1776: Someone Had to Write It

1776

Sitting down to write a post today, I initially wanted to write something on musicals about the Presidents of the United States.* Then I started to realize that the pickings were slim. Anyone remember 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Didn’t think so. To anyone that might have saw one of its seven astounding performances, I am so sorry.

Then I cracked in my trusty copy of the film version of 1776 and I realized that I might as well write about that because I’m not doing anything else today until someone starts exploding things outside. That might make me sound not-so-patriotic, but it’s tradition.

For a little bit of background, 1776 first opened on Broadway on March 16, 1969 at the 46th Street (now Richard Rodgers) Theatre after tryouts in both Washington DC and New Haven. The original production was a success, managing 1,217 performances and landing the Tony Award for Best Musical, and has been heralded as having one of the best books of a musical ever. Hell, the show was so successful that it managed a movie deal, the rights selling for $1.2 million. And that’s in back then money!

So what made the show watchable? Because, let’s be honest, there have been some pretty awful musicals based on historical events. I’m looking at you Teddy and Alice. First of all, it didn’t hurt that the writing team behind the show was a near perfect match. Sherman Edwards, the composer and lyricist, had been wanting to work on a musical about the founding fathers since the 1950s. A writer of several rock and roll hits, Edwards left the mainstream music industry so that he could write 1776. Although the most criticized thing about the show seems to be the lyrics, they’re catchy and fun and the opening number “Sit Down, John” is a brilliant opening number. It sets up John Adams as the all out antihero about to duke it out against the other founding fathers.

That’s where book writer, Peter Stone, comes in. The men and (two) women in the show aren’t just new characters. These are characters that we’re all very much aware of. No matter that we didn’t pay attention in history class, we know who these people are. Stone and Edwards both take liberties with historical accuracy, but they do so in a way that it almost makes you think the members of Congress are not going to sign the Declaration of Independence. And then where would we be? Well, we’d still be here, but we’d be under different rule. Yes, John Adams was nicer than he’s shown in the musical and yes, there were a lot more members of Congress than the ones shown, but John “Dickface” Adams is more interesting and you’ve only got so much stage space.

The writers also managed to do something that most writers would think was crazy: They managed to realize that a musical does not need a song every five minutes. In fact, 1776 has a good 35 minute break between songs in the first act (if the particular production has an intermission, as it varies). The break was so long that during the original Broadway version, pit musicians would take a break during the time and go out to the bar in the lobby. Mmm, Broadway booze.

The original production was also not short on talent in its cast, which didn’t hurt it. William Daniels as John Adams, Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin, and Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson created a shockingly strong lead trio. Rounded out with people like Tony winner Ronald Holgate as Richard Henry Lee and newcomer Betty Buckley as Martha Jefferson and this show had one of the strongest casts on stage that season.

Thankfully, most of the original Broadway cast is now preserved on film. Major exchanges come on the form of Blythe Danner playing Martha Jefferson and John Collum (who replaced Clifford David in the Broadway production) as Edward Rutledge. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen Clifford David in the role, but no one’s “Molasses to Rum” gives me chills like John Collum’s. Fortunately, the movie provides a preservation of Howard Da Silva, who had a heart attack and was unable to record his part on the original Broadway cast recording.

Speaking of preservation, the original movie went through one rough area because of the feelings of a certain man named Richard Nixon. Nixon, after seeing a screening of the film, took offense to the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men”, which he deemed as an insult to conservatives. Well, it did show pre-Revolutionary conservatives in a bad light, but Nixon ordering the destruction of the original negative of the song seemed a bit much. Fortunately, the song was only cut from the theatrical release, but later restored. Take that, Nixon.

1776 had proven to be lasting theatrically, with regional theatres, community theatres, and some brave high schools all across the world taking it on. In 1997, it was revived on Broadway with the intention of a limited run. It then transferred to the Gershwin Theatre for a commercial run, playing 333 performances with a cast that included Brett Spiner, Pat Hingle, and Paul Michael Valley.

In no way is 1776 perfect. What it is, though, is a damn fine musical with interesting music, an amazing book, and an important story. And, really, when your main characters are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, that’s just awesome.

*Yeah. I know. It’s Independence Day in the US, and Presidents Day would have been more optimum for something like that. If the History Channel can talk about presidents all day, then so can I.

Advertisements

Top Ten Movies for Independence Day

It’s that time of year again everybody! Bust out your American flag track suit, a stack of roman candles, and head on out to the closest neighborhood BBQ you can find! Seriously, just walk in! You don’t have to know them, it’s America’s Birthday, damn it, they have to let you in! Or you can just watch a bunch of movies, such as these ten that I have conveniently compiled into a list. They’re not all necessarily movies about Independence day, but they’re all movies that’ll have you shoutin’ “America Fuck Yeah!” Well one of them definitely will anyway…

National Treasure (2004)

Say what you will about Nicolas Cage (he’s Bitchy Queen’s favorite actor, but we’ve come to realize not everyone holds the same amount of respect for him) this is a fun movie. Using the history and mystery of our great America as it’s main plot, it’s got lots of patriotic sights to see and a fair amount of action as well. All in all a fun ride!

1776 (1972)

I’ll admit, this movie isn’t too good. I’ve heard the original stage version is much better, but I’ve never seen it so I can’t compare the two, HOWEVER where else will you get to see Mr. Feeney singing and dancing as John Adams? I mean come on, for God’s sake John Sit Down!

 

Rocky IV (1985)

It’s hard to make a more patriotic movie than this: Rocky Balboa punches the entire Soviet Union in the face. What isn’t to like? In all seriousness, it’s a good film with Stallone at his best and will make a great 4th of July flick. He is draped in the American flag on the cover, after all.

 

Rambo II (1985)

I ain’t done with Stallone just yet! While the first Rambo isn’t exactly the best “Go USA” type of movie (what with the whole America’s poor treatment of veterans and everything) First Blood: Part II is as America as you can get! Shootin’ up Soviets and Vietnamese.

 

Team America: World Police (2004)

I don’t really think I need to say anything other than this:

JFK (1991)

This is more of a political scandal sort of flick, more than one celebrating patriotism but it does revolve around one of the biggest national tragedies: the assassination of JFK. Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Costner star in this controversial Oliver Stone flick, add in an amazing performance of Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald and you’ve got yourself one heckuva a crime drama.

Air Force One (1997)

Hey, speaking of Gary Oldman why not watch him and Harrison Ford duke it out in typical Soviet V. USA style? There ain’t nothin’ better than watching President Harrison Ford kicking some terrorist ass!

All the President’s Men (1976)

This film doesn’t exactly cover one of America’s, uh, finer moments but it is an interesting story about two Washington Post reporters uncovering the details of the Watergate scandal. With two amazing performances from Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, you don’t wanna miss this one.

A League of Their Own (1992)

You can’t go wrong with a movie all about America’s favorite pastime, and A League of Their Own is one of the finest baseball movies ever made. An amazing performance from Tom Hanks as the alcoholic manager Jimmy Dugan of an all female professional baseball team, The Peaches is reason enough to check this one out. But the rest of the performances in this movie are all fantastic, and is an all-around great story!

Independence Day (1996)

Well with a name like that it’d be hard to not finish off this list. For real though, Will Smith and the USA teaming up with the rest of the world to blow the crap out of some aliens. This is the one you’ll all be watching.

“A Tragedy of the Imagination”

I recently finished watching Rupert Goold’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and was blown away. The adaptation keeps the Scottish locations and names, but sets it in a bleak, gloomy environment that is essentially an old run-down hospital morgue, with Stalinist soviet-era costumes, weapons, and sensibilities. Amazing performances aside, simply the aesthetic that Goold created in this adaptation is enough to keep you drawn in completely. There is a constant air of menace and distress, every shot is dark, grimy, dirty, and the three witches (portrayed here as blood-soaked nurses) are frightening. Not to mention the blood. There is a lot of blood in this production, which is fitting since the word “blood” is spoken a good 50 or so times throughout the whole play.

The main hook of this production for me though was of course Patrick Stewart as the titular tragic Macbeth, a character full of unchecked ambition, and a desire for a new world (even at the cost of the old one). If you’re familiar with Macbeth then you’re aware that this unchecked ambition doesn’t go so well for Ol’ McB, as he is eventually beheaded by the Thane of Fife, Macduff. In the few productions of this play that I have seen, the director and actors make it clear that this final duel between the Macs is Macbeth’s final push for his ultimate goal; his fight against spiritual prophecy that has predetermined his failure. What makes this production different and exciting is the director’s ability to make it clear that it is not Macduff who ultimately brings Macbeth’s undoing, but rather Macbeth’s own readiness to be killed. It’s almost as if he’s given up, allowed his death to happen, he no longer cares for this world he has fought for, and I believe that the best way Patrick Stewart makes that choice apparent to the audience is in his “tomorrow” soliloquy.

Admittedly, this speech is in my top five favorite Shakespeare monologues. It completely encapsulates Macbeth’s nihilistic attitude towards life in about twelve lines.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Brilliant. And Patrick Stewart brings his own equally brilliant adaptation to this monologue. Just take a gander:

Upon hearing the news of his wife’s death, he hardly takes a pause and responds completely cold, not a single utterance of grief at the passing (by her own hand) of his wife. The speech carries on with Macbeth’s sudden realization that time, “tomorrow”, will forever spin forward; completely painful, and completely meaningless. The anguish on his face at the third “tomorrow” is heartbreaking, the way he looks down to his diseased wife on “all our yesterdays” and the disdain with which he says “out, out brief candle” show that he has completely given up.

Man, I can talk about this monologue for hours, but just go ahead and watch it. And then watch the whole production, it’s on Netflix so check it out, it’s pretty fantastic.

Happy Birthday Lindsay (Slow News Day)

July 2nd! The birthday of everybody’s beloved child-star turned crack-head, Ms. Lindsay Lohan! In honor of Bitchy Queens’ favorite actress, we’ve decided to give you all a glimpse of this phenomenal star’s transformation over the last 25 years (note, the music in this video is pretty ridiculous, like dramatic B-movie horror music).

Holy Bat-Ramadan!

Quick, what’s the most anticipated film this summer? What’s that? No, besides The Avengers. Hmm? No, not Magic Mike. That’s right, The Freaking Dark Knight Freaking Rises!

Starring Freaking Batman

Batman and movie fans alike will get to enjoy what is more than likely going to be the best movie made by humans, all over the globe July 20th. Batman and movie fans all over the globe, except the United Arab Emirates or other countries in that area, such as, oh I dunno, the country where I’m spending the majority of my summer. It won’t find release over here until nearly a month later, and the main reason for this being that July 20th falls on the first day of Ramadan, or the first month of Islamic fasting. Basically Ramadan is a time where practicing Muslims don’t eat or drink during the daylight hours, pray more often than usual, and is a time for them to show patience, sacrifice, and submissiveness to God. During this time, Muslims are expected to avoid any irreligious and obscene sights and sounds, so I suppose any sort of film that isn’t about God, or in this case The Freaking Dark Knight Freaking Rises. 

The main decision behind this delay comes out of Shooting Stars, the film’s regional distributor. The claim is that it is delayed “Out of respect for the UAE and Islamic customs during the Holy Month of Ramadan”. So around this time of year, the movie theaters are treated with all sorts of re-release goodies instead. Just take a look at a couple of these A-List titles:

  • The Big Wedding 
  • Recoil
  • Dancing Ninja 

I actually had to look Dancing Ninja up. Apparently it’s about “An orphaned boy who dreams of being a ninja that arrives in Hollywood to try and find his birth parents, where he gets mixed up in a crime.” Not sure when the dancing comes in. Also it’s got David Hasselhoff and some kid from Halloweentown High. 

“But wait!” you shout, “if you can’t watch films during Ramadan, why are the movie theaters even open? This sounds more like a ploy from the movie distribution companies to not lose money on a big, mega-hit blockbuster, more than out of respect for religious worship!” Well said! And it appears you wouldn’t be the only person to think that way, there is apparently a pretty big uproar from fans in the area that have started several online petitions to bring Batman to the UAE July 20th. While it’s great to see multi-cultural bat-heads rally together to bring this gem to movie screens at a reasonable time, I don’t have very high hopes. The distribution companies, much like the non-geeks of the world, have the same “get the hell over it, you’ll see it in a month” mentality. They just don’t understand the injustice of the issue! They don’t care that we’ll all more than likely know how the movie ends before we even get a chance to see it (stupid blogs!) So keep up the online petitions, let your voice be heard, just know that despite your best efforts you’ll more than likely be watching this:

As For Tomorrow, Well, Who knows?

Girdles, dancing girls, mascara, and a Jerry Herman score all combine to form the basis for the gay romp known as La Cage aux Folles.  Even with Harvey Fierstein currently leading the production as Albin, the current Broadway production is a little less gay than usual.  Jeffrey Tambor, who entered the production opposite Harvey Fierstein on February 15, has been released of his contract (playing Fierstein’s husband, Georges) with the show since February 24.

The producers of the show issues a statement that referenced the fact that Jeffrey Tambor had recently had a hip replacement, and that the strains of doing a show eight times a week was too much for him.  Now, as with any good press release, not everyone believed this.  A certain “reporter”/”critic”/thing for the New York Post reported that Tambor had been struggling with the score and was visibly uneasy when in front of a live audience.  He even gave this little gem of a quote about the struggling actor:

He’s hitting notes in some of Jerry Herman’s lovely ballads that aren’t found anywhere on the traditional Western scale.”

Nothing like kicking an actor when he’s down.

This brings up a point about the role of Georges, though.  In the 2005 Broadway Revival of La Cage aux Folles, there were severe rumors about severe tensions running in the cast.  Actor Daniel Davis (Of The Nanny fame) was in the role of Georges, while Gary Beach was playing Albin.  Supposedly there was a constant feud between the two, which eventually led to the dismissal of Mr. Davis.  He was later replaced by Robert Goulet (Of Goulet fame).

Goulet!

Not saying that the role is cursed, but even the original Georges on Broadway (Gene Barry) only had minimal television, movie, and theatre offers after his time in the show.  And he had an extensive career before going into it!

If this is any sign for the good things that happen for those that play Georges on Broadway, then Kelsey Grammer, who originated the role in the current production, should be keeping an eye out.  He married his newest wife on the stage of the Longacre Theatre, where La Cage aux Folles is currently playing, on February 25.

Goulet!

The Oscars Are Over! The Oscars Are Over!

Well there you have it folks, the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Wasn’t that just…something? The night was full of Hollywood’s sexiest stars and starlets, victories and disappointments, the awkward comedy styles of Anne Hathaway and James Franco (complete with lesbian jokes!), and uh Kirk Douglas. I didn’t expect James Franco and Anne Hathaway’s hosting to be anything less than it was – uncomfortable, although their opening bit where they traveled through all the best picture nominees was mildly entertaining, if only because of Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman.

Anne Hathaway sang a song in a tuxedo and James Franco came out in a dress, they tried being clever with “original songs” from some of the year’s films which were just auto-tuned conversations, and the show closed on fifth graders singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. If we learned anything this year at the Oscars it’s that Kirk Douglas needs to be the next host.

While the hosting was the lowest of the lows this year, there were a good number of highs as well such as the tribute Billy Crystal had for Bob Hope, the tribute to all the great men and women of the industry who passed away this year, and the set design for the stage this year was purty dang cool.

But enough about that crap, time for the winners!

Best Picture – The King’s Speech

Best Director – Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech

Best Actor – Colin Firth for The King’s Speech

Best Actress – Natalie Portman for Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale for The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress – Melissa Leo for The Fighter

  • Achievement in art direction- Alice in Wonderland Robert Stromberg and Karen o’hara. Production design and set decoration, respectively.
  • Achievement in cinematography-Inception, Wally Pfister
  • Animated short film-The Lost Thing. Shaun Tan, Andrew Ruhemann.
  • Animated feature film-Toy story 3
  • Adapted Screenplay- The Social Network
  • Original Screenplay- The King’s Speech
  • Foreign Language Film- In a Better World
  • Original Score- The Social Network
  • Excellence in Sound-Inception
  • Sound editing-Inception
  • Makeup-Wolfman
  • Costume Design-Alice in Wonderland
  • Documentary Short Subject –Strangers No More
  • Live Action Short Film-God of Love
  • Documentary Feature- Inside Job
  • Visual Effects-Inception
  • Film Editing- The Social Network
  • Best Original Song- Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together” Toy Story 3

Now if any of you who actually read this recall my last post about the Oscars you’ll see that I was only off on one of my predictions, and I couldn’t be any happier about it. I assumed The Social Network would win best picture judging only off of who well it performed at the Golden Globes, but was pleased to see it beat by The King’s Speech because, as I said earlier, I didn’t think it was that hot. I was also glad to see Inception do such a good job of cleaning up with a total of four wins and couldn’t have been any happier with Natalie Portman’s best actress win.

 

 

Hesher Trailer

 

Hesher stars Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Devon Brochu. It had it’s debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and will be released in theaters sometime in April. I think Jiggles fits well into the social outcast role (just watch Brick) and this definitely takes that type to the extreme. I’d keep an eye out for this one, it looks pretty danged interesting.

Holy Cast List Batman!

The Dark Knight Rises is the third and supposed final film in the Nolan-Batman saga, and while the cast list was announced quite some time ago theres still a couple mysteries surrounding who’s gonna be who.

I’ll start with what has been confirmed and what many of you probably know: Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman are all back reprising their roles from the previous films. But all that’s boring. The fun stuff here is that the villains are going to be Bane played by Tom Hardy and Selina Kyle (or Catwoman as you might know her) played by Anne Hathaway. I find it interesting that Nolan chose these two villains as he has generally picked the baddies that don’t have super powers, Ra’s Al Ghul being the only exception as in the comics he is immortal. However, even with that Nolan was able to manipulate it in a way so that Ra’s was no longer a single, immortal entity but rather a  title that is inherited with the passing of the former so that there will always be a Ra’s Al Ghul. Crafty Bastard.

Lil' somethin like dis

I’m not sure what Nolan-y twists are going to be present for Bane and Catwoman, although since Tom Hardy is going to take on the role as the venomed up behemoth I’d have to assume that they’re going to portray him closer to the comic incarnation, wherein he is extremely intelligent and devious, as opposed to the Batman & Robin mind-less, wrecking ball adaptation. He was also the first villain to severely cripple the Bat by breaking his spine…over his knee. That better be in there.

Adding Catwoman into the mix should bring a great dynamic as I’m sure Nolan is going to play with the love/hate relationship she and Batsie have. Serving as a both a new love interest and enemy should make for a compelling plot. Hopefully.

The most recent news surrounding the bat-flick is the involvement of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL, Jiggle, Jigglets, what have you) and the possible inclusion of Marion Cotillard. Deadline reports that Jiggle will be in the film when Nolan starts production, although it is still unsure who he will be playing. There are rumors circulating around that he’ll take on Alberto Falcone, son of the mob boss Carmine Falcone from Batman Begins, although there have been no confirmations one way or another. There’s even been talk about him being some sort of Robin figure, although I’m not sure that’s necessarily the road this film would go down. Regardless,  I love me some Jigglin’ so I don’t particularly care who he’ll be playing.

The involvement of Marion Cotillard is a little bit suspect still, but it was reported last week by the French newspaper Le Fiargo that she will be joining the cast. This has yet to be confirmed or denied but there’s already rumor spreading that she’ll be playing Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s mentioned above. If we accept both this and Jiggle playing Carmine’s son, that means a whole crap-load of familial ties to deal with and sift through during the plot, which in turn can only mean a Batman film leaning on the lengthy side. But really, does anybody have a problem with that?

Rumors, rumors, rumors. All I know is this cast is looking more and more like Inception by the minute. Now all we have to do is wait for an announcement about Leo signing on for Calendar Man. If only. If only…

I'm the King of the World!

Little Shop of… Stuff

The one thing missing on television these days is an animated television show based off of a hit 1980s off-Broadway musical about a man-eating plant.  But, hey, FOX already tried this in 1991 with Little Shop.  If you haven’t figured out what musical the show was based off of, it’s Little Shop of Horrors.  Yeah, that Little Shop of Horrors.  You know, the one with the man-eating plant.

But this incarnation was far different than the off-Broadway show, or even the subsequent 1986 Frank Oz film.  This version follows a Seymour Krelborn in Junior High, who works in a flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik.  Oh, yeah.  And Seymour happens to have a talking Venus Flytrap (this version complete with eyes) named Junior, that helps Seymour with whatever shenanigans he happens to get into each week.  The best part about the plant is that he was actually hatched from a 200 million year old plant that had just been laying dormant for a while.  Oh, yeah, and the plant raps.  He raps.

Audrey also makes an appearance in the series as Mr. Mushnik’s daughter.  For no apparent reason, she’s gone from a blonde to a brunette that’s constantly thinking about the different jobs that she wants when she grows up.   Thankfully for her, Orin does not appear in the series, but is instead replaced with Paine Driller, a local bully that… wears braces.  Har Dee Har Har Har.

Rounding out the cast of characters are a trio of singing flowers, reminiscent of the Urchins from the stage version.  They, along with the rest of the cast, managed to find time to sing various hip-hop styled songs each week.  Yeah, with the rapping plant.

Although the show is cute its own special way (kind of like when the cat knocks itself out by jumping at his own reflection in the mirror),  FOX pulled the plug after thirteen episodes.  It’s probably for the best, though.  I mean… rapping plant.