Monday, December 26, 2011

The Best of 2011

My love of movies runs deep. I love that they can take you to a different place, make you laugh or cry, feel better about the world - or realize the world's going to hell in a handbasket. This year had some highs and lows, but we're only talking highs here and my criteria is simple: how much enjoyment did I have watching it? For me, there were a couple movies that were the most fun I've had in a theater in a long time. They were Cedar Rapids and Bridesmaids. I've already written about Cedar Rapids and so much has been written about Bridesmaids that I'll just keep it simple: I do not remember the last time I have laughed so much at the movies. Both of them fit my needs to a tee, funny but with a heart and a lesson tucked in as well.

Time seems to have gotten away from me in 2011, and I did not read nearly the number of books that I would have liked to have read. I did jump on the Hunger Games bandwagon and was surprised to find such a tight plot and likable characters. While the second and third book do no quite match the must read quality of the first, which would be hard to do, it is nevertheless a very compelling story and I will definitely need to see the movies when they come out even though I know they'll never match the excitement of reading it for the first time. I also loved Lucy by Laurence Gonzales. Lucy tells the story of a part bonobo-part human teenager and her journey from the jungle to modern American life and the fallout from the discovery by the outside world that Lucy is not entirely human. I know it sounds a little different but it is easy to identify with the characters and it is a very interesting commentary on the politicization of science.
 Sure it was a forgone conclusion that Richard Blais would win Top Chef All-Stars, but I still loved every minute of the season. Side note: he was on a flight with me from Atlanta to KC a couple years ago and I my brother and I were too chicken to talk to him. Anyway, I think my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that I liked so many of the chefs because I had seen them perform already and knew what they were capable of producing. I was rooting for Antonia Lofaso and Carla Hall all the way through, but since Richard choked his first time around, I knew it was his to win. The challenges were engaging, especially since they could play off of previous ones, and, for the most part, they flirted with just the right level of drama to keep it interesting but not overshadow the fact that these chefs are fantastic because they work hard.

All in all a pretty good year for entertainment. Looking forward to 2012 - and thank goodness 30 Rock is back on January 12th!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

It is very hard for me to come up with the right words to describe my feelings for Wicked. Suffice it to say, I love everything about it. Wicked played in town for nearly a full month beginning in November, and I was lucky enough to see it, well, many times (the employees running the ticket lottery came to know me by name). You must understand that I am typically very tight with my purse strings so it comes as quite a surprise to those who know me that all of a sudden I started spending money. I guess I decided that I love the show and wanted to support it with my patronage no matter the cost.

The total theatrical experience of the show is the bar by which other productions are measured. The quality of the show, from the performers to the lighting, sound, and set design, is so high that one cannot help but marvel at its' grandiosity. The cast of the second national tour is superb. The lead performers, Anne Brummel as Elphaba and Tiffany Haas as Galinda, have the perfect combination of vocal talent, character embodiment, and chemistry that makes the evolution of their characters' friendship come to life. I'll admit to a bit of bias here - I'm not a professional yet, so why not - because I camped out at the stage door a couple times and they were both so gracious with fans that it is impossible not to like them. It is pure joy watching them ham it up during "Loathing" and "Popular," touching to watch them connect during "Dancing Through Life," and heartbreaking to see them realize they must part ways in "For Good." The show's signature song, "Defying Gravity," lives up to the hype as Brummel delivers it with such determination and vocal prowess that I found myself exhaling after the lights came up (it ends the first act) because I had been holding my breath since the lift began.
Tiffany Haas and Anne Brummel
The supporting cast and ensemble is equally capable. David Nathan Perlow perfectly embodies Fiyero's shallow facade and pure heart. And Christine Dwyer, the standby for Elphaba, handles the daunting task of filling Brummel's shoes as if the role were her own. The ensemble handles the modern, eclectic style choreography with an ease that belies the difficulty of the dances.

All aspects of the show's design are fantastic and were clearly considered down to the very last detail. The lighting design is perfect and underscores the characters' feelings and actions. During "The Wizard and I," the background transforms from a purple/pink/orange to an "Elphaba green," helping to convey her new realization of all of life's possibilities; being different is not a curse. From the slightly off kilter cut of the costumes to the thirteen hours on the time dragon clock and the tongue twisting wordplay (gratitution, congratulotions), all of the Ozian touches in the design transport the audience to another world.

Of course, a show can be beautiful to look at, but if there is no meat to the story then one is left with an empty feeling soon after leaving the theater. Wicked does not suffer such a fate, it is a thinking person's musical. The commentary on the conflict between getting what you want and genuine happiness is particularly affecting and presents the often harsh realities of life in a realistic manner that is not often seen in musical comedies. The secondary plot involving the Wizard's rise to power and his philosophy that the way to bring people together is to give them a really good enemy is eerily similar to the political culture in today's society wherein the name of the game is to swoop in with saavy marketing and rail against whatever topic will make ratings on cable news networks. 

It is no doubt clear that I have nothing negative to say about the show, but I am not without a complaint. My complaint rests with the audience, who seems to think it is appropriate to check their phones, arrive late, and chit chat throughout the show. Yes, I am aware that my standards for the general public are much too high.  Go see Wicked. The show deserves your support and you deserve to experience the show.

Thank you Wicked, it was a wonderful month! And thank goodness I've got one last performance to see tonight!