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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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Entries in musicals (257)


Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

When Colleen Donaghy died on 30 Rock in the episode "My Whole Life is Thunder" I tried to think of it as tragicomic rehearsal. A chance to acknowledge that death was coming for the beloved theater great but to laugh at it or at least about its absurd finality.

Elaine Stritch herself wouldn't have approved of my wussiness. She might've said something like "it's me who's dying, not you!" (albeit in a much funnier manner) because she had a tart tongue and was quite a truth teller. In the documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (reviewed) released early this year she references her impending death more than a little as she prepares to move back home (Detroit) and retire finally, in her late eighties, for good.

But even this documentary didn't quite convince me that she was leaving us.

I saw Elaine Stritch’s famous one woman Broadway show “At Liberty” in early 2002 a couple of years after moving to New York. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was nothing short of spiritual ecstasy but then showbiz is my religion and actresses are my only gods. 

 I had mythologized her, you can see in that excerpt of that intro to my review of that documentary. How could Death conquer such a life force?

It wasn't until after the special screening here in NYC that Stritch (or as I like to call her "Stritchieeeeeeeee!" imitating her imitation of an angry director in At Liberty) was wheeled out to greet us that it finally sunk in. She looked undeniably more like a feeble old woman than the  giant of the theater in white shirt and black tights that I was accustomed to looking up at with awe.

The last time I'd seen Stritchieeee in the flesh before that she was also in a wheelchair. It was late 2010 when she took over for Angela Lansbury in the Broadway Revival of "A Little Night Music." She sings her big number "Liaisons" from a wheelchair. But that was just acting. More rehearsal.

When Elaine set out to do something she worked her ass off until she did it right. 

So here's to the girls on the go--
Everybody tries.
Look into their eyes,
And you'll see what they know:
Everybody dies.
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch--
Everybody rise!
Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!

And this Tony and Emmy winning legend did it right. A final round of thunderous applause please because this time there's no more encores. 


Let's Stop Pretending We Don't Have The Talent Base For Great Movie Musicals

Over at IndieWire Max O'Connell writes an impassioned essay about the terrible direction that keeps sinking movie musicals. While I do not agree that Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys is the best-directed musical of the past 10 years (yikes!) the case is stronger than I was expecting that that is at least debatable.

Why does Hollywood have such a hard time making musicals?

Many of the essay's points are memorize / share worthy. I merely wish that Max didn't succumb to the tired notion that there simply aren't enough charismatic stars with musical theater chops for the genre to really be alive again. This notion is brought up nearly every time people talk about the state of the film musical (or when they're casting and have to defend strange choices) but it's just patently false. 

Here's that bit of the otherwise stellar article:

Maybe there aren't enough modern equivalents to Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers or Judy Garland has made it difficult to churn out great musicals on a regular basis.

That last bit might have a lot to do with it: Few movie stars have the song-and-dance skills required to knock a musical out of the park, and not all musical theater performers have the charisma required for the camera. That leaves a lot of directors to choose between Russell Crowe and Pierce Brosnan warbling their way through well-known songs or John Lloyd Young, the original star of "Jersey Boys," who reprised his role in Eastwood's film, showing up and singing beautifully -- but lacking the fire to keep Frankie Valli interesting when he's not singing. There is a third option of pulling a Marni Nixon and dubbing Michael Cerveris singing over Johnny Depp or Patti LuPone over Helena Bonham Carter, but then you've got a star's ego to deal with.


Repeat after me: There is ALWAYS a better choice than Crowe vs. Brosnan vs. Someone People Have Never Heard Of Who Isn't Great on Camera. [More...]

Click to read more ...


Review: "Jersey Boys"

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad


‘I’m looking for sky blue and you’re giving me brown,' a fey producer sighs when the Four Seasons are in the recording booth. They’re just going through the motions rather than livening up their material. He could just have easily been dissing Jersey Boys itself, Clint Eastwood’s needlessly dull adaptation of the Broadway smash. In truth the band’s performance in this scene isn’t appreciably worse than their performances elsewhere in the movie. If you can’t readily spot differences in inspiration and creative fire from one performance to the next, maybe there’s none to be found?

“Brown” isn’t quite the color of it, though. Clint Eastwood’s aesthetic favors underlit rooms, heavy blacks and washed out color. You’d think that aesthetic would change for a splashy musical but you’d be wrong. I mean, why shouldn’t a musical about a famous band with a gift for hooky pop gems look as depressing / dead-end as a drama about desperate boxers or a war film about an island massacre?

Click to read more ...


Disney Declaws Into The Woods

"You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed, and the prince does not sleep with the [Baker's Wife]." He added, "You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing."

Anne Marie here. Playbill quoted Sondheim yesterday confirming our worst suspicion: Disney has changed (destroyed?) key parts of Into the Woods. The musical-loving corners of the internet responded with equal parts outrage and resignation. We knew it. After all, Disney is a company that has turned Happily Ever After into a business plan. Believing that Disney would leave untouched a fairytale musical where where wolves are sex predators requires the kind of wishful thinking that one would find in, well, a Disney movie.

Possibly more than any other studio, Disney has based its entire media empire on family friendly fantasy. From its golden period in the 50s on through its 90s creative renaissance, the studio’s bread and butter was not just beautiful animation and Oscar-winning songs but, crucially, princesses finding their True Love.  Yes, for every Beauty and the Beast there was a The Lion King, but a quick trip through the Disney Store will tell you which story moves more merchandise. Since the early 2000s, Disney has attempted to keep pace with changing tastes by inserting a bit of revisionism. The playful mocking of Enchanted led to The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, which challenged conventions of princessery even while the end goal, a tiara and a kiss, remained unchanged. Mickey Mouse may be on the masthead, but the house that Walt built is in the shape of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Fantasy rules supreme.

Disney's flirtation with the dark side after the jump.

Click to read more ...


Tony Award Winners

Did you watch the Tony Awards last night? The evening began with Hugh Jackman proving his physical fitness -- his knees get such a workout -- by hopping through his entire continuous shot production number, basically a tour of the backstage and upcoming performers in costume.

That led to a night of high energy but strange and touristy musical number choices like numbers from ancient top-selling shows (Les Miz and Wicked) rather than new ones that need the sales help and non-Broadway celebrities like Sting and Jennifer Hudson taking up a lot of room to sell shows that aren't even open. It'd be a bit like the Oscars going "how about Interstellar?" while giving prizes to Gravity back in March. 

Hugh Jackman also rapped with LL Cool Jr via the famously chatty opening number of "The Music Man" Hugh Jackman has now spent 14 years of his career playing Wolverine and at this point he's really wasting his life (I mean once you have 100s of millions, what's 20 million more?). He needs to commit and make only movie musicals before he's too old.  

Highlights and winners of the night after the jump...

Click to read more ...


Mad Men @ the Movies: That Wild Bunch and Their Waterloo?

Last night we said our final goodbyes to Mad Men. Oh wait, no. Our penultimate goodbye to Mad Men but boy did it feel like a series closer. There are seven episodes to go, ruthlessly delayed until 2015 which will serve no one but AMC executives, but I wouldn't blame anyone for saying their goodbyes now. You'd be going out on such a well earned high, a breath-taking, teary-eyed, conflicted-emotion farewell in two episodes.

I want to go to the movies!"

Peggy whines in "The Strategy" as she struggles through her doubts about a campaign pitch for potential new lucrative client Burger Chef. Mad Men almost always hits its peak whenever it zeroes back in on the long form pas de deux between Don and Peggy. In this episode they refind each other as Don (Jon Hamm) helps Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) trust in her own creativity and Peggy learns to forgive her hard-to-love mentor. It even ends with a weary actual dance. 

Don's other girl, Megan, also wants to go to the movies in the mid-season finale "Waterloo".  I adore that the movie referenced by name here is The Wild Bunch (1969) which she plans to see with a girlfriend even though Don pathetically implies that she wait 'but I want to see it, too'. Megan is done waiting as that curtain closing wordless airplane scene in "The Strategy" implied and she breaks up with Don in what seems like an amicable surrender, both parties too tired to keep fighting off the inevitable death of their marriage.

Nine men who came too late and stayed too long."

That tagline!

Let's try not to read too much into it even though the episode is also called "Waterloo" which didn't end so well for Napoleon; in Mad Men's timeline ᗅᗺᗷᗅ has yet to be invented to make final defeats sound adorable and fun again. Let's try not to read too much into it even though Mad Men has lasted 8 seasons (or 7 whatever. I hate this bifurcated bullshit). That tagline could describe just about any ensemble series then dared venture past season 5. (Season 6 is typically when even the greatest of tv series start to stumble. That's my story and I'm sticking to it)

Aside from Roger Sterling's business maneuver to keep the company and team he knows and loves together - the title implies this might not be the big save everyone thinks -- the big events are all piggybacked into one night and morning, the simultaneous moon landing (which everyone watches on TV) and the death of Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) and Peggy's next day Burger Chef pitch which she improvises to include the Moon landing awe. A hearty "Bravo" to the Mad Men creative team that figured out a way to braid all of this together with a bravura but atypical fantasy sequence in which the ghost of Bert Cooper sings "The Best Things in Life are Free." It's a wink to the long shadow impishness and prickly warts-and-all personality of the Cooper character over the tone of the whole series and a tip of the hat to Morse's own history as a song & dance man and the original Tony winning star of the 1961 musical "How To Succeed in Business Withour Really Trying". A tearful Don watches in stunned silence. 

I would like to file a class action lawsuit against AMC for intentional infliction of emotional distress for making us wait another entire year to see the last seven episodes of swansong to television's greatest series, even though they're already in the can gathering dust until 2015. But if the world suddenly ends between now and then, this would be a lovely send-off for the entire brilliant series.

Mad Men belongs to everyone,
The best thing in life on TV... ♫ 

The StrategyA-



The Film Stage Such exciting news. Looks like Luca Guadagnino (of I Am Love brilliance) finally has another feature lining up after many thwarted attempts. Not much is known about the thriller but he'll direct Tilda Swinton again but this time she's not the only major international draw: the cast also includes Ralph Fiennes, Margot Robbie and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Cartoon Brew the producer of Legends of Oz, that animated flop, is mad and blaming everything but the movie for the movie's failure
Pajiba gets righteously angry about how lightly the media is reacting to this "prankster" who is attacking celebrities on the red carpet. His latest victim was America Ferrera at Cannes . Naturally superhuman Cate Blanchett is the person that was quickest to console her.

The Powder Room wonders why none of the gay superheroes are hitting movie screens (and the comments sections raises a great point that X-Men Days of Future Past could have totally used Northstar in place of Quicksilver and been the first to do so) 
Playbill here's a fun list for those who love musicals: top ten signature showtunes for the original performer. Featuring Bernadette Peters, Babs, Sutton Foster and more 
HitFix listens to the Godzilla score via ubiqutous Alexandre Desplat 
Variety and Godzilla is crushing it at the box office but more on that and the review later today
The Guardian is reasonably fond of The Two Faces of January. I'm still so excited for that one despite the lack of excitement that greets it in general
Television Blend by now you've probably heard that the entire Twin Peaks series AND Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) are coming to Blue-Ray with tons of new extras. It's been so long since I've seen the show that I'd love falling completely into that world again for awhile