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.