Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is the perfect title to describe the current state of the franchise that started with Michel Crichton's novel and Steven Spielberg's classic 1993 film. This fifth film in the series finds Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing  (Bryce Dallas Howard) going back to Isla Nublar to save the last remaining dinosaurs before the mother-of-all volcanoes sinks the island. Claire has formed a Dinosaur Protection Group, and after visiting Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the partner of Dr. Hammond, who created the original Jurassic Park, and his secretary Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), she seeks out former dinosaur wrangler Owen because she knows he can help her to save the last living Velociraptor, and because she still has a major crush on him. Dr. Lockwood tells her that the dinosaurs will be placed on another island where they can live peacefully without mankind. Meanwhile, Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is in Washington in front of a Senate committee, and in his best Cassandra mode, makes some gloomy pronouncements about how the dinosaurs need to perish in order to correct Dr. Hammond's mistake, and if not, how we will have to learn to co-exist with them. Mr. Goldblum, a stalwart in this series, and a performer one can always depend on when the script falls apart, ends up giving a performance so removed, that it feels like he phone it in.

Once in Isla Nublar we meet big White hunter Ken Wheatly (Ted Levine), and from the first shot of the man we know that he's going to be trouble (so much for character development!) It seems that both Claire and Owen have been duped. The animals are being rounded up so that they can be put up for auction to rogue states so that they can serve as military weapons. I wonder if a Velociraptor or a T-Rex can tell one army from the other? But who cares! The film becomes a creature feature inside Lockwood's old dark house when we find out that the stately state has a lab in the basement cloning new creatures, including an outrageous creation that even outdoes Indominus rex from the previous movie.

Despite the participation of a serious cast, including B.D. Wong reprising his role of genius geneticist Doctor Wu, and Geraldine Chaplin (her fourth film with Spanish director J.A. Bayona) as a nanny, the film ends up being nothing more than a bridge towards the next part of the franchise, which if you wait around after the movie's end credits, will tell you that the next chapter will be a glitzy update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World as dinosaurs run amok free all over the world.  I guess the new movie ought to be called "The New Kingdom." Or perhaps, it's time to end the series right now, since the premise has left the original park way behind.

Monday, June 25, 2018

PARSIFAL at the Bavarian State Opera

On June 28, the Bavarian State Opera unveils their new production of Richard Wagner's Parsifal. The production will be directed by Pierre Audi with sets and costumes by renown German artist George Baselitz. The stellar cast will feature Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, Nina Stemme as Kundry and René Pape as Gurnemantz. Kirill Petrenko will conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra.

The performance will be broadcast live in Germany by BR Klassik.  Watch the video above for a short preview of the production.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Romeo and Juliet at ABT

I never get tired of watching Kenneth MacMillan's brilliant choreography of Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The more I attend performances, the more I discover. This time I noticed that in the second act, the beggar who crosses the stage on crutches later on throws them away, and starts dancing freely much to the chagrin of the characters who just gave him alms. Also, the two little boys who stand on sentry at the entrance of the Capulet household come back in the second act, and sway to the music and wave to the dancers, but are ushered away when death comes to Verona's main square. It's little touches like these that makes this work so fascinating and utterly enjoyable.

Likewise, the more I listen to Prokofiev's brilliant, exciting score the more surprises come through.  I concentrated this time on the vast array of dissonances, and thought about just how dangerous it was to be a 20th century composer in Stalin's Soviet Russia. How, for example, Dmitri Shostakovitch, that other giant of Russian music, suffered for putting on paper what he heard in his mind's ear. How much did Prokofiev have to adjust his own modernist leanings in order to have his music approved by a repressive state? This work just might be my "desert-island ballet," although the jury is still out on that one, and I think it might just be out for a long time.

Yesterday afternoon American Ballet Theatre presented the ballet with two of the most charismatic and popular dancers in its roster: Daniil Simkin and Misty Copeland. Mr. Simkin is an exciting, highly technical dancer who offers a graceful interpretation of the title character, going from youthful lad to lover. Ms. Copeland, riding a wave of recent acclaim once becoming a principal dancer, presents us with a very likeable Juliet, but watching her early entrance, one never experiences the innocent, shy girl that the role demands. Instead her characterization emphasizes the passionate, take-charge woman that she ultimately becomes towards the end of the drama right from the start. Not exactly what is called for in a Juliet, however her charm and technical proficiency carry her through.

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most satisfying works in ABT's roster, not to be missed by anyone who values great theater and beautiful ballet. The perfect marriage of amazing music and inspired movement.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Robert De Niro's F-bomb at the Tony Awards

Robert De Niro hurled the F-bomb last night at the Tony Awards towards Donald Trump.  CBS, which broadcasted the show live, scrambled to censor the speech.  Above is the uncensored clip from England's The Guardian.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Band's Visit on Broadway

The Band's Visit is the musical on everybody's lips as the Tony Awards approaches. At the ceremony tonight, this little gem of a show is sure to take away many of the 10 Tonys for which it is nominated.  It is a musical that takes us back to a time before jukebox creations, and shows with numbers that try to top each other. But more importantly, it is a show about real people caught in real-life situations that many musical comedies do not attempt. Yes, the show is undoubtedly a comedy, much in the way that Anton Chekhov's stage works can be labeled comedies. It is about the ebb and flow of life, at times uproarious, at times sad and brooding, but always looking for the bright side, the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will.

Adapted from a film by the same name, the book by Itamar Moses and the music and lyrics by David Yazbek tell the story of how an Egyptian military musical band makes a wrong turn on their way to a concert, and end up in a backwater Israeli town in 1996. Strangers in a strange land, especially in their dapper blue uniforms which makes them look like the forgotten section of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.  With songs that barely rise above a whisper, but which enter and stay in our collective mind, the meeting of Arabs and Jews, seemingly mortal enemies, their political and language differences melt away thanks to the music that the band brings: a mixture of Egyptian classical tunes and the jazz legacy of Chet Baker. Mr. Yazbek has written songs for grownups: Of course, when it comes to today's Broadway, Mr. Yazbek is truly a stranger in a strange land, and for this singular accomplishment he will be honored with the Tony at tonight's ceremony. I can assure you of that.

Katrina Lenk, in a star-making performance, steals the show.  As Dina, a young woman who has seen too much of life, and has settled in "Nowheresville," commands the stage with her presence and her beautiful, powerful voice. Likewise, Dariush Kashani, as Tewfiq, (a part originated by Tony Shalhoub, and a role for which he is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical) the leader of the band, creates a three-dimensional character, a serious man full of dignity, and pride in his musicians, but also carrying a deep-seated pain at the death of his wife and only son. The rest of the cast is wonderful, especially John Cariani, who I have enjoyed in the recent Something Rotten, and the latest revival of Fiddler on the Roof.

The Band's Visit is a not-to-be-missed show. The kind of musical that Broadway talent should be aiming to create all the time. Believe me, audiences want to be moved by shows that touch the mind as well as the heart.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)

Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) He had a knack for entering the kitchens of far-away countries, and making us feel as if we knew that distant place inside out.

His trips to Spain were some of his best shows. His journey to Granada to visit an ex cameraman who had become an ex-pat in Andalucía was a culinary journey into the heart of Southern Spain. His farewell trip to Ferran Adrià's El Bulli, where he actually was allowed to become a temporary cook, brought Tony back to the kitchen: his roots.

His sudden, tragic death, following the suicide of Kate Spade the same week, is disconcerting, hinting perhaps at a national malaise during these politically nebulous times.

Monday, June 04, 2018

La Bayadère at ABT

La Bayadère, with the glorious music of Ludwig Minkus and the choreography of Marius Petipa is perhaps the greatest exponent of pure Orientalism in ballet that sprung in Imperial Russia in the late nineteenth century. The artistic movement, which also includes Rimsky-Korsakov's 1888 Sheherazade, eventually led to the 20th century and Igor Stravinsky's 1913 Le Sacre du Printemps. Petipa's classical choreography morphed into Vaslav Nijinsky's examination of angular body movements to illustrate the primeval qualities of Stravinsky's music. Orientalism became Primitivism: the perfect prelude for the savagery of the Russian Revolution and the disposal of the Imperial dynasty that supported the work of classical ballet and the Great War.  But back in 1877, when La Bayadère was first performed by the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg no one suspected that Orientalism was a hidden metaphor for a society that would soon be gone with the wind.

American Ballet Theatre's version of this classic follows Petipa's choreography closely.  On Saturday night, the cast featured Isabella Boylston as the dancer Nikiya, and Jeffrey Cirio was the warrior Solor. They offered technically excellent performances. Ms. Boylston is a careful dancer, and at times this gets in the way of her performance. If she would only let herself go she would achieve the kind of heights that would propel her to another level. Mr. Cirio is a more "go for the gold" performer, and he proved it Saturday night with a gutsy approach that excited many in the audience. Likewise Misty Copeland, in the smaller role of Gamzatti, proved that she is the real deal, if at times her dancing lacks a certain elegance that some in the audience demand. Joseph Gorak, as the Bronze Idol, stole the show with his bravura solo dance and showy body makeup. Hard to dislike an idol that comes to life, and whose blingy bouncy body catches the glow of the spotlight.