Friday, June 26, 2009

A Star is Born meets Vegas

Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. The Geffen Playhouse. 6/25/2009.

Everyone in the world may already know this, since it's seriously late in the show's run, but Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara is a wildly entertaining, incredibly performed romp through Vegas in the '50s and '60s and I absolutely loved it. It's a sweet little cabaret show about the intertwined career and romance shared by bandleader Louis Prima and singer Keely Smith. The complexities of a real life romance and marriage are shoved into the plot of A Star is Born, but like the songs onstage, old familiar standards get a new life through truly inspired performances.

Jake Broder as Louis Prima and Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely Smith are also listed as co-creators and their unique talents and personalities absolutely bring the show to life. Broder as Prima sings and swings and sweats through an hour and 40 minutes onstage without respite. His performance emphasizes Prima's hard-working manic energy and dedication his performance and his audience. The real delight of the show is Smith's Keely; she brings a charm and delight that brightens the stage and defines the show. She plays Keely with a combination of naivety and brashness that make her a fascinating character. The performances in this show define the piece and make it unmissable.

Other delights of the show include Frank Sinatra (played by Nick Cagle) as the villian, who apparently wasn't in the original production at Sacred Fools and Brian Wallis and Michael Lanahan who I've seen often enough recently in Magnum Opus and Serial Killers at Sacred Fools that they feel like old friends. This is another show where I should have brought a musicologist to talk to me about the music, but it seemed like a lot of fun to me.

In terms of gender, I like that Keely was a strong character, but I think that the show put too much emphasis on Prima discovering, teaching and "creating" Smith. It was a bit too much a show about Prima and his art and ego when Smith should have been the star. That was in its way appropriate to the ideas of the show and the spirit of '50s Vegas, but still not something that I like. It's also not how Keely herself tells the story, at least according to the 2000 interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. I also think that setting the beginning and end of the show with Prima's death dragged down an otherwise buoyant show and made the beginning a bit rough; this was, first and foremost a love story and idea of looking back on a life didn't add much for me. But despite a few intellectual quibbles, this is a truly fabulous, perfectly entertaining show and I highly recommend it to anyone; my parents loved it!

This show is excellent, and totally worth seeing. They just extended the run until August 2, so get your tickets now!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Space Opera

The Wooster Group. La Didone. REDCAT. 6/16/09.

I find the Wooster Group's work so intellectually and visually stimulating that it nearly overwhelms me. La Didone combines the opera by Francesco Cavalli and Giovanni Busenello from 1641 with Planet of the Vampires, a 1965 Italian horror/scifi film. It's an amazing, surprising combination that explores ideas of gender, technology, and art.

The two pieces resonate together beautifully to implicitly equate love with parasitic alien possession and I'm pretty sure in the climactic sex scene there were giant glowing green penises onscreen onstage. It also deals with the fragmentation of the body through the use of filmic closeups, particularly focusing on hands and arms as characters pass from live to screen in order to interact with the 1960s scifi technology.

As for gender, there were great female characters and a lot of interesting commentary (particularly from the opera) about women as weak, emotional, and faithless in a way that seemed really funny, but was also reinforced by both plots. The sexism seemed intended to be so blatant that it was absurd, particularly when Dido was the center of the entire show.

My thoughts on this piece are yet mushy and unformed. The Wooster Group's work generally takes me a lot of time to absorb and contemplate. There are so many loose threads of ideas to pull on that I don't yet have a full picture of what the piece means to me, but one of my first reactions is that this feels a lot more like a direct mash-up, putting two pieces together to create something new and beautiful in the resonances between the pieces, than a deconstruction and commentary in the way that earlier Wooster Group pieces were. I could be wrong about that, and it's certainly not a negative judgement in any way, but I wonder what other people think.

Anyway, this piece is beautiful and weird and amazing and I wish I had brought some musicologists with me to have a discussion on the relationships between Baroque Opera, '60s scifi and contemporary reality. I've always been a little skeptical of the Wooster Group (even though they're in my dissertation) because they're not nearly as queer and feminist as I am or as I think they should be, but this piece definitely reminded me that they are so intellectually stimulating that perhaps it doesn't matter if I agree with their politics. If you have a chance, please do see this; it will blow your mind in a good way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

127 Easy Steps

One of my favorite performers (and friends) happens to be performing at Highways this weekend and I'm super excited. Scott Turner Schofield's Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps is a new show that hasn't yet been performed in LA and it's an ariel acrobatic choose-your-own adventure romp through multiple genders and identities as Schofield explores what it means to become a man in terms of both gender and maturity. I've read parts of the piece in Schofield's Lambda Award-nominated book, Two Truths and a Lie but I haven't seen the show itself, plus, it's different every time. Schofield allows the audience to choose the stories he tells each night. Schofield's performances are always smart and funny and wonderfully charming and I've thoroughly enjoyed them in the past. You should totally be there!