Monday, December 29, 2014

Hooray For Movie Musicals!

This weekend I was fortunate to see two movies and BOTH were musicals. That is a rare thing in our day and age, but it makes me happy to see these movies do so well at the box office (especially Into the Woods). It is a win win for movie goers and live theater audiences.

My daughter is 10. The perfect age to see Annie. I was 10 when the John Huston film version came out with Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney and Carol Burnett. I was mesmerized by that film. I already knew I wanted to be an actress, but that film opened my eyes to the magic of being a performer and I ate. slept and breathed anything "Annie". Almost a year later I would be cast in the role and my passion for theater hasn't stopped since.

So, it was very special to take my daughter, along with my mom who was visiting for Christmas, to see this movie. It didn't disappoint. It was a sweet, genuine family movie with many of the familiar tunes given a fresh make-over to fit in the modern setting. The chemistry between Jamie Foxx (the Warbucks character) and Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie) was undeniable. I loved the humor of Rose Byrne who played Grace and the over the top performance of Cameron Diaz who played Miss Hannigan. Both made me laugh and over all I thought this was a lighthearted, feel-good family movie.

From a vocal stand point it was adequate. Jamie Foxx is the true vocal talent of this film, that is pretty obvious, but I didn't mind too much. At least there weren't a bunch of screaming young vocalists, that drives me crazier than a studio affected sound. The three of us had a great time. And yes, I realize I am bias because of my sentimental attachment to this film, but so what, it was refreshingly optimistic and fun. We need more of that in this day and age. And much like my experience as a child, my little girl came home singing the songs into the night and expressed how she wanted to perform on stage. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree...

We had planned a double date with some friends for Into the Woods, but sick kids prevented them from coming so we took our kids. And it was nice to be able to do that. Another added bonus is these musicals are both rated PG. When you have a young family, it is great to have movies that you can all see together.

Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals. I am a Sondheim fan through and through. I was privileged to play the witch some years back and Roger played the steward. We were newlyweds and it was amazing to be in a show together at that time in our relationship. I had seen the original Broadway cast through a filmed version and then Roger and I saw the 2002 Broadway revival a couple times since my friend understudied Vanessa Williams as the witch.

This movie was AMAZING! I laugh, I cried, I marveled at Stephen Sondheim. He is always the star for me when I see his work. I learn something new every time I view or listen. No one writes lyrics like Sondheim, no one. This film adaptation was one of the best I have seen going from stage to screen. I will say that some of the humor was lost in translation, but I understood that because for this film they chose to make it more reality based and in the process that is why some of the humor was lost. But, it still worked in context and I thought the cast was wonderful and visually it was stunning. My hat is off to director Rob Marshall for keeping the integrity of this show in tact.

I realized from a vocal stand point that when I went to see the film version of Les Miserables the inadequacies in vocal performances and technique really bothered me, much more than they did with this film. I know Les Mis is an opera but I think one of the main reasons is because Sondheim always chooses the actor who can sing rather than the singer who can act. Even though this musical is mostly sung, the vocal imperfections didn't stand out as much because Sondheim prefers using performers to sing his songs who are imperfect, strictly speaking, in their vocal technique. That is one of the things I love about him. When you cast an actor first, you have the talent available to interpret his complex material. The singing is truly an extension of the story. It isn't meant to show off vocal chops or highlight some Broadway diva. It is all about the story, period. I will add, that his music is still very difficult. Especially from a timing perspective. It takes a lot of skill to perform his songs. It may sound easy while listening to the finished product, but for anyone who has done his material they know it is difficult and takes tremendous skill. So, I applaud the actors in the film for taking this on and making it look and sound so natural and easy.

Growing up with the original Broadway cast I will admit it was hard to get them out of my head while viewing this film, especially the witch and baker's wife. I found it funny that even though Meryl Streep is my favorite actress I was longing to see and hear Bernadette Peters, but I had to let it go early on in the film and just embrace Meryl's performance and of course the delightful take that Emily Blunt had to offer for the baker's wife. Overall this was a tight film. Very well done. It makes me beyond happy that young audiences can experience Stephen Sondeim's work on the big screen. I hope they go home and look him up and start digging into his repertoire. They won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Teaching at Utah Children's Theatre

I just ended my first semester teaching at Utah Children's Theatre and can I just say, I love teaching! I work with some amazing co-workers (I am looking at you Jana Cox) and the students...ranging in age from 4 years old to adults. I look forward to going to work and exploring the world that I love almost as much as my family: the theater! Seeing this wonderful art form through the eyes of children is a special treat. Well, let's admit it, anything seen through children's eyes is a gift.

Theater is a bonding experience and a process. At first in most of my younger classes I focused mostly on discipline and concentration. And it can be frustrating at times to have so much to get through on the syllabus and you spend half of the time telling children to be quiet and keep their hands to themselves. Then something wonderful happens, the children start to love you and trust you and in turn you have grown to love them. You know all their names, basic interests and personalities. The class falls into a rhythm and they know what to expect and what is expected of them. The tides turn, and realizations start to happen. Their sweet little minds catch on when deciphering a simple stage direction or what you mean when you say, "project your voice!" or "cheat out!".

With the very little ones we work on imaginary play and helping them to focus all that energy. In a world of technology, some of these kids have a hard time with imaginary play at first. But, they catch on real quick and end up being the leader in many improvisational games. The older kids are ready for a challenge. They are so smart and I was amazed at how they handled some demanding material I threw at them. By the time the recital came they were memorized, focused and so proud to show their family and friends what they had been working on.

My adult class is my most challenging to prepare for. I feel so many of my students could teach the class themselves. What could I teach them that they don't already know? The funny thing is, what adults need most is reassurance. Confidence is a big issue. I try and make it a safe place they can come and try out new material for an audition. We work a lot on relaxation and are focusing on different approaches to the material so they can use what works best for them as an individual. Of course, scene work and improvisation is fun. I love to see what they come up with. I laugh a lot in this class. Schedules can be crazy, and sometimes our numbers are few, but, I fly with it and adjust where I need to.

I look forward to next semester. I mostly teach straight acting classes but next semester will be co-teaching a musical theater class. I helped out a lot with that class this semester and felt right in my comfort zone. I love musical theater. Anyway, I have learned so much and enjoy helping people discover their talents, their confidence and see the "theater bug" being caught all around me. It is hard to find a cure once you inherit the bug. ;-)