Noir Musical Genius: “Kiss of the Spiderwoman”

This is the performance that made me a live theater obsessive. Chita Rivera performing the title song from Kiss of the Spiderwoman at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

For kicks, here’s Vanessa Williams performing the same song in her Broadway debut.

I believe the song mostly speaks for itself. It’s the myth of a femme fatale in sweeping musical theater style with a soaring melody and moody orchestrations. Chita Rivera’s performance is sensational, but Vanessa Williams shows that the song is the true star.

If you’d like to get a taste for the show itself, jump below and watch the two-part press reel.

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What Could Have Been: Henry, Sweet Henry

Sometimes, you just have to wonder how the world of theater would have changed if certain shows had succeeded in a major venue. With the recent pasting of acclaimed Broadway veteran Alice Playten, I’ve been reintroduced to a sweet little musical comedy called Henry, Sweet Henry.

According to the 1968 book The Season by William Goldman, audiences fell in love with Henry, Sweet Henry. The problem was the harsh critical reviews in the wake of revolutionary rock musical Hair. Against the excitement and raw energy of the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, Henry, Sweet Henry was labeled old-fashioned and out of touch. If you think I have a tendency towards hyperbole, you should look into how quickly theater critics used to swing from praise to hatred because some show or other instantly reshaped the field.

On 17 October 1967, Hair opened Off-Broadway. Six days later, Henry, Sweet Henry opened on Broadway. In a modern context, this wouldn’t be too influential on the Broadway review unless the two shows in contention were stylistically or thematically similar. Off-Broadway is where the more experimental and politicized works do their first big runs. If they get strong enough reviews and sell well, they might try to transfer to Broadway if a small theater is available

But that’s not even what happened here. Continue reading

The Library: “Babooshka” by Kate Bush

The Library is a recurring feature at Sketchy Details where I recommend a song that I think would be a good fit in anyone’s music library.

This week, the recommendation is one of my favorite pop songs of all time. “Babooshka” by Kate Bush is a great narrative song with a story that is still edgy 31 years later. The story goes like this: a woman is convinced her husband is cheating on her. To catch him, she assumes an alternate identity to seduce him. By the first chorus, we know she is successful. We also know that she doesn’t realize that she might have changed over the years. The second verse describes their first meeting in person. Once again, we as the audience are given information that the wife doesn’t know: he feels that she has “freezed on him.” He didn’t stray; she pushed him away. She sacrifices everything she has to convince herself of a paranoid fantasy when, in reality, her husband is only drawn to the mysterious woman because she is just like his wife when they first met. He knows he has met her before but he can’t place her until she reveals her true identity.

The vocal performance on this is just aggressive enough to sell the concept. Continue reading

The Voice: The Final Duets

Last night on The Voice, all of the judges/mentors were forced to duet with their last contestant standing. These have to be seen to be believed.

I think Cee Lo Green and Vicci Martinez did the best on theirs. It’s Mad Max meets Pat Benatar and it’s a direction that works very well for Vicci. I could see her pursuing rock music in the future.

Leave it to Christina Aguilera to be the only judge/mentor to choose a song from her own catalog (again) as her performance. Continue reading

Listen: Bjork’s “Crystalline”

New Bjork music is always newsworthy to me. While I think you can pretty easily identify a Bjork song by the style alone, her production and genre integration is constantly evolving. Debut is very different than Vespertine, which is quite different than Volta.

There are a few consistencies that draw her work into a cohesive catalog. First, she uses a lot of repetition and patterns. It’s almost like a mechanism to help the listener understand the intent of the song faster than if she branched off in every direction at once. Second, her lyrics are highly metaphorical and filled with interesting sonic choices. Bjork doesn’t always go with the most obvious word if a more obscure word sounds better to the ear in context. Third, her music often puts acoustic instruments–in particular pitched percussion/rhythm instruments and brass–against digital instruments–drum machines and synthesizers. This gives even some of her more balladic moments a sense of movement.

“Crystalline” is Bjork’s leaked single from her upcoming album Biophilia*. The best way I can describe it on an early listen is a cross between her albums Vespertine and Medulla. Continue reading

Life Lessons with RuPaul’s Drag U: Season 2, Ep. 2

Do I need to do an actual review of RuPaul’s second reality show RuPaul’s Drag U? It’s as great as RuPaul’s Drag Race, only it’s a makeover show crossed with a game show. Three real women are teamed up with three former Drag Race contestants to be transformed into drag alter-egos assigned by RuPaul himself.

This season, the show has a brand new tone that fits better with the concept. Costumes, wigs, make-up, accessories, and ample rehearsal space are provided. The girls do not receive a numerical score indicating how well did they in the final contest. The winner is simply announced after the judges discuss the performances. The legendary Lady Bunny’s role has expanded from head judge to head instructor. Each week, Lady Bunny will teach the real women life skills based on their specific needs. The drag professors get to teach plenty of lessons as well, though they’re usually lessons about corseting, walking in heels, stacking wigs, and throwing shade.

The biggest lesson the show has provided in its first two episodes is how to properly light a photo. It’s advice everyone can use.

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TV Review: The Glee Project

The Glee Project is a new reality TV series on Oxygen. Twelve young acting, singing, and dancing hopefuls are competing for the chance to be cast on the Fox musical comedy show Glee. They have to compete in various challenges inspired by teacher Will Schuester’s weekly lessons with the glee club, like vulnerability and theatricality. They record songs, learn choreography, and shoot music videos before the bottom three have to sing for their lives in front of show creator Ryan Murphy.

The Glee Project gets a lot of things right. For starters, all of these kids can sing. Some of them sing better than the series regulars. They have unique voices and could all easily sustain the show’s initial prize of a six episode arc on Glee by virtue of bringing something new to the table. Ellis, for example, has a smoky jazz voice perfect for a cabaret show. Damian is a professional Irish singer (he tours with Celtic Thunder) who brings a level of maturity and technique sorely missing from the actual show. Alex has the range of Chris Colfer/Kurt but actual pop sensibilities and a high belt that can compete with some of the best singing actors in the business right now.

Another big thing the show gets right is the elimination process. Spoilers abound. Continue reading

Coming Soon: Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon

Special thanks to the Monster Lady herself, Mia, for bringing this topic to my attention over at Regretsy today.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon before, right? Last week was the latest edition of “watch it watch it watch it watch it watch it.” Considering the entire film is a send-up of and valid entry in the slasher genre, it should be no surprise that writer/director Scott Glosserman would want to make a sequel to the film. What does he have to lose?

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a faux-documentary horror film about Leslie Vernon’s attempts to be the next superstar serial killer. In this world, all those slasher films actually happened. By the end of the film, Vernon has entered the fray in a bloody massacre. It’s a slasher film so that’s not a spoiler. What he specifies, however, is that the number one thing a killer needs to be able to do is fake his own death. Clearly, if a sequel goes off, Vernon was successful.

There is now a Facebook financing campaign to get Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon off the ground. Just check out the promotional video.

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