China Doll – Broadway – Theatre Patrons be warned – avoid this play!


WARNING THEATRE PATRONS – Avoid “China Doll”

Last night I was given the incredible gift of two tickets to a preview performance of “China Doll” on Broadway. The show stars Al Pacino and is a new play written by David Mamet. For this reason, the tickets are exceptionally expensive. I am sad to report this, but the only thing to applaud about “China Doll” is their marketing. On paper, the play is an easy sell. One would think the combination of “A New David Mamet Play” starring “Al Pacino” would be a natural Broadway Smash, one that would justify the roughly $400.00 ticket price. However, the play is an utter bomb!

Honestly, if Pacino just read the phonebook he’d be more interesting. Instead we watch him yell at people on the phone while ignoring the only other actor on stage. This is made even more maddening by him constantly repeating the same 2 basic “plot points” (if one could even call it that) to these imaginary people while simultaneously speaking in a way to let us know what the theoretical person on the other side of the conversation is saying by constantly repeating it back to them. To make matters worse, the main thing he is talking about is complaining that his attempt to prevent paying $5 Million dollars in sales tax on his $50 million private jet her purchased has failed, and that he might, god forbid, have to pay it. So the play pretty much boils down to an exceptionally wealthy man yelling at the equivalent of customer service about a problem less than 1% of the population could find relatable.

In a 2 hour play, I was so bored and disappointed that about thirty minutes in I kept trying to find something entertaining. While Pacino reiterated his boring plan to avoid sales tax to the 4th theoretical person on the phone, I spent much of my time smirking by seeing that a good portion of the audience had fallen asleep.

Honestly, Pacino does his best, and I blame Mamet for the failure of this piece. Mamet’s terrible writing choices of having Pacino talk to people we never hear or see is bad enough, but he also forces Pacino to say about 90% of the text of the play. To do this Pacino relies on numerous prompts embedded in the set. He literally reads a good portion of the play off of laptops, iPads, and newspapers. In addition, it is painfully obvious that when he is “on the phone” he is being fed his lines remotely. This makes the portions when he is forced to actually speak to the other actor on stage even more painful, as he stumbles terribly, repeating himself and constantly searching for the next line. Pacino is able to play this off in his own way, but he mainly behaves like Jerry Stiller who famously delivered his lines in such an erratic way because he was unable to remember them properly.

The other actor on stage is to be pitied, however he takes his duties to basically be a prompt and prop to heart. His performance, what little of it the play provides, is wooden and he appears to be doing a lot of acting exercises to keep himself entertained while he waits Pacino drowns on stage. His attempts to interact with his co-star are ignored, so I can’t blame him.

Mamet should be ashamed of himself for this, and I feel sorry for Pacino, his co-star, and all the people backstage who are forced to watch this tragedy unfold night after night. The actors certainly try, but they know they are essentially in a zombie play that just needs to be put out of its misery.

My only hope is that, as the play is still in previews, that they fix this. However, to do this, the play would basically need to be completely rewritten.

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What Binds Us – A Review

What Binds Us - cover

Until a few weeks ago, I rarely read books labeled as “romance” novels, because I tend to think of them as books featuring a wild haired maiden who stows away on a pirate ship, poses as a cabin boy, and ends up with the captain after a big sword fight. Lately, I’ve read a few books labeled as “romance” specifically “Male/Male Romance” and been happily surprised by the fact that they are generally stories with a lot of passion as well as depth. Of the few I’ve read, I felt that “What Binds Us” deserved a full review.

When I asked for a recommendation my request was a novel with these factors: LGBT, Romance, Contemporary, without a lot of erotica elements. Based on this criteria, “What Binds Us” by Larry Benjamin was recommended to me by Rhonda Helms. It was perhaps the most perfect recommendation based on that criteria I could have ever imagined. Here is a brief outline about the story:

In 1977 with Thomas-Edward (whom is thankfully mainly referred to as T or Thomas throughout), a young man who falls in love with Donovan “Dondi” Whyte, his college roommate, whose beauty seems only to be matched by his familial wealth. The two men have a relationship, but, as with most wealthy/handsome characters, Thomas-Edward is found lacking, but the two remain friends. As T mourns the loss of this romance, and struggles to maintain a friendship with Dondi he finds his true love in Matthew, the brother of his roommate. The story continues past the “Happily Ever After” exploring the pains and struggles of caring for a loved one who eventually succumbs to AIDS, which was heartfelt, but felt like an odd way to resolve what was initially set-up to be more of a  love triangle story. This is probably because I feel like I’ve read/seen a lot of movies about AIDS in the 80’s. However, because we had come to love the characters so much for the first 2\3rds of the book it was very interesting to read. I was especially fond of the fact that there was never a moment of doubt in T’s love with Matthew. This, I felt, was an excellent departure from the conventional love triangles that are so popular in today’s market. I can imagine no reader being on “Team Dondi.” No one with a heart would think T would be happier with him than Matthew.

While the story was very important (the synopsis above is a sketch at best, the story spans many years and features many unforgettable characters not mentioned) what was truly breathtaking about this books was the prose. I am so jealous of Larry Benjamin’s way with words. I especially loved it when he’d spend 3 paragraphs or a page and a half to share a small story, a memory, that felt like a brief aside or footnote. Many of those were some of my favorite parts, because they gave you a real level of intimacy with the character, breaking deep into their mind and experiences. Later down the narrative road, you could feel the emotions coursing through the characters, because you knew them so well.  Benjamin’s skill with description (his art history minor really shows) is also truly breathtaking. For the most part the dialogue was good, and Benjamin excels in giving even ancillary characters truly unique voice. I never once asked “who’s talking?”

I think that I mainly enjoyed that this “romance” novel was more about “love” than anything else. The title says it all. Love is “what binds us.” and while physical love is a big portion of that, it is not as big as the rest. The use of sex in the novel was handled thoughtfully, taking us through both college sex as well as the sex lives of people who are happily coupled ( as well as unhappily).

This book proved to me, once again, that romance novels have more to them than sex and love. Many of them tell stories of whole lives, and the fleeting as well as unforgettable moments of love, loss, and everything inbetween. This novel is a superb read, and the perfect gift for anyone who thinks romance novels only feature maidens on pirate ships!

Hunger Games – Review

Reading the Hunger Games was a big inspiration for me. It helped me believe I could write compelling story in first person present tense. So whenever I felt lost, I often turned to the books to put myself back on track. As a result, I’ve read the series a few times in the past year, and was therefore more than willing to stay up and watch the movie at a midnight premiere.

Leaving the theatre I felt three things very intensely: Entertained, Excited, and Satisfied.

So I think it would save me from overexplaining or even delving into spoilers if I simply explain my review in those three  emotions.

Entertained: There is no doubt this movie is entertaining. While people who have not read the books might find it slow to begin, I was really engrossed from the first few panels of the movie which give reveal what the Hunger Games actually are. In moments where non-fans might think it is getting a bit slow, Elizabeth Banks gives a stellar performance, providing comedy that is not only funny but emotionally evocative. Jennifer Lawrence is a superb Katniss, which is not really that shocking, since she was made famous for playing a similar role in Winter’s Bone. However, she does a remarkable job of keeping the entire movie together. I was especially amazed by many of the other actors in the film. When I heard that Little Rock, AR legend Wes Bentley was playing Seneca Crane, I was confused. The character is barely in the books. But the shift in perspective (the movie is not told simply from Katniss’ perspective) allows these other players to tell the story in a more complete way. While this means certain sacrifices for story purists (most notably, that the gifts Katniss receives now have notes from her mentor) the movie manages to tell a story which never feels like anything but the characters and world of the book. Stanley Tucci is so good, I feel the need to at least mention him in a sentence, but for me the best performance of the evening was a surprise. Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta Mellark is simply spell-binding. I thought Hutcherson would be a good choice, but I was not expecting to like him as much as I did. In brief moments where the writing was weak, he elevated it in such a way that I could feel nothing but admiration for him. My only complaint about the movie is, of course, the unfortunate casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. Why they did this, I’ll never know. Cinna and Katniss are supposed to have a special bond, but it was clear that there was zero chemistry between the two actors. Kravitz performance was fine, he doesn’t do anything particularly bad, but Jennifer Lawrence looks exhausted whenever they are on screen together. I assume this is because these scenes probably took much longer to film than they should have. To compensate for this, much of what made Cinna a great character, is distributed amongst the rest of the adult cast. While I think this was wise, if firing Kravitz was not an option, it made me sad. Cinna was always a character I related to, and felt for, so seeing him so diminished was hard for me.

Excited: This movie is exciting, in that it is a fun thrill ride, that is more than just action, but has some actual art to it. It also was so superbly executed, that I left the theater ready for the second film. Of course, that is probably a year away at least, but I have faith it will be incredible. The second book is my favorite, and while I was worried this film could easily ruin a great book, my fears are now abated.

Satisfied: This movie is as true to the book as it should be. Since it is told from multiple perspectives, new things are revealed. This was great for me, as a big fan, as it gave me something new. I wasn’t simply watching the movie in my mind, playing out on the screen. This was something I truly respected. If you want someone to put the movie of your mind on screen….maybe you won’t enjoy this film. However, they get so much exactly right, I can think of no person who would fault them for the tiny adjustment/changes they made. Especially when each of them was made for such a specific and deliberate reason. When they announced Jennifer Lawrence would play Katniss, I will admit, my first thought was….”She’s wrong for it. She’s blonde.” My husband pointed out I was not alone, but that my reaction was crazy, and directed me to an article discussing it. While I agreed with the article, pointing out that fans seemed to ignore that someone could simply dye her hair to the correct color, I didn’t think we were crazy. The issue is, while we fans understood they COULD dye her hair, we assumed they WOULDN’T because fans of many books have been burned by Hollywood before. In short, I felt I could no longer trust Hollywood to tell a story that was based on a popular book, without screwing it up. This movie has restored my faith somewhat, and that made walking out of this incredibly entertaining film, all the sweeter.

The Magicians – A Book Review

I decided to add the blog of the author of this book to my blog roll, because I find it fun to read. So I figured it would be good of me to write a short review of the book which led me to him. Though I will take this moment to give a shout out to TangleThis since she lent me the book, and got me interested in it. To write a concise review, I’m going to try and just discuss the novel, and allow readers, whoever they are, to go ahead and look up the plot on-line. Thus this review contains SPOILERS and you have been warned!

While this book has been crudely described as “Harry Potter for adults” I would argue it is a bit more than that. Though certainly there are some similarities. I have a big love of magic, and anything about magic school. So, the idea of a book about non-children attending a magic school immediately appealed to me. In addition I was told there was a “gay character” and so I was intrigued even more. Both of these hold true, and so it is easy for me to not have been disappointed.

What I think I enjoyed the most about this book, was that the characters felt like college students. College students experiment with sex, whine constantly, have big dramatic fights over trivial things, and so forth. While this list does not sound at all appetizing, it is honest, and Grossman doesn’t let the students circumvent these feelings/experiences just because they are studying magic. In fact, the fact they are magicians, and can have whatever they want, only compounds these issues for the characters. So I was really pleased to read the book, and experience the drunken mistakes that all college youths tend to make.

In particular, once Quentin and Alice join “The Physical Kids” I enjoyed the fact that they became a sort of family. In college, I too found a family like this. We threw parties, drank wine, cooked food, studied, cried, laughed, and danced together. Also like Quentin and Alice, my family was older than me, and when they graduated, I was left alone. Quentin had Alice, but I didn’t really have that, and I was envious of him for having her. Thankfully some people stayed close by, but it was never like the family of “the golden age” of college. I’ve always wanted to write about that experience, and I envied Grossman’s skill in being able to write it so beautifully. I wonder if he had a time like that.

When I tried to talk about this book with TangleThis, I kind of faltered. I focused a lot on the ending, because it was the freshest, but I’ve had some time now, and now I really mainly remember the beginning.

The second thing I really enjoyed about the book was the magic. Big shock I know. But I liked that it explained why magic could exist in our world. Namely being…it is really HARD to do! The way Grossman invented and described the spell casting process was fascinating to me, especially because I am writing about rehearsal, and both require repetition. So I hopefully will be able to take the lessons I gained from reading his book, and incorporate them as I continue to write my own.

My only real complaints would be the supporting cast. Despite their constant presence, some of the supporting cast, seem to never really become real. While I think this is somewhat honest, as you don’t always get to really know some people even if you hang out with them for a long time, I would have appreciated seeing characters at least hint that they had more going on. When he did, he did it very well. The scene where Eliot is engaged in some slave-master fantasy, is eye opening, thrilling, and very real. Even though it is really never brought up again, it lets you know there is a lot more to the character. Eliot is different behind closed doors, and I liked that we got to see it. I felt the rest of the supporting cast needed moments like this.

BBE didn’t love this book as much as me. He couldn’t get over that most of the characters were essentially terrible people. While this didn’t bother me, I could see that it might bother others. Still, it is a read I highly recommend!

An album review of Rena Wren’s new CD “Sweet Mystery”

A few weeks ago I had the great privilege of having my friend, Rena Wren, who is also a big inspiration for me, perform at Café Vivaldi in New York City. She and her incredibly talented husband performed several songs off her brand new, completely self-produced, CD. I highly recommend anyone interested in good, primarily acoustic, music purchase a copy of her CD. It is even available on iTunes. Since Rena is both a friend and point of aspiration for me, I wanted to write a track by track review of her album. I kind of went a little overboard, but if you are interested in my thoughts (a mix of praise and criticisms), here they are:

Track 1 “Breakdown”: Breakdown is the introductory track of “Sweet Mystery” and is a great way to start. Rena’s strong and supported vocal skills are prominently set forward, giving you a nice big impression of exactly how talented she is as a singer. The guitar backing is a nice blend between rock and singer/songwriter acoustic, and helps this song really count as a cross-over track. Rena’s lyrics are filled with small moments that are so visually evocative that listeners can not only hear the “Breakdown” but see it as well. The chorus is beautifully crafted, and one should notice that the notes slowly slide down as the word “Breakdown” is sung. This type of lyric and musical composition mirroring is prevalent throughout the entire album, but this track is a perfect introduction of what Rena has to offer with the rest of the album.

Track 2 “The State of Things” aka The Bouncy Song: I think my favorite thing about this track is that it asks the question of “If I went to sleep for the next 6 months would I wake up having missed that much, or would I wake up staring at the same 4 walls again?” I often wonder about this exact concept, and at times I am always wishing I would wake up and it would be a new month, new season, or even a new year. As for the dynamics of the song, “The State of the Things” is an excellent example of Rena’s ability to capture the indie-rock sound. Her two-part harmonies are incredibly tight, and their use throughout the song help it shape into a piece which seems young and questioning.

Track 3 “Tell Me Ten Times”: This song uses repetition of composition and lyrics to anchor itself into minds of the listener. The idea of someone asking someone to declare something to them is something that sticks with you. “Tell me ten times you’re never gonna break my heart” speaks of a feeling many of us have.  In love, we have all been wounded, and whenever we take a chance on someone new, there can be a desire to get them to promise not to do what the previous heartbreaker did. Of course, getting them to promise such things may or may not help, but then perhaps if they said it ten times they would feel more compelled to keep their word. The emotion behind this song is what makes it a solid track, however the lack of a more evocative shape to song might lend a listening bobbing their head to the 4/4 beat instead of listening to the words involved.

Track 4 “So Close”: The song “So Close” seems to be one of those songs which really scream “Rena.” There are a lot of very specific images and emotions, which allow the listener to truly glimpse into the soul of Mrs. Wren. As a friend, I can tell you that these moments she sings of are certainly every bit as real as they feel. This song is a celebration of the small things two people in love share, and how even the smallest thing, such as saying her name, can truly make the terrors of the outside world melt away. Lovers are, by nature, close to one another, but with each day, each battle, each year, they find themselves closer, and recognizing what this new “closeness” is always worthy of a song.

Track 5 “Sweet Mystery”: The track that is also the title of the album. “Sweet Mystery”  feels like a road trip, it is relaxing, and has a strong sense of movement. Rena’s wonderfully supported voice gets to use these aspects of her song to truly show off her range as a vocalist, without providing such a complicated composition that would make it difficult to sing along with her. This song seems to be an official invitation from the singer to come along, and explore the mysteries of the album. Thus, it seems like a perfect song for the road.

Track 6 “Red Dress”: The track of “Red Dress” starts off with a very strong Liz Phair vibe, that I was shocked and happy to hear come out of Rena. However, the song’s chorus shifts the song into different style song, which feels more like acoustic rock. Whereas I think that is fine, I was so excited by the first minute of this song, that I wished I had heard more of that style, since it seemed such a fun departure from the heavy acoustic sing/songwriter vibe that is so prevalent on this album. The chorus also tends to be repetitive to the point that it is about all you remember about the track.

Track 7 “Pushing me Away”: Pushing Away is a song that really presents Rena and her band as a single entity. The vocal and lyrics seem to be share the stage with the instrumentation to a point that made me have to listen to this track more than once to even realize that there were lyrics at all. It was a song that invited me to sway along with, instead of sing a long.

Track 8 “Wrapped Up In You”: I have heard this song come a long way over the years, and remains one of my all time Rena Wren favorites. The current, and I assume final, version that is on this album is an excellent rendition. I always assumed that this is how Rena envisioned this song sounding, and is perhaps one of the best tracks on the entire CD. It is a love song, but, unlike so many love songs which focus on the emotions of new love, Rena poetically express the emotions and desires that timeless love brings about. This expert crafting surely makes this song stand out for all of the right reasons.

Track 9 “I Left You”: There is a lot one can say for this particular track. The topic of the difficulties found in an “on and off again” romance is normally one that has the singer singing of his/her triumph of finally getting away, or a tragic bemoaning of the damage that was done to them. Rena manages to avoid these cliché topics, and instead capture the complex emotions of someone maintaining their resolve to stay away for good. Musically, this song has many exciting elements. The easiest to identify would be the addition of a male back-up vocal. Given the subject matter of this song, it is entertaining that the person joining her would be her husband. The other musical gem that shines in this song is that of Rena’s “woah-oh-oh” which is repeated several times throughout the song, and will certainly stick in your head long after the track has ended.

Track 10 “Random Matter”: This is perhaps my favorite song Rena has ever written, and I have heard it evolve from a solo acoustic song to the musically layered version that is on this CD. Personally, I think this song has such brilliant lyrics that a simple acoustic accompaniment is all that is necessary. The simple acoustic version made the lyrics more prominent, and actually enhanced the simple concept and yet deep meaning of the song. That being said, if one had never heard the original, they would still be blown away by the fuller instrumentation that Rena offers us. The new version certainly has elements I enjoy, the backing vocals and percussion give the song a more forward momentum than the acoustic version, but I still maintain my preference for the original. Perhaps Rena will grace us with an acoustic version we can download as a bonus?

Track 11 “Take It Back”: Rena’s exploration of the desire to take something, be it words or actions, back in this song is one that we all can relate to. This song seems to be an apology in itself, and to that end I enjoyed it. However, this song does not really seem to hold up against many of the other songs, and seems to repeat itself more than feels unnecessary. The brilliance I find is mainly in the few lyrics we are given, which seems to focus on not rationalizing the infraction, but simply state, albeit perhaps too much, that there is no good reason. This type of maturity is what makes this song a perfect apology.

Track 12 “Aftermath”: I was shocked by this song the first time I heard it, because it felt like Rena was covering a mash-up of “The Cranberries.” The track begins with shades of “Zombie” and even Rena’s vocals seem to be in the style of “The Cranberries.” The likeness in musicality was jarring, but being a fan of both bands, I was happy to listen to this track multiple times. Aftermath is certainly one of the best tracks of the album, and certainly has mass appeal, especially for the “Twilight” crowd who would probably find this a perfect song to represent Bella’s feelings of devastation when Edward leaves her. Much like “Twilight” this song is wrought with heavy emotions which flow out of Rena’s voice, first quietly, and then unleashed like a fierce storm. Truly anyone who has been hurt knows that dealing with the aftermath of heartbreak will want to sing along with Rena at full volume. “Aftermath” is a great song for catharsis.

Track 13 “Do You Wanna Talk”: I often wonder if Rena anticipated my desire for a song like this to appear on her CD. A song about the patient involved in communication, paired with a gorgeous blend of piano and guitar has always been on my wish list, and Rena has made me very happy with what she has provided. Whereas I normally hate instrumental solos, I actually found myself wishing that this song had one. This song’s delicate instrumentation reinforces how careful one needs to be in periods where communication can be a bit strained between two people. This type of lyric and musical mirroring, which is seen throughout many of Rena’s songs, is an excellent example of what identifies Rena as an artist.

Track 14 “I Am The Sun”: This song is musically engaging, and is perhaps the best back-up vocals on the entire CD. Thematically the song is somewhat confusing, and I am unsure if that is intentional. Is the seemingly grounding effect the other person has on the vocalist a good thing or not? Why does he/she love the other? It seems like the singer wants to be cut loose, and the male voice seems to be encouraging this behavior, so it is uncertain what the issue is. For these reasons the message seems unclear. Fortunately, the song is incredibly catchy, and has a killer chorus, so people may not ever notice. It is also possible that the song is intentionally confusing.

Track 15 “Light of Day”: The final track on the album is a wonderful way for Rena to go out with a beautiful bang. This track truly crystallizes the beautiful vocal work, exquisite lyrics, and creative compositions which represent Rena as an artist. Rena’s vocal work is set forward from the instrumentation in a way allows the audience to focus on the lyrics, and yet it is not so overpowering that people will fail to see the harmony and balance the timing and word choice connect to the overall composition. This track is not my favorite, but I had to play one song for a stranger to know who Rena is as an artist, this would probably be my first choice.

Fame – A Review

The caption should be: "Being Pretty is All That Matters"

The caption should be: "Being Pretty is All That Matters"

I have to admit that I have some bias when it comes to performing arts movies. A prime example is that I am able to cut the dancers from “Center Stage” a lot of slack for their less than stellar acting skills, and instead focus on the intriguing and well executed choreography. Therefore I was entirely shocked that I left the 2009 remake of the 1980’s classic “Fame” with a strong desire to write the studio and demand a refund of the ticket price.

I will be more than happy to admit that the original movie “Fame” is far from a perfect movie. It is incredibly flawed, but those flaws were able to be forgiven because the movie did a lot for theatre kids everywhere. The original movie fame showed the American public some of the trials that young performers have to go through, many of which either complicate or contribute to “normal” teenage problems.  It is for this reason you can get over a number of issues in the original film, like the fact that many of the characters issued are never resolved. I think many of us are still wondering what happened to Coco (Irene Cara’s character) after she was filmed topless by that scary guy. The original movie doesn’t answer this, and many other questions, but all of that can be forgiven to some degree thanks to the incredible performances the movie has, and the inspiring message it leaves audiences with. The original Fame seemed to shout from the rooftops that theatre kids shouldn’t be ashamed of their quirks, but rather celebrate them. It also pointed out just how hard performers, even those with incredible natural talent, have to work everyday to hone their craft into something which would allow them to make it in this world.

The new incarnation of this film is the saddest celebration of mediocrity that I have ever seen in a film to date. The fact that this movie was made with an estimated budget of $25 million dollars is absolutely astounding, and I have to wonder whether or not they could have spent a little more of their budget to find actors with talent. Truly the main failure of this show lies in the fact that none of the main characters are very talented in the craft they are supposed to be, and while they may be a bit more attractive than the kids in the original, they do not succeed in getting by on their looks.

The best example of this particular issue is found in the characters of Jenny (Kay Panabaker) and Marco (Asher Book).These actors are relatively attractive, although certainly Kherington Payne is the best looking person in the cast, but both suffer from a great lack of talent and/or skill. This is only made more complicated by the fact that the characters perceive, and therefore suggest to the audience, that Asher Book is the golden boy of the freshman class. We see this in a scene where Jenny sings “Someone to Watch Over Me” badly, and then Megan Mullally, who is one of the best singers in the entire movie, chastises her for inability to make the audience feel the emotion in the song. She then asks Marco to sing the exact same song to show the class how it’s done. Unfortunately, the only people Marco impresses are the other actors who are being paid to pretend he is good. Asher Book’s so called impressive pipes wouldn’t get him an audition at a dive bar in Vegas, let alone anything remotely legitimate in New York. His voice is a weak, nasal, overly pop infused, insipid, throaty mess, which never improves during the four year time span the movie covers. In fact neither Jenny nor Marco seem to improve at all during their entire four years, and neither does their screen acting. Their big fight on the rooftop, whose apex ends with a weak scream of anguish from Jenny, brought for the reaction of laughter instead of empathy. Truly this moment made me wistful for the cast of Center Stage.  I am without reservation in saying that most of my visceral dislike of this film stems from the complete and utter lack of anything interesting to be found in either of these two characters or the actors who portrayed them.

The rest of the cast is not without criticism, but certainly they have small shining spots where praise is warranted. Naturi Naughton, who plays Denise Dupree, is certainly the most interesting character in the movie. She also has a very good voice, and her cover of “Out Here On My Own” from the original movie is one of the few spots of light in the movie. Unfortunately, after that incredible ballad none of the other musical numbers she is a part of does her any favors. The song in the nightclub is not vocally difficult, and reduces her to a middle of the road contender for American Idol. The graduation song is simply poorly composed, and has lyrics which made the sugary American Idol finale songs look edgy. It is sad her character peaked in the first scene we see her sing. I appreciated that she was a classical pianist with talent, and although it is not overly clear why her mother waits to long to help her stand up to her father, it is nice that at least one character’s story has a beginning, middle, and end.

Collins Pennie who played Malik did a passable job. He showed us something that many actors are familiar with. In many classes you have a talented student who has a lot of talent, but much of his reason for acting is fueled and stunted by problems he/she has in his/her life. For Malik his life had tragedies of an abandoned father, and overworked mother, and the tragic senseless loss of his younger sister. When asked how he felt about these things, Malik would shut down. If an actor is unwilling to explore his emotions in his life, his ability to portray those emotions will almost always feel as superficial. Malik is finally able to break through, without crying to give some credit to the film, thanks to a rather lovely moment between he and his acting teacher, played by Charles Dutton. Unfortunately, we are unable really appraise how this breakthrough has changed Malik, because instead of comparing his performance in another monologue, we see Malik deliver a rap, which describes his feelings about his hardships, as a prologue to the performance which is supposed to be Naturi Naughton’s big moment. The change in performance medium makes comparison impossible, so we are forced to assume he is better now than he was before.

Walter Perez, as Victor Taveras, is perhaps the strongest actor amongst the teen part of the cast. His presence on screen is real, and his character, though rarely seen, seems to actually develop over time. Unfortunately Perez’ character is poorly written. Despite being delightfully intelligent and articulate in his arguments with his teacher, played by Kelsey Grammer, he is apparently the dumbest boyfriend ever, as made evident by the fact that he had no idea that his girlfriend got into the best modern dance company in the world, because he had never heard of it. One would think the boyfriend of the best dancer in the school would know SOMETHING about that. This oversight might have been easier to forgive if we were given more time to get to know Victor.

Speaking of the “best dancer in the school”, which is played by Kherington Payne, much like the frightening assertion that Asher Book was the best voice in their class, I found it difficult to believe that Ms. Payne was the best dancer solely because she didn’t actually do very much dancing. I whole heartedly believed she was the most attractive dancer, but she was rarely featured and none of her choreography was that complicated. Her final number mainly demonstrated that she knew how to be lifted and moved around by others, which seemed to indicate that the best dancers in the school where the men moving her.

The dancing in the movie is generally not impressive, although serious props should be given to the tap dancers who presented incredible skill during their 14 seconds of screen time. The remainder of the dance numbers seemed to feature choreography which was impressive solely because it was being performed by so many dancers, rather than it involving incredibly difficult choreography. Certainly there were some moments which were absolutely wonderful, but they were normally in the middle of an extended dance number, and diminished by the fact that the number as a whole was not as impressive as pieces audiences could see in other films. It should also be noted that most of the bigger dance numbers did not feature the dancers we were supposed to believe were the good ones, but did include some of the rejects such as Kevin, played by Paul McGill.

I mention Paul McGill’s character at the end of this review for a specific reason. Kevin is a dancer, and he manages to go to the school despite having a somewhat weak audition, but over the four years at school his teacher, played by Bebe Neuwirth, is forced to tell him that despite all his hard work, he just lacks the talent to make it as a professional dancer. Mr. McGill’s portrayal of Kevin is fine, given the fact that he has about 5 minutes of screen time devoted to his entire story. The moment where he is told he isn’t going to make it, which is underscored by another vocal failure by Asher Brook, is important for one big reason. The speech applies to the complete teen cast of characters! None of them are so incredible that they would ever make it professionally, and although this movie seems to celebrate them, to anyone who knows anything about music, theatre, or dance, it would be painfully obvious that these kids simply lack the skill and technique needed to be a professional in the arts.

To prove this point we could easily compare the graduation ceremony with the karaoke performance that Megan Mullally gives towards the end of the film. Mrs. Mullally sings “You Took Advantage of Me” by Rodgers and Hart. Her song relates to her character, is beautifully emitted with a wonderfully rounded sound and supported tone, and was so good that I actually applauded in the theater after she finished. This was the only time I applauded in the movie, and with good reason. The graduation ceremony, which is the big finale of this movie, is as lame and boring as any real graduation ceremony. This is of course more disappointing since you expect to be entertained. None of the singing in the finale song is any good, and with Mullally’s example of what good singing is like, the lack of vocal ability is even more obvious. The dancing is more about having large group of people run around the stage, and although the very cool moment where a woman runs and slides on point is incredible, it is immediately ruined by a huge dance number which has as inexplicable tropical island theme.

The remake of “Fame” did not leave me wanting more, rather I simply wished there was less I had been asked to sit through. Unlike the original, the message of the remake appears to be nothing other than: Be pretty! Talent and skill are overrated and it takes to much work to obtain.

Random thoughts:

  1. The scene in the trailer where they are on a roof being blasted with water is not in the film.
  2. If the original song “Fame” is in this movie, as it claims to be, it has been remixed to a level that is completely unrecognizable.
  3. Seriously was this the best crop of actors they could find?
  4. Who do I write about asking for a refund?

World of Normal Boys – Review

world of normal boys

After being rather disappointed with “Dream Boy” I sought a better LGBT themed book. I came across “The World of Normal Boys” by K.M. Soehnlein, and I was immediately intrigued.

Brief Synopsis which is as Spoiler Free as one could make it:

The book was pretty much what I had been wanting. It is written in a bizarre present tense, and it tells the story of a thirteen-year-old boy named Robin living in New Jersey in the late 1970’s. Robin is sensitive, bookish, and very much aware that he is not a part of “The World of Normal Boys.” His younger brother, who is into sports, causing mischief, and essentially everything Robin is not torments him, his mother and he take special trips into New York City where they go to museums, and Robin has begun to realize his interest in men is not platonic but sexual in nature. Robin also has to deal with a typical challenge for freshmen, what crowd to go with in high school. Robin is tempted to turn from his identity as an academic to join the dark side of the burnouts, who skip class and smoke cigarettes.

These seemingly everyday problems are quickly made more complicated. Robin, his sister, younger brother, and annoying cousin are all engaged in a bitter struggle on the playground equipment. As Robin tries to stop his brother and cousin from tormenting his sister, Robin’s brother is thrown off the equipment, and falls to the pavement. He receives a spinal injury, and is taken to the hospital where he lies in a coma.

The stress for caring for Robin’s younger brother strains the family, and things once left unsaid arise to the surface. His father is blunt about his disappointment that Robin is not like his younger brother, and blames his mother and those special trips. The mother is reminded that she moved from her exciting city life to raise a family in the suburbs. All the while, Robin’s sister has become increasingly more Catholic, and has taken to keeping a constant vigil for her comatose brother.

Finding the family environment often too hard to handle, Robin often leaves the house for hours, skips school, and is generally missing. It is on these Missing in Action excursions that the story I was most interested occurs. Robin gets lost, and is in an area known for being unsafe, when he spots a kid from school. The two bond over their hatred of gym, but Robin must now choose whether to ditch school and join his new burnout friend, or remain a good student. Robin opts to skip school, and the two boys escape to an abandoned aviary, where they smoke weed, and Robin has his first boy on boy encounter.

Thoughts:

The title of this book, and the references of being outside the “World of Normal Boys” was one that tugged at my heart strings. All too often I felt much like Robin, and I too was willing to sacrifice my status of being a brain in order to run with a more interesting crowd. Reading about Robin’s adventures with the burnout kids were my favorite. The fact that the kids sexually experimented while “under the influence” of weed, rang quite true. Especially since Robin has to face the fact that while he wanted to do more, the other kids viewed it as merely getting off rather than an expression of desire.

This issue is normally treated as a “cover” in most gay novels, wherein the resistant one finally fesses up that he was doing it because he wanted the person not just the orgasm. Whereas this normally makes for wonderful resolutions, it is a rare reality. Many “normal boys” are curious, and even those who engage in sexually explicit acts, are entirely capable of doing so to sate their curiosity and hormones. This is true with heterosexual escapades just as it is true with homosexual ones. Therefore I enjoyed Soehnlein’s willingness to give us a window into how strange experiences like this can be.

Soehnlein’s story kept me reading, but I was a little impatient with the family side of the story. However, Robin certainly changes and develops throughout the story in a way that is both believable and captivating. I would thoroughly enjoy knowing more about Robin’s later life.

Dream Boy – The Novel – A Reader’s thoughts

dreamboy

So a few days ago I went to the Strand to pick up a copy of “Dream Boy” a novel by Jim Grimsley. The book is just under 200 pages, and during the first few days as I made my way through the first 1\2 of the book I was completely impressed. The book chronicles the tale of a young boy, Nathan, who is smart and has a sexually abusive father. The boy finds that he is attracted to the neighbor boy, and is forced to handle the coming out, and the idea of wanting to do things with this boy and how he hated having to do those exact things with his father.

The concept of a sexually abused kid, grappling with this particular difficulty when it comes to sex is one I have yet to ever read about, and I thought that Grimsley’s character introduced the concept in a way that felt real and heart breaking. This topic is just coming to real fruition when Nathan and his love, Roy, have sex. Roy is suspicious of how Nathan knew how to have sex like that, and pushes Nathan away. Nathan’s father then attempts to sexually abuse him, and Nathan flees his home and lives in the woods. Roy forgives (the author’s words not mine) Nathan, and decides that to make this less awkward (Roy helps Nathan survive outside the home, but they never talk about the issue) Roy takes Nathan on a camping trip with his buds. AND THUS ENDS THE TOPIC OF DISCUSSION! For the next 100 pages we are injected into a new story, one of southern Gothic ghost stories. Which ends up with them exploring a haunted ancient plantation home.

The ending is perhaps the single worst part of the story, as Nathan survives a rape and subsequent huge blow to the head. He then walks around, by some miracle, and He and Roy decide to run away. IT makes no sense!

I would highly suggest the first 100 pages, and perhaps the remainder of the book without the ending as another distinct story.

——————UPDATED 7/6/2012 ——————————-

So I notice that a lot of people decide to search the internet for information about this book, and they eventually hit my blog. Therefore,  I think it is important to update this post. For starters, upon a second reading, the ending is a little clearer than I thought. Nathan does not actually survive, he just becomes a ghost. While I think this doesn’t make any more sense than him surviving, that is what is going on. I still standby my initial review, but I was embarrassed that I got this wrong in my review. Still, the book is only good until they decide to go hiking. While I won’t say there is no foreshadowing that Nathan would be attacked, I will say that it is really minor. It certainly would be a great book if it had a less insane ending.

 

I also thought it was interesting that this book (which was written in the 90’s) was just recently made into a film:

Perilla – Review

Perilla sign

I took my fiance here for his 27th B-day with a small group of our closest friends. The ambiance of the place is pleasant, and certainly does not impede incredible conversation.

The service at Perilla is the best I’ve had at a restaurant in NYC. If you are going I highly suggest you request “Eric W.” as your waiter. He was not only able to easily answer questions about the menu, but his description of the differences in the dishes helped my friends decide on what dish they would choose when they were torn between two different menu items.

I was shocked that when we arrived at 7:45 p.m. that we stayed till almost 11:00 p.m. However, it was just such a relaxing atmosphere.

The food is delicious, and you should absolutely try “Fiddle Head Fern & Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi” It is the best thing on the menu. If you are turned off by the vegetarian side, they make it as an appetizer as well. We got it as an appetizer, and all of us wished we had chosen it as our meal. That is…until our meals came. The duck deserves the huge amount of praise it gets, as well as the steak. Personally I ordered “Spice Grilled Dorade Royale” and everyone who tasted said it was the best menu item. It was light and lovely.

Perilla is perhaps not the best place for dessert. Their Sorbet was wonderful, but their Tres Leches cake was a little lacking in flavor. I opted out for dessert and had a nice cognac instead. I had never done this before, but it felt right. I highly suggest it.

We finished the evening with coffee, and complimentary small cookies. Which were actually better than the desserts. So I would opt for a dessert cocktail, port, cognac and just have those.

Our waiter wished he had known it was my fiance’s birthday, because he would have done something. I put it in capital letters on my “open table” reservation, and mentioned it to the hostess. So If you want to do something special, I would “go to the restroom” and inform the waiter yourself. Apparently he didn’t find out until he was printing our bill.

I think the best part of Perilla is that although it is slightly more expensive, it is not outrageous. I suggest looking at the menu prior to going, and figuring out if it is in your budget. I was happy the wine list was the same, and I was able to choose a nice wine and do my research ahead of time. Perilla will definitely be a repeat restaurant for me.

Perilla inside

Spring Awakening Revisited

spring

Last night I attended Spring Awakening for the 5th time.  It was an incredible evening so I feel the need to supplement my earlier review.

I was very excited upon entering the theatre because both of the adults were being played by the understudies. I had seen Tony Carlin (understudy for the Adult Men) once before, but I had never seen Frances Mercanti-Anthony play the adult women.

I am not sure if it was the absence of Christine Estabrook and Glenn Fleshler, who normally play the adults, that had the cast so energized last night, or if it was perhaps the knowledge that the show is soon to end, but whatever it was, it really made the show feel completely new, exciting, and different.

Alexandra Socha (Wendla) has certainly grown over the past 4 times I have seen her play Wendla. She still lacks the confidence needed in the shows opening, but she quickly salvages a few  sour notes into a solid performance. It was nice to see her play off of Ms. Mercanti-Anthony as her mother, who brought a lot of maternal warmth to the role. The first scene was still funny, but in a different way than it is with Christine Estabrook. Ms. Socha has truly seemed to delve into her character at every moment, and she has abandoned what I described as “quizzical inflections” on many of her lines.

Hunter Parrish as Melchior was in rare form last night as well. Perhaps the best acting of Melchior I have seen to date came out of Mr. Parrish last night. Of course, it seemed to come with a price, as Mr. Parrish strained on notes I had seen him his consistently the past 4 times I saw the show. However, to an audience member with less knowledge of the show and vocal fundamentals it probably went by unnoticed.

The most notable difference for both Hunter Parrish and Alexndra Socha was the final scene of act 1 and the beginning of act 2, where the two have simulated sex on stage. Most of the time this scene is well acted, but last night the two seemed absolutely on fire with passion for the other. The sex seemed to last longer, with additional moaning. It was exciting to watch. However, it certainly made Melchior look more like a rapist than normal.Whenever I take someone to the show, I often ask them what they think of that moment in the show. Do they view it as rape or not? Most people say that it meets the definition of rape, but is more complicated. Although it certainly maintained the complication, Melchior’s darker tone of voice, seemingly lack of patience or tenderness, and sheer physicality certainly made it harder to view Melchior in any way innocent.

Gerard Canonico has made large steps in making his own Moritz. Every time I feel he is better and better. The scene where he questions his father about what would happen if he failed was incredibly moving, which speaks not only to Mr. Canonico but to Tony Carlin as well. I was also incredibly impressed by Mr. Canonico’s vocal performance of “I don’t do sadness” and “And Then There Were None” which were not only pitch perfect but beautifully acted. The fact that he could be crying one minute and angrily singing the next, was truly impressive.

I would of course feel bad if I did not mention Matt Doyle and Blake Daniel. Matt Doyle still wins my praise as best male vocalist in the cast, and his “Desdemona” monologue never ceases to be both entertaining and awkward. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Daniel were blessed with a rather fun audience and therefore their love scene went off with additional hilarity. It was nice that they knew how to handle holding for the additional laughs, and proved they certainly can work the crowd.

My favorite female singer, Emma Hunton, appeared slightly under the weather last evening. This made me sad, as I feel she is the best Ilse the show has ever had. She managed to sing on pitch, but her ability to entirely suck in a room was not at full strength. Her rendition of “Blue Wind” was still wonderful though.

The women in the cast on a whole actually were in the best vocal shape I had ever heard them last night. Their harmonies which have normally been shakey or simply not there, were absolute perfection last night. I felt I was listening to embelishments on the score which really enriched the female presence.

The men were alright. They seemed to speak latin during “All That’s Known” in a higher pitch last night which was a little strange, but not bad. Andrew Durand was a wonderful Georg, and his sexual dream sequence with his piano teacher was absolutely hilarious. I am not sure he needs to add to much to the end of  “Touch Me” as it starts looking more like “American Idol” audition, and less like all of the kids singing about their problems with physical isolation.

The last bit of my review is about the only “new” actor I saw last night. Ms. Frances Maercanti-Anthony. I thought she brought a lot of new things to the show. She felt more maternal, more loving. However, she does not do as good a job at differentiating her characters as Christine Estabrook. In addition, her reading of the letter to Moritz was rather hard to listen to. She seemed to thing Mrs. Gabore (Melchior’s mother) was less than sincere in her letter, which I whole heartedly disagreed with. Her first scene as Wendla’s mother, and her portrayal of Martha’s mother were her best moments. I particularly loved both her posture and inflection as Martha’s mother, capturing the pain of knowing what her daughter was going through but not feeling strong enough or able enough to stop it.

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