Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is 19 years old(?!) The score has aged remarkably well. In that time LGBTQIA+ politics have made great strides and the show has grown from cult classic to Broadway smash. The story takes place at a rock concert by The Angry Inch. Hedwig has decided to confess all sins through cutting humor and brash songs. Hedwig wants to be seen as both victim and survivor. The truth is uglier as Hedwig has gone from being abused by a father and first spouse to the abuser of a young lover and second spouse. 

Tommy Speck was 17 when Hedwig seduced him. The Broadway production cast actors ranging from their late 20's to early 50's in the title role. An older Hedwig seems sadder (and creepier) chasing after the man that got away. 

Is Hedwig's story a redemption arc? The ending is ambiguous but I'd like to think so. Hedwig may feel like a failure but Hedwig is deservedly a hit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Joan Crawford Musicals

Stephen Sondheim based the lyrics to the song I'm Still Here around the career of Joan Crawford

First you're another
Sloe-eyed vamp,
Then someone's mother,
Then you're camp.

The FX show Feud reminds us that Hollywood treats many of their actresses the same way. While she played dancing flappers in the 1920's I'm going to focus on two works from the 1950's.

Johnny Guitar
Music by Martin Silvestri. Lyrics and Music by Joel Higgins. Book by Nicholas van Hoogstraten. 2004 Off Broadway.

The 1954 film is campy because it took itself so seriously. It wants to be a feminist Western about McCarthyism. It's better remembered for Joan Crawford's outfits, Mercedes McCambridge's scenery munching and the barely repressed lesbian subtext. The 2004 musical flopped because it tried to be a zany Forbidden Broadway style spoof. The subtext became text which misses the point.

Torch Song
Screenplay by John Michael Hayes and 
Jan Lustig (de). 
Music by Adolph Deutsch. 1953 film.

Here's another film that didn't need a parody. (Though Carol Burnett made a go of it). Joan Crawford dancing in blackface while lip synching to India Adams is camp enough. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Harvey Girls

“In this day and age girls don’t leave home. But if you get a hankering you wanna roam.”

The railroad allowed Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants and hotels brought civility to the Wild West and independence to single women in the 1870’s. His waitresses, the “Harvey Girls,” are the subject of one of Judy Garland’s most interesting films.

The show had one breakout song, “The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe.” This fantastic number introduces the townsfolk, the Harvey girls, the supporting cast and the plot. Then Garland enters and brings it to a big finish. She’s come to town to get married but the groom is a bust. She joins the Harvey Girls and never looks back.

The disposable love interest doesn’t appear till later. His duet with Garland was cut as the film’s not about him. Instead she shares a trio with Cyd Charisse (dubbed by Betty Russell) Virginia O’Brien’s fellow Harvey Girls as they struggle with the social roles they’ve been assigned. They learned their trades to attract husbands. When none appeared they used the skills to support themselves. The number feels like a template for Sweet Charities There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” Their boss, Marjorie Main, and their rival, Angela Lansbury, will get solos as well. Main wants to class up the town. Lansbury… does not.

Lansbury’s “showgirl” is a hoot. Her solos were dubbed but her body language says more about her character than the lyrics. She looks fabulous but she’s bored. Garland’s rivalry brings a spark into Lansbury’s life and helps her find her priorities. At the end she’s happy to hand her boyfriend off to Garland and focus on her career. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Little Me

Patrick Dennis is best remembered for his 1955 novel Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade. Mame could be cruel but she had a big heart. There was no heart to be found in his 1961 novel Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television, Belle Poitrine (as told to Patrick Dennis). Belle is ruthless as she sleeps and murders her way to B-movie stardom.

The musical shifted focus to her 7 hapless suitors. All were played by television star Sid Caesar. The show ran 257 performances and received 10 Tony nominations but revivals shutter fast. There’s not much there to work with. If Fosse had collaborated with Kander and Ebb he’d have explored the dark side of Belle’s ambition. Neil Simon’s book isn’t interested in that, or much of anything, beyond broad sketch comedy. Revivals have expanded Belle’s role but rewrites can’t make her sympathetic. The title song, “Little Me,” reminds us that Belle’s greatest love affair is with herself.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

La La Land

Is La La Land a forgettable romcom with pretty costumes and miscast stars?
A gorgeous love letter to the musicals of Vincent Minnelli and Jacques Demy?
A sharp dissection of American narcissism?

Critics have argued for all of these and more in the lead up to Oscar night. My guess is that the film will be forgotten after Oscar night and the musical theater fans will move on to debating the merits of the Disney's Beauty and the Beast remake.

Chazelle draws a line in the sand midway through when Ryan Gosling's musician joins John Legend's jazz fusion band. Emma Stone's actress attends the concert and shakes in horror at the high energy performance and the cheering crowds. She seems to be saying "Ugh. Pop music. How tacky. Wouldn't you rather be listening to my breathy head voice or watching Gosling's timid dance steps?" I was team John Legend from that scene on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grease 2

"There's gotta be more to life than making out... I'm tired of being someone's chick." ~ Grease 2

The little Chicago musical about teen class war became a record breaking film in 1978. Three sequels and a TV series were proposed. A script was hastily written, the film tanked, and the franchise was scrapped. Grease 2 is no gem but Michelle Pfeiffer's solo, “Cool Rider,” is a camp classic. By the end of the film she learns, unlike Danny Zuko, to appreciate her partner’s nerdy side as well as the sexy persona.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

When the film premiered in 1994 positive portrayals of gay, bisexual and transgendered characters were in short supply. Writer and director Stephan Elliott saw his low budget project become an international success. Elliott had retired by 2004 when he suffered a near fatal accident. Surviving disaster convinced him to return to work and adapt Priscilla for the stage.

Bette Midler agreed to co-produce the Broadway transfer and became a fervent spokesperson for the show. The book underwent extensive rewrites. Kylie Minogue songs were swapped for Madonna’s and the father/son subplot was expanded. The show won Tony Awards for Best Costume Design (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner) and Best Supporting Actor (Tony Sheldon).

Tim Chappel complained to the New York Times that the Broadway producers censored his designs to make them "safer for Broadway." Despite the tinkering the production ran 526 performances and had a lengthy tour. Productions of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert are currently running in France, Spain, South Africa and the United States.

Posts will be slowing down in 2017 due to other projects. I'll try to get at least one comic up a month.