Archive for the ‘opera refs in pop culture’ Tag

The Year of the “Hair”

I am thankful that the stars (and planets) aligned to make it so. First, I rediscover my love for the song Where Do I Go?, and purchase the music to prepare it for my music ministry at church. Second, an inspired new Broadway production opens on March 31st. [Enjoy a rehearsal video of Aquarius.] Third, my beloved niece and God-daughter catches the bug, adopting the show as one of her favorites, and embracing it’s milieu (a gal after my own heart).

HAIR!

Finally, to top it all off, after years of talking about HAVING to perform in the show, I discover that the local theatre company ACLO is putting it on in the fall, and thankfully get cast (the details of my exact role are still being ironed out in callbacks). I have had a blast doing a variety of shows over the past 5 years, and many have been great growth opportunities, but not since I was in West Side Story at Broadway By the Bay in ’04 have I been in one of my Top 5 shows!

Productions

Our production runs September 12 – 27 in the historic Kofman Theatre in Alameda, CA. And, I’ll have the privilege of seeing the Broadway production on August 2nd, hopefully with all the current cast members.

CCM's Production of "Hair"My love affair with the show seems to have really gotten going in ’89, when I attended a CCM production, at my University of Cincinnati. I had just graduated from high school and was a freshman in the College of DAAP. The show knocked me over. It was one of those truly life-altering experiences, where you feel your very fiber is transformed in some way. I had plenty of insecurities back then, particularly about my body. This show gave me permission to strip those away, embrace the gift of my body, and celebrate it. It was as if a huge layer of fear had been pealed away. Of course other layers still remained, but this was a huge step in the right direction. To this day, I can remember how effective the charming but forceful Sam Samuelson was as Claude (I had seen him as a fantastic Joseph there too), and how Beth Blankenship embodied the mother-nature-scaled presence required for Aquarius, with her rock-solid belt and larger-than-life persona.

I spent countless all-nighters in my home studio working on graphic design projects, singing along with the Broadway soundtrack (White Boys, Walking in Space, Sodomy, and Easy to Be Hard were the most overplayed). The original Off-Broadway production opened in October ’67 at the Public Theater. It was then overhauled and moved to Broadway in April ’68. Enjoy an exhaustive history of the show and all its deets on Wikipedia, or this tribute site.

Hair Movie PosterMy roommate in my first West Coast apartment in Noe Valley (’93) proved to be the Kathy Bates of Hair fan-dome. He had at least 25 international Hair record albums…in German, Spanish, and seemingly endless languages. Enjoy this excerpt from an eccentric Hebrew production. The ’05 Actor’s Fund benefit recording provided a much needed fresh take on the musical. Although the album is not spot-on, it included one of my favorite new artists Jennifer Hudson singing a soulful rendition of Easy to Be Hard. A VERY unlikely Sheila, she nevertheless delivers a great (although a bit too slow) “studio” version.

Gavin Creel

The new Broadway production features the finest male musical theatre performer of his generation, Gavin Creel, as Claude. This performer can do no wrong, in my mind. I discovered him via the Broadway cast recording of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Honestly, I would never have imagined him a candidate for the role of Claude, as his ultra-tender tone, and tendency towards pop-inspired melismas don’t seem like an obvious choice for this fresh-off-the-farm character. But, I’m thrilled such a great artist is engaged in such an acclaimed production, and now nominated for another Tony! This video shows him in beautiful form in more familiar territory.

New Broadway Production

Controversies

The show explored the prominent themes of the hippie movement, and ‘60s: race, drugs, nudity and sexual freedom, pacifism and environmentalism, religion and astrology, literary themes and symbolism. Theatre writer Scott Miller explained why the movement embraced these themes:

“Contrary to popular opinion, the hippies had great respect for America and believed that they were the true patriots, the only ones who genuinely wanted to save our country and make it the best it could be once again…. [Long] hair was the hippies’ flag—their… symbol not only of rebellion but also of new possibilities, a symbol of the rejection of discrimination and restrictive gender roles (a philosophy celebrated in the song “My Conviction”). It symbolized equality between men and women.”

These themes brought about much controversy, in their divisiveness. A Mexican production survived only one performance, and was shut-down by the government for being “detrimental to the morals of youth” (Wikipedia). Claude, in essence, battles out the opposing moral sides of the primary love vs. war dilemma of the era, in having to decide whether or not to resist the draft, as his friends had.

Love-InThe original Off-Broadway productions did not have the oft-discussed nudity. But, all “twenty seconds” of it were integrated by the new director Tom O’Horgan in its original Broadway reincarnation. The concept was “inspired by two men who took off their clothes to antagonize the police during an informal anti-war gathering” (Wikipedia). The familiar controversy over this nudity has reared its head yet again. The verdict is still out on whether our ACLO production will include it, or not. Apparently, concerns voiced by the school that owns the theatre may put a kabbosh on it. For some cast members that will provide relief, for others disappointment. We shall see!

Surprising Associations

I was shocked (and tickled) to discover this telegram from the legendary diva Callas, to the original Broadway cast. Who in a million years would have pictured her in that audience? Not moi!

Madame Callas Telegram

Amusingly, Leonard Bernstein remarked that “the songs are just laundry lists” and walked out of the Broadway production. Perhaps the true freedom portrayed in the show wasn’t in his vocabulary and scared him, as he was a man that lived, in essence, a double life.

Disco diva Donna Summer appeared in a German production! She is shown here singing Aquarius.

What’s Next?

The new Broadway cast album goes on sale May 26th! And, check out a scene
American Soldier, lyricist Jim Rado’s new show.

In the coming weeks my role in the ACLO production will be determined. They are two roles that could not be more different. I can’t wait for more to be revealed, and to begin rehearsals!

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YSL & Warhol @ the de Young

Never in the 15 years that Golden Park has been my backyard do I remember the de Young Museum offering TWO shows that were of such great interest to me, and also so relevant to one another: Yves Saint Laurent, AND Warhol LIVE. (In 1972 Andy Warhol painted four portraits of Saint Laurent.) YSL is only showing for another month, so be sure to catch it before it closes.

YSL drawingYSL was a revelation for me. I had no prior knowledge that his initial intention and chosen path was to become a costume designer. However, Dior helped nudge him down the path of haute couture, and he became his apprentice, and then upon his too early death (at 52 years old, in ’57) found himself (at the age of 21) the head designer of the House of Dior. In 1964 YSL designed costumes for the theater including The Marriage of Figaro and Il Faut Passer par les Nuages (You Have to Go Via the Clouds) by the Renaud-Barrault Company, so he didn’t turn his back entirely on actual costume design, but it is by no means his greatest legacy.

The de Young exhibit is beautifully paced and displayed, as one would expect. Walking through the museum space is both like walking through the decades, as well as through exotic places. You can almost smell the spices of, and hear the sounds of an African setting, through the ’67 “Raffia” collection. I found myself gathering poise as I experienced more of the collection… as the bar for elegance is so high one begins to wish they were on the runway themselves (well, maybe not everyone, but at least this gay boy did).

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

As with any experience of fashion or art, favorites began to emerge. Pieces that spoke to me on that higher level. Ones that I wished to linger on longer, or marvel at the construction of even further. They included a ’65 Evening Cocktail Dress, after Serge Poliakoff (ie: see purple, red and charcoal dress in picture to right), an ’81 black Taffeta evening gown (crisp layers of all black fabric), and a ’67 Evening Ensemble with a suede tunic, bronze sequined knit sleeves and wool jersey (the sequins were otherworldly looking, almost like a modern chainmail, but still feminine). My tastes, at least for haute couture, are probably just right of center. I tend to like clean lines, and restraint. I’m sure this is due to my graphic design training, but also just personal leanings.

Out of the more flamboyant pieces, I most enjoyed the Picasso (triangular jester patterns) and Matisse (blue and white ruffles) inspired dresses.

Walking amongst his masterpieces at the de Young, the theatrical influence and inspiration were readily apparent. I dreamt of seeing operatic productions based on these creations, where they would serve as costumes. It would not be a stretch to craft from these collections productions of Turandot, Ariadne (ie: the Picasso dress noted above), Lulu, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Don Giovanni (ie: the ’81 black Taffeta favorite noted above), Carmen, and more.

In the Imaginary Voyages section the de Young shared that he rejected the traditionally viewed and favored way for designers to gather their new inspiration: travel. Instead, he felt that images of the exotic and far lands, or experience of their art was enough for him. Perhaps his birthplace of Oran, Algeria offered even some exotic memories to draw upon. The Body Revealed section showed how YSL used cut-outs in the dress fabric to create new shapes and lines, and sensual peeks. The image used for the museum marketing features the most distinct of these, in the shape of a lyre.

Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger

Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger

And, yes, there were quite a few gawdy, garish, pieces which CJ imagined would be chided if they were seen on Project Runway today (even if you separated out the issue of changing taste of fashion through time). The Van Gogh sequined jackets (aka Alexis Carrington) were just one step away from your mom’s favorite Christmas sweater. Perfectly crafted, but overwrought.

“Nothing is more beautiful that a naked body. The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven’t had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.” — YSL (1983)

“He died on June 1, 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. According to The New York Times, a few days before he died, Saint Laurent and (Pierre) Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a ‘civil pact of solidarity’ in France.” — Wikipedia

Warhol LIVE:

Warhol’s worship of and effect on pop culture is well known, and still lives on. However, I was happy to discover his lesser known passion for opera and classical music, and his earlier work that directly dealt with those arts. In the ’50s he designed/illustrated covers for Opera News. In ’65 he attended the legendary Metropolitan Opera Norma, with Callas. He was a big fan of La Divina’s.

La Forza del DestinoThe de Young had an extensive, and broadly displayed collection of Warhol’s own LPs and tapes (pirate and studio). They included more popular fare like Judy Garland, Elvis, The Shangri-Las, and Rosalind Russell’s Wonderful Town, but also Price’s La Forza del Destino, Crespin’s Der Rosenkavalier, Callas’ Mexico City Traviata pirate, and more. And, of course he designed up to 50 record covers himself, for such artists as The Stones, Blondie, Aretha Franklin, etc.