Tag Archives: musical theater

Haiku Review: Far From Heaven

2 Jul

Kelli O’Hara
Sings on a stage and I feel
All of the feelings.
 
 
 
The 1950s:
Awful social policies
But awesome dresses.
 
 
 
Elegant outsides
Hide inside pain, but with songs!
So take THAT, Mad Men.
 
 
 
Oh man, I was a mess of ugly crying at the end of ‘Far from Heaven’. I have to say I was skeptical when I first heard it was becoming a musical; it seemed to me like the movie was built around a minute subtlety that I thought would be hard to transfer to the larger scale of a stage. But I thought the same thing about ‘Once’, which only goes to show that I know nothing. Because dang, did they capture it. Kelli O’Hara singing at the end, this beautiful creature trapped in a world where she has everything but any freedom or real human connection, just kneed me right in the feelings.
 
One of the pet causes I developed during grad school was trying to make people understand how the music in a musical functions dramaturgically, adding depth, shading, and meaning to the storytelling of a theater piece (as opposed to just adding something pretty while the action halts, an unfortunate misconception that many people have). I will happily break down how Epiphany from ‘Sweeney Todd’ illustrates the ingredients of a mental breakdown, or talk about how ‘Les Mis’ uses a repeated melody to underline two characters’ connection, at pretty much the drop of a hat. ‘Far From Heaven’ has another beautiful example. Kelli O’Hara plays Cathy Whitaker, a suburban housewife with a picture-perfect life; a beautiful house, an admiring social circle, two children, and a seemingly loving marriage to a successful businessman. But as it begins to unravel, the only person that she finds herself able to talk to is her black gardener, Raymond.
 
Cathy’s songs in the first act are lovely, the melodies pretty and the rhythms precise. But when Cathy takes Raymond’s offer of a drive into the countryside and she begins to open up to him, her song changes. The rhythm relaxes, loosening into something with a gentle swing to it, as she tells Raymond the truth about her life and her feelings. It’s the first time we’ve heard anything like this from Cathy, and we know by hearing it that something is different; that being with Raymond allows Cathy to relax in a way she can’t in the rest of her life.
 
It’s a lovely moment, a musical illustration of a connection that might be hard to enact on the larger scale of the stage. And I’m sure there are others – Scott Frankel and Michael Korie are smart smart writers who engage the heart as much as the head. I look forward to listening to the album. And to buying dresses from the ‘I know they’re representative of a crippling social repression and living as a beautiful object to be displayed but they’re still fucking GORGEOUS’ tie-in fashion line that I seriously hope the show launches, because dang.
 
 
 
P.S. I can’t write a haiku about Steven Pasquale, because I don’t know if his last name has two syllables or three (seriously, every time I say his name I go “Steven Pasqual…ee?” Somebody tell me what it actually is!). But it would be about how he’s very good in this, as evidenced by this gorgeous thing and how I’m glad that he and Kelli O’Hara will be starring in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ together, so they can play beautiful people who actually want to make out with each other.
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Of Musicals and Mutants.

22 Jun

I am a little hungover today, so I can’t think of a clever way to start this post. You see, I was out last night at the New York Musical Theater Festival’s ‘Best of Fest’ concert, which was a really lovely concert featuring the work of some of musical theater’s new writers and composers and talents, and it was delightful. Afterwards, there was a reception in which you could mingle with said new writers and composers and talents and drink wine, and that was delightful. After that, some of the aforementioned new writers and composers and talents and I went and sang karaoke (well, I didn’t. For the good of all involved) and drank more wine, and that too was delightful. And then I went home and went to sleep, and when I woke up, well, that wasn’t so delightful anymore.

Anyhoo, lots of fun happenings in our little world of musical theater these days. But one of my favorite things of the week happened when something from within our own little peculiar universe ventured outside, and the world at large reacted in a way that pretty much made my week.

You see, one thing you learn when you are a fan of musical theater is that those who are not fans of musical theater seem to not really understand what goes on in our magical, mystical realm of sequins and jazz hands and Mondays off. We speak of strange, wonderful things, of men named Sondheim and things like backphrasing and we use words like ‘nut’ and ‘dark’, but in entirely different ways than most other people use them. And even better, musical theater performers can do things that normal humans cannot. Let me explain.

The X-Men movie franchise is alive and well, and as the newest incarnation, called ‘X-Men: First Class’ (because it shows the origins of the X-Men school, and thus young versions of the older characters in the previous films) is gearing up, casting rumors have been flying fast and loose. One such rumor that began last week began when the Times said that Benjamin Walker, star of the Public’s ‘Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson’, had been offered a plumb role in the new franchise. But who could he be playing?

Aww. So cute.

Now, let me back up a bit here and talk about Benjamin Walker. First of all, Benjamin Walker is dreamy; a strange combination of a big man with a baby face, and very pale man with very dark hair, it all somehow works. Benjamin Walker is also talented – he’s a Juilliard grad who’s been working consistently since graduating, he anchors ‘BBAJ’ so completely that the industry talk is that there is no point in moving the show if they don’t have him in it. But most of all, Benjamin Walker’s got what I call ‘the Juju’ – whatever he does, you can’t look away. Benjamin Walker, simply put, is a star. And it’s not surprising that movies figured this out.

Benjamin Walker leading the cast of 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson', and wearing the world's luckiest shirt. (What? I'm allowed to be pervy sometimes.)

Alright, back to the casting rumor. So, Ben Walker’s awesome, he’s been offered this mystery role. I, being in casting and a musical theater and X-Man nerd, eagerly search the internet to see what role this could be. And though the most common guess was that he would play ‘Beast’, a furry blue genius with superstrength, I come across a piece in a British newspaper blog that says this (and was echoed many other places on the interwebs):

“Walker’s musical connections could mean he is in line to play Sean Cassidy, the Irish mutant called Banshee with a sonic scream (and whose similarly-powered daughter was seen shrieking like an intruder alarm when the mansion was raided in X-Men 2).”

Yes, that’s right. Ben Walker is in musical, and he sings, so clearly he must be playing the mutant WITH A SUPERHUMAN, SONIC SCREAM. That completely makes sense. Because being able to sing definitely means that you can create mutant noises.* And there’s no way that this movie franchise would ever use, say, special effects to create that scream (that daughter must have been played by Anna Kendrick – she does the musicals too!). Nope, better hire a singer with ‘musical connections’ (like the mob!).

By the same standard, the only reason that James Marsden  must have gotten the role of Cyclops was because he had bad eyesight, and Hugh Jackman must have landed Wolverine because his fingernails grew slightly faster than normal people’s. And Rebecca Romijn only played Mystique because her body was supernaturally perfect (oh wait, scratch that last one.)

But wait a second there… Hugh Jackman has won Tony Awards for his musical theater doin’. James Marsden was in the movie version of ‘Hairspray’, singing and dancing up a storm. Kelsey Grammar, who played the older version of the part that is now officially Ben Walker’s, is currently starring on Broadway in ‘La Cage Aux Folles’, a musical. Maybe I don’t have this quite right at all – maybe musical theater people really do make the best superhuman mutants!

So there ya go, X-Men film franchise. Congratulations on your snagging of the delicious and talented Ben Walker. But next movie, could you throw a little credit our way and acknowledge the secret talent pool from which you’re drawing? I’m thinking you can throw in a new mutant – ‘Bernadette Fosse/’Razzmatazz’ – a brassy belter who can shoot electricity out of her fingertips. But only when she’s doing Jazz Hands, of course.

*It also begs the question that if Banshee’s power were something that most singers could do, why would his parents have sent him to Mutant school, and not, say, Stagedoor Manor? Does that mean that the next X-Men movie will be set in Stagedoor Manor, and the kids will all be like ‘mutant power: tap dancing’.