Archive for the ‘film’ Category

jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of 2019

I’m gaga reflecting on another rich year of San Francisco Bay Area opera, music, theatre, drag, dance… Welcome to my 11th Annual TOP 10 List! As always, reflecting on these is part of how I enjoy the pleasures of the year all over again, and an essential part of that was sharing in most of these with a good friend. I hope you enjoy perusing them as well. The top two offerings here fulfilled long-standing dreams/wishes to see each LIVE. That alone made them notable for me, even setting the amazing results aside.

What were your top shows/live artists? Share in the comments below…and hope to see you at a venue in 2020!

1) Heart: LOVE ALIVE Tour, Sept. 6

Ann Wilson is in ASTONISHING vocal shape at 69 years old…far beyond what I expected. She cast a heartfelt, passionate, witchy spell, and served up breezy, personable storytelling intros to each song, with a warmth I didn’t expect. 

It dawned on me that perhaps only because she’s still alive and kickin’, is she not considered the legend that Janis Joplin is. I mean, c’mon…this is a GODDESS in our midst! Why aren’t we bowing down before her? Even the masterful Linda Ronstadt can’t sing anymore. And this woman sounds like she’s 35. Plus, she also whipped out a masterful flute solo (ala Lizzo)…who knew?!

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Her sister, Nancy is not far behind at 65. It was a nearly spiritual evening, with musical highlights incl. Magic Man, Dog & Butterfly (duet), Love Alive, Mistral Wind, The Boxer (a fantastic cover of a Simon & Garfunkel favorite!), and the fabulous encores: Alone (Ann’s anthem belt), Barracuda, and Stairway to Heaven (picking up on their Kennedy Center Honors’ tribute). Their hits have always been special to me, as my siblings and I used to belt them in our falsettos, racing down Cincy freeways.

This was my first time at the Concord Pavilion, which felt like quite a trek from San Francisco (even with a friend), but in a beautiful, natural, oh so very NorCal setting. It’s similar to Shoreline, but a more dramatic, inspiring location.

2) Rusalka, SF Opera, Jun. 13 (Unofficial Final Dress Review)

My favorite international DIVA, Rachel Willis-Sørensen was in divine, refulgent voice. I always liken her timbre to Golden Age German mezzo Christa Ludwig, but with thrilling, easy high notes. (I’m thrilled to have scored tickets to see her at Opéra National de Bordeaux in 2020 as Donna Anna, in a sold out run.) She was a chameleon throughout the night, and well supported by the costume/wigs/makeup team…Act I: ala The Ring (the 2002 film), Act 2: ala Katy Perry, Act 3: ala Lady Gaga or Bowie in Labyrinth. She is no doubt the full package.

Brandon Jovanovich was virile and passionate, his Czech sounding so idiomatic (to my ears), with just the right throatiness and nasality. Yet another powerful role assumption this finest of dramatic tenors has blessedly brought to our house.

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Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

Jamie Barton was hysterical and offered a complete, 3D character. She just simply WAS Jezibaba, with a huge, booming voice. Act I was the highlight, Act III was powerful, and Act II sagged just a bit, based on the less seasoned Foreign Princess. Conductor Eun Sun Kim, recently announced as our new SF Opera Artistic Director (!) lent inspired leadership to the proceedings. I’m proud of the company for this historic promotion.

The opera ballet was surely the most playful and fun I’d ever seen (usually they feel like the bathroom or losenge break to me), with its camp, whimsy, mythic tone, and choreo by Andrew George. The Wood Nymphs were spectacular, particularly Natalie Image, who is a star-in-the-making. All three were perfectly whimsical and absurd. A welcome taste of Bouffon/buffoonery.

3) This Side of Crazy, New Conservatory Theatre Center (NCTC), Oct. 17

After performing some old skool #SouthernGlam in the “Happy Hour is a Drag” pre-show in the NCTC lobby, I stayed to experience the MainStage offering, Del Shores’ world premiere commission. Kate Boyd, scenic designer, offered an amazingly detailed, and intimate set that really drew one into the story, and created a real sense of place. I felt like I was really IN that home. The writing was masterful, with at least 25 quotable, quippy one-liners…surely a Del Shores specialty. Wes Crain curated costumes that with each entrance elicited a gasp or snicker. Just right.

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Ditty Blaylock (Christine Macomber, left) & Bethany Blaylock (Amy Meyers, right) / Photo: Lois Tema, New Conservatory Theatre Center

Christine Macomber was a tour de force as the family matron Ditty Blalock, a narcissistic, self involved joy, but wrapped in a messy sort of love. I’d LOVE to know more about her past, and her own trauma. That could easily be a Part II play (calling Del Shores!).

The actresses portraying the Blaylock daughters/sisters were a very well-rounded trio. You could feel their dynamic synergy at all times. Alison Whismore was particularly affecting as the neurotic, chain smoking, gaunt, and just on-the-edge Abigail Blaylock. Cheryl Smith and Amy Meyers were also excellent and committed as the other sisters.

So many laughter and tears. This is silver screen ready! Throw Olympia Dukakis or some celeb in that role (or keep Christine!) and it’ll be the next Steel Magnolias. As Ditty exclaimed to her daughters: “I taught you to have conviction, even when you don’t mean it.” (close, if not exact quote).

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jcm’s Top 10 Show Picks of ’14

My show-going in 2014 started out slowly, all thanks to grad school. But, thankfully, by the summer, it was in full swing again. So, there is plenty to gush about on my annual list. Always so grateful for the Bay Area offerings…and no doubt one of the reasons I continue to call it home, especially as travel is a bit fewer and farther between these days. Performer friends, if you’re show’s not on here, I didn’t see it <wink, wink>. I hope you enjoy my musings! What were your favorites of the year?

1. Cher, with Cyndi Lauper, at SAP Center – San Jose

Cher tops my list. Surprised? Cyndi was her opening act, with a voice still in surprisingly rocking’ shape. Can she really be 61? And, for that matter, can Cher really be 68?! (Don’t answer that.) Highlights were “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe” (a remix), a “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” and “Half Breed” carnival-themed set, and a Burlesque-themed set (incl. “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”), a duet with Sonny, and a staging in which she was floated above the audience, as if a religious icon (not that she isn’t). The show was really perfectly crafted…and OFFICIALLY her last. It indeed felt like a farewell. No one could pull off what she did. My friends and I had a ball, shaking our tail feathers and lip-syncing from our nose-bleeds once things heated up.

2. Matt Alber, at Great American Music Hall

Matt is the only solo repeater this year. He topped last year’s list. His brother, Lou Jane was the opening act this time. Matt’s set included “The Wind,” “The Stars,” “Field Trip Buddy,” “Rivers and Tides,” “Handsome Man,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Rescue,” “Make You Feel My Love,” “House on Fire,” “Spectacularly,” “Brother Moon” (duet with brother, Lou Jane), “Always” (a jazzy, ACAP cover), “End of the World,” “Walking on Sunshine,” “Send in the Clowns”. It was a transfixing and warm, familial night. He alternated between piano and guitar accompaniment. His band and some classical instrumentalists joined for various songs, including a sensitively played cello, and his dad sweetly tickled the ivories as well.

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3. Karrin Allyson, Jazz at Filoli Gardens

Her smoky tone and easy swagger make her one of my jazz favorites of late. Highlights included “All You Need to Say (Never Say Yes),” which features the moving line: “Search to find true happiness and the world will say yes – yes is all you need to say.” Also, Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will,” “All I Want” (Joni Mitchell), “What a Difference” (with Kenny Washington), Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” “O Baquino,” and “I Can Do Anything As Long As I Know You Love Me,” a beautiful new song by her. This is also a fantastic, intimate outdoor venue.

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4. “Luster,” SFGMC, with Ann Hampton Callaway, at Davis Symphony Hall

This show featured “Tyler’s Suite,” a commissioned tribute to Tyler Clementi. Out of the three SFGMC shows I attended this season, this one was the stand-out. The chorus soloists were surprisingly solid, and the chorus delivered finely textured harmonies. Ann did an improvisational piano solo before which she asked for names and local/SF places of note from the audience, and incorporated them into her song. She had us rolling in the aisles. And that voice! So soulful, nurturing, contralto-ey. Cuts to my heart.

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5. Nutcracker, SF Ballet

This production is still very fresh after 10 or so years, and delivers on all its holiday promise. Highlights were the Grand Pas de Deux, featuring Yuan Yuan Tan, and her VERY dashing prince, Luke Ingham (not pictured; I wonder if HE was “taught to be charming, not sincere”), and the magical snow scene, very moving with audible en pointe and snowfall onstage. They do NOT scrimp on the amount…for five minutes your head is in the Sierras. Calling the Zamboni!

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6. Norma, SF Opera

The level of musical attunement, and true bel canto shared between Sondra Radvanovksy and Jaime Barton is a rarity these days. It harkened back to the Sutherland/Horne pairing in its best moments. How to say it…Rad’s voice is never not interesting to me. I don’t understand her vocal production, which makes it fascinating. It’s richly textured at best…buzzy at worst. Reminiscent of Callas in the lower range, and belted utterances. She was very liberal with the gossamer pianissimi, and offered some thrilling full-throttle high notes. Barton displayed moments of Horne in her lower chest. She knows how to move, and seems really “in her body,” which offered a sensuality. She’s also the most youthful Adalgisa I’ve yet seen, which made Pollione’s passion all the more believable. The production offered some nice detail, but didn’t inspire, and the Avatar-style makeup was mystifying. Norma’s two children were beyond precious.

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7. Jimmy James, at Rebel

Highlights included his impersonations of Cher, Bette (doing “Feliz Navidad“), Barbra, Billie, and Liza (doing “Single Ladies”!!!) had us alternately in tears and stitches. He is a very skilled entertainer, with an incredibly versatile and impressive voice. I hope he’s fast becoming more of a gay household name that he should already be, aside from his ’80s appearances on the talk show circuit as THE perfect Marilyn impersonator.

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8. Esalen Work Scholar “Reading,” in the Solarium

It was a privilege to sit in on this informal, private event. It featured teacher John Smith’s “If I Were a Robin,” and included original songs and poems/prose by the students. My emotional response to the event was no doubt stoked by the Big Sur setting, and the crackle of new writers growing their creative wings. Here’s “…Robin” from a previous show.

9. Showboat, SF Opera

What a treat to see this great american musical for the first time, and performed at this level. Standout performances were by Morris Robinson as Joe, and Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie Mae. Patricia Racette’s rendition of my favorite “Bill” was beautifully and movingly handled. Not operatic in the least. Perfectly scaled down. The production was beautiful and really served the piece.

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10. Mary Lambert, at the Nourse Theatre

Mary is such an open-hearted, disarming, and authentic artist. She warmly invites you into her unique vision and storytelling. Highlights included “Jessie’s Girl” (cover), “My Body,” “She Keeps Me Warm,” and “No Secret” (encore). Her themes of body image, and mental illness/health are much needed in our current culture. Young Summer was the opening act. She was reminiscent of Lana del Rey.

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Other Notable Performances:

• Michael Fabiano, as Rodolfo, La Boheme, SFO, delivered Golden Age tenorial squillo and passion
• Heidi Melton, in recital, SF Performances, SF Conservatory of Music, a Merola/Adler star returns again, incl. idiomatic and stunning Sibelius and Strauss sets
• Jef Valentine, in Panorama, ACT Costume Shop, a beautifully committed and personal vision of the Peter Pan legend
• Sean Patrick Murtagh, in Holiday Test Drive II, Martunis, incl. a perfect, refulgent “Oh Holy Night”

Favorite Drag Show of the Year:

MASCARA “Burlesque,” hosted by the Castro Country Club, featuring irreverent, moving, messy, unforgettable numbers by Uphoria, Serenity Heart, Jada Stevens, Dina Isis, Dusty Porn, and more. All in service of, to inspire, and raise funds for the queer recovery community.

Top 5 Best Movies of the Year (that I saw):

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Into the Woods
3. Boyhood
4. Love is Strange
5. The Theory of Everything

Check out last year’s list >

Share your favorites. And, here’s a toast to what 2015 brings!

“When Harry Met Salvatore”

A gay take on a great scene from one of my favorite movies, and arguably one of the best romantic comedies of all time (which I just gladly rewatched).

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Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sal: Why not?

Harry: What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that gay men can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sal: That’s not true. I have a number of gay male friends and there is no sex involved.

Harry: No you don’t.

Sal: Yes I do.

Harry: You only think you do.

Sal: You say I’m having sex with them without my knowledge?

Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.

Sal: They do not.

Harry: Do too.

Sal: How do you know?

Harry: Because no gay man can be friends with a man that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with him.

Sal: So, you’re saying that a gay man can be friends with a man he finds unattractive?

Harry: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.

Sal: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?

Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Sal: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.

Harry: I guess not.

Sal: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in San Francisco.

But, at least Harry doesn’t have to worry about Sal faking an orgasm (ala Meg Ryan)!

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“Toi Toi Toi” on SFO “Butterfly” Opening Night!

Inspired by a comment from La Cieca on one of my recent facebook statuses…here is the opening of my greeting to all my fellow Koken, cast, and creative staff tonight, on Opening Night of San Francisco Opera’s Madama Butterfly:

“When the River Meets the Sea”

Back in february, CJ and I performed with our friends inEMERGENCY Cabaret Relief: Haiti.” It was our cabaret debut together, and our first performance together since we met six years ago, in ROLT’s production of The Wizard of Oz.

We performed a song very near and dear to my heart, Paul William’s “When the River Meets the Sea,” from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. This Jim Henson movie has been a family favorite since I can remember, and it’s spiritual questioning felt so perfect for the tone of this fundraiser.

I’m pleased to be able to finally share the video of our performance. Unfortunately, the source audio is not ideal, so please turn up your volume for the beginning, and be prepared to turn it down once the source volume increases:

“The 40 Year-Old Homo” Blog Roast!

Alas, it’s true…I’m a mere 2 weeks away from this notorious milestone. I aim to make it as whimsical and festive as possible. I welcome a blog roast here on jcm! So, fire away…hit me with your best shot! Whatchyoo got on me? Make Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin proud.

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def: noun. A facetious tribute, as at a banquet, in which the honoree is alternately praised and insulted.

The Cultural Phenom of the National “Diva”

Thanks (again) to Vinyl Divas, I discovered the singer “Gohar Gasparyan.” I youtubed her, simply because her name was so eccentric, and her mug not exactly the prettiest. I immediately smelled a camp classic discovery. Well, I was both wrong, and right. Turns out, she was very lovingly considered “The Armenian Nightingale.” It struck me that each country or culture seems to have their divathe one considered to be the greatest, and to inspire and somehow embody the spirit of the nation.

Here’s a look at some of the biggies. Some of these names immediately came to mind, but a few took a little more digging. Some are genuine classics, and a couple (ie: Gohar and Yma) have one foot firmly (if unintentionally) in camp. One of the qualifications of a true diva is a title, nickname, or single name (ala Cher), as most all of them prove. Pathos is a requirement, and often a tragic life and/or death the deal maker for that highest rung of fame in posterity. In some cases, an operatic diva reaches this highest level of mainstream public adoration, but only in those cases did I include them here. Of course, the diva phenom and the gay sensibility are inextricably linked, and although that is surely part of my own inspiration, it is not the focus here.

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Gohar Gasparyan (’24 – ’07): “The Armenian Nightingale”

“In ’48, she migrated to Soviet Armenia, along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians from the Middle East.” Upon her death, she was billed “The greatest master of the Armenian Opera Theater, the People’s Artist of the USSR, the hero of the Social Labor, the National Artist of Armenia, the Mesrop Mashtots order-bearer, and the professor of the Yerevan State Konservatory after Komitas.” In her prime, she displayed beautiful control and range:

This video ofO beau pays from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots shows she had the chops, but no technical or interpretive greatness in western opera to qualify her as a true operatic legend outside of Armenian rep. She delivers priceless camp at 7:05, with a shameless peekaboo that will have you rolling! As with all true divas, she was still worshipped in her later years, when her voice and body were in decline, because her heart and expressivity were at their most potent (the accidental whistle on her “sh” consonants is precious).

Continuing Discovering National Divas —>

Cohen & Czisny’s Opera on Ice Duet

When I originally read the “Stars On Ice” program lineup, the highlight, hands-down, was the prospect of a Cohen/Czisny performance of Delibes’ Flower Duet,” from Lakmé. It was the only number that came close to the inventiveness of my GAY Stars on Ice… lineup! (Yuka Sato’s “Clair de Lune” was also enticing.) Well, since I don’t plan to attend the show live, thankfully a youtube video of it has surfaced, however janky and incomplete it may be.

Unfortunately, it feels quite underrehearsed, which is odd for the two perfection queens of the ice. But, it’s still quite pleasing, considering their peerless, but comparable spiral positions. Hello Charlottes…I’ve missed you so! It’s quite the “Anything you can do, I can do better” routine. Good thing they don’t attempt any of those pesky jumps.

Also, my hopes for some hint at the implied (or projected?) lesbian subtext of the duet were dashed. No surprise there. Although, I’m still tempted to bill this the “Spiral Bump” routine (ala Donut Bump).

The full name of the scene is: Viens, Mallika, les liens en fleurs…Sous le dôme épais. In the context of the opera, “Lakmé and her servant Mallika are left behind and go down to the river to gather flowers…As they approach the water at the river bank, Lakmé removes her jewelry and places it on a bench (while they bathe)” (Wikipedia). It is one of the examples of grand opera’s and mainstream culture’s obsessions at the time with eastern exoticism and orientalism (also evident in Madama Butterfly).

The duet was also famously used to set the tone in the beautiful, overtly lesbian scene with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, in “The Hunger.” It uses it to full effect.

Below is the libretti excerpt. What do you think? Is the lesbian subtext intended, or projected by the viewer or culture of the time?

Under a dome of white jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On a river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning

Gently floating on it’s charming risings
On the river’s current
On the shining waves
One hand reaches
Reaches for the bank
Where the spring sleeps and
The birds, the birds sing.

Under a dome of white jasmine
Ah! calling us
Together!

A Delicious Morsel of Camp Art: “Carmen on Ice”

As I pine for the Vancouver Games, a recent date with youtube.com nudged a series of oh-so-relevant videos into my gaydar (think two Olympic “Battles”), like a gift from Baby Jesus. So, take a seat at jcm’s table, as I dish up some classic camp, with a generous side of masterful interpretive skating…dare I say “Art”?

But, for a moment, I digress. The opera Carmen has a storied relationship with figure skating. The score has been used in programs by the likes of Curry, Fratianne, Witt, Thomas, Bestemianova & Bukin, Petrenko, Krylova & Ovsyannikov, Navka & Kostomarov, Yagudin, Kwan, Plushenko, Slutskaya, Cohen, Suguri, Lysacek, Asada, Nagasu…and that’s just the short list! It’s the program that most skating fanatics prayer be hung up for a good decade or two, or better yet retired, and yet each new generation can’t resist it. So, we stomach it. Fortunately, Nagasu’s most recent take on it was more Opéra-Comique: playful and coquettish, and less about the “sexy.” (Whew…as she’s only 16!)

Although I surely knew about the film Carmen on Ice (1989) back in the day, I somehow forgot about it, and am not even sure if I ever saw it. The made-for-tv figure skating movie features the duo of Katarina Witt & Brian Boitano in their oft-billed faux “straight”/hawt package…and throws in Brian Orser for good measure. All three won Primetime Emmy’s for “Outstanding Performance in Classical Music/Dance Programming.”

They really do LOOK their parts: Witt smoldering and fiery, Boitano (Don José) brooding and even dreamy at times, and Orser (Escamillo) showing great bravado. Allowing for the forgiveness factor that these are skaters, not “actors”, the acting ranges from acceptable, to quite good in select moments. Other than perhaps Kim Yu-Na, or Oksana Baiul (in her prime), and maybe Sasha Cohen, I can’t imagine another female skater meeting as many of the requirements of this role. Boitano is a wooden actor, but skates beautifully, and with romantic strength throughout. Orser really lights up his scenes. Fratianne Olympic gold spoiler Anett Pötzsch (Witt’s sister-in-law) even makes a cameo as Mercédès. German actor Otto Retzer is quite sexy as Zuniga, but his skates proove to be rather pointless.

I prefer the more playful moments (most of the links highlighted below). Not surprisingly, the solo skating scenes are the strongest, but the more intimate moments, which require a strong connection don’t ring as true or conjure up much heat, as none of these principals were pairs skaters or ice dancers (and are gay, gay, gay). The production values are actually quite high, especially for a skating production.

However, I would have preferred a more pared-down approach, with minimal sets, so the pure skating could emerge as the primary mode of expression, rather than get lost in what feels like it’s trying too hard to be a legit movie. In this same vein, the director uses too many close-ups throughout, which fall rather flat, as they don’t play to their strengths, or allow us to see the choreography, edging or footwork.

My favorite current tv skating commentator Sandra Bezic offers some memorable choreographic touches. Interestingly, most of the sets are actual historic locations in Seville (and Berlin), and many of the Corp/Extras are locals.

My Recommended Highlights


The entire film is broken down into 10 youtube.com videos. The following are my favs, for either their camp or artistic value. You can easily link to all the other videos on youtube.com. Y’all enjoy now!

Près des remparts de Séville, Witt & Boitano
Although at first contrived, this rope dance won me over, and is really rather inventive. It’s an interesting way to allow the skating to tell the story.

Lillas Pastias & Toreador Song, Witt & Orser
Orser delivers loads of testosterone here, and it’s surprisingly convincing and entertaining.

Don José & Escamillo Confrontation, Boitano & Orser
Melodrama at its best. The boys go at it! Some priceless facial expressions.

Parade & White Dance, Corps, Orser & Witt
The “White Dance” with Witt & Orser is quite beautiful. They have a bit more chemistry than Witt & Boitano, perhaps because they’re not trying so darn hard.

Interviews
I love that Orser refers to his character as “Escamilio”. Perhaps that’s his character’s guido nickname!?

Post With the Most @ Gay Sports Blog

My post with the most “hits” ever (ok, that’s only since February ’09, but it’s still notable) has also just found a home over at gay.com’s Gay Sports Blog. Clearly peeps just can’t get enough of Johnny.

My originally titled “Pop Star on Ice” @ The Castro Theatre is now enjoying a second coming here: Review: Johnny Weir’s “Pop Star on Ice”. (Special thanks to Aaron. Hey, I scratch your back…you scratch mine!? jk)

Photos: Jay Adeff, Anon., and Kevork Djansezian / AP

Photos: Jay Adeff, Anon., and Kevork Djansezian / AP

It’s always lovely to reach an even broader audience.

Keep an eye out for a screening near you!