Love Begins With One Hello (Film Thoughts: Hello Again)

helllo_1507045388I remember seeing ‘Hello Again’ off-Broadway at Lincoln Center many years ago, and I remember disliking it. Even though I liked the performances (Donna Murphy! John Cameron Mitchell!) I really was put off by Michael John LaChiusa’s score. I have always been a purist when it comes to musical theater – I’m old fashioned, please don’t mind me – and it took me a long while to get adjusted to the ‘modern’ composers whose themes are more discordant, and tuneless.

So maybe it’s that maturity that made me appreciate the score now, more than twenty years later, and actually, it really has grown on me, and I even like it a lot now. Or perhaps it’s the MTV effect. Paired with the great visuals in the film, the music resonated more. The show was inspired by Arthur Shnitzler’s La Ronda, and features vignettes of people engaging in sexual acts, all done elegantly, so there’s nothing smutty here.

s592I loved this movie, and I had reservations. It was perfectly cast with a cast with blazing screen presences, voices that life the score, and sensuality that is needed to essay the score. I cannot think of anyone who is a weak link – everyone was perfect. To my eyes, the male cast was perfection – starting with Gerald Nolan Funk and Al Calderone. And has Cheyenne Jackson ever been sexier on film? I was mesmerized by Tyler Blackburn (Where has he been all my life?) and thought T R Knight was best with his scene from the Titanic.

And of course, Audra McDonald. She sizzles on screen as she does on stage. You cannot take your eyes off her, and when she sings, angels would take notes. I hadn’t known that Rumer Willis (of Demi and Bruce) was good like this good, and Martha Plimpton always delivers.

The vignettes, to me, played like music videos, and probably better suited for this medium. Some of the sexuality seems tempered, but I guess that wasn’t really the point of the film. But to me, the whole was very enjoyable, and when the credits started to roll, I wanted more.

The Movie In My Mind (Movie Thoughts: Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary Presentation, Fathom Events)

14354958_539173059613102_3258299395576722054_nI am a Broadway super fan, everyone knows that. But I am a Miss Saigon duper duper fan, if such a thing exists. It is one show I truly love – I know every word of its score, and it is the one musical I have seen probably close to fifty times. I am at that age now when I see a show that gets a revival,  I can say “I saw that when it first came out’  But yes, I did see Miss Saigon in 19189 with the Original London Cast, and in 1991, with its original Broadway cast. So yeah, the show and I have major history.

When I saw the London Revival Cast in 2014, I was, again, awed by the show, though if I must be honest, the scaled-down production seemed just a tad cheap compared to its earlier production. But, it worked well with what it got. There were some changes that annoyed me, but all in all, I think it got right everything that needed to be improved from the original.

So here we are, and that production has been filmed for theatrical cinema release. This performance was from September 22, 2014, and I realized that I saw the show three days before they filmed this. (I found out that the film version was culled from a couple of performances)  The big ‘get’ from this release is that it was filmed on its 25th Anniversary, and on that night, original cast members Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga, and Simon Bowman show up to ‘celebrate.’

But first, the show. I was kind of skeptical about this film, because, really, one can never capture the energy and heart of a live performance on film. But about five minutes into a film, I realized that this was thought of as a film, and it is astonishingly brilliant. We get closeups, and strategic camera angles that draw us in vividly into the story. The staging, frankly, is almost non-existent, and the frame is brought out enough to make the show cinematic. You never feel caged in, and you will notice details you never would have thought of if you were watching this on stage. (Did you know Kim holds Chris’s name plate while they sing ‘Sun And Moon?’)  And the performances feel even more intimate – Eva Noblezada is a wonder – her subtlety here is even more powerful – and the pain in her eyes is more piercing. Alistair Brammer is photogenic, and their love is bigger, more brilliant, so it consequence is more painful. The engineer’s role is a stage conceit, and Jon Jon Briones’ big performance is dwarfed here, and suffers, but you still get it. This is still the show, and I even told myself, after all these years, after all these performances, this is still a piece that never fails to make me cry. Again, I wept. When Pryce and Salonga show up after the curtain, you get swept into a fine air of nostalgia.

In a lot of cases, the film is even bigger than the show. On screen, its flaws are masked by the medium’s slickness. This ‘capture’ is excellent, and I suspect, will be a template for future stage-to-screen transitions.

Sing Of Happy Not Sad (Movie Thoughts: Sing Street)

-132434-poster-xlarge-resizedIf, like me, you came of age during the 80s, you will love ‘Sing Street.’ Set in depressed Dublin of 1985, we see droves of Irish people migrating to London because of dire economic conditions. Cut to Conor, 15 years old. His parents are having a tough time financially, so he has to transfer from his posh school to a more menacing Christian Brothers-run institution. (funny, because it seems everywhere else, a Christian brothers school is the posh school, says Jesuit-educated me)  He becomes bullied not only by the school blowhard, but also by the principal. At home, tensions are heightened as well. His parents are fighting every night, and his only solace is listening to music with his elder brother Brandon, and watching that newfound invention called the music video. And he becomes enamored with a young girl a year older, who she invites to star in his music video. Problem is, he doesn’t really have a band so he forms one. I was attracted to this movie because of John Carney, the director, who previously did ‘Once,’ and ‘Begin Again.’ Just like in his earlier movies, the music here becomes a character in itself – the music of the generation (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Genesis) seeps throughout the movie, and becomes integral in telling the film’s story.

sing-street-posterI think a lot of us will be able to identify with Conor. During that time in my life as well, I used music as an escape, only my tunes of choice were from original Cast Recordings and Barbra Streisand. It speaks to its power – how music comfort us, transforms us to another world, carries us as we achieve our dreams. I loved Conor’s transition, as he becomes aware of the different kinds of music of the day: the glam rock of Duran, the techno melancholy of The Cure, the assured aggressiveness of punk. We see him gain his confidence as he gets to know himself better. We see him falling in love, and become a young man before our eyes. Apparently, this film is partly based on his own life story, and all I can say is that it is not only  well-lived, but well-scored.

Only A Day Away (Movie Thoughts: Annie)

I saw “Annie” a while back, when it first came out, and I didn’t like it. But there was already an avalanche of bad reviews about it then that I didn’t want to add to the chorus of discomforts. So I told myself I would wait a bit until writing about it, and then forgot about it altogether. But now that it is out on video, I saw it again, and wondered to myself if I would feel the same. Sadly, yes. I look at the movie as wasted opportunity. The producers – Will and Jada Smith, Jay-Z among them – had an opportunity to bring this wonderful piece to a new generation and they didn’t. It’s not that this Annie is bad – it’s respectable enough – but they managed to make it bland and boring. The musical numbers all fell flat – with weird arrangements and reconstructions. Why would you have hand choreography in the middle of “maybe?” Why would you reorchestrate “Tomorrow?” Why did you cut “N.Y.C”? These are just random questions I had while watching it. I have a strong affinity for the piece, for sure, because it is the first Broadway production I ever saw, thirty one years ago. But it is also the love for it that makes me want this piece to succeed. When I was watching the movie, I was more sad than angry, and now I feel kind of apathetic but I felt I just had to say my smal piece about it. Why can’t they get Annie right these days? The past Broadway revival was devoid of fun, and felt that they did the same here. This is a boisterous, joyous musical, and no one nowadays sees te happiness in it – and that makes me want to take a Xanax.