Mar 30, 2007

In the Details

Tom Waits talks about early influences in an old interview with Terry Gross (at about 9 minutes in):
I liked songs with the names of towns in them. I liked songs with weather in them. And something to eat. I feel like there’s a certain anatomical aspect to a song that I respond to. I think, “Oh, yeah, I can go into that world: There’s something to eat, there’s the name of a street, there’s a saloon.” I think probably that’s why I put things that like that in my songs.

Whirly Merge

Disney World's new ride sounds awesome. Imagine: "Riders are...treated to a dizzying laser-light e-mail exchange and a lightning-speed courier chase as they spin down the seemingly endless 'Paper Trail.' "

Mar 28, 2007

Subterranean Homesick Cowboy

I've made a new musical video production, and here it is. The director is Nina Najjar.

All my YouTube thingies, including one directed by Ken Roht, are here.

Mar 27, 2007

Le Temps est Tendu

Booker T, who led possibly the greatest non-jazz instrumental band ever, tells Terry Gross (about 25 minutes in) about the melody of the group's greatest song, "Time Is Tight":
I wrote that in Paris, on the banks of the River Seine...If you listen to the melody, listen to the simplicity of it, I think that was born out of my classical roots, actually. It's not a 12-bar blues; it's an odd number of bars. I listen to people like Jean Sibelius, people who wrote these long, flowing melodies, and found a personal comfort in that type of thing. And a lot of people tell me that song makes them feel relaxed and comfortable.


Mar 26, 2007

Quotable Santo

At the recent TDF/Sharaff Awards for excellence in costume design (my little write-up here), lifetime achievement honoree Santo Loquasto protested that he's too young to receive such an honor, then offered this pause-giving observation: "I have so shrouded my work in dissatisfaction, I would hate to think I had to stop." Wow, you don't hear that on awards podia very often, do you? Other bits of Loquasto-loquation worth repeating: "Collaboration is not for sissies." And, "I would be remiss if I didn't thank the lighting designers who have plunged my work into the dark over the years...You know who you are."

Entrancing "Entrances"

It gives me great joy to realize (I guess it's not news) that Athol Fugard's Exits and Entrances will make its New York debut this week at Primary Stages in its original production, with Stephen Sachs directing and the two cast members who created it definitively in L.A. at the Fountain Theatre in 2004, Morlan Higgins and William Dennis Hurley. Those who wonder what more Fugard has to say since apartheid's end, as I did, should be beguiled and moved by this look back to his early days in the theater, and to his formative experience in the thrall of a deeply confused and deeply fascinating Afrikaner actor. I can't recommend it highly enough. My interview with Fugard at the time of its opening is here.

Mar 23, 2007

Nearly Naked Self-Promotion

I'm having my first Manhattan gig next week, Tues. Mar 27 at 9 p.m. at Bar Nine in Hell's Kitchen. Opening will be the fabulous singer/songwriter Kevin Ray. The show is free. What else can you ask for? In related news, I've dipped my toe (and, um, the rest of me) into the music video racket with this. More to come.


Saw Clay McLeod Chapman's volume of smoke last night, directed by fellow blogger Isaac Butler with great care and finesse at the lovely 14th Street Y Theatre. Its inspiration is a little-remembered fire in a Richmond, VA theatre in 1811, in which 72 people perished, and on the charred ruins of which Monumental Church was built.

A cast of six, in period clothes on a mostly bare stage, recounts the performance, the fire, and its aftermath from various points of view, from a musician in the pit to bystanders outside who arrived to help; even the voices of the dead get the floor for a few chilling moments.

The resonances with a certain disaster of our lifetime--we hear about victims jumping from higher stories to avoid the blaze, about squabbles over what to build on the site's ashes, about opportunistic judgments about the meaning of the tragedy--are striking, if ultimately not exactly illuminating.

Indeed, despite the beautiful, intent work of Butler and his cast--particularly Daryl Lathon, Brian Silliman, and Molly Wright Stuart--I didn't feel that the show met the storyteller's basic challenge: Why this story, now, told this way? Its well-rendered moments of beauty, terror, and poignance have the inexplicable, riveting power of ghost stories told in a darkened room, but for me these highlights didn't quite overcome the sense that I'd stumbled into a heartfelt funeral for someone I didn't know. Here Isaac makes a better case than the play itself does.

Volume of smoke runs through Apr. 7 at the 14th Street Theater, 344 E. 14th Street (in the Y). (212) 352-3101.

Mar 21, 2007

Thorny Collaboration File

The Lily Tomlin/David O. Russell contretemps on the set of I Heart Huckabees is getting a lot of play on the Web. I just thought I'd add that I'm hardly surprised that Isabelle Huppert, in the second clip, keeps her Gallic cool. Warning: Numbing profanity.

Mar 9, 2007

Just What the DR Ordered

My official gone fishin' post: I'll be in the Dominican Republic for a full week, on my first non-obligatory vacation in I don't know how long. Best of all, I won't be reachable! I'll be taking some reading along: Ken Emerson's excellent history of the "Brill Building era" songwriter, Always Magic in the Air, Robert Wright's Nonzero, and Walter "Mac" Davis' Art & Politics. That, a small practice guitar, my honey, and of course the iPod, through which I'll no doubt wear out the following Midlake tune (though not the video--I'm music-crazy, not crazy-crazy), which I leave in your care, dear reader, until we virtually meet again.

Mar 7, 2007

Mar 2, 2007

Walk Like a Man

I guess Jersey Boys director Des McAnuff and co-librettist Marshall Brickman won't be working together again soon. In the SF Chronicle's otherwise standard puff preview piece about the three-member female chorus in the show's Frisco run, McAnuff offered this:
Director Des McAnuff explains why there are only three actresses playing so many roles. When writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice approached McAnuff with the idea for "Jersey Boys," there was no script, just the idea.

"I didn't like it very much," McAnuff recalls... "Marshall and Rick were very gracious about the rejection. And even after I turned them down twice, they were very persistent. So we came up with the outline together. I helped them with the structure.

"And at one point, they came up with a chorus of 16 Jersey girls. Frankly, I didn't think it worked. It was ridiculously extravagant considering the blue-collar nature of the group. So, simply put, the reason we have three girls is because I said we could have three girls -- and that's it."

Brickman hurled a brick back in a recent letter to the Chronicle:

We can finally put to rest any lingering doubts about who is responsible for the success of our little offering, "Jersey Boys"... It is, of course, the director. Le spectacle, c'est lui. I see him now, goose quill in hand, fingers raw, eyes bloodshot from his tireless restructuring of our 72-page "idea."

Would that I had known him years ago so he could have restructured the screenplays for "Sleeper" and "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" and "Simon" and "Lovesick" and "The Manhattan Project"--they might have won awards and gained some critical acclaim. Or instructed William Shawn in the proper restructuring of my New Yorker pieces.

But I was naive then and didn't know enough to be persistent. Twice we offered him the crown and twice he refused it, it says. Sheer modesty. We offered it to him 139 times. Only after we doused ourselves with gasoline and lit a match did he agree to interrupt his restructuring of the book for "Dracula, the Musical" to heed our pleas and, as a bonus, instruct us in the niceties of the musical theater: how to arrive fashionably late, how to humiliate the cast, how to create an atmosphere of collegiality rivaled only by a board meeting at Hewlett-Packard, how to give interviews that, for sheer fantastic invention, rival anything out of Lewis Carroll.

But why be churlish? I owe the man. He wrote our show, ate my dinner, married my wife and fathered my children. For all I know, he may have even written this letter.

Can an Albee/McAnuff collaboration be far off?

Collaborative Contretemps

The Albee gauntlet is taken up here, here, and here. As I said before, not being a playwright or a director, I don't have a dog in this race. As a critic I can say I find Albee intermittently as good as any playwright of the past half-century, but given the withering vision of human nature that emerges in his work (I found The Goat, for instance, both irresistibly provocative and bone-chillingly near-nihilistic), I am hardly surprised that he's a prickly, mean old coot.

Mar 1, 2007

On the Front Lines

From a friend who recently saw Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A.:
Enjoyed Virginia Woolf a few weeks back. Maddening that the time on the ticket was 7:30 and the curtain actually went up at 7:30. Since when does anything in L.A. start on time, ever? Couldn't even use the john before hand. My back teeth were floatin' all through the first act. And just like a rock concert, a couple had taken our seats when we got there. Could have been worse though--only four cell phones went off during the play.

Ah, the City of Angels.