Category Archives: Broadway

Movies on the Big Screen

Thom Wade opined about a recent Entertainment Weekly article noting dramas “tanking at the box office…And the big question is: Why? Why can’t potentially great films pull in a bigger audience?”

His conclusion? “Having a hi-def setup has honestly impacted how I see movies. With a wide screen hi-def television, Blu-Ray player and a surround sound system? I suddenly find that I judge seeing a movie based on how much I think it required a giant screen. And you know what? Few dramas (or comedies for that matter) require that big screen experience.”

Well, maybe.

It is true that one-third of all Americans now own an HDTV, putting market penetration at an all-time high. The number has doubled from 2006’s figures. Blu-Ray’s penetration is right or nine percent, depending on the article.

Actually, I don’t think Thom’s conclusion about how people are deciding is wrong. Rather, I think that they might be coming to the wrong conclusion. In other words, seeing dramas and comedies on the big screen is different from seeing them on the small screen.

To be sure, I have no HDTV or Blu-Ray. But short of having a very large screen in a darkened private room, I think most people treat things they see on television like they treat television. They pause a movie to eat or go to the bathroom or take a nap. The movie experience is just…different.

Long before the new technology, I saw the movie Coming Home, a 1978 drama starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, in the movie theater. Then I saw it on HBO and thought it lost something. But then I saw it again on the large screen and it was almost as good as the first time.

I wonder if dramas in America are in trouble. The season finales of House and Grey’s Anatomy both lost viewers compared with last season’s last episodes. All the CSIs were down as well. Meanwhile most comedies are on the rise. Maybe it’s a cyclical thing; it wasn’t THAT long ago when the comedy was considered moribund.

And I need to consider changing audiences, for this reason: some people treat going to the movies like they treat being at home. Anyone who’s been to a movie in recent years – cellphones, talking, etc. – knows what I mean.

Apparently, this audience bad behavior has spread to Broadway. In the June 6 Wall Street Journal, an article called “Are Misbehavin’: No Tonys for These Performances — Theatergoers Act Out With Phones, Bare Feet — and Fried Chicken, Too” catalogs these misdemeanors:

Last month, an audience member at “South Pacific” took off a shoe and, complaining of an injured knee, propped her foot up on a rail in front of the stage. “Other patrons were not amused. ‘The offenders’ toes ‘were practically in their nose…And her feet smelled.’ “

Earlier this year, Patti LuPone broke character in “Gypsy” to scream at an audience member taking pictures.

One night, actor Will Swenson, who plays a hippie named Berger in “Hair”, took a [recording] device from a person in the front row [during the nude scene] and threw it across the stage. “I just couldn’t believe the gall of this woman who was videotaping me in my face,” he says. A crew member deleted the video and returned the camera phone to its owner at intermission, he says.

During a Saturday matinee of the Holocaust drama “Irena’s Vow,” a man walked in late and called up to actress Tovah Feldshuh to halt her monologue until he got settled. “He shouted, ‘Can you please wait a second?’ and then continued on toward his seat.” Ms. Feldshuh says she typically pauses when she’s interrupted. She doesn’t recall the incident, which she says may be evidence of the Zen attitude she’s cultivated onstage.”

So perhaps one needs an “event” movie to warrant going to the theater and put up with fellow humans.

Jesus Christ Superstar: An appreciation

My friend Ellen has one of those turntable thingies that transfers vinyl into digital recordings. She recently made a couple recordings for me, both of Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice collaborations that I’ve long had on LP, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar. Dreamcoat, which was written first but recorded after Superstar, was OK, but Superstar had a profound affect on my way of thinking; perhaps it still does.

I originally got this album for Christmas in 1970 and played it so often, I can STILL tell you where all the skips are on my recording. I found it to be a great jumping off point for great theological discussions, rather than the anathema that some religious folks thought it was, especially with my friend Pat Wilson, a good Catholic woman who was the wife of my dentist. (For context, think of the controversies that Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film “Last temptation of Christ” or Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ” engendered in certain circles.)

Overture – Ensemble
It starts with that insistent theme that appears in the next song, hits the high point with the “Superstar melody, and ends with the mournful last piece.
“Heaven on Their Minds” – Judas
I happen to think even today that there are those who worry too much about heaven and not enough about treating God’s people on earth.
“What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing, Mystifying” – Jesus, Mary, Judas, Disciples
While Jesus is a tad snarky here, it is consistent with his frustration with his disciples that after three years, they still didn’t get it.
“Everything’s Alright” – Mary, Judas, Jesus, Disciples
The religious elite were often complaining about the lowlifes Jesus hung around with. But I DO think we have the resources to “save the poor from their lot”, if not the political will.
“This Jesus Must Die” – Caiaphas, Annas, Priests, Disciples
Always loved the deep voice of Caiaphas voice.
“Hosanna” – Caiaphas, Jesus, Disciples
It has always astounded me about the mood of the crowd from the cheers of Palm Sunday to the rejection on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
“Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem” – Simon, Jesus, Disciples, Roman Guards
Simon and others thought that Jesus was going to be the second coming of the warlike Maccabees, which was not the plan. “To conquer death, you only have to die” was not, in the Biblical context, a reference to physical death but rather death to a sinful life.
“Pilate’s Dream” – Pilate
This is the same tune as Poor Jerusalem. Initially, i thought this was a mistake, but it’s performed so differently that this has become one of my favorite songs.

“The Temple” – Jesus, Profiteers
There was a second century philosopher whose name escapes me who thought that Jesus was pure love. But this is an angry Jesus. This is the first time, save for the Overture, that the Gethsemane theme appears.
“Everything’s Alright” (reprise) – Mary, Jesus
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him” – Mary
Not the first and certainly not the last to suggest a sexual/romantic relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus – see, e.g., Dan Brown. I didn’t believe it, but this suggestion did not bother me.
“Damned for All Time/Blood Money” – Judas, Caiaphas, Annas, Priests, The Mob
Judas’ conflict, though not exactly as written, does speak to the greater truth about fulfillment of Scripture.
“The Last Supper” – Jesus, Judas and Apostles
That the disciples STILL didn’t entirely know who and what they were dealing with is evident.
“Gethsemane” – Jesus
Possibly the most controversial song. That Jesus was, in part, human made his resistance to dying much more real.

“The Arrest” – Jesus, Judas, Peter, Apostles, Caiaphas, Annas, The Mob, Roman Guards
If I were to play one of the roles, I’d like it to be Peter; NOW we’ll fight for you.
“Peter’s Denial” – Peter, Mary, Apostles, The Mob
I was once in a Bible study and one member said she’d NEVER have denied Jesus, that she’d gave gotten the message right away; I never believed that.
“Pilate and Christ” – Pilate, Jesus, Annas, Mary, Apostles, Roman Guards, The Mob
The singular funniest thing on the album is a fellow with a distinct British accent saying, “someone Christ, king of the Jews.” Featuring an ironic restatement of Hosanna.
“King Herod’s Song” – Herod and his Court
High camp.
[“Could We Start Again Please?” – Mary, Peter, Simon, Disciples, Roman Guards
NOT on my album; it was only from later versions.]
“Judas’ Death” – Judas, Caiaphas, Annas, The Mob
Reiteration of Damed for All Time. was Judas’ betrayal preordained? Yeasty stuff.
“Trial By Pilate” – Pilate, Caiaphas, Annas, Jesus, The Mob
Really gets to the core issue about predestination -“Everything is fixed and you can’t change it.” But if it’s all predetermined, what of free will, which allowed for the Fall from grace?
“Superstar” – Judas, Soul Girls, Angels, Paparazzi
Israel in 4 B.C. DIDN’T have mass communication. Why did Jesus come THEN? And if he came NOW, would he be on radio or TV? Would we believe in Him if he were? Bringing it to today, would he be our Facebook friend? Would we follow him on Twitter? What would He feature on His MySpace page or His YouTube videos?

“Crucifixion” – Jesus, Disciples
The seven last words.
“John 19:41” – Jesus, Disciples
The final controversy, on an instrumental track, no less. The citation is to the burial plot for Jesus. What, no Resurrection? Sacrilege! But I never thought it was Lloyd Webber and Rice’s job to complete the story the way orthodox Christianity does. It’s THEIR telling. And it means a great deal to me, just as it is.

The videos, BTW, were primarily from the not-well-received 2000 Broadway performance which my wife and I actually saw in previews. Not having seen a Broadway musical since Raisin nearly 30 years earlier, I enjoyed it at a certain level, though some of the videos now seem a tad overwrought.
Another appreciation of Superstar.


January Ramblin'

I was on the bus yesterday, and this young man sitting across the aisle, 13 to 15 years old, I gather, was telling his friend about his school’s basketball team. “They’re 4 and 2. I think that’s .500”. I waited a couple seconds, hoping his friend would correct him, but since that was not forthcoming, I said “.667”. He looked at me, confused. “Your team won 4 out of 6 games. 4 over 6 is the same as 2 over 3. 2/3s, .667.” Nothing – wish I had the time and the paper to show him long division. “If the team has the same number of wins and losses, THAT’S .500”. Maybe I should have gotten into percentages and moving decimal points, but he got off before then. [Sigh]
From friend Don: “In short, it was all about money, cultural arrogance, and ignorance, in no particular order. (Or, alternatively, perhaps it’s all about GE Schenectady steam-turbine manufacturing; see the bottom.) Surprisingly intelligent reflections by former NBC Dateline correspondent John Hockenberry, culled from an unlikely source — MIT Technology Review.

Full story. There’s stuff about dreadful coverage of the early days of the Iraq war, inane non-use of a videotape and other nonsense. If you decide to wade into it, check the last page, where JH discusses his aborted story about the shadowy figures behind the Nigerian e-mail scams, how he filmed them fleecing a mark in their Montreal hotel room, “To Catch a Predator”-style. A passing reference to this story came up on The Media Project, a local radio program, last week, and one of the panelists opined that perhaps Hockenberry had an “axe to grind”, as he was let go by NBC. That person clearly hadn’t read the piece.

“You Don’t Understand Our Audience”: What I learned about network television at Dateline NBC.
ADD rants about Spider-Man. I haven’t read the character regularly in nearly a decade and a half, but I’m inclined to accept this analysis, based on the source.
The personal rantings against ethanol by a friend of mine.
101 Dumbest Moments in Business from Fortune magazine.
I don’t even live in Buffalo, but I can get behind this one, suggested by Jaquandor, which is to let people know that Joe Cecconi Chrysler sucks, apparently. My favorite part of the narrative was after a frustrated Buffalo Geek sought help from a higher power:
I decide to call Chrysler Customer Service to see if they could help influence the process in some way. After calmly and rationally detailing the situation to the agent, I was put on hold as she attempted to contact the dealership and broker a truce. I sat immediately outside the dealership in my vehicle, from which I had a direct view of Clyde and Mike yukking it up in the office. Moments later, the agent came back on the phone to inform me that the dealership receptionist said that both of them had left for the day and they would call back next week. To wit, I informed the phone agent that I was staring right at them and they were sitting in their office. I instructed her to call back and let them know the customer is sitting outside, has visual lock on them, and that she would like to speak with them. They refused again. Classy. But Joe is hardly alone.

My goodness, this should be called January Rantin’. Won’t even talk about the last Republican “debate”; let a child do it instead. But it’s not as though somebody named Rush Limbaugh Person of the Year or something. Oh wait: someone did.
On a more pleasant note – not that I’m going myself:
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will be revived in a STRICTLY LIMITED ENGAGEMENT from FEBRUARY 12 to MARCH 13, with…what the press release say?

This explosive new production of TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ Pulitzer Prize-winning classic features a dynamite cast led by Academy Award® nominee TERRENCE HOWARD, Tony Award® winners PHYLICIA RASHAD and ANIKA NONI ROSE, and Academy Award nominee and two-time Tony winner JAMES EARL JONES. Directing is Emmy Award® winner and Tony nominee DEBBIE ALLEN.

Performance Schedule: Tues at 7, Wed-Sat at 8, Wed & Sat at 2, Sun at 3


I have an e-mail with a code that’ll get you 30% off on the show, so e-mail me if you’re interested.


MUSICAL REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone

When I was away visiting my mother in Charlotte this month, my parents-in-law came up to Albany over the weekend to help paint Lydia’s (still unoccupied) bedroom. I came back that Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Then Wednesday, they took Lydia to their house in Oneonta, and Carol and I were able to go to the rapidly-expanding Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady to see The Drowsy Chaperone.

One of the reasons I watch the Tonys every year is to see what’s on Broadway, because I’d otherwise have little idea. Unless it’s a retread from anotheer medium (The Producers, Mamma Mia), it doesn’t get that much coverage. Here’s the
broadcast segment for TDS, a little scratchy, I’m afraid:

It was entertaining enough for us to want to see it when it came to town.

I agree with most aspects of this local review, except that I would have picked Show Off, the song in the above segment, as the highlight. In fact, unlike some of the songs that wouldn’t cut it on their own if it wasn’t part of the farcical faux musical, it would stand up on its own in any production.

Still, as the review suggests, the success of the production is largely on the shoulders of the Man in Chair, the narrator of the piece. The role was originated by Bob Martin, and he was replaced by Jonathan Crombie, who played the role in Schenectady. The Broadway role, interrupted by a now-resolved strike, is now being played by Bob Saget – yeah, the guy from Full House and 1 Vs. 100; I’m having difficulty imagining him in the role. Though not entirely comparable, I think of the Man in Chair as pivotal as the Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town.

Another performer reprising her role from Broadway was Georgia Engel, probably best known as Ted Baxter’s wife on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She talks about going on the road here:

I really like the truthiness of this commercial that suggests that we’re not likely to be swayed by the testimonials of “real people”:

So, when I saw THIS one, I laughed out loud:

I don’t know why this winner of five Tonys was was not very successful in its London run; a different sensibility, I suppose. All I know is that The Drowsy Chaperone made me laugh out loud many times. The best recommendation for a musical comedy I can think of.