Monday, November 14, 2011

Please spell... weltanschauung.

Yes, I did spell that word without looking it up.
No, I didn't sing Barfee's part while doing so.

Shortly after the last post I made here, I auditioned for a community theatre production of William Finn's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Quite honestly, I thought my solo audition was horrendous. Before and after an audition is the only periods of time when I feel nervous and/or uncomfortable, but once I get up on that stage, I calm down and feel at home. I love musical theatre that much. After everyone's [closed door] audition, we all went into the theatre and read from the script with one another, several times. This helps the director get a sense of how he wants to cast the show, all the while keeping in mind what he heard from our solos. After readings, we quickly learned a section from "Pandemonium" that involved harmonies, got split into a few groups so that they could pick out voices individually. There were 2 people per soprano/alto/tenor/bass -- though, technically, there's no bass in this show, everyone's parts are higher than usual as we're meant to be kids. There are a few moments in the show that the sopranos are hitting notes you typically hear in operas. I believe I heard the woman who played Rona in the original production ended up speak-singing at some point in the run of the show. Whether or not this is true, I wouldn't doubt it happening. I think there was only one moment that I actually sang higher than our Rona did.

On that note, yes, I was cast.

I'm not much of an actor but I gave it my all in the reading and group song because I really did think I botched my solo. I mean, I forgot to breathe properly! Which, of course, messed up my technique completely. Anyway, the day after the audition (rather, the night after my audition, as my phone started playing the Doctor Who theme at 11:30pm) I got a call from the director and was offered the role of Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, an ambitious girl with gay dads and a lisp. I accepted, we talked about how excited we were for the show, he told me we had a great cast, I bounced around a little bit after hanging up the phone, and then I told my parents I was going to be in the show.

Here's the thing... I don't really have a dream to be on the stage. I enjoy it but I just don't have a passion for it. I've been finding I don't really have a passion for much of anything. I enjoy many things but not to the point of "I want this to by my career." If anything, I think I'd want to direct. I feel I'm better at telling people what I want to see rather than doing it myself. In the same sense, I think I'd be a great casting director. But I digress! The rehearsal process was fun and stressful -- the show ended up being more difficult than any of us expected. *shakes fist at William Finn* Nevertheless, we had a good run and I loved my castmates. I'm in a singing group with a few of them, but I miss everyone else's faces very much.

We had a lot of good times during those 2 1/2 months. For our last show, we asked Francesca (our show's Rona) to use the "Mrs. X lives her life according to the gospel of Spongebob Squarepants" line, and we all agreed to do a little improv, if you will. If you're unfamiliar, typically for last shows, cast members have a little fun during scenes without throwing anyone off too much. When Francesca used the line, we all put up our hands and simultaneously said, "Preach!" Good times...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

I clearly fail at meeting goals I set for myself here on this blog. (re: Sondheim posts I claimed I'd be making in the previous post.) I'm therefore never promising any posts and will just post as I please. Moving on!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a musical based off the Charles Dickens novel of the same name. The novel was never finished and therefore Dickens' intended ending remained a mystery itself. Rupert Holmes (Drood's composer and book writer) decided to create alternate endings for the show, every possible ending, and every night the show's audience as a collective was allowed to participate and decide "whodunit". For this show, Holmes won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score, and the show won a few other Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Betty Buckley is one of those Broadway legends who will make you glad you saw a show even if the show itself was the worst piece of garbage to ever exist. Luckily, this show is not one of those and Buckley is in RARE form here. Just listen to that big note at 2:55!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Art Isn't Easy: "A Little Priest"

The purpose of this song was to introduce a big piece of the story to the audience, and to do so as carefully as possible. I mean, let’s face it, the audience is going to be grossed out. (Half of the audience left during intermission on opening night. No doubt this occurrence continued for a few weeks at least.) Sondheim’s main purpose for adapting Christopher Bond’s play in the first place was to see if he could write a musical that would scare people. But even so, he had to reveal this bit of the story lightly and decided to do that with using something familiar to musical theatre audiences: a list song. Even though “A Little Priest” does qualify as a list song, there’s certainly more to it that it ultimately can’t be considered only a list song; “Let’s Fall in Love” it is not. There’s intent, there’s development, and while it may be very slight, it’s still there. This song introduces a new plot, after-all.

It’s well known (and, quite frankly, easy to tell) that Sondheim’s inspiration for Sweeney came from Bernard Herrmann’s movie scores. That quality is not so much present in this piece, apart from the first several bars. The music changes slightly with one instrument [forgive me, I won’t try to even guess what instruments take part in pieces of music, even if I am 98% sure] that comes in right when Lovett mentions Pirelli’s “plump frame”. The mood becomes lighter, it’s the first hint of the playfulness. Listen to what is going on outside of that one instrument though, there’s still a sinister sound underneath. (Appropriately so.) I love moments like these in Sondheim’s music. Those moments that you don’t notice until your 7th, 20th, or 51st listen. Typically, Sondheim would use mood like that to build on what is going on, but here it’s strictly to accommodate the audience. Well, that’s my best guess anyway from what I know of Sondheim’s work and what this piece is trying to accomplish. But it does seem clear that Sondheim made “A Little Priest” upbeat, clever and fun for a specific reason - to help the audience remember that they are indeed at a musical. He knew full well that one shouldn’t send an audience to the lobby with a dark number about killing people and baking them. Instead he used a well-loved musical theatre device, composed in waltz-time, and made pun after pun about one’s occupation.

There’s also the matter of Sondheim using this piece as an opportunity to show off his rhyming skills, particularly with “The trouble with poet is how do you know it’s deceased. Try the priest.” Not only does he use the familiar poet/know it rhyme, I think it can be assumed that the "s" sound in “it’s” is intended to go with "deceased" and "priest". (It goes with the waltz-time anyway.) Sing it aloud and you’ll notice “it’s” gets dragged out in the delivery. This pattern is revisited with “Beadle isn’t bad ‘til ya smell it and notice how well it’s been greased. Stick to priest.” Then there’s the moment where Sondheim admits that not even he can find a rhyme for every word. (In a different context, I bet you he could have.) Lovett offers various meat pies to Sweeney, but he rejects every offer, asking for something more *insert adjective here that rhymes with previous offer*, and Lovett finally outwits Sweeney by offering him “locksmith”. Sondheim Sweeney is at a loss. Finally, there’s the lyric that always seems to get the biggest laugh: “And we have some shepherd’s pie peppered with some actual shepherd on top.” That Sondheim is a clever clever man. :)

p.s. Something I credit Sondheim for may actually be something Jonathan Tunick (an orchestrator who worked on most of Sondheim’s shows) did for the piece. For example, in “Not While I’m Around” when Lovett sings to Toby, I’ve heard it was Tunick who put in that haunting violin accompaniment.

p.p.s. This is a new series of write-ups on Sondheim's music that I've decided to do. Figured it'd help me get back to blogging more. (I'll actually most likely have another post up this weekend on tonight's season premiere of Doctor Who.) These posts may not always be as informative, they could just turn out more fangirl-y, but I will try my best to avoid that. And again, anything I point out are simply my observations and not facts, unless I say so. (e.g. Herrmann being an influence on Sweeney's score.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Matt Smith has signed on for Series 7 of Doctor Who.

This news pleases me so. I am a big fan of Matt's portrayal of the good Doctor. He portrays the Doctor as very much an old man in a young man's body, and the signs of the old man peak through a couple times every episode and they are wonderful moments. It will be a sad day when Matt takes his leave, but I will be just as excited to see who jumps on board next. I'm new to Who, but I know very well that the change is nothing new and to be expected - certainly nothing to get too upset over. (Cue me side-eying some so-called Whovians.)

This week there was a special 8-minute mini-episode on BBC's Red Nose Day, a biennial telethon event for Comic Relief. Embedded below is the first part of the episode, and here is a link to part 2. Enjoy! And enjoy! (You will only understand this once you've seen it.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's a city of strangers; some come to work, some to play.

I was watching the recording session of Stephen Sondheim's Company last night and felt the urge to make a brief Pamela Myers appreciation post.

Stephen Sondheim and Pamela Myers (1970)

A 22-year old Pamela Myers auditioned for Stephen Sondheim's Company in the late 60s. Sondheim & co. loved her, they couldn't imagine not giving her the role, but they had doubts doing so because appearance-wise she wasn't fit for it. Luckily, they were able to "easily" change the character's original description to fit her because they couldn't let such a remarkable talent go. Sounds like the plot of a movie, right? There was also no solo originally written for the character and they all decided she absolutely had to have one. She had to be shown off! They managed to stretch said song across 3 separate scenes, connecting purposeful moments with each woman the main character was seeing. The song was "Another Hundred People", a challenging number that put Pam's talent on display. Needless to say, she and the song were a show-stopper for the unconventional 1970 musical. Myers received a Tony nomination in 1971 for her performance and is adored to this day. At a 1993 concert, she received a minute-long applause after a "reprise" performance of the song that made everyone remember her name.

(Myers also impressively performed this song 3 years ago - putting her, at the time, at 60 years old!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover.

Yes, that's a quote from The Simpsons up there. I found it appropriate. Now, this won't be a negative post. Well, it will be in a sense but I'm not ranting by any means. I'm simply sharing some thoughts I've had recently.

On television shows, the writers seem to be focused on making an important issue they tackle as real as it can be. That's fine, it's good even, but it seems as though it is the only thing they think they can do. They never seem to consider, "How about we show this differently in our made-up world where everything else is unlike the real world." What I'm talking about is when a show tackles a story about, say... cancer or the gay community, to start with two separate examples. One specific example I want to start with first is The L Word's 'Dana'. She had breast cancer and the show runner killed her off because "Women do die from breast cancer and I felt it was important to show that, especially with a character everyone loves so much." What she failed to understand is that we're all aware women die from breast cancer, we're well aware many people die from all sorts of cancer. (What she also failed to understand is that killing off a fan-favorite doesn't bode well for your show.) To address my point re: this issue though, how about showing the process of fighting cancer year after year? I personally think that'd make a bigger impact. I mean, if you really wanted to "remind" the audience of the possibility of someone losing their battle, then introduce a new character Dana could have befriended and ultimately lost along the way. There's a lot more available there story-wise; there are three big stories I can think of off the top of my head, actually.

As for my other example, I've decided to use a different topic instead because of a show I've been watching lately. Degrassi has a transgender character, which is impressive considering I can only think of one other show that has done this, but I am frankly scared for this character. The show has a tendency to kill off someone every other year and I fear they may go the more realistic route with him eventually. By 'more realistic' I mean that half of transgender people attempt suicide (this Degrassi character has inflicted pain) and many are raped/murdered. I've been wondering lately if it'd be best for the show to create a better, more accepting environment instead. Mind you, only the 3 bullies (who pick on everyone for anything at all) have bothered 'Adam', while everyone else is very accepting of him. But why not create a story to have at least 2 of them reconsider their views? It may not seem realistic to most people, but I think it'd be much more beneficial to the audience. I mean, even with how well the show's been addressing this, I've seen a few forum posts and video blogs on YouTube of viewers still saying things like "Well, Fiona won't be with Adam because Adam's actually a girl and Fiona's not into girls that way." Even after an entire season of episodes, including one almost completely devoted to Adam's story - showing Adam will not accept being referred to as a female by anyone and when changing to "Gracie" for his step-mom, he started hurting himself again - viewers are still not accepting it themselves even though they claim to "not have an issue with Adam". Some of them still refer to the character as Adam/Gracie or he/she. Mind you, it's a lesser amount than one would expect, especially with a big teen audience that are most likely learning about trans people for the first time. The show really has positively informed many about this topic, which is wonderful. It could do even more with handling Adam's story in the way I mentioned, especially if they were to have Fiona remain interested in Adam after finding out he is transgender. To those unfamiliar with her character, her choosing to stay with Adam would definitely fit the character as she has quite a handful of issues herself and doesn't judge anyone for theirs. It's curious to me why half of the fans assume she won't, though, but I think that may be a general assumption of their own and not one of Fiona.

I do know it's important to show these very real situations that people go through in their lives, but again, sometimes I wonder if it's just as important to create a "less realistic" community of characters that are entirely accepting. I just feel that the only way people are going to start changing, or even re-considering their views, is if they witness little to no negative behavior. None of us are born close-minded and ignorant. And true, bringing up these issues even with the best representation is never going to change every person's views, but I think it'd help a large percentage to one day help us get certain laws passed without heavy resistance. Think of it as tv adapting a sort of zero tolerance policy, if you will.

Am I completely off-base here?

To sum up, I just wish television programs would mix things up a little. As I mentioned before, I find it so odd they make up these fake places with occasionally over-the-top situations, but then any sort of real issue has to be dealt with in the most "realistic" and dramatic way. I feel like they could say so much more by tackling these stories differently, in a more positive light. If you don't think you can create an interesting story out of something like that, then your characters are clearly not at all interesting on their own. Here's where shows could learn a thing or two from AMC's Mad Men.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A decent amount of work but still plenty of play.

For the past several months, I've become a bit of a "gamer". I'm very much a beginner, though. I quit Mass Effect 2 only a few hours [if that] into the game because I happened upon a mission that I found myself struggling to beat. I had to destroy these huge robots before they destroyed all of the crates I was sent to retrieve. I clearly have advanced in my gaming skills since then (ME2 was the first game I played after getting my Xbox360) because I played that mission again last week and beat it in 1 minute. We can definitely chalk my first failure up to not paying close enough attention to the game.

Video games sure have come a long way since I last played them about a decade ago. Though, admittedly I played the games I see today's gamers scoff at and do everything to avoid, sports games and whatnot. That is, unless they're exceptionally well done, because serious gamers do appreciate hard work from developers. Before picking up my Xbox360, I researched video games thoroughly, finding out what's the most critically-acclaimed and most played. The one thing that separates video games from other forms of media is that the best games end up being the best sellers. Sure, sometimes a really good tv show or film gets proper recognition, but 90% of the time they don't. 90% may be generous, actually. Anyway - I had no idea how involved I was going to have to be with the games I started picking up, particularly ME2. I read about the individual experience and all, but I guess I still didn't think much of it.

I found myself aggravated when nearing the end of the game because my character was in a state I wasn't too pleased with: I lost the loyalty of Miranda (face and voice provided by the lovely Yvonne Strahovski) after an argument was had between her and another crew member and I didn't finish 2 other teammates' loyalty missions properly. The latter was due to my being foolish. Ah well, next time! Regardless of my failures, I was still excited about the end of the game. Which was surprisingly easy. Easier than most of the levels, actually, but unfortunately more tedious as well. I won't go into detail to avoid spoiling anyone who has yet to play or even purchase the game.

On that note - there are a few amazing games coming out in the next couple months I'm very much wanting to get my hands on, namely Fable III, Medal of Honor, and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. I figure I'll wait on Call of Duty: Black Ops since I still haven't played Modern Warfare 2, will be busy with the other new releases, and I certainly have plenty of other games to finish; I have started all the games I have purchased this past year, but I haven't gotten too far in most of them.

What I've found from my 8 months of gaming is that I prefer shooters/action-adventure and action role-playing games. Games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls are where I fail, which is unfortunate because they are interesting gaming experiences. I think what I might do is sell my games that are pure role-players and trade for the ones I can play, then maybe in a year or two when I've excelled as a gamer, I can try them again. I mean, I beat those robots that [7 months ago] killed me just as fast as I ended up killing them last week. Metal bastards...