Let It Thaw (Movie Thoughts: Frozen 2)

large_frozen-2-posterEven though I am not a cartoon fan (or a Disney fan for that matter) I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Frozen’ because it had all the traits of a good musical.  But I am very very wary of sequels, because I have this notion that most of them just try to just take advantage of the locked-in audience. So I begrudgingly watch ‘Frozen 2,’ and lo and behold, I really disliked it. But I am mostly looking at this film from the point of view of it being a musical.

First of all, the Lopezes have assembled a group of songs that are a lot less interesting. The songs  here now feel pre-meditated. Since ‘Let It go’ was such a big hit,  why don’t we give Elsa not one but two generic-sounding power ballads? Gone are the character pieces from the first film – no ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman’ which emulated a feeling.

Sure, the animation is still first rate, and the colors are still vibrant. Still, much of this did not really hold my interest much, and yes, that is a fault of mine.

Under Her Skin (Stage Thoughts: Skintight, The Gil Cates Theater)

1562720863_info_image_SkintightThere’s a very very funny thing happening at The Gil Cates Theater at The Geffen Playhouse in Wetwood, and the Ms. Elsa from Frozen herself Idina Menzel is in the middle of it.  In Joshua Harmon’s ‘Skintight,’ she is front and center and she is both hilarious and touching as Jodi. Jodi is a woman of a certain middle age, and her husband has just divorced her, trading her in for a younger model. She runs away from California to New York, partly to escape from her current situation, and partly to help celebrate her father’s 70th birthday. Her father, Elliot (played by Harry Groener) is sort of a Calvin Klein figure, a fashion mogul once married to a woman but with a string of boy toys to his name. He is now settling down with Try, twenty years old, and the same exact age as Benjamin, his grandson by Jodi. They all converge on his tony NYC apartment, and….well, hilarity (and other things) ensue. Menzel is terrific here, with all her luminescent star power, equipped with razor sharp comedic timing and stage presence (you can’t stop looking at her) and she is  a diva in the greatest sense here, surrounded by gay men as he battles sassy zingers with them left and right. Harmon’s first play, ‘Significant Others’ is modern gay life specific, and I think ‘Skintight’ is as well, as the play comments on youth and life with a very gay sensibility – if that’s not enough intellectually, we get Trey, the boy toy played by Will Brittain wearing just a jock in a huge chunk of the first act (and it’s a glorious sight) I had a lot of fun watching ‘Skintight,’ some of it shallow, but fun is fun however one takes it!

Defying Popular (Television Thoughts: A Very Wicked Halloween, NBC)

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God knows I am not the biggest fan of ‘Wicked,’ but I really cannot escape it. I hear the songs everywhere, and I do have bragging rights of having seen it with the Original Cast – Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. So why not, it’s Halloween and NBC has a special, /A Very Wicked Haloween’ which celebrates its 15th Anniversary. I mean, you cannot doubt its success, for sure. And it’s still going strong – with sold out audiences all over the world.

This special, though, is a real mixed bag. It’s a real definition of all over the map. Menzel and Chenoweth host it, and they both look good in their white and green outfits, and it is sure nice to see them together. Both their solos, ‘Popular,’ and ‘Defying Gravity,’ were show stoppers. But the rest of the numbers kind of made me cringe. I didn’t really get the Adam Lambert/Ledisi duet of ‘As Long As You’re Mine,’ and I think I am allergic to anything Pentatonix. The much-hyped Ariana Grande number was okay, I guess, but too much pop melisma for me – but then again that defines this musical.  And for ‘For Good,’ which is my favorite song from the musical. it was a nice idea to bring in all the Elphabas and Galindas through the years, but the number was haphazardly presented, with no stage direction at all, and felt messy.

But I am just being a bitchy show queen. I am glad this special exists, and hope they do more of the same.

Menzel Tov (Music Thoughts: idina:live)

idina_cover_artYou can just guess where the state of my emotions are right now because when Idina Menzel sing the track ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye/I’ll Be Seeing You’ from her new album ‘idina:live,’ I started weeping. It’s mostly from a mixture of emotions – some tough breaks lately, missing some departed loved ones, and basically just feeling the gorgeousness of these two songs. I mean, this is not even the most imaginative medlette pairing, but something about it just got to me, and for a brief moment there all those emotions rolled up into that one track.

I wish the rest of the album stirred just as strong emotions. This is a live album from her concert tour last year, and I saw it here in Los Angeles at The Forum, a little before I realized I was moving here. In the album, Menzel is in mixed voice, but I think it is still a wonder. I know people go hot or cold over her, and I get it, as the brass in her voice could be a little too much. But I like it, and it’s unmistakably her own – you hear one note and you know i’s her. I also like the mixed repertoire here – songs from her album ‘idina,’ and songs from stage and screen mostly associated with her. I give credit to someone who can make me listen to ‘No Day But Today; without wincing.  The usual Idina standards: “Let It Go,’ ‘Defying gravity,’ ‘I’m Not Your Girl’ are all great to listen to. I remember loving the concert just fine, and she certainly knows how to hold the audience in the palm of her hands (she has star quality to the wazoo) and that chemistry with the crowd translates well in this live album. A weird personal anecdote: it looks like this recording was from the Las Vegas leg of her tour, and I was just thinking if I still lived there, I would probably have gone to this performance….

No Love Song Finer (Stage Thoughts: Idina Menzel Live At The Greek)

IdinaMenzel_1920x1080I have never been to The Greek Theater before, so it was great that on the start of Easter weekend, I saw Idina Menzel live there as the opening act for their 2017 concert season.  Sure, the weather was still too cold for an outdoor concert, but is there anything better than seeing one of your favorite divas under the light of he moon and stars? I didn’t think so.

And she was in fine form – her voice, which could sometimes be abrasive, was fine and muted, and she was extremely comfortable on that stage – confident, assured, charming. Maybe it’s her frame of mind – she seems to be enjoying her state of engaged bliss (to actor Aaron Lohr) and she knows she has an audience who is in awe. I know that this tour in is support of her new album (titled Idina.) and even though I had mixed feelings about the album in the beginning, I really warmed up to it after repeated listenings. Now, after seeing her sings these songs in concert, I have become obsessed with the album. As a matter of fact, I listened to it on repeat on my way back from Los Angeles.

She started her show by singing her single form the album, ‘Queen Of Swords.’ I had predicted to a friend that she was going to open her concert with that song, and sure enough, there she is playing bongo drums with it. She followed with ‘Small World,’ and then, finally, to the delight of her Rentheads, ‘Seasons Of Love.’ She gave a good mix of the album’s songs, and her signature ones, seamlessly blending her techno-flavored ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ with ‘Defying Gravity.’ Even though I disliked the arrangement of the first song, in this context this was a winner. But what shone most about her tonight was her personality – she had the audience at the palm of her hands with her stories, inserting Streisand anecdotes in the middle of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ by singing ‘The Way We Were.’  You got to know a little bit of the real Idina, or at least the scripted Idina that she wants you to know. I walked away from the night loving her more, if that is even possible. As she closed with a wistful ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye,’ I was left wanting for more, just as seasoned performers want you to feel.

Menzel Tov (Music Thoughts: idina. / Beaches Television Soundtrack)

idina-menzel-idina-c2a9-warner-brosAfter watching ‘Beaches’ the other night, I went on an Idina Menzel kick, listening to her latest album, ‘idina.’  I don’t think I have written about this album since it came out last year, although I certainly have listened to it a lot. Like really, a whole lot.

It would have been easy for Menzel to coast. Every girl and her mother have been singing ‘Let It Go,’ that song from Frozen sung by her, and she could have easily done a covers album of shout songs and people would have bought it by the boatloads. But, and thank God, Menzel has more artistic instincts, and released a pop album of all new songs co-composed by her. I must say it is a pretty brave mood and I think I saw an interview of hers last year with her saying ‘You are either going to love this album or not.’

While I would have loved an album of her singing show music, I kind of dig this album as well. On first listen, one song blended with the next one as if one, but I found a trick to best listen to this album – by putting the album in random status, so each spin becomes a different experience. I love most of these songs, which sound very personal. I love ‘Show me,’ which is about trusting someone after being burned by a love, and her ‘Queen Of Swords’ could be an Ariana grande song but of course Menzel infuses experience and maturity in it that would never be matched by the pony-tailed teen. Listen to the heartbreak in ‘Perfect Story.’ That can only be sung by a woman with world and life experience. Menzel fits and sings it perfectly.  My favorite song here is ‘I See You’ where Menzel sings earth mother like, summoning all the broken-hearteds of the world. I hear you, Idina.

51kqyusoel-_ss500This also takes me to the soundtrack to ‘Beaches,’ where Menzel sings five songs. Let’s take ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’  They wisely tried to get away from Midler’s version, and we get a synth arrangement here that, unfortunately, does not serve the song. In fact, I kind of hate it, as it sounds like it is trying hard to be ‘modern.’  She fares better in ‘The Glory of Love,’ which has a more traditional arrangement, and we can see her voice soar higher here. She covers the Pretender’s ‘I’ll Stand By You’ as well, and while it’s fine, I feel like I have heard her version before. ‘LAst Time’ is a cut from her ‘idina.’ album above, and the song fits a moment in the story perfectly. But my favorite track from the soundtrack is ‘I Can Hear the Music’ which I know from my dear beloved Peggy Lee. I guess thats’ just the kind of guy I am.

Must Have Been Cold There In Their Shadow (Television Film Thoughts: Beaches, Lifetime)

13515492_aaA lot of people are asking – does the world really need a ‘beaches’ remake? It’s such a beloved movie for so many people that it would be impossible to top it. Admittedly, it’s a pretty flawed movie, but it has connected with the audience, and to this day people still watch it with a good cry. Even Idina Menzel, who stars in the remake, in an interview with Andy Cohen on ‘Watch What Happens live,’ has said that a lot of older gay men were getting mad at her for doing this role (presumably these are all Bette Midler fans ) but like it or not, here it comes!

So is it any good? Well, it’s not bad, but it pales in scale from the original. The story seems rushed, but I like the update details they did. And I think the CC character needs to be bigger than life, and Menzel seems more everyday woman than diva. Nia Long is great in her role, as the ‘lesser’ character, and Long and Menzel have great easy chemistry that it is easy to believe that their characters are truly best friends.  And they use Menzel’s singing voice to good use, although I could imagine it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

but really, it isn’t that bad. Menzel and Long engage you, and I was pretty touched by the end. It’s impossible to compare it to the original, but for what it is – a Lifetime movie – it serves its purpose, and well.