Wednesday, June 24, 2009

4 Plays in One Week!

As you might be able to guess from the title, I have just seen four plays in one week! It's been a busy week, but I love the theater, so I'm happy to get caught up a little bit. Here are some thoughts on all four shows:

"A Chorus Line," Orpheum Theater-Despite billboards telling me otherwise, "A Chorus Line" is NOT the "Best Musical. Ever." In fact, I wouldn't even put it in my top five or ten. It's decent, but honestly, it's really dated, and all the characters are really pretty shallow sketches. The songs are good but not great, although "One" was stuck in my head for hours afterwards! Argh! The singing and dancing were both really good, though. The only other time I saw "A Chorus Line" was on a choir trip when I was in 7th grade, and wow, it was shocking then! She just said "tits" on stage!!! Can they do that??? In 2009, it's definitely lost any power to shock or surprise, but it's difficult for anything to have the same impact nearly 35 years later. Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

"Singin' in the Rain," Ordway Center for the Performing Arts-A stage version of the classic film. Amazing! This might actually be the best musical ever, despite the fact that the songs used in the film were just old ones that they threw together. (With some new songs.) Seeing the movie in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul a couple of weeks ago definitely whet my appetite for this show! The movie was one of my favorites as a little kid, and I hadn't seen it in a long time. It's just so euphoric and giddy and fun! Of course, it's impossible to find anyone to top Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, but Michael Gruber and Tony Vierling did a fine job. I had a blast seeing one of my all-time favorite movies live on stage! Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

"Caroline, or Change," Guthrie Theater-Part of the Guthrie's all Tony Kushner Spring and Summer, this Tony-winning musical features a tour de force performance from Greta Oglesby in the title role. Caroline is an African-American maid in Louisiana in 1963, and the play deals with her relationship with the Jewish family for whom she works. The whole production was so well done, my only quibble is with a piece of history. Part of the action of the play takes place on November 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In the play, the characters don't hear about the assassination until the evening. That would not have happened, as Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1PM. And since Caroline listens to the radio all day long, she would have been hearing news bulletins all afternoon. Likewise, grade-schooler Noah Gellman would have most likely been sent home for the day around lunchtime, instead of hearing the news late at night. I know I'm picking on this point a bit, but as a history buff, it was a glaring error. But other than that, it was a really great show. And one of my favorite actors, Bradley Greenwald, got to show off his clarinet-miming chops as Noah's father. (Bradley has a fantastic voice, but he didn't get to use it a lot in this show.) Oh, and I saw Tony Kushner in the Guthrie gift shop before the play! I probably wouldn't have recognized him except for the fact that I had just seen his picture about 5 times on my way from the rush line to the gift shop. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

"Shipwrecked! An Entertainment-The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)" Jungle Theater-I just saw this last night, and it was a terrific show! It tells the story of Louis de Rougemont, who thrilled Victorian England with his tales of being shipwrecked and spending 30 years living amongst Aborigines off the coast of Australia. But was de Rougemont telling the truth? I won't spoil it for you, sometimes we need a little imagination. The play is by Donald Margulies, who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Michael Booth gives a great performance as de Rougemont. He reminded me a little of Peter O'Toole, in his ability to keep you hanging on every word, whether it's true or not. The supporting performances surround Booth with a daffy lunacy, as 3 actors play all the remaining parts. Stephen Cartmell stole the show as Bruno the dog, de Rougemont's faithful companion. It's an incredibly funny performance. Cartmell also reduced me to giddy laughter as a wombat expert, and I think I might find just the word "wombat" funny for the next week or two. "Shipwrecked!" is a fantastic show about the power of stories. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I've Been Listening To

Okay, so it's been a really long time since I've posted anything. It seems like May just flew away from me. And now June is half over! I was thinking about posting tonight anyway, but then when I read Uncle E's shout out for this blog, I realized I need to post something! I've been listening to a whole bunch of stuff lately, but I haven't listened to any one thing enough to write something semi-intelligent about it. So, what have I been listening to, you might ask? Well, a ridiculous amount of Chris Isaak and Elvis Costello, as they are the next concerts I'm going to see. Chris Isaak is at Mystic Lake Casino, which is actually a pretty decent place to see a concert, I've seen Tony Bennett there twice. I missed Chris last summer when he was at the Minnesota Zoo, so I'm very happy that I'll catch him this summer. And Elvis is headlining at the Taste of Minnesota. Which is odd, because this year it's all washed-up metal bands. And Elvis. Taste of Minnesota, which happens over July 4th, is kind of like a crappy dry-run for the State Fair, which takes place in late August. It's also odd that Elvis is at Taste of Minnesota, because he still actually has a career, as opposed to most of the bands that play there.

So in preparation for seeing Chris Isaak, I went back and re-listened to all of his albums again. I was struck by how consistently great he is. Really, every album of his is pretty good, although my favorites are "Baja Sessions," "Speak of the Devil," and "Always Got Tonight." (His new CD, "Mr. Lucky," is also really good.) Isaak has a beautiful, haunting voice, and he's a great songwriter. He's like Elvis, if Elvis could have written a song. (Okay, so Elvis did write one song. It's called "You'll Be Gone." Really!) Isaak's album "Forever Blue" is a brilliant, heartbreaking look at a relationship gone wrong.

And I have been listening to a bewildering array of Elvis Costello albums:

Imperial Bedroom (2-Disc Rhino edition)
The River in Reverse (with Allen Toussaint)
This Year's Model (2-Disc Hip-O edition from 2008)
My Flame Burns Blue
Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane
and I've listened to the first half of Spike

So, yeah, a bit eclectic! I like all of these albums so far, but I don't know that I have a lot to say about them yet. Suffice it to say, Costello's versatility just blows me away. It's difficult to believe that the same guy put out all these different albums. I really like the songs on "Imperial Bedroom," what a brilliant, dark album. "Beyond Belief" is simply staggering, how do you write something like that? "This Year's Model" is all full of piss and vinegar, an angry young man railing at the world around him. "The River in Reverse" is a beautiful album, and it shows that Elvis still has some piss and vinegar left in him. Collaborating with Allen Toussaint was a smart move. And so was collaborating with the Metropole Orkest on "My Flame Burns Blue," on which Elvis re-arranges a bunch of his old songs for a jazz orchestra. Sounds weird, I know, but Elvis pulls it off. Oddly enough, this is Elvis's only official live album! "North" is a subdued song cycle about the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. It's a very restrained album, but well-written. And Elvis's latest CD, "Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane," what to make of it? It's a bit of a patchwork quilt of an album, with some old songs like "Complicated Shadows," last heard on 1996's "All This Useless Beauty," songs from Costello's unfinished "Secret Songs" commission, and some new stuff thrown in. It's all given a bluegrass/Americana makeover, and again, like everything else I've mentioned, it works for some reason. I can't really say why it works, but I like it.

And, a note about Elvis, last week "Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane" entered the Billboard 200 at number 13, which is Elvis's highest placing since...wait for it..."Get Happy!!" peaked at number 11 in 1980! Isn't that crazy?