Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All Will Be Well When the Day is Done

I have a vivid memory from my second semester of college: I am sitting in my rickety chair in Curtiss Hall right before my Zoology 101 final when suddenly it occurs to me that I am no doubt the only one in the room whose iPod is playing Peter, Paul, and Mary. That probably seems like a suspiciously relevant memory, but then again, why would I make that up and how would I come up with that? I have a history with the group, and was lucky enough to see them in concert a few different times as a kid, so I could not pass up the opportunity to see Peter Yarrow at the Temple yesterday evening.

The show got off to a bit of a slow start as the 70+ Yarrow ambled to the microphone and blanked on the words to the opening song “Music Speaks Louder Than Words.” Thankfully, he quickly found his rhythm and the audience, already devotees, happily went along for the ride. The set flowed easily between the familiar and the lesser known, with classics such as “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” and “Puff the Magic Dragon” being played alongside “Greenwood” and “The Golden Vanity.” Though the passage of time is noticeable - his voice is not as clear and resonant as it once was – Yarrow still personifies the passionate crusader, using music to reach the masses.

There was mention of politics and the Occupy movements, which the decidedly left leaning crowd ate up like candy. And though it may be tempting to pass off a show like his as simply nostalgia, Yarrow rightfully points out that though the music came to the forefront during the activist movements of the 1960s, the messages of the songs are just as relevant today. The Civil Rights movement that is taught in school may have ended, but in many ways, as the Occupy movement has recently brought forth, it is far from over, it has simply evolved.
Peter, Paul and Mary
Yarrow provided plenty of commentary between songs, and it became clear through his discussion about his organization Operation Respect, an organization whose impetus is due in part to the song “Don’t Laugh at Me,” that he is fully engaged with the notion that it is not too late to teach respect. While the lyrics of “Don’t Laugh at Me” are centered around schoolchildren and Operation Respect is a program for schools, the lesson of the song is just as applicable, if not more so, to adults. Many of the songs became sing-alongs and Yarrow, the fearless choir director, simply strummed the guitar and fed the words. A mid-set medley that included classics such as “This Little Light of Mine” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” really got the audience going. 

The stripped down format, Yarrow had only his guitar and his son Christopher on the washtub bass, worked well in the intimate setting at the Temple. Several times he asked that the lights be brought up so he could pick out the youngsters - hard to find at this particular show - the educators, and others. Yarrow's rapport with the audience added comfort and heightened the power of the music. No one walked away disappointed, except at the fact that the show had come to an end.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Maybe I'm in a good mood because I'm not being weighed down by redundant torso fabric."

30 Rock's absurdist humor leaves me in stitches. You can watch an entire episode and lose count of all the zings they dole out. I've watched 30 Rock since the beginning, I'm not one of those casual viewers who only jumped on the bandwagon when Tina Fey exploded into the comedy stratosphere. No sir, I've watched since the beginning when the acting was uncomfortable at times and the story was often too focused on the actual production of TGS, their show within a show, rather than the insanity that goes on around it

While it hasn't had a run of perfect seasons and went a little overboard with the the guest stars a couple of years ago, the show seems to have found a good balance between plots that are purely for fun and those that move the story along. After a long hiatus during which Tina Fey had her second child, 30 Rock returned on the 12th and it was a pleasure to have them back. The premiere episode featured Kenneth excited by the apocalypse and celebrating his last day on earth by doing his dream chores. And on the Liz front, Tracy is determined to get to the bottom of her out of the ordinary happiness (she may be a crack whore) and ends up enlisting Jack to put the pieces together. The episode was an excellent first outing. It provided a plethora of one-liners woven into the main story of what is behind Liz's sudden happiness. I could go on, but you can watch it online so get to it. After all, the apocalypse is getting rescheduled all the time so you'd better get this in before it's too late.

Some gems:
"You try riding a cow through midtown Manhattan. The animal will panic." - Jack on Cash Cow, the failed NBC spin off of Cash Cab.
"I took a real age test that said I'm dead." - Tracy, who is not 42 years old
"What if I told you your first match burned his groin off in an accident in his cake shop?" - Jack enticing Liz to take advantage of
"Women's hell is the same as aroused dog heaven." - Kenneth
Satchel Paige tampons
"Did you know that Lemon attended college on a partial jazz dance scholarship?" - Jack, giving us a another piece of the puzzle

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"We eat ham and jam and spam a lot"

Spamalot is a perfect musical for people who are not into musicals. It also happens to be a great musical for people who love musicals because it spoofs everything there is to love about musical theater. Spamalot is tailored for fans of Monty Python and you can hear the diehard fans howl at the appearance of the Knights of Ni and the Black Knight, but with references to Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, and Company the show was truly written for musical theater fans. For these reasons, I had to return to the show for its' one night engagement at Stephens Auditorium in Ames last night.

Spamalot is a bit of a contradiction in that the plot is thin, King Arthur and his knights are on a mission from God to find the holy grail, but there is always so much activity on stage that it can be tricky to catch all of the gags. The writers even point out with the dialogue how ridiculous the plot is, "God, the almighty and all-knowing, has misplaced a cup?" As absurd as it may be, that notion serves as an excellent jumping off point for shenanigans and show tunes.

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"
Spamalot is particularly adept with wordplay and physical gags. In one instance, a bale of hay passes on the front of the stage as the actors shout "Hey!" during "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." There are many "Who's On First" style scenes fraught with mix-ups and misunderstandings that make your head spin.

The music ranges from the Vegas send-up "Knights of the Round Table" to the uber-spoof "The Song That Goes Like This," which has nothing to do with the characters or plot advancement and serves only to point out that a typical show has a bombastic number at that point in the show. The song features the actors overacting like hell while singing about overacting like hell. Yet with all the winks, nudges, and silliness the music is well written and catchy in just the way you would expect from a Broadway musical comedy.

"Knights of the Round Table
The entire company capably handles the physicality of the numbers and the demands of the music. Though the company does not amaze or surprise with their level of talent, the principal actors all believably embody their respective characters and are proficient singers and dancers. Michael J. Berry, as lovable sidekick/noble steed Patsy, and aptly named Arthur Rowan as King Arthur, play well off each other and their back and forth provides many laughs. And it must be noted that Berry is a riot on the coconuts that provide the beloved stand-in for a galloping horse.

Though Spamalot does not feel quite as fresh as when it made its' 2005 debut, the Britney Spears reference comes to mind, the laughs hold up and the music leaves the audience humming on their way out of the theater.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Good Reminder

Mindy Kaling's book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is a reminder that just because a person is in the entertainment business does not mean they are different from you and me. Kaling writes of her early struggles to find a satisfying job (insanely relatable), how she came to terms with her body image, and makes it clear that she understand she's not perfect and that's ok. The book is formatted into a set of short essay-style rants and observations; some chapters employ lists. Her writing style is very conversational, so much so that it is hard not to hear it as Kelly Kapoor, her Office alter-ego, spouting off her thoughts on diets, fashion, and celebrities.

As a longtime Office fan, the chapter chronicling her work on the show is very interesting ("a big chapter in her life, so... a big chapter in [her] book"). Not because she dishes on the stars of the show, she is pretty mum on that subject, but because she gives a sense of the friendships and sense of community that arose and helped turn the show into a success.
From the back cover
It also must be noted that the book contains pictures from Kaling's life, as both a youngster and an adult. Nothing makes a person more relatable than seeing a picture of them with a "Cosby sweater on, lovin' life" and realizing that there is a very similarly staged and fashioned photo of yourself in a box somewhere in your parents' house. In fact, with the exception of the fact that she is of Indian descent while I am as white as they come, she and I could have been fashion twins growing up.

IEHOWM is a breezy read for sure, as Kaling points out herself in the Q&A introduction: "If you're reading this book every night for months, something is not right."