Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret

Midsummer Night's Dream lends itself well to a queer narrative. The fairy potion allows lovers to mix and match in any combination. Directors can paint the show light and spunky or dark and erotic. Still there's only so dark it can go. Midsummer pairs off all the pretty young things. Some of us relate better to the handful of bitter singles at the end of Twelfth Night.

Bite sets the fairies and lovers in a contemporary gay bar, swapping Shakespeare's prose for modern slang and pop hits. It works. Love and lust, requited and unrequited, are universal. Unlike Shakespeare, Bite has Titania take over the narrative midway. She wants the lovers to share her pain and disillusionment. For some love is the sense of being understood. Of being known. It all ends happier than I expected but gave me plenty to ponder.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cole Porter series part 3

Can Can. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Abe Burrows. 1953 Broadway.

Out of this World. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Dwight Taylor and Reginald Lawrence. 1950 Broadway.

In the past 4 shows the leading man pursued a lady. In these 2 shows the leading lady pursues a man. Both Can Can and Out of this World have had concerts at Encores but their books are too weak for Broadway revival. The Paper Mill Playhouse produced Can Can with Kate Baldwin and a new book, but the production did not have legs.

Can Can featured some juicy backstage intrigue. Leading lady Lilo was upstaged by supporting player Gwen Verdon and apparently seethed with diva rage. Both scores have their klunkers but Can Can features "I Love Paris" and "It's All Right With Me." Out of this World has the delightful, if forgotten, "Cherry Pies Ought To Be You."It starts as a compliment duet for the lovers. Then Juno and a gangster enter and turn it into an insult duet.

I know GoodTickleBrain has drawn a Can Can comic as well. It's buried in the archive but if I find it I'll post a link.

Edit: Here it is!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cole Porter Series part 2

Anything Goes. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Original book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. 1934 Broadway.

High Society. (1956 Film) Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Screenplay by John Patrick. Based on The Philadelphia Story by John Barry.

High Society. (1998 Broadway). Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Additional Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. Book by Arthur Kopit.

Poor Hope and Tracy. Their engaged to unsuitable spouses. The supporting cast must unite to reconnect them with their stalkers exes for true happiness.

The leading lady in Anything Goes is Reno Sweeney. She loves Billy but will devote her time to seducing Hopes fiance and setting her up with Billy. But the plot doesn't really matter. It's all an excuse for Ethel Merman (and subsequent divas) to belt some of Cole Porter's best tunes.

Tracy was the lead in Philadelphia Story. Katherine Hepburn commissioned the play, bought the film rights and saved her struggling career. Hepburn often played strong women who needed to be "tamed." She brought such strength to her roles that her leading men never really cowed her. High Society's Tracy is less successful. The film shifted the focus to her suitors, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Grace Kelly was not a singer and she lacked Hepburn's fire. The Broadway version gave Melissa Errico's Tracy more music but the trunk songs never felt right for her character. Critics recommended that audiences stick with the Hepburn film.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cole Porter Series part 1

Kiss Me Kate. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. Basis William Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew. 1948 Broadway.

Silk Stockings. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath & Abe Burrows. Basis Melchior Lengyel's story Ninotchka. 1955 Broadway.

This week I'll be looking at six musicals composed by Cole Porter. Two bad films have been made about his life. Both tell us he wrote musicals, had a complicated marriage, and broke his legs in a riding accident. The second film explores his bisexuality. The first film is less honest but features stronger musical performances.

It's been quoted that Cole Porter felt Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical librettos "made it that much harder for everyone else" Kiss Me Kate was Porter's most ambitious and most successful musical to date. The interweaving of Shakespeare's brutal comedy and Spewack's backstage farce inspired a broad range of music from Porter. It also explored a common theme of his: the abusive mismatched couple. Fred and Lilli's first duet, "Wunderbar," is a parody of Viennese opera. The honest song they share is "So In Love."

"Taunt me, and hurt me.
Deceive me, desert me.
I'm yours till I die.
So in love with you am I."

The melody and lyric present their co-dependent relationship as something beautiful and tragic.

Silk Stocking's leading lady gets her liveliest song when she dismisses love as "A Chemical Reaction." When she falls for Steve she sings the dreary "Without Love (What Is a Woman?)" which makes romance sound funereal. Porter's heart was clearly in the brassy comedy and the spiky conflict.

"Though the uninstructed faction
Calls it mutual attraction
it's a chemical reaction, that's all."

Part 2's shows will continue a theme from Kiss Me Kate: hooking up with your ex.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Cult flop film becomes Tony winning Broadway hit!

The story was inspired by a real life news strike but don't look to Newsies for historical accuracy. Do look to Newsies for handsome male dancers. If fit men in tight vests were still delivering "the papes" then print media would be in a better place today!

Jack and David's intense friendship has inspired much fan fiction. Fierstein's libretto mitigates the homo-eroticism a bit by strengthening the leading lady. On film Sarah was "the beard." On stage we get Katherine, a feisty news reporter with career goals.

Underneath the love triangle and athletic dancing is a story about capitalism and the importance of worker's unions. It's simplified and romanticized but there are worse messages for kids than to stand by their co-workers.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pete's Dragon

"It's not easy to find someone who cares.
It's not easy to find magic in pairs."

Okay so I stretched the truth a little on this one.

Pete's Dragon was no masterpiece. It stopped Disney from making live musicals for many years but it had some catchy songs. The 2016 remake cuts the songs and apparently improves upon everything else. Disney tends to base their heroes journey around dead parents. In the original film Pete is fleeing from an abusive family bringing things closer to a Roald Dahl narrative.

Today's artwork is loosely inspired by the game Undertale

Monday, August 8, 2016

War Paint

War Paint's Chicago premiere has many things going for it: Two great stars, a score that plays to their strengths, and interesting source material. Reviews have been mostly positive. Unfortunately the current book lacks conflict.

Librettist Doug Wright has several challenges. The real Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein refused to meet with each other. Wright has to give his leads equal stage time while keeping them apart. In this he succeeds. Without a co-star to play off of the leads steamroll the supporting cast. The founders of Revlon get two juicy scenes but vanish before they can develop into true antagonists. Wright will need to beef up the feckless love interests or scheming shop girls so that Patti and Ebersole have someone to play off of.

The Chicago production has been extended through August 21. A Broadway transfer has yet to be confirmed but is certainly in the cards.