By Keisha Allisse
I wasn't going to write about this. It's over a week old and not how I want to return to my blog after having gone MIA for quite a few months, but after watching Wisconsin news anchor, Jennifer Livingston's umpteenth interview (this one on Ellen today), I had no choice.
I should start by saying that I think bullying is a very serious issue; I was teased as a kid from elementary through junior high and know the pain of being called outside your name and being made to feel small and insignificant. Like many of you, I watched the clip of Ms. Livingston as well as her interviews with national media as she talked about the 'mean' e-mail and its bully of a writer. In the famous e-mail, the writer, since revealed to be Kenneth Krause, writes:
It's unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn't improved for many years. Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.
After hearing the letter, I was surprised that it was described as hate mail and angry as I know few letters of that breed that start out with, 'Hi Jennifer.' What was more surprising was Livingston's reply that the e-mail amounted to bullying. When I was being called out by classmates, I WISH I could have instead received an e-mail, which I could have ignored or deleted or responded to with 'kiss my ass' or maybe even printed out and burned and then flushed down the toilet. These choices, while available to Ms. Livingston, aren't available to victims of bullies. What makes bullying so devastating is that its targets are those that are most physically and/or emotionally incapable of handling its effects. A classification which Ms. Livingston, as a local personality with the platform and verbal acumen to respond to a viewer's comments, quite frankly doesn't fall into.
What I'm seeing is someone whose feelings were hurt and who confused unsolicited advice with bullying. She admitted that she's aware of her size and saw no point in Mr. Krause detailing what was obvious. It's not fun to have someone comment on something you're already sensitive about. But why make their words more important than they are by publicizing them? And what person on television doesn't expect to receive all kinds of comments from viewers? Should everything that isn't complimentary be lumped into the same category as bullying?
One of the comments Livingston made in her original on-air response was that 'we should teach our children to be kind not critical,' as though criticism is synonymous with cruelty. The problem here is we are creating a world where the solution is being nice all the time, which isn't appropriate all the time; we're not teaching kids how to express themselves in honest but tactful ways and we're also not giving them the skills necessary to deal with comments they may hear or read that they may not like.
Criticism in and of itself is not the problem; it can be necessary to open the door for improvement and dialogue. Bullying, however, is a serious problem and diluting it to include behavior which can be easily rebutted seems beyond incongruous.
By now you've heard about designer Karl Lagerfeld's comments about Adele; in a interview with Metro - Paris, he's quoted as calling the singer 'a little too fat, ' adding, however, that she 'has a beautiful face and a divine voice.' For this, the legendary designer was called out for being insensitive and abrasive. He later clarified his remarks, rhapsodizing about Adele's talents and using the ole PR trick of saying that his comments were 'taken out context'. Brace yourselves people, but was his use of the 21st century's newest f-word so wrong? In his defense, Mr. Lagerfeld works in an industry notorious for being 'size-ist'. He's described the fashion world as being one based in 'dreams and illusions,' so is it any wonder that his word choice was as blunt as it was? This is a man accustomed to working around women with low BMIs and even less body fat, what's so shocking about his use of the word 'fat'? Better yet, what's mean-spirited about the word 'fat' to begin with?
We use a lot of euphemisms to get around calling people fat: big-boned, thick, full-figured, zaftig, curvaceous, plump, such a varied lexicon for such a simple state. I often find flowery descriptions are a popular method of avoidance; like a Chicken McNugget dipped in a savory sauce, the tasty excessive breading and sugary sweet glaze helps us forget the basic lack of nutritive value…and chicken. If we say 'fat,' the conversation might have to include a discussion of health or wellness or fitness and with sixty percent of Americans being overweight and/or obese, is that something a majority of the nation wants to deal with? If we say fat, we make size a part of someone's physical appearance, a natural thing to do, but we live in a country that has yet to figure out how to discuss women's weight - this is usually never a problem for men - without making it a huge (forgive the pun) issue. We think the solution to women's insecurities about their bodies is to pretend that size is a non-factor. I approach that ideology the same way I do a person who says 'they don't see color,' with a raised eyebrow and slow retreat to the nearest exit.
Being fat is a reality and not necessarily a bad thing. Fat is not synonymous with unhealthy. Just as skinny, while culturally more acceptable, doesn't always mean fit. And if anyone knows the line between size and health, surprisingly, it might be Lagerfeld himself who over a decade ago lost over 90 pounds and kept it off. In an interview back in 2002 on the Larry King Live show, he easily volleys between using the words 'fat,' 'big' and 'overweight' to describe himself. His vocabulary, rather than revealing self-loathing or insecurity, showed that he had a healthy view of what he looked like and was in complete control of how he saw himself.
While I don't think his comments were intended to be mean-spirited, they were tangential to the subject at hand (initially, singer Lana Del Rey, and his favorite female singers, which along with Adele included Florence Welsh of Florence and the Machine). After all, what does size have to do with singing talent?
So the real crime for me wasn't so much his accurate description of Adele or the fact that it had nothing to do with the question, it was his blatant stereotyping of all Russian men as 'very ugly.' In a paragraph just below his much maligned Adele comment, Lagerfeld says, 'if I was a woman in Russia I would be a lesbian, as the men are very ugly. There are a few handsome ones, like Naomi Campbell's boyfriend, but there you see the most beautiful women and the most horrible men.' On the verbal abuse Richter scale, this has to rank as a nine or higher, but in the States, the comment barely registered at all. Tsk, tsk, tsk!
For shame, America, for shame.
Read Karl Lagerfeld's interview here:
It seems every couple of years the issue as to whether the N-word can be uttered, much less spelled out in text, makes headlines. Back in 2007, Don Imus got into hot water over his description of the Rutgers Women's basketball team as 'nappy-headed hos.' This led to a friend, Hamilton Jordan (former White House Chief of Staff), to phone in to his radio show in his support and defense, mentioning that the language he hears on the Chappelle Show and in rap videos is much more explosive than anything Imus or his co-host said. That defense, in turn, led to a national dialogue about the slur and how Black people view it versus how others view it.
The subject pops up once again as news of Rick Perry's family's unfortunately named ranch surfaces. As it turns out, his family leased the land for years before Perry himself signed onto the lease in the late nineties and then again in the mid 2000s. The problem? To some, the fact that he ever leased or went to place called 'Niggerhead Ranch' and to others, that he (or his father) merely painted over the rock rather than remove it entirely.
It doesn't matter that his family doesn't own the property and perhaps doesn't have the authority to remove the rock nor does it seem to matter to people that Perry's family did not in fact name the place. The only issue is that a white person has been associated with the word 'nigger' and the conflict of that pairing was brought to light by the panel on the daytime talk show, 'The View.'
While talking about the ranch, Barbara Walters, understandably, called it by its name, which was swiftly muted out by censors (thanks to tape delay). She expressed discomfort at saying the word and expressed confused awe that Whoopi (Goldberg)could utter the word repeatedly without her stomach caving in.
Goldberg, a seasoned comic, admitted that she delights in saying things you're not supposed to say and added that she knows that when Ms. Walters says it or anyone else for that matter, that it has nothing to do with her. Co-host, Sherri Shepherd, however, confessed to being uncomfortable with Barbara's usage and wielded that ugly double edge sword that many Black people whip out to defend the use of the slur, with the exclusion of most non-blacks: semantics. In other words, how White people mean, use and pronounce the word (nigger), is distinctly different from how Black people mean, use and pronounce the word (nigga, without or without an 'h').
What this comes down to is what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander. Lots of white people have a problem with this logic, that Black people can say it and they can't; isn't something that's wrong, always wrong, no matter what? The short answer: no. Words like this often become esoteric, wherein only members of that group can take liberty with its use. All others tread thin ice. It's no different than gay people who use the word 'queer' or women who feel empowered calling themselves 'bitches,' but put those same people in a room with someone else saying that…it's an entirely different story.
I don't buy the argument that certain marginalized groups have taken abusive language and evolved it to the point that the word's power to demean is stripped away; sticks and stones may break my bones, but word's can never hurt me?…Yeah, right. No matter how exclusive words in the English language may be, it's going to take more than slick defenses to kill the pain caused by their utterance. If 'the word' wasn't such a big deal, why are we calling it the n-word? Why did Michael Richards get in such trouble after an ill-fated trip to the Laugh Factory in 2006? Or go back to 1999, when David Howard, head of the Office of Public Advocate in DC, was pushed into resigning for using the word 'niggardly,' a word which sounds worse than it is and means cheap?
Interestingly enough, during the same segment of the View, Whoopi also said 'wop' and wasn't bleeped, so it suggests that 'nigger' carries 'special privileges', elicits heighten responses that perhaps other ethnic slurs don't. Which further implies that the same people who defend its use by members within the African American community, have yet to come to terms with it being said outside those confines. And that, ultimately shows that there's more to language than who says it, or whether it can be said (the first amendment clears that up), but at the core is whether it should be said at all.
September is one of my favorite times of the year; as the end of summer fast approaches, the new TV season is set to begin and not just the scripted variety. Reality TV is in full bloom with shows like Project Runway, Real Housewives..., Survivor, America's Next Top Model, Dancing with the Stars and others set to debut new episodes in the coming weeks. And while I am excited to see what kind of televised chicanery producers can come up with, there are a certain few 'twists' that I hope don't make an appearance:
1) Bringing back eliminated contestants: I have seen this device used on most of my favorites in some form or another. Although this rarely happens on shows where the audience is involved in the voting (less the show be accused of tampering with the results). Initially, seeing excommunicated competitors back in the game made for an exciting arc; would there be revenge? Could the ex-eliminatee turn it around and win the whole thing? That was then. Now, it seems like a tactic used to add a couple more episodes to the season.
Instead: Why not give the contestants an opportunity to vote someone off (a la Survivor)…without them knowing? The setup would have to be on a show where the judging is strictly internal. For example, a show like Project Runway, could have the designers score work from their rivals' collection. Each designer would not be allowed to score themselves and they must use placements (e.g, 1st, 2nd, 3rd) to avoid ties. The person with the highest score would be offered immunity and the lowest scorer, the door. The lesson: it's not only important to impress the glitterati, but your fellow man as well.
2) Not eliminating anyone: probably the worst one in the book because in not kicking anyone off, show runners have basically tricked viewers into watching a whole show without the satisfaction of seeing a conclusion. American Idol famously did this on their first installment of their charity edition, Idol Gives Back: A bloated results show with numerous performances, product placements, advertising and, an 'act of charity' toward the contestants: no one was sent home.
Instead: and this would be Idol specific, have what I call an Instant Replay. Judges: Steven, Jennifer and Randy currently use 'the save' to reverse a decision by the audience, if they see fit. Why not go one step further and give them the ability to call out a saved (but poor performing) contestant and exchange their place with someone in the bottom. If the person's total vote count is greater than the combined vote total for the other two low scorers, s/he would get to stay. This wouldn't make the judges fan favorites, but it would give them the opportunity to discipline poor performers riding too much on fan support.
3) Oh, and one more thing…: Competition series like Top Chef and RuPaul's Drag Race tend to do this, exhausting participants by forcing them to add on another mini project to their already time sensitive challenges.
Instead: Give them a choice of which project they would like to take on. A take off of the Amazing Race's Detour options, contestants would be given the option of performing, for example, three smaller tasks or one large one. The end result would be less stress on the participants and a varied final showcase, exciting for viewers and judges alike.
4) Spinoffs: the concept of one and done has NEVER existed in the reality genre. The goal has always been to ride the horse until the legs break off. The producers of the Fox hit Joe Millionaire wasn't satisfied with the record success of what should have been the first and only season of the show and went on to score a massive FAIL with the follow-up, The Next Joe Millionaire. This time trying to dupe European women into believing an American cowboy was a Donald Trump in stirrups.
Instead: Stop doing that!
By Keisha Allisse
Back in the mid-nineties, two networks were launched, the WB and UPN (years later they would merge to form the CW). Their initial lineups were nothing short of exemplary diversity. While other networks (maybe with the exclusion of FOX) used obvious tokenism to add a splash of color to their evening programming, the WB and UPN regularly had shows with predominately African-American casts; some of which were good (Moesha, its spinoff, the Parkers, the Steve Harvey Show) and others (The Wayans Bros, Homeboys in Outer Space)…not so much.
The fledgling networks build their audience (and revenue) on the backs of such shows until they could find and launch a crossover (read: white) success, a series that would catapult them into the bigger leagues garnering bigger advertisers, and hopefully, bigger audiences. For the WB, it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar; for UPN, Veronica Mars with Kristen Bell.
The arrival of rave reviews from mainstream critics usually precedes the ushering out of non-white shows, however, the contrary seems to be happening on VH1 where they’ve debuted programs like Fantasia For Real, Let’s Talk About Pep, What Chilli Wants and most recently, Basketball Wives. While the shows aren’t above the usual muckrake that is reality television, they at least offer more diversity within the racial spectrum than their fictional counterparts. For instance, after years of airing on ABC, we have yet to see a non-white Bachelor or Bachelorette; in a few years, VH1 gave us For the Love of Ray J, I Love New York, Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch and the granddaddy of them all: Flavor of Love.
Yes, perhaps thanks for the spike in African-American oriented programming ultimately belongs to he of the gold-toothed, clock wearing visage. The initial installment of Flavor of Love was a ratings hit for VH1 becoming its most watched show ever. And from this series sprang all the other so called celebreality shows we’ve come to ‘love’: I Love New York and its spinoffs, New York goes to Hollywood and New York goes to Work, Rock of Love, Real Chance at Love, Daisy of Love, et al.
The popularity of Flavor of Love ignited the desire to duplicate its success, not just in the same genre (romance and matchmaking), but expanding to include sports (the T.O. Show, Football Wives, Basketball Wives), music (Love & Hip-Hop, Brandy & Ray J, the Salt N Pepa Show) and eventually, scripted television (Single Ladies).
Whether or not the boom continues remains to be seen and while reality show quality has historically been dubious in nature, it’s nice to know that black people on VH1 are being given the same opportunities as white folks to make fools of themselves.
By Keisha Allisse
Naomi Campbell has been called many things, but she draws the line at 'chocolate'.
The supermodel's first name was recently used in a Cadbury's ad promoting their Dairy Milk Bliss. The ad actually reads, 'Move over Naomi! There's a new diva in town!' Ms. Campbell took great offense, claiming that the ad was 'insulting and hurtful' and that 'it's upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people.'
Well, Ms. Naomi has certainly cast a wide net with that last comment. To claim offense personally is one thing, but to claim it on behalf of a race of people is inexplicable. I will not diminish Ms. Campbell's feelings. While I admit to not understanding how the use of the word 'chocolate' to describe a brown-skinned person is offensive, I recognize that everyone hurts differently. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me say that I really, really dislike the word racism being bandied about like a ball on the court. Racism is an act of aggression against a whole ethnic group; it is not a word to be used lightly or flounced about when our thin skin is scratched.
I remember a little over a year ago, Lindsay Lohan sued E*Trade for $100 million due to an ad aired during the Super Bowl in which a baby named Lindsay was described as a milkaholic. I remembered the ridicule when word about the lawsuit made it to the press. Many argued that her name was not singular enough, like Madonna's or Oprah's, to claim that the ad was about her. Others said that even if the ad was about her, it was protected under the First Amendment as parody. Most assumed the case would be dismissed (it was eventually settled out of court).
The main difference between these two scenarios is color. Lindsay Lohan makes a similar claim with slightly better reasoning (milkaholic while humorous, was not used endearingly in the commercial), but nobody took it seriously. Naomi Campbell takes offense not at the 'diva' comment (see ad at right), but the 'chocolate' comparison? Confusing to say the least.
Should makeup companies change the name of some of their foundations from Caramel, Mocha, Espresso and Honey for fear of impending criticisms? I said I wouldn't be dismissive of Campbell's feelings, but I'm having a hard time comparing being called 'chocolate' to being called 'nigger'; comparing being 'depicted' as a chocolate bar covered in diamonds to being forced to sit in the back of the bus or being denied an education or medical care because of my skin color.
My biggest concern is that such claims of offense is almost like crying wolf; people will become so overexposed, so desensitized to it that upon its hearing, they won't do much more than bat an eyelash. Granted, in her statement, Campbell did not use the word 'racism,' but the connection for me is quite clear.
By Keisha Allisse
The Tony Awards are coming up, June 12…(that sound you hear are a few dozen people clicking away from this page.) For you holdouts, a real treat: Nina Arianda, the breakout star of Born Yesterday, a play which had its original Broadway run back in 1946. The story follows a back dealing businessman, Harry Brock (played with gusto by Jim Belushi) who brings his pretty, but dim girlfriend, Billie (Arianda) with him on a trip to Washington D.C. In an effort to keep Billie from embarrassing him in front of political bigwigs, he hires Paul Verrall (Robert Sean Leonard), a journalist, to wisen her up, but it's Brock who ends up smarting in the end.
I saw the original movie with Judy Holliday in the Billie Dawn role, so to suffice it to say, Ms. Arianda had big shoes to fill (in a Broadway debut performance, no less) and in my mind, weren't likely to fill them. Billie is one of those parts that actors tend to 'play' the originator of the role playing the part rather than innovating the role and bringing something of their own to it. Without question, Arianda is a rare member of the latter group. I couldn't be more pleased to admit how wrong my assumptions were! What a revelation she was! The play loses steam without her, and giving due credit to Belushi who gives his all, Arianda is the true headliner.
In her hands, Billie becomes more than a kept woman, and after her tutoring with Paul, more than an educated woman; she becomes a voice. When Billie talks about bullies taking advantage of others, I got the sense it was not just Billie's words or even writer Garson Kanin's words, but Arianda's as well.
This young actress' great skill was to infuse this character with believability in a way that was touching and empowering. Unfortunately, most of the show isn't as fabulous as Ms. Arianda's performance. Tony winner, Robert Sean Leonard sleepwalks most of the way and Belushi seems to think the key to playing a blowhard is A LOT of yelling, which is true in part, but there is no nuance.
On a side note: this was the first play I attended where applause was showered before an actor set foot on the stage. The set design was stunning and pleasantly caught me off guard. Accoutrements aside, the rest of the cast were alright, the women though were more than alright, giving effort to stand out in smaller parts: Helen, the maid (Jennifer Regan) and Mrs. Hedges (Patricia Hodges). For a short while, in the beginning of the first act, I thought I was listening to an Aaron Sorkin play; rapid fire delivery (but minus the wit or humor). For this, I'm not sure if the culprit is time (the play is over 50 years old) or delivery. Even the best joke will bomb, if not delivered with precision timing. Part of me though is glad they ran through the dialogue quickly, it gave me back some precious time lost in the dull first and third act.
To be fair, I saw the show in previews, when a production works out its kinks and cuts the fat, but it doesn't appear that there's much that can be done save write a few more scenes for Arianda. Maybe instead of Born Yesterday, they should just call it A Star is Born.
By Keisha Allisse
It was a rough past week for the avant garde pop star; her chart topping single, Born This Way, has been criticized since its debut of sounding a little too much like Madonna's Express Yourself. When asked about the similarities by a journalist from British magazine, NME, she responded, '…I swear to you. I am not stupid enough to put out a record and be that moronic. I'm a songwriter..,why would I try to put out a song and think I'm getting one over on everybody? That's retarded.'
The use of the r-word, along with the n-word and c-word, are terms that have long been locked away in the public no-no box. Gaga has since apologized for its use, but I wouldn't hold something like that against her considering that it was said in a rush of anger (who hasn't said something regrettable in a fit of fury?). The real crime? Not recognizing the clear resemblance between her and Madonna's tune. Are you telling me NO ONE in her entourage had the guts to say, 'Hmm…something sounds familiar?'
- Steer-rike one!
The next day, word gets out that the singer would not approve Weird Al Yankovic's parody, Perform This Way. Weird Al decides not to put the song on his forthcoming album and instead releases a lyric video on his youtube channel. Two million plus views later and after an outpouring of support, Gaga's manager admits that he never played the song for the singer and made the decision himself. Apologies all around and the track gets approved. The true crime? Actually it has nothing to do with Weird Al, but rather that heinous album art for Born This Way. Even fans are hoping it's a joke.
The proverbial 'straw that breaks the camel's back'? The Lady's Judas music video, which features the singer as Mary Magdalene and contains lyrics such as, 'Jesus is my virtue/Judas is the demon I cling to' and 'I am beyond repentance/fame hooker, prostitute wench/vomits her mind/but in a cultural sense.' The video was set to premiere on Easter (!) but was pushed back to a May 2 bow on American Idol (due in no small part to the HUGE uproar that ensued once the original date was announced by the press.)
Mashup of 'Express Yourself' and 'Born This Way'
Weird Al's parody, 'Perform This Way'
By Keisha Allisse
When he walked into the audition room back in 2003, there was nary a raised eyebrow or lip curled into judgmental snicker, but when Clay Aiken finished singing 'Always and Forever,' he not only wowed the judges, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson, but the viewing audience who assumed, based on looks, that he was a pale red-headed nerd who lacked enough friends to dissuade him from humiliating himself on national television. What's more, if you look at a clip of his initial tryout, he had the nerve to have confidence! (You're supposed to be really humble, even desperately insecure if you're an average Joe, right?)
We do it all the time; eye someone up and down and figure their looks give us a window to the depth of their talent. Thankfully, shows like American Idol and Britain's Got Talent have dispelled the myth of beauty being a precursor to ability. Aiken's success post show was due in great part to his vocal ability (which after weekly exposure, came across as more Broadway than Pop) and the amazing work of Idol's hair, makeup and wardrobe crew who took his look from drabby geek to heartthrob chic over the course of the season. At the height of his fame, Aiken even had an eponymous fan base, Claymates.
It's likely that without the show, Clay, no matter how talented, might have been relegated to playing small venues locally, never being given a chance to showcase his singing on a larger scale simply because of how he looked. Aiken's example proves that with the right entourage, looks can be inconsequential. Record companies and A&R execs should take notice: pretty singers with paper thin voices can have careers that only go but so far (Britney Spears is an exception, not the rule), but a plain Jane/Joe with a makeover can make more money in the long run. Case in point, Paul Potts and Susan Boyle from Britain's Got Talent. These two have a story that's even more poignant because not only their looks incited bias, but their ages as well.
Paul, at the age of 36, and Susan, at 47, would have been considered wa-a-y over the hill for developmental record contracts, but fate and forte met at the right moment and afforded them monumental success. Teaching another lesson: looks AND age carry way too much precedence in the arts world where neither have much effect on creativity. Would it be interesting to see someone older than Madonna on MTV or Jay-Z on BET? Imagine how much we're missing out on because we figure that anyone over 30 is irrelevant.
It's a good thing that BGT had no age limits and while Potts' rise from cell phone salesman to pop opera sensation is inspiring, and considering his years in amateur productions, well deserved, Boyle's story is truly affecting. Having lived alone since her mother's death, Boyle never married and as she mentioned in her audition, 'never been kissed.' She made a demo and distributed it to record companies without success until that fateful day when she met Simon Cowell (again!), Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden. Like Aiken, she had confidence, which instead of eliciting admiration, was met with eye rolls, until she belted out, 'I Dreamed A Dream.'
Two years later, Boyle has two successful albums including 2009's best-selling album in THE WORLD.
When all of these former contestants, now stars, walked into the room everyone thought, 'punchline'…look who's laughing now.
By Keisha Allisse As I write this article, the show’s producers have just confirmed that the show’s opening has been pushed back until ‘early summer’ removing it from contention for this year’s Tonys, and, even more disappointing, Julie Taymor, the visionary director whose imagination gives the show its distinctive look, has stepped down as director, but ‘remains a part of the creative team.’ BOO! I have never read a review for the musical, but I’ve heard plenty about the show’s accidents, many troubles and piling expenses; two phrases you never want to hear in combination when speaking of a Broadway show: ‘troubled’ and ‘expensive’. Initially, I was worried. How did they intend to set this to music? I shuddered as I imagined orchestral arrangements of the theme music I heard as a kid, watching the Saturday morning cartoon. Dancing Spidey? No way! But lo and behold, I had the chance to see the show the other night and quite simply, it’s fantastic. Hospital stays aside, the show is pure spectacle: part rock, part musical, part stepping competition with heaping doses of Cirque Du Soleil and IMAX big screen flourishes. The music takes a backseat to the all encompassing wonder of the show, which is why purists probably won’t enjoy it. The songs by Bono and the Edge are merely sufficient in weaving the story together lyrically. ‘Rise Above,’ ‘Pull the Trigger,’ including other songs featuring Arachne (played by understudy, America Olivo) are personal faves, but that’s still a low ratio for a musical. The show is narrated by the geek chorus, four teens who collaborate on a dream Spiderman issue. The first half moves well, from the myth of Arachne (the mother of all spiders and therefore, Spiderman), then Peter Parker’s suffering at the hands of bullies and Mary Jane’s abusive home life to Parker’s eventual transition into Spiderman in Norman Osborn’s (soon to be the Green Goblin) laboratory. The aerial acrobatics are jaw dropping. From the opening weaving sequence to the gravity defying battles, it is, without a doubt, the coolest part of the show. The maneuvers to my eye (albeit untrained), looked incredible and seamless. And for this, credit must go to Daniel Ezralow who choreographed everything from what’s on the ground to what’s in the air. The second half of the show is more of a mindbender and definitely has too much crammed into it; Peter, pushed by the stress of trying to balance a double life, quits being Spiderman. This incenses Arachne who doesn’t take kindly to her gift being tossed aside. What commences after is a siege of terror that ends in an anticlimactic battle between good and evil. My only other issue, other than the time sucking latter part of the show, is the anachronistic setting of the Daily Bugle. Is this contemporary or period? Every other scene makes me believe we're looking at 2011, but step into the offices of the local paper and suddenly we’re thrust back into the days of dames tapping away on typewriters, irksome, but still, a part not greater than the whole. Truly this is the first musical I’ve experienced where everything matters; the scenic design (George Tsypin) that creates a life sized, pop up comic book set which masterfully lifts and shifts, playing with perspective, creating depth in a 2D world; the colorful costumes (Eiko Ishioka) and the expressive masks (Julie Taymor) to the screen projections (Kyle Cooper) which brighten the stage with live and animated sequences. It all comes together in an appropriately over the top way. Most musicals are about the songs, story, maybe the dancing, but this ain’t your grandma’s musical. It’s a hyperbolic musical collage, one you have to see to believe.
By Keisha Allisse
As I write this article, the show’s producers have just confirmed that the show’s opening has been pushed back until ‘early summer’ removing it from contention for this year’s Tonys, and, even more disappointing, Julie Taymor, the visionary director whose imagination gives the show its distinctive look, has stepped down as director, but ‘remains a part of the creative team.’ BOO!
I have never read a review for the musical, but I’ve heard plenty about the show’s accidents, many troubles and piling expenses; two phrases you never want to hear in combination when speaking of a Broadway show: ‘troubled’ and ‘expensive’.
Initially, I was worried. How did they intend to set this to music? I shuddered as I imagined orchestral arrangements of the theme music I heard as a kid, watching the Saturday morning cartoon. Dancing Spidey? No way! But lo and behold, I had the chance to see the show the other night and quite simply, it’s fantastic.
Hospital stays aside, the show is pure spectacle: part rock, part musical, part stepping competition with heaping doses of Cirque Du Soleil and IMAX big screen flourishes. The music takes a backseat to the all encompassing wonder of the show, which is why purists probably won’t enjoy it. The songs by Bono and the Edge are merely sufficient in weaving the story together lyrically. ‘Rise Above,’ ‘Pull the Trigger,’ including other songs featuring Arachne (played by understudy, America Olivo) are personal faves, but that’s still a low ratio for a musical.
The show is narrated by the geek chorus, four teens who collaborate on a dream Spiderman issue. The first half moves well, from the myth of Arachne (the mother of all spiders and therefore, Spiderman), then Peter Parker’s suffering at the hands of bullies and Mary Jane’s abusive home life to Parker’s eventual transition into Spiderman in Norman Osborn’s (soon to be the Green Goblin) laboratory.
The aerial acrobatics are jaw dropping. From the opening weaving sequence to the gravity defying battles, it is, without a doubt, the coolest part of the show. The maneuvers to my eye (albeit untrained), looked incredible and seamless. And for this, credit must go to Daniel Ezralow who choreographed everything from what’s on the ground to what’s in the air.
The second half of the show is more of a mindbender and definitely has too much crammed into it; Peter, pushed by the stress of trying to balance a double life, quits being Spiderman. This incenses Arachne who doesn’t take kindly to her gift being tossed aside. What commences after is a siege of terror that ends in an anticlimactic battle between good and evil.
My only other issue, other than the time sucking latter part of the show, is the anachronistic setting of the Daily Bugle. Is this contemporary or period? Every other scene makes me believe we're looking at 2011, but step into the offices of the local paper and suddenly we’re thrust back into the days of dames tapping away on typewriters, irksome, but still, a part not greater than the whole.
Truly this is the first musical I’ve experienced where everything matters; the scenic design (George Tsypin) that creates a life sized, pop up comic book set which masterfully lifts and shifts, playing with perspective, creating depth in a 2D world; the colorful costumes (Eiko Ishioka) and the expressive masks (Julie Taymor) to the screen projections (Kyle Cooper) which brighten the stage with live and animated sequences. It all comes together in an appropriately over the top way.
Most musicals are about the songs, story, maybe the dancing, but this ain’t your grandma’s musical. It’s a hyperbolic musical collage, one you have to see to believe.