Feb 18, 2011

Friday Bits

Feb 16, 2011

Ups for Downs

I don't think I can recall the last rock show I went to (a quick illustration why: I had tickets to see Midlake, a favorite band from Texas, at the Bowery Ballroom last year, but promptly left when I realized they'd go on well after 10 pm--such are my working-dad hours these days), but I have seen the inimitable Lila Downs perform twice in NYC, once in the Spiegeltent down at South Street Seaport, and last November at City Winery. I count myself a fan of her inspired hybrid of indigenous folk and ranchera, so I was especially excited to read that she and her partner Paul Cohen are doing the words and music for Like Water for Chocolate at the Arena next fall--and that she'll be "featured" in the show. This ranks as second only to Kennedy Center's upcoming Follies as a reason to plan a D.C. trip.

Feb 15, 2011

Who Wants People?

Betty Garrett, a fixture of stage and screen and an L.A. theater hero, died last week. I used to see her around town in L.A. theater circles but never met her; I always wanted to introduce myself and say how much I love her rendition of "There's a Small Hotel," which I owned (still own?) on LP (the singing in the clip above starts at 1:40). Here's a lovely tribute video from her 90th birthday that encompasses her entire career, including the All in the Family years, though her finest moment on screen was definitely her turn as the horny cabby in On the Town, linked here (can't embed it, alas).

Feb 14, 2011

With Friends Like These

Isaac makes a point that eludes many commenters who routinely deplore the routine Republican assaults on arts funding: We have little chance of winning the argument with today's hardline conservatives, but we might start by dissuading left-liberal thinkers from joining the cutters' ball.

Feb 11, 2011

Friday Tidbits

And what says Valentine's Day better than ululations straight outa Siberia?

Feb 9, 2011

Spider-Man on the Web

I've got nothing to add the deluge of ink, real and virtual, that's been spilled over that little comic-book musicale at the Foxwoods Theatre, except to say that, after decades of thinking U2 could do (almost) no wrong, even up to and including No Line on the Horizon, I never expected Broadway to be their shark-jumping tank. But then again, Broadway managed to break another favorite of mine, Paul Simon, and may have done the same for Randy Newman if he'd ever gotten the underrated Faust past Chicago; perhaps the key for pop-star success on Broadway, as shown by the Who and Green Day, is to build a show around an integrally conceived album (which Newman could have done with Johnny Cutler's Birthday).

I can, however, recommend this long, juicy rant by Garrett Eisler, but above all I can recommend the one place where every review of the show has been aggregated and will live online as long the information superhighway runs: StageGrade (and yes, Spidey's median grade is low).

Feb 7, 2011

All Not "Lost"

photo by Joan Marcus

The Encores! run of Weill and Anderson's Lost in the Stars was too short for us to weigh the reviews on StageGrade. But I did compile all the reviews out of personal interest. I saved them to read until after I'd seen this seldom-performed 1949 "musical tragedy" on Saturday night. My wife and I were mostly enjoying ourselves when I overheard someone in the audience--an enthusiastic, even ecstatic audience, if I may say so--exclaim to a friend at intermission, in apparent disbelief, "Well, the Times hated it!"

Still, that didn't quite prepare me for Charles Isherwood's breathtaking diss of the endeavor ("a jumbo can of spinach," was his pronouncement), though he saved a few kind words for conductor Rob Berman and the cast. I was even less prepared for Erik Haagensen's equally harsh slam, which took roughly the opposite approach, deploring the production as a travesty of a still potent work. Maybe the show had improved by the night I saw it; I found it an entirely worthy outing, and most of all I found Weill's score thrilling enough to compensate for the odd shape and often stodgy pieties of Anderson's book. I'm afraid it may not make the case for the work's stage-worthiness, as Haagensen seems to feel, but as a kind of stage oratorio, I would count this a rich addition to the repertory (and, as I've mentioned, chances to hear these scores live are, for me, personal landmarks).

Thankfully, it turns out that I and my wife (herself no particular Weill-o-phile, I should note) were not crazy; a number of my colleagues felt similarly warmish to the show. On the positive side of the ledger of reviews, I would count Mark Kennedy's for the AP, Michael Sommers' for New Jersey Newsroom, Joe Dziemanowicz's for NY Daily News, Michael Dale's for Broadwayworld, Elisabeth Vincentelli's for the Post, and Matt Windman's for amNewYork. Coming in with more equivocal judgments were Variety's Steve Suskin, New York's Scott Brown, Newsday's Linda Winer, Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray, and Theatermania's David Finkle. Indeed, the only outright slams I found were from the aforementioned Isherwood and Haagensen.

I don't pretend to be objective about Kurt Weill, whose stature, for me personally, only increases the more I hear his scores sung and played live. But my own taste aside, I do think it a worthy goal to set the record straight--particularly when the paper of record doesn't quite represent the consensus.

UPDATE: And Feingold turns in another one for the positive ledger.