Monday, January 23, 2012

Greater Than: Arias

I'm back folks!  Don't you just hate when real life gets in the way of blogging?  Work has been bananas but I'm going to try my very best to get on here as much as possible.  I still have a ton of theater reviews to put up and quite a few film ones as well (including two that I actually liked!).  I may not be an everyday blogger, but Popinions is going to live on damn it!

In other news....

Pretty Little Liars is on tonight.  Everyone that I know that watches this show is pretty realistic about the fact that it isn't good, yet they are completely addicted.  I call it the cotton candy of television.  I have also been catching up on Game Of Thrones.  Everyone that I know thinks that it is a pretty great show.  It's a beautifully shot and acted soap opera, but I love that kind of thing so I totally agree with them.

You might be wondering what these two vastly different shows have in common.  Well, they both have characters names Aria (Arya).  On Pretty Little Liars, Aria is the worst.  She has pretty much spent the entire run of the show throwing herself at an older (and kind of boring) man/her teacher in the most snoozeworthy way possible (Girl, Pacey Witter would be pissed at you).  She also dresses like a crazy person, which I think is supposed to make her artsy and interesting but really just makes her come off as someone who just escaped from the looney bin who had access to a really stocked 99 cents store.  On Game of Thrones Arya is awesome.  She's a little girl who is more badass than pretty much anyone else on the show.  She is good with a sword and quick with her tongue.  She is the one you really want to root for.

So it must be said:

Arya > Aria


Friday, January 13, 2012

A Soap Love/Goodbye Letter

Dear One Life To Live,

Let me start by saying that I'm so sorry that it took me so long to say that I love you.  I guess I was a little embarrassed, you being a campy soap and all.  But the truth is, it is your ability to do embrace the genre with a self aware wink to the audience that has made me love you so.  I am a little heartbroken that you are ending and am going to miss you terribly.  But we've had a good ride, haven't we?

Truth be told, it wasn't love at first sight.  Not to sound slutty but I kind of just started seeing you because you were hanging around in the general vicinity of my other soaps.  I watched you all at the same time, on occasion flipping channels when your back was turned.  I was in high school then, and I guess one daytime drama just couldn't hold my interest for very long.  I barely remember those days.  I think you did a musical in prison.  That was fun.  But I had to experiment with other TV shows.  It just wasn't the time for us.

In college, we barely saw each other at all.  There was that brief fling when you had that AMC baby switching crossover (oh, how bold you were) and I was mildly entertained by the whole multiple personality thing, but my sleeping/school schedule then just wasn't conducive to the hours you wanted me to have to see you.  And so we lost touch.  I heard about you from time to time, on the Internet or from friends but to be honest I never thought we'd see each other again.

Then, when I started working something magical happened.  I had a TV in my office and you were on during my lunch hour.  So it began, casually as I suppose it often does.  I was having a thing with Days Of Our Lives at the time, but would catch you on occasion and soon once and a while turned into a few times a week.  I remember the moment it all changed.  It was Bo and Nora's wedding and you were spectacular.  You were over the top but you knew it and rocked that shit.  There was a bold confidence there that I was drawn to.  From that point on, you had my heart.  And for the past year I've looked forward to our lunchtime dates every single day.

I guess I knew that I was in love when Todd came back.  I always knew that you could rock the funny but never quite realized that you had some really layered characters that could make you kind of complex.  The anti-hero who had atypical reactions (the less likeable on paper, the more likeable in reality) stole my heart.   Couple that with your cliffhanger moments at the tag of each episode and that was it.  I was hooked.

This past week leading up to the finale has continued to enforce everything that I've loved about you.  The big jail break, bringing back old characters and shedding a light on the ones that we love, was brilliant.  And yesterday's penultimate episode was beautiful.  The ballsy soap within a soap thing has been entertaining thus far, but using Fraternity Row's finale to talk about all of the wonderful things that soaps accomplish and the true sorrow that the possible end of the genre brings was powerful.  And more importantly, it was true.  Soaps have connected generations (I started watching them in the womb) and have allowed people to grow up with characters.  The characters on them become your friends and family, the town your home.  I can't believe that we'll never see Llanview again.

I'm really going to miss this show.  I'm going to miss the ever wise Vicki and her feud with Dorian. I'll think fondly of Jess and Tess and all of her other personalities (except that strange high school one).  I'll long for the strength of the Cramer women, the sweetness of Bo and Nora (and the father-son nature of Bo and Rex) and the wackiness of Roxy.  I'll  smile when I remember the Ford brothers and their tendency to whip off their shirts at a moments notice.   And what will be life without the hysterical ramblings of lovable narcissist David Vickers or the cuteness of adorable namesake she-dog David Vickers?  Hell, I'll even miss Natalie and her crazy eyes.  And I'll really, really miss Todd.  (Until he shows up on General Hospital).

So Goodbye One Life.  Goodbye to your ballsy meta-rants, your musicals, your lovable shtick.  Goodbye to the DNA test result swaps, twins galore and teen parents.  Goodbye to the heart and soul you have brought to daytime television and the humor and smarts that you have done it with.  I'll miss you, but I'll always love you.  Because this is for keeps.



Thursday, January 5, 2012

On A Snooze Day: A Theater Review

I've been doing a lot of trips to the theater during my brief stay in New York, and I feel obligated to review everything I've seen.  But its really hard when a show is as simply boring as On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is.  It's the sleepiest show that I've ever seen that I didn't actually fall asleep during.  I'm going to try to organize my thoughts though.  Just in case you are the one person dying to see this.

The concept of this version of On A Clear Day centers around David (David Turner), a twenty-something florist who is good with flowers but bad with people.  He has trouble fully committing to his sweet boyfriend Warren (Drew Gehling) and eventually winds up trying to solve his problems through hypnosis with therapist Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick Jr).  Mark is a widower who has his own issues connecting with people.  Mark slowly finds himself mesmerized by Melinda (Jessie Mueller), the woman from a former life that David turns into under hypnosis.  Of course Mark's interest in Melinda makes David think he likes him, leading everyone to be in love with someone they can't have.  David finally learns why Mark has been so interested in their sessions and eventually returns to Warren, while Mark claims to have learned something from the whole ordeal (What?  I don't know) and is ready to finally move on.

I typically like director Michael Mayer a lot.  Thoroughly Modern Millie, Spring Awakening and American Idiot  are some of my favorite musicals.  I also respect trying to do something different with a piece of pre-existing theater.  In this case however, I'm not sure if was worth the while.  On A Clear Day was originally written with a female protagonist and while switching the gender so that the love triangle involves a gay man pining after a straight man pining after a dead woman makes things a little unique, it doesn't better or further the story.  I'm sure that as it was originally written, there was a thought in the audiences' mind that Mark may indeed end up with his patient.  Connick plays the role here so that Mark never doubts his own sexuality, not even after kissing David.  You never believe he has any interest in his subject other than him being  a vehicle for Melinda.  It's like how Demi Moore never acknowledges that she is really dancing with Whoopi Goldberg.  Knowing exactly how this has to end for everyone gives the whole thing absolutely no stakes.  I have no idea why we are supposed to care.

The characters don't make it any easier and the actors don't put all that much into playing them.  Harry Connick Jr. has that lovely voice, but he kind of seemed to be sleepwalking through the show.  Maybe that's because Mark is sleepwalking through life, but I never felt his love for Melinda, nor his remorse for what he had done at the end.  Turner fares even worse as David.  The character comes across as immature and selfish and when Mark later refers to him as charming and charismatic I was certain that he was watching a different play.  Mueller has a great voice and made Melinda likeable, but I could never quite warm to her character knowing she was a weird not real/dead hybrid.  Gehling was nice as the put upon boyfriend and I hear that he is a lovely person, so he gets props for that.  But truthfully, no amount of talent could make this show interesting.  The odds were stacked against them.

In my playbill Mayer talked about listening to the cast recording non stop growing up.  Why Michael, Why?!  The music in this show is incredibly dull.  The only song that had any punch was the final number; the title song.  It got stuck in my head for about five minutes before disappearing forever. (Side note:  What the hell do the lyrics in this song have to do with the show?  Is there any point to any of this?) The only thing worse than the music was the physical look of the production.  The sets and costumes were seventies to the max, but that bad burnt orange/brown/avocado look that people have been forcing out of their kitchens for years. It was eye torture.

I'm not really sure why On A Clear Day happened.  With so many struggling Off-Broadway productions dying to get some funding to make it to the big leagues, I'm a bit disappointed that a show like this gets to  make it.  But I guess it has its functions.  Insomniacs should flock to the show in droves.  I have a feeling it will provide a much needed, if not expensive, two hour nap.  If you're not interested in that, I recommend skipping this one.  Your eyes, ears and general sense of happiness with thank me.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bonnie and Clyde: A Theater Review

Man, there was a good run in my life where critics and I were pretty simpatico.  If they liked it, I liked it.  If they didn't, I knew exactly what they were talking about.  Lately?  I've become mystified by critics.  For the past year they have been loving up on films that I've thought were total shit.  And now?  It seems they've been hating on some theater that I completely adored.  It's official.  Critics, I'm breaking up with you.

This past week I saw the now closed Broadway production of Bonnie and Clyde.  I saw it twice.  I saw it twice to double check that I did in fact like it like it, and that my admiration wasn't just surprise because the critics had made my expectations so very low.  (Okay, I also saw it again because I had friends with broken knees and food poisoning.  But these are other stories for another time).  I can say with certainly now that my reaction was genuine.  And I've been determined to figure out what I saw in this show that the critics didn't.

A little background...Bonnie and Clyde is a musical about, you guessed it, the notorious Bonnie and Clyde.  She was a girl  with silver screen dreams of fame who met him, a dirt poor lifelong petty criminal on the eve of his escape from jail.  They almost immediately fell for him for each other, most likely because they were both hot and feisty.  When he is captured, she remains true and helps him to escape again.  The two go on the run robbing banks until Clyde one day is forced to pull the trigger.  Bonnie contemplates leaving Clyde, but she's far too in love with him, and the two begin their now notorious spree.  Meanwhile Clyde's brother Buck dreams of having the wealth his little bro does, but Buck's wife Blanche wants him to go straight and be a good Christian man.  Eventually he convinces her to go find Clyde with him and the two become members of the Barrow gang.  Eventually the police close in and Buck is killed while Blanche is arrested.  Bonnie and Clyde make it out alive, but not for long.  The loving couple gets into their car and rides off into the night, ready to be pumped full of lead.  It's the fitting ending to this tragic love story.

One problem that the critics seemed to have is that this particular interpretation of the characters does not correspond with how they personally thought they should be. They are stuck on the history or the depictions in the 1967 movie.  Maybe its because I'm not a fan of that film, but I was completely willing to accept these versions of the characters.  Bonnie being an ingenue works because it makes you think that with one different life choice, she just may have been a star.  And Buck and Blanche being the more comical and moral center of the show serves as a lovely counterpoint to out main couple.  I thought these characters, especially for a two act musical, were necessary ways to interpret the characters.

Another major issue for the critics seems to be the show's book.  I'll concede on a few points here.  I do feel that the second act becomes a series of Bonnie and Clyde fighting and bank robbing for a short while, and I'm not into ever seeing a different version of the same scene twice.  We know this couple isn't splitting up, so the stakes are pretty much non existent here as well.  Unfortunately, we also know how they die so its hard to build any real sense of tension in respect to their own lives when we know that Clyde will definitely make it out when someone pulls a gun on him during a robbery.  It's a tricky problem, and I don't think enough credit is given to how it it practically unsolvable.  The real tension should be the slow loss of our characters lives, and this is maybe where the book falters a bit.  They do try, but it never comes across the way it should.  Clyde, the only one who actually kills people, should struggle more with what he has done.  One major problem is that his first kill totally slipped by me.  I figured out that he was raped in prison because I've seen General Hospital, but when he beat the crap out of a pole I missed that it was supposed to be him killing his attacker.  Clyde's first kill should have a face, and while we don't need to see the act that brought him to the murder, we should see the crime itself.  Similarly after his second murder, the first time his gun goes off during a robbery, his slight moment of guilt turns into a scene where he is trying to get Bonnie not to leave him.  Perhaps more of an internal struggle would have made later kills display a loss of morality.  I'm not sure if fleshing out this loss of humanity would have appeased the critics more, but it is one of the only things that I can take fault with.

Some critics also felt that the show wasn't dark and dangerous enough.  I may have missed this because instead, the show is crazy sexy.  A lot of that would have to be scarified to make this the Sweeney Todd of West Dallas.  Seeing the aforementioned murder would perhaps help a little bit, but I'm not sure how else to keep the sultry nature of the show that I really think works for it, while upping the danger factor.  We see bloody murders.  Guns go off galore.  Do we want torture that didn't happen?  Fancier ways of killing people?  Even darker lighting?  As someone who likes to play in the dark, I thought the tone of the show was smokey enough.  It seemed like an odd thing to nitpick to me.

My biggest WTF moment with these reviews was the way in which the music was panned.  I'm actually totally new to Frank Wildhorn's work, so maybe having no preconceived notions helped me just appreciate the score.  But the critics really hated it.  And I LOVED it.  I found not one snoozer ("Whispering" from Spring Awakening, "Easy To Be Hard" from Hair) in the bunch and had several of the songs stuck in my head for days.  I continue to hum "Picture Show" and am crazy about "Raise A Little Hell".    Big group numbers like "Made In America" were just as moving as the big solo eleven O'clock song "Dyin' Ain't So Bad".  "Bonnie" is so simple and yet incredibly beautiful.  I'll admit that sometimes the lyrics can be clunky and the rhyme scheme can seem off, but  I love the actual instrumental arrangement of the show.  I'm thrilled that a cast recording was made this week and that I will be able to blast these songs in my car.

There is one area where the show got a little praise by critics, the one area where they were a little soft.  The performances got a decent amount of praise and it was well deserved.  I've loved Laura Osnes since I rooted for her since You're The One That I Want and she has continued to prove that she's the real deal.  Her voice is like butter, and she played Bonnie with a subtle sexuality and yet fresh feistiness that made you understand why Clyde could see her as both a lover and a partner.  Similarly, Jeremy Jordan knocked it out of the park with his portrayal of Clyde, who he somehow manages to make you like even though you shouldn't.  As much as it pains me to admit this, Jordan is the most talented of the twenty-something guys on Broadway right now.  His voice is kind of insane, and I would listen to him hit those high notes any day of the week.  Also, considering that he was unemployed for like, a day, I'm pretty sure those pipes are going to be on the Great White Way for quite a while.

While I knew Osnes and Jordan would do fine work, I was really impressed with Melissa van der  Schyff as Blanche and Claybourne Elder as Buck, who were new to me.  It's hard to play both the comedic second bananas and the moral and tragic center of the show and the two did it with ease.  I also felt that their relationship felt authentic, and I understood how much they meant to each other while still wanting the other to change.  I'm not sure if this show will be remembered at all come Tony time, but if it is I would love for these two to get some recognition.  Some praise also needs to go out to Kelsey Fowler, who plays young Bonnie.  I love the sound of her voice and I have a feeling that she will be the new young star of Broadway in a few years.

I'm not really sure why it happened, but I don't really think Bonnie And Clyde got a fair shake.  It's a bummer, because I think that given a little more time some word of mouth might have helped it quite a bit.  I'm glad that I got the chance to see it and am sorry if you didn't.  I don't know what's going on with the critics nowadays, but I hope they wake up.  They're missing some great stuff.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Pop Culture Wishes For 2012

Well my little Popettes, we made it.  It's a whole new year!  I don't know about you, but I wasn't a big fan of 2011.  After a bunch of resolutions and some high hopes for change, I feel almost certain that 2012 has to be a better year.  And I'm hoping its a much better year in Pop Culture-land too.  Here is what I'm crossing my fingers to see in entertainment in the next twelve months:


  • Great films that are actually great films.  When the world raved about Like Crazy or The Descendants this year, I was hoping they would actually be good.  But I pretty much learned that the world had just been drinking the Kool Aid.  I hated almost every film that I was supposed to love, which left me with very little fulfillment at the cinema this past year.  I'm hoping that when the next little Sundance darling or Oscar film comes out, there is legitimate quality in every sense of the word and that I walk out of the theater with a little faith left in the people who make movies.
  • Good sequels.  A lot of lighter fare from years past are bringing our favorite characters back this year for another go at the big screen.  I'm hoping that American Reunion is actually funny and doesn't just make us all feel old.  And after not being a fan of the second film, I have my fingers crossed that Men in Black III can restore the franchise to its former glory.
  • James Cameron proves that a post 3D conversion can be done.  I mean, I was a twelve year old girl when Titanic came out, so there is no way that I'm not going to see the 3D version this year.  But I'm hoping Cameron actually makes it worth my while in a new and exciting way.
  • Big blockbusters are also good films.  I really do have my doubts about The Hunger Games based on everything I have seen so far (most people I know do not share my concern) but I REALLY want it to be just as good as the source material.  Similarly The Amazing Spider-Man will do well at the box office, but due to my undying love of Andrew Garfield and general fondness for the rest of the cast I'd like it to be a critical success as well.  Can we get some quality moneymakers please?
  • I'd like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter to do well enough, but can it please not make Benjamin Walker a star?  Broadway would like him back please.
  • Please don't ruin The Lorax.  This was always my favorite Suess book, probably because it is dreary and dark and a big warning about taking your natural resources for granted.  The film?  Looks peppy and colorful, adventurous and bright.  I hate it.  I'm hoping this is only really the first act of the film and that it in some way stays faithful to the soul of what The Lorax is about.
  • Let there be too many choices for Christmas films this year.  After the slim pickings in 2011, I'd like a plethora of quality to choose from this year.  As long as Les Miserables or The Great Gatsby don't get postponed or panned, I have a feeling that this is the wish most likely to come true.
  • We get some quality "best new artist" contenders who weren't manufactured by a record label.  It seems as though the one fun indie band seems to take the prize come awards season, so wouldn't it be great if we had several authentic and quality acts to choose from?
  • Chris Brown's new album, Fortune is a disaster and he goes away forever, like he should have done ages ago.
  • Justin Bieber proves that he has legitimate staying power by coming out with a song that the over 30 (or hell, even 20) set really likes.  This does not include doing Beatles covers with Stevie Wonder, Beibs.
  • The late 90s/Early2000s has a comeback.  With the likes of Eve 6, Alanis Morissette, Third Eye Blind and The Cranberries all dropping albums this year we could have a fun little retro year that brings me back to Junior High.
  • Green Day's new album is awesome.  I suspect this won't be hard.
  • Actual new music tops the charts way more often than Glee covers do.
  • It becomes cool to be a theater geek.  I've been wishing for this every year since I was little, but with Glee and Book of Mormon and now the potential that Smash brings, 2012 is the year it can happen.
  • Newsies gets better.  I saw the regional production of this show at The Papermill Playhouse and was a little disappointed.  Sure the concept is ripe for the stage but it needed a bigger ensemble and a little more showing coupled with a little less telling.  I'd like to see it made a little more polished before hitting Broadway this year.  Also, now that he's available, they should do this thing with Jeremy Jordan as Jack Kelly one again.  Just announce it already.
  • Yank finally happens.  This show had so much buzz Off-Broadway but has yet to make the previously announced transition to the big stage.  Fingers crossed that this is the year as I have been dying to see this show.
  • Death of A Salesman is actually good.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield in this classic Arthur Miller play directed by Mike Nichols.  There is no reason this should be anything short of brilliant.  So I really hope it is.
  • Porgy And Bess proves Sondheim wrong.
  • We get the next Rent/Spring Awakening/Next To Normal, a little rock musical that ends up being kind of epic and changes the way we think about theater.
  • There is finally a network show that is both high in quality and gets decent ratings.  This is crazy, but I dare to dream.
  • Smash is as good as everyone says it is.  Also, it stays true to producing a quality television show and doesn't get Glee-itis
  • Mid season shows like Awake, G.C.B. and Don't Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23 leave the 2011-12 season with more hits than misses
  • AMC goes back to making more shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and less like The Killing and The Walking Dead
  • Season two of American Horror Story somehow proves all of us naysayers wrong
  • Dan and Blair get together on Gossip Girl.  Plllleeeeeaaaasssseeeeeee.
  • The powers that be gets over reality television and we are left with a lone few high quality competition shows and far less "let's follow rich people" shows.  In a related wish, The Kardashians go away for good.
  • General Hospital does not get cancelled.  Instead, it reinvents itself and the daytime drama is saved.
  • Parks and Recreation gets a lot of Emmy love.
  • The Newsroom proves that you don't need a lot of money and crazy production value to be a hit show on HBO.  You just need Aaron Sorkin.  Also, the world does not fall too much in love with John Gallagher Jr. and steal him from the theater community.
  • We get some new cute actors to love and adore.  Quality is great, but pretty is damn important too.
That's all folks!  What do you want to happen in the world of Film/Music/Theater/TV this year?