Results tagged “Les Freres Corbusier” from Drama Queen

After all this time, I finally saw Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson again in its current run at the Public Theater. I wanted to see it again so badly I even paid for tickets--Paid. For. Tickets. Believe me, if you're a critic, that's a big deal. If you're a Philly critic, taking money away from a Philly theater and spending it, you know, *there*, it's an even bigger deal--and here are a few reasons why:
  1. I wanted to see if I thought it had a shot at a Broadway run, because sooner or later, if Broadway ignores Les Freres Corbusier, it will do so at its own peril. I just wasn't sure if this was the show to take them there.
  2. I wanted to see if this musical that resonated so deeply during W's tenure would have the same cathartic punch under Obama.
  3. I wanted to see if it lived up to my own hype. After all, I've devoted a lot of blog space to one show I saw almost three years ago. (Below: BBAJ, circa 2008)
BBAJ08.jpgHere's what I concluded:
  1. No, I do not think this is the show that will take the boys and their swaggering Jackson, Ben Walker, to Broadway. But it's a lot of fun, and Director/playwright Alex Timbers is a veritable Wallenda when it comes to walking the line between wide-eyed and winking. BBAJ itself rests between Schoolhouse Rock and Drunk History, and doesn't even make you pick a side; enjoy them both, AND walk away with a lesson. That's value for your entertainment dollar. Composer Michael Friedman's musical moments--because they're not whole songs, although they are insanely catchy verses--burst furiously through the script much like the emotions of a bratty adolescent, which is appropriate, considering Timbers' Jackson is portrayed as a wrist-cutting emo rock star. But it's still too messy, and though scenes such as the one in which an actress snarls out a tune about "10 Little Indians" who meet an untimely end, are better integrated this time (at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre, the song stopped the show dead; here, it's set against a parade of soon-to-be-broken treaties), I just don't think it can--or should--clean up all that well. Oskar Eustis did the right thing by bringing it back for a mainstage run, and that's a pretty great legacy, well deserved. It's not the game-changer I thought it could be, but I'll tell you this much, if I weren't a theater critic, I'd gladly be an investor in whatever project LFC take on next, because I have no doubt a game-changer will emerge from BBAJ's raw material and LFC's momentum.
  2. No, it's not the same under Obama, although you can't fault Timbers for trying. Imagine, if you can bring yourself to do so, that it's early 2008, George W. Bush is deep into his second term as president, post-Katrina FEMA trailers are exhaling formaldehyde, the Iraq war is still racking up American casualties, and onto the stage struts Andrew Jackson, whining, drinking, indulging his expansionist fantasies, ignoring the collateral damage, singing populism's praises. The parallels are as powerful as your frustrations, and you are grateful to see them both portrayed onstage in this way--those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it, etc. Now it's 2010, and though yes, Obama was swept into the presidency on a wave of popular support, his election was a reaction to Bush's populism, just as Bush's populism was a reaction to Clinton's perceived chardonnay-drinking, Volvo-driving elitism (remember that?). It's just not the same, and aiming Jackson at Obama only serves to untie the show from its moorings. I get it, the people's desire for a hero to swoop in, make decisions and save the country is timeless. But BBAJ's genius lay in the way it equated the mass appeal of bratty, insolent, obdurate Jackson with, well, that of bratty, insolent, obdurate Bush. Now, as a parallel to the Obama presidency, it sends a disappointing mixed message--disappointing especially because its original message was so forceful and dead on (AJ would have wanted it that way!), while the Botox applied to this version seems more like a hedged bet. Maybe if we ended up with a McCain/Palin regime and the show stuck to its roots, it would have blown up Broadway. But honestly, I'm glad we didn't have to find out. 
Yes, it lives up to my hype, but more for what it signals than for what it delivers. BBAJ is musical theater with ADHD. Unmedicated ADHD. And btw, that's a compliment. It's exciting, honest, impulsive, sexy, smart, silly. It's imperfect, but also, sometimes it's perfect. If Broadway musicals were half as unpredictable and thrilling as this one, I might even crack open my wallet and head up the turnpike more often. That is, as long as there's nothing too exciting happening here in Philly. 
April 4, 2010 8:25 PM |
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This week I'm macking on: The return of the rock-star president. And no, not that one. 

Ok, screw it, I'm just going to say this quickly and get it out of the way. Les Freres Corbusier is re-mounting their emo-musical-light-show-fanboy-concert Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in May as part of the Public Theater's Public LAB season. Even better, tickets will be $10. I hope they sell CDs, and I hope producers here in Philly go see it and bring it home for me, and since I'm starting to feel like LFC's very own Mel, that's all I'm going to say on the subject. For now.

This week I'm hating on: Haters. If anyone--for example, these Fox News twits--expected Jay-Z and Young Jeezy to button up and settle down after the election, a.) they've never listened to hip-hop, which was founded on the principles of skillful braggadocio and a reflection of the urban African-American experience, and b.) they don't get what's going on in this country. Which is not to say I think every African-American agrees with all the, ahem, sentiments the rappers expressed on that jubilant inaugural evening. But the fact that the Fox talking heads (and others) are surprised our "postracial president" didn't make racial enmity disappear by walking up the Capitol steps and brushing that dirt off his shoulder, just emphasizes how wide the chasm of understanding is between not only the races, but the haves, have-nots and those-who-once-had-little-but-now-have-a-voice. 

And p.s., enough with the Aretha-dissing. On a bad day, like, say, Tuesday, she still sounds better than anyone I know, and she damn sure dresses better. No one other than the first lady of soul should have been up on that balcony belting out a patriotic tune for Mr. President, and I, for one, am glad she's still around to do it.

January 23, 2009 11:06 AM |
For an important news break. 

Everyone's a Critic will continue its important work later today, but in the meantime, an interesting, blog-worthy dustup flared between Philadelphia's Wilma Theater, Sarah Ruhl's agent and the Broad Street Review (BSR), an online publication covering the city's arts and culture.

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The Wilma hosted an open reading of a "surprise play," which turned out to be Ruhl's newest, In the Next Room. Several critics attended, and one, Jim Rutter, wrote what I thought was an insightful review, published by the BSR. And therein lies the rub. The Wilma claims the work is unfinished and thus shouldn't be subject to review, but the question is, if a theater promotes a reading as a newsworthy event--and certainly sending out a press release about a "surprise" by a major playwright would make it so--then isn't it a journalist's responsibility to report on that surprise? Perhaps a review is the wrong approach, but surely no one can be shocked by some aspect of the evening showing up in print or online, as Rutter and BSR publisher Dan Rottenberg note in their chain of correspondence. And considering that--Hello!--the play is all about the history of the vibrator, well, who didn't think it would generate a (cue music) throbbing, pulsing, writhing storm of controversy and attention?

It all brings me back to a discussion I had here with The Critical Condition's Mark Blankenship about my call for a review of Les Freres Corbusier's Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). (I know, I know, I promised I was done talking about it, but I can't stop myself!) Mark's position was similar to that of Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka: if a work isn't ready for the public feeding frenzy that sometimes accompanies a review, it shouldn't be reviewed. In DDR's case, I believed (and still do) that if the public is being charged to attend the event, and it's receiving a full-fledged production--I'd say 50 dancers, a crazy Thunderdome set, and a soap-opera-starring leading man qualify it as such--then it's a journalist's duty to inform the theater-loving public about what transpired onstage. In the Wilma's case, I think it's a trickier call, since a staged reading makes no claims about being a fully-realized work. But again, if it's promoted as a newsworthy event, the argument could be made that it ought to covered as one. Additionally, since, as Rutter points out, "news" can be broken at any time by anyone with a Blackberry and an opinion, is it even reasonable for a playwright or theater to assume they can close the floodgates of public opinion when they're the ones who have opened them in the first place?
January 14, 2009 7:58 AM | | Comments (9)
Ok, this is the last time I'll mention Dance Dance Revolution, I promise, unless it somehow manages to show up in a theater near me (hint, Philly, hint).

What I want to know is why--despite the fact that the show is sold out for the rest of its run--there are no reviews anywhere (New York: step up your game ASAP) except this sort of breathless and kind of confused one on Controlgeek, a blog about theater technology? Just asking. I mean, if people were wondering why theater criticism seems increasingly irrelevant, I dunno, I'd say the entire print media and internet dropping the ball on this one is probably a pretty good example. 

(Below: Dance Dance star Van Hansis, whom you might--or might not--know better as Luke of As the World Turns' Luke and Noah, and whose first kiss garnered for the soap a positively foamy million-and-a-half hits on YouTube.)

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Puffy previews are great for getting the word out, and there were a couple of those (here and here), but when the rubber hit the road, you'd think there'd at least be some smoke, or skid marks left behind, or at the very least an acrid odor, not just, you know, an empty can of Bud tossed out the back window (beer, by the way, is free during performances). Maybe there was some "no critics allowed" thing going on that I'm not aware of, and if so, well okay, maybe that would explain the lack of reviews, but certainly not the lack of "Les Freres Corbusier Ban Critics" stories. I'm just hoping the deficit has a real explanation and it isn't that everyone was so busy running from A Christmas Carol to Radio City Music Hall that they missed out on all that free beer and those half-naked actors (their advertising, not mine) over at the Ohio Theatre.

UPDATE: Thanks to Liz Gorinsky for pointing me to her review of the show, which Google somehow missed. A great example of why long reviews were so much fun to write, back in the days when they used to exist, and of the web's usefulness in filling in the information gap when the official channels are closed.

December 14, 2008 10:03 PM | | Comments (4)
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It's crunch time, with a feature in the works and a ton of reviews to pound through before I leave for vacation with my family. To Disneyworld. But that's a discussion for another time.

This week I'm macking on: Dance Dance Revolution. Again. Because it's open now. Les Freres Corbusier never gave me tickets, but that's cool, I'm still gonna try my hardest to see it before it closes, and even if I don't, I'm embarking on an all-out effort to get the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival to import it next fall. I have no idea if this is even a feasible plan, if anyone besides me wants to see it (although, after reading this Village Voice article, I cringe to imagine the stiffs who wouldn't), or if it's even available for import, but dammit, it's sure worth a try. 

As far as I'm concerned, I think the team's pyrotechnic extravaganzas and pop culture excavations represent nothing less than the bright, smart future of the American musical. If you, like me, probably won't get to New York this month, no worries. Here's what's up next for the company, and happily, it's a packed dance dance card. 

In any case, if you happen to see the Dance Dance Revolution, please leave a comment here and let me know if your experience was anything close to the thrill-ride I imagine.

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This week I'm hating on: The paucity of decent Jewish holiday music. Jews get that irritating Adam Sandler song, an album by the serious Baron Cohen, and the broken promise of an Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson Chanukah album

Meanwhile, just this year alone, Christians get Motorhead's Lemmy, rapper Jim Jones, with his second holiday entry (and p.s., he also produced this way below the radar musical/vanity project last month), Elvis, the Flaming Lips, and Kristin Chenoweth, among others. Well here's what you get from me in return, you holiday chazzers, for hogging all the good stuff: 12 minutes of an uninterrupted Enya Christmas. Feel free to regift.

December 5, 2008 8:50 AM | | Comments (2)
It's been a heckuva week, but you've done a heckuva job, brownies. Everyone, and by everyone, I mean even Fox News and Glenn Beck, is feeling cautiously optimistic about the nation's future. (But not Rush Limbaugh, who probably doesn't feel much besides outrage and cravings anyway; believe me, it takes one to know one.)

06456be0.pngSo in the spirit of a week that's made me feel like singing, I'm macking on: Musicals about American presidents. Kaufman and Hart's 1937 I'd Rather Be Right featured George M. Cohan as a singing, dancing--yes, dancing--Franklin Delano Roosevelt, proving that theater showed long ago that with the right guy in charge, anything is possible. Two other, more dubious presidential tributes come from my new favorite company, Les Freres Corbusier. (Their latest musical, Dance Dance Revolution, based on, um, Dance Dance Revolution, opens at New York's Ohio Theater in December. I'll take two comps, please. Pretty please.)  Corbusier's 2003 glam musical President Harding is a Rock Star (in production in D.C. right now--thanks to DCist's Missy Frederick for the tipoff and please comment here about the production. I'm DYING to know.) and 2006 emo musical about the founder of the Democratic party, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, trace W. right back to his populist roots with a pair of mavericks who went rogue, and got elected for it. Finally, there's Kenya's entry into this category, Obama: The Musical. I don't know how good it is, but I know a whole lot of people over there are damn glad to be singing about someone who knows that their nation is on a continent called Africa.

There's one missing missing from this list, and I know it's a biggie, but under the circumstances, let's just acknowledge that it exists and move on. There will be plenty of time during the next four years to worry about meth-fueled skinheads. Right now, I'm happy to watch the curtain go up on the newest presidential show in town, and I'm hoping this one's a winner. 

This week I'm hating on: Prop 8. Because it sucks, as I think every other drama queen among my readership would agree. This election was all about change, and though there's been a small setback on the issue of gay marriage, I see it as an opportunity to the issue to a larger stage, as in the Supreme Court. Take heart lovers, the ACLU has taken up the fight, and since I come from the city of Rocky, I ain't ready to call it for the bad guys just yet. 

Below: Obama, the Musical (minus the very unpresidential crotch-grabbing dance numbers. If you want those, they're here.)
November 7, 2008 6:15 AM | | Comments (2)
This week I'm macking on: Little musicals that could. Rocky Horror, Reefer Madness, Have a Nice Life, all musicals playing in and around Philadelphia recently or right now, all with a hand-stitched, bright-eyed, can-do appeal, all really unlikely candidates for success (Rocky Horror's obviously a proven entity, but it still plays like an underground hit). In any case, there's a mini-revolution happening in musical theater, led by the Off-Broadway crowd and filtering out into the provinces, of musicals that thrive on the small stage. 

I'm not talking about Songs for a New World-ish '70s throwback musicals, either. These are contemporary, fun shows that embrace camp, kitsch (yeah, I know, I was just ranting about kitsch yesterday, but this is different), and most of all, the idea that the fraught aughts are the best time to offer audiences a plain old good time. An indie theater company can't touch The Mikado, but give them A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant or Bat Boy, and you've got the makings of a great night out without bloat or baggage. Perfect for a regional theater scene like Philly's that has approximately a zillion nascent, ambitious young companies looking to make their mark in an increasingly competitive market.

This week I'm hating on: Twitter. But only because I love it so much. It's turned every moment into a meta-moment. Every Twitter tweaker sat by his/her computer Wednesday night, fingers poised and ready to rain down 140 characters of snark on anyone who'd listen... Online. 

I'm in bed with my husband watching the debate, we start riffing on Joe the Plumber and shazam, I've got the Crackberry shakes. Should I get out of bed and run downstairs to the computer to broadcast every comment that makes us chuckle (WWJTPD; Dow down, but sales of Joe the Plumber Halloween costumes up 1000%; Wonder if Joe Biden minds Joe the Plumber and Joe Sixpack joining him on the campaign), or should I make my husband get out of bed and find his Blackberry in the car so he can bring it upstairs and I can tweet our pillow talk from the lamest menage a trois ever recorded? 

I ran downstairs... But only four times. 

Below: The Brownie Song
October 17, 2008 9:30 AM | | Comments (2)
mark.jpgMy new favorite blog is Mark Blankenship's The Critical Condition, and not just because he sparked up my Lazy Sunday by posting his distressingly catchy Silence of the Lambs hip-hop track right after a post about Eminem's imminent return. I love it because even though he's often critiquing theater for the New York Times, he's not afraid to simultaneously feed his pop culture jones. And why not? If someone has to check out Celebrity Autobiography or Perez Hilton Saves the Universe, then all the better if they own a copy of Suzanne Somers' "Touch Me," (everyone should) or check in on the pink poseur several times a day anyway. 

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At this point, Pop culture is so pop that VH1 is already loving up the naughty aughties while we're still waist deep in their muck, and FakeSarahPalin has 4,263 followers on Twitter (Yes, I'm one of them). With troupes like Les Freres Corbusier eliding easily between Schoolhouse Rock and Ibsen, it ain't enough anymore to brush up your Shakespeare. You've gotta watch New York brush up on hers as well. Or not. But still, you never know.

So hallelujah that playwrights like Tom Stoppard are there to worry about the big stuff, to school us on Havel and Housman, and that theater critics are, for the most part, thrilled to have such a deep well from which to draw. But considering the heaping helping of Pink Floyd in his latest work, it seems even Stoppard's been dipping into the shallow end of the waterhole lately. 

Though Blankenship--kicking back and mixing up his arts coverage with "Clay is gay" stories--may not save the world, he just might help save informed, professional criticism from extinction by expanding its reach outside the realm of a handful of subscribers and niche enthusiasts. And by "save it," I mean, "make a video for his Silence of the Lambs rap." Hey, whatever works.

Below: the meta-moment of the pop culture year. So far.

 


September 24, 2008 3:59 PM | | Comments (4)
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