Billboard: ‘Grease: Live!’ Freshens a Favorite With Mix of Old and New

Originally published in Billboard.

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Kether Donohue, Julianne Hough, Carly Rae Jepsen and Elle McLemore during the dress rehearsal for “Grease: Live!” airing live on Jan. 31, 2016 on FOX. MICHAEL BECKER/FOX

 

Fox made a bold step into the live television musical arena tonight with Grease: Live!, a technically ambitious production that upped the ante set by NBC’s recent shows by adding multiple soundstages, exterior shots, and a live audience.

Unlike NBC productions including The WizGrease: Live! was based primarily on the 1978 film version of Grease, with story structure, sets, and even a significant portion of the script coming from Bronte Woodard’s screenplay (based on Allan Carr’s adaptation) rather than Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey’s script to the 1972 Broadway musical on which it was based.   Continue reading

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Keshet: Hineini: 10 Years of Coming Out in Jewish Spaces

Originally published on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

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A dozen or so years ago, I was working as an educator at a large Conservative synagogue in the suburbs of Boston. Gay marriage was on the verge of legalization – and therefore on the front page of the newspaper every day.

The Conservative movement had not yet revised its decades-old opinions of sexuality, which could be summed up as, “We don’t hate you, but we’re going to leave it up to individual synagogues as to whether we treat you like members or allow you to do anything.” And despite being one of two openly gay educators at this synagogue, I found myself inching back into the closet at work due to an environment that made it clear that while it might be okay to be gay on my own time, no one wanted to hear about it on the clock.  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Oriented: New Documentary about Gay Palestinians in Tel Aviv

Originally published on Jewschool.


“[Other Palestinian activists] tend to deal with the national issue rather than the social one. They focus on the national and put all other identities aside. But we have a lot of complex identities. There are a lot of issues that people are afraid to confront, and this is our opportunity to play with these identities.” – Fadi Deem

Oriented, a new documentary by Jake Witzenfeld, follows a group of gay Palestinian men as they fall in and out of love, come out to their families, and form an activist collective called Qambuta. Witzenfeld, a British, straight, Jewish resident of Israel, first introduces us to Khader Abu Seif, a handsome and charismatic activist speaking to a group of Jews at Tel Aviv’s LGBT Center. He relates a story of being contacted by a journalist looking for a tragic gay Palestinian who can share the tale of his persecution and woe. Khader explains that he’s actually very happy, well-adjusted, and accepted. Well then, the reporter asks him, can you put me in touch with such a Palestinian? Continue reading

Medium: Blood, Sex, and Tears – The Queer Theater of Little Shop of Horrors

Originally published on Medium.

I found myself with an unexpected case of “the feels” last night at Little Shop of Horrors at Encores! Off-Center, so I sat down to word-vomit a bit on Tumblr to see if I could make some sense of the show. I received an enthusiastic response, so I thought I would clean my words up a bit and share them here.

Ellen Green and Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors. Photo: Joan Marcus

Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors. Photo: Joan Marcus

Little Shop feels like a show I’ve known my entire life, but I know that’s not true, because I remember that my first encounter with the show, which like most people my age and younger, was an encounter with the movie. The film premiered in December of 1986, when I was almost nine years old. I loved monster movies but was scared of horror movies, so I think I skipped this one in the cinema until someone could assure me it wasn’t gory. I know my older brother had seen the stage production and loved it — although that might have been later. Memory is funny. I remember him telling me about the end, where vines from the plant descended from the rafters over the entire audience, and I was enrapt with the magic of theater, even though it was only theater of my imagination. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Life of an Actress: The Musical – Soundtrack

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

lifeofanactressIt’s always a little suspicious when a film’s soundtrack gets a wider release or more notice than the film itself. Suffice it to say, I had never heard of the 2014 film Life of an Actress when I received my review copy of the soundtrack. Normally, between that the even more glaring red flag of a film that was written, composed, directed, and produced by the same person — Paul Chau, a former banker whose only previous artistic credits of note were a previous documentary film of the same name and producer billing on a couple of revivals — I wouldn’t even bother. But with a cast including Orfeh, Taylor Louderman, and Allison Case, I figured it was worth giving the album the benefit of the doubt.

How much you’ll enjoy this soundtrack depends entirely on how much you’re able to let some great performances carry you past other shortcomings: pleasant but undistinguished music set with leaden lyrics (sample: “I want to be an accountant / that’s my dream / the first in my family / with a college degree”), and a four piece, synthesizer-heavy band that would sound cheap in a tiny off-Broadway setting. (The band is particularly egregious given how far forward in the mix it is, with its single violin often overpowering the singers.)

Maybe this is the kind of album that coheres a bit more once you’ve seen the film, but I can find no trace of it existing beyond single screenings in New York and Los Angeles last year. The project’s website speaks of an in-development stage version, and you’ve got to admire Paul Chau’s pluck, if not his talent.

JewishBoston.com: Filmmaker Joseph Dorman champions Sholem Aleichem for a New Generation

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2011-08-25It’s hard to imagine an American Jew who isn’t at least passingly familiar with the character of Tevye the Dairyman thanks to the overwhelming success of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. But I suspect that most people who can belt out “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” or danced to “Sunrise, Sunset” at their wedding couldn’t identify the man who created those characters, and even fewer have actually read his original stories.

Filmmaker Joseph Dorman has set out to remedy this with his new film Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, which has its Boston-are premiere this weekend at the Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline. Dorman himself will be present at Sunday’s 2:30 pm screening to answer some post-show questions from the audience, but we grabbed him for a few questions in advance.

JEWISHBOSTON.COM: Your affection for Sholem Aleichem’s work definitely comes through in the film, but I’m curious beyond wanting to share that love… Why Sholem Aleichem, and why now?

JOSEPH DORMAN: Maybe the best way to answer this is by saying, why not sooner? Sholem Aleichem was a brilliant writer and a man who, perhaps more than anyone, has described the crisis of modern Jewish identity. Modern Jewish history — the immigration of Jews to America, Israel and other parts of the world, the destruction of Eastern European Jewry and with it the Yiddish language as a Jewish vernacular (except for the Chasidim) have all conspired to bury this quintessential explorer of the Jewish soul. I knew nothing of Sholem Aleichem until my friend Jeffrey Shandler, who is a Professor of Yiddish literature, suggested the idea of a film. Once I began reading Sholem Aleichem’s stories, I realized how woefully inadequate our knowledge of this master’s work and world is. And yet his stories, though written some one hundred years ago are startlingly relevant — and not just for Jews. The journey from the traditional world to the modern one is a universal experience and one we continue to feel the effects of even today.   Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: You Must Love Me

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Don’t freak out, this isn’t a post about my love life. At least, not my romantic life. This is about my first love: musicals.

Within my general obsession with musical theater, there are a few areas I find particularly interesting, all of which can be grouped under the rubric of transformations. I am fascinated with the way stories are told and retold, and few storytelling arenas are as obsessed with retelling as musical theater.

I love to read/watch the books, plays, and movies that musicals were based on to see how the composers, lyricists, bookwriters, directors et al applied their craft. For example, my already huge admiration for Oscar Hammerstein II grew exponentially after reading Edna Ferber’s original novel Show Boat. The way that Hammerstein transformed the central metaphor of the book — Magnolia’s relationship with the Mississippi River — into the central metaphor of the show — Magnolia’s relationship with the musical stage — is genius.  Continue reading