Saturday, March 24, 2018

Audra McDonald with the Utah Symphony

Last night was a celebration of musical theatre at Abravanel Hall with the incomparable Audra McDonald and the Utah Symphony.  It was an amazing concert which gave me goosebumps as she belted out showstoppers and brought tears to my eyes as she reminded us that love is the reason for everything.  Let's just say that I won't forget this night any time soon.  I had the privilege of seeing McDonald perform with the Utah Symphony in 2002 as part of the Cultural Olympiad held in conjunction with the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.  It was my first introduction to her and I was so impressed by her beautiful and powerful voice!  I knew that I definitely wanted to see her live again and I am so glad that I got a ticket!  Her program featured a variety of selections from musical theatre that spanned decades from Rogers and Hammerstein to Gershwin and many new composers.  My favorites included a sultry rendition of "Moonshine Lullaby" from Annie Get Your Gun, "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess, "Simple Little Things" from 110 in the Shade, "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, "I'll Be Here" from Ordinary Days, and "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady.  She was so personable and charming, telling stories and interacting with the audience all evening.  She mentioned how much she loves Utah because her husband's family lives here and she spoke quite often about her children.  It felt very intimate, like a friend had invited us over for a performance in her living room.  I was sad to see the concert come to an end because it was so wonderful but McDonald gave the audience a treat by singing an incredibly passionate rendition of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound of Music to finish her set.  After a thunderous standing ovation, she came back to the stage to sing a lovely version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz.  Sometimes I am amazed at all of the opportunities we have to see Broadway stars perform right here in Salt Lake City and I highly recommend that you take advantage of this opportunity to see Audra McDonald perform once again tonight at Abravanel Hall (go here for tickets, if there are any to be had).  You won't regret it!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Party

Last night I was in the mood for a dark comedy so, of course, I took myself to the Broadway to see The Party.  Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is an idealistic politician who has just been promoted to Minister of Health.  She and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) throw a party for their friends to celebrate.  The first to arrive is April (Patricia Clarkson) and her boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) followed by Martha (Cherry Jones) and her partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer).  The last to arrive is Tom (Cillian Murphy) who informs them that his wife Marianne will not be able to join them until later.  As they toast Janet's promotion, all of the characters have their own announcements:  Bill has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, April and Gottfried are separating, and Martha and Jinny are expecting triplets.  By the way, Tom, who is clearly agitated and carrying a gun, takes every opportunity to snort cocaine in the bathroom and Janet keeps receiving texts from a lover who is clearly not Bill.  What begins as a celebration among friends rapidly descends into a tense drama filled with long dormant recriminations and culminates in another bombshell announcement.  I laughed through the entire film, as did everyone at my screening.  I don't know what it is about deeply flawed characters behaving badly but I find watching their over-the-top antics to be very cathartic.  All of the actors are fantastic, especially Clarkson (her cynical character has the best lines), and you could say that they give a master class in verbal sparring.  All of the action takes place in a London townhouse in real time so it has the feel of a one-act play (the run-time is only 71 minutes) in which all of the characters come undone right before your eyes and the black and white cinematography highlights the claustrophobia.  I really enjoyed this film but I have to say that I have been in a black mood lately so it might not be for everyone!

Monday, March 19, 2018


I believe I have mentioned once or twice that I absolutely love the films of Alfred Hitchcock so when TCM announced that Vertigo, arguably one of his best films, would be screened for its 60th Anniversary as part of the Big Screen Classics series I got really excited.  I have seen this psychological thriller about obsession many times but never on the big screen so it was a real treat to see it yesterday.  John Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is a San Francisco police officer who retires after an episode of vertigo contributes to the death of a fellow officer.  He is asked by Gavin Elster (Tom Elmore), an old friend, to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) because he believes she is acting erratically.  Her actions lead Ferguson to believe that she is possessed by an ancestor and, after he falls in love with her, he tries to protect her from her ancestor's fate of suicide.  Ultimately, he is unable to stop her from jumping from the bell tower of a Spanish mission because of his vertigo.  He is absolved of responsibility for her death but descends into a deep depression until he sees a woman named Judy (Kim Novak) who looks remarkably like Madeleine.  He begins a relationship with her but she may not be who she appears to be.  It is such a brilliant psychological thriller and the scenes where Ferguson tries to make Judy look like Madeleine are so creepy but you just can't look away.  Stewart is fantastic as a man driven mad by his obsession for a woman who doesn't exist. There is a scene, in particular, where Ferguson accuses of Judy of impersonating Madeleine for Elster as part of a murder plot and then realizes that he, too, has asked her to impersonate Madeleine for his own design.  It is incredibly powerful.  Novak is the perfect Hitchcock woman: blond, icy, and mysterious.  The score is haunting and does much to enhance the sense of unease that permeates the film.  Hitchcock's camera work (a technique now know as the dolly zoom which was invented for this movie) is also very disorienting, almost as if the audience is experiencing Ferguson's vertigo along with him.  I think this film is a masterpiece and I recommend seeing it on the big screen (go here for info).

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In the Heights at PTC

Before Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in another Tony Award winning musical called In the Heights.  I have seen it a couple of times (including a full production at PTC in 2012) and I really love it, maybe not as much as Hamilton, but it is a very powerful story about love for a community and the family you make with those around you.  Pioneer Theatre Company is currently performing the concert version, a stripped down performance with minimal blocking and choreography (I am a huge fan of this concept and really enjoyed  the concert versions of The Rocky Horror Show and Chess).  My friend Angela and I went to see the performance last night and I was a little bit afraid of her reaction because I have a tendency to really hype the things I love and I worried that I may have overdone it.  Luckily she absolutely loved it and commented that she was really impressed with how well it was staged. The story revolves around a woman named Claudia (Jayne Luke) who acts as an abuela (grandmother) to everyone in a small community in Washington Heights.  Usnavi (Diego Klock-Perez) runs a bodega which is beset with problems, such as a refrigerator that doesn't work, and tries to keep his wayward cousin Sonny (Tomas Joaquin Matos) in line.  He dreams of returning to the cool breezes of the Dominican Republic.  Vanessa (Ariana Escalante) is hoping to escape the barrio, and an abusive mother, to move downtown but a credit check for her new apartment stands in her way.  Nina (Micki Martinez) is the pride of her parents (Enrique Acevedo and Melissa Blatherwick) and the whole neighborhood because she received a scholarship to Stanford.  But college is a lot harder than she thought it would be, especially when you have to work two jobs to make ends meet, and she is thinking of quitting.  Will all of their worries be solved when Abuela Claudia wins the lottery?  In the concert version the music takes center stage and I really enjoyed all of the songs but my favorites were "When You're Home," "Sunrise," "Alabanza," and "When the Sun Goes Down." The actors are fantastic and give incredibly passionate performances.  I was particularly impressed with Martinez’s characterization of Nina because you could really feel her pain at disappointing her community and Klock-Perez looks and sounds so much like Lin-Manuel Miranda that it is uncanny! This production is just wonderful and I highly recommend getting a ticket (go here) to the final performance tonight!

Note:  This is the first time that I have seen In the Heights after seeing Hamilton and I was particularly struck by the similarities.  You can definitely see Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical progression from one to the next.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tomb Raider

Last night I saw a Thursday preview of Tomb Raider and, honestly, it was so much better than I expected it to be; in fact, I had a lot of fun watching it!  Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) has been missing for seven years until his daughter Lara (Alicia Vikander) finds a message left by him about a cursed queen called Himiko buried on an uninhabited island off the coast of Japan.  A mysterious group known as Trinity wants to locate Himiko's tomb (the reasons why are a bit murky).  Croft begs his daughter to destroy all of his research because opening the tomb will unleash a curse on the world but she uses it to try and locate him.  Despite the fact that this is most definitely an action movie, and a pretty good one at that, it has an emotional core that really resonated with me.  Lara's entire young adulthood has been influenced by her father's absence and she alternates between mourning him and being angry at him for abandoning her.  Some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy but I enjoyed the interactions between Lara and her father as she ultimately forgives him and assumes his role (which sets up a sequel nicely).  I really like Alicia Vikander as an actress and she does a nice job with this role.  Not only does she give an incredibly physical performance in some great action sequences (we see her signature move of dangling by one arm several times) but she also gives the role a lot of pathos.  She shows the fact that she is hurt and exhausted and there is one particular scene where she is devastated after killing someone who is attacking her that is really powerful.  Of course, as I previously mentioned, the action sequences are fantastic.  I especially liked a chase through the houseboats in the harbor in Hong Kong and the tomb scenes reminded me a lot of the Indiana Jones movies.  This movie is very entertaining and I recommend it for a fun night out.

Note:  This is not the first time that Dominic West has played Alicia Vikander's father (go here).
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