Thursday, April 29, 2010

Betty White takes on SNL; Glee takes on Auto-Tune.

Betty White on SNL

If anyone doesn't believe that May 8th episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Betty White is going to be the best episode in at least a year... you obviously haven't been watching SNL much this past year. :)  "Thanks to the Internet," or at least the 500,000 Facebook users who rallied around the "Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!" group, she will finally take the stage in Studio 8H for the one hosting gig she's never been asked to do before.  As far as I'm concerned, it's been way too long.


OK, I often become very unpopular (not to mention surprising a lot of people) when I criticize the FOX hit show Glee.  Being the music and musicals fan that I am, people expect me to be a die-hard fan, like seemingly half of the world is these days.  Truth be told, I think the music is generally good, catchy, and entertaining.  I just can't stand the stereotypical high-school situation comedy-drama storylines that they use to string it all together.  Not my genre of television.  (Not to mention, I don't think I've had any FOX series on my DVR list in years.)

But that should be irrelevant compared to the music.  Thanks to Pandora, I've had occasion to hear a large chunk of the various Glee soundtracks, and for the most part I am impressed with the catchy tunes.  Then something rubs me the wrong way... the rampant abuse of Auto-Tune, the late-90's software invention for computer-aided pitch correction.  The result is to music what airbrushing is to glamorous magazine cover:  obvious imperfection obviously over-corrected.

Joal Ryan of E! Online captures my sentiments almost exactly in his blog (if you read the comments, he gets much the same reaction from indifferent Glee fans as I do):
"For every too-brief moment of Lea Michele sounding raw—and lovely—on a "What a Girl Wants," or Monteith singing a perfectly credible REO Speedwagon in the shower, there's Michele and Monteith sounding like 1990s-era Cher on "No Air," or Monteith sounding like the Monteith XRZ-200 on the out-of-the-shower version of "Can't Fight This Feeling.""
As he mentions, one of the absolute most PAINFUL examples of the auto-tune is "Can't Fight This Feeling".  [Note especially the trailing ends of phrases, as that tends to be the most difficult part for any singer to keep in tune and thus gets the most pitch correction.]

Ugh!  If parts of this don't remind you of Cher's 1998 hit "Believe", you either need your ears cleaned out, or you're in denial.  Now don't get me wrong, these are obviously talented singers.  But as with most singers, they are imperfect.  I don't object to imperfection... I cringe at the use of auto-tune to try to correct it.  LET the songs stand on their own!  The show is about a group of talented high-school students in a glee club... NOBODY would expect perfection out of that, as amazing as they might be.  Stop the madness.

Monday, April 26, 2010

On the Town

It's a very busy season in the Seattle theatre scene.  Of particular note right now is the Seattle Celebrates Bernstein Festival, which includes the current run of On the Town at the 5th Avenue Theatre.  

On the Town, from the golden age of American musical theatre, hit Broadway in 1944 during the height of World War II, is a humorous look at three wartime Navy sailors spending 24-hours on shore leave in New York City.  But really, that's just a simple plot to string the music and comedy together.  Perhaps that's too critical of the plot, however, because oddly I wasn't disappointed.  The plot was more than sufficient to provide a solid canvas for the fantastic Leonard Bernstein musical score and Jerome Robbins choreography.  

In fact, On the Town was Bernstein's very first musical theatre composition, a full decade before his most popular musical score for West Side Story.  But you can already see the Bernstein and Robbins touch coming together in On the Town.  

The music was understandably fantastic, and well-performed.  The dance, while lacking at times, was adequate, though I could do without the classic 8-minute dance numbers that seem to go on forever.   

But really where this show shines is the script.  It's rare to see so many non-stop laughs in a Broadway musical.  No doubt owing to the time in which it was written, people needed something to laugh about.  And this musical gave it to them in abundance.  

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town.  

And as for my rating:

Script:  4 stars - Plot was simple, yet effective.  With enough comedy to make anyone enjoy it.
Music:  4 stars - It's no West Side Story, and only a couple of songs could I really find myself singing spontaneously.  
Cast:  4 stars - The three leads were fantastic, with an even more outstanding chorus.  Dance choreography wasn't quite up to the perfection you'd expect from a top-notch Broadway production though.  
Technical:  4 stars - It always impresses me how the 5th Ave can produce such amazing productions.  A credit to an amazing local stage staff.  
Overall:  4 stars - Definitely worth seeing!  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

One more reason I don't like Hallmark...

Greeting cards are a multi-bajillion dollar industry.[1]  You have cards for every seemingly meaningless occasion on the calendar, made-up occasions, congratulations, salutations, animal rehabilitations, or marriage nullifications.  Each of these categories have something for everyone, something funny, something sentimental, something touching, something ornamental.  It's brilliant marketing, I suppose.  Yet with all of these options...

WHY IS EVERY WEDDING CARD SAPPY, TACKY, OR OTHERWISE CRAPPY?    I'm a mildly amusing person, so I want nothing more than a mildly amusing wedding card, but every one you find is so serious and flowery... I just don't understand it!  I've resorted in some cases to re-purposing some creative anniversary cards (which are usually more amusing), or something else.  I haven't yet resorted to giving someone a "congratulations on your impending divorce" card for their wedding[2], considering that would be in poor taste even for me.  :)   All I want is a reasonably mainstream "Congratulations on Your Wedding Day" card, with Snoopy on the front holding a bunch of balloons or something.  Is that so much to ask!?

[1] Not based on any statistics I could find or bothered to look up.
[2] Not that I haven't thought it might be more appropriate at times...

Friday, April 16, 2010

2010 Washington State Initiatives to the People

While browsing across the Washington Secretary of State's website (don't ask), I stumbled onto the list of initiatives filed for 2010.  To be certified and placed on the November ballot, these initiatives need petitions with the signatures of 241,153 Washington State voters (8% of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last gubernatorial election).

Of course, just getting the text of your initiative filed with the Secretary of State requires not much more than a properly formatted document and a $5.00 filing fee.  This, of course, lends itself to some very interesting initiatives that never make their way to the ballot.  I present a roundup of this year's more interesting initiatives on file with the State... that you'll never see on a ballot:  

Initiative 1069:  Replace the Seal of the State of Washington

This measure would require the Seal of the State of Washington to be changed to depict a vignette of a tapeworm dressed in a three piece suit attached to the lower intestine of a taxpayer shown as the central figure. The seal would be required to be encircled with the following words: “Committed to sucking the life blood out of each and every tax payer.” The illustration would be selected from submissions submitted by taxpayers. 

This one gets my "creative initiative of the year" award.  

Initiative 1058: Teach the Declaration of Independence and its relationship to the federal and state constitutions.  

This measure would require specified teaching concerning the relationship of the Declaration of Independence to the federal and state constitutions, and related documents, as a prerequisite to graduation from public and private high school. Copies of these documents would be displayed in all schools. The measure also defines what “teaching” is required. Teaching would occur in fifth grade, eighth grade, and two years of high school, and would be a subject of state standardized testing. 

Funny, I seem to recall learning this all anyway.  I don't really need a test to tell me I learned it.  Then again, maybe if we could make the cable news pundits forced to learn this stuff some good might come of it.  

Initiative 1072:  Change the legal age to sell liquor, but not to consume it.  

The laws prohibiting selling or providing “liquor” (alcohol, spirits, beer, and wine) to anyone under age twenty-one would be changed to prohibit selling or providing liquor to anyone under nineteen. The measure, however, does not change the laws preventing persons under twenty-one from possessing, consuming, and purchasing liquor, and public intoxication, although it modifies penalties for persons who purchase liquor under age twenty-one. The measure requires a public vote on the measure after ten years. 

I'm not sure what's more confusing, the idea or the wording.  Basically, what I get out of this is that the drinking age is still 21, but if I'm selling you beer, it's not a crime for me to sell it to you if you're 19 (though it's still a crime for you to buy it from me).  The point seems to be to save money by not going after all of the liquor age enforcement, but leaving the penalty to those 19 and 20 year olds who consume it.  Uh-huh.  

Initiative 1076:  Repeal every law enacted by the 2010 Legislature.  

This measure would repeal all laws adopted in 2010 prior to this measure’s enactment, other than initiatives, that were not subject to referendum because they contained clauses declaring the bill to be necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or support of state government and its existing public institutions. Other 2010 laws that could not have been enacted but for a law repealed by this measure would also be repealed. 

The state constitution provides a way for any law the legislature enacts to be referred to a vote of the people by petition.  As it is, the state legislature has a way to make laws un-referable by calling it "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace", the so-called "emergency clause".  This would basically undo any of those such laws, or any laws resulting from them.  An interesting concept, but seems like you'd be throwing baby out with the bathwater.  


Tim Eyman and crew have added another half dozen initiative proposals in the last week contesting everything related to the new taxes on cheap beer, pop, bottled water, candy and tobacco.  In fact, there are at least 2 dozen other initiatives Eyman has already submitted related to taxation in some way or other, that will probably also never make it to the ballot.  At least give these other initiatives some credit for creativity.  

Monday, April 12, 2010

In the Glenn Miller mood...

Been a while since I've taken the time to make a show update, but we'll give two in rapid succession here.  First, Saturday night I went to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra at Benaroya Hall.  I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the world, in fact I was expecting to be bored by about intermission.  But they were absolutely fantastic!

Not only were they fantastic musicians, they were brilliant entertainers.  Not a huge surprise... I certainly have always been a big fan of Glenn Miller and his music, but little did I expect one fantastic song after another for 2 solid hours.

On a note of personal taste, big band music is far more to my liking than straight-ahead or bebop jazz music.  As much as I like jazz, I struggle through some jazz bands' 10+ minute long songs with endless improvisational verses.  Fortunately, big band music tends to finds its origins in American popular music of the 1940s... and the songs tend to be mercifully short.  (Just hypothesizing, but a 78rpm record could handle about 3 minutes of music on a side, so that would probably keep the popular songs limited to about that long.)


Last Wednesday I went and saw Dreamgirls at the Paramount.  Despite it being a nearly 30-year old musical (it premiered back in 1981), and a recent movie (which I didn't see), I knew absolutely nothing about this show going into it except a very superficial premise.  As is typically the case with musicals based on a genre of music or a particular band or bands, the so-called "jukebox musicals", I was expecting decent music with a tenuous if not non-existent plot line.  Wow, was I surprised again!  Not only did this musical have fantastic music, not to mention some amazing singers, it actually had a captivating plot!

The obvious allusions to Diana Ross, the Supremes, and James Brown provided a fascinating connection of the plot to 1960's and 70's music history, its successes and its scandals.

It's been a while since I've been able to give a solid rating here, but based on my standard system:

Cast: 4 stars - Brilliant singers and actors.
Script: 4 stars - Decent plot.  Enough to hold the music together and keep me captivated.  I'd call that a success.
Music:  3 stars - Better performed than the music itself was.
Technical: 4 stars - This wasn't a Broadway spectacle, but it was well done and pleasing to watch.
Overall:  4 stars - Hard to complain too much.