Posted in Movie Reviews

Little Women

Amy (Florence Pugh), Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Meg (Emma Watson)

Has there ever been a novel that could match the perennial quality of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”? I think there have been something like seven versions committed to film, between movie and television efforts. The latest, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is well worth your time.

While I have some issues with Gerwig’s choices, there’s no denying the film’s excellence. Let’s jump into the shallow end of the pool first. This is a visually beautiful film. Shot primarily in and near Louisa May Alcott’s home town of Concord, Massachusetts (which I call Disney World for English and History majors), Gerwig takes full advantage of the glorious New England autumn. Even better, the scenes during Laurie’s picnic at the sea shore are incredibly evocative—almost as if Winslow Homer’s “Long Branch, New Jersey” had sprung to life. Best of all, Gerwig never fails to remind us of how young these sisters and their friends are, unlike earlier filmed versions of “Little Women.” The pure magic of Jo and Laurie’s exuberant dance across a candle-lit patio at their first ball is a lovely sight indeed.

Gerwig revitalizes Alcott’s story by playing with time. Shrewdly, she opens the film with Jo’s visit, “for a friend,” to the publisher Mr. Dashwood, in hopes of seeing her short story in print. We’re then taken back seven years to the proper start of the novel on Christmas Day. The to and fro of flashforwards and flashbacks works for the most part, though at times you may have a sense of whiplash. This is particularly apparent when Gerwig alternates between Beth’s bout with scarlet fever and scenes of her on her death bed (Helpful hint: focus on the length of Jo’s hair to determine where you are in the story). Unfortunately this constant back and forth prevents some key story points from landing full force because the build-up is missing. This is particularly apparent when Jo reveals she’s sold her hair to help fund her mother’s trip to Washington to see her father. The full impact of that doesn’t quite register. Yet Gerwig’s presentation of other key elements, such as Jo’s crying over that shorn hair, couldn’t be better. I don’t think I ever really appreciated before what a mean, nasty act it was for Amy to burn Jo’s novel. Or the fright of seeing her fall through the ice, only to be rescued by Laurie’s quick thinking.

I was a bit disappointed in a couple of turns this version of “Little Women” took. I thought Gerwig didn’t quite give Jo her due with respect to her rejection of Laurie’s proposal. In the novel, Laurie is clearly the brother Jo never had, and she realizes this even before he declares his feelings for her. Further, she expresses no regret whatsoever when she learns of Amy and Laurie’s marriage (by letter, contrary to the film), though she does acknowledge to her mother that she might have changed her mind had Laurie proposed again. That business in the film of her putting this in a letter to Laurie irked me somewhat, particularly since she’s subsequently seen to be almost mourning a lost chance. I never got that sense from Louisa May’s Jo, though Gerwig, in emphasizing a rivalry between the sisters, presents it well. Finally, I wish we could have seen Laurie’s proposal to Amy as Alcott had written it, as the two of them row on the lake. Only Lord Peter Wimsey’s proposal to Harriet Vane in the novel “Gaudy Night” tops it for romance.

The casting of this film could not be better, In addition to the three actors pictured above, there’s Eliza Scanlen (Beth), Laura Dern (Marmee), Timothée Chalamet (Laurie), Chris Cooper (Mr. Laurence), Louis Garrel (a very young Friedrich Bhaer) and, most memorably, Meryl Streep as a very tart yet astute Aunt March, and Tracy Letts as Mr. Dashwood, amusingly sparring with Jo over royalties, copyright and whether a happy ending in marriage is essential to the success of her novel. Simply superb performances all around, yet Saorise Ronan as Jo will stay with you the longest. Not just because she plays Louisa May Alcott’s alter ego, but because you simply can’t take your eyes off her. This is star quality, in spades, and I look forward to where she goes next in her career.

Re-read the book, see the movie and enjoy.

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opera, Television

Brain Bits for the Shortest Day of the Year

Countess Almaviva (Susanna Phillips), Susanna (Nadine Sierra) and Figaro (Luca Pisaroni) Working on Yet Another Plot

Last weekend I had the pleasure of revisiting “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Metropolitan Opera. As originally presented in 2014, the production, set in the late 1930’s, had major echoes of Jean Renoir’s classic film, “Rules of the Game.” This was enhanced by the casting, which featured Peter Mattei as a very suave and authoritative Count Almaviva, and the excellent performance of Marlis Peterson, the definitive Lulu of her generation, who portrayed an older and far more sophisticated Susanna than usually seen in the role. The result was a dark comedy, tempered somewhat by the sweetness of Isabel Leonard’s Cherubino. But a change of singers and a bit of tweaking has now resulted in perhaps a more traditional “Figaro”—funnier, but fortunately without the slapstick that can mar a production. In the final analysis, both views of the opera work equally well.

The current run of “Figaro” that just ended (it’s due to return with a different cast in February) had two key elements: the Figaro of Luca Pisaroni and Susanna Phillips’ Countess. After several runs as the Count, it was a pleasure to see Pisaroni in what I think is his more natural role. He’s Figaro to the life–the face, the expressions and the physicality all serve the essence of the character. Ms. Phillips, though with a lighter voice than I expected, was dramatically perfect. Her beautifully sung “Dove sono” limned the character’s emotions in all their complexity, which she describes in detail in an Aria Code podcast that may be the best in that series (What? You’re not listening? Tune in for some great insights). It seemed only Adam Plachetka’s Count fell short of the dramatic mark. There was unrelenting bluster, to the extent that I just didn’t believe him when he sang “Contessa perdono.”

In case you can’t guess, “Le Nozze di Figaro” is one of the my favorite operas, and it was a special treat to see this with such a good audience. They enjoyed themselves immensely, aided in no small measure by some wonderfully contemporary titles. A “Figaro” performance should at its end make you glad to be alive, and this one certainly did. “Corriam tutti!”

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“The Irishman,” now available on Netflix, is the summation of Martin Scorsese’s career. In short (as opposed to its length), I liked it. In its most basic sense, it’s an absorbing account of how to lose one’s soul by increments, though I doubt Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) would put it that way. In this regard, perhaps the most illuminating scene in the film is Frank’s conversation with Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci), during which they discuss Frank’s experiences in World War II. He registers virtually no emotion as he describes how he followed (unspoken) orders to massacre captured Italian soldiers rather than take them prisoner. Although Buffalino doesn’t even flinch, it’s Frank’s lack of affect that’s the most chilling aspect of the story.

It goes without saying that the casting of this film is superb. Award nominations have been raining down on De Niro as well as Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, but it’s Joe Pesci’s incredibly subtle performance that stayed with me the longest. I also enjoyed how Scorsese, a former executive producer of “Boardwalk Empire,” sprinkled “The Irishman” with actors from that show: Bobby Cannavale (Skinny Razor), Jack Huston (Bobby Kennedy), Aleksa Palladino (Mary Sheeran), among others, not to mention a spectacular turn by Stephen Graham as Tony Provenzano. Mr. Graham, who was a magnetic Al Capone in “Boardwalk Empire,” seems to have inherited the chameleon-like manner of the late Bob Hoskins.

Much as I enjoyed “The Irishman,” I do have one quibble: I wasn’t sold on the de-aging effects used on De Niro, Pacino and Pesci at the start of the film. De Niro, in particular, looked positively glacéed as the younger Frank Sheeran. As difficult as the casting might have been, younger actors playing these roles would have been more effective.

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Midge and Susie Toasting the Shy Baldwin Tour

The third season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” premiered on Amazon Prime like gangbusters, complete with a USO show and a (backstage) string of dick jokes. It was especially gratifying to see Midge tour with Shy Baldwin, adapting to new types of audiences and coping with the stress of being on the road (By the way, it was no surprise that Shy turned out to be gay, since the character was so obviously modeled on Johnny Mathis). I particularly enjoyed the episode in which Midge and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) spend an evening together, first on-camera for the pseudo-Playboy Mansion TV show, then dancing at a jazz club. The end of their Las Vegas encounter, when “Will they or won’t they?” infused the air, was beautifully played by Rachel Brosnahan and Mr. Kirby (I think she made the right decision to decline his unspoken invitation).

Nevertheless there were ups and downs. The best part of “Mrs. Maisel,” at least this season, was any scene with Susie Myerson (a terrific Alex Borstein), who always seems to get the best writing on the show. I had to hit my remote’s “Pause” so I could howl for two minutes straight at her line to the potential producers about their Donner Party musical; ditto for her reaction to the vocal effects via telephone of Sophie and Gavin Hawk’s coupling. Susie also had the more interesting plots—the Sophie Lennon debacle, her gambling issues and those intriguing exchanges with Reggie, Shy Baldwin’s manager (an excellent Sterling K. Brown), keeper of secrets and bad cop to his boss’ good cop. That was an exceptionally heavy anvil he dropped at the end of the last episode, when, after he fired Midge, to his own distaste, he turned to Susie with “Someday you’ll have to do this.” Given the dynamic between Midge and Susie (tits up!), you really hope not.

On the down side, much as I love Tony Shalhoub, I could have easily seen less of Midge’s parents as well as her former in-laws. Nevertheless, there were still a few rewards: Joel and his father betting on who would faint at the bris; Midge’s conversation with Moishe about buying back her apartment, in which they approach each other for the first time on equal terms as he reveals Joel was an idiot to dump her; and most of all, her confrontation with her mother over the latter’s meddling. Their shouting match revealed they may have more in common than they think, despite mama’s distaste for Midge’s comedy.

Given the time frame of the show, I would expect to see Midge on The Ed Sullivan Show next season (“Mrs. Maisel” has already been renewed). And I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Benjamin (a terrific Zachary Levi). His scene with Midge in the last episode, when they finally discuss her dumping him, was a highlight of the season. Somehow the writers have to find a way to keep him around—he’s a necessary counterbalance to the craziness.

Santa just rode by on a fire truck as I was finishing this post. May all of you enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate, and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Posted in Movie Reviews

Motherless Brooklyn

Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton) on the job

Who would have thought Robert Moses, “Master Builder of New York,” would have ended up as the villain in a classically-styled film noir?

To be sure, he now sports the name Moses Randolph, but there’s no mistaking the ambition, the lack of civic accountability and the desire to destroy blue-collar neighborhoods which he alone deems to be irremediable slums. His stature is only enhanced by the actor who plays him—a blustering and bloviating Alec Baldwin, whom I suspect will receive an Oscar nomination because it’s that kind of role and that level of performance. But I doubt he’ll be alone—Edward Norton, who directed, wrote the script based on Jonathan Lethem’s novel and plays the Tourette syndrome-afflicted hero, Lionel Essrog, is sure to join him.

Set in 1957, “Motherless Brooklyn” is an urban tale of corruption, kickbacks and murder. So many factors make watching it so enjoyable, not the least of which are the superb art direction (more about that in a moment) and the seemingly endless way all these great actors keep popping up. Who’s that under the fedora and behind those jowls? Bruce Willis as Frank Minna, head of a detective agency/car service. And his employees? In addition to Edward Norton, there’s Bobby Cannavale, as Tony Vermonte, acting tough and dallying with the boss’s wife (a very droll Leslie Mann), and Dallas Roberts, as Danny Fantl, wimping it out. And the guy behind the bushy beard? Willem Dafoe as Paul, the disillusioned dreamer. Let’s not forget Cherry Jones as municipal rabble rouser Gabby Horowitz, and—who else?—Michael Kenneth Williams as Trumpet Man playing in a Harlem jazz joint.

But the film stands squarely on the shoulders of Edward Norton as Lionel Essrog, dubbed “Motherless Brooklyn” by Frank Minna who rescued him from an orphanage in that borough (Some sly symbolism and foreshadowing at work here: The essrog or etrog, a citrus fruit, signifies “heart” in kabbalistic terms, and as used in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot represents those who know Torah and do good deeds). I love Norton’s look in this film—his face is now somewhat worn, with pouchy eyes and something loose about the chin. He wears a fedora well, and as a Tourette’s sufferer, his verbal tics are a cascade of rhymes and associations, and at times a mirror of his subconscious. When he blurts out “Kiss her face all night long” in front of an amused but sympathetic Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), you can only smile. Perhaps in compensation for his neurological problems, Lionel has been gifted with an eidetic memory which serves him particularly well as he seeks to solve his boss’s murder and take on Moses Randolph. Their ultimate showdown is one of the most satisfying in recent memory.

The urban grittiness in “Motherless Brooklyn,” seems to be a character in itself. This is classic film noir, albeit in color, and so accurate in its depiction of 1957 New York City I thought I had been transported back to my childhood (One minor quibble: There’s no mistaking the on-screen presence of at least two 1959-model cars—their tail fins are so sharp they could spear fish). In addition to neighborhood scenes, there’s a marvelous recreation of the old Penn Station, and a borough hall meeting-turned protest that’s the most realistic depiction of outraged citizenry vs. stubborn bureaucracy I’ve seen on film in a very long time. But what ultimately struck me about this movie is its high level of energy which, despite its length, never flags, a tribute to Edward Norton’s expertise again, this time as director.

Treat yourself—go see it.

Posted in Broadway Musicals, Theater

Oklahoma!

Laurey (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and Curley (Damon Daunno)

The overture’s missing. Ditto the chorus.

The first act ends not with a dream ballet, but with Laurey (Rebecca Naomi Jones) singing a stunning one chorus reprise of “Out of My Dreams,” a capella. The ballet opens the second act. It’s a solo dance—Dream Laurey, Curley and Jud, not to mention the dance hall girls of Ali Hakim’s dirty postcards, are nowhere to be found.

Two key scenes are played in total darkness.

These are only a few of the many differences in the Tony-winning revival of “Oklahoma!” at the Circle in the Square Theater in New York, probably the most controversial show now running on Broadway. Battles over this production’s merits have been raging in on-line forums for months; critics have either loved it or hated it. I saw it on Friday night, and while a lot of the show made me grin with delight, I nevertheless appreciated those aspects of the production that failed to make me do so. Director Daniel Fish’s vision is never less than thoughtful, and the choices he’s made that result in Rodgers and Hammerstein purists screaming “Betrayal!” in fact grow organically out of the text. Perhaps what disturbs people the most is that he’s divorced the show from the times that gave birth to it. “Oklahoma!” premiered during the World War II year of 1943, when unstinting American optimism was essential. In the years since we’ve come to realize our history as a nation wasn’t as squeaky-clean as those of that era believed.

Daniel Fish’s production is an intimate one. The show is presented in the round, more accurately in a rectangular playing area lined with picnic tables (chili and corn bread are served at intermission). The cast is pared down to speaking roles only and all act as chorus. You’d think the musical aspects of the show would suffer, but never fear. When the cast sings the title song, those soaring choral lines are neatly covered by eleven actors, including four women, sopranos all, who absolutely fly. The songs are performed country & western style, and accompanied by a seven-person band, consisting of accordion/snare (conductor), violin, cello, string bass, banjo, steel guitar/mandolin/electric guitar and an additional electric guitar, supplemented at times by Curley (Damon Daunno) on acoustic guitar. 

If you think there’s no way to shoehorn Richard Rodgers into country & western mode, guess again. It all works, but with one exception—“People Will Say We’re in Love,” which sort of goes clunk though it’s easy to understand why. One of the best aspects of this production is the refreshing youth of its principal actors. As a result Laurey’s initial brattiness and Curley’s near-adolescent boasting make perfect sense. Their solo numbers, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “Many a New Day” and “Out of My Dreams” reflect their youth, but the lyrics of “People Will Say We’re in Love” struck me as a bit too sophisticated for this Curley and Laurey. After all the energetic country & western twang we’d been hearing, this song’s music comes across as staid ’40’s pop. This is a reversion to your parents’ “Oklahoma!,” and it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb, especially after all the musical fun we’ve been having.

This is at times a dramatically raw production. Its take on Jud is interesting—though Laurey calls him a “growly man,” Parick Vaill, who plays him, is tall and rather poetic-looking (and has a terrific singing voice).  What makes him frightening is neither his physique nor his manner but rather his obsession with Laurey. When Curley confronts him in his smokehouse lair, the lights in the theater go dark, further putting the audience on edge. Critics have protested that this is too much for such a sunny work, but is it really? Think about it: Curley basically urges Jud to commit suicide, casting the funeral that would follow as a celebration of his character. Director Daniel Fish suggests that Curley and Jud are two sides of the same coin, and he may be right. Curley is universally liked, but nobody likes Jud, a fact made obvious in the scene where Laurey’s picnic hamper is put up for auction at the social. There’s a strong sense that the men Aunt Eller urges to bid don’t do so to help Curley win the girl, but are instead doing it because they hate Jud., the eternal outsider. 

Ado Annie (Ali Stroker) gets her big “Oklahoma hello” from Will Parker (James Davis)

The last 15 minutes of the show are a roller coaster. Curley and Laurey’s wedding scene of course features “Oklahoma!,” performed as joyfully as you remember it, the audience clapping along, only to end abruptly when Jud shows up. The gun he presents to Curley as a wedding gift is fired when Jud rushes toward Curley and Laurey, whose faces and wedding clothes are spattered with blood. In contrast to other productions as well as the “Oklahoma!” film, the on-the-spot trial which follows is played not for laughs, but in all seriousness. The actors’ delivery slows to a crawl with pauses between each line. The audience is completely silent (though I was becoming irritated at how much this scene was being stretched out). When Cord Elam, the US Marshall, protests the absence of legal formality, Aunt Eller’s responding threat to him for interfering is deadly serious; while the tension is eventually broken, it doesn’t go away. At the conclusion of the show, when the cast reprises “Oklahoma!,” Cord approaches Laurie, looming over her, as if to say “This is your fault” (Does he think she led Jud on?) She joins in the song, but angrily, with full awareness that her future with Curley has been literally and irrevocably stained (This was the version of the song that was performed at the Tony Awards, which made viewers ask “Why is she so pissed off?”). It’s not a happy ending, but I think a valid one, given what we’ve seen, and a logical conclusion to that trial scene.

The performances are uniformly excellent. I especially enjoyed Will Brill, sharply funny as Ali Hakim, and was intrigued by Patrick Vaill’s Jud. But most of all, Ali Stroker as Ado Annie simply exceeds expectations. What a voice! That Tony she won was deserved tenfold.

This is a show that requires open minds. I strongly urge you to see it and make up your own. 

 

Posted in Broadway Musicals, Music, Theater

The Sound of Broadway–Reprise

Ah. Broadway! It’s been a while since I did a round-up of some favorite cast albums, so a sequel is definitely in order. All of these have taken up residence in my MP3 player, as they’re well worth the listen.

The New York City Center’s “Encores!” series has rescued a number of musicals which have fallen into obscurity, closed prematurely due to plain bad luck or are just ripe for revival. “Encores!” productions, all of very limited runs, were initially semi-staged, but later blossomed into more elaborate performances. Some have transferred to Broadway: the current production of “Chicago” that’s been running for the last 20 years began as an “Encores!” presentation, and many fine recordings have resulted from the work of this series.

The latest is an absolute gem that memorializes the revival of Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon,” that starred Patrick Wilson and Kelli O’Hara. Before this I had never really been a fan of the show, which relies on the fairy-tale premise of a magical village that avoids the strife of the world by appearing for only one day each century. It has some lovely songs: “Come To Me, Bend To Me,” “The Heather on the Hill,” and especially “Almost Like Being In Love,” the musical’s hit tune. A number of years ago John McGlinn, the conductor responsible for the classic recording of “Show Boat,” recorded “Brigadoon” with Brent Barrett and Rebecca Luker. Much as I admire these performers, I wasn’t impressed. The tempos were slower than they should have been, and the approach taken was too sunny bright, even though there’s a darker side to the story. It seemed like a first tentative reading of the score. I listened to it once and put it away.

The new “Encores!” recording, which was only released a few months ago, is another matter entirely. It’s wonderfully alive. There’s an urgency to the performance—the chorus of villagers in “Down on MacConnachy Square” is brisk and beautifully sung. Kelli O’Hara is such a natural for Fiona that it’s almost ridiculous. Listening to this recording, I was struck by how high her music lies—I believe only Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” sits higher. But it’s Patrick Wilson who makes the difference in this recording. Whether in song or dialogue, he presents as a true believer in the magic of Brigadoon, which in turn makes true believers of us. These two performers, along with a vibrant Stephanie J. Block as Meg , Ross Lekites as Charlie, and the rest, seem to have had a wonderful time playing this show, as you can see here. My recommendation: Buy it before it goes out of print or otherwise disappears.

Moving from the introverted to the extroverted (to say the least), perhaps the best represented Broadway show on disk is “Gypsy,” with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and an exceptionally strong book by Arthur Laurents.  The gifts this show provides are endless: that classic overture during which the audience always loses it when the strip music begins; a female starring role that’s generally acknowledged to be the Mount Everest of musical roles; and the strippers’ “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” perhaps the best showstopper in Broadway history, among other charms. The musical runs an emotional gamut ranging from show business love letter to wrenching self-confession. Louise, aka Gypsy Rose Lee, isn’t the only one who strips; her mother Rose peels away many emotional layers to admit a core desire: “Someone tell me when is it my turn?”

The original cast album with Ethel Merman is of course the blueprint of performance, presenting the creators’ original intentions. It’s been followed by a number of worthy Roses: Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Imelda Staunton, all of whose performances are available on CD or through streaming services. Each of their recordings is interesting, all valid in one particular or another. I saw Bernadette Peters perform the role onstage (twice) and Bette Midler in the made for TV version, though after listening to the Tyne Daly recording, I really wish I had seen her on stage.

Which recording do I prefer? Your mileage may vary, but my vote goes to  Bernadette, not just because I’m a fan. This seems to contain every note of music in the show, with if not the original orchestrations, some accurate facsimiles. I like her approach to the role–she charms more, shouts less, though there’s some steel there. She’s partnered by John Dossett as Herbie, and refreshingly, the man can really sing. The other recorded Herbies are funny and cute when they can’t carry a tune, but it makes a big difference when there’s a Herbie who can be Rose’s musical foil. And we finally get to hear in their entirety the four strip acts Louise performs on her way to becoming a Minsky’s headliner (This was a wonder to see in the theater—there must have been an army of dressers on each side of the stage to facilitate each costume change). Beginning as a scared to death newbie, she audibly grows in confidence and delight in performing.

The runner-up in the “Gypsy” recording sweepstakes for me is the one with Patti LuPone. I’m not a particular fan of hers, but Laura Benanti is the best Louise on disk. It’s interesting to hear a soprano sing it, plus she plays the comedy exceptionally well—her wickedly accurate imitation of Patti LuPone during one of her strips is worth the price of the recording. Whichever one you favor, enjoy the score of one of the greatest musicals ever written.

One of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen is “The Prom,” now running on Broadway. The story begins with four narcissistic Broadway actors in need of some good publicity who come to the aid of a gay Indiana teenager. The problem? Her desire to take her girlfriend to their prom has resulted in the event’s cancellation by the town’s powers that be. The results are hilarious but with an underlying sweetness that makes the audience cheer. And yes, there’s a prom for all at the end where girl gets girl.

The original cast album is an excellent representation of the work of composer Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, author of the exceptionally witty lyrics. When I first heard the score I thought it a bit generic, but subsequent listening reveals the frequent references to other Broadway shows, in the same fashion the lyrics allude to these other musicals. Broadway diva Dee Dee’s song, “It’s Not About Me” has the rhythmic pulse of “America” from “West Side Story,” and the ending of Emma’s ballad, “Unruly Heart,” is reminiscent of “One Boy” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” as if to say straight or gay, a teenager is still a teenager. Taking the cake, though, is “Zazz,” a Kander & Ebb/Bob Fosse send-up sung by Angie, a girl who’s been in the chorus of a “Chicago” touring company for twenty years, who instructs Emma in the art of strutting her stuff.

“The Prom” cast album presents many other rewards: Christopher Siebert’s ringing tenor in “Love Thy Neighbor,” as he demonstrates that cherry-picking the Bible is not a good idea; Brooks Ashmanskas’ “Barry’s Going to the Prom,” as he finally has the opportunity to make up for what he missed out on as a gay teenager; and Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla as Emma and Alyssa, who share the same vocal range and sing in tight harmony, the universal signal that they’re meant to be together. And because this is a show about a prom, the dance music is a great way to get your blood flowing in the morning if you’re slow to wake up. Here’s a taste, which juxtaposes the recording of the prom-posal scene with scenes from the show.

There’s nothing like a Broadway show, is there?

Posted in Television

Denouement

To hell with the naysayers…I thought it a fitting conclusion.

“Game of Thrones” ended where we began, in the North, with our eyes on the Starks (and Jon, for all that Targaryean heritage, is still Ned Stark’s son). Sansa has proved herself worthy to be Queen of an independent kingdom, Arya will forever roam and Jon goes back to where he started from, but with a difference. No longer confined to the Night’s Watch, we end with him leading the Free Folk back to their home.

And Dany’s fate? Deserved, and by the one individual who was best suited to kill her (We know Arya was itching to do it, but Jon had dibs). Drunk on power as she addressed her troops—I almost expected her to burst into “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”—she appeared not so much as a mad Targaryean, but one who had lost her moral compass. It was telling that Drogon, after seeing Dany dead, didn’t incinerate her murderer, but instead melted the Iron Throne, as if to say “You were the source of her downfall.”

I very much enjoyed the conclave leading to Bran’s election as King of the Seven Six Kingdoms (Nice work there, Sansa, cutting a deal for your people to remain independent). This time Tyrion got it right. One question though—how did Edmure Tully get there and where has he been? The last we saw him he was Jaime’s prisoner, so presumably he was freed and restored as head of Riverrun, otherwise he wouldn’t have had standing to participate in the council. It was rather amusing to hear Sansa tell him to sit down as he wound himself up to deliver true gas baggery. Some things just don’t change.

A few final thoughts:

Podrick is finally a knight! Long live Ser Podrick! And, not surprisingly, Sam as Grand Maester. This tale needs a scholar.

So sweet to see Jon and Ghost reunited, complete with direwolf nuzzles.

I didn’t realize that was Robin Arryn sitting with his council elders. The Lord of the Vale looks great now that he’s out from under Lord Baelish’s thumb. He’s still a teen-ager, though—all “Yeah, sure” as he cast his vote for Bran.

I’m so glad the showrunners left us with an image of Brienne completing Jaime’s written history. I was afraid our last glimpse of her would show her being pregnant with Jamie’s child, which would have been a big problem. Armor doesn’t come in maternity sizes.

I am so going to miss this show.

Posted in Television

Penultimate

If gore, guts and burnt bodies are your thing, you must have had a ball during Episode 5 of this season’s Game of Thrones last night. However, I thought it somewhat diasappointing for a couple of reasons. Your mileage may of course vary.

Why should Cersei get such a relatively peaceful end when poor Varys, master of wine, secrets and witty repartee, gets dragon-fried for simply speaking the truth? She and brother/lover Jaime operatically ended up entombed like the leads in “Aida,” which is certainly not just desserts for all the evil she’s done. And Jaime deserved a more heroic finish, given how much he’s changed during the course of the show.

Is there any doubt that Dany has reached full Mad Queen status? Leveling King’s Landing and frying the people she presumably wants to rule is not good for business. Ruling by fear does not a long reign make, and it’s already emptied her bed.

A special tip of the hat to Peter Dinklage for playing Tyrion’s farewells to Varys and especially to Jaime so expertly. It’s amazing that he’s always seemed to find new depths in a character that he’s been playing for so long.

A few last thoughts before departure:

I’ll miss future installments of Travels With Arya and the Hound. Seeing their mutual regard on display was a high point of the episode.

The Hound’s long-promised confrontation with his brother did not disappoint. Nor did the end of that slimeball Euron Greyjoy.

I was frankly shocked that Arya survived. She’s been the Stark most likely to be killed for ages.

Finally, I hope we haven’t seen the last of the folks in Winterfell. Game of Thrones began in the North, and one way or another it should end there. Good storytelling comes full circle.

On to the end.