Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

"I killed a man in France"

November 30, 2008

The other day I blogged a bit about the differences between Wicked, the book, and Wicked, the musical, about how the play is somewhat…lighter than the book. Not that I’ve seen a whole lot of musicals based on books, especially complex and subtle books, but certainly that sort of dumbing-down isn’t unique to Wicked. My favorite example is from South Pacific. Yes, the play is one of the great classics of music theatre (and, in touch as I am with my inner Broadway-Loving Gay Man I still sometimes get songs from it lodged in my head1). But it lacks a certain gritty je ne sais quoi that pervaded James Michener’s book.

In both book and play, Emile de Becque fled France in his youth, having killed the town bully. From he play2:

EMILE. He could do anything… take anything. I did not like that, I was young. I stood up in the public square and made a speech. I called upon everyone to stand with me against this man.

NELLIE. What did they do?

EMILE. They walked away.

NELLIE. Why?

EMILE. Because they saw him standing behind me. I turned and he said to me “I am going to kill you now.” We fought. I was never so strong. I knocked him to the ground. And when he fell his head struck a stone and… [Shrug.]

And here’s the book:

“How did you kill him?” Nellie asked, surprised at her courage.

“With a knife,” Emile said, showing some satisfaction, even at that distance.

And I won’t even start with Lieutenant/Commander (book and play, respectively) Harbison’s attempted rape of Nellie…

 

1. Damn, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” is there now… Couldn’t it at least be “Bali Hai” or “Younger than Springtime?”

2. Quoted from the libretto that was moldering in a box in my attic, A relic of my high school play one year. I played Henry, Emile de Becaue’s Polynesian servant. I had six lines, in French, a language I did not speak. Since then my theatrical experience has been restricted to playing various woodwinds in orchestras.

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Jesus Christ Superstarrr

May 19, 2008

I went to Boston last weekend to see the touring Jesus Christ Superstar. Starring Ted Neeley, who’s been Jesusing for a long time. I fear he is now a tidge too old for the part, but what the hey; for a 64-year-old guy he still has a pretty impressive set of pipes.

The real standout was Corey Glover as Judas. Apparently I would have heard of him and his band Living Colour had I listened to 80’s funk metal, or if I had paid more attention to Guitar Hero 3. Maybe I’ll seek out one of their albums, or at least play GH3 again. What’s up, though, with so many black Judases? Random chance? Subtle racism? The part is just too cool for white guys to play?

The rest of the cast was generally good as well, although much more Broadway than Neeley and especially Glover. Broadway is fine and all, but JCS is among the least Broadwayish of shows—the first recording was after all not staged at all, and had a cast of decidedly non-Broadway (or West End) actors and singers. And really I think Broadway gloss gets in the way of the panic and terror and chaos of the story. These are people who are scared and confused and don’t really know what they’re doing—and it’s hard for me to believe that in someone who has the self-assurance and practiced confidence of a Broadway singer. Give me a cast of strung out hippies and roadies, I say! Well, maybe that’s just me. And in any case Glover’s rock-star affect, and voice, made up for much.

And something else that bothered me (and explains the title of this post): everyone except Glover really seemed to be emphasizing their r’s. They sounded like Brits imitating Americans. What’s up with that? Am I so used to pretentious English choral style that I can’t take good old American singing voices?

Polish and r’s aside, I don’t mean to dis the rest of the cast here, because as I said they really were good. Tiffini Dodson (a Tennessee girl!) as Mary Magdalene and Craig Sculli as Pilate especially so.

I was struck by something that should have been completely unsurprising: how much this production sounded like the show’s various earlier incarnations. Having gone through a bit of Webber/Rice phase (how gay is that? and don’t get me started on Evita), I still pretty much have the whole thing mostly engraved in my brain, and at only one point did I experience even the slightest dissonance between the soundtrack in my head and the one on the stage. The instruments could have been canned, using tracks from the original production, and I’d never have noticed. Neeley was of course in the movie. Even Glover had a bit of a Murray Head thing going, I thought. Only Herod’s song was reworked, with a bit of a Latin beat (and some spoken dialog, the only spoken lines in the show). I’m told that productions often rework Herod a bit; it’s the only bit of levity in the show, and everyone wants to make the most of it.

I went with a largish group, and it was interesting to see various people’s reactions. Several people who didn’t know the show—these including my wife and daughter—hated it. Those of us for whom it loomed large in our formative consciousnesses loved it. One complaint I heard was that people couldn’t understand the words. I didn’t notice that, but then, I knew them all already.

Maybe people were confused by the plot as well. I’ve always thought the central conceit of the show—that Judas betrayed Jesus because he feared that Jesus’s followers were getting too noticeable, and that the Romans would step in and crush them—never made much sense to me. I just never much cared. I figured young Andrew and Tim just needed some Judas story to hang songs on, and settled for the first thing that seemed to work at all.

And one last almost-unrelated note: I see in Tim Rice‘s Wikipedia article that his marriage broke up when he had an affair with Elaine Page. I did not know that!