Monthly Archives: May 2007

angel child

I realize that my blog has been shifting in focus esp in the last few months – it’s virtually turned into a theater (Jersey Boys?) blog. It’s not always going to remain like this – it’s just that I didn’t even get to finish blogging about the shows that I saw in my second to last trip to NY. On top of that, nothing big is happening at work – experiments are slow, and hopefully with a bit of luck I’ll finish my qualifying exam by the end of summer. Maybe I’m doing all this theater talk to forget about work??

Anyways. Some thoughts on Coram Boy. I had wanted to see this play since I read about it in the NY Times, but in general, it got canned by critics. My feeling is that people were afraid to like it b/c it was so overly dramatic, predictable… From the very premise of it, it’s very dramatic – the program was one of the most full program I had ever held in my hand, with a cast of 40+ actors, and even the orchestra in the pit were dressed up in baroque powdered wigs and costumes. On top of amazing sweeping effects, the play ends in a rousing rendition of the huge cast in the chorus of Handel Messiah’s “Hallelujah” chorus. But despite its predictability and its melodrama, there was something about the show that touched a childlike desire in my heart that was fully satisfied by this play and I fell for it, completely. This is what theater was meant to do – this is what it means to be theatrical.

My favorite scene is pictured above – showing two boys being drowned, with Meshak at the bottom of the ocean, saving their lives by pushing them back up to the surface. My jaw just dropped. I know it’s melodramatic, and over the top, but I lapped it up with my eyes wide open.

Some standouts in the play – Xanthe Elbrick’s Tony nomination is very well deserved. Her portrayal of two different boys was amazing to watch so closeup from the front row. Jan Maxwell’s portrayal of a jaded accomplice was so natural. Another standout for me was Charlotte Parry’s portrayal of the young Thomas Ledbury, the energetic lower class boy who is out of place in the upper class world of the Ashbrooks. One note on Brad Fleischer as Meshak – I realize that his character was supposed to be simple, but from the very opening of the play, the direction of his character seemed misguided, and had me confused and put off from the very start of the show. I was glad to see though, that he graduated from UCSD. :)

Sadly it closed this weekend. The Tony Awards management committee, I think, was afraid to nominate this show for its melodrama (a quote from Michael Riedel’s column: “As for Coram Boy, the only people who despise it more than the critics are the Tony nominators.”) And with the show barely selling at half capacity, it really had no reason to stay open until June 10. I’m glad it sold out for the last show though, and glad I got to experience it before it closed. It was a piece of classic, entertaining theater. As someone mentioned, it was nice to have a play that didn’t hurt your cerebrum as much as the other plays that are currently on Broadway. I love Journey’s End, which would be under this category of a cerebrum hurting play, but it was fun to get lost in the world of the Coram Boy.

the journey boys

Hugh Dancy and Justin Blanchard

Jen told me I had to see Journey’s End so of course, since she’s my most influential theater recommender, off I went. I was excited and also anxious because I didn’t know to expect from a show that was so critically acclaimed but not very popular. Being a play about soldiers in World War I, admittedly the subject matter did not grab my attention. But oh what a play.

Highly acclaimed as the best show on Broadway, it was

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a perfect theater experience. Gripping, powerful – It’s one of those shows that stays with me way past the time I get to see it, like Company. I’ve also realized that these are the shows that I don’t completely understand the first time I see it, mostly because it’s so layered and nuanced. I would love to see it again. And what other play could be so relevant in today’s time of war?

The play takes place in between the battles and raids on the front lines in WWI. You listen in on the conversations and the concerns, the dreams, and the personal demons of these officers in the midst of such tragedy. With the stage intimately lighted with candles, sometimes you had to strain to make out their faces. In this intimate setting, I felt like I could pull up a chair with them, and get swept up in their emotions. Jen knows how disturbed I was during certain scenes in the play! I felt like I was there. I was there!

This show reminds me of the idea that someone had, that the Tony’s should include an award for “Best Ensemble”. This show would win it hands down. There is no weak link in the entire cast. Boyd Gaines is “quietly overwhelming” as the Uncle of the group and brought me to tears as he prepared himself for a raid. Jefferson Mays was my favorite – he is such a natural talent, it was amazing what he could communicate to the audience with a look (e.g. his reaction when Trotter recited him a nonsensical poem). Stark Sands was also a standout, because he was Raleigh – fresh faced, and in awe of being there in the midst of war (as well as on the Broadway stage?). Justin Blanchard’s performance as Hibbert was absolutely riveting. As one fan said, his character “scares the hell out of me”, which always kept me at the edge of my seat. I never knew what to expect, and his extremes of emotions is such a crazy ride. Hugh Dancy was, admittedly, slightly disappointing. To be fair, his performance was extremely hyped. He plays the role of a tortured soul well, but… something about his performance I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s like looking at a portrait of a man in which you notice that his teeth are a bit too white. Dancy was a tad smooth-edged, a hint of a comfortable glint in his dark eyes, where it didn’t convince me entirely that he was the edge of a complete breakdown.

“[War]… It’s all so silly, isn’t it?”

My favorite scene in the play is when Stanhope (Dancy) is trying to convince Hibbert (Blanchard) to stay and fight the war without deserting his team. You see Hibbert going insane because he would rather die in shame than to stay in the uncertainty of war, with Stanhope equally desperately fighting to keep his precarious leadership and unity from falling to pieces around him. Stanhope presents a desperate plea to Hibbert that he should stay to fight with his fellow soldiers, with an explanation that makes sense yet makes no sense at all.

“D’you ever get a sudden feeling that everything’s going farther and farther away, till you’re the only thing in the world — and then the world begins going away, until you’re the only thing in the universe — and you struggle to get back — and can’t?”

My favorite picture below: the Journey’s End boys in a spoof of their own show, at the Easter Bonnet competition, where they pretend to be

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the Jersey Boys and make fun of their low ticket sales. “We Want You!” is in reference to their low ticket sales, in that they want you to be in their audience. :)

Lyrics from their song:

“We are playing to 3% capacity.
We have an intimate relationship with the audience…11 of us…11 of them.

No cute chicks, and only one real Brit,
Who would want to see our play?

What to Do?

Have Hugh Dancy do a shower scene
Put a puppet on your hand!
Choose our new leads on reality TV.

Riverdancing Feet!
Will put Butts in our Seat!
A show for the whole damn family.

Sell Outs Don’t Flop”

It is taking all my strength to keep from going to see the new cast of the Jersey Boys. I’m really excited about the buzz that the new cast is getting – an usher even told me that he heard that they were better than the previous cast. Although the previous cast still holds my heart, I’m looking forward to see what these new guys can do. Thank God for the good reviews of the new cast – it would have taken a lot for me to be happy with the new cast since I’m such a fan of the Sherry cast. I’m mostly waiting for the line flubs to go away, as well as the schedule for the alternate Frankie to be set.

On sort of a regretful note, I hardly got to see the San Francisco Ballet this year. Last year, I was such a dedicated attendee – especially with the performances of Mark Morris’ Sylvia, which I absolutely adored. I just wasn’t that impressed with the programming this year at SFB. I did want to see Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, but had schedule conflicts. I did catch Yuri Possohkov’s Firebird (very theatrical, showy, and a strong first showing as choreographer-in-residence), and Sleeping Beauty, showcasing the strong and clean (and a tad sterile?) Vanessa Zahorian.

There was an interesting discussion going on in Tonya‘s website about artistic directors and their attempts at choreography. Peter Martins (of the NY City Ballet) and Helgi Tomasson of SFB are representative examples. Being artistic directors and having an itch to choreograph, you have access to an entire ballet company. And what do you do? You choreograph ballets and you stage them. And often, they are unable to objectively judge the value of their work. (Case in point: snippets of a NY Times review of the much anticipated NYCB R+J:

“The main disappointment is that in choreographing for Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Martins tends to gets stuck in one groove after another…. All the solos and pas de deux for Romeo and Juliet look like Mr. Martins’s rough sketches. He can be a more focused, precise dance maker than he is here.”

In this way, I feel like artistic directors are so simple, and unable to think outside the box. Their ideas are often very simple and trite, even when they think they’re being ingenious (Martins using young dancers in his R+J, Helgi Tomasson in changing the costumes in the last act of Sleeping Beauty to reflect as if 100 years really had passed since Sleeping Beauty fell asleep). These are overrated ideas that don’t translate well into practical results. I would rather see great choreography rather than a change of costume.

There *are* great choreographers – Mark Morris, Balanchine, and Azsure Barton are random examples. Use them!! There is a huge demand for great work being staged. Take a risk. Until another Balanchine comes along, let the great choreographers choreograph.

Maybe it was this idea that really kept me away from SFB this year. I was uber disappointed by Blue Rose that I saw earlier this year (A review: “Why Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson would be in thrall to Elena Kats-Cherin’s flavorless Baltic-tango-ragtime mishmash “Blue Rose” is a mystery.”) It looked like an energetic center floor exercise, except that women were wearing prairie dresses.

I do not know how hard the role of an artistic director is. As a serious ballet goer, I’d love to see more risks and the humility to look at one’s abilities to choreograph and your company’s strengths, and to stage what is best for you, your company, and the audience. SF Ballet has beautiful dancers – Yuan Yuan Tan, Pascal Molat, the Martin brothers, and the newly promoted Sarah Van Patten, whom I think is the most feminine dancer. Let them shine in great work.

Wow that’s a long rant about what I did NOT do this week, nor almost this entire season. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll be offering next year.

byebye, baby baby goodbye

The Sherry cast is leaving SF! I went to see their performance last night for my last time, and I am going to really miss their presence. From the leads to the ensemble, they were all great. They consistently brought it at every single show, and exceeded expectations every time.

The show felt different last night – the pacing didn’t feel as comfortable and some musical cues were a *tad* awkward. It made sense when I heard that the director was in the house, taking notes. But some of the performers really went for it last night, which made a big difference.

It was exciting to see that the new cast, which is taking over this cast, sitting in the back of the house. I got to see Jeremy Kushnier sans his Roger hair (not bleach blonde). I’m really curious to see what he’s going to do to the role of Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys. How different can two roles be, from Roger in Rent to Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys? The new cast looks so fresh – it’s going to be exciting to see what they’re going to do.

Also while we were waiting in the line, we heard the rehearsals going on inside the theater. Poor Joe Pesci was performing his lines over and over, “F*cking amazing! That was f*cking dynamite!” about 10 times in a row. ;)