Romance & Cigarettes

Romance & Cigarettes
We watched this overlooked musical by John Turturro last night. Ebert had given it four stars, but then again he gave “Across the Universe” four stars. I guess he’s a sucker for musicals. It’s pretty good and very original, sort of like a Sopranos musical- without the mob. Its set in the Jersey-NYC area, with at least one scene in Linden.

James Gandolfini is an ironworker on the Manhattan bridge with his buddy Steve Buscemi, who is sort of a pervert philosopher. James is cheating on hs wife Susan Sarandon, with redhead Kate Winslet (it is specifically mentioned that the curtains match the drapes) who looks better than ever, a curvy Brit broad shaking her goodies all over the place every chance she gets. They break into song now and then, classic rock, doo wop, American standards, James Brown. There are a few great set pieces, such as when Gandolfini is a fireman having to put out Winslet’s flame, and they are very entertaining. Turturro leans into artsy territory now and then, as men in the street howl Bukowski-esque ballads to the female pudenda, but it is always leavened with heaping spoonfuls of Italian-American, Brooklyn-style humor.
My favorite is when Sarandon confronts the mistress and uses the childhood joke, “‘twat did you say? I cunt hear you!” Things liven up when her cousin Bo, played by Christopher Walken with a black patois, bowling shirt and chinos up to his neck, shows up to help her set her marriage in order. He of course gets his dance scene, no point in having Walken in a musical without showing his chops.
Things lean toward melodrama near the end as they patch things up, but it’s a unique take on an old story, with lots of good laughs at the jokes and chuckles at Turturro’s deranged imagination.
I’d give it a solid 3 out of 4 menthols for reaching for the stars and making a unique musical that is very funny, and might be better on Broadway.
You know, especially after Gary Gygax’s death, “Gandolfini” sounds like an Italian wizard. “You gotta problem widdat Sauron? Take it up with the union, ya jamook.”

Young Frankenstein sings!

Our friends Josh and Daniel gave Sarah tickets for her birthday. Good guys with great taste in bad food and good musicals. The theater is decorated like a Disney theme park, which gave me pause. The show is great, however. The stage design is particularly stunning, and the cast is uniformly hilarious. They do a great job of taking the best of the movie and perking it up as a musical.

There’s the stage before the show. You can barely make out the castle. They use a lot of projection on back screens to add to the design, without relying on it too much. Roger Bart plays Dr. Frankenstein (Fronkensteen!) and does a great job. Gene Wilder’s shoes are impossible to fill, but he manages to create his own version of the neurotic, sex-starved scientist. When he gets manic and insane he screams in a way that is funny on its own. His first song is a clever bit of wordplay about the brain, sort of like the old “I am the very model of a modern Major General” and is almost too quick to catch half the jokes.

A montage advert from the show.

Christopher Fitzgerald plays Igor, he of the transient hump, and mimics Marty Feldman’s British accent. Not sure it was the wisest choice, but it works, and he’s quite funny as well, relying on a lot of physical comedy, including swinging from the castle door’s big knockers prior to that famous gag. His best scene is when he admits he used an “Abby Normal” brain for the monster. He’s sitting in a chair with a labcoat on, playing little games while the Doc fumes.

In our show Renee Feder played Inga, and she was fantastic. Quite a leggy knockout, too. They make an entire song out of the “roll in the hay” gag, and as usual it’s your risque Broadway tune. I think part of what I like most about Broadway shows is the burlesque unexpurgated quality. Calling back to the campy ending to Rufus Wainwright‘s concert, it reminds me of when America went to Times Square to be titillated, whether with tits, men in drag or gals in fishnets dancing to off-color songs. Maybe that’s why I go see shows like this, Avenue Q, the Evil Dead Musical, and Hairspray instead of dramas.

The rest of the cast is damn good as well, from Frau Blucher, who gets a funny song of her own to sing about being the first Doctor Frankenstein’s boyfriend, to Megan Mulally in the Madeline Kahn role. She does a great job with it, reinventing it as well because who can top Madeline Kahn? She does a fine job as the celibate socialite who gets to find “the sweet mystery of life” via the monster’s enormous schwanzstücker.

My favorite scene of the movie is Gene Hackman’s cameo as the old man. Here the hermit gets his own song, which is unfortunately too long. One of my minor quibbles with the show, it felt padded for time in that song. The slapstick scene is left as the original, which couldn’t be improved upon, really. The only clip I could find on youtube of the original movie was in Spanish, which loses all of Hackman’s great comedy work. It’s too bad he usually plays a tough guy, because he was hilarious in the movie.

The Puttin’ on the Ritz scene didn’t make it to my camera, but it would have looked crappy anyway. The movie scene is on youtube, thankfully. They change the finale of the movie a little, since it’s difficult to switch sets and show them using the Inspector’s mechanical arm as a battering ram. They move the scene to a gallows where the Doc is about to be hanged (and they don’t even make a “hung” joke!) The Monster arrives to save him, and everyone lives happily ever after of course. The only other iffy part of the show is a number called “The Transylvania Mania” that Igor sings to distract the villagers.

Puttin’ on the Ritz (movie version)

After the show we went to Fat Annie’s Truck Stop, which serves hearty American chow and other cardiological tragedies. For some reason they also sell raw oysters, which I avoided. Never order oysters in a truck stop, they are liable to be of the Rocky Mountain variety.
They serve po’boys and burgers and meat loaf and such, with a diner style interior slathered in chrome and vinyl. Authentic down the the NASCAR race on the televisions. Sometimes you can go too far with authenticity, but it was the Daytona 500, so maybe it would have been at any sports bar. What it lacked in atmosphere it made back with a different menu and a good burger. For appetizers we had the Frito Lay pie, which is a bag of fritos with chili, jalapeños, cheese and sour cream on top.

There ’tis in all its glory.

The menu was a bit scattershot with stuff ranging from Fried Cheese Curds from Wisconsin to Seared Yellowfin Tuna over mixed greens, which I wouldn’t order in any truck stop I ever heard of. We stuck with the basics, but Josh gave the meat loaf a thumbs down. The burgers and po’boys and appies were just fine, and the beer selection was decent with a good set of drafts. However the next time we’re in the neighborhood I’ll probably try the Irish pub next door which serves Irish breakfast all day.