Sunday, December 30, 2007


I saw the movie. And, feel compelled to write a follow-up blog as I said I would. Unfortunately, this one's not going to be filled with epiphanies about my closed-mindedness or of self-flagellation under my desk: "DELIVER ME! TIM BURTON!!" .... oh WAIT, you cut that from the movie ....

To begin, I almost feel like I shouldn't even *write* the rest of this, except to say this: If they made Dreamgirls into a movie and cast people in the roles who looked just right, but had been pulled from the world's leading graduate musical theatre and opera schools, you'd be pissed, right? I don't mean to manipulate you, but it wouldn't really sound quite right to your ears, and you'd leave feeling that perhaps you'd missed something, but you just didn't really feel a need for the strange innovation which you just saw? I'm not talking about marketing here, before you point out that they were able to be true to the Dreamgirls style beceause it's what people want. I'm talking about you, and your reaction, so that you might understand how I feel. After all, it's a pointless hypothetical, isn't it?

Well, that's how I felt about this movie. The reedy, whiny, unpleasant "voices" of too many of its actors, not just computer-generated HBC, made it completely impossible for me to appreciate most of Tim Burton's choices. Furthermore, his and Mr. Sondheim's cutting the film down to 1 hour and 57 minutes, perhaps unnecessarily, made the whole thing feel rushed, robotic, unfeeling and under-nuanced. His "artful gravitation" toward the blood and the throat-splitting felt ornamental to me because the film's original message of "man devouring man" was lost due to a total dehumanization of everyone in the film.

"By the Sea" was visually appealing, but the total lack of chemistry between the two up to that point -- much less at least on a business-partner level -- than I've seen on the stage, made me keep my overwhelming "I DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY OF YOU" hat pasted firmly to my head. The cutting of "Kiss Me" and a host of other young lover-related things made the two seem a little too much like little mosquitos floating around the real plot. "A Little Priest" was devoid of joy a) because they sounded like they were having a lot of trouble with the lilting melodies and weird rhythms of the song for one and b) because unlike onstage, they didn't have to make their fun, so it became a scientific song about pointing out of the window and deciding whom to cook and eat. I'll keep "Silence of the Lambs" for that. "Epiphany" fell slightly flat for me too, though Depp did OK with it vocally, because one of my favorite parts of that song has to do with My feeling as a member of the audience being fucking freaked out, and watching Mrs. Lovett be, as well. Burton chose that one as his "Let's move it to the street" number, and I ended up feeling taken out of it, and the whole "out of body experience" just made it seem less real.

Pirelli and the Beadle were both wonderfully cast, but I just missed their character tenor identities and I think it took away from the characterization something that was not supplemented. Much less fun and much less creepy.

All right, so realism is not Burton's thing. Too bad, because the one thing I think that could have been served by a film version of this is that the city itself could have been accurately represented. Not so. Swirly buildings aside, my favorite utterly-laughable moment is when the Beadle throws Anthony out of the judge's house and then beats the crap out of his face, only to have Anthony rise and sing through his bloody, broken teeth. Yeah, Anthony's a little silly, but I usually end up feeling for his side of the story because he's dignified and passionate in his own way, and really wants to take care of Johanna, who's story we know a lot more about onstage. A lot of it for me, also has to do with his voice. Here, he's just a whiny guy who keeps saying the same damn thing over and over and over again, hardly ever actually interacting with Johanna before he risks his life to get her out a mental institution. What a douchebag.

While we're on realism, a lot of people have been upbraiding me for my desire for better voices in the movie. After all, would the "real" Mrs. Lovett have had a great voice? No. Well, they would not have broken out into song either, so ....

Finally, is it too brazen to suggest: With all the New York Times articles floating around, I think we've been tricked to a degree. Sure, Sondheim and Burton can come up scores of English major bullshit reasons as to why songs were cut, the most obvious being that they don't advance the plot. But when you strip away character entirely because a song doesn't advance the plot, you're left with something that feels, as I said, rushed and under-nuanced. Sondheim's not an idiot. How dare we suggest that he write things that could have been trimmed away with the fat? Therefore:

Dare I suggest .... that songs like the Judge's Johanna, like Ah Miss and Kiss Me and the Ballad were cut because THEY WERE TOO HARD?? If so, and I think it's a real possibilty for at least a few of those choices, shame on them. At least own up to it, or realize you can't stand the heat and get out of the kitchen.

So maybe I'm alone in my reactions and maybe I care more about Broadway than Hollywood. But I'm fine marching to the beat of my own drummer on this one.

To quote Beauty and the Beast, "If it isn't baroque, don't fix it."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Squeamy Todd. Read, for some clarification on Me.

OK, no, I haven't seen it yet. I am seeing it tonight after a much-anticipated half-priced meal at Grendel's Den with Anthony. Further updates will certainly follow. I have to say, I've been kind of obsessing about it. The movie, not the food, though they do make a mean pesto. I wish I could be unadulteredly excited about the film, but instead I feel a nervousness more akin to the first day of work, rather than in anticipation of nightmares about Johnny Depp dressed as a throat-slitting cosmologist.

Why so glum?, you might ask, and indeed, many of you have. Johnny Depp, pinstripes, Sondheim, gritty, dirty, Burton-izedly accurate London .... and Sondheim signed off on it, so what could be amiss? Let it be observed that based on the previous sentences, I do see the positives inherent in this artistic collaboration. And it isn't the cutting that bothers me -- I myself have been known to streamline material to help it tell a story -- and I trust Burton to make moviemusical choices that I can stand behind (there's always the obligatory 'this scene usually takes palce in a room but let's move it to the street). In other words, I trust Sondheim as an orchestral adaptor and Burton as a director ....

But I can't help but feel that this movie is a step backward for the art of American opera. I was able to articulate my grievance as soon as I read this sentence from A.O. Scott's New York Times review: "Mr. Depp’s singing voice is harsh and thin, but amazingly forceful. He brings the unpolished urgency of rock ’n’ roll to an idiom accustomed to more refinement, and in doing so awakens the violence of Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics and melodies." It's not the first part of that second sentence that I have trouble with; it's the second. Sweeney Todd has been produced by some of the top opera companies in the country and it is on baritone Bryn Terfel's list of his top 3 favorite roles. Now, I hope Mr. Scott will forgive me if I am wrong, but I am not sure that he has listened in depth to Len Cariou's performance, or to Bryn Terfel's performance, or even to Michael Cerveris's performance, and certainly not to the most powerful performance I've ever heard, done by former-Javert and amazingly terrifying Todd Alan Johnson in 2005.

So, to use a melodramtic phrase, how dare he say that an untrained "rock 'n roll" voice "awakens the violence" in Sondheim's music? This is what most people want to think, and now the most-read newspaper in the world has confirmed it. Great. Just because Mr. Depp is choking on his own uvula and screaming his guts out, does not mean that his singing is more emotionally-charged or even more violent than a well-trained, intelligent voice full of color, technique, and, yes, ANGER. It can be done, folks. Who's seen Wagner? Who has seen fucking Sondheim (who listened to Britten who listened to Wagner, but that's beside the point).

And now, everyone who is simply afraid of opera and opera singers, and even what I like to call helden-musical theatre, will sit content, knowing that the "rock 'n roll" voices of the day, the NON voices of the likes of Mrs. Helen Bonham Carter Burton have been able to take a work of art out of someone else's medium and "shake the dust off of it" or "lighten it up" or "tell it like it is", and that makes me ANGRY.

Come on, people. It's not a medeival trope. It's Sweeney Todd. It doesn't need that much dusting off. I'm all for updates, for emotional truths, for beautiful art direction. But Sweeney Todd is an American opera, or at least one of our best American musicals. Now American cinema has dressed it up and funded it really well. Great, right? NOT GREAT. Because Burton and, dare I say it, Sondheim himself, have robbed Sweeney Todd of one of its defining characteristics. It's now a "rock opera" with Crooners instead of Singes. It's Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, or Diana Ruskin, these people are better than Helena Bonham Carter. I know that Sondheim usually picks actors who are actors first and singers second, but come on .... it's a little bit of a stretch, and it smells like Money. And if there's one thing Sondheim doesn't need more of, it's probably that.

So, we've taken Sweeney and changed it into something where music matters less than almost everything else. And that hurts my sensibilities, I'm sorry to say, and I'm objecting on principle. Because this Sweeney is indeed accessible, because this Sweeney is bloody and devoid of all the beautiful and challenging restrictions of the theatre, the vast majority of Americans will probably pick this one when they think Sweeney. It's exciting and beautiful, but it's not quite Sweeney ... the Sweeney that already exists and IS violent and IS moving. Worse than bad community theatre, this one is so in the public eye that I can't help but see it as a kind of big Wal-Mart blocking eight lovely little country stores right behind it. I fear it will breed more anti-opera, anti-musical theatre, and maybe even anti-intellectualism in our already spoonfed culture.

Call me insecure and jealous if you want. It's happened before. And I might enjoy the movie tonight, as a movie. But it's not an opera. And I want my opera back, because I want America to hear it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lyrics I really heard this morning

Leave, leave,
And free yourself at the same time
Leave, leave,
I don't understand, you've already gone

And I hope you feel better
Now that it's out
What took you so long
And the truth has a habit
Of falling out of your mouth
But now that it's come
If you don't mind

Leave, leave,
And please yourself at the same time
Leave, leave,
Let go of my hand
You said what you have to now
Leave, leave,
Let go of my hand
You said what you came to now
Leave, leave,
Leave, leave,
Let go of my heart
You said what you have to now
Leave, leave...

- Glen Hansard (Once).

Saturday, December 1, 2007


I'm frustrated with myself because I feel like I just blew a phone interview that I really wanted. I'm also frustrated because he just did not seem convinced that I could do something simple like props paperwork, just because it took me a while to recognize the term he used. I talked to my mother and she said that it sounded like I was too general when describing my strengths. She also said I did not sound "haughty" enough but she often says that I do not sound "humble" enough. It's certainly hard to strike a balance, and therefore it feels quite hard to gain credibility and get one's foot in the door.

Maybe I shouldn't beleive that my mother knows everything about the world. But she acts like she does so it's easy to believe.

Maybe that's the secret to phone interviews. Hm.

I have to be in Lynn tonight for 5 hours singing horrid music. I am cold and feel sick and I hate today.

Thus ends the whining.