You Could Make it Plainer

No, we’re not odd, its true
No fam’ly could be saner
Except one uncle who…well, maybe let that pass
In all you say or do
You couldn’t make it plainer
You are your mother’s daughter; therefore you are class

-Maurice in “No Matter What” from the Beauty and the Beast, the Broadway musical

I understand the impetus to write new songs for musicals based on animated films. Sometimes it’s necessary to expand the singing portion of the production. At other times it’s in order to solve an issue posed by the dramatic structure.

For this song, the creative conversation probably involved the desire to not only give Maurice a song, but to solidify his emotional connection with his daughter before they are separated. However, the song feels like it delays the plot rather than advances it. In addition, the film dialogue it replaces is remarkable for its casual tone. It’s a conversation that could have happened any day. Belle encourages her father by saying she’s always believed he’ll “become a world famous inventor” and Maurice expresses his love for his daughter telling her not to worry about not having someone else she can talk to because “this invention’s going to be the start of a new life for us.”

By making the characters literally profess their sanity, “No Matter What” has the effect of protesting too much. Exploring each other’s eccentricities isn’t the point of the scene, rather it is to present their unconditional love for one another. For this father and daughter to conjure the issue of social acceptance into song here seems unnecessary given the clarity and strength of their relationship which could be conveyed in a much better way as evidenced by the film. If this dynamic was in question, then perhaps the song would be more appropriate since the intended effect of song in a musical is to give voice to that which cannot be spoken. Instead, “No Matter What” draws attention to insecurities that are likely not so deeply rooted as to merit a melody.

Mostly, I just wanted to say that last line isn’t likely to catch on as an affirming adage for young women.

News: Pirates, Disneyland, SNL, RSS, Mother’s Day, The Guild

• Yesterday Disneyland hosted the premiere for the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides. The screening took place in a huge amphitheater constructed especially for the event bridging the Rivers of America. Over 22,000 people were expected to attend some of whom paid $1,000 per ticket. Proceeds benefitted the Boys and Girls Club of America for which Walt Disney was a great advocate. Check out what into preparing for this massive event via the LA Times.

• A great collection of 45 vintage photographs from Disneyland created the old fashioned way entirely sans use of Instagram.

• Marvel’s Thor hit the U.S. market Friday after being released internationally the previous week. In just 11 days the film has grossed $242 million worldwide.

• Does this signal the imminent death of RSS?

• ELEVEN is officially the last project I have going on in New York before I make the cross-country move to the Los Angeles area next week. With performances happening Thursday, May 12th and Friday, May 13th at 8:00 PM near Columbia University, ELEVEN is a theatrical event featuring eleven short plays tied to specific moments and places in one imagined night in a vaudeville house.

• Tina Fey returned as a host on Saturday Night Live yesterday and brought along her renowned Sarah Palin impression.

• Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. along with many other countries, but did you know that the date for Mother’s Day ranges from mid-February to December across the world?

• For the occasion, New York theater journalist Jonathan Mandell took a survey of the various mother figures currently represented on Broadway including Donna in Mamma Mia, Morticia in The Addams Family, and Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot.

• Both Tom Lenk and Eliza Dushku—two Joss Whedon vets—are on the set of Felicia Day’s web series, The Guild today.


Playbill Covers ‘Starcatcher’ and ‘Mormon’

A short round-up of today’s news from Playbill Online on two of the shows featured recently on this blog: Peter and the Starcatcher and The Book of Mormon. Clicking on the latter will take you to my thoughts on the first 25 minutes of the show from a preview event two weeks ago.

Peter and the Starcatcher
New York Theatre Workshop | Previews begin February 18th

Alex Timbers says this is quite a different version of the Peter Pan we’ve come to know through film and theatre. You won’t find girls (or boys) in green tights flying around the stage:

“Our interest is in really conjuring imagination. That’s what I do with my own company. We’re not hugely into representational stuff. We started the first workshop with a few ideas and a couple props. You can be loose and inventive if you have so few things. There’s swordplay in the show, but there are no swords…Doing it at NYTW suggests innovation and experimentation and challenges pre-conceptions brought on buy the title.”

Full article.

The Book of Mormon
Eugene O’Neill Theatre | Previews begin February 24th

The cast and creative team of the show shares their excitement in being a part of this big and bold show and what they find most uplifting about the story that has come together over the past several years:

Full article.

The Book of Mormon: A Sneak Preview

This afternoon I attended a workshop of a new musical opening on Broadway in March: The Book of Mormon created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Along with some of my academic colleagues and press we were ushered group by group into elevators which brought us to a rehearsal studio at a Midtown location. Everyone was visibly enthusiastic about getting a glimpse at what the creators had in store for Broadway audiences. That enthusiasm would not die down for the duration of the 45 minute session which included a run through of the show’s first 25 minutes and a Q&A panel featuring the show’s creators which consisted of Trey Parker, Matt Stone and collaborator Robert Lopez the Tony Award-winning writer of Avenue Q.

When I walked into the studio, it was already packed and within minutes there was not one empty seat. Latecomers gathered on the floor behind the red tape that demarcated the “stage” which had been dressed with makeshift set pieces. Once everyone was seated,Parker and Stone personally introduced us to the sneak peek we were about to see. Parker was wearing a Seattle Seahawks t-shirt which was a pleasant sight. They explained that what we would see is the first 25 minutes and to imagine much bigger as it will be with lavish sets and props when it begins previews on Broadway February 24th. The first part of the show would include a “Mormon Pageant” something “big and cheesy to begin with” as Parker said. Stone followed up with “you’ll know it’s done when someone says ‘c*nt’ and everyone bows.” Nobody working on this show is concerned with censoring themselves or the characters in the show, but what else would you expect from the comedic duo who brought you South Park, Cannibal! The Musical, Orgazmo, BASEketball and Team America: World Police?

The Story So Far
The Book of Mormon begins as a new set of young Mormons joins the “army of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter Day Saints” as one of the opening songs tells us, and receives their mission assignments. Exceptional Mormon leader Elder Price and Mormonically challenged Elder Cunningham, portrayed by Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad respectively, are the focus of the musical from this point on, being paired together for two years and sent on a mission to Uganda.

This is followed by a mock-opening number from The Lion King which continues its run just blocks away from the Eugene O’Neill Theatre where The Book of Mormon will be playing next month. A woman sings something sounding like Swahili then stops and breaks into very American speech. Price’s father explains they wanted to give him “a real Lion King send-off!” and that they “got Mrs. Brown to sing like an African!” As Price and Cunningham prepare to fly to Africa, we get a song called “Mostly Me” that might well be described as a Mormon-themed “Defying Gravity.” This is the musical’s anything-can-happen-if-you-believe moment. Dreaming of heavenly rewards, Price sings, “I’ll do something that blows God’s freakin’ mind!”

When these characters set food in Northern Uganda, their views of the world are immediately challenged. Their bags are stolen right under their noses and even Elder Price’s uneasy perception of missionary work is no match for the harsh reality of a third world country. The last musical number of this preview is an upbeat African tune whose chorus is explained as the words the people say when their troubled lives get them down. A close dictation of the phrase they sing as they lift up their hands to the sky is “hasa diga ibo ai.” Cunningham asks “does it mean ‘no worries for the rest of our days?'” to which one of the locals responds, “something like that.” Soon the song spins into telling the missionaries and us in the audience about their woes including dystentary, malaria and AIDS, but still the Mormon missionaries sing along and are surprised to find that “hasa diga ibo ai” means something all too contrary to their purpose in this foreign land. As Stone promised, the run-through ended right after the ensemble sang the word “c*nt.”

A Conversation with Trey Parker, Matt Stone
and Robert Lopez

The idea for a musical based on the story of Joseph Smith had been simmering in the minds of Parker and Stone ever since they were in college, but the collaboration that would fulfill this dream began about six years ago when they sat down with Avenue Q creator Lopez who told them that he too had wanted to write such a musical. Parker explained that he has “always been fascinated with Mormons” but he never wanted to the musical to be a strictly “anti-religion” piece. “It’s not about bashing Mormonism,” Stone said, “we did try to have a point.” Parker added, “I’ve liked every Mormon I’ve ever met.” Lopez too responded to a question about the potential of offense with this musical sharing that a Mormon friend of his came to a previous workshop like this one and gave great feedback and even suggested additional gags for the show. In fact, as of this afternoon’s workshop, these three men were still in the process of fine-tuning the script.

Ultimately, Parker said that they were not as worried about Mormons being offended as other conservative groups. The creative duo has previously dealt with the Mormon religion in a South Park episode, which surprisingly features on a Latter Day Saints website as an example of “free speech.” Stone said this warmed his heart. They may not like it, but they respect it as the right of others to voice their opinions.

So, what kind of audience are they expecting? Certainly legions of loyal Parker and Stone devotees will-and should-turn up to see it but I also can see many generations of theatre goers coming to see this hilarious investigation of what people believe, why they believe it and what their beliefs drive them to do.

Though the subject matter is unusual for Broadway, Stone explains that The Book of Mormon is really a “big, traditional, original musical…done in a reverent way to the art form.” There are echoes of Music Man, The Lion King, romantic comedies, and “the buddy movie” throughout the show. “It all comes down to the characters and what they’re doing” said Parker which complemented Stone’s earlier comment on the show being about “stories and the transmission of stories.”

Parker, Stone and Lopez all acknowledge that from a certain perspective many of these “stories” not the least of all the founding of the Mormon religion, are fairly outlandish, but as Stone put it so simply, at the core of their belief system is the relatable notion that “this land is special and we’re part of the narrative.” Through the journey of these two missionaries audiences will learn about the Mormon religion and Lopez asserts that the choice of Uganda as the center of that journey was a result of finding “the kind of place that would challenge anyone’s belief in God.”

The Show
There was continuous laughter during these first 25 minutes of the show presented. Fellow workshop attendee and Producer Ryan Bogner said afterward that “anything that makes me laugh that much is worth 120 bucks. I might pay full price for this one.” The songs are catchy and witty and when paired with Casey Nicholaw’s choreography, the musical numbers have fantastic flow and high energy. From what I have seen, The Book of Mormon promises to be funny, provocative, and full of character. Next week, the rehearsal process moves into the Eugene O’Neill and soon after I’ll be sitting down to see the Book unfold in all its colorful, comical glory.

Previews of The Book of Mormon begin February 24th. The show officially opens March 24th.

Favorite Things of 2010

After the jump is by no means a comprehensive list of my favorite things of 2010, but many of them provided me with some of my most memorable moments over the last 12 months. TV, movies, theme parks, theatrical productions all played major roles in shaping the way I think about story, people, places and continuing to make me realize what is most important to me personally and professionally as I look toward my last semester of graduate courses and a career working in and around these kinds of stimulating cultural offerings.
Continue reading

Stop Doing Tina!

Kristen Chenoweth, Glinda in the original production of Wicked and with supporting roles in several films, sings a song about an intervention for a meth addict.

I was with my friend Keith the other day and we came across the show that this spoofs on his Tivo. We started watching it and it was a bit too much.

Kristen lightens the tone a bit.

My Shoes Are So Fascinating…

Like many others, last night I watched the Tony Awards, but followed them throughout the evening, even before the telecast here in Seattle. As I was starting my shift at Intiman Theatre, my friend Wayne from New York informed me that as he was watching the show live, they had just announced that Bartlett Sher, Intiman’s Artistic Director, had won his first Tony! His was for best director of the South Pacific revival at Lincoln Center in New York. Two years ago Intiman Theatre won their first Tony for Best Regional Theatre and the small but impressive statue is encased in glass in our lobby. Later that evening, my friend told me he was walking past Radio City Music Hall just as the Tony Awards were getting out. He was a bit star-struck to say the least. I would have loved to be there too!

I have never seen the film, Xanadu but I know enough about it to know that the new Broadway Musical, Xanadu must be one of the most sparkliest, rainbowy shows ever. I can only imagine what their “Pegasus/ Glitter/ Rollerskate” budget looks like. Kerry Butler plays the role made infamous by Olivia Newton-John in the original 1980 movie (congrats to Butler on her 2008 Best Actress American Theatre Wing Tony Award Nomination) and the hunky, muscular-thighs-in-jean-cut-off-shorts-kiss-me-on-a-Central-Park-bench, Cheyenne Jackson, plays the male lead. Cheyenne is originally from Idaho but moved to Seattle before heading off to New York about seven years ago. So, you know, there’s already some connection there.

Earlier this afternoon, Keith and my mutual friend Brent sent a great little skit to us with the wonderfully funny and talented Nathan Lane and my aforementioned One-Time-Seattle-ite, Cheyenne.

Thanks, Brent!