Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Transcendence, The Musical

The idea of Spamalot makes a lot of sense. The flick had songs. I think all the Python flicks did, not to mention their memorable tunes from the TV show such as I'm a Lumberjack and I'm Ok. Idle can certainly write great, and greatly amusing tunes and King Arthur's adventures have been presented on stage innumerable times.
With this in mind, I made my way over the Centre for the Performing Arts, an interesting building next to the library I'd seen often enough but never entered. Once entering, one goes upstairs on a ramp covered with mirrors, and then into a sizeable yet intimate theatre specificlally designed for these sorts of plays, travelling big budget musicals. I hadn't seen one in a while but looked forward to this.
Musicals are an art form I was into almost before I was into music. When we moved to LA in 56, my parents used to listen to a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan records and go to lots of plays. Seeing Damn Yankees onstage in LA in 57 or so was actually more enjoyable than actually seeing a world series game (The Dodgers lost, in 77). I remember particularly enjoying Little Me. Reading bio of Shultz, about how much him and first wife loved The Unsinkable Molly Brown, reminded me of how much I did too in those days.
There was a point when I stopped going to plays, probably in University and certainly when I went to Japan in 71. It's only since I came back to Vancouver in 88 I've begun attending theatre again. Although the Firesign use songs in their stage shows, very little of the theatre I've seen in the past 2 decades has had music. Yet on film, my favourite movie until recently was the Southpark flick, which is a kind of parody musical. Without my deep background as a Broadway hound, I wouldn't have found it that delightful.
The point being, the idea of music and story has always gone together in my mind. The reason I've been unsuccessful in film projects thus far is I haven't found appropriate musicians, unlike the radio plays. The days when I composed music are so far in the past, it belongs somewhere in a museum. But Eric Idle can still write songs, right?
Well, maybe not.

This was the first play I've ever seen from the front row. The orchestra pit was a peril. The actors were close enough that in the spitting scene, I was worried. I remember seeing Keith Jarrett in a club in LA in 73, so close to my table that his flying sweat endangered my drink. It was almost like that.
Holy Grail transitions very well onto the stage. You miss the Python actors, but these folks aren't at all untalented. The same great Terry Giliam animations are used to great effect. The stagecraft is what you'd expect. I occasionally thought of high school musicals, but then I've seen some such musicals with very high production values (in my hometown Yorkton, among other places). I kept flashing back to that era of my life, when I still really enjoyed the genre. I remember seeing a muscial version of A Midsummer Night's Dream by a Watts theatre group that beat any nonmusical version of any Shakespeare play I've seen in the past 40 years. When the actors broke into Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, it was transcendent. Even if it belonged to people dieing on crosses instead of in King Arthur-land, it's such a great song it still worked.
If it only ended there.
One of my favourite scenes from the flick was when the king stopped the musicians from accomodating his son about to burst into song. The rest of the play, I really wanted to be that king. The other tunes Idle (or whomever) concocted were woefully alien to the Holy Grail theme, and thoroughly tedious as tunes. For all the production value, all those good looking women dancing a few feet from me, I kept wishing it would end. Have you ever watched a Python flick/tv show/stage show and wanted it to end? Ever? The extraneous plot, with the endlessly over-the-top Lady of the Lake, seemed like something tacked on because they ran out of money to do the rest of the Grail or something. The audience member coming on stage seemed like filler. Maybe Idle's lived in Hollywood too long. His horizon has shrunk from Shakespeare parody's to bad TV game shows. There were still flashes of wit with new stuff, or sort of new- close enough to the orchestra pit to really appreciate the Symbol joke, but I was there for transcendence, not the odd chuckle. French horn?
It finally ended, with more hideous music. People kept bowing, expecting applause. I wished I'd had a few cows to toss at them. Finally, they came out and sang Bright Side again. Yes, the tune transcends.
After the play, Frank and I had a hard time finding a restaurant still open at 10:30 Capone's has live music so we were able to get some fine food and drinks. Angus Tenderloin Carpaccio $12
dijon & peppercorn crusted, white truffle oil, asiago, crispy capers. This in itself was better than Spamalot. Sunkissed Knob creek, Triple Sec, mango puree, a splash pineapple & soda, layered with raspberry liqueur. This was pretty good too.

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