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Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to Warm Up Your Voice (New Singing Tips Video!)

YouTubers who watch my Super Short Singing Lessons (a video series I do on my channel) have requested a vocal warmup video. And behold! I have done it!

Guest teacher, singer extraordinaire, and all around handsome dude Sam Port (you may recognize him from other such riveting videos as this or this) joins me as we discuss what exercises will help you to hone singing technique, why you should celebrate "crack," and how you can prepare for your next performance. Hope you like it!

Monday, January 21, 2013

REVIEW! Les Misérables: Miserable, But Enjoyable

If there's one thing you must know about me, it's that I love pasta. If there are two things you must know about me, it's that I also love Les Misérables the stage musical (which I shall henceforth refer to with its gangsta abbrev "Les Miz").

Les Miz is my jam. I grew up listening to the soundtrack nonstop. I relish the (repetitive?) melodic themes, the moments when the rhymes don't quite work ("I am warning you Javert / I'm a stronger man by far!" --oh, Valjean). I can sing the final soprano note of "One Day More" so piercingly that all within earshot dash to their stoves to see if they've left a kettle on. I've seen the live show ten or some-odd times -- on Broadway, on tour, when my little sister played Eponine in her summer camp's epic production -- the last of which froze me in a downturned-lipped ugly-cry face for at least two weeks thereafter.

In other words: I'm a fan. Oh, I'm a fan.

So I went to the movie theater today (alone -- I'm not ashamed!) wanting to like the movie. I was prepared to weep openly. I was prepared to hum along to certain songs when the speakers were loud enough to mask it, lest someone throw me out onto the street. I was prepared to move seats several times to avoid the people who kept taking out their blindingly bright cell phones every five minutes, which was impossible, because everybody does this now?

In short, I was prepared to like it. And -- for the most part -- I did! I liked it!!!

I really did! It was not a walk in the park, but it was worth seeing!!

If you care to hear what I thought, please read on! If you don't, well, poop on you!

To start, let's talk ISSUES!


1) It was really, really, really, really heavy.

On a general note, I usually prefer to see films not so chock-full of heaving, dying, pleading, suffering, wet-faced individuals with cracked lips and startlingly small waists (Samantha Barks, WHERE is your ribcage!). In other words, happier films. Maybe something fun could have happened? Like, a game of hop scotch between Gavroche and Little Cosette, even though that would have voided the space-time continuum?

I'm kidding, of course. The story is not-fun, and there's no getting around it. This is France in the 19th century, when shit got DARK. If you don't want to accept that, don't go see the movie.

Because Les Miz is as epic and wrenching as they come. Straying from this conceit would have been unfaithful to the original work. So it's sort of not a real qualm because I can't really imagine the story being told any differently.

2) Movies are much more literal than staged musicals! This made some scenes hard to film!

Many of the epic songs/scenes in Les Miz ("One Day More," the finale) culminate in glorious, communal expressions of Big Themes! Like Freedom, or Love, or Home! These expressions often unfold onstage with the characters gathering together in a glorious, otherworldly, we're-all-in-separate-places-but-somehow-together Limbo Clump!  And they can sing to the rafters about Freedom, or Love, or Home! and watch the audience erupt in a fit of tears!

On screen? Not so much.

On screen, there is no "Limbo Clump" option, unfortunately. Or at least not one that's good? I guess Tom Hooper could film everybody flying up into the sky (like the end of Blades of Glory?) from which they could sing their parts, simultaneously separate and together.

But that would have made zero sense.

3) Les Miz loses something when it's so procedural!

So, like, even though I've seen Les Miz on stage a billion times, seeing the movie made me realize that I don't reeeeeeeeeally know what's happening? Like I know, at certain plot junctures that there's, like, a dude, and he's stuck under a wagon, and then Valjean helps him, and then the dude appears later and helps Valjean, and then Javert keeps appearing? But I don't always know how or why or where anybody is coming from, and it's always like "whoa!"

And I'm weirdly really okay with that?

To me, in the realm of a musical, these plot-device coincidences, run-ins, and fortuitous developments seem more miraculous and less same-old, same-old on stage. I'm not sure why. Maybe because we're not there with Valjean every step of the way, following him down alleys, witnessing his thought process as he's forced to escape over, and over, and over, and over, and over....again. So each time (during the staged musical) something miraculous or suspenseful happens, it's like, "Wow, I didn't expect that?"

Because I didn't always know what was happening in the first place?

in summary, there is a sort of Les Miz stage-plot/Les Miz movie-plot dichotomy. In the Les Miz movie, I understood the plot, because it was spoon-fed to me. Which was good, because I understood it, but bad because it was too procedural.

4) The songs/motifs got sort of redundant. (And I love the music!)

I think this is another stage versus screen problem: I find that, in the hazy, limbo-world of the staged musical, melodic motifs that cycle in and out of a plot have a very grounding effect in the theater, one that provides context in an otherwise murkier, more abstract experience. Whereas, in the Les Miz movie, I always knew exactly what was happening. As such, the returning motifs (be it the Bishop's theme, or "On My Own," or whatevs) seemed at times to be too much of an EXCLAMATION POINT at the end of everything! And I was like, "okay, okay, I get it. You're an honest man. We get it. Stop singing about it."

5) Did I mention it was really heavy? So much death and despair! I guess I never realized how taxing it is to watch a million people suffer and die UP CLOSE? But, also, I'm not complaining; I understood and accepted it, and ultimately was okay with it. I was just like, WHOA. By the end I needed to go and, like, listen to some Miley Cyrus.

6) Russell Crowe. WOW. I'm sorry, but... I can't. I just. Wow. [Scene.]

Okay! Now let's talk AWESOME STUFF!


1) I loved Hugh JackmanI've always been a fan, and he did not disappoint! Way to go, Hugh! Even though you had hair like Susan Boyle* and an occasionally super-grating vibrato, you still made me want to stand up from my seat and cheer! When it comes to leading men, you're the 2-4-6-0-1 for me. (I had to, I just had to.)

Right? Right?
*I must credit little sister Tessa and her friend Casey for making this amazing observation.

2) Anne Hathaway! Whoa! You really made me appreciate just how much Fantine's life sucks!

3) Aaron Tveit! I don't know how to pronounce your last name, but I know how to pronounce your face, which is "it's very beautiful." Okay, that made no sense, but whatever -- Aaron Tveit is a beautiful man with a stunning voice and my GOD could any role be cooler than Enjolras? The answer is no.

4) The little ones, i.e. Gavroche and Cosette! WHERE did they get those little-bitty dirty-faced cutie patooties that I just wanted to squeeze???

5) Samantha Barks! Ribcages be damned! Who needs a ribcage? You were amazing! (Also, did anyone notice that one of the rebel students had her exact face, except manlier?) (Which is a compliment to the dude, not an insult to Samantha.)

6) Colm Wilkinson! I heart you! I love the weird way you wrap your lips around words when you sing them!

In summary, I would definitely recommend this film, for all its flaws, but especially for its strengths! It's a beautiful staged musical, and I'm glad there is a film version that at least holds a candle to it. It may be a small candle. Maybe one of those tea lights. But a candle, nonetheless. If you go, keep an open mind and don't be a hater!

Just relax and let the misery overtake you.

What did you guys think? Comment below!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Actor Daniel Robert Sullivan Talks Theater and His Book!

Dear U.G. readers! Adding delicious spice (and "cheese") to the bloggoriffic concoction that is the U.G. Blog, guest blogger Daniel Robert Sullivan -- veteran actor, writer extraordinaire, and author of Places, Please! (Becoming A Jersey Boy) (which takes you behind-the-scenes of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys) -- is here to tell you all about his book!

Sounds like something you guys might like, right????????

(Also, he and I are both from Rhode Island! What are the odds? I'll tell you what they are: low.)

So, without further ado, heeeeeere's Danny!