March 2009 Archives
This week I'm macking on: Rock of Ages, the Off-Broadway to Broadway musical opening April 7 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. Rock of Ages stars American Idol reject Constantine Maroulis, is directed by Kristin Hanggi, the woman responsible for The Pussycat Dolls Live at the Roxy, and features some of the worst couples-skate-ready, parachute-pants-wearing, flaming-kamikaze-drinking music to come out of the '80s. The cheese is so pungent in this jukebox musical (which somehow doesn't include Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero," but makes amends with the inclusion of their "Waiting for a Girl Like You" and "I Want to Know What Love Is") you can probably smell it all the way down the block--that is, if it hasn't been set aflame by all the commingled hair mousse and Aqua Net fumes.
But that's not why I'm macking on it. In fact, I still have some lingering PTSD from that whole era. Once upon a time, I begged a friend to see The Cure with me and she agreed on the condition that I attend a Motley Crue/Whitesnake concert with her. Suffice it to say it wasn't exactly a fair trade, since Ticketmaster never mentioned that my innocence was included in the ticket price.
Anyway, where I'm going with this is that it's not so much Rock of Ages' retro content that rocks my world, or that it was choreographed by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson choreographer Kelly Devine, or even that before the curtain rose on a single Broadway preview--nay, while it was still in its Off-Broadway infancy--RoA was picked up by New Line Cinema for a film adaptation. No, I'm macking on the way whomever runs the @RockofAges Twitter handle just plain gets how to do it. Sure, they throw in the occasional promotional plug, but it's hidden among trivia ("Who sang, 'she goes down slow like a shot of gin/she's got an angel's face and a devil's grin?'" If you know the answer withut clicking, this is definitely the show for you), related links (SNL's Bon Jovi opposite tribute band), metalhead news ("Guns N' Roses is proud to announce that DJ Ashba has joined the band for an upcoming tour"), contests, and daily interaction with their thousand or so followers. On the show's website there's even an integrated Rock of Ages Twitter feed featuring fan tweets alongside the official ones. They've nailed the right tone, and are carefully, gently cultivating their audience. Every theater company that limits their public internet engagement to posting monthly two-for-one ticket offers and opening-week links to reviews (not that there's anything wrong with that) should start re-evaluating their approach, like, yesterday.
This week I'm hating on: blizzards. I was going to go see some theater around Denver Wednesday and Thursday nights, but am instead stuck a mile above the mile high city, with an icy mountain pass between myself and that big city's bright lights. Apparently, due to the whiteout, even Curious Theatre Company cancelled tonight's performance of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice, so you know I'm not just slacking. I'll be back in August though, and barring any late-summer snowstorms (Not even kidding; it's cold up here!) promise to make up for the miss.
And hey, happy World Theatre Day. Tell everyone you know that in the spirit of international cooperation, it's their duty to go see a play or two tonight. You, of course, already knew that, and if you did anything special to commemorate the event, let's hear about it.
For an event ambitiously titled "World Theatre Day," much of the globe is suspiciously silent on this UNESCO-backed, International Theatre Institute-founded event first launched in 1961. March 27 marks the date when theaters around the world are invited to
"promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts (drama, dance, music theatre) in order to consolidate peace and solidarity between peoples, to deepen mutual understanding and increase creative co-operation between all people in the theatre arts"
If those lofty goals seem slightly out of reach for a one-day, once-a-year event, well, look at it this way: at least someone's trying and they're trying through theater.
The League of Chicago Theatres seems to have taken the most organized lead on this year's WTD, but there are stirrings in Vancouver, London, and a few other spots as well. Check out Theatre Communications Group's interactive WTD map, to see who's doing what and where (and, ahem, Philadelphia is conspicuously absent). There's also a WTD blog, Facebook page, and Twitter ID, to help you stay informed.
So what's the point of calling attention to WTD two days before it occurs (although the UNESCO event happens tonight in Paris--can I catch a ride with you?), when there's no time to plan for it? Glad you asked. Turns out the WTD09 folks have compiled a whole bunch of last minute stuff tailor-made for what are apparently legions of theater slackers out there. For one, you can inspire audiences by reading this year's statement--by Augusto Boal--before all March 27 performances or include it as an insert in that day's program. You can upload videos of your WTD celebration, or just promote the productions that will occur on that date on the WTD09 Tumblr site. At the very least, let the good folks at the WTD09 blog know how you commemorated the date, even if it was just by consolidating peace and solidarity with a raised pint after curtain, and a promise to do a better job of getting it together in plenty of time for WTD10.
And if you happen to be an audience member, I expect to see you, butt in seat, at some theater, somewhere on Friday night.
Sorry to have missed Friday's Mack Attack, but I'm out of town until April, so regular postings will resume then.
In the meantime, while I'm out in Colorado, the Denver Post is my local source for all things arts related. Yesterday's paper featured this interview with American theater's very own canary, Mike Daisey, whose warning of theater's dependence on the newspaper industry and subsequently, the dangers it faces without the support (or existence) of that industry, comes from the mouth of a very dark coal mine.
Proving how right he is, after reading that interview, I'm now considering making the three-hour drive from my base camp up in the mountains to go see his show "Monopoly" down in Colorado Springs next week. And on the strength of Denver Post critic John Moore's review of Reyna Von Vett's family-friendly burlesque revue (no, that's not a typo) "Leadville or Bust", I might also hike the family two hours down to Denver for the evening. Yes, I'm a pretty motivated theatergoer, but even forgetting my professional interest in the topic, there's just no substitute for being in a new town, picking up the paper and reading a local, respected critic's perspective on the area's performance scene. It generates excitement, offers a sense of legitimacy, corrals all the information into one consistent, reliable, quality spot, and of course, inspires ticket sales.
It's pretty rare for an artist to openly express appreciation for the spot on the creative food chain occupied by arts critics. However, as we become even more of an endangered species, I suspect Mr. Daisey may find himself among a growing number of like-minded conservationists, and hopefully, they will emerge before we have reached extinction.
Our weather finally has an autumn snap in the air, and there is hardly a better way to get cozy than to spend time with old friends. And we literally get "Old Friends," via Sondheim, and a host of other songs by Broadway's boldest-faced composers in the Prince's production of An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. LuPone and Patinkin made their names (and garnered Tonys) as Eva and Che in Webber's original Broadway production of Evita, and they seem to have a true affection for one another. The pair radiates their warmth all the way to the theater's back rows, bringing a bit of Lincoln Center to Chestnut Street, as they tear through medley after lovesick medley. From South Pacific, to Merrily We Roll Along, Carousel and more, the duo stops only for a line or two of dialogue from the musicals and a brief intermission.
Directed by Patinkin, the performance is suffused with a sense of ease, but also of rebellion. LuPone once famously sued Andrew Lloyd Webber (and won), while Patinkin recently walked away from his day job on the television show Criminal Minds, citing "creative differences." And both still have an air of the scrappy independent about them. The show feels intimate, as though they simply decided together that they'd rather be doing nothing else, invited longtime Patinkin collaborator and pianist Paul Ford to come along, and grabbed bassist John Beal on their way out the door. There are no fancy sets or big dance numbers, only the singers, their songs, a pair of chairs and the musicians' unobtrusive accompaniment. Still, it seems a waste to have the great Ann Reinking as your choreographer and then to under-utilize her talents. There is a bit too much sitting while singing, perhaps a concession to the performers' age. But when they get moving, particularly during an April in Paris/April in Fairbanks medley, they channel the Fringe Fest and swing each other around the stage perched atop a pair of rolling office chairs, and we enjoy it as much as they seem to. There is little concession to age regarding the choice of tunes, however, with an abundance of ingenues dotting the song list, and both reprising their signature Evita roles (and LuPone's signature song, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina") without a care for the intervening years. They may croon "Baby, It's Cold Outside," but inside the Prince, Patinkin and LuPone keep the house nice and comfy.
There you have it. Feel free to compare and contrast, and let me know if your reviews differ/agree. Also, I've been remiss about posting my recent reviews here, so if you've got a little extra time and any interest in a snapshot of Philly's early spring theater season, here's what I've reviewed in the last two weeks, and what I thought about it: Honor and the River at the Walnut Street Theatre's Studio 3; the national touring company of Cats at the Merriam Theatre; Arms and the Man at Hedgerow Theatre.
"1,300 dead, 5,000 wounded, and 50,000 left homeless, this is no time for dancing."
"We do what we do out of love, out of passion, because we are crazy, not because we have a role or because we are supposed to lead anyone, but through dance and art, we can show people that new solutions and new ideas can be better than old ideas and old solutions."
"In 2005, Michelle and Barack Obama journeyed to the Chicago suburb of Skokie for the Northlight Theatre production of the Thomas Gibbons drama "Permanent Collection." The play, based on the real-life, art-and-race controversy at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia starred the actor Harry J. Lennix, a friend of the Obamas."
The Lennix connection is purely incidental, I'm sure.