Blood, Sweat, and Tears as the American Way: Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, the American Dream, and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat
There is a jukebox in the back of the bar where much of the action takes place in Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s incendiary new play Sweat, running in Studio 54. It’s dusty and old and you can’t quite tell if it plays CDs or something else. Taking place primarily over the course of a several months in 2000, Nottage implements a mixtape of early aught, late nineties tracks, songs that played on the airwaves too late before the club iteration of Studio 54 could blast them over a crowd of dancers in the city, dressed flamboyantly, swaying without care in the world. Instead, the music plays in a bar the reeks of as much history as the jukebox itself, the TV occasionally on with the faces of politicians vying for the White House, including George W. Bush; a couple tables where the regulars from the textile factory sit or tumble over; and a tap that spits out weak, watered down beer, the same beer every day, in spite of the hopes of young Chris’s, a factory worker and with college on the horizon. The song that is the most striking in Nottage’s playlist, the one that bookends the show, is Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, off his eponymous studio album from 1999. For a story about a bunch of working class people in Pennsylvania whose relationship with their jobs, with each other, and with capitalism itself becomes a dangerous pas de deux (or better yet, tango), Anthony’s Latin infused track is recontextualized within the play’s ideas. Read the rest of this entry »
Lie Up On the Wicked Stage: Kim David Smith’s “Morphium Kabarett”
Early in Kim David Smith’s show Morphium, someone let out a “Woo!” at the end of one of his songs. He grinned – or was it a smirk? – and, hands outstretched, quipped, “10 points to Slytherin!” Such an offhand, improvised remark becomes an indicator for Smith’s on stage persona. He is, proudly I would add, not your grandmother’s cabaret performer. Rather, his sly attitude and his mix of casual and biting delivery, and his deliberately femme mannerisms can be compared rather favorably to Alan Cumming’s iteration of the Emcee in Hal Prince’s Cabaret. (Smith has spent time at the Cape Playhouse in that role in their production of the musical.) But the most curious thing about Morphium is its subversion of how cabaret theater is supposed to operate: instead of revealing everything, the heart is guarded by cutting wit. Read the rest of this entry »
Music to Our Ears: Would It Work?
I heard this song on the radio today (Sirius XM on Broadway) and it was a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. It had me very intrigued and I began thinking of great faous Broadway music that could have potentially been released as stand alone singles. And here begins my picks of what I listened to:
“All that Jazz” from Chicago
Fosse’s musical on sin being in features one of the most prominent showtunes in usical history, thanks to its jazzy tempo and its stellar rendition by Catherine zeta-Jones. However, th way that Kander and Ebb tended to write music was mainly for the stage. There were plays, of course, where it was directly intended to sound as if it could work outside the theater, but this veers too closely towards showtune-ism.
Verdict: It could work for those of whom who like jazz. From the 1920s. Grade (as stand alone song): B-
“Till There Was You” from The Music Man
For those of whom who like the Beatles, you know I’m kind of cheating. This extremely romantic song from Meradith Wilson’s con man story did work when it was released on the Beatles’ second studio albm, With the Beatles. A sweet melody, voices that could handle being so cheesy would sing it and succeed. Kristin Chenoweth is a notable cover artist when she co-starred with Matthew Broderick in the TV version of The Music Man.
Verdict: It worked before for the Beatles, so why not. It all depends on the arrangement. Grade: A
“Cabaret” from Cabaret
If we’re going to be talking about Liza Minelli’s tremendous rendition from the Oscar-winning Bob Fosse film, then, yes, it could be a stand alone song. Jill Hayworth’s verion, however, should be left to die. She was ravaged in reviews, and rightly so. He voice wasn’t strong enough. Wth the pounding jazz at the beginning of the song and its unforgettable lyrics, yeah, it could survive even today. Because the song was written to be performaed in a cabaret, the osng could easily take off in the jazz genre from the likes of Diana Krall.
Verdict: With little doubt, this old standby could knnowck the audience off their feet. Grade: A-
“Memory” from Cats
It’s trembling vocals and difficult arrangement, the beautiful rendition from Betty Buckley, the wonderful lyrics taken fro the T.S. Elliot poem. What could make this son more heart wrenching?? Nothing. Because its style, a heavy, heavy balld, had been arranged especially for the stage, the song would not work in a mainstream market at all. Sure, artists like Barbara Streisand have done cover versions of the song, but they all lead to people thinking, “Oh, that was really nice, what show is it from?”
Verdict: No, it would barely survive. Too heavy and its performance tend to be done by singers of old Broadway. Grade: D+
“Just One of Those Things” from Jubilee
Cole Porter is one of the greatest song writers of all time. Not only can he do those kitchy love songs for his shows like Paris, but he can actually make a jazz standard called “Just One of Those Things”. The light piano and bass help to lighten the mood, as it calmly and almost jubilantly talks of a brief fling. The song made an appearance in Porter’s biopic De-Lovely where it was covered by Diana Krall. If she relased her version, I’m sure it would do better than fine.
Verdict: An almost perfect fit for a jazz single. Grade: A
“That’s How You Know” from Enchanted
No, I’m sorry, this is even worse than “Memory”. This one is as cheesy and up beat and annoying as a song could be. I loved it for that film and Amy Adams’s performance was excellent, but it’s obvious rhythym and need to have people dancing while doing it makes this a no-no in terms of music.
Verdict: No, it would be terrible. Grade: F
“Those Magic Changes” from Grease
Because the film takes place in the 1950s and because the music is supposed to sound like it’s a creative pop song and because Sha-Na-Na had already been covering pop standards throughout the film and their career, this song would indeed work had it been distributed in the ‘50s. It’s cute melody and heartbreaking lyrics make it an obvious and fun choice for someone to sing back then. The “pounding strings” jut makes it more emotional and heart felt.
Verdict: As a song in the ‘50s, it sure would work. Grade: A-
If you have any clips of sons that would either be great as songs or terrible, please comment!
I Simply Lovett: Review for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
There have been many, many incarnations of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street. From appearing as a cult character in a penny dreadful to singing barber in Stephen Sondheim’s terrific musical, the tale of the demon barber has become one of the most famous legends in history, helped by its incarnations in popular media. The most recent version was a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. IN 2001, John Doyle revived the Demon Barber in a new way: he stripped it down. He lost the most of the settings and replaced it with a wooden floor and back wall; the inside of an insane asylum. He threw away the orchestra and instead had all the actors play the instruments. He removed most of the splattering blood and replaced it with blood in a bucket. Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone as the diabolical couple brought rave reviews and LuPone’s sixth Tony nomination. The play has gone on a national tour, and I attended a performance last night at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT. The beginning of the play starts out with a woman in a white jacket, sitting a man with a straight jacket on to a chair. She hand him a violin. The character he is about to play is Tobias. The stripped down aspect of the play is positively brilliant, but then again, Sweeney Todd, no matter how corny his appearance was in the early 1950s, was always brilliant. Bloody brilliant, in fact! The lack of setting gives more to the play; gives it a feeling of more fear. It becomes your worst nightmare, being confined to this small space with these people. The actors are brilliant, with Merrit David Janes as the demon barber, Carrie Cimma as Mrs. Lovett, and Chris Marchant as Tobias. The film is similar and different to the film in a few ways. The emotional impact pacts a wallop, just not as big of a wallop and the end, where the actors resume their parts as inmates. But both experiences, one directly made for the stage, the other for the screen, are exhilarating. It is especially interesting and engrossing to see it performed live, and for those who are not that excited about the blood in Tim Burton’s adaptation, the play is for them. Janes’ Todd is wonderfully dark and his voice is very good. I especially liked Cimma’s Mrs. Lovett, who is one of the funniest Lovett’s of all (except for Patti LuPone). Her voice borders on the extordinary, with notes never too sharp. Of course, Sondheim’s music is the ultimate highlight of the play, with the actors doing a fantastic job performing the music and performing to the music. This is an experience that you will cherish and the movie, play, and music are all fantastic.