Monthly Archives: December 2007

Theater Favorites 2007

Best performance of the year (ex. best ballet performance, best play, best musical, best classical music concert, best opera, any/all of the above)

Mark Morris, Mozart Dances at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Best male performer of the year

Raul Esparza, Company. Honorable mention: John Gallagher in Spring Awakening.

Best female performer of the year

Alessandra Ferri, Manon

Best new discovery of the year

Journey’s End

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue (ex. performance in the street, art gallery, library, trash dump)

Stars in the Alley

Favorite televised theater event

Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances (see a theme?), Wynton Marsalis Red Hot Holiday Stomp, Met’s I Puritani

Most likely to be the next big thing (ex. performer, choreographer, playwright, etc. based on something you saw this year)

Lin Manuel Miranda, writer, creator and performer in “In the Heights”, Jamie Garcia Castilla from SF Ballet

Most anticipated performance for 2008

PBS broadcast of Company, Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances, Nina Anashiavelli’s Giselle, “In the Heights” performance on the Tony broadcast!

Best of 2007, alphabetically

Inspired by mmonk’s yearly tradition, I am presenting the theatrical memories version for this year:

Avenue Q cast party

Blythe, Gil

Company

Des Grieux (Bolle & Corella)

Ehle naked

F*cked, Totally

Gaffigan

Hell No

Idiot Tony voters

JLY & John Gallagher

Kiss

Lovely ladies (esp. Lea)

Mozart Dances

Neuenmeier at BAM

Othello twice

Private Mason

Quoted in the NYTimes

Rush opera tix (totally worth it)

Stars in the Alley

Turandot

Usnavi

Valentine’s Day with Mark Morris

Wynton Marsalis’ Red Hot Holiday Stomp

Xanthe’s breathtaking performance

Young soldiers topless

Zany Nut

Sweeney Todd: Movie Thoughts

*WARNING* If you haven’t seen the movie or the musical, spoilers of the plot abound…Proceed at your own risk** 

Let me begin by getting my disclaimer out of the way: I will always and forever be most loyal to the John Doyle production of Sweeney Todd, the revival on Broadway last year. This being said, and with lots of caveats and reservations, Jolene and I hesitantly went out to see what Tim Burton did to this Broadway gem of a musical. Surprisingly, the overall impression was that this is one of the best movie adaptations of a musical I’ve seen. I’ve already been prewarned that many of the brilliant songs (the omission of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and “Kiss Me” makes me weep) made me want to boycott the film altogether. Soundheim, whom I figured would be the harshest critic of his own piece, gave his approval of the film. So if he could stand it…I guess I could too.

The film was successful on several points:

  • Glorious filmography and sweeping, graphic visual imagery simply not available on the theater stage. The imaginings of Sweeney & Lovett looking at people they would eat in “Little Priest”, the visually stunning “Under the Sea” (hilarious deadpan passe acting by Johnny Depp along with Helena Bonham Carter’s fantasy without looking too desperate) and Depp simply walking through the dark alleyways of London was worth watching the movie.
  • The gore…was pretty graphic. I guess if we are watching a gory musical, we should see blood…because it really gets across how crazy and vengeful Sweeney was. It’s also sorta funny; the gore is so over-the-top…it reflects so much dark humor that is throughout the movie…it makes you think, ‘Wait, was that supposed to be really horrifying or really funny?’ Then, I start to think about what is in my dark soul that makes something so gory a little teensy bit funny….perhaps a bit of Sweeney is in all of us.
  • Toby was played by an actor his correct age! Not a 30 year old guy playing a young boy. Really gave a different perspective on how twisted the adults were…ultimately leading this young boy on the same path.
  • “Borat” was hilarious (even after his unsightly end) as the flamboyant Italian barber.

But being the musical fan that I am…there were some parts I didn’t like that the movie changed, mainly, I didn’t like how the characters’ insanity was toned down for the movie version.

  • Alan Rickman, playing Judge Turpin, wasn’t as crazed and pedophilia-like as his character is in musical…I think the omission of his song “Mea Culpa” in the movie is a pity because in the musical version, you can’t help thinking “Is he inflicting pain on himself in penance? Or is he masturbating? Or both?” gives you a very clear picture on how mentally disturbed he was. In the movie, Rickman plays him like a fatherly figure who simply wants to protect his adopted daughter from young males…and in the ultimate act of protecting her, wants to marry her. Rickman gives the character an almost fatherly quality. I don’t like it; it’s too normal.
  • I like Joanna to be tinged with craziness too…the fact she doesn’t kill Jonas Fogg in the movie, imo, weakens the familial link between her character and Sweeney… when she kills the mental institution physician in the musical version, we are reminded that she and Sweeney are of the same bloodline.
  • Couldn’t Soundheim have squeezed in a little bit of “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” as the opening casting credits roll in the beginning of the movie??

But as far as musical movies go, this is one of the best. Helena Bonham Carter, who manages to look very similar to the past roles she’s played in other movies (Big Fish, Harry Potter, Willy Wonka), balances the nonchalance (making her the craziest person in the movie, methinks) and mothering of both Sweeney & Toby fabulously. Johnny Depp makes for a very very angry Sweeney, completely fixated on revenge. At least in the musical, it seemed that Sweeney enjoyed a few light moments in conversations, etc, but for Depp’s Sweeney, it was 100% all about revenge. The music was fabulously orchestrated (compared to the 11 instruments played by the actors on stage) making the music rich and full, supplementing the not-so-perfect voices (compared to the Broadway counterparts). All in all, it was a rich sound, supplementing the spooky story.

For a bloody good time, go watch Sweeney and add a bit of extra chill to your winter afternoon!

 

Merry Christmas!

Love is facing the Costco crowds for the second time in a few hours, just because your mom

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forgot to tell you to buy a mass amount of boneless chicken. Happy holidays, I hope everyone has a merry one!!

Best of 2007

2007.jpg

I hope everyone is having a great time preparing for the holidays! I can’t believe how close Christmas is – I was in the plane mulling over the holiday season and preparing myself for the New Year. I also did a lot of reminiscing about the past year, and how amazing it’s really been.

With this, an idea hit me. It’s admittedly taking a cue from a lot of the makeup/beauty blogs that I peruse from time to time, but it’s about taking a moment to look back and to pick our theater favorites for 2007. Let’s see how many theater blogs we can get to participate! I’ll do the following as well. You can choose to answer any/all of the questions below, and even to make up a few if you like. You can answer the following for one class of theater (such as ballet) or answer the best performance of the year for ballet, dance, classical music, and/or musicals. I realize each blog and blogger is different with a specific set of interests, so tailor it as you will.

  • Best performance of the year (ex. best ballet performance, best play, best musical, best classical music concert, best opera, any/all of the above)
  • Best male performer of the year
  • Best female performer of the year
  • Best new discovery of the year
  • Best regional/local performance of the year
  • Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue (ex. performance in the street, art gallery, library, trash dump)
  • Favorite televised theater event
  • Biggest theater obsession
  • Most likely to be the next big thing (ex. performer, choreographer, playwright, etc. based on something you saw this year)
  • Most anticipated performance for 2008

Maybe everyone can write down their answer, and a brief explanation with relevant links to each entry. And if you can’t narrow it down to one, list your top few. There are no specific rules with this, just for fun and to promote discussion on the stuff we saw this year. Attach the image at the top of this entry, by adding to your entry the following html:

<a href=”http://saturdaymatinee.wordpress.com/2007/12/21/267/”>

<img src=”http://saturdaymatinee.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/2007.jpg>

</a>

Email me if you would like to participate at saturdaymatinee1@gmail.com , and I’ll get a master list going.

Just to get things rolling, I’m going to tag the following people:

Have fun. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s answers. I’ll have my list up soon.

Edited to add:

The lists are starting to come out! I’ll update as soon as they’re published.

San Francisco Ballet: The Nutcracker

2007

Sarah Van Patten as the Snow Queen

Roger Ebert said you should watch the Nutcracker twice in your life; once when you’re a child, and once when you’re a grandparent. I heartily disagree. Watching the SF Ballet’s Nutcracker reminded me of the fact that the Nutcracker never gets old, especially in this magical version, and watching it was like watching it for the first time all over again.

The ballet begins with an unrecognizable Damian Smith as Drosselmeier, pulling magic tricks out of thin air. He doesn’t have a dark air of mystery about him, like some versions, but is more like the fun uncle that happens to make grand gestures. The sets were beautiful, with scenic design by Michael Yeargan. Set in early 1900′s in San Francisco, the sets were complete with the characteristic San Francisco houses that added a personal local touch. Rory Hohenstein was the wonderfully pliable and bendy clown doll, who, when he reappears in Clara’s nightmare, transforms the same steps in a subtly spooky way. The children in the party scene are always charming, led by Jessica Cohen as Clara.

After the party scene, the music buzzes with anticipation, as the lights dim and everything grows larger than life, including Clara’s beloved Nutcracker. Remnants of reality disappear, as a dream world takes over. Mice appear from corners and behind presents, and Clara’s Nutcracker fights to defend her. Toy soldiers appear to help the Nutcracker, and Clara aids in positioning a huge mouse trap – the appearance of the mouse trap made Jen and me laugh out loud. With one snap onto the Mouse King’s leg (deliciously danced by David Arce), the Mouse King hammed it up by drawing out his death and disappearance into a trap door in the floor, to the audience’s applause.

Jamie Garcia Castilla, one of the recently promoted soloists, made an impressive debut today as the Nutcracker prince. Despite an air of caution, there were flashes of brilliance in his dancing that will only grow with experience. His jumps looked like they were in slow motion; he moved with cat like agility, and his extensions had such poetry. Hansuke Yamamoto and Katita Waldo were the Snow King and Queen – they danced more comfortably alone in their solos than when they were partnering each other with Hansuke Yamamoto soaring in his jumps, but overall, things between the Snow King and Queen felt a bit rushed. Perhaps dancing in a snow flurry has that effect, it didn’t look that comfortable to dance in although the effect is impressive. Frances Chung danced the part of the grown up Clara in the Grand pas de deux with Jamie; they had great chemistry, even sharing a smile or two. I saw Frances Chung dance the same part last year, and she has a quiet maturity about her dancing that felt a little more sure this year. Yet she still retains the fresh faced innocence of a girl dancing the dance of her life. Even the poorly concealed relieved sigh at the end of her fouettes added to her charm.

Some other standouts included James Sofranko in “Russian” – their entrance by bursting through the walls of Faberge eggs is pure fun. Adeline Kaiser’s flexible back added to her sensual mysterious air in “Arabian”. The Sugar Plum Fairy was danced with textbook precision by Elana Altman; in SFB’s production, the Sugar Plum Fairy is more or less an extended version of the Dewdrop Fairy, she dances the solo in the Waltz of the Flowers and orchestrates the events in the beginning of Act 2. In general the corps were gorgeous, but were plagued by a touch of harriedness, including a lone Flower that caught my eye by being one beat behind everyone else.

Costume design by Martin Pakledinaz was perfection, lending a finished elegant look. From the smallest girl dressed as a sparkling lady bug in the opening of Act 2 (there are no angels in this version, which leads an earthier, woodsier atmosphere – after all, this is San Francisco, and the environmental theme fits) to the Spanish white dresses with the flirty flash of red petticoats, to the dainty French Mirliton tutus that referenced the can-can, the costumes were simply beautiful and elegant.

Sometimes I wonder if a ballet can only be as good its music. And of course, the music is unforgettable; I can’t hear the music without seeing the ballet in my head (it’s the same way with Tschaikowsky’s Serenade too) . The ballet was well supported by the SF Ballet Orchestra, led by Martin West.

Another thing I forgot to mention – there is nothing like being in a Nutcracker audience. We were surrounded by kids, and it was fun watching it through their eyes. The girl behind me gasped when the tree lit up, which made me smile. There was an unhappy girl though, who was lying face down in the aisle, that had me concerned and only got taken away when she started kicking, while lying down, on another person’s seat. Ah, the joys of being in the Nutcracker audience. It’s never a boring experience.

In all, it was a magical production that I got lost in for a few hours. The Nutcracker has to be the one ballet where choreography doesn’t seem to be all too important. What’s more important is the fun, the joy, the innocence, and the magic. This version definitely fills the bill. Now that I’ve seen the Nutcracker, my holidays have officially begun!!

SF Ballet’s Nutcracker website
My 2008 review

Romeo et Juliette, Met at the Movies, 12/16/07

romeojuliet_new_main.jpg

 

You can probably tell from this photo why Anna Netrebko is very hot (in more than one way) in the opera world right now. She sparkled in the first Met broadcast this season in movie theaters all over America, London and who knows where else. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about opera and singing voices, but I do know what I do like, and with three years of Met opera performances under my belt while utilizing their student rush ticket program as often as I could, I have a lot of favorite opera memories. Operas give a classical music lover like much to love, especially when the musicians that are performing is the Met Opera Orchestra (just as long as the violinist doesn’t hit on you during intermission), and singers such as Hei Kyung Hong, Juan Diego Florez, and Joyce DiNato convert a newbie to opera instantly.

 

ANyways enough about my lack of opera background. I trekked out to the Bay St. Mall AMC to watch the movie broadcast of Romeo et Juliette, a surely sold out run at the Met due to the superstar status of Anna Netrebko. I really wish Rolando Villazon hadn’t pulled out of his engagements at the Met, I know he’s an amazing singer and I wished I could have seen him perform with Netrebko on the big screen, but Roberto Algana gave a solid performance. Before I say anything about the technical aspects of the performance (which, I will be the first to say, I am not that well-versed in opera to make a substantial statement, but can only contribute my thoughts), lots of sound and satellite difficulties during the movie broadcast today made it very difficult for me to enjoy the performance fully.

 

  • FIrst of all, the satellite signal was faulty and we missed the first 5 minutes of the opening. We missed Anna’s entrance, but we could hear everything. The movie continued with the signal going in and out throughout the whole broadcast, cutting off the signal about 5 times throughout the show. Aarrrgh. It was frustrating.
  • The volume of the sound in the theater was miniscule. I wanted to be enveloped by the sound, like I do as an audience member at the Met, but even the chorus ensemble sounded wimpy. Anna’s voice soared, of course, but still it was frustrating because I don’t think I was able to experience the vocal pyrotechnics fully.

I do have some thoughts that aren’t related to the sound technique or voices of the singers. I must say, the sets really remind me of a lot of Broadway musical sets I’ve seen. The sets were (as always with Met productions) amazing, with a tilting center turntable which cleverly had Roberto Alagna standing on the higher tilt than Anna Netrebs, making him taller…reminded me of Les Miserables, a unique feature and well incorporated into the production. Ah, only if French prostitutes rotated on the turntable like they do in Les Mis, now that would be an interesting twist, no?

 

Furthermore, there is a risque bed scene between Anna and Roberto, with a lot of writhing, stroking, straddling, and flashing of Anna’s legs that isn’t seen much in opera. And while Anna looks great in a skimpy nightgown, I don’t know if any male opera singer should be allowed to sing love sings while wearing skimpy boxer shorts (OK, it may be acceptable if you’re Nathan Gunn). Similarly, this bed scene all occurs on a bed suspended from the ceiling, a la Spring Awakening. But I do digress.

 

Another set feature I did not like was during the wedding scene between Romeo and Juliette, the background was a large photo of the moon’s surface. A lot of the background sets allude to a celestial theme, I guess to emphasize the celestial destiny of their love. But the moon was soooo large, it literally looked like Anna and Roberto were saying their vows on the moon. Did they spacewalk home? This is an example of a theme going a bit too far, and this opera made me think…was their love destiny and written in the stars? Romeo was a bit of a player, dropping Rosaline like a hot potato as soon as he saw Juliet. Who says that he won’t do that to the next pretty girl after Juliet? I guess it’s better for the plot story that they both die passionately in love. Real complicated relationships doesn’t translate well into operatic masterpieces.

 

A word about the costumes, Roberto Alagna had the unfortunate responsibility to sport sky blue velveteen leggings, with rouching at the bottom, and he sported cowboy boots. He seriously looked like he walked off stage from Mark Morris’ Hard Nut, he had a bit of a disco flair. Apparently, this is an improvement to the purple velvet leggings the previous Romeo wore; but could the velvet leggings be dropped in the future? There has got to be more flattering pants to select from that era.

 

Domingo conducted this superstar performance; unfortunately, he made an obvious mistake when he lost the accompaniment to Lord Capulet’s solo, the orchestra lagged behind. The orchestra sounded lush as always. I think I’ll head back to the movies soon once more for the Met…hopefully the technicalities will have all been ironed out next time!

 

 

 

The Hard Nut, Mark Morris Dance Group 12/15/2007

I saw this wonderful performance last night at Zellerbach Hall, at the courtesy of Rachel Howard, dance correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle (Thanks Rachel!). As a fellow Nutcracker lover (we’re not jaded like so many other balletomanes), it was great to be put under the spell of the Nutcracker once again. I have been hesitant to see “trendy” version of the classic Nutcracker; I’ve loved the ballet since I was a little girl! Of course, I was being silly because Morris always bring a new perspective on a classic piece, full of humor and humanity, and would create a whole new piece that’s not just “fluff”. There is so much to love about this production, but just don’t expect another version of Morris’ delightful (and my personal favorite) Mozart Dances. As expected, the camp was out in full force, which made a really really fun first act (the act which usually the children get to portray their talents and are quickly ushered off stage before the snow scene when the “real” dancing begins), but during the Waltz of the Flowers, began to seem a bit Trockadero-ish. The several instances which made sly homages to the other kind of nuts (besides walnuts) was a bit childish? but funny maybe the first time. But I think I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Humanity abounds in this piece, and with the spectacular acting of his modern dancers (who knew?), esp. Lauren Grant–who balances humor and subtelty so well (she never attempts to get “cheap” laughs, even when wearing a horrendous pink frilly nightgown complete with bunnies on her pointe shoes) and always dances with such compassion and ease, June Omura –as Fritz, looking like a mischievous Alfalfa imbibing her steps with great acting, humor and pathos (Fritz waving at the TV at his sister was particularly touching), and Julie Worden, playing the hypersexual adolescent Louise at the Christmas party, imbibing even the smallest dance steps with chest shimmies, pelvic thrusts…little actions you would totally miss if you weren’t watching but making her characterization of Louise so…dare I say it?…deep… It was great to see such acting especially in the first act of the Nutcracker. Mark Morris makes a hilarious cameo as the drunk uncle, sporting a fro which looks particularly striking on him (perhaps a future consideration for a haircut, Mr. Morris?)

I love Morris’ use of gender bending characters; the mom is played by a male dancer, male snowflakes and flowers, pointe shoe wearing male dancer as the maid…I love it because MOrris does what he always does; makes us look at “traditional” gender roles and puts them in a new light. Morris rarely does this in a way to point out obviously “Look, it’s a guy in a dress”, but he portrays these characters in such a normative manner, it’s like “Why didn’t we think of this before?” Marie’s “dad” was much shorter than Marie’s “mom”, but it didn’t look “weird”–as the fact that both were played by male dancers– but gave a new look to the Christmas scene that was refreshing to see, and more reflective of the real world. There were a few instances in which I thought that dancers played to the audience too much, smiling widely as if to say “this is supposed to be funny”, which I felt really took away from the piece (Ahem, the Waltz of the Flowers scene). John Heginbotham as “Mrs. Staulbaum” was lovely, beginning the ballet with a delightful homage to ballet, doing a perfect port de bras, a slow preparation into a pirouette, recognizable to any ballet student, garnering audience applause from those were have spent time in the dance studio.

The music was supplied by a great orchestra (The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra supplemented by musicians from the symphony/opera orchestras), except for a obvious trombone mistake during the Waltz of the Flowers. (Personally, I thought they sounded better than the NYCB ballet orchestra.) The Piedmond Children’s Choir was pitch perfect during the snowflake scene, I loved how many choristers were smiling and almost laughing at the craziness of the snowflakes dancing on the stage. Again, thanks to Mark Morris who always insists on high quality music for all of his productions. (No canned music here).

So many thoughts about this piece, but mostly, just wanted to end saying that the snowflake scene is the best piece of all. The only snowflake dance where I feel the dancers aren’t incredibly bored the whole time, (It actually looks super fun to be a Morris Hard Nut snowflake!), you couldn’t tell who was male/female but who cares, the oh-so-musical throwing of the snow was brilliant (my favorite being the puff of snow that comes from the wings, perfectly on beat, of course), making the piece look a bit like a snow firecracker show. SO much fun, without going for the cheap laughs but allows the dance to communicate humor and charm to the audience. Morris does this so perfectly in the snowflake scene.

And while I do miss the solid dancing from Morris’ other pieces, this was a brilliant new perspective on the classic Nutcracker ballet. What a fun, campy, night! I walked to the BART station with Loren Tayerle,

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a french horn player in the Berkeley Symphony, chatting about working with Mark Morris and being a musician (one perk to playing at Zellerbach, french horns can see what’s happening on stage!). The holidays really seem to begin once I’ve seen the Nutcracker. Although this isn’t your run of the mill Nut, this is a great and unique start to the Christmas season.