Sunday, April 13, 2014

Personal Updates, #reSMASHing, 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 website'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. 
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).  

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



Friday, December 13, 2013

♥ Stage Review: ONCE on Broadway

Arthur Darvill and Joanna Christie play Guy and Girl in Broadway's Once.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Once, Again
Falling slowly
the second time around

I first had the pleasure of seeing Once almost exactly a year ago, on my birthday.  I was accompanied then by my mother, who – bless her – doesn't not go to the theatre often and therefore did not understand the practically earth-shattering repercussions of crinkling candy wrappers in a packed theatre.  That said, all was forgiven by the time the show ended and she proceeded to fangirl over then-lead actor Steve Kazee, exclaiming (this is all the more accurate if you imagine it being said with a slightly-tinged Filipino accent and in a manner not unlike that of a teenage girl at a One Direction concert): “Oh my god, Jess!  The lead actor is so cute, just like Ben Affleck!!1!1!”

If such an exclamation sounds familiar, well…what can I say?  Like mother, like daughter.

In any case, in the midst of such excitement I, for some reason or other, decided not to review the show – partly because I was distracted by my mother’s presence, and partly due to the fact that it was, of course, my birthday.  And now with my birthday once again looming around the corner and Arthur Darvill leaving that very same day, I thought it was time to finally review and reflect on the show.

For the uninitiated, Once began as an independent film directed by John Carney in 2007 and which starred then relatively unknown musicians Glen Hansard (of the band The Frames) and Marketa Irglova.  The movie, about an Irish busker who meets and falls in love with a Czech girl through their love of music, also happened to chronicle the real-life romance that bloomed between the two musicians over the course of filming.  (The two, who performed together under the name The Swell Season, have since parted romantically and pursued solo careers.)  The film’s unofficial “theme” song, ‘Falling Slowly,’ went on to be nominated for and eventually win the Oscar for Best Original Song.  The film then began to undergo treatment as a stage musical, with a book written by playwright Enda Walsh.  It was produced off-Broadway at famed downtown institution New York Theatre Workshop in 2011, eventually transferring to Broadway in 2012, where it currently runs at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Those that know me also know that in addition to being a theatre nerd, I also happen to be a rabid (and I mean rabid) anglophile, and though I can’t fully claim to be a “proper” Whovian, I can at least attest to being an enthusiastic fan of the iconic British sci-fi series, Doctor Who.  Fresh off his stint as Rory Williams Pond on Who, Darvill is a more than capable replacement for Kazee’s Guy in Once.  Way, way more than capable.  In fact, he is a surprisingly commanding leading man and a heartbreaking performer, at that.  As Guy, one could not help but believe his pain as he breaks into the first notes of ‘Leave.’ 

Much more raw and gruff-sounding than his predecessor’s beautiful yet more refined voice, Darvill’s vocal stylings seem to truly capture the essence of what songwriter Hansard intended.  Just as it was easy to believe Darvill as a ‘Broken-Hearted Hoover-Fixer Sucker Guy,’ it was easy to see him ‘Falling Slowly’ for a pretty, piano-playing Czech Girl.  (Yes, that was a cheesy attempt to include the song titles, but just go with it.)  Darvill was at once charming and awkward, and in his scenes with Joanna Christie as Girl, a simple stare or look in his eye seemed to fill the theatre with just as much emotion as when he sang. 

For her part, Ms. Christie made for a soft-spoken Girl than Cristin Milioti’s, whose acclaimed performance had often been punctuated with her own sarcastic wit.  Much of Christie’s delivery were not as sharp as Milioti’s; and while still managing laughs from the audience, she also had some moments where I could barely hear her.  Perhaps this was due to a sound problem, as pieces of dialogue throughout the show could not be heard as clearly – or at least, as clearly as I remembered it. 

This is, however, live theatre after all and despite whatever technical difficulties there may have been were surely made up for whenever Christie took to the piano to sing, by which time her voice could definitely be heard.  And what a voice it was!  Where the two Guys had gone from refined beauty to edgy rawness, here it was the opposite.  While Milioti’s voice did not necessarily carry a rawness, it was more ethereal and otherworldly – as if it couldn’t possibly be coming out of that tiny body.  Christie's Girl sang with more restraint and therefore less dynamic compared to Milioti, and felt more in tune with the Girl we'd met through Irglova's protrayal in the film.  

As for the rest of the cast, I was pleased to see that most of the original ensemble stayed intact (with the exception of: Paul Whitty, who was out this performance and replaced by Brandon Ellis in the role of Billy; and Elizabeth A. Davis, who is now replaced by Katrina Lenk as Reza): most particularly David Patrick Kelly, who always leaves me breathless with his pre-show performances; and Anne L. Nathan as the hilarious Baruska.  Lucas Papaelias as Svec is as funny and odd as ever; while Carlos Valdes, Erikka Walsh and J. Michael Zygo round out the cast with equally scene-stealing performances.

One cannot talk about Once without mentioning the music, of course.  While much of the music kept favorites from the film (such as the above mentioned and others like 'When Your Mind's Made Up'), I lamented the absence of other songs like 'Lies,' and 'All the Way Down.'  Still, this was more than made up for with the inclusion of newer pieces that highlighted the folk background of each culture: the rousing Czech number, 'Ej Pada Pada Rosicka' and show-opener 'The North Strand.'  I also loved that 'Gold' -- which was featured briefly in the film and one of the only songs not written by Hansard and Irglova -- had a bigger "role" in the stage version.  Other additions such as 'The Moon' and 'Sleeping' performed by the ensemble during scene transitions provided a quiet and moody backdrop to the love story unfolding before us.

If music was the third character in this show, the lighting and choreography were certainly the supporting cast.  One of my favorite moments of the show is something that most people probably would not necessarily notice as it was happening; that is, the first lighting cue at the start of the show, just as Guy starts singing 'Leave.'  I liken it to a similar cue in Spring Awakening, in which the lights very subtly dim during the opening number.  Here, it's very much the same way, with an unbeknownst audience listening to the song being performed before them, the lights dimming as Guy's guitar strums away.  It may not seem like a major thing, but with a show like this wherein the cast is onstage already singing before the show even starts, the effect is such that it's as if the show is letting you know you're in for an emotional ride. (As a former stage managing intern, I can talk forever about lighting cues, and probably would go on forever if not for this review.)  That said, kudos to lighting designer Natasha Katz, thrills throughout the rest of the show, and movement coordinator Stephen Hoggett, whose choreography perfectly accompanied the show's soulful score.  Together, the two devices acted much like a thoughtful friend nudging you towards your crush, it helped bring together the elements needed for Guy and Girl's journey.

Despite any distractions I'd had the first time, I still managed to fall in love with the show.  This time 'round, it wasn't that hard to fall in love once again.  


Arthur Darvill's last performance is on December 15th, 2013.
Once is on an open-ended run
at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
For more information about this production,



Friday, September 27, 2013

♥ Stage Review: Cryptic Fascinations Theater Company's BLASTED

From L to R: Logan George, Jason De Beer, and Marié Botha.
(Photos by  Corey Melton.)

A History of Violence
Cryptic Fascinations Theater Company takes on 
Sarah Kane's explosive play
____

The scene is simple: a hotel room in Leeds -- the kind, as it is written, that is so expensive it could be anywhere in the world.

So sets the stage for the most powerful two hours you’ll ever spend in the theater.

Set against the tumult of an apocalyptic England, Blasted is a daring work by infamous British playwright Sarah Kane, which explores how a single act of violence over the course of one night can have quite literally earth-shattering repercussions.  Written in 1995 at the tail end of the Bosnian war, the play sought to challenge the desensitization to which our culture often submits in the face of violence.   Using the Bosnian conflict as a starting point, Kane toyed with the premise that the brutalities of civil war were not unlike those experienced in, say, a small hotel room in Leeds. 

This astounding debut put Kane on the forefront of public debate, as it was met with much criticism and shrugged off as just another example of a young dramatist desperate to shock.  Much of that criticism seemed to be forgotten by the time it made its way across the pond for its NYC premiere in 2008.  Now, 18 years after making its debut at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London, Kane’s play still resonates as our nation is on the cusp of possibly entering yet another war. 

At the play’s start we find 45 year-old Ian and his 21 year-old ex-lover Cate at the hotel, looking to spend the night.  In just the first few scenes, we already get a sense of the themes Kane intends to dissect over the course of the play as Cate and Ian discuss everything from love to death to even racism.  Of course, it is the theme of violence that dominates; particularly, in the parallels between war itself and the atrocities the characters inflict upon one another. 

The first act of violence happens after the first blackout and we learn that Ian, after many attempts to coax her into bed in the previous scene, has finally had his way and raped Cate.  As she awakes to find herself wrapped in blood-stained sheets, a war starts to rage – both outside the hotel and within the enclosed space to which we are privy.   Silently resolving to take her leave, Cate feigns going to the bathroom to shower and eventually escapes, leaving Ian alone.   Just moments later, an unnamed soldier eventually finds his way into their room and encounters Ian.  After the hotel is then blasted by a mortar bomb.  The soldier interrogates Ian further, their exchange foreshadowing the brutality that’s to come.  

It was interesting for me to revisit this particular piece of work after 5 years, especially when the previous production had been so ingrained in my memory.  It was the first time I have ever had to do so, and it felt much like diving back into a favorite book and getting something out of it that you hadn’t the first time around.  Every few minutes during the performance, I kept wondering to myself how they would do certain scenes and it was exciting to see the choices that were ultimately made. 

Under Will Detlefesen’s direction, the 2013 production by the Cryptic Fascinations Theater Company achieves in continuing Kane's legacy.  The company was formed by actors Marié Botha and Jason de Beer (who play Cate and Ian, respectively) after the two, who also happen to be a couple, had performed a scene together on a whim and decided to make a full production of the play.  The production itself, which was held at the Duo Theater on the Fourth Arts Block, was an ambitious one.  With a sleek set design by Jason Sherwood and beautiful simplistic costumes by Olivia Hunt, it was clear that though this was a mostly student-run show, it was one to be taken seriously.  The real standout design-wise was Marika Kent's gorgeous lighting (readers may remember her involvment in Fighter), which provided the perfect tone for the bleak landscape of the play, especially in the last few moments in the fragmented scenes depicting Ian's demise.

The trio of actors is somewhat younger this time around, which might not mean much, but I noticed a distinct difference in the way the material was brought forth onstage.  Before this, I would have probably told you that that Marin Ireland of the 2008 production was my definitive Cate.  Ireland (who went on to receive a Tony nomination for her turn in Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty a year later) certainly gave a memorable performance as the stuttering 21 year-old and the idea of seeing someone else in the role made me a bit nervous, actually.  This was a character that could easily become comical, and not in a good way.   

Upon seeing Botha in the role, however, I will be quick to tell you otherwise.  With her doll-like features and mussed up wavy hair, Botha just looked the part.  Botha is able to make the character her own through her portrayal, delivering her lines in such a way that gave certain moments a bit of comic relief (and yes, in the best sense of the word).  She also possesses great stage presence; subtle yet commanding it is the perfect complement to de Beer's boisterous Ian.  Whether pulling faces at his retching noises or arguing with him, Botha remains steadfast and ever-present, and for me, this completely carried the whole play.

The calm foundation that Botha laid was the perfect complement to de Beer's Ian.  Compared to Birney as the Welshman, de Beer's incarnation was much more physical in terms of characterization, with him spitting, hitting and pounding the floor every chance he got.  Like Botha, his portrayal brought out certain things in the text I hadn't realized or thought of back in 2008, and it helped in further understanding his character and the journey he takes to redemption. 

Logan George rounds out the cast with a strong performance as the Soldier.  To me, this character is so iconic, as he enacts some of the most gruesome scenes which serve as a turning point in both the play and in the character Ian's arc.  After the disillusioned soldier recounts his horrific experiences in war, he goes on to rape Ian.  Later on, after the hotel is blasted for the second time, the Soldier gouges Ian's eyes and eats them.  As before, I felt like a voyeur watching these intimate scenes, especially due to their graphic nature.  There were moments when it seemed as if he was rushing through his lines, especially when his character was recounting war stories.  Still, there was a sense of both desperation and hopelessness that came through in George's Soldier which made these scenes just as effective.

Some of the best works of the stage are those which put a mirror up to society and challenge us to think.  This stellar production of Blasted is proof of just that.  What starts in a small hotel room is amplified by the circumstance of war, culminating in the decay of civilization.  Sarah Kane's commentary on our culture of violence dares us to endure that which we inflict upon others as well as ourselves.  It is a vital piece of theatre by an inspired group of artists and is one production you shouldn't miss.


Blasted runs until September 28th, 2013
at the Duo Theater.
For more information about this production, click here.
Read my review of the 2008 Soho Rep production here


Saturday, September 7, 2013

♥ Falling in Link Love...& Other Apple-Scented, Cinnamon-Topped Baked Goodness

Photo by Crystal Rivera

Hey guys!

Happy Fall!  As the air becomes crisper with the changing of the seasons, so I come back once again to kick off another year of great theater, film and art!  A lot of things are changing around these parts, actually -- and I'm not just talking about the leaves, either.  For one, I've been juggling a teaching assistant gig with a new writing gig at Off Off Online, both of which I'm really excited about!

So what does this mean for The Resident Artist?  Well, it just means I'll be splitting myself three ways, but that's okay because this means you'll be seeing me making the rounds more often!  Who knows, maybe I'll end up being the awkward Asian girl sitting in the seat next to you.

...Or maybe not.

Until then, my lovelies, you'll just have to settle with reading my reviews and other rants here -- and now over at Off Off!  As excited as I've always been for Fall, I'm even more so now.

Some Links For You to Love 'Cause That's What I Always Seem to Do Here Nowadays, Anyway:
  • Let's start off with my reviews, the first of which Xoregos Performing Company's Danse Macabre, a tribute to the "Grand Guignol" style of horror theater.  The second covers Leslie Gauthier's 23 Year Old Myth, a musical play about a girl dealing with the trials of love and illness, all told through the plucking strings of a ukelele.  The third was Liselotte in May, a play by Hungarian playwright Zsolt Pozsgai and produced by an all-Hungarian troupe known as the Pilvax Players.  All shows were presented as part of Theater for the New City's Dream Up Festival 2013, the aim of which is to showcase new works by local, national and international theater artists in varying genres and mediums.  The festival ran from August 18th to September 8th.
  • Missed Danse Macabre and about to have a crying fit over it?  Don't worry, XPC are having more performances around NYC this October, with some new skits!  Here, the deets:
Saturday, October 19 at 3:00 PM - Jackson Heights Library, Queens  
Sunday, October 20 at 3:30 PMCentral Library, Queens 
Tuesday, October 22 at 5:30 PM - Muhlenberg Library, Manhattan (23 Street/7 Ave)  
Thursday, October 24 at 8:00 PMWebster House, Manhattan  (West 34 Street, by invitation only) 
Saturday, October 26 at 1:30 PM Flushing Library Theater, Queens (last stop on the 7) 
Sunday, October 27 at 7:00 PM Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx (165 & Grand Concourse)     
  • Also missed Second Stage's production of The Last Five Years?  Don't fret, dear reader, 'cause Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor are back as Cathy and Jamie in a special concert presentation at 54 Below that will run from October 16-19!  The concert series is in celebration of the production's cast recording album release, which will be available September 24.  You can read my review of this production here.
  • Time Out New York gives a preview of the must-see shows this fall, on Broadway and Off.  Check it out here.
  • A friend of mine recently posted this 4-part episode of The Song That Changed My Life featuring none other than Lea Salonga.  In response to the show's title, the Broadway performer and two-time Disney Princess chronicles her catapult to fame from the moment she auditioned for Miss Saigon with the Schonberg and Boublil hit, "On My Own" to actually getting to sing it as Eponine in their musical Les Miserables.  What results is some inspiring interviews -- and great performances, as well -- with Salonga as she looks back at her astounding career.
  • And speaking of Les Miz -- are you excited that it's coming back to Broadway in March?!  'Cause I am.

Hopefully this keeps you entertained while I'm off being awkward awesome.  Have a great day and jump into a huge pile of leaves for me!



j.



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

♥ Quote of the Moment: David Mamet on Criticism

So, I was looking through some old stuff from school, when I came upon a printout of an excerpt from David Mamet's A Whore's Profession.  I don't even remember which class this was for -- most likely an acting class I'd taken some time during my last year.  The excerpt had some of Mamet's thoughts on acting, which are quite interesting, but what really caught my eye was a section I hadn't noticed before, of his address to the American Theater Critics Convention.  Having never been a big Mamet fan myself, I was surprised at how much I agreed with some of his points.

If you've read this blog from the beginning, you'll know that I've struggled in the past with not just maintaining a steady stream of output in terms of work, but also struggled with figuring out my place in the theater.  I've always loved to write, and having this blog made me realize how much I also loved to write about theater.  But I also grew up as a performer, and I've come to miss that, too.  As I've grown older, I've come to realize that it doesn't have to be either-or; that doing all of it and not just one aspect can only help better inform me, as a writer and as a performer.

And that's another thing -- learning.  As someone who didn't study theater as their major, who didn't go to an arts school or conservatory program, I've always felt an eager hunger to learn more, and even as a recent graduate, have found myself still learning.  Which is why, I guess, coming across Mamet's words the other day struck a chord in me.  There's so much I still have yet to learn about the theater, and that's what excites me about this particular 'calling,' so to speak -- the work is never done, even as the curtains close.  It's such a rich and layered art form, and I'm constantly reminding myself that it is for these very reasons I decided, 6 years ago, to call this community my home.

With that in mind, here are Mamet's words, for those like me still figuring out their place in the theater:
 If you do not learn your craft, the Theater, and its moral and practical precepts, if you do not make this your constant study, if you do not learn to judge yourselves against a standard of artistic perfection and amend your works day to day in light of that standard, you must be unhappy. 
Just as with the performer, if you trust outside plaudits and support for your own work, you are being controlled.  Your life is not your own.  Just as is evidenced in that sick moment when you have a deadline to make and not a thing in the world to say, and you think not what must I say about that piece, but what would be acceptable, or witty, or nouveau.  
Many of you, as with performers, treat the theater as your personal beat -- your personal amusement and nothing greater than a shooting mark which will enable you to display your expertise.
 My question to you is this:  Would you not be happier as part of the theater?   
If your answer (and it may be hidden in your secret heart) is yes, then treat the theater with love.  We, as members of the community, have the right to demand this of an actor, or director, or writer, or designer, and we have the right to demand it of a critic, for, barring this, the critic in question is not of the theater, but is an exploiter, no matter what title he or she goes by. 
Treat the theater with love and devotion sufficient to learn some of its rudimentary fiats.
 Learn your craft and be part of the theater, for, while you are learning and striving to write better and to write more informedly and to write more in light of a standard of artistic perfection, you are as much a part of the theater as anyone else in it -- now or in antiquity; and while you are not striving to improve and to write informedly and morally and to a purpose, you are a hack and a plaything of your advertisers.
Study acting; it is a fascinating study.  If you are uneducated in its techniques, you are incapable of distinguishing good from bad -- unless you are prepared to fall back on that old saw, 'I know what I like,' or, 'I write for the popular taste of my subscribers,' which is to say, 'for a hypothetical person dumber than I am'; and if that is what you are doing, you are in serious trouble and insulting yourself and the people who read your publication. 
And I say to you: write for yourself, and be and artist. 
Study theater history.  Teach yourself some perspective, so that you are not at the mercy of the current fad, which is another levy of 'I know what I like.'
 Study voice and movement -- learn the difference between the beautiful and the attractive. 
Learn to analyze a script the way a director should and almost none can. 
Make yourself the expert, and let us lay to rest the critic as weather vane and reporter to the public taste, which is  only a fiction in the minds of knaves.
Study the theater.  Your friends will tell you you are making yourself foolish -- that you are wasting your time and no one will appreciate the finer points in any case.  And this is exactly what bad actors say to devoted actors. 
Love the theater and learn about it and strive to improve it and create a new profession for yourselves.  The profession of the 'theater critic' is debauched, but you don't have to be debauched. 
Train yourself for a profession that does not exist.  That is the mark of an artist -- to create something which formerly existed only in his or her heart.


Monday, May 27, 2013

♥ Link Love: The "Spring-Bling-Blang-Bang-Into-Summer" Edition


Isla Fisher poses for GOTHAM Magazine.
(photo by Art Streiber)

  • Everyone's favorite online publication for teens, Rookie Mag (run by fashion plate Tavi Gevinson, in case you didn't already know) interviews Emma Watson about her role in Sofia Coppola's latest effort, the highly-anticipated The Bling Ring.  On auditioning for her character, which is based on Petty-Criminal-Turned-Reality-Star Alexis Neiers, she tells Rookie:  "I went out and bought hoop earrings and this crazy hat like the one Alexis wears when she goes to see her lawyer, and I put on tons of bronzer and a fake tan—I just went full-out, and had the best time doing it. ’Cause it’s really the first time I’ve had to play someone who’s a real character, someone just so different from me." (via ROOKIE)
  • Actress Kirsten Dunst interviews Bachelorette co-star Isla Fisher about her role as Tom Buchanan's mistress Myrtle Wilson in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.  After reading, you might want to take a look at the photo shoot slideshow, which features a gorgeous Fisher in exquisite gowns worthy of a 1920s starlet.
  • Did y'all catch the series finale (sob!) of Smash last night?!  The musical drama ended on a, well, high note (sorry, had to say it) with a double whammy of episodes titled, respectively, "The Nominations" and "The Tonys."  Watch and sing along here.
  • And speaking of the Tonys, here's where you can print out a ballot for this year's nominees.  Make your predictions, cast your votes, and then watch the ceremony on June 9th!  May the best stage diva win.
  • Last but not least, I give you: the cast of Once performing their Czech pre-show set at 54 Below.  I was lucky enough to see this show on my birthday, and believe me when I say that it is worth it just to see this talented ensemble play live.  Their energy and chemistry onstage is so palpable that you feel it all the way to the back of the theater!  (via Once the Musical)

Happy Memorial Day, lovelies!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

♥ On 'Pointe': Why Amy Sherman-Palladino's BUNHEADS is Hitting All the Right Moves (& How SMASH & GLEE Can Take Their Cues From It)

The Bunheads cast (from left): Bailey Buntain, Kaitlyn Jenkins, Sutton Foster, Emma Dumont and Julia Goldani Telles.
(Photo: ABC Family/Andrew Eccles)
A few months ago, when news had broke of a Glee mishap concerning the recording of Jonathan Coulton's now infamous cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back," I had intended on writing an article about the musical comedy phenom and intellectual property (which I can still write if some of you are really that interested) but it soon digressed into what I suppose I really wanted to write about, which was the show itself and its failings.  Flash forward a few months later, 10 episodes in on a little show called Bunheads, and here we are.
It's a show which has garnered plenty of buzz, long before its debut, thanks to the fact that its star is none other than 2-time Tony winner* Sutton Foster.  Foster plays the smart and often sarcastic Michelle Simms, a former Broadway chorus dancer whose life now consists of parading in skimpy showgirl outfits in Vegas.  Miserable at the turn her life's taken, she decides on a whim to marry her longtime admirer, Hubbell Flowers.  As the show goes on, it seems to turn itself (and viewers' expectations) on its head as Michelle settles in Hubbell's hometown of Paradise, a sleepy town on the California coast.  Through a series of unfortunate and complicated events, Michelle finds herself co-owner -- along with mother-in-law Fanny (played by inimitable A Chorus Line alum Kelly Bishop) -- of Hubbell's entire property, which interestingly enough includes Fanny's dance studio.  Of course, all this leads to what the main focus of the show is: the four "bunheads" in question, Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles); Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins); Melanie (Emma Dumont) and Ginny (Bailey Buntain), and their relationship with their two superiors...and each other.
Yes, it all sounds like any other show you'd expect from the creator of cancelled WB-Later-CW staple Gilmore Girls -- but if you're thinking that, you're forgetting how great a show Gilmore Girls was.  Yes, it had a soundtrack by Sam Phillips that featured a lot of songs that went "la-la-la," but it was more than that: it had strong female characters, intelligent, whip-fast dialogue that could rival the likes of Aaron Sorkin, and a whole lotta heart.  In an age where we're "keeping up" with women who are famous for nothing on television, keeping up with the Gilmores and their ilk seems more and more these days like holding onto a relic of an innocent past long gone.   Until Bunheads, that is.  If there's anything that's missing from the current Teen Drama-scape, it's a show which highlights strong female-to-female relationships.  In the post-Mean GirlsPretty Little Liars world we live in, we need a show like Bunheads as a positive influence for future generations. 
 
So what does the Amy Sherman-Palladino-helmed dance dramedy have to do with Glee, Smash and shows like them?  Well, a lot, actually.  
Like those shows, Bunheads is also a show about the world of performing arts -- in this case,  the world of dance (I could just specifically say ballet, but as the season goes on, Marguerite Derricks' choreography takes on different styles).  The series showcases a group of dancers at an age where everything is, well, a turning point.  Take into account the heavily disciplined art form that is ballet, combined with the daily dread that is high school and you've got yourself a world full of trouble -- especially considering the fact that yes, these young characters also happen to be girls.  Girls who want to date, have a normal family and maybe be able to eat some junk food every now and then.  Life's tough enough when you're a girl, but when you're a teenage girl aspiring to be a prima ballerina?  It's even tougher.
Okay, so this all may sound like a bit of a stretch...but is it, really?
  
What makes this show unique from all the other shows is that it ignores all that extra stuff: y'know, the over-the-top, Let's-Record-A-Song-And-Put-It-On-iTunes numbers that they all seem to be doing these days.  And while I love musicals that do it big, it seems that when it's done on television it's the story seems to suffer under the brunt of its magnitude.  If what both Glee and the now-cancelled Smash lack is a sense of direction and focus, Bunheads seems to have it in spades.  It follows that Golden Rule of All Golden Rules when it comes to musical theater: have the song help move the story along, not overshadow it.  And while this show has no singing, it does have dancing -- a lot of it, actually.
Here, it is the dancing that becomes the true star of the show.  Forget the rapid-fire dialogue, the twinkly guitar-strumming soundtrack and even the Tony-winning star; at the end of the day, when life hits you hard (as it does to the four girls throughout the season), the only place you can truly go back to and call home is the barre.  Bunheads reminds me of a time when all that mattered was getting that one step just right, practicing until you finally made that turn all on your own.  It's a perfect metaphor for a time in your life when things aren't so easy. 
 
As a former jazz dancer who quit just before high school, this was the thought that struck me as the character Sasha, after having just found out about her parents' divorce, dances fiercely to a song by They Might Be Giants at the end of  Episode 6.  It was that episode that made me realize that this show has a lot to offer, and still does.  
So, to the Powers-That-Be: please don't cancel Bunheads.  It still has a lot more to give.