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Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 22, 2012
Tonight, I saw the musical “Once” on Broadway. I did not know much about the backstory before I saw it, although I know that it recently won the coveted Tony award for Best Musical. This is a show for those who appreciate lustily-performed Irish music, tending toward the modern folk side, and who like love stories. The musical is essentially about two musicians, an Irish man, and a Czech woman, who find that their shared musical companionability is opening onto deeper realms of relationship. This is tricky because they are also both kind of already in relationships (he with girlfriend, she with husband and daughter). The musical tracks their unfolding negotiation, within themselves and with each other, of these complexities. But the musical is also about a very talented ensemble of supporting actors and musicians, who join the two stars for many numbers, and frequently star in their own right, beginning before the show officially starts, when the ensemble takes the stage fifteen minutes before curtain and starts playing music on stage, surrounded by any audience members who want to come up on stage and have a drink and enjoy the band up close. This is so much a show about the music that at the curtain call, there were no separate entrances for the actors. Instead, all gathered together to take a shared bow.
I most enjoyed hearing the songs, which are unfailingly listenable, lovingly crafted, and soulfully sung.
Here is the cast performing at the recent Tony awards:
Here is a video of some tunes from the show:
As much as I was affected by the melodies, I found the lyrics of the songs to be variations on the theme of love’s longings and
Posted in: Christianity,General,Musical Performance,Practices,Secular Liturgies by Tom Beaudoin on March 13, 2012
Last Thursday, I saw the new production of Godspell on Broadway. I was eager to see it, because I grew up listening to this music and it has never left my mental-emotional-somatic soundtrack. In other words, I cathected these tunes a long time ago, and the memories that accumulate around their hearing make each new listening even richer, a new discovery and a revisiting of old territory.
This is an extraordinarily energized production, with a diverse, youthful cast who work as hard as any company I have seen in a very long time. And their focus has to stay exceptional because this incarnation of Godspell is — except for the few slower tunes — a nonstop religious frenesis. It most resembles a postmodern vaudeville: all the traditional songs are there, yes, but they have been intercut by an Internet-jetstream of pop cultural references, from phrases to song lyrics to melodies to physical gestures. Even some of the classic Godspell songs have been reworked in new formats, as rap, hip-hop, hard rock, or ballad.
The show is in the round, at the Circle in the Square theater, with the band (four guitars) scattered individually throughout the theater, seated amidst fans. As I have noticed in several recent Broadway shows, the drummer was aloft in a special box. The musicians all relied on audio cues through earphones, and seemed rarely to look at each other. It was an odd diminution of the rock band aspect of the musical, but they were remarkably tight, and the sound was clean and appropriately loud but not overwhelming.
The downside of this production was that at times it felt gimmicky. As one cultural reference or attempt at a joke after another comes flying, and as the pratfalls multiply, you may wonder why they are working so very hard to
Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on January 9, 2011
This is part two of my review of “Spiderman” on Broadway, a preview of which I saw a few days ago. Part one, on the plot, is here, and part three will focus on the aerostunts of the show.
In “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” the music is consistently redolent of U2, with soaring anthems, a tendency toward aphorism and occasional biblical allusion (though far fewer, on my hearing, than one finds on a typical U2 album), uplifting melodies, and vocal lines that work when sung out to a stadium or when spoken-sung in a more didactic or self-aware mode.
A couple of actual U2 tunes are explicitly sampled (but not sung by the cast). The most recognizable is “Vertigo,” which is piped in during one dance scene. For many U2 fans, at least, the very atmosphere of U2-ish music for such an extended time (the show ran 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission, and one slight delay to apparently ready a technical sequence related to an elaborate airborne stunt) will put them in a mood of reflection and receptivity, moods known well and valued in the theological tradition. (Religion, spirituality and faith are common concerns for U2 fans. Here is how one Lutheran church framed the spiritual sensibilities many find in U2′s music. And here is Bono chanting “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, it’s true…”)
Here is a video of Reeve Carney (who plays Peter Parker/Spiderman) singing one of the tunes from the show, “The Boy Falls from the Sky”:
And for good measure, here is U2 playing it recently.
The show features a live band/orchestra, but most of it is hidden from view; the only visible musicians are an electric bassist and guitarist downstage right, abutting the first eight rows with a rack of guitars and the Mother Of All Pedalboards; they are connected to the rest of the band through earphones and a video monitor of the conductor.
If the songs from “Spiderman” catch on, they could become the latest additions to the secular liturgy that U2 has been creating now for over thirty years.
New York City
Last night, I saw the Broadway musical “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.” As you probably know, the show is still in previews largely due to technical issues still to be worked out, issues that have apparently contributed to some four instances of injury in the last several months.
Here is a recent television feature on the production:
I was excited to see what would happen in a musical whose music and lyrics were written by U2 band members Bono and The Edge, and of course curious about any material in the experience that would be of interest to theology.
Given how early it is in the run of this show, and given that since the previews have been selling out consistently, it is likely to have a serious run once it officially debuts next month, I do not want to give away crucial plot points.
Over the next few posts, I’ll write briefly about the show’s plot, music, and the now-famous
Yesterday, I was walking with M through Bryant Park in Manhattan, and noticed that a show was about to begin, an hourlong revue of new Broadway shows and some longer-running successes. Basically a little live midday advertising for high-end theater. So we grabbed some lunch and a few chairs and joined the hundreds filling the lawn, not sure who we’d see.
It turns out we heard selections from many different shows, including “Falling for Eve,” “Chicago,” and — I couldn’t believe it — “Rock of Ages”. I have written before at R&T of my delight in this musical. Six or seven cast members from the show took the stage as the final part of the revue, bringing raucous cheers from many in the park, and the fist-pumping began almost immediately as they started belting out the rock tunes.
Here is a poor picture I took. It was the best I could do with my cellphone camera.
What interested me most about this event was the “Rock of Ages” star — a bona fide rock musician (and “American Idol” finalist) Constantine Maroulis — was wearing a t-shirt with large letters proclaiming “Rock Is My Religion.” There was a peace sign on the back of the shirt. (Here’s Maroulis and co-star Amy Spanger at the Tony Awards, and then Maroulis and gang in the kickoff to the Bryant Park summer series.)
I have seen what seems like an increasing number of people wearing such “Rock Is My Religion” shirts in the last several years. They are easily available on the Internet. I wondered what to make of the message.
Posted in: General,Musical Performance,Reviews by Tom Beaudoin on May 17, 2010
For this past Sunday’s New York Times, music critic Jon Pareles wrote a galloping, thoughtful synoptic take on Broadway’s turn to rock. In it, he pulls together “Hair” (R&T take here), “American Idiot,” “Fela!”, “Memphis,” “Million Dollar Quartet,” “Rock of Ages” (censed here at R&T), “Spring Awakening,” “Passing Strange,” “Rent,” and more, including mentions of rockish musical theater shows on the way, from Bono+Edge of the band U2 and Serj Tankian of the band System of a Down.
Pareles argues that whatever the cultural meanings, possibilities for creative invention, and built-in limitations of rock’s increasing dominance of Broadway, there remains something important the theater has trouble registering in rock: the incalculable, the spontaneous, the unrehearsed.
This is another space of overlap with theology: philosophical theology has been quite interested in denominating the theological valence of “the event” (for example, see John Caputo’s The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event), which is roughly translatable to, but not reducible to, the incalculable, the unrehearsed, the “unruly” — which leans us forward toward the future.
I am not so sure that rock in musical theater cannot offer revelatory spontaneity. For example, the rough divide Pareles draws between nostalgia and newness is frequently not simplistically borne out in studies of fans. Placing the event — in advance — is difficult.
New York City, New York, United States