Monday, January 29, 2007

A Few Good Dannys Without a Suitable Sandy

Last night 14 potential Dannys and Sandys had a chance to wow America at the first live show of "Grease: You're The One That I Want." After the airing, viewers voted for their favorites and at the next show in two weeks, one Danny and one Sandy will be eliminated. After two hours of being entertained by the guys and horrified by the women, my hopes for the Broadway production are waning (and they weren't very high to begin with).

Twelve finalists had been chosen, but no reality show would be complete without a twist, so producer David Ian brought back the two contestants that they were the most sorry to lose, Matt Nolan and Ashley Anderson. This means that next week we will still be stuck with 12 competitors and the end remains nowhere in sight.

Nolan is a sweet boy who really wants the part and the audience loves him. I love him too; I mean he cried when he was eliminated, but he has no training and he is always going out of tune. There is no way he will be ready to star on Broadway, no matter how much he practices. And if I hear Ian call him "green" one more time, well I probably won't do anything other than get annoyed, but can someone please give him a thesaurus.

I can sort of understand bringing Nolan back, but Anderson is atrocious. I know "Grease" co-creator Jim Jacobs loves her because she looks like his image of Sandy, but her lack of talent was obvious at the first audition when her voice cracked three times. I have a feeling she won't make it to the next round, so hopefully we can be rid of her for good.

Other than Nolan, I think any of the Dannys would be decent, but I'm rooting for Austin Miller, Derek Keeling, or Max Crumm. From the beginning, Miller seemed like the most obvious choice. He is the only one with any real experience, and he has already paid his touring company dues. He might have benefited from singing a different song last night, as "Mony Mony" did not really showcase his vocal abilities.

Derek Keeling's rendition of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," on the other hand, proved that he has the looks, the moves, and the voice to be a real threat to Miller.

Crumm is the wild card that almost got eliminated because he doesn't look like Danny Zucko, but the judges seem to like him and it would be nice if America went with the anti-Danny. After he rocked "Summer of '69," he just may be my favorite.

While I would pay (as long as they were student rush prices) to see any of those three Dannys, I could not see myself sitting through a 2 hour show with any of the girls. They have nasally pop voices that seem more suited to American Idol. Kate Rockwell has the biggest potential and I agree with the judges that she has the best voice, but considering who she is competing against, that is not saying much. She is from Blue Ash, though, and since I live there until I was 3, I feel like I should root for her.

My biggest problem with the show is that the judges are too nice. The only one that is somewhat brutal is David Ian, the token British judge, but even he seemed to be holding back. Olivia Newton John seemed to think that everybody was wonderful and had great personalities. The next guest judge is Andrew Lloyd Webber, and one can only hope that he is less diplomatic and that by then the girls will have stepped it up a notch.

*I would also like to note that "You're The One That I Want" is a song from the film, not the Broadway production. I'm wondering if they are going to add it in to this revival, considering everybody will be expecting it. I just find it odd that everybody keeps referring to the film version, which is very different than the stage version.*

Monday, January 15, 2007

How Can it Be 30 Degrees in LA?

Some quick notes on the Golden Globes:

It was fairly predictable. I got 18 out of 25 (I was most surprised by "Babel," "Ugly Betty," and America Ferrera). I haven't seen any of those, but how can "Babel" be the best movie if it didn't win anything else? Something doesn't add up there. But the "Ugly Betty" people and Ferrera were so excited, so I'm happy for them. That's how you're supposed to react when you win an award.

I knew Meryl Streep was going to win, but I just have to say, and I know this is an unpopular opinion (although I know some who will back me up on this), she is a terrible actress. She overacts in EVERYTHING she does. I don't care how long she has been doing this, she's always the same. Her speech wasn't bad, though, except she can't pronounce volver.

Yeah Eddie Murphy! He deserved to win, but his speech was so boring.

Not to be mean, but ha ha Leo. You got nominated twice and you still didn't win.

I'm all for Warren Beatty getting recognized, but Tom Hanks said "balls" and "1962" too many times. He could have saved about 10 minutes. Still, I am a sucker for career montages.

I miss Ludacris. He was at every award show last year. The Golden Globes needed more Ludacris.

I really need to see "The Queen" and "The Last King of Scotland," but they're not playing in Syracuse right now.

I've been watching too much E! today...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Grease is the Word, Rolling Stone is Not

Tonight I had the opportunity to catch up on some reality television. Last week, I missed the premieres of "You're the One That I Want" and "I'm From Rolling Stone," but because I love musical theatre and because I want to be a music journalist, I had to check these shows out.

"You're The One That I Want":
It was only a matter of time before somebody had the bright idea to capitalize on the success of BBC's "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria." In that show, hopefuls auditioned for the role of Maria Von Trapp in a new West End production of "The Sound of Music." If an American counterpart to the show had to be made, "Grease" was the right choice. It's campy and just as loved as it is hated, perfect for reality television.

Theatre producer David Ian, "Grease" co-writer Jim Jacobs, and director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall are looking for a Sandy and a Danny for their new production of "Grease," scheduled to open in June 2007.

Last week, auditions were held in Los Angeles and Chicago and tonight the final auditions were held in New York. There were some decent talents, but you have to wonder why people who can't sing or who are obviously wrong for the parts would humiliate themselves by auditioning. Also, the audition process is really unrealistic. I was suprised, however, at how nice the judges were. They were willing to give some of the "singers" second chances, even ones who did not deserve it.

Overall, the show is enjoyable, but I could do without the behind-the-scenes drama. Still, for a Sunday night guilty pleasure, it ranks up there with "Desperate Housewives."

"You're the One That I Want" airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on NBC

"I'm From Rolling Stone":
There are people who want to work for "Rolling Stone" or a successful magazine like it, and who work hard to try to get there. But MTV and "Rolling Stone" have partnered to give six slackers the chance of a lifetime--the chance to write for "Rolling Stone" (the winner gets a staff writer position). I missed the first episode, but what I saw tonight was enough to disgust me.

The episode focused on three of the six: Colin, Krishtine, and Russell. Colin's assignment was to interview We Are Scientists. He went in completely unprepared and had no idea what to ask. He even told them that they had a concert that night, as if they didn't know. It was painful to watch. Somehow he managed to write a blog entry and was the first one of the group to publish on the website, setting the standard pretty low.

Russell is, according to MTV's website and himself, the best writer in the group. He did seem to be the most capable of completing a successful interview. I'd put my money on him, except the preview for next week shows him coming in late to work. It wouldn't be MTV without a little drama.

Krishtine interviewed El-P and when she finished her assignment, her editor asked her to rewrite and to ask him some follow-up questions because she was missing some important facts. Krishtine whined about how annoying it was to rewrite something and also said she never does follow up interviews. She's going to be a great journalist.

Thank you MTV for turning rock journalism into another excuse for drunk twenty-somethings to make fools of themselves on national television (not that drinking has never been a part of rock journalism, but at least many of those journalists had talent).

"I'm From Rolling Stone" airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MTV

Here's Johnny (and the Sprites)

Really good children's television, programs that children and adults can enjoy together and are educational as well as entertaining, is hard to come by nowadays. Even "Sesame Street" has lost some of its wit and replaced it with boring segments like "Elmo's World." So, it's a relief that Disney had the good sense to bring back John Tartaglia's "Johnny and the Sprites."

"Johnny and the Sprites" began as short segments in between Playhouse Disney programs in 2005. The segments were successful enough to convert into half-hour shows. The new "Johnny and the Sprites" premiered on Saturday and it airs every Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m.

"Avenue Q's" John Tartaglia created the show. He plays Johnny, who moves to the woods to work on his music. There he meets the Sprites, colorful puppets who only he can see. Moms will surely enjoy "Johnny and the Sprites" for Tartaglia's adorable facial expressions and boyish charms and children will love him because he doesn't talk down to them. If that isn't enough, Tartaglia enlisted the help of some of the best musical composers currently working on Broadway to create memorable songs.

Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked") wrote the catchy theme song that would fit perfectly in "Avenue Q" with raunchier lyrics. Mark Hollman ("Urinetown"), Robert Lopez ("Avenue Q"), and Michael Patrick Walter ("Altar Boyz") also contributed. In one episode, the characters try to spot a rare bird, a Nospotalotacus. The clever song with its nonsense lyrics like "Give it a shotocus" could fit right in with Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin phrases, except this song also teaches children about team work.

Tartaglia's costars, the Sprites have personalities that children can relate to-- Basil is bookish, Ginger is stubborn, and Lily is serene. Tartaglia also voices Sage, known as the oldest and wisest Sprite, although he is actually forgetful and likely to fall asleep in the middle of conversations.

Another Avenue Q alum, Natalie Venetia Belcon (she played Gary Coleman), plays the only other human, Johnny's friend who has about as many jobs as he has songs.

Whether he's playing off puppets or humans, Tartaglia makes every scene believable. Not since Jim Henson has the bar for children's television been set this high.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Corbin Bleu and KeKe Palmer Push Disney Channel to the Limit

If the advertisements for "Jump In!" are any indication, Disney Channel is hoping for another "High School Musical" success. Although it remains to be seen whether the film will become the phenomenon of its predecessor, inspiring concerts and merchandise, "Jump In" has at least two things going for it-- it is far more entertaining and the characters are far less annoying.

The movie, which premiered on Friday, January 12 (and will probably be playing every weekend until "High School Musical 2" premieres), stars Corbin Bleu (the only tolerable actor from "High School Musical") and KeKe Palmer ("Akeelah and the Bee"). Bleu plays Izzy, a boxer trying to make his father (David Reivers, Bleu's real life dad) proud. When Mary (Palmer) and her double-dutch team lose one of their members, they ask Izzy to step in, and he learns that not only is he as talented with the jump ropes as he is in the boxing ring, but he loves it as well.

The story is not unfamiliar territory for the Disney Channel. A boy interested in "girly" activities and being teased for it was the subject of "Eddie's Million Dollar Cook-Off." But "Jump In" is making baby steps toward breaking ground. First of all, the film features an inter-racial couple, one of whom is a female boxer. Also, for perhaps the first time in Disney Channel film, the bully is multi-dimensional. The audience gets to see how his troubled home life affects his personality. He even redeems himself in the end.

What really sets "Jump In!" apart from the most recent Disney Channel films and places it in a class with the highlights of years past is co-stars who you can care about (i.e. who you don't want to punch in the face). Bleu plays Izzy's arrogance with charm that doesn't feel fake. Plus he has great hair. Palmer is a perfect match for Bleu, playing her Mary with equal parts attitude and vulnerability.

For a movie about musicals, the singing and dancing in "High School Musical" was vomit-enducing. In "Jump In!," the jumping is captivating and professional. The actors had to master tricks such as push ups and flips while jumping rope. The soundtrack, featuring adrenaline-pumping sports-arena style songs by Bleu and Palmer (Disney Channel never misses a chance for future recording stars), adds to the excitement in those scenes.

"Jump In!" is not a masterpiece, but compared to the recent disappointments, it is a big step for the Disney Channel. Now if only I can convince them to cancel "High School Musical 2."

All About Eve...and Adam and the Snake

Last review for NYC immersion, also workshopped with Alex Ross:

“The Apple Tree” could be renamed “All About Kristin.” Kristin Chenoweth plays four roles in the revival of this 1966 musical comedy, and makes full use of her shtick as a diminutive yet curvaceous diva with a big voice. It is her name on the marquee, but the show wouldn’t be successful without two dynamic male co-stars, Brian d’Arcy James and Marc Kudisch, whose comedic timing and vocal prowess match hers.

“The Apple Tree” opened on Dec. 14 and is playing at Studio 54 until March 11. Aside from a 2005 Encores! concert production, this is the first revival of the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick musical because the right cast has finally come along to reprise the roles originated by Barbara Harris, Alan Alda, and Larry Blyden.

The three-part show is based on short stories that explore the relationship between man and woman—“The Diary of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain, “The Lady or the Tiger?” by Frank R. Stockton, and “Passionella” by Jules Feiffer. The Twain episode is by far the most compelling of the three. Chenoweth and James are hilarious as the first humans trying to make sense of the world and their feelings for each other. There are also moments of tenderness as when Chenoweth sings “What Makes Me Love Him,” a moving song about the illogical nature of love. But it is Kudisch who does the most with his one scene. As the Snake in Eden, he combines slithery mannerisms with sex appeal as he tempts Eve.

The tacky and over the top “The Lady or the Tiger?,” a tale about a doomed romance with a choose-your-own ending, feels the most dated, especially with Jess Goldstein’s turquoise and gold-encrusted costumes and John Lee Beatty’s bright colored sets, equally hideous.

“Passionella,” a Cinderella story set in Hollywood in the ‘60s, would also feel stale were it not for acting choices, such as a dead-on Liverpudlian accent by James as rock star, Flip the Prince Charming.

Bock and Harnick’s score is catchy, but it does not challenge the actors. Chenoweth, famed for her high notes, has only one high D and James is also restricted to his middle register.

The trio may work together again in the upcoming “Young Frankenstein.” Perhaps Mel Brooks will write some songs that will better showcase their undeniable talents.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan Revisited

Review #2 from NYC immersion (my first review on an exhibit). This one was workshopped with Alex Ross of the New Yorker.

On July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan electrified the Newport Folk Festival with his backup rock band, where he alienated fans and gained new ones by switching from acoustic to electric. Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966 offers new insights on his progression towards that change. Using a wide range of artifacts and memorabilia, including typed song lyrics, handwritten letters, and video clips, the interactive exhibition chronicles Dylan’s early career.

The exhibit, organized by Seattle’s Experience Music Project, is on display at the Morgan Library and Museum from Sept. 29 to Jan. 6.

Large crowds were drawn by the name “Dylan,” and the room at the Morgan was a tight squeeze. However, the small space was utilized to the fullest extent. The material was displayed in chronological order, starting with his formative high school years. A 1959 Hibbing High School Yearbook signed from Dylan (then Robert Zimmerman) offered clues into his enigmatic personality with his barely legible handwriting and bad spelling.

A picture of Zimmerman from the same yearbook shows a chubby-faced young man as opposed to the gaunt Dylan we’ve come to recognize. A member of the Latin and Social Studies Clubs, his goal was to “join Little Richard,” which may come as a shock to those who thought he was betraying his folk roots when he went electric. He was clearly influenced by rock and roll even in those early years.

Another influence on Dylan and the folk tradition was “The Grapes of Wrath.” In a 1958 essay on the novel, the high school junior received a B. The first page of the paper is displayed with comments from the teacher saying that he could have done more with the topic, showing yet another side of Dylan—the lazy student.

It is impossible to understand Dylan’s development as an artist without the music. Listening stations for the seven albums from the time period include useful information such as date of release, key tracks, and why it matters. These provide context for even the most casual fans, but even the takeaway value of the exhibit is high, no matter how much prior knowledge one has or how many times one has heard the albums.

If I Can Make it There, I'll Make it Anywhere

I just spent over a week in New York City as part of my arts journalism studies. We each had to write three overnight 350-word reviews which we workshopped with some big names in the business. This is my first review, which I workshopped with Eric Grode of the New York Sun.

I Love the '20s

Shows like VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s” offer nostalgia and sarcasm for the price of one. The new musical comedy “The Drowsy Chaperone” operates on a similar principle. A character known as Man in Chair (Jay Douglas) invites the audience to listen to his favorite musical, also titled “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Man in Chair comments throughout the show, recognizing the faults in a show he clearly worships, proving that you can have reverence for the Broadway musical and deride it too.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” that the audience is watching opened last May at the Marquis Theatre. The show, directed by Casey Nicholaw, is a clever commentary on musical theatre with depressing undertones about a lonely man whose only companions are old records.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” that Man in Chair is listening to opened in 1928 and is an over the top musical with two-dimensional characters. Janet Van De Graaf (Sutton Foster), is an actress who is about to get married and leave the limelight for good. Shakespearean mixups ensue, while the necessary “B-plot” involves a producer, Feldzieg (a play on Ziegfeld for the theatre buffs), and a pun-happy gangster duo recalling the literate gangsters of “Kiss Me Kate” (another show within a show). Man in Chair always makes sure the audience is as ultra-aware as he is. A scene involving numerous spit-takes is only funny because the Man in Chair tells us it isn’t.

The two shows come together in Man in Chair’s living room with a charming set design by David Gallo. The staircases and romantic gardens of the scenery seamlessly take over Man in Chair’s space so the audience is just as transported as he is.

For a show about musicals, it’s odd that its biggest flaw is the absence of memorable songs—the central ingredient of a musical. The bland score written by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is barely made interesting even with help from Foster’s commanding voice and fancy footwork. Still, it’s hard to argue when Man in Chair says, “The Drowsy Chaperone” does “what a musical is supposed to do.”