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Wed, 01 Jun 2005

Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit / Gerard Alessandrini
Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit There's a kitschy 50s-looking diner at the corner of 51st Street and Broadway, a short walk from several Broadway theaters. It's called Ellen's Stardust Diner, and it's a fun place for a comfort food sort of meal. Downstairs from the diner is a little theater where a sort of Off Broadway (but really on) troupe performs parodies of the current scene on the Great White Way. And depending on the season, what's going on at Forbidden Broadway can be a lot funnier than the real thing.

Special Victims Unit is the eighth CD of Forbidden parodies. Sadly, it's the only one available on the iTMS. And unless you're familiar with current plays like Wicked, I Am My Own Wife or Movin' Out, the jokes may not make a lot of sense. I hope the earlier volumes show up here before long. The takeoff on Les Miz in volume 2 is brilliant, as are the recreations of Rent and Ragtime in volumes 4 and 5, respectively. And they're fun even if the only Tonys you know are on The Sopranos.

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Mon, 23 May 2005

Kiss Me, Kate / Revival Broadway Cast
Kiss Me, Kate Some plays are timeless. Some age rather quickly and are interesting more as artifacts than as entertainments. Kiss Me, Kate has aspects of both.

I saw this Broadway revival in 2001 and remember being impressed and entertained, but also feeling that parts of the play and its Cole Porter score hadn't aged at all well. Some of it is as stylish and sexy as when it was first written; Another Op'nin', Another Show and Too Darn Hot for two examples. Other bits were funny in spite of feeling dated, like the two mobsters singing Brush Up Your Shakespeare. But then there are the embarrassments, especially Tom, Dick or Harry. (The snippet on the iTMS lacks the more questionable lyrics.) And of course there's the source material itself; Kiss Me, Kate is a play about a performance of The Taming of a Shrew, itself a play within a play. And one with so cringe-worthy an attitude toward the sexes that it has to be performed these days with a great deal of irony. I'd describe Porter's version as rather irony-deficient.

Still, there's fun to be had. And as a collector of musical theater, I won't condemn a work just because it reflects attitudes that are passé, or at least should be. I'll try to keep them in context, enjoy the music and try not to cringe too much along the way.

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Wed, 04 May 2005

K-tel Presents Big Soundtrack Hits 1999 / The Obscure
K-tel Presents Big Soundtrack Hits 1999 K-tel lives! Let's celebrate; break out a box of cheap wine!

Back in the good old days of records, K-tel ads were all over television, generally during reruns of classics like Hogan's Heroes. They were purveyors of compilations, just the thing for getting the one hit from pop's one hit wonders. In some twisted way, they were the ancestor of all of us iMix'ers here on the iTMS.

It's been years since I've heard from K-tel. So imagine my surprise to find a fifteen year old collection of movie songs from 1999. And imagine what happend to that surprise when I sampled a few tracks. And eventually realized that The Obscure didn't refer to the album. No, it's the name of the cover band that made this travesty. Not that many bands could have handled Gordon Lightfoot, Pink Floyd, Culture Club, Natalie Imbruglia and so many more.

If I were them, I'd sue.

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Mon, 02 May 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy / Joby Talbot
It only took two and a half decades, but Douglas Adams finally made it to my local multiplex. Too bad he wasn't around to see it.

I caught the first showing of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the day it opened, one of the benefits of being between a RIF and a new job. And much as I wish every crazy idea from the radio series and the books and the Infocom game had made it into the screen, I recognize the impossibility. And what we got is funny, it's eye candy and it's warmer than any of Douglas' other work.

The soundtrack has some bits of monologue, starring Stephen Fry as The Book. It also has the movie's theme, used for both the opening and the closing credits. And it has the hilarious campaign anthem Vote Beeblebrox, just perfect for a candidate with Clinton's libido and Dubya's intellect.

But why am I recommending this? If you're a Hitchhiker's fan, you're bound to pick up a copy. And if you become one, you'll soon want to collect the Guide in all its various forms. Now where did I put that towel...

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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Mon, 28 Mar 2005

Highlights from Les Misérables / Original Broadway Cast
Highlights from Les Misérables I was watching the last season of Angel on DVD recently. In a pivotal (but aren't they all?) episode called A Hole In The World, Angel and Spike jet off to England in search of a cure for Fred. Which I realize means nothing to you if you aren't a fan. But bear with me for a moment. And keep in mind that Angel and Spike are both vampires who are now forces for good. Oh, and that Fred's a girl, not that it matters for this discussion.

Anyway, Spike suggests that as long as they'll be in the neighborhood, they should take in a show after they save Fred.

    Angel: "I've never seen Lez Miz."
    Spike: "Trust me; halfway through the first act you'll be drinking humans again."
He has a point. Les Misérables hardly shows humanity at our best. On the other hand, of the theatrical blockbusters, it's the one that marries music, spectacle and story best. It has the musical power of Phantom of the Opera, the emotion of Miss Saigon, and some pretty kick-ass staging of its own.

One complaint about both Les Miz and Phantom is that a lot of the songs repeat each other. That works a lot better on the stage than it does listening in the car. But it's much less of an issue with a highlights album like this. And at a little under an hour, it's not the endurance test we theatergoers remember with anguish. Maybe we're the misérables they're talking about.

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Mon, 13 Dec 2004

No Strings Attached / The Barry Gray Orchestra
I know that if anybody reads this I'm going to be in big trouble. But let's face it: everything Gerry Anderson produced is crap. Sometimes it's fun crap. But mostly it's crap we liked because we were too young to know any better.

This became especially obvious to me as I rewatched his live action series UFO on DVD recently. And what struck me is that Anderson's human actors were about as believable as the ones on strings, that by trying to create something darker and more relevant than his children's shows, he demonstrated his own limitations.

And yet the shows are fun, especially if you make no attempt to take them seriously. They're good in the so bad they're... sense. And part of what makes them so light and so much fun is Barry Gray's music. (Ah, at last he gets to the point.) This album has some of the themes Gray created for Anderson: from Thunderbirds; from Captain Scarlet; from Stingray, complete with cheesy vocals; from Joe 90, sadly a show I missed. Not as good a collection as the F.A.B. CD I found in London years ago. But as good a way as any to bring back a few fond memories of stuff that remind us that having a good memory isn't nearly as important as having a convenient one.

No Strings Attached
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Wed, 08 Dec 2004

The Incredibles / Michael Giacchino
The first time I saw the teaser for The Incredibles, I think I was more taken by the music than the animation. Being a Bond fan from as early an age as my parents would allow, I recognized it immediately as the main theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a movie I loved despite Connery-wannabe George Lazenby's less than brilliant performance. (Hey, I was young. And it had Diana Rigg.)

Of course, by the time The Incredibles arrived on the screen, John Barry's stirring theme had been replaced by something new. And I was sad for a while; I'd really enjoyed that leap back into my own moviegoing past. But I can't stay sad. Because the music Michael Giacchino has provided to the film is more than an homage to Barry and the other great film composers of the 60s and 70s; it's a welcome addition to the collection of heroic action themes. The Incredibles is in many ways an unapologetic throwback to an earlier and less ironic time. It gets the soundtrack it deserves.

The Incredibles
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Mon, 06 Dec 2004

A Charlie Brown Christmas / Vince Guaraldi Trio
A Charlie Brown Christmas I can't listen to the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas without getting a little bit misty. There are a lot of reasons, I suppose: our increasingly cynical and made-to-market age, where product tie-ins are much more obvious and far less benign that Charles Schulz and his Peanuts gang; the fact that hearing it means an onslaught of endless holiday specials, few of which have a fraction of the charm; or maybe my own longing for my long ago childhood, when responsibilities were still a long way away and life was about possibilities and hope. But I wonder if my reaction would be nearly as strong if the music were less lovingly crafted. At the ripe old age of 11 I neither knew nor cared for jazz combos. And I certainly couldn't relate to Christmas music, being of another tribe entirely. But Vince Guaraldi struck a chord in my young and immature soul, one that still resonates with me today. Even now, I hear Linus and Lucy and I think back to the little boy who loved reading about those other little boys and girls. Nice to know he's still inside me somewhere.
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Wed, 10 Nov 2004

Mamma Mia! / Original Cast
A few years back I was making regular trips to London for business. (Ah, those were the days.) And I took full advantage of the city, especially the options for live theater. (As opposed to the dead kind.) On one trip I discovered this wonderful musical called Return to the Forbidden Planet. Like the movie, it was based on The Tempest. And like the movie, it used 50s sci-fi trappings for its story. But it played its premise for laughs. And it used pop songs from the 50s and 60s for its score.

Quite a novel idea, I thought, to build a musical around existing music. I wasn't aware then that it wasn't really all that novel, that Singin' In The Rain and White Christmas had done it decades earlier. But I still thought it was a fun idea in RttFP. And I think it's just as much fun in Mamma Mia!, which recycles all those ABBA songs and somehow makes them fit jigsaw puzzle-like into a paper thin plot about a wedding and three possible candidates for father of the bride.

Great art it's not. Then again, you're reading the words of somebody who's seen Dame Edna on stage three times. Voluntarily!

Mamma Mia!
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Tue, 19 Oct 2004

The Best of Broadway: The American Musical
As much as PBS disappoints me with its current events coverage, attempting to dispell the aura of a nonexistent liberal bias with the bend-over-backwards balance of The News Hour and the conservative excesses (in both tone and volume) of people like John McLaughlin, I do appreciate their attempts at cultural programming. Where else, for example, is a modern audience going to be exposed to as wide a range of music? MTV?

A PBS series on the history of musicals is a natural for the network, especially whenever pledge drive time rolls around. It's educational, colorful and entertaining. And for those of us who love the simplicity and unreality of a live stage performance in this world of CGI, it's a reminder that storytelling can be effective and evocative even when it isn't accompanied by technological excess.

Most of the musicals represented on this album are classics, the performances dating back to the shows' earliest presentations. Al Jolson sings Swanee from 1920; Paul Robeson does Ol' Man River in 1932. These are the definition of classics, which makes the inclusion of Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth's Defying Gravity from the regrettable Wicked an amusing contrast.

I love musicals. I especially love modern musicals; they speak to me in a way the classics can't quite manage. But they're well worth learning about, both to know where we came from and because a great performance is great forever.

The Best of Broadway
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Mon, 27 Sep 2004

Once More, With Feeling / The Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Once More, With Feeling Television is rarely surprising, at least not in a good way. And most people seem to like it that way; they don't want to be challenged or forced to concentrate. (We call it the idiot box for a reason.) Which is why that small army of Joss Whedon fans is so rabid. These are people who like to be surprised, to be kept on their (our) toes.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which is an awful name for a show, although it's still a heck of a lot better than Urinetown - The Musical) spent seven years breaking the rules of television drama or comedy or whatever the heck it was supposed to be. But even in a show as innovative and accepting of risk as that, there are moments that stand out. And this is one such moment, perhaps the biggest creative risk of the show's run. Because to do a musical in an hourly drama is crazy, but to figure out a way not only to make the singing and dancing relevant, but to have the songs be essential to the revelations of the plot, that's a whole different kind of genius.

I loved this episode when I first saw it, even though I didn't know the show well enough to get the context. Seeing it again on DVD as part of Buffy's sixth season made me appreciate it even more. And now, just listening to the songs on their own, I wish more shows would take insane risks. Because win or lose, they'd be interesting as hell.

[ Category: Soundtrack | 1 comment | Link ]

Sun, 26 Sep 2004

Urinetown - The Musical / Original Cast Recording
Elsewhere on this site I've talked about my fondness for theater. And the musical is a particularly American creation. But having grown up in a more cynical and ironic age than Rodgers & Hart/Hammerstein, I like my musicals to have a little bit of bite. I heard about Urinetown on a business trip to New York, but didn't see it there. That particular pleasure had to wait for its touring company to reach San Francisco. And it's everything I'd heard: a loving homage to everything from West Side Story to Les Miz, with plenty of stops along the way. Like most theater recordings, this one is even better after you've seen the play. But even if you haven't yet had that particular pleasure, there's plenty to enjoy in this comedy of a world that's short on that most basic commodity: clean water. With numbers like Snuff That Girl, I See A River and It's A Privilege To Pee, you know you're in good hands. Just be sure to wash them afterwards. Urinetown - The Musical
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