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Tag Archives: Theater

Weekly Mishmash: March 7-14

playbill_avenueqAvenue Q. A mishmash first — theat-ah! I’ve been longing to see Avenue Q ever since hearing an interview with the show’s two songwriters professing their love for Sesame Street and The Electric Company (one even sung the latter’s T-I-O-N tune, neat). The soundtrack has been a popular play in our house for years, but we haven’t seen the whole show in performance until last week. Although the cast in this touring production was a shade less polished than the Broadway cast, we totally enjoyed it. People claim the show is pretty racy, but in actuality the humor is on the same level as your average PG-13 rated comedy. The book and music are very hip and knowing, as exemplified by “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” below. And I loved the graphic shout-outs to Sesame and Electric shown via onstage monitors. It would have been cool to have seen this in a smaller theater when it was just starting out, since the cavernous Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe was a bit outsized for the show’s purpose, but nonetheless this was a great thing to experience with an enthusiastic cast and audience.

Citizen Ruth (1996). Laura Dern as a paint-huffing loser who finds herself pregnant for a fourth time while imprisoned. She is bailed out by a Christian family and becomes the center of a heated tug of war between pro-life and pro-choice forces who want to use her for their own means. Being a big fan of Alexander Payne’s Election and Sideways, I looked forward to his first feature and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed. The film is filled to the brim with colorful characters who are only grounded enough to not look like human cartoons. Payne doesn’t firmly side with either group, and seems to take the position that having a myopic view on any issue regardless of one’s viewpoint is unhealthy. Generally I liked the casting, except that Laura Dern’s dim bulb character grated as the film progressed (for too long). Having the film revolve around someone so obviously stupid was an interesting change from the norm, however.
The Format — Dog Problems. Possessing an album’s worth of eMusic credits and a yen for something power poppy, I decided to give this acclaimed 2006 album from the now defunct Phoenix area duo The Format a try. Excellent album, tuneful throughout, with just enough quasi-psychedelic circuslike touches to not be annoying. The band sounds like a classic power pop outfit most reminiscent of ’90s faves Jellyfish. Unsurprisingly, the group did cover Jellyfish’s “Gluttony of Symphony” for the import version of this album. Best tracks: “Time Bomb,” “The Compromise.”
Ikiru (1952). Our first viewing from TCM‘s month long Akira Kurosawa tribute coincides with a bunch of Kurosawa Criterion DVDs arriving via Netflix. I fear we may be Kurosawaed out soon, but so far the viewing has been fascinating. Ikiru is one of his most acclaimed, a film at turns both touching and mind-meltingly dull. In it, a meek government worker (unblinking Kanji Watanabe) undergoes a crisis when informed that he only has a year to live. At first he decides to splurge on booze and women in his final months, but then he experiences an epiphany and works to build a playground on land that was previously held up in a mess of bureaucratic red tape. A great concept that many can identify with — what if I never leave my mark on the world? — explored sensitively by Kurosawa with several beautifully filmed slice-of-life vignettes. Unfortunately the film is too long by at least an hour, bogged down by lots of talky, pointless scenes that only point out Watanabe’s annoying passivity. Undoubtably there’s a lot to this film that resonates to Japanese postwar culture and social mores of the time. With much of it, however, we were bored silly. Next, please.
Oliver! (1968). A TCM 31 Days of Oscar remnant that I watched in bits and pieces over a weeklong period. Perhaps not the best viewing setup, but I took it better this way. This splashy Dickens adaptation is a huge, impressive production with several enjoyable musical sequences (“Consider Yourself” is a highlight) and a nail-biting climax. The film on the whole just seemed too big and impersonal. Though pleasing, I don’t understand why it won Best Picture for 1968. Never-nominated 2001: A Space Odyssey wound up being the true celluloid achievement for that year, but Oliver!‘s competitors Funny Girl and The Lion In Winter are more absorbing and better made.
box_roseRose of Washington Square (1939). Another musical in what wound up being an all-singing, all-dancing week. This is a typically nostalgic Fox production, a frothy and fake vehicle for Alice Faye as a fictionalized Fanny Brice type singer rising to fame in 1910s New York and being wooed by smooth cad Tyrone Power. This was a lighthearted and fun movie, one made momentarily uncomfortable by Al Jolson playing himself in blackface makeup. Mostly we got this due to the fact that Joyce Compton has a relatively meaty role as Faye’s sidekick. Joycie is her own perky self throughout; she even gets to share a dramatic scene with Jolson. Most of the film’s musical sequences are straightforward stage performances, nicely gimmick free. Alice Faye and a chorusful of dancers doing amazing things with cigarettes in the title number is one of those wonderful non-p.c. moments that one can only find in the world of black and white movies.