General

Sorry, Eva… I’m Weeping

EvitaRecently I came across the soundtrack for the movie Evita at Goodwill for $.075 (it was on cassette).  I bought it and have listened to it in my car a few times.  About eight years ago I saw the musical performed live onstage and loved it.  I rented the movie, and… I didn’t hate it (like I wound up ultimately disliking the movie made of the musical Phantom of the Opera), but I certainly didn’t like it as much.  At first, it was a mystery as to why.

Aside from the way the movie handles “Oh, What a Circus” that is.  Che… you’re reasoning with a painting!  That just doesn’t look good.  Stop it.

But basically, the stage production and the movie have ultimately two very different agendas.  The stage production makes Eva Peron a more ambiguous figure.  She has qualities of a femme fatale, but she’s very sincere about her work, and has very few illusions about what she is.  She also kept working while on her deathbed from ovarian cancer (a detail both the movie and the play leave out).  The movie makes her more sympathetic, such as by having her sing the downer-song “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” instead of Peron’s ousted, teenage mistress.  The movie also has a faceless bureaucrat skimming funds from the Eva Peron Foundation treasury instead of Eva herself.  These are huge differences, and without them, Che Guevara’s (if anyone even recognizes him) unrelenting criticism of her through his narration comes off as remarkably petty, and one can brush him aside as easily as the nagging upper class chorus, or the disgusting military chorus calling for Eva to get back on her back and stay out of politics.

And speaking of which… this has nothing to do with the quality of either the movie or the show.  But when my old music teacher first told us about the movie/musical she described Pryce’s Peron as “a sweet ol’ grandpa.”  My eyes did a variation of the Tex Avery thing when I first got an eyeful of him in the movie.  “Sweet ol’ grandpa?”  Just what sort of litmus test are you using, Mrs. Dearborn?  And I’m not all that shot with either Peron or Pryce, but I sure wouldn’t call him a sweet old grandpa.

Anyway, back to actual critiques.  I’ve mentioned before that I found that Antonio Banderas’ Che is basically unrecognizable as the historical figure.  That may have been deliberate on the part of the filmmakers– to avoid controversy– but it doesn’t work.  We don’t know who this guy is, or why he’s there, or what his schtick is.  He needs to be a clear radical leftist (in contrast to Peron), and more importantly separate from the action.  It gives him a better standpoint as the omniscent narrator than being a waiter in one scene, an obnoxious journalist in the next, celebrating the arrival as a result of the Foundation even as he criticizes it… something’s just missing.  And then there’s the tango.  It’s a beautiful scene where Banderas and Madonna dance together, but it just doesn’t work.  These are people who, it seems, despise each other, so having them do a sexy tango (even if it’s just a hallucination while Eva is under anesthetic) doesn’t make sense.  In the stage production, they tango– but they never touch.  In fact, they barely get close at all.  It’s eerie, and it still feels in character.

So I’ve said my piece.  I may be whining, but I still like the musical.  Tim Rice is a great lyricist (although I still don’t understand the song “The Lady’s Got Potential”), and Webber writes lovely music.  Everyone has a stinker in their resume, but Evita is not it.  That would be Love Never Dies.

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General

You Are What They Say You Are

Hosanna!

Hosanna!

A full 75% of my household loves the musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was a tradition to play the record, and later the CD of the original Broadway cast several times during Holy Week, and sometimes even on Easter, as well.  My mom, brother, and I know the words to all the songs included on the soundtrack, and our favorite is without a doubt “King Herod’s Song.”  (Who doesn’t like a bit of levity before the torture starts?)  But my dad doesn’t like the musical.  He doesn’t mind the fact that they’re mixing rock with the New Testament, or the Mary Magdalene subplot, or the fact that when the show premiered Pilate’s costume included a silver jock strap… his problem with the musical is that he thinks it’s “too agnostic.”  Because the highlight of the musical is “who are you/do you think you’re what they say you are?”

Fair enough, I guess, except he’s the only person who’s brought that up.  Most people I know who don’t like JCS got their underwear in a bunch over the Magdalene subplot.  But that’s a different argument.

The musical takes place in the last week of Jesus’ life, more or less.  It begins right before the events of Palm Sunday and ends after 3 PM on Good Friday.  This past Good Friday, the pastor offered this thought after station 7… on that first Good Friday, probably no one present at the Crucifixion be they Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, or Joseph of Arimethea were thinking about the theological implications of the days’ events.

They were scared.  They were confused.  They were horrified.  They were devastated.  The last we see of Peter on Good Friday, he was weeping bitterly after the cock crowed twice.  Mary the mother of Jesus had to witness her son being tortured and subjected to the humiliating and excruciatingly painful death that kept the Pax Romana going.  That he rallied to tell the Beloved Disciple to look after her like he would his own mother (that was huge– a widow without a son was screwed) must have been like a knife through the heart.

And Judas was going through the mental turmoil that led to his suicide.

With all that in mind, the question “do you think you are what they say you are?” Makes that much more sense.  In a traumatic situation confusion and doubt happen.  That’s how Peter came to screw up.  That’s why the other disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested.  And that’s why poor St. Thomas was slow to believe after the Resurrection.

But after Jesus rose from the dead (and first appeared to the women– who very notably did not run away), he forgave them all.  He would have forgiven Judas, but because the former disciple gave into despair, that encounter went unrecorded by the authors of the New Testament.

The journey to faith is not smooth-sailing.  There are many stops and starts, and bumps in the road.  That Jesus Christ Superstar spends so much time on the biggest, and arguably most important bump in the journey of Christianity does not make it agnostic.  It makes an otherwise incredibly stylistic musical realistic.  What would any of us done had we been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or standing outside Pilate’s balcony while he offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas?  Would we have been hiding with the disciples?  Would we have shouted “Crucify him!”  “Would we have been with the Marys?”  We’d all like to be in the latter category, but it’s statistically unlikely, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that.  For God’s sake.

We spend our whole lives asking that question, “Jesus– who are you?”  Or “God– who are you?”  And we are dealt with patiently and lovingly… every time.  It makes Jesus’ sacrifice all that much greater… we humans are still stiff-necked a millennium later.  Such love is truly beyond our comprehension.  Awesome music helps remind us of that… and we should say “Hallelujah.”

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Lists

Top 11 Scariest Performances #9 Lon Chaney

His most memorable face.

His most memorable face.

Let’s face it, the Man of a Thousand Faces had to be on the list somewhere, and his arguably most memorable face is his scariest… The Phantom of the Opera.  Released in 1926, and directed by Rupert Julian, it is probably the best adaptation of Leroux’s novel to hit the silver screen.  It’s certainly the best straight up horror adaptation (there, musical fans).

Everyone knows the plot of the PTO, but here’s a quick recap… L’Opera is blackmailed by the Opera Ghost.  They must reserve a box for him, and pay him a salary or else.  The Ghost falls in love with a young understudy, Christine Daae, and acts as her music instructor, “the Angel.”  His insane jealousy is aroused when Christine’s childhood sweetheart, Raoul, arrives on the scene.  Falling chandeliers, floods, angry mobs, and bombs ensue.

An incredibly talented actor, his performance would probably nevertheless not be as well remembered without his iconic make-up, although, that being said, he is damned unsettling in a mask, too.  Chaney never revealed how he made himself so hideous as Erik, the Phantom, but apparently part of it involved sticking hooks up his nose.  And maybe that kind of painful make-up added to his characterization as the tormented, insane, OG.  The audience always knows exactly what he feels, and understands how dangerous his wrath is.  One minute, he is pitiable watching the woman he loves in the arms of a younger, whole rival, and the next he is evil while he plots his revenge.

And that’s probably a good reason as to why he is so powerful– like all great villains, he is sympathetic yet ultimately nonredeemable.  And he dies laughing.  No other Phantom is like that.

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