Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

MANOS: The Hands of Felt

One of the worst movies ever made, some say THE worst, is MANOS: The Hands of Fate (1966).  Aficionados of bad cinema have embraced this piece of  little gem and kept it from disappearing into obscurity.   Well, some sick talented folks up in Seattle have put together a puppet show that combines the behind-the-scenes story of making the film with the movie itself, and they even added song and dance numbers!  Since I can’t get up to Seattle to witness it in person, I’ve joined the Kickstarter campaign to make it into a film.   Hey, for five dollars you get the download AND your name in the credits.  (I’m really excited about that credit part.)   Join in and become a footnote key player in the continuing evolution of the MANOS phenomenon.  The Master will be so delighted.  MANOS campaign on Kickstarter

Manos Poster

Remembering Jack Tygett

Earlier this week, Jack Tygett passed away.  In San Diego where I grew up, he was a popular teacher, director and choreographer.  He danced in movies like Mary Poppins and Oklahoma.  He also had roles in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1965) and The Wild Wild West (The Night of the Puppeteer, season 1, 1966).

The news of Jack Tygett’s death brings back memories of the spring and summer of 1981.  I was a senior in high school and member of San Diego Junior Theatre.  I got a call from a friend offering me the job of rehearsal secretary for Starlight’s production of Flower Drum Song.  Starlight (San Diego Civic Light Opera) is a summer theatre company that performs musicals in a large outdoor amphitheater in Balboa Park.  Lots of kids from the Junior Theatre program go on to do Starlight, and I was already planning to submit a resume with the company that summer.   I was thrilled to be offered a position.  Jack Tygett and his wife Marge were the director and choreographer of Flower Drum Song, and I met them the next day.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

April 17, 1981     Casa Del Prado, Room 207
Jenny Woo, Jimmy Saba, Beverly Davis, Lori Hood, Lara Tepper, Jill Brow, Audrey Pritchard, Tori Purdom, Steve Moramarco, Eileen Bowman
All these people from [San Diego] Junior Theatre auditioned today for Flower Drum Song and The Wizard of Oz.  I came to the first audition totally unprepared for what I’d meet.  The first person I met is my director, Mr. Jack Tygett.  He reminds me of Red Buttons.  Mrs. Tygett is okay, too.  I was sooo hungry.  They had food from McDonald’s, but it was Good Friday so Mom wouldn’t let me eat any.  I felt like a baby running over to her to see if I could eat.  We narrowed it down to a few kids.  I kept losing my audition sheets.  After the auditions, I went and got my driver’s license (!!!).

Yeah, the things that are worth writing down at age 18 make me cringe now!  Once I ditched my mother by getting my driver’s license, it felt like I spent every waking moment working (or playing) on Flower Drum Song.   We held fifty rehearsals, but there were also lots of parties and post-rehearsal meals, and even a road trip to Magic Mountain.  I spent many hours at the Tygetts’ home with the cast, and I also got to know daughter Nan Tygett.  Even when I screwed up, the Tygetts always treated me with warmth and patience.  They accepted me as a member of their big extended theatre family.

Flower Drum Song requires a large cast to play Chinese and Chinese-American characters.  The Tygetts cast the best dancers and performers who auditioned, many of them students who’d worked with the Tygetts before.  We had some Japanese performers, many Filipinos,  a lot of dark haired Caucasians, and even a pale blonde or two.  I learned a lot that summer about different Asian cultures, and I also ate my first lumpia and sushi.

I lost touch with the Tygetts after that summer.  Four years later, I was working at the La Jolla Playhouse on Merrily We Roll Along with some students from USIU, where the Tygetts taught.  I asked one of them about Jack and Marge.  This was when I learned that Marge had passed away.  I was saddened by the news.  Now that Jack has joined her, I’m sure there’s a lot more dancing in heaven!

Tony Awards 2012

There were two different Tony Awards tonight.  I want to see the OTHER one.  What I watched on CBS was not an awards program.  It was a three hour trailer for Broadway musicals, with a few breaks for some hurried awards.  Just the ones people care about, though.  No time to actually show the boring stuff, like choreography and book and anything with the word “design.”   Oh, and make sure those presenters say the names and read the winners without taking a breath.  Don’t let the winners talk long enough to bore anyone, even though it’s the biggest night of their lives.  And go overtime anyway.  Make sure this show is interesting to the people who don’t actually watch awards shows…but, wait.  Hey, that’s a novel concept.  Let’s put on a show for the folks who aren’t watching!

I complained just as much last year, so feeling like a broken record here.  What’s different this time?  My patience.  If the folks behind the broadcast aren’t going to show viewers the parts we want see, we won’t bother paying much attention.  Now, this is not to say that there weren’t some good moments.  Neil Patrick Harris is always on (“50 Shades of Gay”) and his mash-up of award-winning songs was delightful.  He made fun of going overtime, which he can get away with.  Not everyone can.  Other delightful moments: Harvey Fierstein in swim trunks and an inflatable pool ring.  James Corden flustered and awed when accepting the acting award for One Man, Two Guvnors.  Hugh Jackman graciously receiving a special award, presented by his wife.  Nina Arianda’s genuine glee for winning the acting award for Venus in Fur.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker just being their awesome selves.  Steve Kazee (best actor for Once) honoring his mother, who died of cancer on Easter.  And hey, they didn’t broadcast the In Memoriam.  Tragic.

All those musical numbers.  I’m on overload.  Since I can’t sing or dance, I don’t feel qualified to judge, but I will say this.  I saw Evita in London in 1980 with Mark Ryan as Che, and I listened often to the original cast album with Mandy Patinkin.  I know that Che is supposed to feel contempt for Eva Peron, along with begrudging admiration.  I have no idea what Ricky Martin’s Che was feeling.  Right after his performance, Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone came out to present.  It was cruel.

Congratulations to all the Tony winners.  I’m sorry I didn’t get to see most of you receive your awards.

Each year, I hope that next year they will get it right.  Another year like this one, and I’ll stop waiting and stop watching.  Sorry, NPH.

Happy Birthday, Hadley Fraser (2012)

Today is Hadley Fraser’s birthday.  Currently playing Javert in Les Misérables, this West End performer is about to take a quick break from the stage to appear in the movie version of Les Mis.  (He’s playing the army officer who calls out to the student revolutionaries, “You at the barricades, listen to this!  No one is coming to help you to fight!” and all that.)   My friend and guest blogger extraordinaire, Scolytinae, has written this fine tribute to Mr. Fraser, in honor of his special day:

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Happy Birthday, Hadley – the Metal Monkey

According to the Chinese, people born under the Year of the Monkey are good at mastering anything they put their hands to and are highly successful. Those born during the period of the Metal Monkey are motivated by constancy, are self reliant and stylish, and have a good memory. Quite an accurate description of the lovely Mr. Hadley Fraser, who is, by anyone’s standards, having an amazing year.  From a triumphant return to the West End in Les Misérables, the show that marked his professional debut 10 years ago, to a stunning performance in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Hadley hasn’t stopped working.  He has filming for the Les Misérables movie still to come next month.  But it’s not been all high profile public performances. In his quiet and unassuming manner, Hadley has also lent his support to charity by taking part in Les Mis Gives, performed shows and cabarets alongside friends and colleagues and, most recently, lent his magnificent voice to the concept album for the prospective new musical The In-Between by new young writer Laura Tisdall—all fitted round a demanding 8 show a week schedule as Inspector Javert, without fuss or fanfares.

He may disagree, but I feel he lives and breathes music in all its many and varied forms. Yes he can (and does) belt out a West End show stopper onstage, but just listen to him perform some of his own beautiful compositions for Sheytoons, or deliver the beautiful ballads of friend Scott Alan, and you begin to appreciate the depth of talent he has. Acting, singing, arranging, writing—he seems to epitomise that monkey by indeed mastering anything he puts his hand to.

As his year in the West End nears its end—his last performance is on 16th June 2012—I can’t help but wonder, what’s next for Hadley? Whatever it may be, rest assured he will have an army of dedicated fans wishing him all the best as he embarks on the next phase of an amazing career.

So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I say “Thank you” and “Happy Birthday, Mr Fraser!”  Enjoy your day, because you certainly deserve the very best that life has to offer.

Thank you, Scolytinae, I couldn’t have said it more eloquently.  I too wish Hadley Fraser a great birthday.  May the cake flow, and save me slice of champagne!  (Perhaps we shouldn’t have started celebrating so early…)

Two Years Old

The Ugly Bug Ball turns two today!

When I first started blogging, I read that it takes about two years for a blog to get established and find an audience.  Not encouraging!  I wasn’t sure that it would last for two months, but I’m still committed and enthusiastic.

I recently watched a few episodes of Party Down with Jane Lynch.  I cringed when the geeky cater-waiter kept telling people, “I have a very active blog.”  Identifying yourself as a blogger isn’t particularly cool, and everybody and his dog now has a blog, a tumblr site, and probably even a pinterest board.  People are so busy doing their own thing.  I’m sincerely grateful for every visitor, especially those who take the time to leave a comment.

My first year, I published 95 posts.  This year, I managed 145 posts.  There are new subscribers, and my daily traffic has more than doubled.  To be realistic, many of my “visitors” never actually land on these pages, because of the way image search engines work.  WordPress recently added a world map to their detailed stats, so I now enjoy seeing where my visitors are located.  Most are in the US and the UK, but some are in Poland, Brazil, Hong Kong…even Malta!

I’ve tried to keep things balanced with lots of different topics.  Of course, what I call “balance,” others might call “lack of focus.”  When I’m in the grip of an obsession, I could easily go overboard.  Fortunately, most of the things that fascinate me already have devoted fan sites that I can’t compete with.  On the other hand, it would get too monotonous if I stuck with just the topics that bring the most visitors.  These include Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Ramin Karimloo, and Hadley Fraser.  I feel an obligation to the subscribers who follow me because of the these interests.  I added a West End Index page for those who don’t want to scroll through all the other content.  I also invite friends to write concert and theatre reviews, since I’ve never seen Karimloo or Fraser perform in person.  My first year, I would have been horrified at the idea of guest bloggers, but now I’m delighted when friends contribute to these pages.

I think my favorite post in this second year is Postcards from Camp Hell.  I had a great time putting it together, although it was a struggle not to correct my adolescent spelling and grammar.  I also really enjoyed writing My Huckleberry Friend, My Sondheim Summer, The Rifleman, and all the Stage Door/Celebrity Encounter posts.  There are a lot more photo essays than before, and my favorite is Tanya and Chloe.  Getting silly in photoshop has also been very entertaining.  Congratulations, Jeff Nicholson! is probably my best creation, but I also love a good birthday party.

Making videos and posting them on YouTube began with Enation’s “video for a cause” contest back in July.  I didn’t win, but I definitely got hooked.  It’s another chance to get creative in photoshop.  Now I check my YouTube stats almost as often as my blog stats.  I also finally overcame my aversion to twitter.  Mostly.

I’m not really sure what the future will bring.  I keep getting the feeling that something new should be arriving any minute to grab my attention, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.  Bear with me until it does, and then bear with me when it does!  Thank you to all my friends who keep me going with encouragement and support.  It’s not a ball when you’re dancing alone.

I wanted to post a photo here of this great cake, but I didn’t hear back from my request for permission.  Take a look, and be sure to click the enlarge button!  Who wouldn’t want a frosting slug?!

Ramin Karimloo’s “Thank You” Gig

Helsbrownie was one of the lucky few chosen to attend Ramin Karimloo’s special performance last night.  150 fans were invited to an intimate show as a way of thanking them for their loyalty and patience, since the release date of his new CD has been delayed more than once.  Here is her exclusive report:

You don’t get much for free these days, so when someone offers you something for nothing, I find it best to grab it with both hands.  On that basis, Monday night found me in a hot and sweaty basement bar near Oxford Street awaiting Ramin Karimloo’s “thank you” gig.

My verdict: anyone heading to the upcoming tour is in for a real treat.  We heard a few songs from the album including Constant Angel and Coming Home as well as a new composition, tentatively titled Here I Go, which has a Sheytoons-esque feel.  I was thrilled to hear some Sheytoons material which I hadn’t been expecting, given Hadley Fraser’s absence. But the highlights for me were the covers.  Everyone went mad for Raining in Baltimore by the Counting Crows, but my personal favourite ended the night: Green Day—Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).  The song suits Ramin’s voice beautifully, with a little country music addition in the middle by one of his guitarists.  Ramin stayed away from any musical theatre numbers, which was the right choice as they wouldn’t really have suited the venue, although Bring Him Home would have been stunning in the intimate space.

I think Ramin’s voice is incredible.  His ability to adapt to different musical styles effortlessly puts him in a class above other performers who try to vary their repertoire.  He is a performer comfortable in his own skin and clearly has a genuine relationship with his band, thus creating a lovely atmosphere for the audience.  There was an awful lot of talent on the stage—the band included two guitarists, keyboard, percussion, two violins and a cello, as well as Ramin varying between guitar, banjo and keyboard.  I very much hope some, if not all, are joining him on tour.

Ramin had asked that no-one record the gig (not that this stopped at least one disrespectful guy) and instead passed round his own video camera.  It is definitely worth keeping an eye out for that official footage to appear, once he has edited it.

Overall, I was very impressed by Ramin’s performance and his general attitude.  While he clearly used the gig as a rehearsal for his upcoming tours, he was generous not to charge for entry and he obviously spent a lot of time organising it—he had to send around 150 individual emails to those of us attending.  Most impressively, at the end, he stood at the door and said goodbye to everyone individually—like a line-up at a wedding!  When I approached, he knew my name (I cannot understand how) and seemed genuinely keen to know if I’d enjoyed the gig. Suffice to say I left on a high, both from that meeting and from the music.

Roll on the tour!

Thank you, helsbrownie!   We’re grateful to you for sharing your experience, not to mention envious of your good fortune!

Something Phantastic This Way Comes

This past year, I’ve had a number of guest bloggers contribute to The Ugly Bug Ball.  It’s fun for me to let others do the work!  Here’s a review of Love Never Dies from my friend Dragonfly (aka Nelia).

“Try to deny it

And try to protest

But love won’t let you go

Once you’ve been possessed”

First, may I say that the direct feed of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies to cinemas was simply STUNNING! It was fun and exciting to share this special event with a dozen friends in Denver.  I trust that my review can be fair and objective as I also had the opportunity to see the original London production several times, as well as viewing this filmed version of the Melbourne production twice.

I was personally fascinated by the grainy film clips in the video introducing “The Coney Island Waltz” for the 2009 London press release.  Between Ramin Karimloo’s poignant “Till I Hear You Sing” video and the Waltz, I was immediately hooked on the show’s premise.  The draw was so powerful; I simply had to go the London to see this production with Ramin and to meet him.  I adored seeing Love Never Dies and have been a loyal supporter of the production and cast since it was introduced.

The London production of Love Never Dies gave me the impression that the sparsely furnished and populated sets had “tour” in mind.  Lots of digital projections lent an air of shadowy nostalgia with the funky, vintage Coney Island film footage.  Overall, my memory of seeing LND is essentially grey tones, muted colors and some bright metallic elements.  Perhaps if the Australian production’s imaginative and colorful stage/costume design had been introduced in London, the show would still be successfully running at the Adelphi, and perhaps on Broadway.

The Carousel (Australia)

Carousel in The Coney Island Waltz (Australia)

A vibrant, beautifully crafted and edited film,  Love Never Dies has a good balance of close-ups and long shots; the Felini-esque result doesn’t look or feel like a stage production, but somehow more expansive than the physical limitations a theatrical stage would impose.  This LIVE performance (not dubbed) was filmed over four days, and includes some minimal audience response.  The original cast score, which was recorded a year before the London opening, is beautiful, brilliant, and sophisticated.  It’s a magical, musical rollercoaster ride of intrigue, passion, kidnapping, mystery, and secrets revealed.

The Coney Island Waltz (Australia)

The Coney Island Waltz (Australia)

The basic plot remains essentially the same as the original London production, with a few important changes.  I really liked the new opening scenes:  Phantom performs “Till I Hear You Sing” in the Prologue; then the story opens with “The Coney Island Waltz” in present time, which I think provides a positive and energetic momentum, allowing the story to unfold seamlessly, rather than having London’s essentially depressing, bleak look-back on what had been—before the tragedy…

It would be difficult to discuss all of the wonderful scenes here, so I’ve selected one, from both productions, that stands out:  “The Beauty Underneath.”

The Beauty Underneath

The Beauty Underneath (Australia)

Australia:  A beautiful and fascinating, complex forest of structural elements, and tall glass cases containing a variety of living creatures from a mermaid, to freaks and oddities of all sorts.  I especially liked having a stage full of ensemble players, which lent a frenetic energy and dynamic to the scene as a whole.

The Beauty Underneath (London)

The Beauty Underneath (London)

London:  The Aerie, Phantom’s workshop high above Phantasma, featured many of his bizarre magical, mechanical, and artistic creations.  Phantom and Gustave are essentially alone on stage for much of this scene.

THE PLAYERS

Ben Lewis (Australia) has a trained operatic voice; he’s not a copy of Ramin, but stands firm on his own merit.  Ben’s delivery is technically precise, he’s an intense, anguished, mysterious, menacing, and remote Phantom – reminds me a bit of Gary Oldman’s strangely sensual Dracula when gliding around in his elegant full length robe.

In this filmed version, we don’t get much of a look at Phantom’s disfigurement, which is disappointing, especially after all the time and energy spent in creating and applying the make-up and complicated prosthetics.  We want to see what all the fuss is about…

Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis in the Australia production

Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis (Australia)

Ramin Karimloo’s unique voice is unequaled in its straightforward, energetic raw and sensual passion, untrained rock delivery, and uninhibited honesty resonating on a primal level right into my heart…

Anna O’Byrne (Australia) and Sierra Boggess (London) are equally excellent as Christine.  Each is classically trained, beautiful, feminine, and comfortable in the trappings of the Victorian era costumes and hairdos.

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (London)

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (London)

Sharon Millerchip (Australia) is a perky, petite, energetic, talented dancer and singer with a broad emotional range, and perfectly cast as Meg Giry, Ooh La La Girl.

Sharon Millerchip as Meg (Australia)

Sharon Millerchip as Meg and the Ooh La La Girls in Only For You (Australia)

I’m passionate about film; I enjoy comfortable stadium seating and the magic of an image flickering on the silver screen in the dark.  Being on the less than tall side, I’m generally plagued with a “HEAD” obscuring view of the stage, especially when I’ve spent $100 for a theatre ticket.  I believe that digital technology has now opened up a new avenue, offering an unequaled opportunity to experience stage productions and other special events via live feed and edited film, and it’s definitely here to stay.  I’ll line up early and often to enjoy an unobstructed view for under $20.

Australia’s Love Never Dies run is coming to a close; we’re so fortunate that a record of this amazing production has been captured, and that we can own a piece of it via this filmed version.  I think the possibility of a Broadway run at this point is remote—the success of the DVD could change that outcome.

I’m in LOVE with LOVE on stage and screen….

Thank you, Dragonfly!  Your passion certainly comes through here.  Love Never Dies has its US DVD release on May 29, 2012.

All the images used here are from press sources.  The Australian production photos were taken by Jeff Busby.  No copyright infringement is intended.
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