Hit or Miss: America’s Best Dance Crew, Season 6, Ep. 4

This week is Katy Perry week. Somehow, MTV made Katy Perry sound more hip-hop than The Black Eyed Peas. I don’t know how that works, either.

Once again, the producers favor the group IaMmE with a challenge of having the dance crews make things with their bodies while performing. I get it. You want that crew to win. Stop babying them and do it the old-fashioned way: throw out votes until you get the result you want.

I can’t stay mad at MTV. They finally got their act together and put clean, high quality, and embeddable dance videos up of all the performances without judges’ comments. Thank you.

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In Anticipation: The People in the Picture

If the Broadway season was a race, The People in the Picture would come in dead last. Today, 28 April 2011, is the cut-off date for Tony Award eligibility for the 2010-2011 season. This original musical is the last show to enter the fray and it could play a huge spoiler with the nominators. Or it could flop miserably. Preview reports have been decidedly mixed. The show is selling well and audience reaction is reported as strong. There are even people who trashed the first preview and revised their opinion a few days ago when the show would be frozen.

The most dismissive attitude to take is The People in the Picture is another Holocaust show. To say that would be to ignore all the strong artistic decisions in the production. Donna Murphy stars in a dual-aged role of Raisel/Bubbie. As Raisel, she is the star of the Polish-Yiddish theater scene in Interwar Poland. As Bubbie, she is trying to teach her granddaughter about Jewish traditions and faith as she battles some form of memory loss. To achieve this effect, Murphy adopts a radically different posture and movement style, sometimes in mid-scene.

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Theater Review: Baby It’s You! (Broadway)

Baby It’s You!, the new Broadway musical about Florence Greenberg and The Shirelles, has an audience. The problem is that audience won’t care that the show has a barely-there book, no character development, bad sound design, and no dramatic impetus beyond get to the next song. The people who will enjoy this show are the ones who love this era of music and don’t care about professional standards in theater. Though I love the girl group music of the 1960s, I am not one of the people who can ignore gross incompetence in professional theater and just go with the flow; my mother is one of the people who can ignore bad theater and she thoroughly enjoyed her concert experience (because her ticket was free).

Let me start with the limited good. Beth Leavel, the Tony Award-winning actress from The Drowsy Chaperone, manages to convince the audience her interpretation of cardboard cut-out Florence Greenberg is at least a partially developed character. Unlike many of her co-stars, she knows that turning your lips down signifies sadness and raising your eyebrows can register surprise or incredulity depending on the degree of alteration. Her vocal is strong and she tries to make repetitive 1960s song lyrics sound meaningful and deep.

The costumes in this show are bright, vibrant, and appropriately stagey. The Shirelles get the best of the lot, dancing around on stage in coordinated sequins, feathers, and metallics that almost convince you this is a well-conceived show.

The problem is everything else that can turn an opportunistic jukebox musical into an enjoyable night of theater. Continue reading

Enrique Iglesias and Autotune: An Open Letter

Dear Mr. Enrique Iglesias,

I understand the recorded music industry can be frustrating. You got major US distribution in the wake of Ricky Martin exploding with that amazing Grammy performance of “Cup of Life” half in Spanish, half in English. You were signed with a whole wave of Latin acts, most notably Marc Anthony, who was doing the same thing as you, only more polished and better promoted. You had the family connection, but he had the airplay.

I understand that this industry is not kind to aging singers. It’s sad to say a soon-to-be 36 year old man is old in any context, but you might as well be pushing 80 for how the industry promotes older male solo artists. A new sound can be a feather in your cap and you’ve found one.

The problem is you’re a bit long in the tooth to be doing the techno club-anthem. As with Jennifer Lopez, you are getting airplay because something (I blame The Jersey Shore) is making C-Rate Europop from eight years ago feel like a fresh American sound with the introduction of autotune. Avoid that. Please.

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Cannonball Read III: Book 6: Bespelling Jane Austen

I’m not intentionally on a streak of monster mash lit. That this follows Classics Mutilated on my reading list is pure coincidence. The similarities between the two end at the genre.

Bespelling Jane Austen is a collection of four short novels resetting Jane Austen’s work as paranormal romance. Ironically, the most successful entry in the collection comes from the least enthusiastic author: Mary Balogh. Balogh had to be persuaded to update Jane Austen. Her concession was that she did not have to use vampires or werewolves or other creatures that go bump in the night.

Almost Persuaded resets Persuasion as a meditation on reincarnation and the cycle of rebirth. Here, Jane Everett and Capt. Midford are two souls on the same path towards paradise. They have fallen in love many times before but the relationship has always ended in tragedy. In their most recent lives, Jane’s former self drowned herself in a river when Capt. Midford’s former self left her. When they meet by chance at Jane’s Aunt’s house, they fall in love instantly. However, her family persuades her that she is being taken advantage of.

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Film Review: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

If you know anything about Monty Python, you know the style of humor that any given project will have before you even sit down to watch it. It’s bizarre wordplay combined with slapstick, silly costumes, and the occasional catchy tune. What you don’t know is whether or not you’ll get a cohesive project.

The Meaning of Life is not a cohesive project from a narrative standpoint. It is a series of sketches thrown together with a framing device of exploring the cycle of life. Except when it’s breaking the fourth wall and commenting on its own creation. Then it’s just plain bizarre. There is a charm to the film that is hard to get down on even if it ultimately falls short of the satirical examination of life.

In its most brilliant moments, The Meaning of Life is funny, smart, and touching. Continue reading