Monday, June 28, 2010

#29: F*ck you, I'm happy being poor

I often get sneers and jeers when I tell people that I'm off to New York (again) or somewhere else like Pittsburgh or Denver. People mock me, telling me I must be made of money or I must have a sugar daddy.

Its actually quite simple really. I am flack fucking broke. All of the time. I live from paycheck to paycheck every single week; I barely scrape by on my credit card bill, car insurance and other expenses. When something goes wrong with my car I have to take it to a mechanic that offers payment plans and is understanding of the fact that I am indeed another college student who will be up to their eyeballs in debt when they graduate. I can honestly say, while occasionally I will silently swear at my empty bank account, you will never ever hear me complain about my lack of money. Nor will you ever see me pass up a trip to New York, even if its for 24 hours.

Now I know that some of you are asking "Why, why on earth would you put yourself through that stress all the time? Why can't you just save your money? I'm sure that you'd by much happier without the stress!"

Again, a simple answer: I don't want to.

Don't worry, I'm going to give you more than that. The thing is, I live in a town that fits ever single stereotype you can imagine for a small, Southern(ish) town. There are people in this area that haven't been any further than 60 miles from their front door. You say "New York" and they either think of a baseball team or a place where you get mugged all the time. My father tells me two things constantly: 1.)I was born 40 years too early and 2.) I was born in the wrong location; and I believe him. I look around at these people who haven't traveled 60 miles from their doorstep, who have never seen a Broadway show or even a real skyscraper, who have never been in an area with more than a hundred people or met someone they weren't related to or knew about; and I pity them, I think how empty their lives must be. I mean sure, they're happy and yeah that lifestyle floats their boat but its definitely not for me. I've often compared my hometown and its lifestyle to quicksand: once you get stuck, you're slowly pulled under and suffocated by monotony and a provincial lifestyle. At least, that's how I feel anyway. Please don't mistake these feelings for absolute loathing; there are things about my town that I love and will miss terribly when I do finally move.

The main issue is this: I don't want to be in my 40's and 50's and look back on my life with regret. I know that I have responsibilities and that I can't go to New York or anywhere else whenever I damn well please (though, I'm still working on marrying that rich man), however you can bet your ass I'm going if I can afford to. It just so happens that my good friend Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost and hopeless causes, smiled on me and made it possible for me to go to New York twice this month. I'm not Catholic, but Saint Jude has become my buddy. Every time I go to New York and step foot in the square in front of Penn Station (my nostrils filled with everything from car exhaust and gasoline, to honey-roasted nuts and hot dogs, and of course urine and horse shit. Its a surprisingly comforting and familiar smell.) and take in the surroundings its as if I'm doing it for the first time, every time.

I will be able to tell my children, and grandchildren about all of the wonderful and amazing things I did when I was younger. How many shows I saw in my lifetime, how the city has changed since I was a kid, the places I went, things I did, and the wonderful people I met along the way. Sure, I'm broke now and it goes without say that I sacrifice a lot so that I can live this lifestyle that I do, but honestly I'm happy.

At least, that's how I see it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#28: Broadway vs. Hollywood: A battle of EPIC proportions

Broadway and Hollywood. Two separate entities that have been at "war" for years. They first met in 1927 when Warner Bros. made the first "talkie" film The Jazz Singer, about a month before that Florenz Ziegfeld opened Show Boat, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstien II's adaptation of the book. Two artistic phenomenons within two months of each other. It seemed as though from that moment on, Broadway and Hollywood would be in each others lives and at each others throats.

And this "war" has continued even today, much like political parties, you ask anyone what they prefer and they're very adamant about where they stand. Broadway or Hollywood. They prefer to sit in a theatre with a huge screen with the jumbo sized popcorn and soda, ignoring the sticky floors and the person who forgot to turn off their phone, to be swept away by the magic of movies. Or they prefer the velvet seats, the feel of Playbill pages between their fingers as they read about the actors, and the surge of excitement when they come out on stage for the first time; so close that you could almost reach out and shake their hand. Well, if you're in the orchestra section that is, but you know what I mean. Both bring enormous amounts of satisfaction to people, they provide an escape from their everyday lives and problems, and they give people a feeling that they aren't alone. They do have two major things in common though: They're both in a theatre and frickin' expensive.

Advocates of the theatre argue that without Broadway, Hollywood would have never been born. The stage is the oldest art form next to painting, people have been putting on live shows for thousands of years and from them actors and producers today have learned some valuable tricks of the trade to keep the theatre entertaining and alluring. However you can't argue with the fact that Hollywood gave society something that Broadway couldn't: easier access. There are millions of movie theatres all over the country, all one has to do is walk down the block and turn the corner. Broadway is a little harder to get to, especially if you don't live in New York; sure there are tours but even then you're met with getting to a theatre. Which isn't easy if you don't live in a city like myself. As much as I would love to go to Broadway every weekend, I just can't; it is not possible for me to do unless I marry a rich man. Which is something I'm working on. But until I find my rich husband I have to take what I can get, even if I'm sitting through the movie that had been a Broadway musical until someone sold the rights to Hollywood, and I'm silently judging and critiquing every actor in the movie...I'm there and I'm being entertained and swept away for a few hours.

Believe it or not there is a reason for this, as some of you theatre buffs may know Hunter Foster recently made headlines in the theatre world with his Facebook Group, which you can check out here, "Give the Tony's Back to Broadway!" At first I was like "HELL YES! GO HUNTER!" But I can be impulsive and not think things through, so now that I have...allow me to tell you how I see it:
There was a statement made in the article that really rang true to me, and it was a very well-written and educated response:
“Look, talent is talent, so whether Hollywood stars or Broadway unknowns are on the NYC stages, fine. But the Tony awards ceremony should honor Broadway and stay loyal to those that brought the spotlighted shows to life… not the names that are just that: names.”

I think that is my main issue with Hollywood actors coming to Broadway. Honestly it really has nothing to do with them, it has everything to do with the producers and everyone who handles marketing, ticket sales, etc. They know that people who aren't necessarily into live theatre will come if they hear that someone like Denzel Washington is going to be in it. I've been known for scoffing at Hollywood actors, thinking them impudent and brazen for thinking that they could compare themselves to a Broadway actor, someone whose craft far surpasses theirs because they have spent their life performing in front of a live audience; where there is no "cut" or editing a scene. However if you do a simple google or wikipedia search, you'll find that some Hollywood actors got their start in live theatre. I find those actors to be the ones I respect the most, and I do recognize that even the ones that didn't get their start in theatre aren't any less talented; they're just doing what they love to do in the environment they're comfortable in.
If you read my previous column, you know that I recently went to see two shows this past weekend: A Little Night Music and Everyday Rapture. Both had two amazing leading ladies: Hollywood icon Catherine Zeta-Jones and Broadway favorite Sherie Rene Scott. Both of their performances were out of this world, CZJ performed while she was sick and never missed a note or a line; Sherie's amazing voice and acting ability continues to amaze me every time I see her on stage. The only difference between the two is CZJ is best known for her movies (though if you do that google search, you'll find that 20 years prior to this stage debut, she was in a West End Production of 42nd Street AND she did all of her own singing and dancing in Chicago) and Sherie for her stage. Neither performance was better than the other, they both gave the audience their all and then some.

I understand where Hunter is coming from, and I don't think that he's saying that Hollywood actors are any less than Broadway actors. I also don't think that most Hollywood actors think they're better than Broadway actors. However I think that the Tony awards ceremony should honor Broadway, and the past few years that I've watched it I have seen that philosophy slipping more and more into the shadows. It has nothing to do with the actors themselves, whether they're Broadway or Hollywood, but with those damn money whoring producers and people like them. They figure if they have a few "famous" people, ratings will skyrocket and people will flock to the theatre. What's funny is the fact that those money whore's are forgetting this: Broadway has been around for a century or so, and sure shows have come and gone, theatres have been destroyed and rebuilt but it's still there. The heart and soul of Broadway is not something that's easily destroyed, it's survived this long without the help of ratings and big names and I think it has quite a few more years to go.

I recognize real talent, as I'm sure you dear reader do as well, so lets not be too quick to judge those who step off of Sunset Boulevard and on to the Great White Way. However I don't see Broadway actors as presenters on the Academy Awards, so I think that those organizations really need to think about who they're honoring.

At least, that's how I see it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

#27: A Little Rapture

I am going to warn you ahead of time, this post is going to mostly be gushing about my recent trip to see A Little Night Music and Everyday Rapture. So if that's not your cup of tea just skip the first couple of paragraphs.

Lets start with Night Music.

It was the first show that introduced me to the amazing composer/lyricist/all around genius Steven Sondheim, so I went into the show with a more than overflowing sense of excitement. From the moment the Overture's melodies filled the air, I knew that there was no place that could make me happier in that moment. The cast was almost perfect, I say almost because I did not care for Hunter Ryan Herdlicka's portrayal of Henrik. I won't go into every little detail, but what turned me off was when he sang "Later," he literally screamed at one point and I expected Sondheim himself to pop up and smack him. Other than that, I found everyone else to be a perfect fit for the characters. Let me mention just a few:
Leigh Ann Larkin was absolutely charming as Petra, the very "free-spirited" maid. Leigh Ann recently starred in the 2008 revival of Gypsy as Dainty June, so she's no stranger to Sondheim; I absolutely adored her version of "The Miller's Son" and it has become my new favorite song in the production.
I have to mention Betsy Morgan because when I went to see The Little Mermaid, she was playing Ariel and therefor it is my obligation to gush a little about her. She has a gorgeous voice, its one of those unique voices that makes you cock your head and go "Huh, that's different! I like it!" Her role was unique, she was part of the Greek chorus, I know it sounds weird that a Greek chorus would show up in a modern day Broadway musical but it really did work. I found it particularly fitting in "Remember," the scene in which the characters of Desiree and Frederik reminisced about their past together. In the original production everyone around them froze as they sang, this was unique and original, and as I said before it really did work.
How can one talk about this production, and not talk about Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury? Though she did perform, it was very apparent within the first few minutes that she was on stage that CZJ was not feeling too well. Her voice was a little stuffy, but that did not hinder her performance in the least; she was very careful in the first act and most of the second, one could tell that she was saving her voice for her solo, one of Sondheim's most popular and beautiful songs: Send in the Clowns. She did splendidly! Much better than her Tony Performance; don't get me wrong, she sounded amazing that night, but her neck jerking reminded me of a pigeon. Cut her some slack though, it was the Tony Awards, and I think even someone of her caliber is allowed to be terribly nervous. When she started to sing, I felt my eyes water, by the time she was finished I was a puddle. There is something about that song that touches a small part of you.
Speaking of something that touches a small part of you, let me gush about Angela. From the second she came out on stage I was all a flutter with excitement, then when it came time for her to sing her solo I was a puddle. I never thought in a million years that I would be able to say that I was blessed enough to see a living legend on a Broadway stage TWICE in my life. Oh and just so you know, age hasn't affected her in the least. She still has it, and her rendition of "Liasons" was absolute perfection.

I'm going to borrow the description from the facebook page: Everyday Rapture is the story of a young womans psycho-sexual-spiritual journey on the rocky path that separates her mostly Mennonite past from her mostly Manhattan future. Her life takes her from the cornfields of Kansas to the clover fields of New York (with a disturbing detour through YouTube). With a cast of five led by Sherie Rene Scott, the show also features songs made famous by David Byrne, Roberta Flack, Mister Rogers, The Dap Kings and Judy Garland. Sherie Rene Scott is probably one of the funniest people, with a killer voice, that you've never heard about, she co-wrote the show along with Dick Scanlan. It's sort of a semi-biographical, one-woman-and-two-backup-singers show; Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe are the two back-up singers, and they were phenomenal; I hope that they do concerts or something because I would love to hear them individually. The show is mostly a satirical look into the world of this young woman, but there were some moments that really got your wheels turning or had you reaching for the kleenexes. She described moments from the death of her gay cousin Jerome, and Fred Phelps in all of his hateful glory showed up to protest his funeral; to the time her son first found a four leaf clover, the cat eating it (to which she described: "I had my hands around his neck, prying his mouth open. I wanted to kill this fucking cat! I told my son that mommy was petting the cat in a way that you should never pet the cat!"), and her wondering if they really were specks of dust and if the world wasn't meant for them. I have to say that it has become my new favorite show, and I wish that it would extend its limited engagement so I could see it again.

I apologize for the long tirade, but there aren't enough words to describe the utter joy and freedom that the theatre gives me.