The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Kentucky native Steve Kazee has enjoyed modest success on and off Broadway since he discovered acting when he was a student at Morehead State University in the mid-1990s. His turns have included starring opposite Audra McDonald in Roundabout Theatre’s revival of 110 in the Shade and replacing Hank Azaria as Lancelot in Spamalot.
Sunday (March 18) will be the biggest night of Kazee’s career as he takes the stage of Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York as the lead in Once, a new musical based on the 2006 movie that boasted the Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly. The show tells the story of an Irish musician and Czech immigrant drawn into a complicated relationship by their mutual love of music. The film was adapted to the stage by playwright Enda Walsh and the original Once musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
The latest evidence of Kazee’s rising star is he was featured in Sunday’s New York Times Style magazine sporting polka dots – of course, very fashionable, stylish polka dots.
But you need look no further than Kazee’s Twitter account to see he is still in touch with his old Kentucky home. Following Sunday’s loss in the SEC Championship game, he tweeted: “I am actually happy UK lost. Need to get their damn heads out of their asses and play like the beasts they are. Number 1 ain’t s—.”
Here’s hoping Kazee has a great weekend in a variety of ways.
There are a number of aspects to arts criticism, but one of them is certainly consumer journalism.
After months of pushback by producers of the new Broadway production, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” Broadway critics decided this week to put to the consumer first and review the troubled show.
Traditionally, critics allow a show to go through several weeks of “preview” performances during which it is still being tweaked before an official opening night, when the show locks into a form it will assume for the duration of its run. But after three opening nights were declared and scrapped for the $65 million behemoth, critics decided enough was enough and have rendered opinions on the show.
And it ain’t pretty.
Recounting a mishap during the performance he saw on Feb. 7 (opening night No. 3), The New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote, “only when things go wrong in this production does it feel remotely right – if, by right, one means entertaining.”
The Washington Post’s Peter Marks wrote, “If you’re going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there’s a perverse distinction in being one of the worst.
“Mind you, I haven’t seen every stinker ever produced, so I can’t categorically confirm that ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ belongs in the dankest subbasement of the American musical theater. But its application certainly seems to be in order.”
And so it went from there. Some reviews were kinder, but uniformly they confirmed the buzz coming out of the Foxwoods Theatre and now-more-than-60 preview performances: “Spider-Man” is an artistic bomb.
So, what did the show’s spokesman, Rick Miramontez, do? Of course, he blamed the messengers.
“The PILE-ON by the critics was ridiculous and uncalled for,” he said in what was billed as an exclusive statement to Entertainment Weekly. “Their actions are unprecedented and UNCOOL!”
No, Rick, here’s what’s uncalled for: Artists as talented as Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge – whose work I have admired in the past – opening the doors on a show that is so-not-ready for prime time that you have had to call off three opening nights and will have gone through more than three months of previews before opening night, IF it opens March 15.
And, while we have you, Rick, here’s what’s uncool: Charging up to $300 for seats and well over $100 for all but the nosebleed seats for a show you admit is still a work in progress. Not to mention that many people holding tickets for recent and upcoming performances bought them believing they were getting tickets to a completed product.
Granted, no one forced them to buy tickets. But when you are charging that kind of freight, it’s pretty disingenuous that your only excuse for a lousy show is those meanie critics shouldn’t have reviewed it.
The critics were fulfilling their responsibility to their readers. I have to think that in the Internet age, Broadway critics have to be frustrated with the preview process in general as bloggers, tweeters and others weigh in on preview shows while they accommodate producers by sitting on the sidelines until the officials say its time – especially when the show has been the top grossing production on Broadway for weeks. (Whenever I tell people unfamiliar with Broadway about the preview process, where consumers are charged top dollar for tickets to a show that’s supposedly incomplete, they think it’s really weird.)
Good for them for finally declaring the charade had gone on long enough, and it was time for “Spider-Man” to get an assessment from the professional critics.
During my post-WEG vacation last week, much of which was spent on various home improvement projects, I fell in love with Q, a CBC Radio culture show that airs at 2 p.m. weekdays on WEKU-FM 88.9. Each show, host Jian Ghomeshi takes on a handful of topics from the worlds of film, recordings, stage, art, books and current affairs.
During a week of projects such as installing a new laminate floor in my living room, I heard guests from members of Gorillaz to Gloria Steinem to Rick Springfield – yes, another Aussie from the ’80s – and topics from the use of Facebook for spying to the new Broadway play about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
But the discussion that really caught my ear during the week was Is Ballet Over? It was a debate between New York-based ballet critic Jennifer Homans who wrote a New Republic article that posed that question and Karen Kain, director of the National Ballet of Canada. Homans’ position was that ballet has become a tired, self-referential form quickly losing its lustre, while Kain responded that she sees a vibrant environment for dance outside of ballet capitols like New York and Moscow, where tradition may hinder creativity.
It’s an interesting discussion I’d encourage you to listen to and then participate in, here. (Click here to listen. I couldn’t find an individual sound file for the debate, but if you click play on the Oct. 21 episode, you will start to hear the debate about five minutes into the episode.) Comment below and tell us what you think – I can think of a few people here in Lexington who should have strong emotions on this topic.
(Note: If you tried to comment a while ago – bet. 2 and 3 p.m. Oct. 25 – there was a problem I was not aware of, and it should be fixed now. Please try again. Thanks.)
- At CMT’s blog, Alison Bonaguro gives Laura Bell Bundy a lot of credit for doing her own singing while dancing her — off.
While there were many accolades and a lot of credit for clearly not lip syncing her performance of Giddy on Up - work a few more pauses into the choreography next time; girl’s gotta breathe - there were also many dissenting voices such as these:
- Looks like the Britney Spears of country music, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
- What that heck is a Laura Bell Bundy? She’s NOT Country. lol
- Just bc you say giddy up & wear chaps, doesn’t make you country!
- Do you ever wonder if Johnny Cash is turning in his grave when he hears Laura Bell Bundy?
Harsh. But therin lines the big challenge for our Lexington Broadway Baby-turned-Nashville Star: country credibility. Though it may not always seem like it looking at the country music landscape these days, this is a genre where “credibility” counts, and even if you dreamed of a country career since birth, coming straight to Nashville from New York City will make you a little suspect.
So will smashing the mold.
A big factor in the divisive reaction to Laura Bell was that her performance didn’t look like anything else on the ACMs, though it would have been right at home on the Grammys. (You have to imagine some of her new peers were watching thinking “I can’t do that.”) That was set into even starker contrast Sunday night because while Laura filled the stage with dancers and lights and sported a revealing cowgirl getup, female vocalist of the year Miranda Lambert and entertainer of the year Carrie Underwood both performed ballads in modest settings. A few tweeters were even lecturing Laura Bell that Miranda’s performance is how country is supposed to be done — like there’s only one way to perform country.
Of course, you don’t have to have “cred” to be a successful country artist. Shania Twain became one of the best-selling artists of all time though some country fans never accepted her. And Taylor Swift — despite leaving the ACMs empty handed — is still the star du jour, while taking a regular slagging from portions of the country crowd.
But Laura Bell can’t be happy having her performance reduced to Laura Bell Bundy channels Britney Spears.
While it probably took a song and production like Giddy on Up to get a country newcomer like Bundy a performing spot on the ACM’s, there are ways in which the song does her a disservice. It really is not representative of of the rest of her debut album, Achin’ and Shakin’, which is getting critical props for it’s old-school softer side. And the video and Sunday’s performance can come across as someone bringing her Broadway act to Nashville. Following her career the last 12 years, there have always been hints that a country career was something Laura Bell wanted to pursue, including her 2006 independent release, Longing for a Place Already Gone, which is rootsier country than anything you heard from anyone on the ACMs. But most of the people that tuned in the ACMs Sunday night are just getting to know her.
Now that Bundy has everyone’s attention, it’s time to start telling more of her story.
- Interesting P.S.: Laura Bell Bundy posted this on her Facebook fan page this evening: “And, now I understand why some artists choose to lip sing when they dance like crazy! Woo! I’ve finally caught my breath, and I gotta do it again tomorrow at 8 am! again thank you to the fans, I am OVERWHELMED by your support! xo”
- She is scheduled to be on Good Morning America at 8 a.m. April 20.
Feb1Filed under: Music, Uncategorized; Tagged as: Al Green, American Idiot, Black Eyed Peas, Broadway, Elton John, Grammy Awards, Green Day, Jeff Beck, Jutin Timberlake, Lady GaGa, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Les Paul, Loretta Lynn, Maxwell, Michael Jackson, Neil Portnow, Paul McCartney, Pink, Stevie Nicks, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band
In one way, the Grammy Awards clearly got it: People don’t tune into the Grammy Awards for awards. They want to see the performances. And in the last few years, they’ve made the show a must see with performances like the Jutin Timberlake-Rev. Al Green pairing and Sir Paul McCartney’s rave last year.
But this year, instead of letting magic happen, Grammy tried to make it happen. Usually, it didn’t.
The night started with Lady Gaga, one of the night’s most anticipated performers, appearing to give a theatrical, over-the-top performance of “Poker Face,” but it turned into a duet of “Your Song” with Elton John. How did so much outrageousness become so, eh?
And that called the tune for the night. Green Day’s exhilarating ”21 Guns” seemed to turn into “525,621 Guns” with the Broadway cast of “American Idiot.” Green Day and “Rent” — two great things that do not go great together.
Taylor Swift, one of the evening’s big winners, was grossly ill served by a duet with Stevie Nicks and medley of their songs.
The problems with this show were exemplified by the Michael Jackson tribute, a 3-D sing off of his “Earth Song” that did nothing to illustrate the King of Pop’s magic, which was shown several times on the Grammy Awards.
There were some bright spots, like Pink’s mesmerizing and acrobatic performance of “Glitter in the Air,” the return of Maxwell and Jeff Beck’s tone-perfect tribute to the late Les Paul. But there are a few things Grammy needs to do if it wants to maintain a reputation as most watchable awards show:
~ Not everyone needs to be paired with a older artist. Gaga and John was inspired, though poorly executed. But Nicks and Swift? Leon Russell and Zac Brown Band? No.
~ Enough with the medleys. Numerous times it was disappointing to hear acts like Black Eyed Peas get out only part of a hit. Pick one song, and play it.
~ Enough with the productions. BEP’s staging was impressive, but Grammy seemed to constantly be trying to wow us. Chill.
~ Three hours! Grammy pulled an Oscar, meandering through its last hour, including a nauseating lecture by Recording Academy president Neil Portnow. Tighten up and finish by 11.
~ Show a little respect to the lifetime achievers. Loretta Lynn got a total of 12-words on the show acknowledging her honor. Same for Leonard Cohen. Think of the great tributes that could have been put together in their honors.
~ Performers, leave your F-bombs backstage. The networks get fined if your R-rated words go out across the country, so they are not going to let them air. The result is a performance marred by silent hiccups, so we are not talking about how great you (Eminem and Lil Wayne) were. We’re talking about how weird all those yawning gaps of silence were while you were dropping your f-, s- and other assorted profane bombs. So bring your radio versions to the stage, because you ain’t gonna win this fight.
Grammy, most of your nominees made it there by being great performers. For a great show, let them perform, and stop getting in their ways.
So, if you’re a Central Kentucky Laura Bell Bundy fan who never got to New York to see her Tony-nominated turn as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde — The Musical, you have another chance, much closer to home.
Bundy is going to reprise the role when the national tour of Legally Blonde lands at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center June 23-28. Bundy will play Elle in all evening performances, stepping in for vacationing Becky Gulsvig. Bundy, a Lexington native and Lexington Catholic graduate, relocated to Nashville last year after leaving the Broadway production of Legally Blonde in July.
Bundy also reprised the role on tour earlier this year in Washington D.C. and East Lansing, Mich., when Gulsvig was out with an injury.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich