18 June, 2006

Come and visit your good friend Sweeney . . .

    Many in the theatre community are up in arms over the proposed film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  Among the complaints: 1) it shouldn’t be a movie; 2) Tim Burton is an inappropriate direction choice; and 3) Johnny Depp would make a bad Sweeney.  But I ask you to cast aside your worries for the time-being and listen to what I have to say.

    Complaint Number One: Sweeney Todd is a stage musical and shouldn’t be made into a movie.  Of the three complaints listed, this one holds the most water.  Ever since the horrible film adaptations of some of my favorite books, I’ve been very wary of the adaptation phenomenon.  But in most cases, the authors of my favorite books are dead and, therefore, have no say in the adaptation process.  In the case of Sweeney Todd, Mr. Sondheim is still alive and composing and even consulted the cast and crew of the new Broadway revival of the very show we’re speaking of.  Since Mr. Sondheim is still with us, he may very well also help out with this production of (what I consider) his masterpiece.

    Another hurdle in the adaptation process is the fact that Sweeney is a very theatrical piece, with over-the-top numbers and nearly-operatic climaxes unfit for the confining silver screen.  As much as I would hate to see some of Sondheim’s best music get the axe, an easy way to make numbers like “Epiphany” work on film would be to turn them into underscored dialogue, which I will touch on in more detail later.

    The last hurdle in the adaptation process is the director, which is where Complaint Number Two comes in: Tim Burton’s direction style is not right for Sweeney Todd; his films are too cartoonish.  Tim Burton strikes me as a very intelligent director with a distinct vision for every movie he makes and that is precisely why this partnership will work.  Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd’s is so remarkably written in every sense, that as long as the substance remains the same, a director can do nearly anything he wants with theme or style, especially if he is such a distinct visionary like Mr. Burton.  Just look at the two Broadway productions we’ve seen.  Under Hal Prince’s direction, Sweeney was a tale of social injustice told in a modern sort of expressionistic style while John Doyle’s recent production takes a closer look at the story’s psychological underpinnings.  Prince’s stage was large with a metallic and industrial looking set while Doyle works with a small stage and a minimalist set with very few props.  Even the orchestrations and casts are very different.  Prince had a 27-piece orchestra while Doyle cut it down to nine.  Prince worked with a large chorus in addition to the main characters while Doyle’s cast of ten serves as both the established characters and the chorus.  Even the characters are portrayed differently in Doyle’s production: a more introverted Sweeney, a sexier Mrs. Lovett, and woman as Pirelli.  And yet, with all these differences, the story still shines through and the story is what’s most important.  Don’t write off Mr. Burton quite yet.

    All that remains in dispute is Complaint Number Three: Johnny Depp would make a horrible Sweeney.  My first response to this would be, “ARE YOU INSANE?!  HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN THE GUY ACT BEFORE?!”  But that, of course, is not the most intelligent of arguments, so I suppose I’ll have to support it with some actual logic.  First, Tim Burton is directing this film and, for whatever reason, he and Depp have an uncanny understanding of each other, such that their movies tend to turn out better-than-well.  It is very true that we don’t know whether or not Depp can sing any Sondheim score, let a alone the tremendous difficulty of Sweeney Todd’s score, but think of it this way: If Burton decides (as rumored) to convert some of the more theatrical songs to underscored dialogue, Johnny Depp is the best possible choice for the role of Sweeney Todd.  If you think Michael Cerveris makes an introverted and contemplative Sweeney, just wait until you see Johnny Depp.  I can just picture him stepping outside his barber shop on Fleet Street, whispering maliciously to himself as he surveys the crowd below, “All right . . . you sir!  How about a shave?  Come and visit your good friend Sweeney.  Ah!  You too, sir!  Welcome to the grave.”  It could work marvelously.

    I’m not saying this will be a perfect adaptation, or even a suitable one at that, but there’s no way of knowing until it’s made.  All I’m saying is that we have plenty of information that hopefully points to a good adaptation.  Just give it a chance.

26 May, 2006

A "culture of transcendence" . . .

“Virtually all cultural institutions, from literature professors at Ivy League schools to producers of soap operas to the loudest heavy metal bands, are all equally bereft of points of perspective for their activities.  In such a time the church could be a community displaying, in its corporate life and the lives of its members, a culture of transcendence.  This would not mean escaping from the world.  It would require refusing to conform to its ways, not only when they are evil, but when they are not beneficial or constructive.” (Kenneth A. Meyers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, p. xvi)

17 May, 2006

Of Da Vinci and Darwin . . .

    I think it's about time for me to weigh in on this Da Vinci Code mess.  I find the uproar in the Christian community to be utterly ridiculous.  It's a movie.  It is fiction.  If people watch this movie and believe it (or much of it) is true, they are mindless buffoons whom natural selection will deal with accordingly.   But I think you'll find the majority of people want to see this film for the purpose of escapism: a smart action flick is what they're looking for.
    And there's nothing wrong with that!  A person can enjoy a fast-paced mystery film whether or not it agrees with his theology or worldview.  If you are interested in the movie, bully for you!  Go see it and have a good time!  If you're not interested in the movie, that's great, too!  Just don't see it.  And for the sake of my sanity and your physical condition, don't tell me that I'm risking the triumph of God's Kingdom if I decide The DaVinci Code is worth my hard-earned money.  Christ will prevail against the gates of Hell no matter what you or I do to "help" or "hinder" it.
    Personally, I think I would enjoy the movie . . . to a point.  By all accounts, it's an engaging mystery (a genre we don't see a lot of anymore), with twists and turns that will make one's head spin.  The trailers and clips I've seen kind of remind me of the earlier seasons of ALIAS.  But I digress.  However much I would enjoy the treasure hunt aspect of the film, I think it's conclusion would drive me mad in that it doesn't jive with my beliefs.  I would most likely leave the theater wanting to do violence to the film's creators and that is something I would like to avoid.
    Therefore, I will not be seeing the much-anticipated Da Vinci Code.  If you want to see it, go ahead, but don't come crying to me that it ticked you off.

09 May, 2006

Wanted: One Dramaturg

    I just saw The Jacket this afternoon and I think I’d give it three stars out of seven.  It was an enjoyable movie, but the writer and director could have done several things to make it much better and more coherent.
    Personally, if a movie wants me to suspend my disbelief in time travel, I’ll do it without hesitation – just because it’s a cool idea – as long as it’s presented well.  What I liked about The Jacket’s presentation of time travel is that, even though Jack repeatedly traveled to the future, the future didn’t change based on his actions in the present.  And I was really excited about it . . . until the end when they decided to abandon the idea and it all came crashing down.
    Unfortunately, in order for the proper ending to replace the current one, the love story would have had to be real as opposed to a box on the checklist of scriptwriting.  Aside from the ridiculous and completely avoidable similarity in their names, I love the idea that Jack helps little Jackie and her mother in 1993 and then falls in love with Jackie in 2007.  What I don’t love is the way their relationship came about.  One minute she’s merely helping him track down information on his death at Alpine Grove, the next minute he’s leading her through the asylum by the hand as if he’s held her hand ten thousand times before, and the very next he pulls her to him John Wayne style and they have themselves a romp.  Had the writer, director, and/or actors taken care to build the attraction and desire by small glances, gestures, or a careful word from time to time, the John Wayne moment would have won me over and the sex scene would have been far less unecessary than it was.  As it is, my reaction was, “Where did that come from?”
    Had they built the relationship the way they should have, they could have used the appropriate ending where, instead of Jack returning to a changed future, he could return to the same future with the unfortunately named Jackie waiting for him.  As it is, the ending makes zero sense in the context of the film and left me rather dissatisfied.
    All things considered, The Jacket is a decent thriller, though lacking a focus and purposeful direction.  If you have time to kill, I suggest watching it, if only for Adrien Brody’s faultless performance.

08 May, 2006

Let the games begin . . .

    Well, this year's Drama Desk nominations are out and I’m pleased to report that Sutton Foster's latest endeavor, The Drowsy Chaperone, leads the pack with 14 nominations, including Outstanding Actor and Actress in a Musical (Bob Martin and Sutton Foster, respectively) and Outstanding Musical.  Grey Gardens is on its heels with 12 nominations and See What I Wanna See and Sweeney Todd are a close third with 9 nominations each.  Michael John LaChiusa (composer/lyricist, See What I Wanna See) is also nominated for both Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics -- if he doesn't win, there is something dreadfully wrong with this world.  Likewise, Outstanding Book of a Musical better go to Bob Martin & Don McKeller's Drowsy Chaperone lest the voters be struck down by lightning from heaven.  Unfortunately, Drowsy is pitted against both See What I Wanna See and Sweeney Todd for Outstanding Musical and Sutton is pitted against both Patti Lu-Freaking-Pone (Sweeney Todd) and Idina Menzel (See What I Wanna See) for Outstanding Actress.  Patti is . . . well, Patti, Idina gave a performance for the ages in See What I Wanna See, and Sutton Foster is positively electric in her newest role, so this category is going to be a close call.
    Thankfully, come Tony Time, I won't have to be torn between Sutton and Idina or Drowsy and See What I Wanna See, since Off-Broadway shows are not eligible for Tony Awards.  It's interesting to note that Sutton is considered a leading actress by the Drama Desk folks when Drowsy is such an ensemble show.  If the American Theatre Wing calls her a lead, it may hurt her chances for a Tony (I mean, come on!  Patti LuPone?!?  She's pretty much a theatre-queen goddess the world over!).  Hopefully ATW will classify her role as a featured one so that she might grab herself another Tony.
    The Drama Desk Awards are given out on Sunday, May 21st -- five days after the Tony Award Nominations on May 16th -- and the Broadway winners of Drama Desk Awards are quite solid indicators of who will win the year’s Tony Awards.
    Let Tony season begin!

30 March, 2006


    I find the trailer for this film to be quite intriguing, though I'm not very sure what the movie is about.  Focus Features has generally been a trustworthy studio.  They produced such films as the new Pride & Prejudice, The Constant Gardener, Something New, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Pianist, and Being John Malkovich.  That's not to say they don't have some major failures -- if not commercially, then in my book -- like Gosford Park (though I may have to give it a second chance), Far From Heaven, and, most recently, Brokeback Mountain.
    Their less-than-great endeavor's aside, Focus produces a larger percentage of movies that I enjoy than any other studio.  It has been the pattern that those Focus trailers that intrigue me end up as films on my favorites list.
    I've read a few conflicting reviews on the film, so I’m not sure I want to take the chance and spend six bucks on Brick in theaters, but I’m sure I'll tack it on to my excessively long Netflix queue come DVD time.

25 March, 2006

Remember, remember the fifth of November . . .

    If the lives of your compatriots were threatened by some outside force, would you give up some of your rights to feel safe?  Or do you agree with Benjamin Franklin that, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security”?  This is the world the British, as a result of their fear, have resigned themselves to in V for Vendetta.  And in a complacent dystopia ruled by fascists, the only way to start a revolution is to incite chaos.
    Vendetta is one of the most brilliant movies I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s a no holds barred action flick -- full of explosions and blood -- that actually forces it’s viewers to think.  After a masked man (known only as “V”) rescues Evey Hammond (our leading lady) from a group of would-be-rapist police officers, Evey is swept up in V’s world of vigilantist vengeance, which she is initially reluctant to take part in.  V models his actions after those of the infamous Guy Fawkes and, in classic comic book style, wears a Guy Fawkes mask through the entire movie to hide his disfigured face.  V, like Fawkes, aims to blow up parliament in an act of defiance and as an attempt to incite a once complacent people to revolution and self-government.  The meeting of two opposite people, like V and Evey, presents occasions for learning and discovery – for one, principle, and for the other, love.
    If Star Wars has been your only test of Natalie Portman’s skill, you have been greatly deceived.  Portman’s grip on Evey Hammond is so solid that after they initial, “Hey, that’s Natalie Portman,” you won’t think of her again.  Evey has a difficult and substantial character arc, but Portman handles it with consummate skill.  She takes Evey from a young woman deathly afraid of admitting she has principles -- let alone the ability to act on them -- to a woman who, having been broken in everyway possible, becomes V’s fearless ally.  It is both a testament to Portman’s skill and the excellence of the writing that this transformation doesn’t seem unnatural.
    The real star of this film, of course, is Hugo Weaving as the mysterious V, who never comes out from behind his Guy Fawkes mask.  The fact that we never see his face doesn’t at all take away from Weaving’s performance.  Somehow he conveys everything he needs to with body language and his mellifluous and resonating voice.  His body language somehow never seems forced, but it flows with the intent of the words, much like one’s face does.  With a slight cock of his head, you just know V is raising his eyebrow.  And with his voice, Weaving can make the mask seem at times terrifying, sometimes jocular, and other times pitiful.  A truly masterful performance.
    The supporting cast is likewise flawless.  John Hurt’s Chancellor Sutler is an insidiously terrifying character.  Stephen Rae brings depth to Inspector Finch where other, less careful actors might be tempted to make him into a cardboard cutout.  All the villains, all the good guys, and all those astonished citizens make this movie more than just an action flick.
    Vendetta’s script itself is a well-crafted and gripping piece of work, but a movie is far more than a script and a more-than-capable cast and crew bring it to life in a marvelous fashion.  The art directors bring us some striking visuals with a color palette that really fits the mood of the piece.  From the black of V’s wardrobe and the Scarlet Carsons he leaves on his victims to the emblem on Britain’s new flag, to the blood slinging from the necks of V’s victims, black and red dominate.  But metallics and earth tones also play their role, contrasting the dystopian order of the fascist government and the stone underground of V’s lair, with its collection of wrongfully-censored art.  The soft colors of V’s world make it easier for the mind to sympathize with the borderline terrorist, especially when compared to the glaring and harsh world of the government.
    The film is teaming with the intersecting themes of coincidence and truth, justice and vengeance, complacency and corruption.  Is there really such a thing as coincidence, or is it just the illusion of coincidence?  If it’s just the illusion of coincidence, then is some greater power trying to tell us something through this illusion?  Are those who think they see the point of the illusion, like V, justified in using methods commonly associated with terrorism to get others to understand the truth?  Or is this merely vengeance?  Did the British government justly reap this vigilante harvest by sowing the seeds of terror and corruption?  What about the complacent people?  If V punished the British government for their actions, was not the government a punishment for the people’s complacency?  Is our own America complacent?  Could the republic we (used to) take pride in turn out this way?  Do we even care anymore?
    I have only two reservations about this film: its blatant attempt at over-sympathizing homosexuality and its failed attempt at convincing me the fascists are extreme right-wingers.  Instead of the excessive mentioning of the plight of homosexuals under this government, the celluloid could have been used to better effect showing the plight of Muslims, Jews, non-Caucasians, non-British folks, or any of the other oppressed groups in order to show the sweeping arrogance and elitism of the government.  Additionally, trying to convince viewers that a fascist government is the inevitable result of a right-wing takeover is so completely illogical that not even Hollywood could pull it off.  So many of the choices made by those in power are choices that necessarily follow the nihilism dominant in left-wing circles and could never be logically made by a conservative.  But don’t let those minor annoyances stop you from seeing Vendetta.
    Near the beginning of the film, Evey, quoting her father, makes a mournfully true statement, “Artists use lies to tell the truth while politicians use them to cover the truth up.”  Some of the lies artists tell are badly told, weather visually or on the written page, but this is not the case in V for Vendetta.  This is an excellent movie, not to be missed.

19 February, 2006

Female Empowerment? I Think Not.

    Nathaniel Blake wrote an excellent article contrasting Eve Ensler (of The Vagina Monologues fame) and the impeccable Jane Austen.  Well done.

09 February, 2006

Goodbye Andrew Lloyd Webber, Hello Sutton Foster!

    Due (mainly) to cast health problems, Andrew Lloyd Webber's umpteenth mediocre show failed to fill the 1,600 seat Marquis Theatre.  As a result, The Women in White will take it's final bow on February 19th.
    With the line of shows waiting to make the transfer to Broadway, it was unclear what lucky show would get to hedge its bets at The Great White Way's second-largest theatre.
    No longer.
    Broadway is saved with the return of a light-hearted, adult (read: non-Disney) show and the ever-luminous Sutton Foster.

    The Drowsy Chaperone will move into the Marquis Theatre and previews will begin April 3rd, with opening night scheduled for the 1st of May.
    I can't wait.

07 February, 2006

Character face!

[enter the melodramatic personage that exists within every actor]

    Manna from heaven! *faints*

03 February, 2006

The Lord of the Rings: The Musical/Stage Show/Thing

    I think everyone here knows that I hate Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies.  The reasons being he added to, subtracted from, and so generally twisted the tale that his movies leave me with a bad taste in my mouth (especially the last two).
    What many of you probably don't know is that for the past few months a company of ambitious men and women have been working on transforming The Lord of the Rings into a theatrical event more or less like a musical.
    Since I first heard about the idea (from it's first press release) I have been griping and complaining about it -- and with good reason, I think.  I mean, how does one bring such an epic story to the stage when it didn't even fit into three three-hour films?  I don't think you can and that's why I fought it every step of the way, despite casting choices and news on how well rehearsals were going.
    Then I saw this and it changed my mind . . . I think.  The difference between Jackson's self-glorifying films and the forthcoming stage adaptation seems to be that Jackson had the ability to fit it all in, but chose not to, while this production team knows there is no WAY they can fit is all in and are taking steps to capture the essence of the story.  Whether they will or not, we have yet to see.
    The show was supposed to have had its first preview last night, but that was pushed back until tomorrow night because the producers felt it wasn't yet ready for an audience.  Still, I have high hopes for it.

02 February, 2006

More End of the Spear

    Well, I was going to write up my fully-formed opinion on the End of the Spear controversy this afternoon, but it seems this person already did it for me.

26 January, 2006

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd . . .

    Sweeney Todd -- a musical filled with rampant vengeance, murder, and cannibalism.  Why, then, do I love it so much?  I often call it one of my favorite musicals and people will say, "Eww.  How can you like a musical about people eating people?"
    Perhaps because Sweeney Todd isn't about that at all.
    At it's core, Sweeney Todd is a marvelously worked tragedy.  The fact that Mrs. Lovett bakes Sweeney's victims into pies and sells them to the unsuspecting London population is simply a bit of disgusting humor so the audience members don't feel like slitting their wrists during or after the show.  Shakespeare did it with sexual humor (Macbeth's porter scene) and witty humor (Hamlet's gravedigger scene), so why can't Sondheim do it with disgusting humor?
    The fact remains that Sweeney Todd is a tragedy in the classic sense.  We have our hero (or anti-hero, if you like), Sweeney Todd, who has a tragic flaw: an insatiable desire for vengeance. Sweeney was a good man (perhaps still is), but he was terribly wronged.  A depraved judge sent him off to Australia on a trumped up charge just so he could have Sweeney's wife.  When Sweeney returns, he understandably seeks revenge on the judge and, by extension, London: the city that has given up on justice.  So he exacts his revenge by once again taking up his barber's razor and sending Londoners to their maker "impeccably shaved".  Because carrying a dead body away in the middle of the night could be tricky, Sweeney's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, suggests, "what with times so hard as these," they should use the bodies for her meat pies.  And thus begins Sweeney's downfall.  Eventually everything unravels in the most perfect way and justice is served to all, including Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett.
    Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sweeney Todd is that the viewer finds himself sympathizing with the title character, while, at the same time, finding Sweeney's actions thoroughly revolting (why many call him an anti-hero.)  But what man wouldn't be infuriated by an unjust imprisonment, the rape of his wife, her subsequent death, and the adoption of his daughter by the very man who caused such sorrow?  As a fellow human, the viewer wants justice just as much as Sweeney does, but in classic tragic fashion, Sweeney takes it too far.
    Sweeney's range of emotion in this tale is sweeping.  One moment he's angry at the injustice in London, the next he's mourning for his wife, then rejoicing over his long-lost razors and dreaming of what he can do with them, then poking fun at a phony barber, and again scaring the pants off of you with his oaths of vengeance.  By the end of the show (for some reasons I cannot tell for fear of spoiling it for those of you who haven't see it) you truly feel sad about his demise.  Justice is certainly served, but you can't help wishing he did things differently.
    Give it a chance.  It will be worth your while.

24 January, 2006

The American Theatre Wing's Working in Theatre Seminars

Production: See What I Wanna See - 1:27:01

Now I really wish I'd SOMEHOW made it up to New York to see this show. God bless the ATW. I'd never realized how much they actually do for theatre and I hope they continue to hold and record these seminars.

20 January, 2006

The Recovery of Art at the End of the Spear?

    When I first heard about End of the Spear (the new movie based on the real life story of the five missionaries killed in Ecuador by the indigenous Waodani tribe) I let out a tired groan, knowing that Christian production companies (this time it's Every Tribe Entertainment) have a tendency to produce artistically terrible stuff.  I was dead set on not seeing it.
    Recently, however, much of the evangelical community has been up in arms over the fact that Every Tribe hired not only a gay man (*gasp*) but a gay activist (*double gasp*) to play missionary Nate Saint and the grown up version of his son, Steve.
    Oddly enough, this makes me want to see the movie.
    I appreciate the fact that Every Tribe refused to brush off the actor with the best audition simply because he is gay and a gay activist.  It shows that their focus is on making a good movie, rather than making politico-religious statements.  I think this is the most Christian thing a Christian production company has ever done and, as a result, I will now be seeing what I hope will be an excellent movie.

09 January, 2006

The Song I Love: The Melody of 42nd Street

    As I have stated before, the theatre world can be extremely aggravating because of how rife it is with ungodliness.  If you're not forced to compromise your beliefs for just a chance to get on stage, you are bombarded by sexuality from every possible angle.  And that's fine, as far as those things go -- at least I expect that from a fallen world.  What really gets to me is that Christians don't care to change it or they have given up entirely.
    Yes, the Greeks are credited with inventing theatre during the licentious festivals of Dionysus and it certainly was unclean there, but we have to ask ourselves: What is theatre at it's heart?
    Theatre is a medium for telling stories.
    Is God not the greatest storyteller -- the greatest playwright -- of all time?  Why then have Christians abandoned such an excellent art form to pagan culture?  Or, if not wholly abandoning it, why have Christians tried to make it into something it is not?
    Perhaps it is that Christians no longer understand the meaning of "dominion".  God commanded man to have dominion over the earth, and that includes art.  Does not Christ, at this moment, reign over all the earth as the One, True King?  Why, then, do Christians not act like it?  Christians should view theatre -- like everything else -- as God's possession.  Theatre is a specific art form with an objective standard of excellence: to glorify God.
    If this is true -- if theatre is God's and we, as Christians, are to glorify Him through it -- then why would a person be very hard-pressed to find a theatrical company that doesn't rehearse and/or perform on Sundays?  Why, upon finding this theatrical company, does a person find a stupid (and I use that word deliberately) "Christian" theatre that is more concerned with evangelism than telling a good story, to the detriment of both?
    If theatre is God's then why can't a Christian, if it is his calling, go to school to learn his trade without having to work on Sundays or fear of compromising his morals?  Granted, there are Christian colleges out there with drama programs, but they are by no means excellent nor are they artistic.  It's the same old theatre-as-evangelism poppycock that one sees across the country.
    Because Christians haven't seen fit to call theatre "good" and make quality work in the field, it leaves Christians with the talent, the desire, and the calling to act, direct, write, and produce without a godly way to do so.  There is no way to gain experience, no way to learn our craft, and no venue to produce and perform quality works.
    So where does that leave us?  Should we just give up?  Should we tell the pagan world, "Take your theatre, we'll have nothing to do with it!" and leave our thespian brethren chained to desks pushing papers in high rises while their hearts ache for 42nd Street?  Or should we make ways for the artists to learn their craft so that Christians can make theatre better than the pagans could ever dream?
    We should encourage our fellow Christians to pursue their art that people might say:
    "Stephen Sondheim?  He wasn't a true lyricist.  Listen to the words of THIS guy." 
    "Chita Rivera?  She was alright, but just look at HIM dance." 
    "Yeah, Ian McKellen can act, but not near as well as SHE can." 
    "You shouldn't even try to compare the trite compositions of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx to the masterful artistry of THIS GUY."
    Ordinary grace did well, but just look at what saving grace can do.