Posted in Film and Television

Gilding the Lion’s Lily

Let me start you off with a fun fact about the music of The Lion King: lyricist Tim Rice was brought onto the project first. Disney asked him, “Who do you want for a collaborator?” Rice said Elton John, and Disney’s response was “You’ll never get him.” So Rice called Elton personally and explained the situation; the rest, as they say, is history.


We’ll get back to that. Now on a semi-related note, I watched Disney’s latest live-action offering, Christopher Robin, on Saturday. As a lifelong Winnie the Pooh fan, it was a must-see, and it didn’t disappoint. It manages to take the characters we love and use them in a fresh way. In my opinion, that’s where the recent onslaught of live-action Disney films are at their best…when they combine human actors with elements of fantasy to tell a classic story with a twist.

But that is the very reason why I won’t be seeing the upcoming remake of The Lion King. The simplest explanation is that you can’t improve upon perfection; the nitty-gritty, to speak, is more involved.

My first problem is, due to the complete lack of humans in the story, there isn’t going to be anything “live-action” about the damn thing. It will be, I’m assuming, 99% CGI…and considering the painstakingly beautiful drawings of the animated movie, CGI sounds like a total cop-out.

And let’s talk about the cast for a second. Yes, James Earl Jones is reprising Mufasa, and choices like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Billy Eichner are certainly inspired. But Jeremy Irons? Whoopi Goldberg? Rowan Atkinson? Nathan Lane? Why on Earth would you feel a need to recast…well, any of them?!

Finally, there’s the issue of the plot. With Cinderella, for example, there is room to expand upon characters and reinvent details of the story. But The Lion King– loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet– is already a masterpiece of storytelling, with clear character motives and no ends left untied. Essentially, what we’re left with is a project that will attempt to improve upon what’s already perfect.

If “Hakuna Matata” means “no worries,” it really doesn’t apply here!

Posted in Writing

Is Regina George the Real MVP of North Shore High?


Disclaimer: This is an extended metaphor.

If you’ve seen the hit movie Mean Girls, you know that protagonist Cady Herron collectively refers to the behavior of her female classmates as “Girl World.” At the beginning of the story, Girl World is in a state of chaos- cattiness, backstabbing, manipulation, you name it. But by the end of the film, as Cady says: “Finally, Girl World was at peace.”

You may wonder how Girl World came to that point, and there could be many correct answers. Was it because Cady and her friends decided to take down the main instigator of the problems, Regina George? Perhaps it happened because Ms. Norbury held the mass intervention in the gymnasium, enabling the students to come clean and heal their wounds. But there’s one other possibility- that Regina herself was the unintentional catalyst. Say what?!

Long story short: For the entire movie, everyone was doing terrible things in secret and behind a smiling veneer (Cady included). When Regina spread the contents of her damning Burn Book, the situation’s true severity came to light, and it was only then that it could be fixed for good.

I’ve felt a similar sentiment in my struggle with cliques of smaller theatre communities. To use a hypothetical example, suppose there is a local actress who repeatedly gets cast in major roles with one company. To me, this is problematic because it would appear that the company has her in mind from the start. They will insist in the audition notice that “all roles are open.” So you mean to say that of EVERY young woman that showed up, NONE came even close to the “repeat offender,” so to speak?

Look, if you’re going to use the same closed pool of actors in every production, like a “troupe,” that is totally fine. In fact, this isn’t that uncommon! But at least own up to it. Don’t waste the time and get the hopes up of people who audition for your shows. It’s not transparent and reflects embarrassingly on your organization.

Maybe, in towns across the United States, somebody ought to call this stuff out. Some thespian should take on the role of Regina George.

(Happy Tony Awards week, everyone!)

Posted in Theatre

Follow the Money


What is going on with this most recent Broadway season?

Last year, we got OsloIndecentDear Evan Hansen, and even Come from Away. This time around, it seems we’re getting sub-par play revivals, Margaritaville, and the equivalent of REALITY SHOW: The Musical. More on that later.

Don’t get me wrong…there are a lot of potentially great things on the horizon, namely the revivals arriving in the spring. (Angels in AmericaThe Boys in the BandMy Fair LadyCarousel!)

But it also seems like a truckload of variety acts are landing on stages that were once reserved for theatrical ideas/innovation. As we already know, showbiz is…well…a business, and producers put their money into projects they believe will be successful. Which begs the question- what criteria are they using?

With the deluge of live shows that open during the Christmas season- including the Radio City Christmas SpectacularElf at MSG, and A Christmas Carol on MacDougal Street- who made the decision that a revue starring reality show winners should be playing a coveted Broadway house? (It’s the August Wilson Theatre, to be exact, and they had to take down its Mean Girls marquee.)

I hate to say this, but I almost feel like productions that pander to the non-theatergoing crowd need to struggle at the box office. Perhaps then producers will recognize that they can’t just throw money at anything and have a Broadway smash. Perhaps then they’ll be more inclined to take a chance on fresh, quality material.

I don’t wish bad on Home for the Holidays. I am sure some folks will enjoy it. But to artists who pour their heart into original work and struggle to have it seen, it can feel like a slap in the face. I implore you, producers of the world: try to avoid giving prestigious Broadway credits to Bachelorette contestants and invest more in those who want to use art to change the world.

Posted in Personals

It Ain’t Festivus, but I’m Airing Some Grievances

  1. The Awards are the epitome of why “the public” can’t be allowed to vote for anything in the entertainment industry. Why? Because “the public” voting on their smartphones is mostly comprised of close-minded teenagers who are just getting exposed to the theatrical world. Disclaimer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hell, my first “gateway show” was Wicked. Everyone’s got to start somewhere. But unless voters adequately acquire the breadth of knowledge required to judge performances…awards turn into a popularity contest. Which is fine, but then it should be touted as such. Call the category “Favorite Working Actress” instead of “Best Performance by an Actress,” so that when Idina Menzel or Laura Osnes win for shows that close in less than 6 months, it’ll make sense.
  2. On that note, the notion of “parody” adaptations being protected from copyright suits is starting to bother me. You make a mockery out of someone else’s work, and it’s totally fine. You lovingly adapt someone else’s work because you respect the material and want to see it anew, and suddenly you’re cutting legal red tape. It hardly seems fair…but as a friend pointed out to me, it’s also hardly about the art when dollar bills start falling into people’s laps.


…So to speak.

Okay, my rant’s over.

Posted in Music

When Bad Lyrics Happen to Good Songs

Disclaimer: Light snark ahead. However, all of the songs on this list are on my iPad. That means I quite like them and enjoy listening to them! Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean they are without flaws. These are musical theatre pieces containing a painful lyric that baffles me when I hear it.

“In your kidney-shaped pool.” (“SMASH!,” SMASH) I know Smash technically is a television show, but some of the original songs have very poor lyrics in them. This is one of them. The word “kidney” does not belong in a song (much like “thrice” and “intrauterine”…brownie points to whoever gets that reference) let alone an entire lyric referring to the shape of a swimming pool.

“Join us, leave your cheese to sour.” (“Magic to Do,” Pippin) Ugh! This is such a wonderful opening number, which makes it all the more painful that Stephen Schwartz couldn’t think of a better lyric than this one. It’s really silly. Who is so worried about souring cheese that they must be persuaded to leave it and come watch the show?

“I believe in looking like my time on Earth is cooking.” (“My Strongest Suit,” AIDA) “My time on Earth is cooking?” What in the world does that even mean? Tim Rice is the mastermind behind “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” so a lyric like this from him is just unacceptable. Giuseppe Verdi would be turning in his grave if he knew that Amneris was singing this.

“The grass is always greener on some new Technicolor stage.” (“Cut, Print… Moving On,” SMASH) Yet another doozy from NBC’s nod to Broadway. Like the AIDA lyric, this is just nonsensical. How could the grass even figuratively be greener on a stage? Even more egregiously, the stage has to be described as “Technicolor.” Add that to the list of words that don’t belong in songs unless you’re talking about Joseph’s Dreamcoat.

“Like a seed dropped by a skybird in a distant wood.” (“For Good,” Wicked) And we close out with some more Stephen Schwartz as well. The imagery associated with this lyric is just not good, no pun intended. Furthermore, if I compared my friendship with someone to being like a seed dropped in the forest, I think they’d be weirded out. “That’s how you describe our meeting each other?” they may wonder. It’s a simile that is too out-of-left-field to work.


Posted in Film and Television

Spotlight: Movie Musical Casting Couch Catastrophes

Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “Why on Earth did they pick that actor for this part?” Well, if you have, I want you to picture it: a film studio meeting room, circa whenever. A bunch of studio executives are tossing ideas around a table. They are all heavily drunk…okay, maybe not. But the fact remains that the musical film performances I’m about to share were birthed from poor decisions. Granted, the ones at the top of this list are far worse than those down below. Nevertheless, all the casting directors here had us scratching our heads. Or my head, at the very least. Let’s begin.

7. Shirley Jones in Carousel

Okay, this one isn’t all that bad. As I said, the ones at this end of my countdown aren’t as egregious as those to come. But Jones’s performance as the leading lady of Carousel just pales in comparison- in two ways. It pales in comparison to other musical performances she’s given, like Marian in The Music Man. But it also doesn’t measure up to that of other actresses who have played Julie Jordan: Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes, and Alexandra Silber, just to name a few. Jones’s soprano still makes the Rodgers and Hammerstein score sound great, but the level of acting required to pack an emotional punch with Julie just was not there.

6. Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!

Sure, 007 looks right for the role of Donna Sheridan’s true love. His acting wasn’t even too ghastly. However, all that went south very quickly when “Sam Carmichael” opened his mouth while music played. He’s not a singer in any universe, especially not one where people sing ABBA in front of panoramic views of Greece. Earth to Brosnan- there’s a reason Meryl built a wall between you guys for this number.


5. Liz Taylor in A Little Night Music

Well, this whole debacle isn’t entirely Taylor’s fault. After all, as I established in a previous blog post, the film adaptation of Sondheim’s masterwork is a disaster in general. But if we’re to focus solely on Liz Taylor as the fading diva Desiree- you’d think that such a casting choice would be perfect. Sadly, critics tore apart her “fluctuating weight” (according to Wikipedia) between scenes, and her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” ended up being flat and soulless. The original stage score of A Little Night Music had already been butchered in this movie, and if its most famous song can’t even hold water, well…there’s the last nail in the coffin.

4. Minnie Driver in The Phantom of the Opera

All right- from this point forward, the miscasting is going to get so terrible that it’ll be hard to distinguish what’s more awful. I’m doing my best. Anybody can tell you that the meatiest, most fun role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom is that of the Prima Donna herself, Carlotta. Unfortunately, Minnie Driver’s portrayal of the character is neither fun nor meaty. Second of all, you need one helluva singer as Carlotta, and the fact that Driver was 100% dubbed is just inexcusable. I could forgive this dubbing if she’d given a dazzling performance in the movie, but she did not even do that; why, then, couldn’t they have chosen an actress who actually had some operatic training? Friends, I have no decent answer…only the memory of one of my favorite musical characters preserved on film in a cringe-inducing way.


3. Lucille Ball in Mame

This casting blunder is a perfect example of how no matter who you are as a performer, there can still be a wrong role for you. We may love Lucy, and granted, she could have been a terrific Mame Dennis if the movie had been made 20 years earlier. But Mame is supposed to start off in her 30s or 40s…not her 60s. I really hate saying that someone is too old or even too young for a role, but in this case, it matters because Mame’s story spans a few decades. Therefore, the actress must age believably. What makes this tale even more egregious is that most of the original Broadway cast got to reprise their parts. But not Angela Lansbury, who was deemed to not be a big enough “name.” And so we got this cinematic shame. “Maaaaaame…!” (P.S. Do you guys believe the rumor that they put gauze over the camera lens to mask Lucille Ball’s age?)

2. Cameron Diaz in Annie

‘Scuse me for a minute; I need to drink some Pepto to ensure that I don’t lose my lunch while typing this. When I heard that Diaz had been cast as the formidably fabulous Miss Hannigan in the second screen remake of Annie, I knew it could not end well. Hannigan is a theatre character who is very near and dear to my heart, so perhaps I’m pickier than most. But still…you can’t walk into a role like hers with a wimpy singing voice, awkward comedic timing, and a sympathetic characterization. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Miss Hannigan is not meant to be humanized. She’s a classic villain archetype and that is what makes her so awesome. Not to mention that Cameron Diaz’s interpretation of “Little Girls” is one of the worst songs I’ve ever had to listen to.


1. Russell Crowe in Les Miserables

I actually think Cameron Diaz’s Hannigan is worse than Russell Crowe’s Javert. However, he took the top spot because the situation suffers from “Minnie Driver in Phantom syndrome” as well as “Lucille Ball in Mame disorder.” Crowe had the wrong voice for Javert (though at least he wasn’t dubbed). However, he is also a megastar, so choosing him for the role over a richer baritone (i.e. my beloved late Alan Rickman) must have seemed like good business sense. In my opinion, the performance of the Inspector anchors Les Mis just as much as Valjean’s, so the project as a whole suffered. This differs from Diaz’s scenario, since Annie turned out to just be a lousy film; Les Miserables could’ve been truly spectacular if every lead role were cast correctly. Oh well, as the French would say…c’est la vie.