.  They have surrendered the good stuff to the pagans and settled for passion plays and morality plays worthy of the scoffing they receive from both the pagans and people like myself.
    I would, somehow, like to stop this surrender.  I don't know how it is possible: perhaps simply by sticking to my guns, maybe by starting my own theatre company . . . I don't know.  But I refuse to believe that that the only places left for Christian theatre-lovers are high-school drama, evangelical fluff, or the audience.
    God commands we have dominion over the earth and I don't believe he made an exception for the arts.

18 December, 2005

Seeing the Big Picture

    In my admittedly limited experience in the theatre world, I have observed three different types of actors: the egomaniacal actor, the workcentric actor, and the big picture actor.
    The first -- and most annoying and aggravating -- is that narcissistic, egocentric, drama queen who must have the leading part.  He views all other parts (most especially chorus or ensemble parts) as wholly inferior and nearly pointless.  As such, when he gets these "inferior" parts -- which, because of his attitude, he usually does -- he complains and moans throughout the entire rehearsal process (and sometimes the run of the show) and does not perform to the best of his ability.  This is the type of actor I would dearly love to slap upside the head and tell to get over himself, that the show is about more than just him.  Of course, even if I did this, he wouldn't listen.  It would just serve as more fodder for complaint.
    The second type -- the category that most actors fall into -- is the kind who will take any work that comes to him: chorus, ensemble, featured, supporting, or lead.  He would, of course, rather have the leading role, but smaller roles are fine too -- just as long as he is working.  He still sees the leading role as the most important, but will take the smaller roles if he must.  He is much like the egomaniacal drama queen in that he, also, sees the non-leading roles as unimportant -- throw-away parts.  Because of this, when "stuck" with the smaller roles, this actor will also give less than his best.
    The third -- and most rare -- type of actor sees the show as a whole and his character's role in the show's context.  He sees that without his part the show, though it may not fall, the show will be drastically altered.  What is Pippin without its players?  West Side Story without its Jets or Sharks?  Les Miserables without its idealistic students?  Less than nothing.   What is My Fair Lady without Zoltan Karparthy?  Parade without Newt Lee?  Sweeney Todd without the Beggar Woman?  Cookie-cutter stories with trite endings.
    The actor who sees the big picture and his character's role within that picture is the actor who works the hardest and brings his character to life with energy and depth.  This is the actor that can make or break a show.  This is the actor that directors want to cast.
    This is the actor I aspire to be.

12 December, 2005

The Wonders of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

    It was like being five again.  Lucy wandered into Lantern Waste and her eyes expressed the wonder I felt upon first reading that moment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Simply put, the movie was wondrous.  I felt transported.  It was the most entertaining film I've seen all year and that's not an exaggeration.  At the end of the film, I accidentally started a round of applause when I clasped my hands together with pure, unadulterated joy and I'm not sorry I did.  Nearly everyone was wide-eyed with delight when they left the theater and more than one young man I know had the urge to engage in a bit of sword play.

    Though I enjoyed it immensely, there were some things that the adaptation changed or left out that I felt distracted from the original intent of the story.  For one, Edmund is far too sympathetic before his repentance.  Lewis makes it clear that Edmund is as selfish as they come, deceitful and filled spite.  The movie makes him a sort of unwillingly selfish character, forced to be so because of Peter's superiority complex. This makes him too sympathetic from the beginning, makes Peter less noble, and, most importantly trivializes Aslan's sacrifice.
    While we're on the topic of Aslan, he should have been bigger.  Aslan needs to inspire awe from the first moment you look at him.  Not just a "Whoa, that's a lion!" awe, but a fall-down-on-your-knees-with-reverence awe.  And, while the scene at the Stone Table was certainly powerful, it would have been more so had the writers kept intact what Lewis thought to be so important that he repeated it at least five times: Aslan's complete submission to the White Witch.  Lewis repeatedly wrote how Aslan could have easily killed everyone present, but remained silent and did not resist.  In the movie, there was some shying from the ropes and lifting of the lip as if to bite or growl.  Aslan's submission is one of the most important parts of the story.  He was so committed to sacrificing himself for Edmund -- and, indeed, all of Narnia -- that he didn't even give a hint of resistance.  His not-so-submission made him too normal and less worthy of awe.
    But I fear Peter got the worst of it when he was adapted for the film.  Somehow he became the token unwilling hero who becomes the great king in the end.  I understand the writers were trying to give his character a greater arc, but it there was nothing smooth about it.  Peter got stuck in the unwilling rut for WAY too long.  He was so unwilling, he didn't treat Aslan with respect and even seemed whiny at times and preoccupied with sending his brother and sisters home, even though he knew they were to be king and queens of Narnia with him.  Then, all of a sudden (about the time the Witch mortally wounded Edmund) he became the great hero, fighting for his Narnia.
    This brings me to one of the most irritating parts of the film.  During the battle, when it seems clear that Aslan's forces are going to be defeated, Peter tells Edmund to take the girls and go home (something that never happened in the book).  Edmund starts to obey his brother, the High King of Narnia, but when he sees the White Witch turning his comrades to stone right and left, he decides to go after her.  The beaver reminds him of Peter's command and Edmund responds with, "He's not king yet."  This is the most warped view of the book in the entire movie.  If the writers had just left Peter's newfound army-of-one attitude out of the film, this (among other things) would have never been an issue.  In the book, Peter calls Edmund a hero.  In the thick of the battle (in which they were BOTH fighting) Edmund saw how the Witch was turning their army to stone with her wand and he took it upon himself to break the wand, nearly getting himself killed in the process, but turning the tide of the battle.  Peter rightly calls him a hero for it.  There's nothing heroic about his insubordinate actions in the film. They only serve to show how his character never really changed, which is very annoying and nearly ruins the story.

    But, like I said, the story is pretty much intact and the movie is so captivating that the little annoyances don't really matter.  I highly recommend this film to anyone, but especially those who have read the book.  (I actually went with one person who did not read the book and, after the movie, she told us that she was a little confused, but she enjoyed it very much.)
    Go see it.

08 December, 2005

The Light in the Piazza . . .

I don't see a miracle shining from the sky
I'm no good at statues and stories
I try

That's not what I think about
That's not what I see
I know what the sunlight can be

The Light, the Light in the Piazza

Tiny sweet
And then it grows
And then it fills the air
Who knows what you call it?
I don't care
Out of somewhere I have something I have never had
And sad is happy
That's all I see

The Light in the Piazza
The Light in the Piazza

It's rushing up
It's pouring out
It's flying through the air
All through the air
Who knows what you call it?
But it's there
It is there

All I see is
All I want is tearing from inside
I see it
Now I see it everywhere
It's everywhere
It's everything and everywhere

The Light in the Piazza

My Love

    Yesterday I finally realized what this song is about.  When I first heard it I thought I wouldn't know until I saw the show, that somehow it's meaning was wrapped up in the plot, but it really isn't that complicated.

    The Light in the Piazza isn't literally the sunlight that peeks over the tops of the old and beautiful buildings in Firenze to spread its warmth over the city.  It's that feeling.  It's the feeling that's completely indescribable.  That feeling when you realize "I love you" isn't strong enough.  The feeling that comes when you say "I love you" and wonder why it doesn't carry the weight of your heart.  And you search for a word, any word -- any number of words that may, perhaps, convey your meaning.  Maybe you find them.  Maybe you don't.
    Clara found her Light in the Piazza, but the words are different for everybody and the search for them is exhausting.  It was Clara's simplicity that made it so easy for her to find.  Don't use your head, trying to find the words in your dictionary-like vocabulary . . .

    Use your heart.

07 December, 2005

Pride & Prejudice

    The newest adaptation of Jane Austen's brilliant and celebrated novel, Pride & Prejudice, while not the fleshed-out, gorgeous perfection of A&E version, is too beautiful not to see. I'd write a review, but I don't think it requires one. Just see it.

30 November, 2005

The Return of the Golden Age

    The day before Pippin opened at Livestock, the set still wasn't finished so I headed to the studio directly after work and helped our set designer, David Bell, with painting the stage. When I walked in, I was greeted by the beautiful strains of The Light in the Piazza, a cast album I'd be dying to hear ever since reading excellent reviews from people whose opinions I trusted. I decided that I really needed to purchase the album -- and see the show, but that's highly unlikely unless it goes on tour.
     So I bought the album on amazon.com. It came in while I was away for Thanksgiving.
     The Light in the Piazza is a musical about the vitality of love and Adam Guettel, the show's composer and lyricist, does an excellent job of capturing that. The first strains of beautiful harp and strings in the overture are reminiscent of the timeless musicals of the Golden Age and leave the hair on your arms standing on end. Guettel's orchestrations are nothing less than masterful -- in musicality, emotion, and, thus, beauty. It's sometimes flowing, sometimes soaring, sometimes delicate, and sometimes Sondheim-esque. And the lyrics are just as beautiful. The music and lyrics seem the perfect blend between Rogers & Hammerstein and Sondheim. Rogers & Hammerstein can sometimes seem too melodic, too beautiful, too simple while Sondheim seems very intellectual with odd melodies and interesting rhymes. Guettel takes the best of both worlds and seamlessly stitches them together. Even Fabrizio's broken English is somehow beautiful.
     If you can believe it, the voices match and sometimes surpass the beauty of the music and lyrics. Victoria Clark (who won a Tony Award for her performance) is nothing short of perfect. Her southern accent takes a bit of getting used to for those of us accustomed to the usually perfect diction of musical theatre, but once you get over that, Clark takes you on an unforgettable emotional journey. Kelli O'Hara is also quite amazing, with the beautifully clear, legit soprano that has been missing from Broadway for a long time. Except for the occasional dropping of the Southern accent, her characterization is flawless. And Matthew Morrison is just a joy to listen to. He has such a beautiful and unbelievably rich baritone, yet he keeps a boyish feel to it. The ensemble is equally amazing. It's so delightful to hear an old fashioned musical again.
     While the entire score is beautiful, there are, of course, some stand out songs, namely the title song, "The Beauty Is", "Dividing Day", the beautiful love song, "Say It Somehow", the journey of "Fable", and Morrison's shining moment, "Love To Me".
     The Light in the Piazza, originally slated to close January 31st, is still running in New York at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center, where the producers extended it's run again, this time through July 2nd. For those fans of musical theatre longing for the return of the classic musicals of the Golden Age, I highly recommend this show. If only I can make my way to the city to see it for myself.

15 November, 2005

RENT -- "How about love?"

    Of late, I have been considering not seeing the RENT movie when it comes out next week.  Yes, I am a musical nut, but I've never really liked RENT.  I only enjoy about four songs on the cast album and I find the message weak and lacking.  Here you have these rebellious bohemians who care only for their art (and -- so they say -- each other).  They refuse to be responsible and pay rent (however devious their landlord has been), they sleep around and contract AIDS, one is an S&M dancer at a local club, some cheat on their significant others, and half of them are decidedly not heterosexual.
    Yes, this sort of thing is "real".  Yes, New York City was like this at one point (probably still is in a lot of areas).  But do we really have to glorify it?  Do we have to lift up the actions of the reprobate in order to tell a good story?  Is it really a good story or is it the secular world's idea of a good story?  Somehow, I find it very hard to see the redemption in RENT.
    Unlike it's predecessor, La Bohème, RENT fails to show the consequences of the characters' actions.  The RENT-bohemians, like the La Bohème-bohemians, live the life of the poor.  They are cold, tired, weary, and can't find work to make money.  La Bohème shows what actually happens to people in this sort of situation; RENT sugarcoats it . . . glorifies it. In both shows, Mimi is terminally ill -- in RENT she has AIDS, in La Bohème, tuberculosis.  But AIDS, unlike tuberculosis, is usually contracted through less-than-blameless activities.  RENT's creator, the late Jonathon Larson, not only replaced the one sickness with another, he gave it to Roger/Rodolfo, to Angel/Schunard, and to Collins/Colline in addition to Mimi.  Instead of keeping it the tragic love story of two flawed people, he made La Bohème into a mock-tragedy more about a group of rebellious friends than love.
    Why do I call RENT a mock tragedy? You cannot present something as tragedy without the actual death of a character.  If Mimi is going to die, let her die.  The story will be stronger for it.  While I understand and love theatre's heavy reliance on "suspension of disbelief", when a playwright asks me to accept what he presents as what happens in the real world, then brings a main character back to life, I can no longer suspend that disbelief.  Larson crushed his own world and I can no longer believe in it.

    RENT chronicles a year in the tumultuous, self-serving, drug-filled, and sometime sodomic "love lives" of a group of friends; La Bohème follows the love of one man for one woman and how its comedy and tragedy helped bring a group of friends closer together.

    So, is it worth my while to watch this movie?  Will it instruct as well as entertain?  If so how will it instruct and will it be worthwhile instruction?  Will the learning be so valuable that it's worth watching Mimi pole dance in skimpy clothing, Maureen propose to another woman, Collins and Angel (two men, one a transvestite) kiss and profess their love for each other?  It's not that I think this movie will change my staunch position on certain topics like homosexuality, only that I'm not sure it's worth it to fill my mind with such filth in order to receive the movie's over-generalized moral: love.

27 October, 2005

To See or Not to See What I Wanna See

    When I first read a spoiler-filled synopsis of Michael John LaChiusa’s newest work, See What I Wanna See I immediately rejected it as a show I could see (given the opportunity) because of some of its content – namely both rape and consensual sex depicted on stage.
    Since the show has been running in previews for two weeks (it officially opened last night), a number of people I know have gotten a chance to see it and have been discussing the meaning and implications of the show ever since.
    From all I’ve read, See What I Wanna See seems the most thought-provoking musical to come to New York in a very long time.  This is exciting for me.  The world needs more thought-provoking theatre.  LaChiusa and the gang of writers/composers he is often grouped with (Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel, Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens) are working hard to bring this kind of theatre back to the Great White Way.

Idina Menzel (The Wife) and Marc Kudisch (The Husband) in See What I Wanna See (Photo copyright Michal DANIEL, 2005)

    However, one dilemma remains: Can a Christian, in good conscience, go to See What I Wanna See?  Theatre isn’t like the movies.  You can’t wait for the DVD to come out and fast-forward the unpleasant or explicit scenes.  You’re not so removed from the characters in the theatre.  If you were to watch a rape scene in a movie it would be far less disturbing than watching one in the theatre – especially at the Public, a very small theatre with a thrust stage.  All the terrible action is right there in front of you . . . in the very same room.

Idina Menzel (The Wife) and Aaron Lohr (The Thief) in See What I Wanna See (Photo copyright Michal DANIEL, 2005)

    Even with this disturbing imagery, can a Christian see it?  The story would be monumentally different without it and far less thought-provoking.  Can rape be portrayed tastefully?  Perhaps it is portrayed as tastefully as possible.  But is it proper to portray it at all?  Is there another way to show the selfish paradigms of sinful man without using rape, consensual sex, and grim murders to do so?  If there is, would the story be nearly as powerful since part of the hard-hitting nature of the show is found it the extreme nature of the situations at hand?

These are the questions that have my mind churning in circles about this show and theatre in general.  If given the opportunity, I would want to see it because nothing like it has come along in a very long time, but I do not want to be desensitized to sinful extremes.  Thankfully I live 550 miles from the city and don’t have to actually make the decision, but I can’t help wondering . . .

19 October, 2005

Nobility in Elizabethtown

“ . . . the idea of nobility is inseparable from the idea of tragedy, which cannot exist without it. If tragedy is not the imitation or even the modified representation of noble actions it is certainly a representation of actions considered as noble, and herein lies its essential nature, since no man can conceive it unless he is capable of believing in the greatness and importance of man . . . We no longer tell tales of the fall of noble men because we do not believe that noble men exist. The best that we can achieve is pathos and the most that we can do is to feel sorry for ourselves. . . . But a Tragedy, Divine or otherwise, must, it may again be repeated, have a hero, and from the universe as we see it both the Glory of God and the Glory of Man have departed.”
~ Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper, “The Tragic Fallacy”

    Elizabethtown, while not a tragedy, brings back this long-forgotten idea of noble man. The idea that men aren’t just some lowly creatures and equal to all other animals, but a higher order, created in the image of the Almighty God and therefore inherently noble. Yes, men tend to shun this nobility, but it is in all of us and it is this inherent nobility, rejected and found again, that Cameron Crowe weaves throughout his film.
    We begin with Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a young, fast-climbing shoe designer obsessed, like the rest of America, with success. When his apparent success spirals down first to failure and then fiasco, he becomes lost. He had cast nobility aside to pursue success and failed. Without the nobility he rejected and the success he strove for, Drew has nothing, so he decides to kill himself. But then his sister calls with news of their father’s death and he has to put off his suicide until he can tie up the loose ends.
    What follows is the gradual awakening of nobility in Drew. In flight attendant Claire, Drew finds something he never knew could be so wonderful: the nobility he has rejected. Claire – with the aid of many intriguing characters – helps Drew understand that his life is meaningful . . . important even.
    The film doesn’t tell us what it is that makes Drew’s life meaningful or important, but that’s its beauty. A film that can come to one conclusion and one conclusion only, is not a good film.
    This is a good film. It’s not a film you go to in order to sit idly back in your seat as your brain mindlessly soaks up the words. You have to engage with this film. You have to work to understand the characters and why they say things. What those looks mean. But enjoy yourself. It is a movie, after all.

Artistic musings . . .

    This is the new blog I have created for the express purpose of theological musings on art -- be it film, theatre, music, or any other fine art. I will still use my xanga for blogging on random matters, but it seems no one cares to read (or at least comment) on my longer, more intellectual posts which are mostly related to the the world of theatre and the like.
    So, without further ado, I give you my serious blog. Enjoy!