Results tagged “tony awards” from Drama Queen

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Spike Lee's filmed version of Passing Strange--that dark horse of a rock-musical coming-of-age tale which garnered 7 Tony noms and won one statuette for Best Book (P.S.: the New York Drama Critics Circle voted it Best Musical, which makes one wonder if such a show even stands a chance now that critics are cut out of the Tony Process. But I digress.)--opens LA.'s Downtown Film Festival tonight. And while it's great for Stew and crew to have a permanent record of their Broadway moment--which I missed--is filming a play ever worth the effort? 

After all, the thing about live theater is that it's live, right? That's what makes it special. All those people together in the same room, the energy, the hormones, the chance that it could all go off the rails or converge into an amazing, shining beacon of synchronicity. And then there's acting for the stage, which is a completely different critter than acting for the screen. Whenever live theater is filmed, unless it's filmed as, well, a film, it's like watching Kabuki. But really, really bad Kabuki. 

I often Netflix filmed productions as homework for upcoming shows, and it's always a matter of the ends justifying the means; I watch because it will help the review, not because it gives me much pleasure. The actors' faces emote to the back rows because they're supposed to be life-sized, not 30 feet high or shot in close-up. Onscreen, stage acting can't help looking corny. It's for a different medium where subtleties are in the language or direction, but not so much the face.

Of course, Lee is no stranger to filming staged performance. 2000's The Original Kings of Comedy not only knocked the comedy film genre out of the park, but also mainstreamed the careers of all four featured comedians, and gave some smart producer the entire premise for The Bernie Mac show (R.I.P. to both Mr. Mac and his show), which I, for one, watched every single week. 

Lee filmed two of the Kings' live performances, editing them together for the final product--a method he repeated for Passing Strange. However, to facilitate his vision for its cinematography, he also shot the show once through without an audience, and of the two live shows he filmed, one was the cast's final performance at Broadway's Belasco Theatre. 

So does it work?

Well, I watched the DVD alone in my bedroom and gave it a standing ovation, applause and all. For real. And if that sounds bizarre to you, you either haven't seen it yet, or I wouldn't want to hang out with you anyway. Point is, the effect, both with and without an audience equals a damn fine film of a damn fine show, and its editing is so seamless you never notice the difference anyway. Lee tightens in to get intimate with the characters without making them look like puppets and zooms out to capture their frenzied crescendos. Yeah, sometimes they're miked and flinging sweat, but most of the time they're not playing to the crowd, they're playing to each other, and that's what separates Lee's film from other efforts to capture Broadway magic onscreen. (Plus it's really, really nice to see Daniel Breaker out of that donkey suit and burning up the stage as an actual human being.) It may be ironic that Spike Lee found the real by making it less so, but that was Stew's point anyway. 

If you're not in L.A. and can't catch the film tonight, it will be available on cable On Demand starting August 21, and will air again in 2010 on PBS' "Great Performances" series.

Don't believe the hype: the movie is SO much better than this lame trailer.
August 12, 2009 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Maybe you thought the muted furor surrounding the Tony Awards' decision to eject critics from its voters' ranks died away. After all, it's not like it was such an important decision anyway, right? And it's not like it affected that many people, right? Well wrong. It affects all of you, and by you, I don't just mean those of you who clicked through to this blog. I mean you as consumers of American culture. 

Today, American Theatre Critics Association Chairman Christopher Rawson sent a letter to the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing alerting them that we will not go quietly (though we're pretty polite, considering). Our ranks might be thinner, but if there's one thing critics know how to do well, it's bitch loudly about something we don't like. I'm a member of ATCA, and if you're a critic, you ought to be too. There's strength in numbers, and--being a bookish lot, who've spat out an awful lot of bully sand lately--we could really use those numbers to help the cause.

If you're not a critic, you know you read our reviews, and there might even be a critic or two whose opinion you respect. Send your own damn letter here and here and tell these chumps that a bunch of directors (or producers, or whatever you're not) voting for their friends does not a credible award make. After all, when your mommy told you you were the best one onstage, it was nice, but you didn't really believe her, did you? Did you?

As goes Broadway, so goes the nation, at least within a few years, when national tours begin hitting the road. Without critics slipping through the Tonys' highly entrenched voter ranks, plenty of editorials on the subject assert that the plays and musicals you'd get out here in the hinterlands would be an endless parade of Wickeds, and Legally Blondes--which they are anyway, and p.s., I liked Legally Blonde--but with no hope of a Rent or Spring Awakening surging forward to help electrify regional audiences and expand our dramatic expectations. 

Listen, don't do it for me, I only get to New York once or twice a year anyway. Do it for the benefit of our theater. Because that's what's really hurt by this decision.
August 7, 2009 4:35 PM | | Comments (3)
39 steps.jpgFinally made it to New York yesterday (first time this season) and saw The 39 Steps. The show, a farcical, campy, reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 romance/suspense/thriller, won one of the five Tony Awards for which it was nominated (Best Lighting) and was praised effusively by Ben Brantley in the New York Times. I settled into my seat with high expectations and the lingering frisson of excitement that still hits every time I head into the business end of the Lincoln Tunnel.

So all the greater was my disappointment when the production was halfway as good as it could have been, with a set design halfway as creative as several Philly Fringe shows I'd seen, and with a halfway committed cast running on autopilot. At intermission, my companion (and provider of my ticket) St. Paul Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola, remarked, "Well, this is a strange little show for Broadway." 

Strange indeed, and not in a good, gatecrashing, Passing Strange, kind of way. Rather, it was strange that of all the shows in the English-speaking world to choose to pick up and mount on Broadway, why should this bit of West End escapist fluff that seems plucked from the rounds of regional repertory theaters--an Irma Vep with a bigger cast and less ingenuity--be anointed? Mind you, I have nothing against fluff, even if it arrives during an era ripe for meatier fare (witness August: Osage County's success on that front). But this fluff? Really?

Following the show, we indulged in a discussion of Broadway's current impotence and regional theater's growing virility, which is all well and good, considering we're both covering theater in our respective regions. But while it's nice to be smug about your city's healthy theater scene, the power of the regional theater inferiority complex is such that you still wonder if in the face of the Manhattan machine, your hometown triumphs are merely the result of boosterism and provincial pride.

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Well, guess not. In this weekend's announcement of the closing of Forbidden Broadway, its founder, Gerard Alessandrini cited plain old boredom as the reason for shuttering his nearly 30-year-old star-skewering satirical institution. 

"When Broadway becomes too theme-park-like, it makes it difficult, and it just looks like it's becoming overly commercial the next couple of years," he said.
 
When it's not even fun to make fun of Broadway anymore, something is terribly wrong. Visiting New York should be like opening a compendium of the best new American plays and musicals instead of walking down memory lane, or even worse, walking straight down the middle of the road to Broadwayland. A revival here and there is fine, but you don't end up getting a Gypsy or All My Sons in the first place by only banking on the tried and true. One look at the 1956 Tony nominations (or even the 1976 nominations), packed with original productions of original ideas and well, compared to this season's lukewarm musicals and revivals of revivals, perhaps it's best to avert your eyes. Or hey, look elsewhere--like to regional producers--for guidance.
September 15, 2008 1:00 PM | | Comments (6)
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 | | Comments (0)
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