Thursday, October 20, 2016


It's Astounding...

Time is Fleeting...

     The seminal cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, is forty-one years young this year, premiering in 1975.  In response to this anniversary, (among other reasons), FOX decided to jump on the televised musical train, and produce a remake.  Aptly titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again!, the remake is a different take on the recent string of televised musicals.  Instead of a capturing a live performance, it was completely filmed on location and on sound stages.  I consider this both a good thing and a bad thing, which I will get to later on.  

     With a cast full of Broadway veterans and some relative unknowns, FOX had a lot riding on this one.  Though NBC's musicals (The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz) were well received, there were still plenty of things wrong with them, aka, no live audience.  Things took an upturn when Grease Live aired this past January.  FOX knew the problems that had plagued the other broadcasts, and gave a remarkable product.  There will always be complainers, but Grease Live was a step in the right direction.  Based on that success, Rocky should work out pretty damn well, and I personally believe it did turn out well.  Are there those that disagree with me?  Well, of course! There were problems, but overall, I enjoyed the broadcast immensely.  

Like I did with Grease Live, I'm going to go through the things I wasn't a fan of first, followed by where I'm on the fence, ending with elements I enjoyed.  

Things I Disliked
  • Christina Milian as Magenta.  She did nothing for me, and tried too hard to be Patricia Quinn, the original film Magenta.  Even if this were not her intent, it is how she came across.  She wasn't bad, but she wasn't that good.  She was just meh. 
  • How Eddie came on the scene.  It makes no sense for him to crash through the window of the castle on the motorcycle if half his brain is in Rocky.  He needs to be in a freezer or something similar, inside the castle.
  • The sound editing/lip syncing.  There were a lot of strong voices and vocal choices.  That being said, Adam Lambert's lip syncing during "Hot Patootie" was abysmal.  Also, "Time Warp" backing vocals had no oomph.  Where was the energy when they recorded that, because Reeve Carney brought the house down.  
  • The attempts to replicate the original film cast.  For the most part, I was a fan of Laverne Cox and Victoria Justice.  They were doing some great work, but Victoria seemed to be trying too hard to sound like Susan Sarandon.  By the end, she finally lets lose and uses the vocal power she has.  Same thing with Laverne Cox.  I wanted to see her take on Frank, but a lot of the time she seemed to be trying to emulate Tim Curry in her vocal delivery.  It just didn't work for me.  Once we got to "Planet Schmanet Janet," she was making her own choices and I was sucked in.  "Don't Dream It, Be It" and "I'm Going Home" were beautifully done.  
Things I'm On the Fence About
  • Legitimately filming it instead of doing a live broadcast.  I loved all that they were able to do by filming it: shooting on exteriors, building these massive environmental sets that you can play on, just the sheer majesty that is needed to match the ludicrous elements of the script.  At the same time, there were a lot of moments where I felt the energy was lacking from the performance.  The addition of the movie house audience was great, but I felt they were vastly under-utilized, especially with the amount of interaction that normally happens.  
  • Ben Vereen as Doctor Scott.  Really, I'm just not the biggest fan of Dr. Scott, unless he's doubled as Eddie.  Love "Eddy's Teddy", but Vereen seemed almost one note the entire time. Meh.
Things I Enjoyed
  • Laverne Cox.  As I previously mentioned, there were a few things that I wasn't a huge fan of, but overall she killed it.  From that entrance that was almost reminiscent of Mame to her heartbreaking version of "I'm Going Home", I enjoyed her performance.  She was not afraid to get down and dirty with her portrayal, and she was one hell of a dancer.  I hope that she gets the chance to perform live much more.
  •  Victoria Justice, when she wasn't trying to be Susan Sarandon.  
  • Ryan McCartan as Brad.  Great voice, he wasn't afraid to play camp. 
  • Staz Nair as Rocky.  To me, Rocky is one of the hardest parts of the show.  In terms of lines, there really isn't much there.  However, he is the title character.  He really needs to be the beefiest beefcake of all time, with "blonde hair and a tan".  In the original film, Peter Hinwood was fine as the character, but his singing was substantially sub par.  In fact, he was dubbed by Trevor White.  "The Sword of Damocles" is not necessarily an easy song, and Nair knocked it out of the park.  Vocals were amazing, and he was a perfect physical specimen.
  • Ivy Levan as Trixie the Usherette.  Normally, Magenta doubles as Trixie and sings "Science Fiction Double Feature."  While that works well on stage, I loved seeing her working around the cinema: ushing, selling tickets and concessions, and enjoying her popcorn.  Beautiful vocals that warmly welcomed the audience to an evening of debauchery. 
    • Addendum while I'm thinking of it: the use of the cinema as the Castle was genius.  I spent a good amount of time looking at the little differences that were made so that the viewer could recognize the theater we were welcomed to. 
  •  The Phantoms.  I'm normally not a big fan of the ensemble in Rocky Horror because I just consider them set dressing in the movie: they're all dressed similarly and just mildly unsettling.  William Ivey Long made me pay even closer attention to them by making them individuals.  Each had a very distinct personality, but several also were Easter Eggs to the first film or the leads.  During "Wild and Untamed Thing", there is a phantom dancing by Dr. Scott, dressed like Ben Vereen as the Leading Player in Pippin.  Earlier, during "Hot Patootie", one of the phantoms above the stage is dressed like Meat Loaf, who played Eddie in the original film.  Like I said, the perfect acknowledgement to the source materials.   
  • Adam Lambert as Eddie.  Let me be frank-n-furter (bad joke): "Hot Patootie" is my favorite song in the show.  I'm a fan of Meat Loaf and his performance, so I was a bit apprehensive when Adam Lambert was announced.  As I mention earlier, his lip syncing was kind of bad, but he had the vocals and made the part his own.  I couldn't really ask for more than that.  
  • Reeve Carney as Riff Raff was absolutely brilliant.  He (and Columbia) were the best part of "Time Warp" to me.  This may go against what I've said about other characters, but I liked that he channeled original film Riff Raff, Richard O'Brien.  I'm aware I shouldn't have a double standard, but O'Brien wrote the show.  It is his baby, and there needs to be some homage to him in the performance.  That being said, Reeve Carney blew it out of the water, especially the vocals.  
  • Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia is the highlight of the entire show.  Never once did I think she was trying to be Little Nell.  In fact, she was trying to be Cyndi Lauper, which I was really okay with.  Great dancing, amazing vocals, and delightful character choices.  Nothing more to say on that.
  • Tim Curry, just because he's Tim Curry.  

      Much like with Grease Live, social media opinions have been erratic. People wanted Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon.  They wanted what they were comfortable with.  Like I said with my post on Grease Live,

They wanted what was familiar to them, and got hostile when that didn't
happen.  But I consider them morons for expecting that.  The film happened in
1978, and it is archived.  We have those wonderful performances on tape/dvd/etc. 
I went into this not wanting a recreation of the film.  That's not original, nor is
it beneficial to the art form.  Theatre (and film) are constantly changing and
evolving.  What was powerful in the 70's wouldn't have the same impact today. 
That's why I consider Grease: Live a success.  I loved it, I will be buying it on
DVD, and I will gladly watch it again and again 

     I will be buying The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again, and I will gladly do the Time Warp again.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

We Go Together: My Thoughts on GREASE: LIVE

I love Grease.

I love Grease in all forms.

Each form it takes makes sense for that form: the Broadway production led to the movie, which led to revivals, which led to a reality show, and now we have Grease: Live on FOX.  The show is moving forward linearly.  Jacobs and Casey wrote this show; Woodard and Carr took that play and added on to make the film.  In that same vein, Grease: Live took what came before it, and added on to make a brand new Grease.

Do I necessarily want to see the movie changes on stage?  Not at all.  I understand why you would add the movie songs, but it still irks me.  You can't just throw "Hopelessly Devoted To You" in there randomly; there are only a handful of spots that make sense; and "Grease is the Word" makes no sense at all and musically does not fit within the realm of the show.  "You're the One That I Want" has the same problem, though the 2007 revival made it work better with different orchestrations.

All this being said, I absolutely enjoyed Grease: Live.  There were changes made that I wasn't the biggest fan of, but for the most part, I loved it.  It upped the game for what these live, televised musicals need to be.  The biggest reason: A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE!  Stage acting and film acting are two very different worlds, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  You saw this with Peter Pan: Live and Christopher Walken and Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music: Live.

Let's take care of the things I didn't like, so I can spend more time focusing on the good.
  • Joe Jonas and DNCE as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers.  The cameras never spent more than a second or two on them.  You could have hired a better band, and more engaging singers that would have known the lyrics to "Mooning", even if it was only a second.  
  • The new songs.  The two new songs written for the dance scene were mediocre at best, and just random ("Cake by the Ocean"?  WTF?).  I loved the idea of giving a Frenchy a song, but "All I Need Is An Angel" did not mesh with the rest of the show at all, and Jepsen was a bit lackluster compared to how she sounds on the Soundtrack recording (yes, I already have it, don't judge). 
  • Mario Lopez was just bleh.  He wasn't charismatic enough to play Vince Fontaine, and was almost too creepy with Marty.  
  • Tom Chisum looked older than Danny, so I don't want to hear bitching about Tveit being too old.
  • Making Sandy from Utah, and changing her last name.  If anything, they should have kept Olson from the movie if they weren't going to use Dombrowski.  I kept wondering if the reason she was so buttoned up was she might've been Mormon. 
  • Other minor things that escape me right now.
Things I'm on the fence about
  • Keke Palmer as Marty.  At times she appeared to be doing an Eartha Kitt impression, and a lot of her dialogue felt forced and trivial.  I adored "Freddy My Love" and the costume change that accompanied it (velcro sounds and all), but her character was rough to me.
  • Boyz II Men just didn't wow me like I thought they would.  Wonderful job, but the song needed more punch than they were able to give.   
Now, the longer list of things I enjoyed.

  • I love that they fleshed out Patty and Eugene even more.  They are often treated as throwaway characters, and played as caricatures.  While that still happened to an extent, there was a much richer inner life I was witnessing.  Also, HILARIOUS!!!
  • Kether Donohue and David Del Rio as Jan and Putzie.  Wonderful chemistry, great humor both individually and together.  If they had kept "Mooning" in, I know they would have killed it.
  • Andrew Call killed it as Sonny: funny, smarmy, yet still able to get the girl.
  • This is the one a lot of people will disagree with me on, but I loved Carly Rae Jepsen.  I didn't like her song, but I really thought she did a good job as Frenchy.  Her scene with Didi Conn made me shed a tear, and she didn't try to emulate Conn.
  • DIDI CONN AND BARRY PEARL.  I was doing fine until they came out to bow, and had their original T-Bird and Pink Ladies jackets on.  Then, I was a mess.  No clue why, but that one little thing just made the whole show for me. 
  • Ana Gasteyer and Blanche.  Hilarious, and knew how to work the crowds.
  • Jordan Fisher as Doody.  "Those Magic Changes" is my song, and I had extremely high expectations when it was announced it was included in the broadcast.  Character wise, fantastic.  Performance wise, exquisite.  The song wasn't overproduced nor oversung.  It was kept simple, and effectively used to further the story.  He was absolutely wonderful.
  • Carlos PenaVega, Julianne Hough, and Aaron Tveit were all on the same level here.  Wonderful work, great singing, strong characters, and, most importantly, they made these characters their own.  I didn't want to see Jeff Conaway, Olivia Newton-John, and Travolta up there.
  • Last, and certainly not least, was the one who surprised me: Vanessa Hudgens.  I was apprehensive about her from the very start because she seemed more of a Sandy than a Rizzo.  High School Musical and Gigi didn't do her any favors in making her seem bad-ass.  She made this part her own, and made Rizzo the feisty, sensual, bad-ass bitch we all wanted and never knew we needed.  The fact that she delivered after her father dying less than 24 hours before broadcast is both brave and heartbreaking.
I've listed the good, the mediocre, and the bad.  But there was one thing that made this entire show for me tonight.  Thomas Kail, of Hamilton fame, actually understood what the show was about and made it work.  You may ask what Grease really is about, if not Danny and Sandy.  Morons.  The show is about this community of friends/classmates/gang members/what have you.  They don't come from great homes, they aren't good students necessarily, and who knows what the future may have in store for them.  All they have is each other and the time they have together.  ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY said it very simply in their review tonight:
             It helps, I think, that Grease: Live clearly understands that this platonic saga of basically
             good badasses and basically nice mean girls is an ensemble piece.

I'm tired of watching productions where all the focus is on Danny and Sandy while the rest of the BPBs and Pink Ladies are just set dressing.  If you really read the script, Sandy is really quite boring until the end.  All the other characters are much more interesting to follow, and really have the better songs.  

In following posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the most common complaint about the broadcast was portrayals of the characters: people wanted to see Stockard Channing, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, etc.  They wanted what was familiar to them, and got hostile when that didn't happen.  But I consider them morons for expecting that.  The film happened in 1978, and it is archived.  We have those wonderful performances on tape/dvd/etc.  I went into this not wanting a recreation of the film.  That's not original, nor is it beneficial to the art form.  Theatre (and film) are constantly changing and evolving.  What was powerful in the 70's wouldn't have the same impact today.  That's why I consider Grease: Live a success.  I loved it, I will be buying it on DVD, and I will gladly watch it again and again.