Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Great works by Steve and Stephen

(Probably shouldn’t be staying up so late to write this, but the blog cries out, FEED ME! FEED ME! And it must be fed, like a Tamagotchi kitten, squealing away.)

Two quick picks, along with accompanying quickly banged-out reasons:

The movie Shopgirl written by and starring Steve Martin. A gem of a movie. A jewel box with a lush transporting score. It nonetheless manages to convey the real awkwardness and rush of romance while harkening back to older narratives such as Sister Carrie and La Traviata. In less able hands, the movie would’ve groaned under the simplicity of the plot, but instead, the music is earnest and sweeps you away. So there is this strangely alluring combination of verisimilitude and fantasy wrapped up in a modest but touching work. I may not know Martin’s work very well, but this was certainly a pleasant surprise.

The new production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, in previews now and opening next week. A dark, dark tale with only the slightest sprinklings of humor and delight. Another case of a story that could easily fall flat in less able hands. Having never seen it before, I came to this 25th anniversary show fresh and ready to be wowed. And I was. I’m not usually drawn to such macabre things, but accompanied by Sondheim’s dense and captivating music, it works so well. Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris - the first more experienced, the latter just recently attaining real fame - both feel like they’re at the top of their game, and seem to revel in the complex characters that are staged here. The set doesn’t move, the actors play the instruments on stage, and the killings are evoked by a loud screech and a wash of red light, so we’re left to ponder the mixed-up lives of the characters without any unnecessary embellishments. It’s gripping stuff that doesn’t ever feel exploitative. It’s a horror story less for your guts than for your mind.

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