Earlier this month the American Repertory Theater (ART) started previews of Jagged Little Pill, a new musical directed by Diane Paulus featuring the music of Alanis Morissette and a book by Diablo Cody. Previews are essentially try-outs. Creators work on the show as the performances go along. Some things get cleaned up and expanded on, others get cut. The one thing we can almost be certain of is this: if the show makes it beyond Cambridge (on tour or to Broadway) it will be a different creature than it was in the beginning. And this is a good thing because I saw Jagged Little Pill during the first week and while there are some interesting moments, I think this show has a lot of transformations to go through.
Taking place in modern-day suburban Connecticut, Jagged Little Pill strives to prove the timelessness of Morissette’s music by creating a story very much in the middle of today’s social complexities and challenges. If you take some time to check out the internet buzz about this show, you’ll see the word “woke” bandied about a lot. And I suppose that’s what the show’s trying to show us…that it, in itself, is “woke.” But is it really? And for that matter, is the show any good?
On April 14th, we celebrated the joys of fandom with our second annual Fanfiction Theater. For me, it was extra-special, because it was the first time I got to experience it in person. It was everything I hoped it would be.
If you’re not familiar with the event, the concept behind Fanfiction Theater is simple. It’s a night to share the wonderful stories, poems, and songs that people create celebrating their favorite fandoms. Continue reading
Quick Note: Hey everyone! We ladies so enjoyed working together on our themed posts last month that we decided to choose a theme for this month as well. We’re taking a cue from Valentine’s Day and writing about love in all its splendid and sordid forms.
I suppose we should get into the Way-Back Machine this month to talk about where my corny romantic soul really discovered love for the first time – musicals.
In fear of aging myself, I can tell you that I remember when my father came home with a VCR for the first time. In his hands, two videos: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and the MGM classic musical Singin’ in the Rain. And now, over 30 years later, these remain two of my favorite movies. And you guessed it, they’re both musicals.
It isn’t surprising that a young Smalerie would lose her mind over a Disney movie – especially one that’s so darn pretty to look at. What is slightly more uncommon was that I would also become OBSESSED with musicals. I would watch whichever ones I could get my hands on, spending way too much time during my teen years trying to explain the difference between Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire’s dance styles, and begging my parents to gift me with Show of the Month Club tickets. Back in those days, my taste wasn’t as discerning as it is now and I’ve lost my taste for most Rogers and Hammerstein, but that doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t still swell when a character spontaneously breaks into song.
I often find it hard to explain to people why my love for this genre is so ingrained in my system. I think it has to do with how music is linked to our emotions. Things that can be hard to express in just words can now be done with music, movement or dance, and words. Feelings (good and bad) are exaggerated and heightened in a way that can often feel so much more genuine that we expect. Almost as if music helps distill them to their very essence. Sure, some musicals are simple and can feel trite or silly, but others can capture a culture or moment in time. Look, not every musical out there is any good, but if you’re open to perhaps making a new discovery, I’d be happy to point you in a toe-tapping kinda direction.
3 Musicals for People Who Might Not Like Musicals:
Little Shop of Horrors – I feel as if this musical is practically perfect in every way. It’s funny, dark, and filled with catchy tunes and clever lyrics. There’s also a lot to see in this show whether you just stick to the movie or see it live just because you want to see how they pull off the plant. This show is the reason why I loved Alan Menken and Howard Ashman before they left for the fluorescent lights of Disney. And I will always love Little Shop, original disaster ending or happy Hollywood one.
See also: Avenue Q, Bat Boy: The Musical, The Book of Mormon
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (TV Series) – A masterclass on the human condition, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is hilarious but often almost painful to watch due to its accuracy on how people treat others and themselves. I think what makes this show work is that it can often be easier to sing about your issues than actually confront them. Songs are used as internal monologues, highlight particular emotional arcs in the story, and can just be so honest and funny. People who don’t like musicals might enjoy watching this show just for how clever it is.
See also: Garfunkel and Oates (TV Show), Heathers: The Musical
Hedwig and the Angry Inch – A great rock show that’s funny, heartfelt, and heartbreaking. The film version is great, but this is one of those shows that I would love to see live at some point. The main character talks directly to the audience and in the right venue, that’s a great opportunity for the performance to feel personal and intimate. I can’t remember how I even heard about Hedwig originally, but I do remember being so charmed by the music.
See also: Tommy, Phantom of the Paradise, Rocky Horror (Picture) Show
On occasion, it’s appropriate to step back from raptor questions, book reviews, and opinions about movies and just talk about a random assortment of things we really love. All the odds and ends that don’t quite fit into a properly themed post, but are worthy of mention all the same. So here, in no particular order, are some things that are making me happy lately – maybe they’ll make you happy, too!
I’ve written a bit before about my love of running – it’s been a passion of mine for about a decade now. For years I focused my training on increasing my distance, but after running more than one marathon it was time for a new challenge, so I’ve been working on getting faster. There are many tools out there for tracking your progress, but Smashrun is the one I like the best. It syncs with whatever fitness tracker you use – I have a Garmin watch – so you don’t need a new piece of hardware or even to download an app. You just connect whatever you already use to the website, and it will import all of your data. Then you can look at what pace, cadence, mileage, and elevation you did for any particular run – but also over time. That information lets you know what conditions work best for you and what you need to do to get faster. It also rewards you with badges for certain distances or goals that accumulate from the date you sign up. They’re silly and fun but oddly satisfying to achieve – I recently accumulated the total miles from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia. Who knew?
Finally, it breaks down the calories burned for each run by telling you the equivalent in both a healthy and unhealthy food, which is a great, tangible way to really understand what you burned, since most folks overestimate. Last night’s track workout got me the equivalent of a bagel with cream cheese, not shabby!
I guess a lot of people get happiness from homemade bread, but my joy has been coming from baking it, rather than eating it. For the past two years I’ve baked a loaf or so every single week. It started as a way to use up a pound of yeast I’d ordered by mistake, but it’s become so much more. It does all of the things you’d expect – provides food for my family, and is a healthier alternative to commercial bread, which is full of chemicals and sugar – but it’s also been a rewarding personal project. Much like my running, baking has provided a routine that allows me to grow in skill, to get better at each week. The early efforts were still useful, but I can track how far I’ve come, and see how far I can still go. At the same time, unlike some of my other hobbies, the product has a short life span. We’re not accumulating more stuff with this project, and in fact have been able to reduce the amount of bread we buy. If you’re interested in trying your hand at bread, I recommend this English muffin recipe from King Arthur (my flour brand of choice.) It’s pretty easy, and so much better than Thomas’ that you’ll wonder why you never tried it before.
The tagline for their website is “A New Boogie for All Mankind” and I am here to tell you, darlings, that the hype is real. I first discovered this band through the tune-yards – Merrill Garbus performed backing vocals on “Little Queen of New Orleans” and shared the video on ye olde Facebook. I gave it a listen and was instantly smitten. I bought Hi Honey, the album it came from – the band’s third. This was quickly followed by the entire back catalog and waiting obsessively for the band to come to Boston, then dragging Mr. Menace to one of the most heartfelt live shows I’ve ever been to. This is old-fashioned rock and roll at its finest, complete with saucy lyrics and co-founder Adam Weiner’s forceful piano. The keys haven’t been played this hard since Jerry Lee Lewis, and the result is the perfect soundtrack for some summer fun. Grab the tunes and bring ’em to your next barbecue – you won’t be sorry.
I’ve written about the works of Patrick Ness before , and he’s gaining some recognition in the larger fantasy/sci-fi circles as the man behind the upcoming Doctor Who spinoff, Class. Since that show will be set at the Coal Hill School, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which revolves around a group of friends in their senior year of high school, is the perfect introduction if you’re curious about his work. Lighter in tone than A Monster Calls (the crying book) or his fantastic Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us still brings plenty of depth. It’s about the kids who aren’t the chosen ones, but who are surrounded by those who are. While the indie kids are battling vampires, zombies, and fairy queens, Mikey and his friends are just trying to survive the madness they bring, go to prom, graduate, and maybe get a date. I loved reading a story about what happens to everyone else while someone is saving the world, and I loved the little snippets of the chosen ones’ story that were the intro to each chapter. If you’ve ever had to find the extraordinary in being ordinary, you’ll get a kick out of this.
You may be wondering why I’m recommending the Instagram feed of a library located in Rochester, NY, a city 8 hours away from where I currently reside. And to be honest, if a very dear friend didn’t work there, I’d probably never have stumbled on this particular gem. But luckily for me and you, she does and I did and now I’m sharing the good fortune with you. This is a list of things that spark happiness and this feed has it in spades. Do you like our Fashion Raptor posts? Check out Henrietta’s whole Dinovember series (which we are totally doing this year.) Like a bit of whimsy? (and what are you doing here if you don’t?) Look for the photos of the Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, who swallows various resources around the library (cleverly letting you know that they exist.) The feed makes me happy with its content, which is funny and charming and sweet, but also because it’s such a stellar example of a library showcasing its relevance in the modern world. It’s also a great example of the power of social media when it’s done well – the folks behind it also run workshops for other libraries on how to use Instagram effectively. And they have a turtle named Cooper wearing a Batman balloon, which I think is pretty great.
So that’s what’s been bringing a smile to my face lately – what makes you all happy?
One of our faithful readers recently brought our attention to a massive list of Disney songs ranked from worst to best via our Facebook page. Guess which Lady with insomnia read the entire thing in one sitting and has opinions?
Before I dive into those opinions, let me make a few things clear. The sheer volume of Disney music means that just getting through such an undertaking is an accomplishment to be praised. Allison Shoemaker and Dominick Suzanne-Mayer have done an admirable job, even if I don’t agree with all of their choices. Lists on the Internet are just about the most subjective things out there. There is no scientific formula for determining if one Disney song is better than another. They’ve listed their opinions, many of which I think are spot on. This is (mostly) a list of the ones I don’t agree with.
Last year inspiration struck and I created A Parademon’s Christmas. This year, I am in the middle of moving, so my more creative juices and general energy are directed towards methods of self-preservation. Happily, one of those methods is the time-honored tradition of not thinking about an upcoming stressful event by distracting yourself with other things. And the distraction of my choice has been Christmas/Holiday music. My Pandora list is mighty, my Google Play collection knows no boundaries..and so I have decided to share with you a few of my more non-traditional favorites.