Friday, June 11, 2010

21 Guns: I'm Totally Fine With Being An AMERICAN IDIOT

I was a Green Day fan when I was in middle school--not a big enough one to have their albums other than Dookie and Nimrod (one of the first CDs I ever owned, actually), but a big enough fan to know all the words to every song on those albums. I listened to them both recently and discovered that I still do, which is a little sad but there you go. As I've mentioned before, I really loved the narrative aspect of their songs, and the way the music often expresses emotions seemingly at odds with what the lyrics are saying, so a Green Day musical only seemed natural.

Listening to American Idiot, however, made me think otherwise. I had a hard time understanding the lyrics, let alone the story Green Day was trying to tell, and I couldn't understand how anyone could listen to it and think, "This is a show." I went into American Idiot expecting to have an enjoyable time, see great performances, and listen to some fun music.

I got MUCH more than that.

There's very little dialogue and the songs don't exactly work in a traditionally dramatic way, but there's a real story in American Idiot that ought to be told--and that belongs on Broadway. I kind of feel like the show is what Spring Awakening tries to be, or what a lot of people says it is. But I found that show incredibly frustrating for a lot of reasons, mostly because it kind of sets up rules and then forgets about them, especially in the second act, and because it has such a black-and-white, preachy message.

I expected American Idiot to be similar, but it's not at all. Here, there are very clear rules about what the songs do and about how the characters sing. They very rarely sing directly to each other; they sing about each other, they sing about themselves (in a roundabout way) to the audience, they have ensemble members sing for them. These characters just have such a difficult time expressing themselves and finding basic human connections, which for me is what the show is really about. I love that the show ends with "Whatsername," which captures the essence of the show for me. It's so sad and beautiful and I don't want to spoil it, but it's also not the way I thought the show would end, which I really value.

I was also surprised (in a good way) about the way the women were written. When I heard two of the female characters were named "Whatsername" and "Extraordinary Girl," I was prepared for them to not be full characters, and for the show to be kind of sexist--especially since all three women are girlfriends. I think calling those two characters those names is really misleading, since neither of them actually have those names. Extraordinary Girl isn't flat out called "The Extraordinary Girl," which is what I expected; she's described as being AN extraordinary girl, which is a huge difference. I also really appreciated how Heather, the girlfriend who gets pregnant, is just as in over her head as Tunny is. That storyline was so delicately done, and it could have easily been sexist and heavy-handed.

It was also just amazing to see how staging, (an AMAZING) set, and choreography can come together to tell a story. The score certainly does that, but it didn't do that on its own for me, at least. I needed a visual context for the songs to have meaning. And the creative team of American Idiot provided that beautifully. It's a shame that the score doesn't qualify as original (even though honestly, did JCS or Evita have 50% new material when it was onstage? I don't think so), but I really, really hope it takes Best Musical on Sunday. That's the kind of show that makes me desperate to run home and write.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I Knew I Wasn't The Only One Who Wanted This

Lily Allen is writing a musical! And it's an adaptation of Bridget Jones' Diary! I think this is perfect. The narratives in Lily Allen's songs are a big part of why I love them; the girl knows how to tell a story, AND she knows how to do it in music as well as lyrics. I think Lily Allen's voice fits so well with the material, too. Bridget Jones' Diary is one of the only romantic comedies I really enjoy, and there's something so perfectly British about the tone of the film and about the character of Bridget Jones herself--a Britishness that Lily Allen's work shares. There's a very specific,hilarious brand of good-natured defeatism mixed with sassy optimism, and I'm not sure I could think of anyone better than Lily Allen to express that.

Of course, I'm also thrilled to see actual pop music in a musical. As much as I wish that more of these rock and pop shows would be written by theatre composers and lyricists, instead of rock and pop stars who probably won't write another show, I'm happy to see another artist from the mainstream music world writing for theatre. And who knows, maybe Lily Allen will be really good at it, love it, and do more theatre work. Elton John is a Broadway veteran, after all, and Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater didn't stop writing musicals after Spring Awakening.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Music Directors Need Tonys, Too

I totally agree that there should be a Tony for Best Ensemble. There are some shows that just don't have a clear-cut lead, and in those cases, more than usual, a stellar performance from one person requires stellar performances across the board. Aside from the plays mentioned in the article (weird it left out musicals), a show like SPELLING BEE or [title of show] perfectly makes the case for such an award.

It's hard to say if a Best Ensemble Tony will ever exist, or if it'll last. I love the Tonys to the point where I am bitter about decisions that were made before I was born, but Tony Logic is so fickle and unpredictable that most of the time I just have to laugh. The Best Replacement Tony was, in my opinion, not such a great idea, and I'm glad that ended up not happening, but I do strongly believe in a Special Theatrical Event Tony.

But the Tony Award that needs to exist above all other Tony Awards is one for Music Director (as the crazily talented Georgia Stitt pointed out on Twitter). How does this not exist?! I mean, seriously. Seriously?! Obviously the committee understands that music is really important and that a lot goes into it, since there's a Tony for Best Orchestrations and one for Sound Design (both of which I fully support). So not having a Music Direction Tony is ridiculous and incredibly disrespectful of the insane amounts of work music directors do. Spend ten minutes in rehearsal of a musical, and that becomes extremely clear. The Tony Awards should recognize and honor that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tearing Up The Slips of Paper: EVERYDAY RAPTURE

It's been about a month since I saw EVERYDAY RAPTURE, so I really should have written about it earlier (sorry!). But better late than never, right? I wanted some time to process it, anyway--there's a lot going on in the show, and it affected me a lot so I wanted to get a little distance.

Going into the show, I only knew that it was Sherie Rene Scott's one-woman show--that's it. I didn't realize it would be autobiographical at all, and I'm glad about that; it let me go into the show without any preconceptions. I generally prefer see shows as cold as possible, anyway, but I think it was important for me to do so in this case. I'm not the biggest fan of one-person shows, or autobiographical shows, for that matter (although I really enjoyed WISHFUL DRINKING).

EVERYDAY RAPTURE is much more than a autobiographical one-woman show, however. Sherie Rene Scott's childhood in Kansas and early experiences in New York provide the framework for the show, but for me it was much more of an exploration of faith and performance. How do you balance a belief that you are a speck of dust with the certainty that the world was created for you?

I didn't grow up a Mennonite, but I am a practicing Catholic so there's much in Scott's upbringing I relate to. My religious education and background wasn't nearly as extreme, and I didn't have the kind of community that Scott apparently did--even in high school, I was the token Catholic amongst my friends--but that grappling with humility is certainly something I recognize. Only for me, it's not "I am a speck of dust;" it's more like, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Or even reconciling "Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe" with the very logical, science-based framework I grew up in (my parents are scientists, I was a high school debater, and I'm dating a med student).

I think the issue of integrating faith and religion into your daily life, is a really important one, especially when they're seemingly at odds with your career or with the way you life your life in general. It means a lot to see someone tackle that on Broadway. And honestly, it makes me so happy to see a Broadway show that takes Christianity and faith seriously. I have so much admiration for Kristin Chenoweth for publicly speaking about her Christianity and showing people that it's entirely possible to be a Christian and work in the New York arts scene and be liberal and love gay people. Not to say that Christians in New York theatre are oppressed, but being a Christian and being conservative, Republican, and/or close-minded have became the same thing for a lot of people in this part of the country, and it's unbelievably heartening to see people actively disprove that.

My hope is that audiences leave EVERYDAY RAPTURE with a deeper understanding of what a person's relationship with religion can be--or a relationship with any belief system, really. I'm going to force my non-theatre loving, culturally Buddhist boyfriend to see it in hopes it helps him better understand that side of me.

EVERYDAY RAPTURE is also about a lot of other things--there's a brilliantly funny/frightening sequence involving a fan on youtube that is packed with fascinating issues--but the crux of the show (as I see it, at least) is what stuck with me the most. I'm looking forward to going back.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

But What We Are Is An Illusion

I saw the LA CAGE revival a little over a week ago, and it was basically what I expected, although I had no idea the material would hit as close to home for me as it did. Not that I am a gay man whose engaged son thinks I'm not "masculine" enough for his conservative finacee's parents, but I am going through something similar that definitely colored my experience of the show. Knowing the plot and a few of the songs, I never thought I would tear up at any point during LA CAGE--I'm not much of a Jerry Herman girl (though I am mildly obsessed with "I Won't Send Roses"). But obviously I underestimated how much the subject matter would affect me, and even though I felt a little ridiculous, I always love it when a show moves me in an unexpected way.

Having said that, I'm not much of a fan of the material itself, although I had a good time and I loved the performances (Kelsey Grammar's in particular, and I really enjoyed Robin de Jesus). My main issue with the show is that it feels so dated and not edgy anymore. I know in 1984, LA CAGE was groundbreaking, and I think it's exactly what audiences (and theatre people) needed at that particular time. But right now, when this is its second revival and when the political and social climate has changed, particularly regarding homosexuality, I wish the production had been more innovative. What Georges and Jean-Michel ask of Albin is devastating and horrifying; that Albin comes around to it is a huge display of love and trust that for me didn't come across. What I would really love to see in the show would be some non-traditional casting choices, which I feel would add another layer to the show and restore some of the edginess I'm sure it originally had. Being an infant during the original run, I can only go off what I've heard :)

Specifically, I would absolutely love to see an actor of Asian descent play Albin (B.D. Wong, anyone?). I think that would make a lot of scenes completely terrifying, especially the one in the second act where Albin tries to act more "masculine." With all the negative stereotypes about Asian men--many of which are very similar to negative stereotypes about gay men--that number would be not just about acting "masculine," but about acting "white." Granted, I'm probably more sensitive to the issue since my boyfriend is of Asian descent, but I think it's an important issue that isn't often seen on a Broadway stage. It would definitely make that scene a lot more uncomfortable for audiences, but it really bothered me that the scene was played for laughs. I found it just heartbreaking, and I think an Asian Albin would bring that element out, simply by his ethnicity.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Post-Show Update, SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, iPhone App!

My show this weekend went really well! Unfortunately my collaborator is still out of the country and couldn't be there, but from what I told her (and from the photos I took) she seemed happy with how the show turned out. When she gets back, we're going to work on it some more and possibly expand it--I think it could be a 90 minute show, instead of the 17 minute one it is now. Besides, working with Hailey is so amazing I want to write as many songs with her as possible.

Aside from being my first non-academic, open to the public, performance of a musical, JADE RABBIT is also my first professional piece, since I got paid for writing it. Not like, an exorbitant amount, but I got a check for writing a musical, which is pretty much the dream at this point in my career. It's funny, I actually almost forgot about that because getting a production alone is exciting enough. Anyway, it was a great way to start my post-Tisch writing career (even though my boyfriend was away at school and couldn't be there...sad face), and I'm glad I don't have to think about the moon landing and Korean folklore for a little while. Now onto modern China and the Cultural Revolution!

I saw SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM a few weeks ago, and I really loved it. My favorite aspects were how the show really went out of its way to stress how human Sondheim is, particularly by having him talk about his writing process. As a writer myself, I found that especially fascinating, and there's something reassuring about hearing Sondheim say he likes to write lying down because it's easier to fall asleep (I fall asleep while writing too!) and how he writes with soft pencils because sharpening them frequently is a great excuse to procrastinate (I make up reasons to procrastinate that I can pretend are productive, too!). I was never someone who ran around idolizing Sondheim--I deeply love a fair number of his shows, but there are definitely some I don't care for--but it's comforting to know that even the man who redefined what musical theatre can do finds the art form difficult.

I also loved the parts of the show that re-created scenes from shows, especially from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. I almost cried when the show started with the MERRILY overture--I hadn't been expecting that at all, and I honestly never thought I'd ever hear that overture in a Broadway house. MERRILY is one of my favorite Sondheim shows and one of my favorite shows, period, so having so much MERRILY love in SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM was incredible. I mean, Euan Morton's "Franklin Shepherd, Inc" is probably the best case for a MERRILY revival (please...make this happen). My only complaint about the show is that there wasn't even a mention of PACIFIC OVERTURES, which is another favorite show of mine, and "Someone In A Tree" is my favorite Sondheim song (sorry, the scores of SUNDAY IN THE PARK, COMPANY, and MERRILY). I feel a little spoiled complaining about this when there was that lovely revival a few years ago, but I was only able to see it once, and I miss it.

I actually volunteer ushered during the show, which was so interesting. I think it's really important for everyone working in theatre to experience as many different jobs as they can, and I'd never really ushered before. Handing out programs for general seating readings was the closest I'd gotten. It was really awesome to be in the house an hour before the show; theatres have a different vibe to them then.

I also loved being able to glimpse what ushers have to put up with from audiences. Not that anyone was rude to me, but it made me more mindful of how I treat ushers and how I can make their jobs easier, which I think is really valuable for anyone who goes to the theatre.

I want to write about ANYONE CAN WHISTLE and EVERYDAY RAPTURE, but I'll save that for later. Before I end this post, though, I just want to let everyone know that Theatermania has a new iPhone app that's available for free on iTunes. I don't have an iPhone myself, but the app looks really awesome. Try it out and let me know how it is!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Like Science and Flowers?

If you're free this Friday and Saturday and are looking for some good new theatre, check out my show! My show, JADE RABBIT, is part of THE LEGEND OF FLOWERS, which consists of four new original 15 minute musicals. The shows are all written by Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing alums (all but one are classmates of mine), and they're all inspired by the Japanese space program project that sent cherry blossom seeds into space. Mine is about a high school girl trying to stop the 1969 moon landing, and Korean folklore plays a central part in the story.

Performances are Friday at 3:30 and 8 at Lincoln Center and at 2 and 3:30 Sunday at Queens Botanical Garden (mine is in the 3:30 performance on Sunday, but on Friday both performances include all the shows). You can find more information here. I hope you can come!