I Believe, from The Book of Mormon

BBC World News reviewed the London stage show of The Book of Mormon this morning, and played the showcase song of the show. I saw it last year with Firecracker, and we loved it. I gave it a full review.

The song does pick on Mormon beliefs, but the show in total is essentially a comedic anthropological take on religion itself, as stories we tell to make tragedy bearable, and is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time.

The Book of Mormon

My first anniversary present (paper) to Sarah was tickets to The Book of Mormon, and we saw it last night in New York. (my present was tickets to midget car racing, which was awesome). I’ve been a fan of South Park since before it existed, when I first saw the videotape of “The Spirit of Christmas” that was commissioned as a video Christmas card. I had some friends in the Disney and animation community who’d got their hands on it, and is still one of the funniest Christmas parodies ever made. The show has had its ups and downs, but the movies Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made are mostly terrific. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut can still make me crack up. Team America: World Police is one of the few satires of the post-9/11 landscape. And The Book of Mormon is perhaps the most popular musical to say that in general, religion is just crazy shit someone makes up to distract people in horrible situations.

Now, the Mormons get poked fun at in this, but I don’t think their religion is singled out in particular, except to make the audience think why they are laughing at some of the off-the-wall beliefs of strict Mormons when their own beliefs are only slightly less ‘out there.’ Mormons are hardly the only target. American consumerism, symbolized by Orlando Florida, gets a heavy ribbing. The characters are sympathetic, but there is a lot of brutally cynical humor about the dire situation in some areas of rural Africa, such as the AIDS epidemic, violent warlords, and female circumcision. The performers are fantastic, and the humor works on many levels. I don’t know if many Mormons are going to see it, but I don’t find it malicious. In the end, the missionaries are flawed because they are human and entitled Americans, not because of their religion.

All the Broadway shows I’ve seen in order, from childhood are… Cats, Show Boat, Avenue Q, Spring Awakening, Spamalot!, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Hair, Young Frankenstein, Hairspray, and You’re Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush. Not counting Will Ferrell- which was a one-man show and not a musical- I’d say Book of Mormon is hands down, the funniest, with Spamalot second. The best all around? I really liked the revival of Hair, and think the Hairspray musical was damn good (and better than the movie musical).

Tickets are still crazy expensive, but this one will be running for a long time. I hope they make an insane movie out of it. It is incredibly filthy, absurd, hilarious, endearing, and daring.

And speaking of Mormons, to read a free story of mine about two Mormons who ring the doorbell of the wrong man, check out We’re All Guys Here, at [PANK] Magazine.

 

long beautiful hair…

Firecracker took me to see a bunch of naked dirty hippies on Broadway the other night. The revival of 1967’s controversial show Hair is especially prescient now that we’ve finally gotten out of the ’60s- President Obama was born in 1961 and therefore too young to be a baby boomer, and politics is all the better for it. 1968 should now be officially over, 40 years hence.
It’s still an excellent musical, full of energy, even if it’s no longer shocking. But it’s a reminder that 40 years ago, you could get beat up over your hairstyle. The country was gripped by fear whipped up by the military-industrial complex, which after World War 2 was ravenously hungry for the war economy that funnels most of our enormous GNP into their coffers. So, Korea. Vietnam. The Cold War. The “peace dividend,” which never materialized because a tiny country named Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. The Global War on Terror, the war that must never speak its name, as we send 30,000 soldiers to the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan, while we shake hands with Saudis, who make the Taliban look a little moderate.
What struck me were the protest songs, when they spoke of tear gas, dogs, and water cannons; at least that’s changed. Now we use sonic weapons, like in Pittsburgh during the G20 summit. The right to assemble for a petition of grievances may be explicitly in our Constitution, in a country born of revolt, but there is something implanted in our nature since the ’30s that says, if you speak up, you’re breaking the law and deserve whatever you get. As if pointing out the mote in your brother’s eye means you should be clubbed with the beam in your own. Miraculously, those protesting the G20- where the decisions affecting the world are made- are considered criminal, but the Tea Party tea-baggers preaching violent revolution because a Democratic President- who’s not even particularly liberal when compared to Clinton, or hell, Richard Nixon- is in power, are coddled by the powers that be. Funny how that works. People show up with guns when the President speaks, they’re okay. Some organic food proponent with a sign, targeted for snatch & grab arrest. Follow the money.

Sonic weapon truck at Pittsburgh G20

But I digress. The musical is only dated by the bell bottoms and the free love, but it hearkens back to a New York where the cool parts of town had rebels in them, not trust fund kids. We got a good peek at this briefly in Julie Taymor’s ambitious Beatles musical Across the Universe, but it seems that we want to forget how free we used to be; that we once mocked the drive to provide, provide, and now the closest Hollywood will get to it are tepid dramas like Revolutionary Road, where the shackles of pursuing wealth are too hard to shake.
The closest Hair gets to what it must have felt like in ’68 is the audience participation, which begins with Berger, the Abbie Hoffman-esque jester-satyr, thrusting his loin-clothed loins at an (un)lucky first row audience member, stroking their hair, and practically tea-bagging them in the John Waters’ Pecker fashion (hitting them on the forehead with his sack, if you haven’t seen that movie). This continues with other cast members kissing folks in the aisles, handing out flowers, and pretending to lock all the exits while they fire up fake joints. What I found most amusing was how the audience suddenly started coughing as the fake cigs- it’s illegal to smoke a cigarette on stage in New York- smoked up the stage. I didn’t smell smoke, but the most protest you’ll get out of most of us is an instinctive clearing of the throat when someone dares to even faux-smoke these days. You breathe worse in when you walk across city traffic for 5 minutes, idiot.
Admittedly, the best parts of the musical for me involved the more famous song numbers- Aquarius, good morning Starshine, and Let the Sun Shine. They did include the infamous nude scene after they burn their draft cards, but it felt shoehorned- as if it were much longer originally, like a bacchanalian rite of dancing around the steel drum bonfire- and our modern Puritan sensibilities would be shocked by more than a few seconds of dimly lit unshorn pubes bushing out at us from hippie crotches. But the best part was that the show never gave a condescending wink to the material or the time, as if to whisper to us “remember when we were flower children? Aren’t you glad the Lower East Side is all gentrified now?” And it didn’t shy from the dated songs like “I’m a Colored Spade,” probably because now, he is the President of the United States … of Love.
Hair on Netflix

Spamalot!

It is generally a rule that any young nerd must adore Monty Python; I was no exception. I haven’t watched the comedy classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail for over ten years, even though it’s had several special edition DVD releases. I was just burned out on it, so I avoided Spamalot on Broadway when it first came out. And boy do I regret it, because this is one hilarious show.
Clay Aiken is the only “big name” singing this time around, in what will be its final run. David Hyde-Pierce and Tim Curry were in it, but Clay does a fine job as the cowardly Sir Robin. He doesn’t play the gay one? What a lost opportunity. King Arthur is played by Michael Siberry, and he has a sort of Jack Sparrow slur to his voice but none of the effeminacy, and manages to make the role his own and not a pale shadow of the late great Graham Chapman. That’s a worthy achievement, and nearly as difficult as Roger Bart stepping into Gene Wilder’s shoes for Young Frankenstein.
The plot is much the same as the movie with a few twists thrown in, some new songs that play on favorite scenes, and plenty of Broadway in-joke humor. Arthur and his “horse” Percy are seeking knights, and eventually hunt up Galahad, Bedevere, Robin and the homo-cidal Lancelot (more on that later), and God (voiced by John Cleese) tasks them with finding the Holy Grail. The new songs are more Broadway than Python, but have the same biting humor- for example, Clay Aiken sings “You can’t have a Broadway show without any Jews,” and they get in on the Mel Brooks act with a Star of David themed number; the movie’s one-off joke about Lancelot being gay (when he “rescues” a fellow knight from the perils of Castle Anthrax and its sexually rapacious nuns) becomes a big dance number with riffs on the Copacabana and gay ’70s disco culture.


There’s still plenty of original Python songs and humor- Sir Robin’s song, and the fantastic “Knights of the Round Table” song is extended. The Lady of the Lake is made into a major character to give the all-male story some female interest and songs, and she even has a “What Happened to My Part?” song gag in the middle, done Vegas style. They keep things topical with the Taunting French Knights, who not only farted in their general direction, but also threatened to throw shoes at them.
For old Python fans like me & Milky, it was a blast- and even Firecracker, who’d only seen Holy Grail once and wasn’t a huge fan, still loved the show and laughed quite a bit. I found a few of the Broadway song gags a little on the long side, like “The Song That Goes Like This,” but there was never a dull moment. The set design is incredible, and even the nosebleed seats- which we got for a mere $20 from Broadway Offers- gave a great view. Seeing the Killer Rabbit, the Knight who keeps fighting as he’s delimbed, and the cow catapult onstage was a blast. The humor swings from absurd to risque in classic Monty Python fashion, and there’s plenty of swag- from coconut halves for your “horse,” to Killer Bunny slippers- to fill up on. They also have a Karaoke CD (link at end of post)
The show ends on January 11th, so see it while you can. Do the Broadway economy a favor and see it on the cheap. Go to www.broadwayoffers.com and use coupon code SPBAL20 to see it for $20, or $28.50 with ticket fees. Vhat a bargain! We ate at Five Guys Burgers & Fries (a mere 10 block walk) to avoid Broadway crowds, and as always it was a fresh, inexpensive, quick and tasty meal.

1776 – the purfuit of happineff

Despite George Washington’s fervent wish that he not be deified, we have put our Founding Fathers on such pedestals that their humanity comes into question. Even calling them Fathers or Framers seems to impart a distant and mythic quality to them, when surely they were just ball-scratching, beer-swilling men like the rest of us; no doubt they were infused with a fiery gumption deserving our respect, and a witty intelligence that makes them endlessly quotable. To our great misfortune, this essence has rarely been distilled into an easily consumable art form.

Oh, people have tried. Most recently HBO made a mini-series about John Adams, which was actually pretty good- a bit on the long side, and it sidesteps most of the American Revolution because Adams was often in France trying to curry diplomatic favor. Hopefully we’ll get a mini-series covering most of the war someday. 1776 covers the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and manages to run nearly 3 hours to show us how the bickering delegates of 13 very different colonies managed to agree upon the need to rebel from the empire from which they sprang.

Originally a Broadway musical, it was a huge hit and was turned into a 1972 film by Warner Brothers, who hired practically the entire Broadway cast, including the director, to reprise their act on the silver screen. Part of me wishes they simply sat a camera in front of the stage, because many musicals suffer when converted into films; the energy is gone. And I’m afraid that’s what happened here.

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Martha misses Tommy’s “violin.”

It’s rather like 12 Angry Men: The Musical, with a cast cooped up in the stifling meeting room of the Continental Congress; it begins with a bland political joke about the ineffectiveness of Congress that was tepid when Will Rogers said it, and is just as milquetoast here. And but for a few humanizing moments here and there, that’s as good as it gets. The problem is the music; it’s resolutely dull. I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but by this point stuff like The Sound of Music, The King and I, and My Fair Lady had come along and shown how to masterfully blend witty dialogue with equally witty and enjoyable songs. Unfortunately this has none, and feels like a Marx Brothers movie that gets rudely interrupted so the two lovebirds can sing their hearts out.

As dated as this poster design.

The Egg” was the most memorable of the songs I can recall, and is about Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams arguing about which bird should symbolize this new country: the dove, the eagle, or the turkey. Franklin famously did favor the turkey, for it was a native bird, notoriously wary and difficult to hunt. Most of the humor is of the old hindsight is 20/20 variety– ha, ha, they don’t want the eagle to be our bird? Pshaw. Or worse yet, the custodian who spouts “Sweet Jesus!” any time he’s asked to open a window, to shock us into imagining our illustrious forebears saying such uncouth things. The film was even banned from being shown in a Virginia because Jefferson says that he “burns” for his wife. I guess in Virginia, Paul Giamatti porking away at Mrs. Abigail in the HBO miniseries of John Adams precludes it from being a valid historical document.

Go fly a kite.

William Daniels plays Adams here; he’s since become more famous for playing a Doc on “St. Elsewhere,” and the voice of K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider,” so hearing him as John Adams was hard to swallow. He’s also kind of a meek voice for a character who’s chided for being so boisterous. Every half hour or so, he sings to his wife Abigail, who appears in a ghostly window to sing back to him. Harder to take was Howard Da Silva’s Ben Franklin, who seemed played for laughs throughout. I certainly don’t mind a story humanizing the man who wrote “Fart Proudly,” and coined the motto “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” but he’s almost buffoonish here.

f.u. k1ng ge0rg3!

On the other hand it’s rather beautifully filmed and has a few chuckles, and if I didn’t know that “Cool, Considerate Men” was cut as a favor to Nixon, I’d think it was cut to reduce the 3 hour running time to a tolerable level. The song’s not even that good, and seeing men in wigs practically goose-step while singing “always to the right!” isn’t too subtle. If you like flowery reconstructions of our past where the arguments over the Declaration involved passionate pleas to end slavery, when in actuality the biggest obstacle was getting Quakers to agree to war, you might like it. I expected a lot more from this. The director does a good job transitioning to screen, but the attempts at injecting romance are clumsy, and any real drama is lost; these men were agonizing over whether to commit their constituents to a long and bloody war with the greatest military power of the time, and the frequent and frivolous songs seem like window dressing, artifice meant to rouse us when the spirit of Adams, Franklin and Jefferson should be doing it on their own.

There’s a lot of love for this film, but I did not feel compelled by it. I think it will be forever colored by the time it was released- it was very difficult to feel roused to patriotism during the “peace with honor” campaign of the Vietnam War, when crime and urban decay rose to such a degree that Nixon won in a landslide on the “law and order” ticket. It just didn’t feel very passionate, and it seems like they left out the Quaker’s pacifist dilemma because we were currently fighting a rightfully unpopular war. It’s not terrible, just largely unmemorable; if you watch it enough it might become so, but I don’t think I’ll be putting forth the effort. I might give it a shot if a local theater company performs it.

80’s Trash of the Week: Earth Girls Are Easy

I’ll admit it. I’ll watch anything with Geena Davis in it. Let me qualify that. Any movie with Geena in it. In that “Commander in Chief” TV show she had a forehead like Andre the Giant’s, which terrified me. But since her first role in Tootsie I’ve had a crush on her (probably because I was 12 and she was in her bra & panties). I’ve always thought she had an adorably cute face with that big wry grin of hers. I even watched that superflop Cutthroat Island, which is actually pretty bad. But she’s hot in her pirate outfit.

Geena’s on the left

Before Beetlejuice, The Fly, and The Accidental Tourist made her a star, she was still taking projects like Julie Brown‘s Earth Girls Are Easy, as quintessential an 80’s movie as ever there was. It’s silly and over the top, garishly colorful, has campy special effects and a ludicrous plot, and tries to make some sort of comment on the dating scene, so yeah, late 80’s trasharama. Imagine Casual Sex? with Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum and Damon Wayans as aliens instead of Dice Clay, throw in a bunch of campy Valley references and songs by Julie Brown of “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” 15-minute fame, and you’ve got it.

Do you think we’ll ever regret these hair-dos?

It’s surprisingly watchable for being such a silly concept, because it never takes itself seriously. It teases you a few times, with a serious romantic subplot, but it’s all played for a gag with a decent payoff, so don’t let that bother you. Geena is Valerie, a hairdresser engaged to doctor Ted, which should be every gal’s dream of landing a rich chiseled Ken doll of a man, but like that Ken doll, he is too disinterested in sex for her liking. She tells her co-worker Candy (Julie Brown), who gives her an awful frosty blonde make-over that screams ’88, but when she tries to surprise him at home, he opens the door with a nurse in tow. She kicks him out and trashes the house in a “music video” scene, in her lingerie. While it’s sort of a chick movie, the producers were wise to insist that we get plenty of bikini action.

I ran out of Kleenex.

Valerie spends her weekend moping by the pool, while in the cold reaches of outer space, we see a Flash Gordon-like ship observing Earth. Inside are 3 guys covered in bright fur, like they skinned muppets and made catsuits out of them. They’ve been alone too long and after watching a holographic porno, turn their scopes toward our planet, where of course they see Geena sprawled by her pool, tantalizing them with a little side boob.

Late 80’s invention- the side boob.

They crash-land in her swimming pool and the fun begins. They’re goofy and good-natured, after all they’re Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans from the late-80’s super-skit comedy “In Living Color,” and Jeff Goldblum, who every went to for a studly nerd back then. She tries to hide them in the house but they want girls, so she ends up taking them to the hair salon for a make-over, which goes surprisingly well. Then we get an interlude for Julie Brown to sing “Cuz I’m a Blonde,” which is actually still pretty funny.

More proof that Cheez Whiz came from space.

From then on the movie involves trying to hide them from her hubby and her stoner pool man (Michael McKean), while taking them out to the L.A. party scene. They go to a club at Griffith Park Observatory, where Zeebo (Wayans) wows the ditzy Valley girls with their crazy dance moves, and Wiploc (Carrey) gets a following when he grabs an ice cube with his 8 inch tongue. Mac (Goldblum) is the most reserved of the aliens and has a thing for Geena, not surprising when the two actors married shortly after. They have a romantic scene and then skedaddle home where he shows her his magic “love touch,” which would be re-used in Cocoon.

“You guys were easier to wax than Robin Williams.”

In every movie where she bumps uglies with Jeff G, she has a nightmare afterward- in The Fly she had the infamous maggot baby, but here she just imagines all her neighbors as weird aliens, and other bizarre stuff like a midget with a beehive hairdo in her fridge. Now I know why Peter Dinklage’s character in Living in Oblivion was so pissed off about being in a dream sequence, it seems like half the roles for little people are in freaky dreams.

They give each other knowing nods at parties for enduring this.

The last part of the movie is a little confused and involves Ted trying to get back into Valeries good graces, and the alien boys getting into trouble with Woody the pool man. Zeebo and Wiploc wanna go to the beach because unlike Mac, they haven’t gotten any space booty. While Woody is gassing up, they manage to accidentally rob a store, trash Angelyne’s Corvette, drive through a car wash and then backwards down the freeway. Who’s Angelyne? I only recognized her because John Waters wrote about her in his book Crackpot!, but she’s a self-made celebrity in L.A.– by driving around in a pink Vette and buying billboards of herself modeling, she managed to get her 15 minutes.

Angelyne in all her skanky glory.

The boys crash into the giant sign of Randy’s Donuts, another L.A. landmark; I’m surprised they didn’t stop at Tail o’ the Pup for hot dog. Of course the cops haul them in and they end up under Dr. Ted’s care- could it happen any other way? How they unravel this conundrum, and whether Val ends up with her fun-loving alien or Dr. Dork I’ll leave for you to learn. The movie is good fun and an overdose of late 80’s nostalgia, with the B-52’s on the soundtrack. Before Carrey was making millions per picture he was in stuff like this, and Once Bitten. I liked him better as a goofball. And Geena fans, she’s never looked better.

Oh, it’s in the hole!

Beers Required to Enjoy: One
Could it be remade today? No way
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Off the charts
High Points: Smokin’ hot Geena, early Jim Carrey
Low Point:Things get serious with Ted
Gratuitous Boobies: Side only, but lots of cleavage.

Spring Awakening

Firecracker’s been wanting to see this for a year, and we finally got to it. I took her to see Rufus Wainwright for Valentine’s Day instead. While Rufus is entertaining, I wish we’d gone to see this musical instead. It’s pretty funny and very hot. For a show based on a play from 1890 that’s a surprise. There’s sort of a dearth of bawdiness in that era, and that’s what the story is about- it’s a morality tale about sexual repression, the kind of thing John Waters should be making a campy movie version of.

Sure it’s a little emo, but it’s a good show. I was thoroughly entertained and titillated. We had on-stage seats, which gives you a unique perspective; I’d probably want to see the show from the audience before I did it again. You miss a lot of the dialogue and lyrics because the actors are projecting away from you. You get the best view imaginable, and get bumped around sometimes as they bounce around the stage. The stage seats are incorporated into the show, actually- the backup singers sit with you, and occasionally the cast is standing right next to you.

Moritz, Melchior, Wendla

The story begins with young Wendla, a German girl who asks her mother about the birds and the bees. Our Prussian-Puritan background shows in that I said “birds and bees” instead of “the penis and the vagina.” We’ve got a thousand euphemisms for it. Anyway, her mom is too embarrassed to tell her not to let snakey into her no-no, so you know she’s going to get in trouble later on. From there we cut to a strict Prussian schoolroom, where mussy-haired Moritz (Blake Bashoff, Alex’s boyfriend on “Lost”) has fallen asleep during recitations of Latin. His friend Melchior (the lead, Kyle Riabko) defends him and becomes the rebel of the show, questioning the schoolmaster’s methods.

I’ll only put it in a little

He’s the one who gets in trouble with Wendla. Moritz falls asleep in class because his wet dreams are keeping him up all night, and he asks “Melchy” to write him an essay with illustrations because he’s read about sex in those forbidden books. Wendla finds him by the lake scribbling his naughty essay and eventually succumb to their throbbing hormonal urges. From the stage seats you get subjected to Mr. Riabko’s ass-crack, which delighted Firecracker. I got a look up Wendla’s skirt, and can tell you Alexandra Socha wears tighty whities. Besides being appropriately cute, the actresses and actors are all quite good. Beast said Melchior overacted, but he’s playing a rebellious teenager, and he played the part of the “Angry Young Man” from that Billy Joel song perfectly.

We’d be in those chairs on stage left

Emma Hunton was my favorite- she plays Ilse, a girl who was kicked out by her parents and now lives on the streets, posing for the Bohemian painters to live, usually wandering barefoot or in one of the artists’ shirts. She’s got great pipes and has a touching scene where she comforts inconsolable Moritz, who besides suffering the cruel injustices of the schoolmasters, can’t tell when a girl likes him. They sing a duet together that was the best song of the show, “Blue Wind.” The real crowd-pleaser is “Totally Fucked” when Melchior finally rebels, but it was loud and heavy on percussion so I couldn’t understand any of it from the stage seats.

Moritz channeling Amadeus

Overall Spring Awakening is a good show and worth seeing- the current cast is excellent, and while the story might appeal more to teenagers than adults like me, who wanted it to be campier or even more daring, it is never boring. The set design is spartan and efficient, with no big set changes- it’s not showy like Hairspray but it was clever and impressive. Check out the soundtrack on Amazon: