Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chung Chung

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And another thing...

Last night's Idol makes me sad for musical theater in general. Here was a chance to expose kids all over the country to a style of music they'd maybe never heard before, or had heard and dismissed, sung by people they admire, possibly in a more accessible way, and like it. I personally never liked Andrew Lloyd Webber (though I was already into musical theater by other composers) until I heard a re-orchestrated version of Jesus Christ Superstar (which now sounds as hopelessly dated by the grunge era as the original album sounds stuck in the 70s, but that's not the point). I'll never be his biggest fan, but it was enough to open my mind a bit and get me listening to other things, some of which I like very much, including those 70s-tastic recordings of Superstar.

Idol has blown pretty much every chance at this this season. The Beatles episodes are another prime example. There are great songs out there that these kids could all sing well. So why do they do bad songs, or worse, sing good songs badly?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do you think you're what they say you are?

We're barely 5 minutes into this week's sure-to-be-tragic episode of American Idol, and Ryan Seacrest just said, "[Andrew Lloyd Webber has] composed most of the important musicals of our time."

I'm sorry, what?? Look, I like Andrew Lloyd Webber. He's composed some very, very popular musicals. Some of them are even good. Some might even be considered important, if not artistically then for the way they changed the landscape of Broadway.

But most? Look, I know this is a world where "too Broadway" is a common criticism. If Ryan's ever even seen a musical he wouldn't admit it lest he look gayer. And for the love of god, there should never ever be a Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown night on American Idol. But really? Surely there's a homo or two on the writing staff there who could've written a less off-putting voiceover.

Oh my god now Dreadlock Boy is singing "Memory." This is the worst idea ever. It's nowhere near in his range and he seems to have forgotten the words. I totally get that most of these kids are out of their elements here, but why not ask someone which songs were written for boys?

I have to stop blogging while I watch this or I'll throw my laptop at the TV.

Okay, one last thing, and it's actually a compliment to Lord Lloyd Webber. It's apparently actually impossible to sing "You Must Love Me" without sounding like you're on your deathbed. It's a surprisingly great example of music telling a story and conveying a character's emotional place in that story. Unfortunately, that makes it one of the worst possible choices for karaoke, and Brooke, a good singer, sounded like she was dying of cancer.

Suicide Watch

Late this afternoon I discovered a typo in a letter I'd written. A letter that had already been proofed, mail merged, proofed again, and printed 150 times on letterhead.

If I don't blog for a while, it's probably because I've killed myself.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nope, it was the Pope.

Earlier this afternoon I was walking up Lexington Avenue, headed for the F train station on 63rd Street, and I found my route completely blocked by cop cars and barricades. "Fuck," I thought. "The goddamn Pope."

I was about to turn around and take a different train when I saw some motorcycles approaching - clearly the beginning of a motorcade. If he was just passing by then presumably the street would open as soon as he was through, so I decided to wait. It might be kind of neat to see the Popemobile anyway.

But there was no funny bubble car, just the usual array of black cars, cops and ambulances. People cheered when a car with some flags on it went by, at which point I doubted that this was the Pope at all, and wondered if it was some other dignitary on the way to Yankee Stadium to see the Pope. But someone in the crowd confirmed my original guess.

And also as I'd guessed, as soon as the motorcade passed, which only took a few seconds, the crowd dispersed and the barricades were moved, no big inconvenience to me (how rare!). But I was sort of amazed that all these people had stood there waiting. To see what? Many of them seemed very pleased with themselves afterwards. Why? Anyone could have been in that car. Does a papal drive-by make you closer to god somehow? I just completely missed the point. Not of the Pope, or of seeing him, but of seeing his car. Religion aside it's like a certain level of celebrity-worship that I just don't get at all. There are people I'd love to meet, or see perform (deliver mass, same thing), or sit near at a restaurant, but "Oooh, there goes his cab?" I don't get it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Spending too much time thinking about Rich Little

Some of the guest stars on The Muppet Show are dated, a few I've never even heard of, but as I make my way though season two on DVD, there's only one so far who I simply don't get. The funny thing is I remember liking Rich Little when I was a kid. But I can't imagine why I did, or why anyone would, or why it seemed like a good idea to put him on a children's show. Little, in case you don't remember, did impressions. Based on the Muppet Show appearance, that's all he did. There aren't really any jokes that might make a mediocre impression funny or political. On the Muppets he impersonates WC Fields, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne. Not exactly cutting edge stuff. Even 30 years ago those guys weren't raking in the under-12 demographic. But I guess they've all endured as famous personalities, so the bigger problem is really that none of his impressions are actually good. And yet somehow, I remember this guy being kind of a big deal!

The biggest misstep with the Muppets is when Little actually does impressions of the Muppets. And they are bad. And in case you might think they're good, he has conversations, in "character," with the person (um, bear, frog) he's impersonating. This is the opposite of a good strategy. I mean, my only real sense of what WC Fields sounds like is what a WC Fields impression sounds like. But the surest way to point out how two people sound nothing alike is to listen to them talking to each other! Here, see for yourself. The segment is about 5 minutes in.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I'd never heard of this until a few weeks ago, but there's apparently a very popular series of children's books called Flat Stanley, about a boy who's crushed in a horrible accident but makes the best of it and uses his new, highly desirable, Calvin Klein model waistline to slide under doors and things and spy for the government. Um, or something like that.

Anyway, the books have inspired school children to make their own Flat Stanleys and mail them places, pen-pal style. The Stanley recipient then shows Stanley around his hometown, or puts him to work in his sweatshop or whatever, takes photos, and sends them back to the child. I'm not really sure what the kid has to do besides color. I don't think she even addressed the envelope. It's kind of a scam, actually.

Anyway again, we got Boy's niece's Flat Stanley this year. I guess last year Boy's aunt set the bar high with farm animals or something, so we were basically challenged to top her. Fortunately, we live in New York City. Also fortunately, the weather finally got nice last week. Also also fortunately, while I'm not a hugely competitive person, this is the sort of challenge that I love. I definitely got some funny looks wandering around with my camera and a paper cut-out dude (some of which were even captured in the photos), but it was really fun. And I don't even like children!

So for some fun NYC pics (that happen to have a small, flat person blocking half the scenery), here are my Flat Stanley photos on Flickr.
Flat Stanley meets Wax Samuel L Jackson

Friday, April 11, 2008

Commas Are Good Sarah Marshall

There are these teaser posters all over town for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, with large black magic markery text on a white background. Given the stark design aesthetic, I can almost forgive the complete lack of punctuation, except that for a while I didn't fully understand them. It wasn't clear if they were mean statements to Sarah Marshall, mean statements from Sarah Marshall, or in one case, statements about what the reader does to Sarah Marshall ("YOU SUCK SARAH MARSHALL").

When I saw a commercial for the movie I figured out that they're statements to Veronica Mars Sarah Marshall, as if Jason Segel (who, confusingly, plays Marshall on How I Met Your Mother) had scrawled them on walls. I guess. Since I don't really give ads in the subway much thought (I've already given these more than they deserve), when I see them now I unconsciously correct them (meaning from context and all that) and move on.

Apparently, someone else in my neighborhood couldn't let go so easily:

I must find this kindred spirit and commend him on his worthy vandalism! Maybe I'll buy him a Sharpie.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Something wicked this way comes

Last night I attended the opening night of a play whose name I can't say.

There's an old theatrical superstition that this play is cursed. As I understand it, there are two basic schools of thought on how this came about. One is that the play is actually cursed. With all the grisly murders, witches, ghosts, and general bad karma in the play, I find this completely plausible. The other version of the story I heard is that the play was actually a surefire success back in the days of real repertory companies, so if a producer had a flop he could close it down and throw this show up in its place to save his ass. So while there's nothing wrong with the play itself (quite the opposite), it became associated with disaster and failure.

There are other versions of how "the curse" came to be, but the end result is that it's quite common to run across someone who won't say the name of the play (or, by extension, its eponymous lead character) in a theater, and will yell at you if you do (the one exception to this rule is that you can say it if you're actually working on the play – though even this is less obvious than it sounds and can be up for debate). Some people will go so far as to never say "the M-word" at all.

This is exactly the sort of affectation - like quoting Mame, or correcting someone who calls a cast album a "soundtrack," or titling a blog post "Something wicked this way comes" - that makes even theater people hate theater people sometimes. Personally, I cringe whenever someone says "The Scottish Play," or refers to the main character's wife as "Lady M." Unfortunately, I'm often cringing at myself.

During my junior year, my high school put on a production of The Crucible. It wasn't the first play I worked on, but it was pretty close, and it was when I was starting to really get into it. Somehow, the subject of that play came up backstage before a performance. Maybe someone was reading it in English class. Anyway, a couple of my friends on the crew freaked out and insisted that whoever had said it run around the theater three times and spit. Right, it's that annoying. I had never heard anything so ridiculous. Now, I was hardly one of the cool kids in high school (or in college, or, y'know, now), but as I'm sure anyone reading this blog knows, there are levels of nerd-dom, and I definitely considered myself above my M-word-averse friends. Which is my This American Life way of saying: I was an asshole. I didn't just tell my friends I didn't believe them, or even make fun of them, I said the word over and over and over again backstage. I don't remember but I wouldn't be surprised if I did a little dance.

You're probably thinking something terrible happened to me during the performance. That would've been too simple, and it would've made me believe in karma, not the curse. No, terrible things happened to everyone else. Even by high school standards the performance was a mess. Whole pages of text out of order. Dropped props and missed cues. Two things stick out above the rest. At the end of the play the main character, John Proctor, has a big impassioned speech about how he can't make a false confession even if it might save his life, because it would tarnish his name, which is the only thing he has left. "How can I give away my name," he asks. "I am no Rebecca Nurse, I am no Sarah Goode, I am John Proctor!" Or something along those lines. So the big moment comes, and our leading actor yells, "How can I give away my name? I am no Rebecca Nurse, I am no Sarah Goode, I am John Goode! Um. I am...John...Proctor."

A few minutes later, John What's-His-Name is hanged. This is written to happen offstage, but (and this tells you almost everything you need to know about my high school) we questioned both the wisdom of Arthur Miller, and most schools' ideas of student safety, and hanged him onstage. There was a harness involved, of course, and a fake noose designed to pop open if any real pressure were placed on it, but on this night the rope was just a little too tight. Not enough to kill anyone (or to fall apart safely, as it was supposed to if it became dangerous), but enough to be really uncomfortable and probably more than a little terrifying. Did I mention that he had to swing there for a good two minutes while sad music played and the lights slowly faded to black? (This tells you the rest of what you need to know about my high school.)

The thing that still gets me about this is that none of the people who screwed up that night had anything to do with the Macbeth (there, I said it!) conversation. They weren't anywhere near it, and had no idea it had happened. If they did, I would've chalked it up to subconscious self-sabotage. If they'd heard me say it and were superstitious themselves, it could've caused them to slip up. But they didn't. And too many things went wrong to be coincidence. I fully believe to this day that I cursed that performance. It was only a play, and no one got hurt, so it's not like some secret pain I carry around, but I've hardly ever said that word since. Being a superstitious douchebag is a small price to pay for, well, being a non-believing douchebag. Making fun of theater nerds actually turned me into a bigger theater nerd. There's karma for you.

And Ben, if you're reading this: Sorry about your neck, dude.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Nine More Months

This is one of the most depressing and upsetting things I've ever heard.

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Okay, so it's not the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but is still a reasonably respectable news source, at least within the theater industry. So I am fascinated and baffled by this introductory sentence:

___ ____, the young actor recently seen as the vascular college-age son in the Off-Broadway musical ____ __ _____, has jumped into the Broadway production of _______....*

Vascular?? I saw the last show he was in, and he was in his underwear for a while and certainly didn't strike me as particularly veiny. I looked it up, in case there was a meaning I didn't know about. Nope. "Pertaining to, composed of, or provided with vessels or ducts that convey fluids," says I mean, yes, I suppose every human being is composed of and provided with vessels that convey fluids, but... huh? It's just such an odd mistake, in that I can't even begin to figure out what the writer meant to say. I think that's why I'm so fascinated with it. I keep reloading the page to see if it changes. I'll let you know.

*In keeping with my loose policy of not (really) blogging about theater, I decided to keep this quote un-Googleable...and anyone searching for the terms I blanked out would be disappointed anyway since this post really has nothing to do with any of them. Here's a link to the original article for the curious.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

C is for...

Seriously, I couldn't have found a less fattening hobby?? The rest of my Amazon order arrived today – a bunch of inexpensive kitchen stuff to go with the KitchenAid mixer (and, totally unrelated, the Sweeney Todd DVD). I often find I like making Martha Stewart recipes less than I like watching her make them – they can be just a little too fussy – but I couldn't resist buying her new cookie book anyway, and it looks spectacular. It's divided into sections by texture, which is maybe the most brilliant thing ever. So there's a "Soft and Chewy" chapter, "Crisp and Crunchy," "Rich and Dense," and so on. All with gorgeous photos that just make me want to bake all day long. She really is an evil genius.

Meanwhile, I decided that the mixer needed a name. Martha was too obvious, of course. I tried out Alice, after the Brady's maid, but it didn't stick. Sydney, after Sydney Bristow, 'cause she kicks ass and Jennifer Garner is a big Martha fan? Julia, as in Child? No, it had to be something that made sense in our household. I realized that with its imposing, metal, oblong head, the mixer looks a little like a Cylon centurion from the new BSG. (PS, KitchenAid, if you ever made a model with that red light going back and forth I would SO buy it!) Okay, so Number Six? Boomer? Deanna? Starbuck? Nope, nope, nope.

Then it struck me: Why is the mixer a woman? I mean, sure, there's the whole tradition of naming boats and guitars and cars after women, but there was also something unappealingly sexist about deciding that a kitchen appliance had to be female. And then it hit me.

Our stand mixer's name is Colonel Tigh. And the other appliances had better not frak around.