Monday, January 12, 2009

Entertainment Update

A number of nice surprises at the Golden Globes today - 'live' telecast still in progress as I type this.

Kevin Spacey didn't win Best Actor for a TV Movie / Mini-Series, but if you can get your hands on Recount - DVD perhaps? - I highly recommend you watch it.
He wasn't at the ceremony, most probably because he's directing Complicit at The Old Vic Theatre.

Danny Boyle picked up Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire, and it also won for Best Motion Picture. That film is really garnering major buzz. Wonder if it's as good as everyone says it is? ( I was disappointed by multiple Oscar winner No Country For Old Men, even though I'm a huge fan of the Coen brothers' work. )

Colin Farrell just won Best Actor ( Motion Picture, Musical / Comedy ) for In Bruges, and Mickey Rourke got Best Actor for The Wrestler. Wow, that was unexpected!

Anyway, I'm blogging for one main reason, and that's to post some thoughts about Company, a musical that won the Tony Award for Best Revival in 2007.

L lent me the DVD recording - and was in the audience that very night, lucky you! - and I have added the wonderful
Raul Esparza to my list of musical favourites.

Company is a musical comedy featuring Stephen Sondheim songs.

For the uninitiated, Sondheim also wrote Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which was adapted for the big screen by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman.

I've never been a fan of Sondheim's, since I'm part of the mainstream crowd that prefers easy-to-hum-along tunes, many of which came from Rodgers and Hammerstein. I can appreciate Leonard Bernstein ( West Side Story ) and Cole Porter, but Sondheim's style always seemed a little too eccentric for my untrained ears.

In the past couple of years, however, my tastes have evolved significantly ( especially since setting foot in Manhattan ). I mean, if Spring Awakening can get my blood pumping, I'm definitely undergoing some transformation! I really enjoyed Sweeney Todd ( the movie, that is ), so I was eager to see what Company has to offer.

In short - so much it's overwhelming.

I've only seen it once so far, but intend to give it a few more spins before returning it. And I'd like to buy a copy for myself if it's available online.

Yes, I love it that much.

Other than the fact that the cast is superb ( they play their own instruments for various segments, which I found amazing ), the script, direction and delivery flawless, and the stage decor tasteful and sophisticated, the main draw is Raul Esparza, who plays the central character, Bobby, a swinging bachelor who has to fend off his married friends' attempts to get him hitched.

This is the very first time I'm watching this man, and I'm completely blown away. He isn't conventionally handsome, but possesses a quiet confidence and loads of charisma, even when he sits still or flashes a flirtatious smile. He also has a beautiful speaking voice - my mom says he sounds like John Cusack. Er, maybe just a tad.

But when he sings! Someone Is Waiting, a lovely piece filled with longing and hope, comes in at the 40th minute and left me breathless.
The lyrics aren't exactly swoon-worthy, but he belts them with such conviction and tenderness, the result is heart-breaking.

The closing number, Being Alive, is a tour de force, with Esparza pounding on the piano before launching into a powerhouse performance with his massive tenor voice. It's unbelievable!

The best scene: the one where Bobby romances a vapid flight stewardess, April. It's a pretty long bit, with him inviting her to his apartment, where they chat about a couple of life experiences before consummating the relationship. There's a part with Bobby describing a previous fling with a woman in Miami, involving champagne and baby oil. As he recalls the event, he locks the actress with an intense gaze and runs his finger up and down a tuba perched on a stool nearby, as the rest of the cast and the entire audience sits in hushed silence.
It's positively electrifying. :)

The most remarkable thing about this? The fact that Esparza has publicly acknowledged his homosexual preferences ( although he used to be married ). I'm not passing any judgment on his personal choices, but having seen the show before knowing any of this, I couldn't tell just by watching him flirt with his female co-stars, especially the woman who plays hapless April.

The songs may be rather unwieldy - don't try to sing them in the shower - but feature lyrics that are insightful and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Take this example from Have I Got A Girl For You, where Bobby's married male friends try to talk him out of getting tied down ( when the wives aren't around, of course ):

"Boy! To be in your shoes what I wouldn't give!
I mean the freedom to go out and live!
And as for settling down and all that,
Marriage may be where it's been, but it's not where it's at.

Whaddya like? You like coming home to a kiss?
Somebody with a smile at the door?
Whaddya like? You like indescribable bliss?
Then whaddya wanna get married for?

Whaddya like? You like an excursion to Rome?
Suddenly taking off to explore?
Whaddya like? You like having meals cooked at home?
Then whaddya wanna get married for?"

Then there's the insane Getting Married Today, where character Amy gets cold feet on the day of her wedding and launches into a rambling monologue like Speedy Gonzales on speed. She has to cram all these words into a mere few seconds, but the diction is so precise you can actually hear every syllable:

"Pardon me, is everybody here? Because if everybody's here, I want to thank you all for coming to the wedding, I'd appreciate your going even more, I mean you must have lots of better things to do, and not a word of this to Paul, remember Paul, you know, the man I'm gonna marry, but I'm not, because I wouldn't ruin anyone as wonderful as he is --

Listen, everybody, look, I don't know what you're waiting for, a wedding, what's a wedding, it's a prehistoric ritual where everybody promises fidelity forever, which is maybe the most horrifying word I ever heard of, which is followed by a honeymoon, where suddenly he'll realize he's saddled with a nut, and wanna kill me, which he should --Thanks a bunch,But I'm not getting married --"

Another favourite is Little Things You Do Together, sung by Joanne, the cynical older woman who gets some of the best lines:

"It's the little things you do together,
Do together,
Do together,
That make perfect relationships.

The hobbies you pursue together,
Savings you accrue together,
Looks you misconstrue together,
That make marriage a joy.

It's the little things you share together,
Swear together,
Wear together,
That make perfect relationships.

The concerts you enjoy together,
Neighbors you annoy together,
Children you destroy together,
That keep marriage intact.

It's the people that you hate together,
Bait together,
Date together,
That make marriage a joy.

It's things like using force together,
Shouting till you're hoarse together,
Getting a divorce together,
That make perfect relationships."

What I like about Company is the different perspectives it offers -- ranging from Pollyanna optimism to suicidal realism -- conveyed by an eclectic group of individuals who are both larger than life yet also similar to people we may know ourselves.

I identify most with Joanne's bitter observations. No surprise there. :)

Still, the show ends on a happier note, as Bobby discovers he doesn't need -- or want -- to be alone.
Kinda like the 5 stages of grief, he transitions through pessimism:

"Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep...

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell..."

... before arriving at the realization that he's ready to commit:

"Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who'll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive...

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!"

Like I told L -- it's marvelous!

Bonus material includes an interview with Esparza, which I found extremely interesting. He analyses Sondheim's music in such intricate detail but explains it so clearly, I ended up appreciating its finer points even more.
He's also remarkably well-spoken. I believe he used the word 'filigree' at one point, imagine that!

Esparza recently made headlines by blasting Jeremy Piven ( Entourage ) for prematurely leaving the Broadway play, Speed The Plow, due to supposed mercury poisoning. I don't have the exact quote, but he said something along the lines of enjoying himself for the first time AFTER Piven's departure.
Ouch! But hey, I agree Piven deserved it.

Early in the show, I was struck by Bobby's age - just turning 35. Perhaps this is why I enjoy Company so much -- I turn 34 in a few months, am still happily single, and repeatedly turn down friends' invitations to double / blind dates. My opinions about relationships took a steep nosedive 9 years ago ( being cheated on will do that to you ), and it's never recovered since. It's funny how, at 25, you're ready to walk down the aisle and bear children, then suddenly, you prefer activities that minimize contact with the opposite sex ( trips overseas excluded :)).

Will I ever experience Bobby's radical turnaround? Maybe... maybe not. I haven't met anyone who's managed to change my outlook just yet, but I have a feeling I will someday, and that it'll be for keeps.

Thanks, L, for introducing me to this marvelous musical and its phenomenal star. Time to order a CD from Amazon to load into my iPod. :)

Something else that's marvelous - I've bought my tickets for the Jason Mraz concert! Couldn't get the front rows, but that's life. I'm near enough to the stage, so I'm content. :)
Last I checked, only single floor seats at the extreme left and right are available. Tickets just went on sale today - this is crazy!

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