Thursday, November 27, 2014

Look to the North

Happy Thanksgiving, theatre people!

Every year, on this day of days, we often reflect on the past year -- this year is no different when it comes to gratitude: I'm thankful, of course, for my friends and family for their continual patience, trust, and guidance.  I'm not at the exact place I want to be yet, but I know in my heart of hearts I'm heading in the right direction.  I helped out with a friend's play called North recently, the workshop of which was presented just this past Monday night.  It's something I know I could put under my belt, and also gave me a sense of purpose these past couple of months.  I enjoyed it, and because of it, I feel a year closer to realizing my own dreams.

Things are looking up, and can only go up from here.  This coming 2015, hopefully I will continue to grow in confidence and foster more connections and work on fulfilling projects.


What are your Turkey Days looking like? Mine will be filled with not one, but TWO gatherings to attend! In the immortal words of Luna Lovegood, all I can say is: "I hope there's pudding" -- 'cause I'm hungry! 

Gobble, gobble.  


Jess


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DIXON PLACE presents: NORTH



We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you a very important message!

On Nov. 24th, Dixon Place will present the workshop production and World Premiere of the play North by artist/playwright/co-director Ran Xia, inspired by the life and journeys of Lord Byron and Chris McCandless.

North juxtaposes the life stories of Lord Byron and Chris McCandless, a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp. The play follows the journey of the romantic and sometimes scandalous poet as he traversed Europe and wrote his famous Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as well as the tramp’s hitchhiking trip to Alaska, in order to examine the similarities and differences between those two characters. Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace and writer of Into the Wild, journalist Jon Krakauer converse across time and space as narrators of the stories of their unapparent heroes, and contemplate on the timeless nature of those tales of young people’s endeavour to discover themselves. The play aims to serve as an objective examination of the two characters and offer the audience a platform for discussion on the nature of individuality and its relationship with the society they live in. 

North features Adam Fontana (Civil War, Off Broadway) as Chris McCandless / Alexander Supertramp and Jake Lasser (Olé, Theater in Asylum) as Lord Byron. The versatile cast also include: Amy Handra, Eric Hedlund, Erika Vetter, Jack Utrata, Katie Willmorth, Lizi Myers, Matthew Acevedo, Robin Johnson and William Gywn.

The workshop production of North co-directed by Paul H. Bedard (Theater in Asylum) and Ran Xia will be its world premiere on stage.

 So come follow Lord Byron and Alex Supertramp on a poetic adventure!

Tickets for the show will be available here. The prices are: $12 in advance, $15 at the door and $10 for students/seniors. The show is most appropriate for people with an interest in poetry, history, the nature as well as liberalism.  You can also follow the play and its creative team on their official Facebook page here.

Dixon Place is located on 161A Chrystie Street. A non-for-profit organization, since its establishment, Dixon Place has presented various artists from a wide range of backgrounds. The production team and Dixon Place cordially invite audience members to come early as well as stay after the show and join cast members and the creators at the Dixon Place Lounge. All proceeds directly support Dixon Place’s artists and mission.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Musicals, Four-Way Make-Outs, Ben Cumberbatch (Weirdly) Walking His Way Down the Aisle, and Other Thingy-Thangs



Hey, readers.  It's been a while.

Seems like I start out every post like this these days.  Anyway, been way too busy being awesome working like a hustla on da mean streetz being lazy to post anymore.  Sorry about that, folks.

But this can be a good thing too!  This means I haz more goodies to share with you when I do take the time to write to you good people.  Like, for instance, the video above (er, see video above.) -- my soon-to-be-cousin-in-law (man, that's one big hyphenate, eh?) recently tagged me on good ol' FB (yes, I have Facebook; no, you cannot have it.  Except this one. Yay.) to this clip of the 25th Anniversary finale of Miss Saigon!  The pomp!  The ceremony!  The My-Jonathan-Pryce-Isn't-Aging-Very-Well-Is-He of it all!  It's everything a musical theatre lover could ever want and more, really -- especially if, like me, you grew up hearing the musical's entire score mainly because of the fact that Lea Salonga was in it and broke down that damn Tonys door for aspiring Asian-American performers everywhere (Mabuhay Pilipinas!).  And speaking of Queen Lea herself, how's about that weird four-way makeout between the new and old Kims and Chrises (Chris'? Christs?  I dunno.)?  That was weirdly amusing and yes I'll admit I would see the show if that was a thing that actually happened.  Wait, what...no?  Just me?  Ok.

Aaaaanyway.  If you've been not living under a rock following things carefully, you may remember mention by show creatives Cameron Macintosh, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil that if the Les Mis film fared well back in 2012 -- which it did -- that a Miss Saigon film wouldn't be out of the question.  In fact, not too long ago, I believe they were already doing open calls for the potential film.  So, it's all a matter a time before we may see more weird makeout seshes another epic movie-musical comes out!



'Til then, we've got the highly-anticipated Into the Woods to, well, anticipate -- helmed by none other than Rob "Chicago" Marshall.  The film is slated for a Christmas Day release, perhaps in the hopes for eligibility come awards season.  If you're like me and just simply cannot wait, you'll at least hopefully have had these pretty covers Entertainment Weekly released a few weeks ago to tide you over 'til then.

 But the movie I'm anticipating most of all?  The Last Five Years!  So far, it seems no trailer has been released -- only this clip.  Still, the idea of Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick singing "The Next Ten Minutes" together has me hoping for very good things to come, indeed...

In other news...blip-blip-blip! You've probably heard all over the annoyingly informative interwebs that a certain Benedict Cumberbatch recently proposed to girlfriend Sophie Hunter, a fellow actress/theatre director, announcing their engagement in quite possibly the most annoyingly classy way possible.  Damn you, Cucumber Man, why ya gotta be so perfect like that?  The only thing that would make this whole thing even more perfect is if he walked down the aisle like this, Beyonce-style.

He did, after all, "put a ring on it."  (Sorry, I HAD to.) *insert a million winking emojis*
 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Memoriam: Geoffrey Holder & Marian Seldes.

Photo Credits: left, Kenn Duncan Photo Archive; right, Follies of God.)

In Memoriam

Geoffrey Holder
(1930 - 2014)

Marian Seldes
(1928 - 2014)


It truly has been a sad week for the theater community, as we've lost two truly remarkable legends: Geoffrey Holder and Marian Seldes.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Holder passed two days ago, at the age of 84 due to complications of pneumonia.  A true renaissance man in every sense of the word, Holder -- whose roots hail from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago -- was a dancer, actor, director, costume designer, director and has even published a cookbook.  Holder grew up under the tutelage of his older brother Arthur (affectionately known as Boscoe), who taught him painting and dancing, encouraging him to join Boscoe's local folk dance troupe, Holder Dancing Company at the tender age of 7.

This nudge from his sibling proved to be a smart move, as Holder went on to take the helm of the company, eventually bringing it over to New York City at the invitation of choreography Agnes de Mille.  From there, he went on to teach classes at the Katherine Dunham school, became a principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and made his Broadway debut in "House of Flowers" as a featured dancer.  He reprised his voodoo villain character Samedi in the James Bond film, Live and Let Die and also appeared in 1967's Doctor Doolittle and the 1972 Woody Allen romp, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.  In 1975, he won Tony Awards for his efforts in costume design and direction for "The Wiz."

However, most 80s and 90s kids will most likely remember Mr. Holder in his roles as Punjab in 1982 movie musical Annie, as well as a spokesman in the "Un-cola" TV spots for 7Up.

Ms. Seldes died the next day at the age of 86 "after an extended illness," Al Jazeera America reports.  A strikingly regal figure in theatre, Seldes was known for her acting work in numerous Edward Albee productions, and according to Peter Marks, is "one of the only actors to have performed multiple roles in the Albee canon."

Seldes once proclaimed, "Theater is my utopia," and it sure has been.  Not only has she whizzed her way through Albee's works, Seldes also made a Tony-nominated star turn in Ira Levin's "Deathtrap," which won her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for never missing any one of her scheduled 1,793 performances.

Just as Geoffrey Holder did, Marian Seldes got her start in dance, studying at the prestigious School of American Ballet before going on to study under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.  She made her stage debut as a serving girl in "Medea" in 1947, co-starred alongside Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in 1954's "Ondine," and appeared in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" in 1964.  Since then, she has amassed a slew of theatre credits, which more recently included "Three Tall Women," "The Play About the Baby," and "Counting the Ways" -- Albee works all, of course.

Of Ms. Seldes, Tennessee Williams once said:

"Fabulous Marian. True Marian worship--what the Catholics reserve for the Blessed Virgin-- can and should be applied to her. Take this Rosary and this prayer to her, and let her know that she has been--more often than I'm sure she cares to realize--the light on the shore that got me back home, safe and sound."
 
On that note, let's take some time to remember the light both of these performers brought to the stage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

#FilmStrips: BLACK SWAN/MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA





Film Strips
Black Swan & Memoirs of a Geisha

How must one transform oneself in order to be fulfilled as an artist, especially if one is a woman?  And what sacrifices must be made in order for that to happen?  Welcome to the first installment of FILM STRIPS, where I share with you some of my favorites and hopefully have some fun deconstructing them along the way.  Here, I submit for tonight’s double feature Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar®-winning Black Swan (2010) and Rob Marshall’s controversial Memoirs of a Geisha (2006).  Both films immerse the viewer in two worlds which seem different, but actually are much similar at second glance:  the former, a ballet company in modern-day New York City; the latter, a geisha house in 1930s Japan.  Both worlds, despite being inhabited mostly by women, find themselves at the hands of powerful men.
                                                              
A nod to the Hans Christian Andersen-penned classic The Red Shoes, Aronofsky’s film tells the story of Nina Sayres (Natalie Portman), a corps dancer who dreams of becoming a prima ballerina.  On the cusp on a new season, Nina’s dance company undergoes preparations for an exciting new production of Swan Lake.  Obsessed with nabbing the lead role as the Swan Queen, sweet and innocent Nina desperately tries to convince the show’s director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) that she can play both sides which inhabit the Swan Queen: not only the equally pure White Swan, but also the dark Black Swan.  What results is a psychological breakdown which has Nina sacrificing the most important thing of all: herself.

Memoirs follows young Chiyo, a fisherman’s daughter who sold to an okiya, or geisha house,when her mother falls ill.  Not understanding the more lenient fate she is given compared to that of her sister Satsu, who is sent to a house in the Pleasure District, Chiyo at first defies house rules, racking up a debt which eventually bars her from her future as a geisha.  Years pass until the fate of now-teenage Chiyo (Zhang Ziyi) is lent a hand, in the form of a mysterious veteran geisha, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh).  Under Mameha's tutelage, Chiyo blooms into Sayuri, the most desired geisha in the the whole hanamachi.  However, with success comes its burdens, and Sayuri must choose between a life of love and the life of a geisha.

Watching these two films back-to-back recently, what struck me the most were their similar themes of sacrifice for the sake of art, the rivalries that often occur between women, and of course the powerful men who control them.  While both Nina and Sayuri have very different objectives at the start of their respective journeys (Nina wishes to be prima ballerina while Sayuri takes on the task of becoming geisha to get closer to the Chairman [Ken Watanabe], the man she has loved since she was a little girl), they both endure much physical and emotional pain to get there.  In Swan, there is a short scene in which, one-by-one, Nina and her mother prepare various pairs of pointe shoes, ready to be broken in.  For many dancers, the process is familiar: the burning of the toes, the scraping of the sole, the sharp needle threaded through silky ribbon.

The moment in the film is brief, but it called to mind another film where the same process is shown: Nicholas Hytner's Center Stage (2000).  One of my favorite moments ever in a dance film (nay, perhaps the favorite), is a montage showing dancers breaking in their shoes.  It is a time-consuming act, but is demonstrative of the rigor and discipline which governs the lives of ballet dancers -- as well as geishas.  We see this through a similar montage in Memoirs, during which Chiyo/Sayuri learns the practice of becoming a geisha.  As Mameha states: "Beauty and pain live side-by-side," a theme that is resonant throughout both films:



Another parallel between the two films is, of course, the interactions among the women; particularly the idea of the young ingenue replacing the prima donna figure.  In the world of ballet, this is represented through the role of Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder), a former principal dancer for the company who, like Nina, was also famously favored by Leroy.  Not long after we are introduced into the world of ballet at the film's start, we learn that Beth is being phased out of her place as prima ballerina, eventually making way for Nina to make the official transition.  However, Beth isn't going without a fight, and confronts Nina after the company's launch party for their Swan Lake production, asking the younger dancer what she had to do to get the role.

Similarly, in Sayuri's world, Hatsumomo serves as the reigning "prima donna" of sorts; one of the most desired geishas in the whole hanamachi, Hatsumomo provides the means necessary to keep the okiya running.  In their first encounter, Hatsumomo finds a young Chiyo in her room and immediately chides the girl for touching her things.  That encounter is then mirrored once Chiyo becomes the successful and desirable Sayuri, as she now holds ownership of Hatsumomo's former quarters.  This time, it is Hatsumomo who trespasses -- in more ways than one.  What happens next is a confrontation that quickly escalates, resulting in Sayuri coming to the following realization: "I could be her.  Were we so different?  She loved once, she hoped once.  I could be her.  I might be looking into my own future."



It's not just the prima donnas that try to get in the way of these two protagonists.  Other female characters in both films seek to derail each respective protagonists' goals.  In Swan, there's the mysterious Lily, the eponymous Black Swan whose darker inclinations only help to further Nina into madness; as well as bad girl Veronica (Ksenia Solo), who becomes bitter and suspicious when it is Nina that nabs the role of the Swan Queen.  In Memoirs, when Sayuri finally has a chance to be with the Chairman, it is her childhood companion Pumpkin (Yuki Kudo) who plots to have the chairman's best friend and confidante Nobu (Koji Yakusho) waiting for Sayuri instead.  

However, though the two films center on a world of women, we must not forget it is one that is ruled by men.  For Swan's Nina Sayres, it's Thomas Leroy; as for Sayuri in Memoirs, it is the various men acting as patrons (danna): The Chairman, Nobu, Dr. Crab and perhaps more ominously, Mameha's danna, The General.  These powerful men of influence assert their power over the women the only way they know how: by taking advantage of them.  Scenes in which Leroy kisses Nina during rehearsal and The General forces Sayuri's robes off of her behind closed doors prove that sometimes there is a higher price to pay for your art.


What other parallels, thematic or otherwise, exist between these two films? Which of your favorite films explore the high cost of art in a similar (or maybe not-so-similar) way as these films?  Feel free to discuss in the comments!  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Photo Call: Spring & Summer, Every Other Day

I'm trying to force myself to get out and document my experiences more -- and more importantly, reflect on them -- so I'm starting a "photo diary" of sorts.  Spring/Summer 2014 has proven to be quite eventful so far, which should bode well for the rest of the summer.  Looking forward to more adventures (but not those dreaded "dog days" of August)!

April 2014


As some of you theatregoers might know, 2014 has been dubbed "The Year of Lear," and I got to start mine off attending the opening night performance of Titan Theatre Company's production of King Lear back in April (which I had the pleasure of reviewing for OffOffOnline here).  'Twas my first opening night gala, and I was completely overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  Still, I had a great time watching the show.


I've been trying to (slowly) get back into sketching/drawing/painting, and recently invested in some watercolor supplies.  It's hard to throw yourself back into a skill you've somewhat abandoned for so long -- in my case, nearly a decade!  The rendering above is of Jun Ji-Hyun in the popular Korean romantic comedy, My Sassy Girl, which remains one of my favorites.  

May 2014


As you might expect, May was the month of graduations -- in this case, my cousin Karen's (as well as her boyfriend David's).  Check out the cool cake her sister June baked for them, in honor of their respective majors/minors!  June happens to not only be a master baker (bakestress?) but also the founder of The Orange Apron Cakery!  If you'd like a cool cake of your own, no matter the occasion, I highly recommend clicking that link ;)


I suppose May also happened to be the Month of Desserts.  As a sort of post-grad celebration, Karen, David and I went out for some crepes at Crepe 'N' Tearia, a neighborhood creperie Karen and I frequent -- and the above picture is why.  How we had never tried a S'More's crepe before that night, I'll never know.  Gives a whole new meaning to the saying, You're killin' me, Smalls!


Memorial Day weekend was actually uneventful in that there were no BBQ plans happening anywhere, so I made do with a day out in the city, reading a copy of the Hayden Herrera biography of Frida Kahlo I'd borrowed from the library in cafes and taking in a screening of the film Belle (which was all right, storywise; the costumes were beautiful, as expected).  At the theater, I found this bizarre, larger-than-life mural of baby Brooke Shields and just had to snap a photo of it, it was so weird.  I guess someone liked Blue Lagoon a little too much...

June 2014


On the 25th, I got to see Lin-Manuel in yet another New York City Center Off-Center Encores! production (the first being Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along back in 2011), this time for Jonathan Larson's semi-autobiographical, formerly one-man show, Tick, Tick...Boom!  The production, which co-starred Manuel's former In the Heights leading lady Karen Olivo and Smash's Leslie Odom, Jr., explores life as Jon (played by Manuel) approaches 30 and questions his ambitions as an artist.  I absolutely loved this show, and loved the musical performances, particularly Olivo's mesmerizing rendition of "Come to Your Senses." (Just....ugh.  Beautiful!)

July 2014




For my family, it's not officially summer until we go to Atlantic City.  So on Independence Day weekend, as an early birthday treat for my uncle, a bunch of us went down to visit our relatives in Philly and shortly thereafter made our way towards AC, where we took in the sandcastle contest on the beach, visited the shops at the Pier (while also ogling the beautiful decor, as pictured above), and enjoyed chai lattes under the watchful gaze of the terracotta Roman figures that decorate the lobby at Caesar's Palace...  


...Whilst my cousin Jim and I strolled along the boardwalk, we decided to go into one of the t-shirt shops.  This one had a great selection of classic rock tees, and definitely brought me back to the good ol' days of high school when I had deemed myself a "rocker chick" (though I mostly listened to punk; these days, I'm all about the classic rock), haha.  There were so many choices to choose from, I was overwhelmed.  I was struggling between getting a Ramones shirt and a Velvet Underground one (which can be slightly seen next to the Metallica shirt in the photo above), and ended up opting for Velvet Underground (because...banana.  And Warhol.  And Lou Reed.  And...well, you get the picture).





Ah, July.  So many great things occur this month.  Not only the annual celebration of the birth of our nation (say that five times fast), but also........The New York Musical Theatre Festival!  I had the privilege of attending this year (my first time, ever!) in order to review two shows for OffOffOnline.  The festival, which runs over the course of the month (I showed up a little late to it -- the last week, as a matter of fact!), took place at three locations, one of which being the Pearl Theatre Company's performance space on 42nd Street.  I must say, I've never ventured over there, so it was interesting to discover so many cool cafes and diners in the area (such as Chez Josephine, and Kava cafe, the latter pictured above).  Definitely need to make a pit stop by Theatre Row more often!



And that brings us up to date!  I'll probably be doing these updates monthly or so, so stay tuned! :)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Personal Updates, #WhatImWatching, Spring Awakening, Those Damn Brits & Other #LifeQuestions



I know, I know.  I am well aware that I haven't posted anything since December, but trust me: this past winter has definitely been a busy one!  Besides writing for OffOffOnline, I also started a stint writing a column called Versions for the New Musical Theatre.com's Green Room blog, which has meant less attention to my own blog (it has also meant basically no social life, BUT LET'S NOT GO THERE SHALL WE), and even less sleep (see above).  All this, combined with a complete inability to schedule things so that they all don't fall on the same week and an inexplicable need to watch The Chew in my PJs while pigging out on chips, has left me feeling like a zombie from The Walking Dead (but, you know...minus a scruffy, rough-and-tumble Andrew Lincoln by my side as he tries to shoot me down like post-apocalyptic sheriffs are wont to do).

Anyway.  All parenthetical asides, er...aside, I -- like Bruce Willis in every '90s action movie -- am back with a vengeance!!!!!, so never you fear O dear followers o' mine.  To help quell your pangs of loneliness in these depths of the virtual ether, here are some things I've been excited about (and hope you are too)!


#ReSMASHing. #WhatImWatching.
So, like everything in my life as of late, I've been slowly catching up on things -- particularly, pop culture things, one of which includes the now-defunct NBC primetime musical drama SMASH.  Like many other musical theatre fanatics when its first season premiered, I had taken to Twitter to snark about the various references and inaccuracies the show made...and secretly loved every minute of it.  When the second season rolled around, I didn't get to watch it as much, and so now I've been revisiting the show (or as I call it, #reSMASHing #WhatImWatching).  

I have to say, being able to watch each episode back-to-back is much less jarring and therefore all the more enjoyable, especially when a musical sequence came on.  My favorite of the first season has got to be this one, and ever since my recent binge, I've been replaying it over and over, dreaming of one day reenacting the great choreography:




I'm still at the third episode of the second season, so I may just tweet out my thoughts on it in the coming weeks (yay Spring Break!).  If you don't follow me on Twitter, now's your chance.


The SPRING AWAKENING movie!  
According to BroadwayWorld.com, they are supposedly making headway on finalizing production for this year.  I would probably be more enthused if not for the fact that it is still being helmed by McG (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Terminator: Salvation, other things with colons in the title) and no cast has been announce as of yet.  


DanRad returns to Broadway...
Last night, Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan opened for its first preview, and it's gotten me all excited -- not just because McDonagh happens to be one of my favorite playwrights, but also because one of my favorite actors, Daniel Radcliffe is starring in it!  Ahhh.  BRB FANGIRLING OUT.

...And Baby Prince George finds a way to ruin my life.
I MEAN.  JUST LOOK AT HIM!


I CANNOT EVEN WITH ALL THAT CUTE.


Speaking of those damn Brits, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk did a bunch of concerts in London and it was AWESOME.
Whatever spurred my favorite composers to jet off to London, I don't know, but I'm glad they did.  It's refreshing to see completely different takes on some old favorites, like this rendition of "My Party Dress" by Julie Atherton that is COMPLETELY HILARIOUS:



This is perhaps one of the best performances of this song I've seen yet, rivaling only that of Jenni Barber's version (which I wrote about here).  Her performance throughout is so effortless, and I just love how erratic and energetic she made the character -- which, of course, is what makes it so funny.  I also love that, unlike many who've sung the song before her, she didn't opt to vocalize the "aria" bit towards the end, doing it in a more playful way instead.  So much fun.  

Another great performance is this version of "Freedom" by Lauren Samuels and Chloe Hart:



Something about Brits doing the dialogue here just somehow makes it sound...better, don't you think?  Or maybe that's just my anglomaniacal self talking?  Anyway, I love all the little cultural substitutions they put into the song, like "I'm on break" and "I want a kebab!"  Not something you'd notice if you weren't looking for it, but if you do, it just adds another dimension as a spectator and makes it enjoyable to watch, like knowing an inside joke.



I think anyone who's ever heard me fangirl over K-L songs would know how much I love "Run Away with Me."  I don't think I need to say much else here, except that Stuart Matthew Price definitely has a new fan in me; his voice is stunningly gorgeous.



Hope you enjoyed this lil' post, and hopefully there'll be more to come.  I've got some things hatching up, which means I'll be updating this more often! (which means NO sleep at all but at this point who cares anyway?)  ;)

-J