Sunday, March 18, 2012

Not as Bright as I had hoped...

Bright's Passage, songwriter Josh Ritter's first novel, is a book that I wanted to love. As always, with high expectations comes a greater chance of disappointment. So with a heavy heart I report that I did not fall in love with Bright's Passage. That said, the book is well written, but unfortunately does not overcome a cumbersome storyline.

The novel follows the story of Henry Bright, a young WWI veteran, and his travails following the death of his wife during childbirth. The misdirection in the plot comes to the fore when we learn that Henry is communicating with an angel who has manifested itself as a horse. What are we to make of the communication between the two? Is Henry simply hallucinating? Is he experiencing true divine intervention?

The ambiguity surrounding that question is the real stumbling block of the novel. The horse/angel device proved to be distracting at best and left me disconnected from the main character. It must be noted, I had great difficulty not picturing Josh Ritter himself as Henry Bright, but that is my issue not that of the author.

Plot aside, the book is beautifully written with long, descriptive passages that harken back to many of Ritter's best songs. Indeed, much of Ritter's music is closely aligned with a storytelling sensibility. Take a listen to "Temptation of Adam" or "The Curse" to get an idea.

The saga of Henry Bright would work perfectly as a song, but the story, when fleshed out to the length of a novel, loses the punch that makes Ritter's music uniquely satisfying.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Can They Bring It?

Bring it On: The Musical will have to battle low expectations wherever it goes. That has nothing to do with the show itself, but stems from the fact that it is based on the movie of the same name. And though the movie has built a cult following, nobody would argue with the notion that the film is not exactly classy fare.

Luckily for the musical, the fact that the movie and show follow two rival cheer squads is the extent of the similarities. Bring it On: The Musical follows the travails of cheer captain Campbell Davis when she is uprooted from the life she knows and forced to transfer to another school - one that does not have a cheer squad. The school redistricting is the evil plot of a fellow cheerleader who is out to take Campbell down.

So you can see that the show cannot rely on the plot to draw a crowd. Instead, all of the fun is in watching the spectacular aerial stunts performed on stage. The cast, made up of both musical theater and cheer professionals, performs all of the high flying acrobatics with what appears to be great ease but is of course the result of hours of training.

The music is forgettable largely because it is not of the traditional musical style. Instead it is similar to the stream of consciousness style that harkens back to Stephen Sondheim's Company and was brought to the fore more recently in Jonathan Larson's Rent.The music is not terrible, but nobody was humming any of the songs on the way out of the theater; the music is simply not conducive to that.

The number that came the closest to bringing down the house was the beauty comes in all shapes and sizes anthem "It Ain't No Thing" performed by Ryann Redmond, Ariana DeBose, and Gregory Haney. In fact, Redmond, in the comic relief role, nearly stole the show from leads Taylor Louderman and Adrienne Warren. While both leads were adept singers and performers, Redmond seemed to dive into her role with more enthusiasm. The ensemble, while very strong choreographically, revealed in several numbers that not all of the members are professional singers.
Redmond and Louderman

Bring it On: The Musical
has not made it to Broadway yet and though there are a few kinks to iron out, the show fits in well with the many of the musicals showing on the Great White Way. There is little doubt that Bring it On will flip, jump, and cheer its' way to 42nd Street.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Good Opportunity to Catch Up On Your Sleep

Hugo would clearly be more fun to watch in a theater, but even that would not make it a better movie. There is not a whole lot going on in Hugo, other than some forced action sequences that seem to be director Martin Scorsese's attempt to please a young audience, and that is a shame because of the fact that Hugo is so visually appealing.

Hugo is essentially an appreciation of a motion picture pioneer by one of the greatest filmmakers of this generation. I would have preferred a documentary about Georges Méliès rather than this history lesson wrapped in childish drivel.

The film tells the story of young Hugo Cabret, an orphan in 1930s Paris, who is searching for answers to a mystery left behind by his father. And since this is a movie, many obstacles impede his search. The first obstacle is that the magic shop owner, who happens to be Méliès, hoards Hugo's notebook as punishment for his thievery.

The plot does not propel the film forward and unfortunately the performances do not help. As Hugo, Asa Butterfield does a passable but unremarkable job playing the young French boy. Chloe Grace Moretz, as his partner in crime Isabelle, seems to be attempting to mimic a showing of Masterpiece Theater wherein the European children are always witty and cultured but still innocent in the face of misfortune. Ben Kingsley does a fine job as the brooding Méliès, but then again, Kingsley could play a part like that in his sleep.

Other than the fact that the film was directed by Scorsese, there is no reason that the Academy would even look at Hugo as a best picture nominee. Honestly, the movie put me to sleep. 'Nuff said.