Results tagged “musical theater” 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 |
No, it hasn't happened yet, it's just a suggestion. Think how many supremely talented elderly actors would jump--well, maybe hop--at the chance to perform in this production, since other than Lear and the odd production of Having Our Say, opportunities are few and far between. There's drama, and hey, you could always insert some romance. That's my pitch. Anyone with me?

June 12, 2008 5:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Michael Feingold, in yesterday's Village Voice seconded my contention on this blog that musicals, rather than being the "beleaguered" form Ben Brantley described in the New York Times, are experiencing a second, breezier wind. Anyway, here it is. Ironic, too, that he should cite the Cameron Mackintosh extravaganza, when the big news from his corner is that he's allowed several U.S. houses (including Philly's Walnut Street Theatre) to mount Les Miz on the condition that they--gasp--ditch the turntable and offer Monsieur Valjean la liberte at last. Even Mr. Mackintosh, it seems, is ready for a change.
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May 21, 2008 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)
Ok, so now we all know that Glory Days opened and closed in one, ahem, glorious day, and by all I seriously mean all. But on this, the day of Tony nominations, it's worth noting there's more to the story than Ben Brantley's power to shut down an entire Broadway enterprise. In fact, Mr. Brantley, in his review of the show, was surprisingly gentle, and noted:

"It's been a season of thinking small for the Broadway musical. Two front-runners for the Tony, "In the Heights" and "Passing Strange," are also intimate, personal shows imported from non-Broadway houses. I can see why the producers of "Glory Days" might have thought this was an auspicious moment for a big-time New York transfer ... I do find it heartening that a pair of enthusiastic and gifted young artists have fallen in love with that beleaguered form, the musical, as a means of self-expression."

However, I think he's completely wrong about "that beleaguered form." The musical is making a comeback, though not the kind fed by producers feverishly bent on re-animating '70s film comedies or '70s music, or regurgitating sure-thing revivals, but by the generation that grew up fetishizing Rent and Moulin Rouge. 
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The winds seem to have shifted with Avenue Q, the little show that could--and could while leaning heavily on irony and angst. But after last season's massive success of hormonal rocker Spring Awakening, the fact that Glory Days, a musical by 20-something recent college grads, made it to Broadway right alongside In the Heights, also written by a 20-something recent college grad, surely bodes well for those late bloomers still editing away in urban garrets around the nation. It took Stew a little longer than those other boys to create Passing Strange, but judging by today's nominations, it doesn't seem to have affected his accolades any. There's also the baby-faced team of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, who wowed L.A. with their emo-musical about our seventh president, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. And what do all these brash new musicals have in common? None of them look or sound like a Broadway musical, several aren't even native New Yorkers, but together they all sound like a burgeoning movement.

These might be dark days for the big, bloated Broadway musical, but for the form itself? As they sing in that re-animated '70s film comedy Spamalot, "Keep him off the cart because he's not yet dead." 
 
May 13, 2008 3:41 PM |
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