1000 Years of Baggage

I have lived in NY for almost two years now and one of my favorite theatre experiences of ALL TIME has to be the Beowulf Songplay.  They don’t exactly call it a musical, and I agree with the decision not too, but it still has singing and it it is still a foot stompin’, blood-n-guts, good time.

I originally watched this show on the lower east side about a year ago. It was a collaboration of theatre companies Banana Bag and Bodice and the Shotgun Players in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It is now about to play AGAIN at Joe’s Pub TONIGHT (Sept 2) and Saturday (Sept. 4).  If you are free, I’m in strong support of you checking it out.

What pushed this show ahead of everything else for me was the brilliant construction of its story.  When the Play first begins three academics enter the stage and take seats at a panel.  One is a frumpy male professor, one is a sort of new age Feminist, and one is a pantsuit-wearing hair tied back academic bitch (No other way to say it). They are giving a academic lecture on Beowulf brilliantly acted in a stuffy snore-fest manner. but with the help of some microphone feedback and a building drum part the story comes to life behind the panel.  Throughout the night the play jumps back and forth between the panel of storytellers and and the story itself, but the distinction slowly begins blurring.

The play is funny. One liners fly left and right and the mock wrestling ring in the center of the stage comically blends machismo then with a smackdown machismo now. The songs are simple, but include beautiful lyrics such as “this is my body, fight with my body.”

The play is also smart. The most brilliant aspect of the storytelling is that the academics eventually get dragged onstage. who do they play? the monsters.  The frumpy professor is the Grendel, the feminist is the Grendel’s Mother, and the pantsuit-wearing leader of the pack becomes the dragon.

I remember being blown away.  How perfect that academia becomes his enemies.  And in the end they actually kill him.  Maybe this is just a story about penises and swords. Maybe it’s was told only to entertain and to cause visceral reactions of fear and laughter. Maybe we are overstepping our boundaries trying to apply 20th century Freud or modern day philosophy to the heroes of 9th century Scandinavia.

There’s something very human and enjoyable in the shows rough edges. Try to check it out if you can and recommend similar works if you’ve seen them.  Here’s a quick video for the show.

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You’re in my Skin like a Rose Tattoo

Hey Everybody, Today I’m going to talk about an artist who I really like and ultimately ask a favor.

He’s one of those guitar artists with songs about wandering and living life and kind of letting what happens happen.  He obviously loves travel and experiencing different places because so much of his music is set in particular cities or places around the US.  That the last time I saw him in concert he actually arranged the song list as a road trip.     It was really cool to have the mid song banter drive you out of Oregon and up the pacific coast and into Alaska, or whatever.

Ellis Paul also had my favorite song of 2009.  He didn’t write it in 2009, but I discovered it in 2009.  The song is called Sweet Mistakes. First Verse and Chorus Below:

Pop the cork, grab a champagne glass,
Raise to the future, drink to the past,
Thank the Lord for the friends he cast
In the play he wrote for you.
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and Bless your sweet mistakes,
That crumble you down to your knees,
That brought you to this place,
That changed you by degrees,
When change was just what you needed.

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I love this song.  I’m such a sucker for anything with words like: Journey, Community, or Experience.  These are the things that always make me cry in movies. This song especially came in handy on my NY anniversary when I dove headlong into the what-have-I-done-I-moved-to-NY crisis.  I have yet to see these shirts for sale in Times Sq, however.

Recently,  Ellis Paul released a new album (The Day After Everything Changed) and as a kick-off he hosted this online music video contest for people who are fans of his work.  We were to take a song from the new album and film a music video for it.  I have done this. SO… the favor I’m going to ask is for you to watch my video! think of it as a journey.

I don’t think that “views” on youtube is the basis for winning, but it’s got to influence who he picks ultimately, AND there’s this other schmuck with 500  views when I only have 212 so it would be nice to get that number up.  The prize is tickets to the next show and some cash… so I’m invested.  thanks everyone. I won’t do this very often.

The song is called Rose Tattoo– and I’m pleased with how it turned out. The idea was that everyone has had that afternoon where you just wander around a bookstore for a few hours. Let me know what you think. 🙂

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Axis of Awesome

For my recent birthday a group of friends teamed up and bought me joy in a box, otherwise called a keyboard. I was ecstatic, but when I sat down to play, MAN was I rusty. I have gone too many years in college and New York City with my old keyboard resting at my parents house far far away. So I’ve been brushing up.

The new addition also means friend Robert and I have no excuse NOT to begin writing our musical.  However, until we all have the skills needed to really move forward with that we have entertained ourselves by playing a lot of Green Day and other bands that have simple, repeating chord progressions.

On that topic, I had a good laugh this week when my friend Syche of the Cameraphone Diaries sent this video my way. These guys are called the Axis of Awesome and they are a musical comedy trio out of  Australia.  In the video they play an oddly hysterical piece called “4 Chord Song”-  it’s GREAT. To pass on Syche’s viewing advice to me: “If you haven’t seen this before, watch it all the way through, it’s worth the 5 1/2 minutes of your life.”

Kerry Ellis IS Wicked.

There is this woman.  Her name is Kerry. She sings the shit out of Defying Gravity.

Once upon a time my good friend Kaitlin and I spent about 7 minutes watching this video comparing every woman who has ever played Eponine in Le Mizerables. The entire video consisted of more than 20 different girls singing the climactic 10 words:” A world that’s full of happiness that  I have never known!”  Over and Over. and while it felt a little funny it was hard to take your eyes off of the subtitled names as the girls repeatedly belted away.

Recently I was able to relocate this video, which led me to look up other Broadway comparisons on youtube. Naturally, there are videos that do this for the show Wicked. And Naturally it’s the song Defying Gravity.  Now  I had heard Kerry Ellis sing this song before because friend Robert, of the Broadway Research League (here after referred to as BRL), had been intensely studying the song for the entire month of march 2010.  Thing is  that was a studio recording and with all of today’s tech stuff I can hardly tell if someone is AS increadible as the recording sounds.

So I’m watching this video comparing all of the different Elphabas when Kerry Ellis comes blaring through youtube. MAN. she sure is salty.

I am always entertained by how they each choose different places to riff and snarl.  It’s like any time anyone sings the song they have to mark it with their special sequence of added vocal gymnastics. It’s getting to the point where I can distinguish them immediately simply because one sings: ooo-oh ah oh OOOO vs. OOO ah  ah OOO  OOOO and so on.

Once I’ve established that Ms. Ellis is my favorite I do one quick search for her name and the song title and up comes this video.  She’s performing a version of the song from her album Wicked, In Rock live at the Royal Variety Performance 2008.  Even if Wicked is old news to those of you reading, I think this rock-concert version merits attention. If you are short on time… do yourself a favor… it gets ridiculous at 2:08. :0)

Birthday Blog: My 2/5 Hwangap

So today is my birthday.  I tend to forget that it’s coming until the week before.  This year, however, I have decided to be more excited than I traditionally am. This year I am building toward my Hwangap. What could that mean? I will explain:

Samuel French has recently published a play called American Hwangap, a story of a Korean family celebrating the 60th birthday of their patriach. Wikipedia tells us that “A Hwangap is a Korean traditional way of celebrating one’s 60th birthday. The number 60 means accomplishing one big circle in one’s life. This circle is five complete cycles of the 12 year Chinese Zodiac.”

I kind of liked the idea of having another “cool” birthday to look forward to now that I have passed 21.  The more I thought about Hwangaps and what they stand for the more I annoyed my close friends by telling them repeatedly that “the problem with America is that we value youth and not age or skill or wisdom and that makes it hard to be excited about your birthdays when you are  just getting older and thats it!”

So, I made a few resolutions to celebrate age and wisdom, and I’m actually going to apply that to myself.  This past year was not stagnant. I was astonished how much you grow from just one insignificant birthday to another. I learned a ton about growing-up, relationships, adulthood, and mashups.

I LOVE mashups. In fact,  if you were to ask me what I wanted for my birthday, after fridge magnets and unmatched bookends I would say that I want to be made into a mash-up DJ.  … if you’re listening, MTV….

I’ve been systematically signing up for 10 day trials of every music editor that I can find online.  I have a great time playing around and even had partial success making a club remix out of Bette Midler’s The Rose. I expect my birthday treat to myself will be some snazzy sound software and business cards for the newly born DJ RedScare.

For now I think I will finish this post with a music clip of one of the muscial highlights of my year. This crazy mashup comes from the Best of Bootie 2009 Album. Club Bootie in San Francisco specializes in mash-ups and has countless mashups available for download at bootiemashup.com. It features Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Ozzy Osbourne and Daft Punk all at once, titled: My Life on Crazy Train Sucks (So What?!).  In one word: Inspired.

Breaking the Rule of Three, Part 3: Divas

One last aspect of the rule of three (before I can move on and do a post about sex already!) is that often times characters in stories come in 3’s. This can be bears, mice, stooges, pigs, fates, fairies, angels, goats gruff, sisters, wizard kids, tenors, kings etc.  The idea being that and trios are inherently funnier, cooler or more sexy (in the case of the goats gruff).

It is also possible to have a trio of divas. I know what your thinking, aren’t those crazy divas meant to just to stand ahead of the pack a screlt out powerful solos? Well it turns out that over the years Broadway thinkers and makers have gotten smarter and smarter about combining the powerful known types of Diva into super molecules of fabulous. These creations keep getting more and more complex. The brief history can be summed up in my good friend Robert Coverdell’s Theory of Diva Evolution:

In the beginning, shows had only one Diva (this was before the technology existed to have sassy women share stages).  This is the Ethel Merman type.  She would blare out a brassy number and kick and swear if someone even mentioned the spotlight leaving her. Gypsy is a great example of a show that is constructed around one major diva character. Streisand characters often play for all the marbles as well.

The second stage of the Evolution is a  Divas dueting. I’m talking about heart stopping numbers in pieces like Sideshow, Chess and Wicked.

And then lastly, in accordance with the rule of 3: shows with 3 Divas.  Big mentions here being Witches of Eastwick, Dreamgirls, and recently, 9 to 5.  Now, these are fantastic shows.  9 to 5 is my jam, BUT will we let the rule of 3 stop us there?! I know it seems impossible but there must be a way to break this barrier and bring well-constructed 4 Diva shows into existence.

I should pause here to give mention to Ira Gasman and Cy Colema’s The Life. This romp featured a half-dozen slutacular women of the night screaming proudly.  It was a wonder, but far too unstable to replicate.

SO I sat down with research partner Robert and we tasked ourselves with breaking the rule of three and reaching for just one viable show that can support the 4 Diva compound.  After about 30 laborious minutes we have done it.  Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: The Musical.

Just think of it! four chicks, different things going on, different personalities, a well balanced cast provided by Ms. Ann Brashares. Robert and I are going to start working on the score pretty soon now, but we are already accepting applications from interested Divas who want to be part of history (Sutton Foster, you can have the weird character, or the one that goes to Greece!).  I even have some of the lyrics coming along:

Our love won’t unravel,
’cause our pants travel!
we’re a good good good
Sisterhood!

well… There’s some more R&D to happen here.  But I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Sondheim and False Opposites

On the way to the gym last night The Boy and I were forced to walk past the Walter Kerr Theater on 48th.  Passing in front of the theater we were suddenly surrounded by a jovial mob, bubbling with excitement to see 2 legends of the theatah (Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch) step into the leading roles of A Little Night Music.  In the general frenzy we were forced up against a wall next to a merch seller while the sea of people swarmed around us. The Boy and I spent a few seconds telling each other how we wished we were seeing this until I decided to ask if there was standing room… and there was.

We hurried home to change (into some fancier wife-beaters), then ran back to the theater and positioned our sweaty selves at the back of the orchestra.

The show is great- although long to stand through- and at the end the full company lead by both Peters and Stritch received minutes worth of applause and cat calls. Ten feet to my right Stephen Sondheim stood and clapped proudly.  It was a pretty good moment. I looked from Sondheim, to the bowing cast, to the audience and back to Sondheim.  In my ear the boyfriend whispers: “he’s just so amazing.”

I am always trying to articulate what it is that Sondheim does right.  And while an entire blog could be dedicated to picking apart his lyrics and music… I don’t have that kind of time.  However,  last night while pondering Madame Armfeldt’s lyric “a pleasurable means to a measurable end” I was able to isolate one thing that he uses that always moves me.  I’m going to call it false-opposites.

Sondheim is really good at setting up lines that parallel each other except for 1 important word that changes. Often times it feels like these words have contrasting meanings because they are set up opposites, but really their literal definitions do not intersect.

Example time. Consider this lyric from the song Being Alive from Company: “alone is alone, not alive.”

Sondheim has set up Alone and Alive as opposites, when really they aren’t mutually exclusive by definition. But by choosing these words to contrast each other he makes the strong statment that you aren’t living if you are all alone. He also does it with 6 words.

Another example of this comes from Into The Woods: “Children can only grow from something you love to something you lose.”  Love and Hate are opposites. Lost and Found are opposites.  In the middle of the thought he changes from a statement of attraction to a statement of possession.

I love things like this. And of course the false opposites are all alliterative. Everything is just… spot on.