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.