Monthly Archives: December 2013

Wilder Thing: Our Suburb, reviewed.

OUR-SUBURB-photo-by-Stan-Barouh

Some kind of technical problem prevented a chunk of this week’s Washington City Paper from being posted online. My review of Darrah Cloud’s play Our Suburb at Theater J was among that chunk, so I’m posting the full text of the review here.

Writer Darrah Cloud’s Internet Movie Database page indicates she was once a prolific imagineer of made-for-TV movies: A Christmas Romance, A Holiday for Love, A Holiday Romance, The Sons of Mistletoe, and — shades of intrigue! — Undercover Christmas. I haven’t seen those films, but the titles imply the sort of cornball mawkishness that some people — specifically, people who are very wrong — associate with Thornton Wilder’s oft-revived, Pulitzer-winning 1938 play, Our Town.

Our Suburb is Cloud’s riff on Wilder’s classic in the way that Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird was a reworking of Anton Chekhov’The Seagull, only she isn’t debating her source material the way Posner’s thrilling play did. She’s moved the action — well, “action;” she’s kept Wilder’s sense of life as a sequence of mostly prosaic moments that we are tragically incapable of appreciating   —  from the fictitious hamlet of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire in the early years of the 20th century to her native Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, about 75 years later. There we follow three households, alike in rigorously striving dignity: The white Majors, and black Minors, and the Jewish Edelmans.

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I loves you, Porgy & Bess. Or The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess. Whatever.

Alicia Hall Moran & Nathaniel Stampley as Bess and Porgy in "The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess."

Alicia Hall Moran & Nathaniel Stampley and Bess and Porgy in “The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess.”

Yes, it’s clearly an insult to DuBose Heyward, who wrote the novel Porgy, and to his wife Dorothy Heyward, with whom he collaborated on the script for a play derived from the novel, that the latest (2011) Broadway version is called The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess, as if the Heywards had nothing to do with the creation of an American classic. But I was still moved past the point of articulate expression by the show when its touring version stopped in Washington Christmas week, as my tongue-tied Washington City Paper review demonstrates.

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Let’s Do the Numbers! Talkin’ Yuletunes on Marketplace

My face betrays the intense concentration required to form sentences in real time.

My face betrays the intense concentration required to form sentences in real time.

I’m not allowed to post the video of my Dec. 10 appearance on CNN‘s The Lead with Jake Tapper, (here’s its blog accompaniment) and I don’t have a photo from my appearance on Marketplace yesterday. So here’s a screen cap from the CNN bit and a link to the Marketplace segment, wherein host Kai Ryssdal asks me a question for which I am completely unprepared.

Is there hope for a new classic Christmas song? | Marketplace.org. Continue reading

Our Pottymouthed Year: 2013 on the DC Stage, Assessed.

Drew Cortese and Quentin Maré in Studio's "The Motherfucker with the Hat," a 2013 highlight. (Teddy Wolff)

Drew Cortese and Quentin Maré in Studio’s “The Motherfucker with the Hat,” a 2013 highlight. (Teddy Wolff)

We’re wrapping up a highly rewarding and admirably trend-resistant year on DC’s stages, as I aver in this week’s Washington City Paper.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: More Hobbits and Christmas Music

In "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor gets militarized.

In “Terminator 2,” onetime victim Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) gets militarized.

Thanks to Pop Culture Happy Hour full-timers Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and host Linda Holmes for inviting me back on the podcast this week to talk about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and a subject closer to my heart than that one, Christmas music. Have I mentioned that I’m very interested in Christmas music?

Our dissection of that enervating Hobbit movie feeds into a discussion of second installments, and some of the ones that really work. If you haven’t seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a while, there’s no time like the present, Christmas T-minus five. Continue reading

Talkin’ Yulejams on Word of Mouth

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Thanks to Virgina Prescott and Word of Mouth for having me back on yesterday to talk about the dearth of new Christmas songs and make a few recommendations of less-familiar old ones. They were awfully nice about it when the battery in the borrowed phone I was using died mid-interview.

You can listen to the segment here.

Mourning Edition: Edgar and Annabel, reviewed.

Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Emily Kester. (Igor Dmitry)

Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Emily Kester. (Igor Dmitry)

The short version of my Washington City Paper review of Sam Holcroft‘s Edgar and Annabel, now getting its U.S. premiere in a Studio Theatre production directed by the great actor Holly Twyford, is that you have to see it. It synthesizes about a half dozen well-chosen curated cinematic influences while remaining resolutely its own thing.

Talking Christmas Songs on HuffPost Live

Klimek on HuffPost Live 2013-12-17The impromptu talking tour that has grown, to my surprise, out of my Slate piece from last week asking why it’s been a generation since we admitted any new songs to the Christmas pop canon, marches on.  I was on HuffPost Live earlier today for about 20 minutes, part of a webcam panel hosted by Nancy Redd that included Huffington Post social media fellow Ryan Kristobak and — this was exciting — Walter Afanasieff, the man who co-wrote “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with Mariah Carey.

The video doesn’t seem to be embeddable, but you can watch the segment here. You’ll see my head bobbing around distractingly — useful in boxing, less so in on-camera interviews. You’ll also get a nice look at my girlfriend’s mom’s spoon collection in the background. Continue reading

Concerning the Death of Ray Price

"Well, if I’m going to go out, I’ll go out singing." Ray Price, 1926-2013.

“Well, if I’m going to go out, I’ll go out singing.” Ray Price, 1926-2013.

I was waiting to board a plane at Reagan National Airport this morning, operating on about two hours’ sleep, when the Washington Post‘s J. Freedom du Lac, who used to assign me music reviews back when he was the paper’s pop music critic, Tweeted me the WashPo’s obit of country legend Ray Price.

Price’s death had been falsely reported by his son over the weekend, but as I read Terence McArdle‘s thoughtful summing up of Price’s extraordinary life, it quickly became clear he really had left us this time.

I’m quoted briefly in the story, from my review of a 2007 concert that featured Price, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard, touring together as The Last of the Breed. It was a great show. I brought my dad along as my plus-one. “I’m 81 and I ain’t quit yet!” Price told us on that evening six years ago. Continue reading

Presenting my 2013 yulemix, Children, Go Where I Send Thee!

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Annotated track list TK, but like James Brown says early in the set, Don’t Be Hungry — the latest and longest installment in my Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable series is live for your hall-decking pleasure now right here.

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Sounds of the 60s: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, reviewed.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Bethany Anne Lind, Tess Malis Kincaid, and Tom Key in Arena's "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner." (Teresa Wood)

Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Bethany Anne Lind, Tess Malis Kincaid, and Tom Key in Arena’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” (Teresa Wood)

If you don’t know what to get your playgoing (or at least not-theatre-averse) parents for Christmas, and you can afford the freight, Arena Stage’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner-starring Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum are both good revivals of 1960s items that they’re likely to enjoy.

I liked them, too. But then, I’m big on the music, movies, and TV of the 60s. I review both in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

Musical Advent Calendar: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1969

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The soundtrack album for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the once-reviled 1969 James Bond film that’s enjoyed a critical reappraisal among fans in recent decades, isn’t a Christmas record, true. But the film, which starred George Lazenby — a handsome and hardy but unengaging Australian model with no prior acting experience — in his single appearance as 007, is set at Christmas.

Its soundtrack features some of the best music in the entire 50-year franchise. You’ve got John Barry’s kinetic opening title theme (reprised in Brad Bird‘s The Incredibles, among other places). You’ve got its elegiac love theme, “We Have All the Time in the World,” with lyrics by Hal David, beautifully sung by Louis Armstrong.

And as I discovered only weeks ago, you’ve also got Nina‘s (whose?) “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?”

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Last Christmas? Wherein I Wonder Where the New Christmas Songs At

Remember Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron‘s brilliant dystopian sci-fi movie about a worldwide pandemic of absolute infertility, wherein the youngest person on Earth is 19 years old?

Well, the youngest Christmas song to be promoted the rarefied rank of a standard — Mariah Carey‘s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — turns 19 this year. If you think Hollywood has a remake problem, take a look at the holiday charts on Billboard or iTunes. Our pop stars still write new Christmas songs, but we’re not embracing them.

In a new essay for Slate, I scratch my chin over when and how the secular seasonal songbook, a living document until a couple a decades ago, came to be locked down tighter than Santa’s workshop.

Musical Advent Calendar: Children, Go Where I Send Thee! Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable Hard Eight: The Desolation of Nog, 2013

Children,-Go-Where-I-Send-Thee!-cover

We’re going in a radically different direction with today’s Musical Advent Calendar selection, debuting the cover of a Christmas record yet to come.

That would be the eighth in my unstoppable series of holiday mixtapesChildren, Go Where I Send Thee! Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable Hard Eight: The Desolation of Nog. My only goal was to staunch the 2009-2012 trend of these things getting longer each year — last year’s installment weighed in at a truly obnoxious 130 minutes, only two minutes shorter than the classic holiday movie Die Hard. Which is not to say I wasn’t proud of the goddamned thing. I was.

Anyway, that grand ambition of brevity flowered only, uh, briefly. When it drops in a week or so, my new yulemix will be another feature-length epic to comfort and amuse you through your car trips, your long layovers, and your interminable sleepless nights of loathing and regret. I think you’ll really dig it. Merry Christmas!

Musical Advent Calendar: Christmas with McGriff, 1964

Christmas with Jimmy McGriff front

“Featuring the fantastic organ artistry of Jimmy McGriff“!

Mr. McGriff, whose career spanned another 46 years after he played on Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman” in 1961, died in 2008. I regret that I did not pay tribute to him on that year’s collection, Santa Claus and Popcorn.

Musical Advent Calendar: Christmas with Buck Owens and his Buckaroos, 1965

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My best find this year. The songs more than live up to the sleeve’s considerable promise. How had I never heard this, or even heard of this, before? You mofos been holding out on me.

I’ll be fighting the temptation to over-represent it on the yulemix. Better to ration out its treasures over the coming years. I’m playing the long game, yulemixwise.

I Came Here to Chew Bubblegum and Review 1988’s They Live for The Village Voice

In "They Live," special Wayfarers reveal the subtext of the industrialized world.

In “They Live,” special Wayfarers reveal the subtext of the industrialized world.

It’s just a capsule review, but any excuse to revisit this terrific low-budget, high-concept sci-fi flick is a good one. I prefer this over more beloved John Carpenter flicks like The Thing and Escape from New York.

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Musical Advent Calendar: The Don Ho Christmas Album, 1967

Don-Ho-Christmas-CD

December 4th. And I’ve barely begun my yulemix. But I’m only three days late starting the Yuletunes Advent Calendar, wherein I will post one classic album cover each day until Christmas.

This one was part of my big Black Friday splurge, which came to just over $14. I got it in a dollar bin, for 15 percent off. There is a star to the east of Ho’s face, yes. I wanted to show you the actual CD I got so you can see that it apparently once belonged to a cat named Bob Burger. C’mon, that’s a little bit funny.

Anyway, can’t talk. Yulemixin’.

Slow Growth: If/Then, reviewed for Architect

If _ Then

In 2009 I attended a lecture by Jack Viertel, a theatre-critic-turned-producer, elucidating the structure of Broadway musicals. Actually, “lecture” doesn’t really reflect what an intimate affair this was. It was more like a musical-appreciation lesson, held in the home of Sasha Anawalt as part of the NEA Institute fellowship for arts journalists writing about theatre that she oversaw. Anyway, Viertel broke down the way these shows work the way screenwriting guru Robert McKee deconstructs commercial movies. He even had musical theatre performers on hand to sing samples of each type of song he described as he detailed its emotional and/or narrative function within the show.

I’d seen only a handful of musicals at that time. I was fascinated to learn what a complicated and tradition-encumbered form it is, and how many different moving parts must to cohere just so to make something that, done right, looks and sounds effortless.

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