This Sunday’s repost is LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL! I can count the number of off-Broadway musicals I know by heart on one finger, and on that one finger? That’s LIZZIE, THE MUSICAL.
This musical — centered around Lizzie Borden, who had an axe and gave her mother forty whacks — is goth as fuck, goddamn pitch-black, and outrageously, outstandingly feminist and I am absolutely fucking here for it.
There’s a fair amount of smutty language so, uh, good luck seeing a high school production of it (although more schools should produce it! Even if they have to tone down the language!) but keep your eyes out for a local production!
(Theatre/YouTube) Another theatre production, but this one is far more accessible, as there’s an original cast album and a number of clips and performances available on YouTube. As you might surmise from the title, it’s a rock opera with a different take on the legend of Lizzie Borden, authored by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt. The official website describes it as so:
“LIZZIE is four women fronting a six-piece rock band.
“LIZZIE is Rage! Sex! Betrayal! BLOODY MURDER!
“LIZZIE is American mythology set to a blistering rock score with a sound owing less to Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber than to BIKINI KILL, the RUNAWAYS, and HEART.”
So, yeah, that ticks all of my boxes, and hopefully yours too.
The production I saw was executed by Chicago’s Firebrand Theatre who are an “equity musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering women on and off the stage” and it was a goddamn blast. I can’t wait to see another of their offerings, but definitely jump at the chance to catch any production of it, if it hits your area.
HOUSE OF BORDEN (one of my favorite renditions of my favorite number, but I’m not sure why they had one of them play two parts):
What may be my new favorite YouTube theatre trailer, for what looks to have been a brilliant Canadian production (although it does untether the actors from their mics, which is not in line with prior productions):
Lastly, every time I rediscover this musical, I can’t help but endlessly re-listen to it.
(Theatre) I rarely write about theatre because it’s so niche, privileged (as in: expensive and caters to those who can afford it) and ephemeral, but this piece has stuck with me. THE DROWNING GIRLS is a stageplay from Canadian playwrights Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic, based on the actions of real-life Victorian George Joseph Smith who drowns three older women he recently married in their bathtub, mostly for profit and, probably also: sadism. In other words: a cautionary ghost short for the women in the audience, just like so many horror tales.
While most of the productions follow the same simple staging — three bathtubs, three women in nightgowns, mostly soaking wet for 70 minutes straight — I’m sure they all vacillate wildly in tone. (After all, that’s one of the fascinating parts about theatre.) The production I saw was helmed by Madeline Keller and was stunning and powerful and vengeful.
No matter the production, I think it’s interesting enough to chance it.
Context note: I previously posted all of the entries in this blog, mostly daily, via social media to my friends (apart from the handful of folks who signed up for the tandem Substack) to weather the pandemic. What follows is what I wrote for that day. (Spoiler alert: matters did not go back to normal.)
Programming note: it’s been a year to the day since I started doing these daily recommendations — albeit with a few breaks — and, with everything re-opening and with people returning to some sort of normalcy, I figure this is as a good time as any to go on sabbatical, so to speak. I’m sure I’ll want to post about a bunch of horror films during October, or start it back up during the freezing homestuck hellscapes that are Chicago winters, but who knows. It has meant a lot to me that many of you have read and engaged with these weird self-imposed posts, and I wanted to say thank you.
(HBO MAX/VOD) I’m ashamed to admit that, while I’ve been aware of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE for years and years — yes, I laughed at that old SIMPSONS joke about the MY DINNER WITH ANDRE arcade game just like everyone else — I had never sat down to watch it start-to-finish until I thought to quip about it regarding LOKI S01E03 and told myself: “You should really watch it before you make a lazy, common reference.”
Reader, I watched it.
It’s a work focused on emotional unburdening over dinner, and (to me) how masculine emotions and insecurities are meant to be suppressed, but doing so will only cause more issues later on down the line. While in the early 80s it was — I imagine; I’m old but I’m not that old — construed as a character study of an oversharing, over-emotional man, but it seems intensely relevant in a pre-post-pandemic time.
If somehow you aren’t familiar with MY DINNER WITH ANDRE: it’s about two weathered theater creatives who haven’t connected in years — one of whom doesn’t even really care for the other — dining together. It mostly consists of Andre Gregory (Andre Gregory) monologuing about certain steps and changes in his life and how he feels about it to Wallace Shawn (Wallace Shawn), who occasionally peppers him with questions. That’s it. That’s the film. It feels like an adaptation of a stage play but, no, it was an original screenplay from both Gregory and Shawn.
I’ve inferred in the past that these recommendations aren’t just recommendations, aren’t just an exercise to improve my critical writing skills, but are also meant to impart small facets of my oddball life to friends new and old. While these recommendations go out to some strangers who I do not know — thanks for reading and feel free to reach out! — I cross-post these to other social media outlets, and some recipients only know me as a ‘tech guy’ or ‘quiet spouse of their friend’. I’m not necessarily sure that I’m doing myself a lot of favors with these posts, but it’s a bit of earnestness and honestness that I couldn’t help but embrace while feeling isolated from humanity, while thinking others were feeling similarly.
All of this navel-gazing doesn’t do justice to the text of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. It’s about so much more. There’s a self-reflexivity to it that I adore; it’s reflecting on audiences and writerly goals, and then it goes almost completely, but intentionally, off the rails before pulling into the station and goes on to examine self-performative works as a human. It’s an extraordinarily controlled piece.
I thought I could watch it while working, given that it’s mostly (about) dialogue, but Andre Gregory’s intensity demanded my attention time and time again. For a film that’s just two men talking, it’s extremely visually compelling, and director Louis Malle and cinematographer Jeri Sopanen do a terrific job; it’s tautly edited, features extremely smart production design and camerawork — the use of mirrors to capture both characters’ faces is fantastic — and Gregory and Shawn are absolutely incredible. They knew what they wanted and Malle made it happen, although, allegedly, not without a few fights!
It is a fine film to wrap up this daily endeavor. A few weeks ago, I went out to safely dine at a restaurant with a friend for the first time in too long and — in retrospect — I was certainly being the oversharing, overly talky Andre. My cadence was too rushed and I was too frank and I said a few things out loud that I wouldn’t have said about myself two years ago but, still, it felt good. It felt earnest and honest and welcomed. I know this sort of acceptance of male emotional unburdening and free expression will be less acceptable as COVID (hopefully) dissipates, and I find it disheartening but inevitable. Back to normal, for better or for worse.
(YouTube) For whatever reason, people have seemingly collectively forgotten about this musical, which was quite well-received at the time (or so I’ve read). The music for the work was partially provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda — penned in-between IN THE HEIGHTS and HAMILTON — and you can definitely tell. There’s a part in the middle of “It’s All Happening” that feels lifted from IN THE HEIGHTS and one near the end that is -very- evocative of a certain HAMILTON number.
I’ve never seen a proper production of the show, but I have the original Broadway cast recording, and I do endlessly rewatch their Tony Awards performance. It is very much a standard Broadway adaptation of a beloved film, but the buildup and energy really thrills me.
(HBO MAX) I realized some time ago that I only have time for three media interests at once. Back in 2019, that meant that I was watching film, reading novels, and attending theater. Consequently, I let music, especially live music, slip by the wayside.
Granted, most of the live music I previously attended was of the small venue variety, crowded beer halls and the like — not intricately coordinated shows like DAVID BYRNE’S AMERICAN UTOPIA. It’s been long enough since I’ve seen a show like this — the last time was probably at Illinois’ Ravinia several years ago — but the staging here is phenomenal. Everyone is lock-step with each other, the lighting is phenomenal, and while the stage is sparsely adorned, the chain-link curtains that surround the stage are inventively used and abused.
It’s an undeniably fantastic, untethered performance, filled with joy and a few sobering moments, all amazingly captured by Spike Lee — no stranger to the stage — who effortlessly captures the above, all while making his own imprint on the show.
It’s the rare live musical performance that is almost as evocative at home as it would be in-person. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it and, while I fully acknowledge that it’s severely idealistic, it’s a soothing balm in these times.
(If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, check out this interview between Byrne, Spike, and Dennis Lim, and check out this interview for more on the choreography.)
(Acorn/AMC+/Sundance Now/VOD) SLINGS & ARROWS is the story of a Shakespeare theatre troupe in a small Canadian town that’s a barely disguised facsimile of the Stratford Festival theatre troupe and — wait, no! Come back!
Yes, on paper it sounds like something you’d fall asleep to watching PBS on a Sunday afternoon, but the show is far more intriguing than that. Created by Mark McKinney (KIDS IN THE HALL — oh, do I have your attention now?), Susan Coyne (MOZART IN THE JUNGLE), and Bob Martin (MICHAEL: EVERY DAY), it’s really about actor-turned-theatre director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, best known for DUE SOUTH, but was also in the core seasons of TALES OF THE CITY), prone to mental breakdowns, finds himself haunted by the death of his mentor Oliver (Stephen Ouimette, who did voices on the previously mentioned DOG CITY!), who was hit and killed by a car after a very lackluster opening night of the festival’s latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Given that Geoffrey’s ramshackle arthouse theatre had just been closed and he was out of a job, he’s approached about taking over where Oliver left off: to helm the upcoming production of Hamlet. Geoffrey reluctantly agrees, mulling over radical changes to the production when Oliver appears in front of him, chiming in regarding his significant changes, driving Geoffrey closer to the brink of madness than he felt he already was.
(Yes, this mostly occurs in the first episode. It’s an intense show.)
Given that it was a TV show that often consisted of watching actors rehearse, or prep for rehearsal, you might think that the cinematography would be dull or perfunctory, but it’s always engrossing, and the camera rarely stays in place (except when it knows best to do so).
From the actors to the writers and directors, the entire show is a love letter to the messiness of theatre, both on the stage and off. It’s one of the most heartfelt and earnest dramas I’ve ever seen, and is chock full of complicated characters, and even features a litany of swans.
If you needed any more convincing, despite the fact that the show has barbs out for Stratford, my wife and I did trek up there some years ago — mostly because we were very enamored with SLINGS & ARROWS, but also the concept of the company — and we caught a brilliant production of MOTHER COURAGE, as well as a spectacle-laden KING LEAR with Colm Feore as Lear (who also appeared in SLINGS & ARROWS!) If Stratford still exists after the pandemic, I can’t recommend it enough, as it’s a perfectly relaxed vacation if you’re into theatre. I’m sure the swans will be waiting for you.
Season One Trailer:
If you’ve already watched SLINGS & ARROWS, the cast & crew just had a COVID reunion that ACORN has made available for free, which will almost assuredly make you want to re-watch the show: