Flash of Steel header image 2

Weekend of Music

July 10th, 2011 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Music

I know this is yet another non-strategy game post, and yeah, that sucks. I have a half dozen really big posts drafted that I don’t want to release into the wild quite yet – something on modeling crisis situations, the Indian character post, reflections on authorial voice in strategy game narrative…these are hard to finish when you don’t spend your entire days playing games. So, apologies.

I should write about the shows I saw this weekend. I probably saw more AAA singing talent over the last couple of days than I have in a long time.

Yes, I am a musical theatre nerd. I love music and I love the artistry of words. I’ve referred to my love of Broadway on this blog and on my Twitter feed more than once, and a large part of that is my admiration of a well turned phrase. Even a great title – wouldn’t You and Me (But Mostly Me) be a great title for a post about co-op and diplomacy in strategy gaming? (With Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Team America and now Book of Mormon – as well as the regular songs in South Park – I am increasingly convinced that Parker and Stone are the best lyricists in current story-based songwriting.) Not to mention War is a Science; that could be the motto for this blog or the podcast, I guess.

So this weekend, my best friend and I took in a couple of shows. One I invited her to, the other she invited me to. (If she writes up her thoughts, I’ll be sure to link them. Our friendship started with music and theatre, and we still link each other songs every few days and talk about stage stuff regularly.)

Saturday night was a concert at the Black Creek Festival with some of Broadway’s very best musical performers. Seven Tony Awards, I think, but mind you four of those belong to Audra McDonald alone. It was a good crowd in a tennis stadium with surprisingly good acoustics.

The real shock was that only one performer really brought everything he had. Audra McDonald was her usual perfect, but never really came alive except for her duet with Brian Stokes Mitchell and her audience participation number “I Could Have Danced All Night”. Martin Short was funny, but after opening with a number about Osama Bin Laden’s death it took me a while to warm up. Jane Krakowski was charming, but even when she sang a number from her Tony Award winning turn in Nine she seemed a little tired and overacted to sell Adelaide’s Lament, a song that really relies on selling the wordplay. And Brian Stokes Mitchell is a classic leading man from 1960; if you give him a song to act with like his Wheels of A Dream duet with McDonald then he is amazing. But someone should have told him that you don’t follow two slow pieces from South Pacific with “Impossible Dream”; as good as it was vocally, it’s as cliche a musical number after you can imagine after “Some Enchanted Evening”.

Which leaves the fifth performer – Raul Esparza. I’ve been a fan since his Company, and he took more risks and engaged the audience more than any other performer that night. His “Soliloquy” from Carousel is now the gold standard in my mind; vocally perfect, dramatic, and sung to the audience and not at it. He reprised his “Being Alive” from Company, though he muffed the lyrics at the beginning.

In the second act, Esparza came out to sing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It would be a lie to say that it was a good rendition. But it was audacious. It was energetic. It was a man singing a female belter’s part with conviction and power. Once he finished, I could not hold in my laughter. And I loved it.

It made me wish that a female performer with Esparza’s energy was there. Audra McDonald is one of the finest musical theatre singers of her generation, but put her on a stage away from other actors and she turns on the opera pipes; power and beauty come out, but if it’s not a one person show than that power and beauty is interrupted. A Sutton Foster or Kristin Chenoweth or Sierra Boggess would have give Esparza a distaff counterpart to work with.

Not that there was much sign of people working together. All that talent on stage and we get two duets. It was if each performer showed up with a song list and that was the program. It was a good show, but it could have been so much more. Beautiful night, beautiful company and beautiful voices. But it was as if Brian Reynolds, Sid Meier and Soren Johnson got together and decided that a Facebook game would be enough. Wait…

Sunday afternoon, though, was amazing. Hugh Jackman has to be one of the most versatile performers in the world right now. As Wolverine II production is delayed, he decided to take a one man show on the road and Toronto was his second stop.

The between song banter and storytelling was all old stuff. Good stories, but if you have seen his interviews or award shows, then you will be laughing at very old jokes. Still, very well told. The audience is sort of programmed to love Jackman because he has played both Wolverine and Peter Allen. He is a great dancer, he loves his fans, and he seems as genuinely astonished as anyone that he can be an X-man and a gay icon and not lose any credibility.

It’s hard to single out a best moment from the show. His “Soliloquy” wasn’t close to Esparza’s but was good all the same. Since he’s a real dancer, the movement sold the music more than the vocals did and his orchestra and back up singers were excellent. Jackman got a standing ovation for his tribute to Fox movie musicals, which was merely good. His selections from Boy From Oz were uniformly outstanding, of course, including an excerpt from my favorite track. Not my second favorite, though.

The difference that energy and staging make was obvious. No, “Mack the Knife” is not “Impossible Dream” as far as tempo goes, but it is just as cliche a number for a cabaret (which is sort of what the Jackman show felt like, in a good way.) But an indoor theatre, proper planned lighting and a singer that has spent most of the show connecting to the audience turned your typical lounge number in a great closer, setting the stage for the encore, well chosen from Boy From Oz. I am not convinced he can play Jean Valjean, but I know I’ll pay to see it.

Though one man shows are very hard on the performer from a stress perspective, they must be much easier to co-ordinate than dealing with multiple talents sharing a stage. It is easier to build a sort of narrative flow (Jackman sort of organized around his career, with musical performances evolving from his spoker bits) and therefore it is less likely to have any of the problems that a one-off Circus of the Stars concert, like the one we saw on Saturday night, would have. No issues of flow or pacing or structure or reminders that you can’t do five slow songs in a row just because that’s all anyone prepared…

In any case, I had a wonderful time at both performances. I got to see a bunch of performers that I had always wanted to see perform live and got to share both with someone who appreciated the shows and music (though we disagreed on some of the particulars.)


One Comment so far ↓

  • Justin Fletcher

    I don’t really buy Jackman as Valjean, either, but I think he could make a great Javert.