Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I Attended The Tale Of Sweeney Todd

First let me say I’m a purist. I don’t often enjoy “concept” theatre. Opera or musical. The last worst concept piece I walked out of was a Rambo gun toting, black shades wearing Julio Ceasare. For my pure heart, I enjoy a piece as it was written. But one must step back and separate the magic of theatre and the magic of cinema.

First, Sweeney Todd does not work on the stage without the Greek chorus. The music is sublime and powerful and I WANT to hear about Sweeney’s pale skin and his odd eye. But, cinematic magic can sufficiently remove the need for a Greek chorus and move the plot and tell the story through images that are impossible for the stage. For that I will forgive Heir Burton the removal of that important part of Sondheim’s masterpiece.

On the same level of purity, Sweeney should be a virile baritone, not a rock star tenor which is Johnny Depp, and Mrs. Lovett should be a frumpy older bug-eyed homely maid, not a hot chick with chiseled features like Helena Bonham Carter. But type casting aside, this movie works extremely well.

The acting is superb in Tim Burton’s interpretation of the Demon Barber. Johnny Depp, though resembling a shade of Edward Scissorhands with his pale skin & wild hair, gives us the right amount of brooding and need for revenge. His temper is restrained but snaps at the right moments. We are provided a very satisfying climactic revenge with Judge Turpin, played hideously well by the master of brooders, Alan Rickman. There is hushed talk that Johnny is “too young” to be portraying Sweeney Todd. But as someone who recently sang the role myself I say he is not too young, but just the right age! Let’s analyze Sweeney’s proper age: Sweeney was a new father of 20-ish when we was whisked away to the prisons of Australia. He returns 15 years later when Johanna is 15 years of age and Sweeney would be proper to be 35-40 years old. The stereotypical grandfather image of Sweeney is, in my opinion, a wrong casting type and I applaud Burton for casting an age appropriate revengeful father.

Bonham Carter shows us a simple but doting Mrs. Lovett. Her entrepreneurial spirit is enhanced by her biting wit and pushy A-Type personality. She has the biggest laugh in the show when Burton splits from his usual monochromatic palate of dirty London and jumps to a Technicolor world “Down By The Sea” with Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney dressed in vintage horizontal striped bathing suits strolling along a sunny seaside beach. Brilliant.

Burton fills the secondary cast mostly of unknowns but stellar none the less. Toby, played and sung by they young Ed Sanders, is the epitome of a Dickensian orphan boy. Anthony, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, is an almost too young strapping sailor who looks more like a cabin boy than a deckhand. Pretty little Johanna is Jayne Wisener who is a perfect 15 year old ward of the state. Lucy/Begger Woman is Laura Michelle Kelly, who’s role was practically slashed for this movie. The Beadle is Timothy Spall who we remember as Peter Pettigrew, or Wormtail, in the Harry Potter series.

Above all, Tim Burton paints a dirty 19th Century London with monochromatic black and white, which gives stark contrast to the blood red spilled liberally throughout the movie. The traditional Sondheim story is all there regardless of the cuts, and is stunningly shown in gory detail. Don’t bring the kids to this big screen masterpiece, soon to be a traditional holiday favorite! Big thumbs up and you can be sure I’ll be owning this one on DVD.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dead Meat, Suckah!

So, I have a dream…ok, a nightmare, really…where I am struck by a moving automobile. Call it my “phobia”. Perhaps the fear is a remnant of the time long ago when I was a senior traveling to Seattle for All-Northwest Choir. There, in some hotel in some burb which they felt was appropriate for unsupervised adolescents, we underage musical vagrants proceeded to engage in antics typical of stoopid hormone-induced pre adults. That is, we got nekkid in the hot tub.

But in addition to exploring the limits of our modesty we went running about (fully clothed) in search of food and beverage. I was walking along a sidewalk outside the hotel and preparing to cross the street with two lovely singers with whom I wished to imbibe Jolt Cola and Zingers. Distracted as I was with their beauty and pocketless skin tight jeans, I proceeded to step onto the crosswalk assuming that the walking light was in my favor (as it should always be, right?) What I did not expect was the 18-wheeler diesel truck careening around the corner ignoring the yield to pedestrians. The girls screeched, the truck honked, I froze. If my reactions were anything less that the mongoose at age 18 I would have been asphalt roadkill.

As I later learned in Austria, pedestrians are given pretty much the same title as roadkill. “Es ist mir Wurst”, or “It’s sausage to me”, are how pedestrians are referred by scrupulous drivers.


Mind the crosswalks people.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Parlour Music

Just as if I had been whisked back into the 19th Century, I found myself at home parlor recital this weekend. It’s been a long time since EB has had the opportunity to go “out” and enjoy the company of a couple of dozen adults who were all joined in a beautiful Portland home to engage in a simple, casual music recital. Imagine 100, even 200 years ago, this was a typical evening of social entertainment. No tele’s. No radio. No CD’s. Just a handful of musicians performing their art before an intimate crowd of acquaintances.

The music ranged from classical arias & songs to jazz & standards, complete and unplugged with piano, acoustic guitar and bass. Add plenty of wine, cheese and chocolate delectables and I imagine this was the scene our forefathers & foremothers spoke about of “the good ol’ days.”

What a delightful winter evening spent with friends, sharing music and laughter. I am determined that this type of event must continue and flourish. I set a challenge to all musicians to organize a parlor recital at least once a year. Share your talents and music with your friends, and encourage them to do the same. You’ll be surprised at the talent you never knew existed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Plaids Have Left the Building

I ought not to be forsaking my blogging duties, especially right in the middle of a show. That’s when all the best and juicy performance topics come up. Plaid Tidings closed last Sunday afternoon with a rousing standing “O” from all the blue hairs, even with canes & walkers. Matinee audiences are an interesting lot of people. The parking lot is always full of busses, mini-busses, Segway Scooters, etc. from local “senior oasis communities”, but God bless ‘em, they’re there for every production and are always consistent supporters of the performing arts. So receiving their enthusiastic applause is always a nice thing.

Biggest Flub of the show? Let’s see, there was one point when I almost fell off the stage while “dancing in the snow”, the stuffed-pooch-through-the-hoop trick fell apart one night when Sparky threw the pooch in a curve ball slider pattern and ended up on the lap of a senior citizen in the first row. Oh, I also forgot my buck teeth for the chipmunk bit and spilled candle wax on my nice white & plaid tuxedo. Other than these our production went without a hitch and the show was a great success.

Next up, Les Miserable will be produced by our local little regional summer theatre. A big production that will no doubt be highly anticipated. I hope to be there!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Sound of Silence or How to Win $1,000,000

Hello coughing, my old friend. I’ve come to hear your song again.

My apologies to the super duo of Simon & Garfunkel. Call me a goofball (and I know many of you do) but I had the notion yesterday of winning a million dollars (that’s $1,000,000, or a one followed by six zeros!) with a cough. Yes a simple cough. I was not alone! Dozens of contestants flocked to Portland’s Living Room to listen for a cough that could win a million smackers. The rules were simple. Find the secret cougher and be the first to offer them a soothing Ricola cough drop. The winner would have an opportunity to choose 1 of 100 envelopes, one of which was a million dollar prize winner.

The silly game was sponsored by Ricola, of course. Clues were given on radio ads as to where the mystery cougher would linger. Turned out it pointed at Pioneer Courthouse Square between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm yesterday. So I bought a bag of honey lemon Ricolas and wandered in the midst of a few, then a dozen, then dozens more “covert” pedestrians who all were scoping out the Starbucks on the corner. If security didn’t know better it would have looked like a bunch of us casing the joint. We all stood around, scanned the area, and listened for the suspect cougher. Who would it be?

I did observe an innocent gentleman, knowing not of the little contest, who proceeded to clear his lungs and throat in the midst of all the cough chasers. He was swarmed by dozens of greedy folks offering a Ricola. He was quite embarrassed about the ordeal, but left with a giddy smile. If there ever was anyone needing a free cough drop, this was the place to be.

I, however, only had an hour for lunch and had to depart before the prize cougher arrived. But I did notice some interesting things. I think in the 11 years I have been employed in downtown Portland I have not once just stood or sat listening and observing. So I stood silently to listen and observe my dear city. I watched folks with hunched shoulders from carrying bags full of presents jaywalk across the streets. I heard lots of bells, like the ringer in front of Nordstroms, the Max light rail bells, church bells in the distance marking noon o’clock. The sound of seagulls scavenging the area for dropped crumbs. Pigeons cooing and waddling around avoiding the steps of humans. Not once did I hear a cough. Drats.

What did I learn? I need to observe more. As an actor and performer this lesson was well learned. Acting is, for the most part, re-acting. That is, a performer doesn’t stand on stage and deliver lines constantly. He or she listens to others, reacting to what is said or heard or seen. An actor must consciously fill the void of silence with imaginary thoughts, sounds, and actions. An actor must also define his or her character physically by actions. Keen observation of interesting people can provide lots of character fodder.

So, stop & listen once in a while. Even to the sound of silence.

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