January 6th, 2016

storyteller doll

Entertainment!

First, I made a minor edit to the year in review post, as I had somehow forgotten about the trip to Toledo for the Mud Hens game.

Which brings me to recent entertainment news, going back into December.

Celebrity Death Watch: Wayne Rogers played Trapper John on M*A*S*H. Natalie Cole was a unforgettable singer (and I really should have more to say about her, but went with the cheap pun). Mike Oxley was a politician, best known for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which has to do with financial regulations on publicly traded companies. Pierre Boulez was a composer and conductor, who was controversial for his focus on the modern repertoire.

Holocaust Survivor Band: The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage has a free concert every night. Because it’s free, I’m willing to take a chance on stuff I might not be familiar with. In this case, it sounded right up my alley, given my obsession with Jewish music. I was expecting mostly klezmer music, but this was a pretty international mix, including French and Italian pieces because the two survivors who founded had the band had spent time in France and Italy after their liberation. It’s clear that 90 year old Saul Dreir and 88 year old Reuwen "Ruby" Sosnowicz were having a lot of fun. My one issue is with Ruby’s daughter, Chanarose Sasonowicz, who did the narration and song introductions. Mostly, she just said things like "Is everybody having fun? Good." I like my song intros to come with some sort of storytelling. She also got things completely wrong for the song, "Rozhinkes mit Mandlen," which is a lullaby, not a love song. And "rozhinkes" means "raisins," not "honey." Oy.

Bad Jews: My first theatre outing of the year was to see this play at Studio Theatre (with a non-Jewish friend, but she is in a long-term relationship with a Jewish man). The plot has to do with two brothers (Jonah and Liam) and their female cousin (Daphna), who are dealing with their grandfather’s death and their long-simmering family issues. Liam has brought along his non-Jewish girlfriend (Melody), who he plans to propose to. He and Daphna (who is a truly horrible and unsympathetic character) are fighting over who will get their grandfather’s chai, which he wants to use to propose to Melody, and which Daphna thinks she should have because she is the only Jewishly observant one of the family. (Though not all that observant – she is wearing pants, for example.) Jonah just wants to be kept out of it. There were some genuinely funny moments, but the play is pretty dark, overall, with lots of issues about what Judaism means to millennials and how the Holocaust plays into that. I have to say the relationship dynamics made my family look remarkably functional.

Matilda: The only Roald Dahl I’ve read is Revolting Rhymes and his classic mystery story, "Lamb to the Slaughter." The latter is, by the way, the best blunt object murder story ever. So I can’t say whether or not this musical is true to the book, but it doesn’t matter because I found it surprisingly enjoyable. I tend to cringe at musicals with lots of children in the cast, but the focus here is really on one child (the precocious Matilda) and one adult child (her teacher, Miss Honey) and how they learn from each other to conquer the horrible adults around them (Matilda’s parents and the headmistress of her school). Much of that redemption comes from books and storytelling, which resonated with me, of course. The book has plenty of humor, which makes the horror manageable. The music works well, too, setting appropriate moods, though "When I Grow Up" is the only song I’d really call memorable. I also want to note the choreography, since it’s a rare musical nowadays that has any to speak of.

As for performances, they were mostly on track. Gabrielle Gutierrez was a charming Matilda, and never overdone. Jennifer Blood was suitably sweet as Miss Honey. And I particularly want to call out the villains, Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. Wormwood (Matilda’s book-hating father) and Bryce Ryness as the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, whose motto is "children are maggots." (A couple of the children did annoy me, but I will not publicly castigate children for having screechy childish voices.)


The show isn’t perfect, however. For one thing, it is somewhat too long. The bigger issue, however, is a production one. I’ve had issues with the lighting at the Kennedy Center Opera House before, so that was no surprise. However, I was surprised by issues with the sound system, with poor balance making some of the lyrics muddied and hard to understand. I suspect this has improved over the run, as the reviews I saw made me expect it to be universal through the show. But it was still annoying when it did happen.