Newsies – Proctors Theater (Schenectady, NY), 10/15/14

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Sometimes you find someone that is just perfect for you; you have the same sensibilities, they make you laugh and every time you think of them you can’t help but smile. You were meant for each other in pretty much every way – they just get you. If that relationship comes to an end, the next person who comes along doesn’t really stand much of a chance. No matter how perfectly nice or pleasant they may be, they pale in comparison to the person that came before them. It’s not their fault, but they simply can’t live up to previous expectations and that relationship is usually doomed from the get go. You may give it the old college try, but your heart just isn’t in it. On some level, the new person probably knows it too, but thinks that they are going to beat the odds and make you forget about that other person that you loved so much. But whoever preceded them is just too tough an act to follow.

So sorry Newsies – you were my rebound musical.

Before Newsies, the last musical that I saw was Book of Mormon, which I fell completely in love with. It had everything – an interesting story line, great songs, it was hilarious and raunchy but also had a sweet heart underneath all the inappropriate jokes. It was smart and different while still incorporating the best elements of a traditional Broadway show. To me, it was basically perfect; as soon as it ended I was ready to see it again. So Newsies was in the unfortunate position of trying to impress and entertain me after I had seen a musical that actually managed to exceed the hype and that totally enchanted me. And if you know me, you know that I’m always going to be partial to the South Park way of thinking over the Disney was; it’s just how I’m wired. I didn’t go in to Newsies with any ill will – I was totally prepared to be entertained and charmed – but by the end of the first act I knew that this wasn’t going to be a show that I adored. Whether I planned it or not, my mind drifted to the awesomeness of Book of Mormon while I was watching Newsies and the latter couldn’t help but fall short.

Now, to be fair, I don’t know that I would have really loved Newsies even under better circumstances; while it had a talented cast and was entertaining, it was very simple and a little silly. I should have predicted the silliness, since the play is based on a fairly silly 1992 movie. I saw the movie when it first came out and found it generally fun, but it didn’t make much of a long term impression on me. I realized this as I sat down to watch Newsies, the musical, and I realized that I didn’t remember much of the plot or the songs from the film – all that really stuck with me was the hilarious image of a young Christian Bale signing. That’s right – in a prior life, Batman was a Newsie. He wasn’t bad in the film, but the idea of Bale doing much of anything that isn’t dark and broody and serious, let alone a musical, will always crack me up. Always. So beyond the basic plot that the kids who sell newspapers went on strike (based on a real life event), I was going in to Newsies pretty fresh. Even as the story unfolded on stage, not much of it rang a bell. So while I clearly wasn’t a person on whom the original film made a huge impression, I also didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about the story or the songs.

This was a very Disney production, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but also doesn’t increase the likelihood that I was going to really dig the musical. I know that the story in most musicals isn’t very nuanced and there isn’t a ton of character development, but Newsies seemed to be even more of a trifle than most musicals that I’ve seen. The show struck me as very simple and it just didn’t completely hold my attention. Though it had been over 20 years since I had seen the movie, I found most of Newsies pretty routine and predictable. That’s not to say unentertaining – the show definitely had some moments – but as a whole I found the whole experience pretty pedestrian. It was affable, but fairly disposable. It’s a musical that will please a wide variety of people, but in its attempt to appeal to the masses it feels very generic.

I didn’t have any complaints about the cast, who I thought did a really great job with the limited material. There is a lot of dancing in Newsies – I would argue a little too much – but the numbers are beautifully choreographed and the ensemble is really good. Given the limits of the writing and stage time, the supporting actors do their best to create full characters with the minimal source material and mostly succeed with their effots. Dan DeLuca, who plays the lead Jack Kelly, was particularly good and brought a lot of charm and personality to the role of the strike organizer. He had a definite stage presence and the show was a lot more interesting when he was on stage. Angela Grovey, who plays Cabaret owner Medda Larkin, should also be singled out for her powerful voice. She doesn’t have a ton to do in the play – none of the adults do – but she makes the most of the opportunity that she’s given and belted out her song in memorable fashion. Stephanie Styles was also effective as Jack’s potential love interest, though that part of the story felt the cheesiest in a story that was already swimming in cheddar. I was also impressed with the set design; there were a lot of moving pieces and locales and the production moved pretty seamlessly from place to place.

Some other thoughts:

  • If I never hear the word “papes” again, I’m OK with that.
  • The only song that I remembered from the movie was “King of New York,” which was still fun. The songs are generally pretty good, but they repeat them way too much. If you took out the long dance numbers and songs were only song once, you’d cut at least 30 minutes from the show. It felt like filler.
  • I found it ironic that the Newsies from Brooklyn in the show would probably fit right in in Brooklyn today, with their hats and overalls and general old-timiness.
  • There was a joke about violence in football at the beginning of the show that seemed very relevant given recent events. I wonder if that dialogue was added.
  • I’m guessing that a lot of hard-core conservatives may have some problems with the basic plot of Newsies, since it’s all about labor, unions and generally sticking it to the rich fat cats.
  • You wouldn’t think that there would be a “splash zone” per say at Newsies, but be warned that if you sit close to the stage you might get some newspapers thrown at you during some of the dance numbers. You should have seen the teens in front of me vying for the props that made it into the audience.
  • I’d forgotten how badly Pulitzer comes off in Newsies; all he needed to do was twirl his moustache to be more villainous.

For what it’s worth, most of the people around me really seemed to love Newsies; I’m sure the traveling production will make a ton of cash and it’s perfectly suited for the whole family. It is entertaining, but in my opinion it is just too simple and predictable. I found myself rolling my eyes a few times in the production, but we’ve established that I am a monster with no heart :-) Newsies is a perfectly fine musical, but I just didn’t love it. In fairness, I’m probably not the target audience for this play and this might simply be a case of “not for me.” That’s fine; I probably should have figured that out once I realized that this was a Disney product (I’d forgotten who made the movie). I can’t blame my lukewarm reaction to Newsies totally on it following Book of Mormon, but that certainly didn’t help. Still, Newsies has a solid cast and is a great option for families looking for a show that is suitable for grandma and the kids. Not a great musical, but a perfectly serviceable one.

 

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Wait, Wednesday Is Tomorrow? Edition

Three day holiday weekends are tremendous, but they mess with my routine and wind up confusing me. Tuesday was my first day in the office, but it felt very much like a Monday with all its shenanigans and general annoyances. It wasn’t until I got home that it dawned on me that today was actually Tuesday and that I hadn’t even started this week’s pop culture roundup. Usually by now I have about half the post written. Not good. Thankfully Tuesday TV is mostly garbage and I could clean out some stuff on my DVR that didn’t require my full attention while I powered through doing a week’s worth of work in one night. To be honest, the results ain’t too shabby.

So while I hope that I didn’t miss any deadlines or meetings because I don’t know what day it is, kick back and get caught up on some of the pop culture that you may have missed in the last week.

  •  Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – REUNITED!
  • I was so sad to hear that the great Jan Hooks had passed away; SNL gave her a beautiful tribute:

 

  • I am loving Foo Fighters week on Letterman; here’s last night’s performance with Heart:

 

  • What happens when you get a lot of people dressed up as Deadpool in the same room? DANCE PARTY!

 

  • This kid OWNS the final Dirty Dancing dance:

 

  • Amy Poehler’s author photo is everything:

 

  • One one of my many trips to NYC, I couldn’t resist Kripsy Kreme’s Ghostbusters themed doughnuts:

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Time for some trailers…..

  • A new look at the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highway:

 

  • George Clooney in Tomorrowland:

 

  • A sneak peek at the animated Guardians of the Galaxy:

 

  • Powers – an original program for Playstation:

 

  • Black Sails, season 2:

 

  • The National Theater presents James Franco and Chris O’Dowd in Of Mice and Men:

 

  • Robin Williams in A Merry Friggin Christmas:

 

  • More footage from Big Hero 6:

 

  • Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Focus:

 

  • Another trailer for Foxcatcher:

 

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  • Lane (Keiko Agena), Brian (John Cabera) and Zack (Todd Lowe) from Gilmore Girls got the band back together:

 

  • A new Toy Story holiday special will debut December 2nd:

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  • Claire Danes dropped by Sesame Street:

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts.

  • The Wolf of System of a Down:

 

  • A Robert Downey Jr. supercut:

 

  • The guys at RiffTrax have some fun with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown:

 

  • Every “bastard” from Game of Thrones in under a minute:

 

  • The Walking Dead meets Welcome Back, Kotter:

 

  • More The Walking Dead fun – The Walking Drunk:

 

  • And finally…the folks on Game of Thrones sure do throw back a lot of wine (Cersei, mostly):

An Evening with Kevin Smith – Hammerstein Ballroom (New York, NY), 10/11/14

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Late last week I decided to see if there were any New York Comic Con tickets still available for Saturday. I had the chance to buy New York Comic Con tickets when they first went on sale, but I hemmed and hawed about; at that time, most of the announced guests were all comic book people and I didn’t think that I would get all that much out of the Con since I barely dabble in graphic novels. But once I started to see the coverage of the Con on Twitter and George Clooney made a surprise appearance, I instantly regretted not buying tickets. A good pal from college was working the event as well, someone that I rarely get to see since he lives in Los Angeles, so I was hoping that since I had nothing on the agenda for Saturday I could pop down, take in the Con craziness and hopefully catch up with my pal for a bit. Unfortunately, that was all a pipe dream, since tickets to the event had long been sold out and no additional tickets would be made available. I was, as they say, out of luck. It’s rare that my harebrained schemes don’t work out, but I shouldn’t have underestimated the devotion of the Comic Con attendees. They are a hardcore bunch.

However, in my search for last minute Comic Con tickets I discovered that there was a slate of other events that were in conjunction with Comic Con but did not require a Con badge to attend. Curious, I decided to peruse their offerings to see what else was available – perish the thought that I stay home and do something productive – and I was excited to see that one of these ancillary events was an evening with the director Kevin Smith, with a special appearance by his frequent co-star and close friend Jason Mewes. This was way better than Comic Con! I quickly procured a ticket and my weekend plans were set.

As you know if you read my post about pop culture from New Jersey, Kevin Smith is one of my favorite directors. He and Quentin Tarantino served as my entry point to the world of independent movies, a world that I’ve never left. I’ve seen Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma more times than I can count (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl and Clerks 2 less often) and the films all reflect Smith’s personality and world view. He’s a pretty open guy, so I feel like I know the most about him personally than I do about most of the directors that I also enjoy. He has a high profile social media presence and isn’t afraid to share his opinion – for good and for bad. I don’t always 100% agree with him and what he has to say, but I always respect his willingness to day it and to be true to himself. I’ve watched various Q&As with him on Netflix and he’s an interesting storyteller; he may only answer one question during a 90 minute event, but he’ll spin such an interesting yarn and go off on funny tangents so you don’t even mind the limited audience participation. I actually generally dislike audience Q&A – the quality of the questions are usually crappy and people ask weird stuff- but to experience Kevin Smith live, I was willing to listen to whatever boneheaded questions fans came up with. I was slightly encouraged by the fact that Kevin Smith fans tend to be smarter with their questions than some other fan bases (soap opera fans – I’m looking at you), so I wouldn’t have to suffer as much through their asinine comments. Yes – I can be kind of judgmental.

I decided to make a day of it and headed down to NYC earlier to do some other things (which I may or may not blog about later this week) and then headed over to the Hammerstein Ballroom. I had bought a ticket for the first balcony, but seating was general admission and I wanted to make sure that I had a decent view. The doors opened at 6:30, so I wanted to be in line by six. People were already lined up by 5:30 when I walked by the theater – I wanted to make sure that I knew where it was – but it wasn’t a large enough crowd to make me nervous about my seat location, so I wandered around for a bit trying to decide if I was actually hungry for dinner or not after my late afternoon Shake Shack burger. There were no mistaking that these were “Kevin Smith” people; they all looked exactly how I imagined most die-hard Kevin Smith fans to look. A lot of them were in costume, having come from Comic Con, and by the time I finally decided to get in line I was standing behind a girl in a Batman tutu and a guy who was some sort of pirate. I felt very plain in my jeans; I’d made the effort to dress it down from my usual dresses, but since I had on nothing comic book related I still looked a little out of place. I think I was the only person in line with a purse.

It became clear to me pretty quickly that while compared to my friends I’m a pretty big Kevin Smith fan, compared to these people I was a Kevin Smith rookie. All around me were conversations about his new movie, Tusk, which I had not seen yet and the Batman: Cacophony comic book that Kevin Smith had worked on. There was even a guy in line trying to drum up support for his fan made movie adaptation of that Batman comic book; he wisely took one look at me and assumed that I was not his target audience. I was actually starting to feel a little self-conscious about being there; I didn’t feel like I belonged with this group at all. Maybe I should have boned up on my Kevin Smith trivia before the show. I accepted my role as a cultural tourist and just enjoyed listening to these passionate discussions around me. I chose not to share that my Kevin Smith fandom primarily consisted of my use of the username “Mallrat” on my friend’s message board. No one would have been impressed.

The doors opened promptly at 6:30 and after a quick pass through security I was in the Ballroom. Apparently the event had not sold all that well, since when I asked an usher how to get to the first balcony, he indicated that they were seating everyone on the floor. That was fine with me – I was getting a way better seat than anticipated and had paid less money than the people who actually purchased floor seats – and I found myself in the sixth row. Getting in line early had paid off; I actually could have been closer, but I figured there would people that would appreciate those seats more than me. Sixth row was as greedy as I was going to be. I wound up having a better seat than a guy who was in a full Batman costume; you snooze, you lose Caped Crusader.

The hour wait for the show flew by – after walking around the City all day, I was glad to be off my feet for a while – and before I knew it, it was showtime. A familiar looking guy came out and hyped the crowd, though I couldn’t place who he was or understand what exactly was happening. He introduced Kevin Smith and then it hit me – that was Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels from Run D.M.C. That was an unexpected treat – I did not anticipate seeing a rap legend at this event. This was already off to an interesting start.

The first 45 minutes or so was Kevin Smith just telling stories: his trials with just quitting sugar, some background info on the making of Tusk, updated on Clerks 3. It was all very free flowing and amusing; I had been especially interested in how he convinced Johnny Depp to appear in Tusk, which he did discuss. Turns out his daughter and Depp’s daughter go to school together and are friends, so Smith and Depp know each other from that. I have to say, parent –teacher conferences in that school have got to be fascinating. Both the girls appear in Tusk and are getting their own spin-off movie and Kevin spent a lot of time discussing the pride he had in being able to work with his daughter in her first movie role and how it changed his perspective on his career journey. He said he realized that his previous work was all a build up for this moment; he was being prepared to have this moment with his daughter and to shepherd her through this experience. It was a really sweet discussion; he was such a proud dad and you could tell that being able to work with Harley meant the absolute world to him. A lot of his tangents and anecdotes were really kind of uplifting – they were funny and a little dirty, but there was also an underlying message of believing in yourself and living your dreams. Smith is also very self-deprecating – he makes fun of his appearance, weight and abilities – but he also really encouraged the people in the audience to figure out what they want to do and what they are passionate about and going for it. He said that Tusk was sort of a lesson for people; he was very open about the process and the steps he took to make the movie. If he could make a movie about a guy being turned into a walrus, there was no idea that was worse or less crazy. It was all unexpectedly inspiring and made me want to go out and do something creative.

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He then opened it up to the crowd for some Q&A, warning everyone that he didn’t know how many questions he would actually get to. A lot of the people who got to the microphone cited Smith as the reason that they went to film school or designed their own comics and he seemed legitimately flattered to hear this. He really genuinely seems to love his fans – he had even agreed to officiate on guy’s wedding earlier at Comic Con – and he reflected the love that was given him right back to the audience. You could tell that these brief interactions meant so much to the people in the audience and he really couldn’t have been sweeter. He never moved on to the next question without checking to make sure the previous person was satisfied with the answer to their question and he indulged more than one person by letting them come up on stage to give him a hug. When one guy in the audience asked Smith to read his screenplay, Kevin gently let him down by citing the legal issues with him reading an unproduced script. He did take the cover letter that they guy had written to accompany the script and you could see the guy’s hands shaking as he handed it to Smith. He answered all range of questions with thoughtful and sincere responses; a question about process and inspiration was given the same respect and attention as a question about what actor he has worked with would he fight to the death. I knew that Smith was a fan-friendly guy, but the entire evening served to reinforce that notion. The word that I keep coming back to is genuine – he genuinely appreciates his fans and genuinely seems to love them as much as they love him. I already liked Kevin Smith before this event, but I liked him even more after it. Plus he told us what happens to Jay and Silent Bob at the end of Clerks 3, which hasn’t even started filming yet. Kevin Smith came off as a completely solid dude.

His time management skills were a little off, however, and the staff of the Hammerstein Ballroom weren’t letting him run over, so our time with special guest Jason Mewes was pretty limited. He made the most of the 7 minutes that he was on stage and regaled us with some hilarious observations about his upcoming fatherhood; that’s ray – Jay is going to be a dad. Try to wrap your head around that thought. Mewes was as delightfully weird and off-the-wall as I had anticipated and he definitely is not afraid of the over-share; one of his stories was a re-enactment of trying to have sex with his pregnant wife and his fear of hurting her belly in the process. I would have liked a little more time with him, but it was still extremely cool to see Jay and Silent Bob sharing the same stage in person. Their affection for each other was apparent.

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I’m glad that I stumbled upon this event and I would definitely go to see Kevin Smith give a talk again. He actually exceeded my expectations as to what kind of guy he is and now I feel very guilty for not going to see Tusk opening weekend, especially since it is no longer showing around here. It’s nice to see a celebrity that really connects with their fan base in a real and genuine way; if you are a Kevin Smith fan you should absolutely make an effort to see one of his Q&As. I learned quite a lot not only about his process and what he’s working on, but on how he views the world and his fans. I only wish the event had been longer so that I could have enjoyed more of his storytelling; the guy certainly has his own unique way of spinning a yarn.