Category: Reviews

Made by Meghna Gorrela, SEAS’20

 

If you took Music Hum last year, you likely remember going to the Met Opera to see Madama Butterfly. Currently, “Miss Saigon,” a musical based on this famous opera of Puccini’s, is dazzling audiences on Broadway. The storyline is the same: A doomed romance filled with abandonment and despair. However, Miss Saigon does something a little different — it highlights the harsh realities of the Vietnam War and emphasizes human despair in times of love and war.

Through the heart-wrenching storyline, audiences are immersed in a narrative that is far from happy. An American soldier finds romance in a war-torn country, but he is forced to leave without his lover Kim. He promises to come back, and the woman waits for him while living in shambles for three years. Little does he know that he has a child waiting for him in Vietnam. The soldier, Chris, returns to the U.S. and marries an American woman, only to find out  three years later that Kim is alive and has a son. He goes abroad to Bangkok, where Kim was living after escaping Vietnam, and brings his wife to show her what his nightmares were about. Instead of a happy ending, the audience is left with questions about whether Chris really loved Kim or was trying to find something to keep him going during the war in Vietnam as well as questions regarding the ending. Something to note is that revivals of both Miss Saigon and Madama Butterfly usually include different interpretations of the ending. In this revival, Chris shouts with grief and Kim’s son is wrapped around Chris’s new wife. Does this mean he really loved her? Or was he finally letting go of the past?

The musical highlights choices and how the choices we make shape the rest of our lives, with or without our control. Kim chooses to do something drastic in order for her son to have a better life, something she had hoped would happen with Chris. One is left asking themselves: How far would you go for a better future for someone you love?

“Miss Saigon” not only tells a story of risking it all for love and devotion, but it also explores the naiveté of love and relationships. The incredible staging of the set portrays not only how love can be found in a hopeless place, but also how war destroys any semblance of happiness one can have. Through incredible effects of wind and helicopter sounds, one feels as if they are on stage with the actors who are desperately trying to enter the U.S. embassy. Through a song about the American Dream, humor is slyly incorporated to ease audiences into the difficult ending. The dancers, often times scantily dressed in the “Dream Land” strip club, remind us that everyone just wants to live a good life and have their dreams fulfilled. Unfortunately, this is a reality for few, especially Kim. The stage sets of Vietnam, Bangkok, and America are truly magnificent, and though the story is challenging, “Miss Saigon” is not a show to be missed.

Tickets to “Miss Saigon” can be purchased from here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Miss Saigon?”

Image via NBC

I’ve been thinking a lot about NBC lately. I’m directing Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor this semester (shameless plug: come see it this weekend!), a hilarious and partly-true comedy that discusses the network’s decision to cancel the 1950’s SNL-like sitcom Your Show of Shows. In the play, NBC is depicted as a money-hungry corporate machine, and I’ve wondered about this every night when I finish running the show with my cast and return to my apartment to watch one of my many shows on none other than nbc.com.

Is NBC still a money machine? Some evidence would suggest that this remains the case. Take Dick Wolf, the procedural drama king, for example. He’s best known for SVU and Law and Order, but when he created Chicago Fire five years ago, he tapped into a niche market. A show about heroic firemen and women had everyone’s attention, and I was right there with the masses as we rooted for everyone at Firehouse 51– for Severide to defeat his drug addiction, for Casey and Dawson to finally get together, for everyone at the firehouse to save another life. At its beginning, Chicago Fire was extraordinarily entertaining, heart wrenching, and even inspiring (in 2013, I witnessed a car crash, and the first thought that ran through my head was to call 911 because I felt like I trusted the fire department more than I ever had before).

But then Chicago Fire took on a ridiculous plotline– Lieutenant Matt Casey was in a constant fight with crooked cop Hank Voight– and I literally cringed every time Voight took the stage. His character was completely unlikeable, and even since his spinoff Chicago P.D. began that year, I have yet to find a single reason to root for this abusive policeman. But I’ve been forced to watch Voight every week because I want to keep up with Chicago Fire, and crossovers are happening too often to ditch one of the shows.

In 2015, Wolf, always one to build on a franchise, added Chicago Med to the mix, which has surprisingly turned into the best in the Chicago series. Med’s staff has some of the most insightful characters of the whole Chicago franchise, and by now I really only watch any of these shows to see how Sarah helps her mentally ill patients, how Will continues to defy hospital policy, how April deals with her tuberculosis. But again, if I ever want to keep up with Med, I have to watch Fire and P.D.

About a month ago, Wolf iced off the cake with Chicago Justice, of which I could only get through two horrifically written (and acted) episodes before finally giving up. I get it– Dick Wolf wants to make more money– but is it really worth sacrificing this much quality? Chicago P.D. and Chicago Justice are probably two of the worst shows on television right now, and it’s an embarrassment to NBC to continue airing them.

Then again, NBC isn’t all that bad. They still produce Saturday Night Live, the best sketch show to hit TV since Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows itself. They host Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and The Voice. They were home to some of TV’s greatest shows like 30 Rock and The Office. And their biggest hit this season, This is Us, was exceptionally well-done. They thrive when they air comedies and variety shows, and for years Dick Wolf has been their go-to drama man.

NBC’s newest show, John Lithgow’s Trial & Error, also holds promise. I’ve only watched the first episode, but it left me laughing and wanting more. Whoever’s idea it was to pair Lithgow with Glee’s adorable Jayma Mayes deserves an Emmy for that alone. I wasn’t floored with laughter, but I was left hopeful, and the artistry behind the show made it clear that the producers weren’t in this for the money.

So I don’t think NBC has a money problem– I think they have a Dick Wolf problem. Maybe this time he has pushed the line between quality and quantity too far– and is on the verge of ruining NBC for everyone.

 

The Must-Binge List: After learning about the foundation of Mormonism in my religion class, I’m now three seasons deep into HBO’s Big Love, which follows a polygamist family in their daily lives. It’s a relatively old show, made especially poignant now by lead Bill Paxton’s recent death, but its messages still hold true today. While it has its ups and downs (you’ll have to bear with them as they drudge through the middle of Season Two), the show’s overall depiction of true human emotions is definitely worthwhile. Paxton plays the role of father/ husband/ patriarchal authority perfectly, and his three wives (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin) are equally impressive. Where other actors in the show lack (see: Amanda Seyfried as the painfully whiny daughter), the four leads are fantastic. My Grade: B

 

P.S.– Laughter on the 23rd Floor is playing Thursday, April 6th at 9pm, and Sunday, April 9th at 2pm and 7pm in the Kraft Center!

 

Image Courtesy of Clara Apostolatos, CC’20

In this modern climate, times are extremely hard for dreamers. Motion pictures released this past year, such as La La Land, have emphasized a level of escapism that is natural for us  to succumb to in such troubling times. Similarly, Amélie not only resides in a fanciful tale necessitated for this plight of escapism, but it also instills a lasting message of kindness and “doing the right thing”: a message that the cast wishes to impart to their audience and one that is more important than ever.

In this whimsical retelling of the Academy Award nominated motion picture of the same name, the life of the titular Amélie Poulain is catalogued from her secluded childhood in the outskirts of Paris to her eccentric yet isolationist adult life in a small apartment in the heart of the City of Lights. Amélie speaks to the shy introvert in us all who is bursting at the seams to try and make life a little easier each and every day.

Stellar performances are exhibited by Savvy Crawford, who plays Young Amélie, and Adam Chanler-Berat, who plays Nino Quincampoix. Nevertheless, Tony nominee Philippa Soo, who achieved fame through Hamilton and now plays the role of Amélie, stole the show as she delivers a radiant performance as the protagonist of this production. As soon as she runs onstage with the characteristic smirk of Amélie, she mesmerizes the audience member with her bubbly, mischievous portrayal of the character. Although Ms. Soo’s interpretation of Amélie is not as reserved as Audrey Tautou’s in the film, she does not have the luxury of a scene-by-scene narrator to illustrate her inner thoughts like Ms. Tautou did. Therefore, Ms. Soo relies on the company of Amélie to exemplify whatever odd thought strikes her.

In some instances, I found this incorporation of the acting ensemble into the mind of Amélie helped elucidate the scope of her inner motives. For example, the ensemble’s mimicry of heartbeats and their reveal of glittery hearts in dull briefcases gave the audience a taste of the tacit love that Nino and Amélie share. At other times, however, the ensemble’s participation was unnecessary and even awkward. For instance, different supporting characters would lose the identity of their own characters to narrate a life event of Amélie and then resume their individual nuances. I’ve seen some musicals that succeed in this aspect, but Amélie’s use of this tactic was a bit clunky, especially in comparison to the exemplary narration utilized in the movie.

With these differences, fans of the movie might gawk at the artistic liberties taken in regard to how the movie has been adapted for the American audience, including the absence of a narrator as well as the notable omission of the French language. There are some hints of this Romance language on the various set pieces, but barely any of the dialogue possesses any semblance of French. Some of the choices actually complement the musical experience extremely well. For example, the two cabines de télé that adorn the opposite ends of the stage mimic the experience of witnessing the telephone conversations in the movie Amélie perfectly. Nevertheless, the changes Amélie the musical utilizes make the musical its own.

Even with these small critiques, when comparing and contrasting the movie and the musical, the creative licenses the musical takes to tell the story of this eclectic heroine culminate in a pleasurable experience that the audience can enjoy.

Tickets to Amélie can be purchased from here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Amélie?”

                                Image via Yael Turitz

Thanks to my loving professors, I spent almost 90% of my spring break doing homework (not that I’m bitter or anything). I only had one chance to get out to the movie theater, my typical go-to break activity, but I knew exactly what I wanted to see: Bill Condon’s live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Growing up, Belle was my favorite princess. An avid reader myself, I thought I was just like her, dreaming to travel and escape my “provincial life” (to be clear, I lived right outside of Washington, D.C. and was not at all stifled, but, hey, the eight-year-old mind sees what it wants). I owned a golden gown Belle costume that I insisted on wearing far too often for my mother’s taste (see above picture for proof, in case you doubt me), and the movie practically lived inside the VCR.

Needless to say, I was pumped to see this movie. And, despite having to sit in the third row because the theater was so crowded (and therefore feeling like I was going to vomit throughout the entire movie because of my ridiculous motion sickness), it did not disappoint.

When I opened the newspapers the next day, however, I was shocked by the reviews. Ty Burr from The Boston Globe called it a ‘strenuous copy cat” of the original, while The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern said it was “crazily cluttered, overproduced venture in industrial entertainment.”

WHAT!? Strenuous copy cat? Crazily cluttered? What movie did these people watch!?

Despite my high expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by Condon’s film. Emma Watson proved that not only is she a incredibly talented actor, a natural beauty, and a wonderful female role model, but that she can sing like an angel. She sounded like she could be on Broadway, hitting notes with the same bravado as the original Paige O’Hara, and her pleasant tone felt so natural for a Disney princess. I honestly have no idea what voice Ty Burr was listening to when he said her voice was “never able to break out into the kind of sonic glory an audience might crave.” If anything, he could critique Dan Steven’s or Emma Thompson’s lacking voices, but their voices worked with the beast and teapot they respectively played, so he really shouldn’t do that either.

But what really confused me was that both Burr and Morgenstern seemed completely opposed to the need for a remake at all, yet seemed upset when the film changed or added any aspect to the 1991 classic. But the truth is that Condon’s film stayed extremely close to the original, not changing any plotlines or characters. The few pieces the new movie did add was a (barely) openly gay character, a couple of new songs written by the original composer Alan Menken and famed lyricist Tim Rice, and a scene that tells us how Belle’s mother died from the plague, and her father was forced to leave his wife to save his daughter– all modern additions that make the movie more resonant for modern audiences, and actually much deeper without taking away from the buoyancy and magical aspects of the original fairytale. What more did they want?

I guess you could argue that Disney shouldn’t be making remakes of great films, that they should let the originals stand on their own– a debate that will likely only become more prevalent as Disney continues to make remakes. But as I sat there, marveling at the incredible special effects, the moving additional scenes, Emma Watson’s refusal to wear a corset and perfect portrayal of a strong-willed Belle, I clearly saw the value in this remake. The remake is similar enough to the original that it doesn’t offend, but newly beautiful and relevant– so don’t listen to these people. I dare you to go see Beauty and the Beast in all its special-effects, costume, design, acting, singing glory and tell me it’s not a worthwhile movie.

For me, it was a dream come true.

 

The Must-(Not)Binge List: For the past few weeks, I’ve been painfully watching the CW’s Riverdale, mostly out of a sense of obligation to the Archie Comics that saved me during my lowest sleepaway-camp moments. But enough is enough. The new show, starring AJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, and Cole Sprouse is excruciatingly overdramatic. Neither Apa, Mendes, nor Reinhart can act, and the show’s plotline tries and fails to mix the teenage angsty characters of One Tree Hill with the dark plotlines of Black Mirror. Even Cole Sprouse, my favorite of the Suite Life brothers, can’t do anything with his brooding but unnecessary Jughead character. Don’t waste your time, especially if you were an Archie Comics fan. This show is an embarrassment. My grade: D

 

The ending scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

 

On Thursday night, the Met opened its season’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio.

The protagonist, Leonore, is the most positively impactful woman in all of opera. Disguised as a man named Fidelio, she earns the trust of Rocco, the prison warden. He brings her to her husband Florestan, a prisoner locked in a cellar cell. Once there, Leonore defends Florestan from Don Pizarro, the governor of the prison, by threatening him with her gun. Because of her actions, Leonore is hailed as a heroine of “noble courage.” Joy reigns as the couple is safely restored when Don Fernando, the minister, arrives.

Representations of constructively influential women in opera are rare. Most are throwing themselves off of castle parapets (Tosca), displaying a deranged, febrile madness (Lucia di Lammermoor), or even stripping for kings (Salome). The Met picked an important moment to portray an antithetical example. Adrianne Pieczonka, a Canadian soprano playing Leonore, said, “And with what’s going on in the world, I think it’s great to have a strong woman—a brave, courageous woman on a mission.” The only thing missing is a direct reference to Trump.

Given its backdrop, how was this politically charged opera vitalized? Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter—performed by Hanna-Elisabeth Müller in her Met Opera debut—sang wonderfully. Her voice had a sweetness that was maintained throughout her range. Jaquino, Rocco’s helper—played by David Portillo—sang with appropriate anguish over Marzelline’s spurning of his love.

In the subsequent ensemble number, Rocco and Leonore (Fidelio to these folks) joined Marzelline and Jaquino. Rocco—sung by the role-switching Falk Struckmann (formerly Don Pizarro in the Met’s 2000 production)—rang richly in his low register, but thinned out up high. As the night went on, however, his upper tones took on a rounder, fuller shape. Rocco’s employer, Don Pizarro—invigorated by Greer Grimsley—sounded diabolical in his “Ha! Welch’ ein Augenblick!” aria. Grimsley’s repeated “Ha’s!” menaced his adversaries (and the audience!).

After Pizarro’s aria, Pieczonka presented her “Abscheulicher!” solo. Here and elsewhere, I observed her physically reaching upward for climatically high pitches. Her action affected her sound quality: her high register was quavering, forced, and over-vibratoed. In contrast, Müller visibly sunk down into her upper range. As a result, her highs maintained depth and quality. A casting switch between these two sopranos would be beneficial—but admittedly impossible—for this production.

Act 2 starts with a jolt: Florestan calls out “Gott!”, a desperate heavenly plea. Florestan—enlivened by Klaus Florian Vogt—has a many-colored voice: his timbre sounds like the mixing palette of a master painter. His unique hues transmitted the hopeful content of his singing.

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Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Some of Sebastian Weigle’s tempo choices detrimentally affected tonight’s performance. In “Gut Söhnchen, gut, hab immer Mut” the tempo was inappropriately slow. I have courage—“Ich habe Mut!”—but apparently not enough to show any vigor. And, in Pieczonka’s “Abscheulicher!” aria, the orchestra sounded safe, even calculated, during accelerandos. The correct energy can be achieved in upcoming performances by a reconsideration of phrasing and articulation.

The horns, however, turned in an excellent performance in the “Abscheulicher!” obbligato. Their tone was pure and their phrasing smooth and effortless.

The singer’s performances were framed by Jürgen Flimm’s production. Flimm’s work, staged for the fourth time at the Met, effectively recontextualizes Fidelio in the mid-20th century. In the first act, the principal themes of hope and freedom are juxtaposed against a starkly bare prison. For the final scene, Robert Israel, the set designer, depicts triumph with a backdrop of wispy clouds strewn across a light blue sky: it is little wonder that the words for heaven and sky are the same in German.

At this euphoric ending, Don Fernando has arrived, ousting Don Pizarro from the stage. The role was performed by Günther Groissböck with an imperial, declarative style, suiting the character well.

After, the chorus, winds, and low strings exclaim joyfully. Freude und Freiheit—Joy and Freedom: Beethoven affirms cherished values with his distinct emotional directness.

During the curtain call, I saw that the bronze heroic figure—which looms in the background of the ultimate scene—was taken off of his horse, placed dejectedly on the ground. To complete the coup, I think, appropriately, Leonore should be put in his former position—a nobly “nasty woman” who deserves her high praise and honors.

 

Beethoven’s Fidelio runs through April 8, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live April 1, at 1:00 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org