Friday, 25 May 2012

Friday Five: Top Musicals

Some of my friends are currently performing in the Showbiz Queenstown production of The Sound of Music. Of course, I wish them all the very best and I'm sure they will be having a fabulous season (people seem to love this musical!) but I had to leave the country to avoid watching it. Honestly, for me it is the worst musical ever - it's so outrageously saccharine and features singing children.

When I tried to explain to Him Outdoors why I disliked it so much, I mentioned My Favourite Things, The Lonely Goatherd, Do-Re-Mi, So Long Farewell, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, Edelweiss, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, and, of course, the vomit-inducing title song. He was in total agreement, in fact I had him at My Favourite Things. I was forced to watch it once when a dear friend of mine played the part of Maria - you were excellent Pipi - but, never again.

It may be the legacy of Julie Andrews - I love Julie Andrews (and Mary Poppins is excellent, although I was disappointed that the stage musical removes some of the social history elements to make it more sentimental and less political). Perhaps that is part of the problem - no one can be her, but everyone tries, because there is so little room for interpretation. 

Anyway, it got me thinking about my favourite musicals. I'm just considering the stage stuff here. So while I love Some Like It Hot, Moulin Rouge and the film version of The Wizard of Oz (although I saw it on stage in Stratford and was very disappointed) I'm not going to count them. Maybe I'll do musical films another time? The film of West Side Story is so good that no stage version I've seen can compete.

And some date. Recently I watched Carousel for the first time, wanting to see how You'll Never Walk Alone fits in, and was disgusted by the inherent sexism. Sample dialogue: 'I loved my wife'; 'Then why did you beat her?' 'I didn't beat her, I just hit her' - well, that's alright then! While the story-line was appalling, the dancing in the big numbers such as June is Busting Out All Over is excellent.

Often one song or one scene can steal the show. The opening chords of Phantom of the Opera send shivers down my spine. The set and staging of The Lion King brought a lump to my throat when I saw it in the West End. Watching my friend in purple tights in The Producers made me howl with laughter (sorry, Matt), and the production of Showboat that I saw in Oamaru is probably the best amateur musical I've ever seen.

Other musicals can be made by the people you saw performing in them. A great Che makes a fabulous Evita; a bad Enjolras ruins Les Miserables. I have a soft spot for Jesus Christ Superstar as it was the first musical I ever performed in. I know everyone feels affection for shows in which they have performed (with the possible exception of Rush!), so I am going to include only shows that I've seen rather than been in.

5 Favourite Musicals:
  1. My Fair Lady - I think this is the first musical I ever saw. I loved it. I wanted to act and sing and dance and entertain. I came home and I really could have danced all night. It's sublime. And when I saw it at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2002, there was no less magic.
  2. Oh, What a Lovely War! - a musical with a message: the changing mood of this has stuck with me for ever, and proves that musicals don't just have to be light and fluffly
  3. Me and My Girl - musicals can be light and fluffy. This is such fun - a sensational spectacle
  4. Cats - musicals don't have to have a point. All singing, all dancing felines with T.S. Elliot's words and Andrew Lloyd Webber's music - cat-tastic!
  5. Chicago - I took my parents to see this in the West End in 2001. The cast (including Denise Van Outen as Roxie Hart and Alison Moyet as Mama), the staging, the music and the dancing were all fabulous. I can see what all the fuss is about.

Okay, so now tell me yours. And I am fully expecting Bad Fairy to reply with Oklahoma!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Books Read in February 2012

The following are short reviews of the books that I read in February 2012. The marks I have given them in the brackets are out of five.

The Postmistress – Sarah Blake (3.2)
There are some things about The Postmistress that don’t make sense. Iris James runs the post office in Franklin, a small Cape Cod village, where she insists there is no such thing as a postmistress; it is a gender-neutral position. So why is the novel called the postmistress? Is it because it is marketed to women? Is it to draw attention to the fact that women in office were still unusual? Or is it to suggest an illicit relationship between the post and the woman who delivers it? Whatever the reason, it is meant to deliver a talking point for book groups – one of many.

The setting is 1940 and the spectre of war looms large (it’s the sort of novel that warrants such clichés in review), although many Americans question whether they need to intervene with Europe’s problems. Frankie Bard is an attractive female reporter from Greenwich Village, with a decidedly male name and a distinctively feminine outlook. She attempts to get the situation across to the listeners in the United States to sway their emotions and their decisions. Hopefully her dispatches are less hyperbolic than the purple prose.

Iris is among her listeners, as is Emma Fitch, young pregnant wife of Will, the town doctor. Will Fitch has gone to London to try and do some good while assuaging his conscience. In a highly implausible plot point, he meets Frankie in a bomb shelter, and Emma hears the report of the devastation without realising her personal involvement. Will gives Frankie a letter for Emma that she cannot deliver; an act which assumes major significance due to the war. Not since Romeo and Juliet has an undelivered letter caused such consternation.

Frankie tries to wrest some of the importance to herself, detracting from the great events unfolding on the world stage. She claims, “Some stories don’t get told. Some stories you hold on to. To stand and watch and hold it in your arms was not cowardice. To look straight ahead at the beast and feel its breath on your flanks and not to turn – one could carry the world that way.” But the story is told, and this is the fundamental philosophical paradox: we are meant to feel for her because she doesn’t divulge her secret, but if it really were secret, we wouldn’t know or be able to feel it.

The author writes in the ‘story behind the story’ that the central question of the novel is ‘How do you bear (in both senses of the word) the news?’ It is increasingly common for the author to attempt to direct our thoughts. When Frankie’s boss tells her the difference between reporting and recording, he suggests, “You need a frame. People need to know where to look. They need us to point.” This gives the reader very little to do and so this reader practically gave up.

Books Burn Badly – Manuel Rivas (3.8)
I know people will love this book and liken it to work by Salman Rushdie and Garcia Marquez among others, and level charges of magical realism and colourful history at it, but it just didn’t enthral me, despite the gorgeous cover. Perhaps it is because there are too many characters, or it jumps around in chronological order so much, or the persistent overuse of personal pronouns (who is he this time?).

The premise of the novel is the well-documented fact that, during the Spanish Civil War, the Falangists burned books at the Coruña Docks on 19th August 1936. Books were stolen and removed from burning piles, then buried or hunted down and all are highly valued. Words, sentences and books become prized objects in a land of uncertainty.

A prisoner learns Braille so that he can read at night. A harpooner “practised the art of saying ugly words in foreign languages for them to sound a little distinguished.” A woman realises she must welcome words into her relationship with a man “man lived in a state of extreme alert with language.” Can the beauty of language mitigate the malice of action? “What would you think of someone who recites beautiful poems and sings melancholy songs before committing a crime? Does this affect the poems they recite and the songs they sing?” Such is the existentialist nature of the novel that questions like this arise frequently.

The language is, indeed even in translation, remarkably seductive, and it is easy to forget the factious fighting and allow the perfect prose to wash over you. Although frequently dealing in the abstract, it is the details that baffle. The novel and the characters maintain their distance; there is probably a way into this intricate novel but I failed to find it.

There are people who draw pictures of “women with things on their heads”; there are people who claim that “In this country, history always spoils everything”; there is a prophet who is excellent at predicting the past; there are also those whose recollections bear little resemblance to reality. These people may or may not be the same person. It is difficult to fathom how they relate to each other, if at all, due to the previously mentioned excess of personal pronouns.

And through it all, there are books and words and stories. A man who listens to radio stations in foreign languages claims that, “Words sound wonderful when you can’t understand them.” That may be, but when you can’t understand novels, they are merely frustrating.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Quote for Today

"It is an essential principle of art that the universal can be spoken about only in terms of the particular" - Nicholas Reid, Sunday Star Times

In the Particular Lies the Universal by James Victoire

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Last Week's Thing

Here are the main stories that were making the news last week:

6. The Wiggles are disbanding – well, three of them are leaving and being replaced by new versions – one is even a woman! The Blue Wiggle (Anthony Field) is already the highest-paid entertainer in Australia, and now he is the only remaining original Wiggle. According to the outpourings of emotion in the press, mums across the continent are devastated.

5. Michael Clarke (Australian cricket captain) married Kyly Boldy (model with spelling issues). He was the one who left a cricketing tour a couple of years ago to dump former girlfriend Lara Bingle (her of the Australian Tourism Board’s ‘where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign). They wed in a ‘private ceremony’ that they didn’t disclose to the media and tweeted pictures on Twitter. Celebrity gossips admired the ‘brave move’ because apparently women’s magazines would have paid approximately $100,000 for exclusive rights to the ceremony. The Canberra Times had this to say: “Both husband, 31, and wife, 30, have websites listing their key statistics. He has played 83 Tests, scoring 6,097 runs at an average of 48.78. She has a 34B bust and brown-green eyes.” Thus proving yet again that while men are respected for their achievements, women are merely judged on their looks.

4. At the Australian International Beer Awards, Hop Hog Pale Ale from Feral Brewery was awarded the best international pale ale prize. Feral Brewery also won the trophy for Champion Large Australian Brewery.This year there were a record 1,344 brews entered from 41 countries, an increase of 10% on last year’s entries. The trophy for Champion Small Australian Brewery went to The Wig and Pen Brewery and Tavern, right here in Canberra. We have already been to it a few times in the fortnight we’ve been here – Him Outdoors refers to it as an oasis.

3. Donna Summer died. I’m not a huge disco fan, but I do admire her music and think I Feel Love and Love to Love You, Baby are great hits. Through accident rather than design, she is also connected to my Queenstown theatrical experiences. I acted in Hot Stuff by Christina Stachurski, to which of course, that was the theme tune, and set the bows to one of my first directorial outings, Night Cleaners by Angie Farrow to her She Works Hard for the Money. She does indeed.

2. Manchester City won the Premier League in the 94th minute of the final day of the season – how exciting is that? And as if it weren’t good enough to see the blue Mancunians over the moon, the tears of the (red) clowns were even more satisfying. As the banners proudly claimed, ‘Manchester: the City is ours!’

1. King Kenny was sacked as manager of the mighty Liverpool FC. I am still in shock, and haven’t yet come to terms with my thoughts over this decision. I’m sure I’ll share them with you at some point.