Category Archives: Broadway

Aladdin’s Lamp Shines Brightly on New Blu-ray

The latest Disney title to receive the Diamond Edition treatment is 1992’s Aladdin, a musical adventure with music and lyrics by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice. It was an instant success, becoming the highest grossing release of the year, and spawned several sequels as well as a most successful Broadway musical comedy. It’s big draw was from casting Robin Williams as the voice of the genie, though two other comic sidekicks register good laughs as well, the evil Jafar’s parrot, Iago, and Aladdin’s monkey, Abu. There’s also an extraordinarily personable flying carpet, whose tassels turn into hands as need be. In fact, the supporting characters really steal the show from lovers Aladdin and Jasmine. Jasmine, however, is something of a break through, a dark-haired princess who doesn’t wait to be rescued but takes things into her own hands.

Aladdin

The Diamond Edition contains a Blu-ray disc version, a DVD version, and a digital HD version that you can download. The picture and sound have been honed to be perfect and this Aladdin is a delight to see and hear.  The extras are icing on the cake. There’s one that presents Robin Williams outtakes and another extra identifies many of the characters that Williams’ shape-shifting genie imitates, from Groucho Marx to Marlon Brando to Arsenio Hall.  Another extra tracks the live Broadway show and its out of town tryouts. This was so exciting to me, I’m about ready to book a train ticket and go see it.  In sum, this is another Disney release that is a must for every collection.

 

Neo Vintage “Show Boat” on Blu-Ray

Jerome Kern’s Show Boat rocked Broadway in 1927. Here was a show that wasn’t just a chorus line of pretty women and a trivial romance but a show based on Edna Ferber’s serious novel that dealt with racism, a mixed white/black marriage, and single parenthood after spousal desertion. Broadway was never the same again. Kern had opened the door to Rodgers and Hammerstein and many others. The musical had grown up overnight. Show Boat has gone through many changes over the years. There have been several movie versions and some misguided efforts to update it. The San Francisco Opera has gone back to the original with a production that sometimes oozes period charm but often seems dated.

Show Boat SFO

The dated part comes from having some of the secondary actors play their parts way too broadly, enough to become caricatures and a distraction. Bill Irwin’s Cap’n Andy Hawks is the worst offender, with Kirsten Wyatt’s Ellie May a close second. On the plus side, Heidi Stober and Michael Ford Simpson make an attractive and vocally capable pair of lovers as Magnolia and Gaylord and Patricia Racette is a winning, world weary Julie. Stealing the show, however, is Morris Robinson as Joe. His “Old Man River” is the high point of this production. After a shaky beginning, the SFO orchestra plays well and the chorus and dancers are superb, as are the sets and costumes. A word of warning, the “n” word is used but only coming from an evil character. In Kern’s original it was the opening word but here the African American chorus sing “Colored Folk” instead. DTS Sound and HD picture are state of the art.

“Into the Woods” is a Musical

Well, sure it is – the award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The recently released Image Entertainment Blu-ray is a chronicle of the original Broadway show that was shown on PBS stations back in 1990. The recent film version, from Walt Disney,  is also a musical. Why do I have to state this? Because none of the Disney trailers that I saw had any singing in them. Many people thought it was another typical Disney fairy tale rendition and boy were they surprised. Look at the reviews on Amazon and you can read a veritable tempest of polarized reviews.  Disney apparently just didn’t know what to do

Into the Woods movie

with it. Here director Rob Marshall handed them a knockout, amazing, fantastic, beautiful version of the show, but apparently the execs who market these things didn’t think it would sell, perhaps brainstorming that audiences could be enticed to the theater and find out that oh, well, it was a musical. This is not entirely honest, but I doubt it was done with malice. I’m a huge Sondheim fan but don’t think people should be tricked into liking his brilliant shows. They stand on their own.

All of this clear and in the open now, I have to say that the movie is brilliant. It’s the best transference of a musical to movie that I have ever seen. The sets are opened up, the special effects are more polished, but the essence of the show is still there. Several fairy tales are smashed together as a baker and his wife go into the woods to find the cape as red as blood (LIttle Red Riding Hood), the cow as white as milk (Jack and his beanstalk), the hair as yellow as corn (Rapunzel) and the slipper like gold (Cinderella).  There are some cuts but they are pluses and tighten the show up considerably. One big difference is that

Into the Woods BWy

Jack and Riding Hood are played by actual children (on stage they are usually played by young adults). Everyone sings and acts marvelously. As the witch, Meryl Streep is a wonder. She can really sing. Is there nothing this woman can’t do? Chris Pine is a nice surprise as Cinderella’s prince and Johnny Depp appropriately sleazy as the wolf.  Both sing well. The rest of the cast is near perfect.

The Broadway version lacks the luster of a movie and as it is filmed, it doesn’t have the impact it could. But it does have the original witch, Bernadette Peters, who is quite different from Streep, but no less  worthy. It also has two magnificent vocal princes, and many other outstanding singing actors. The special effects would have looked great in the theater, but they pale a bit on video. The audio is merely two channel stereo (the film version has magnificent DTS 7.1 Master Audio)

Parents are advised to screen the film version before showing it to small children! The film is rated PG for fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive action. I assume the latter applies mainly to the wolf and Riding Hood scene, which surely has sexual overtones. Whether these will go over the heads of your little munchkins is up to you and them. The Disney Blu-ray, by the way, has a lot of production featurettes and a full length screen commentary, plus film of an extra song Sondheim wrote for Streep that was deleted at the last moment.

 

 

Kristin Chenoweth – You Can Go Home Again

Kristin Chenoweth hails from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and that’s exactly where she rehearsed and performed her Coming Home DVD for Concord Records (available February 3). The pair of concerts took place in the theater named after her in the new Performing Arts Center in Broken Arrow. An ever present background set shows a small town street with “Broken Arrow” prominently displayed on the water tower. A fairly large orchestra occupies the back of the stage. During the first half of the show, Chenoweth is often at the front of the stage by herself, and it’s a stupefying wonder to see this 4’11” woman completely command and dominate that stage.  She does it by having a phenomenal voice that can sing opera to Broadway coupled with a genuine charm that includes an attitude of gratitude. One simply believes in her. She can do it and we’re behind her, putty in her hands.

Kristin Chenoweth

In the audience are her mother, father, and early voice teacher and on stage she includes the Broken Arrow High School Choir to end each part. You might guess from these facts that this was an emotional concert, and you’d be right. The finale to part one, “Upon This Rock,” with Kristin and the choir, is the kind of performance that will give you chills, and cause you heart to catch in your throat.  You’ll want to cheer. I did. And that wasn’t the only time. Chenoweth has one of the most amazing voices on or off Broadway, but she’s also all heart. She puts 100 percent of herself into every song she sings, including “My Coloring Book,” “Bring Him Home,” “Maybe This Time,” “Popular,” All the Things You Are,” and the inspirational “I Was Here” which closes the show on the most upbeat note I’ve encountered in a solo concert, maybe forever. The camera work is good, the video definition exceptional for a DVD and the sound is just right.   I love Judy, I love Barbra. Add Kristin to that short list. Her concert is as good as anything those esteemed ladies have done. Treat yourself to this amazing concert and watch your troubles disappear. [a soundtrack album is also available on CD]