The Ultimate Lion King Weekend

"The Lion King," www.broadway.com

"The Lion King," http://www.broadway.com

I had an opportunity recently to have THE ULTIMATE LION KING WEEKEND, which consisted of the 3D movie Saturday, the Broadway show on Sunday, and then a week of having “Hakuna Matata” stuck in my head. Some might have called this excessive, but any true Disney aficionado would call this a necessary examination of a narrative through diverse mediums—or just fun. It’s quite fascinating to see the same story told so effectively in such dynamically expressive ways. The depth of character established, of course built upon Shakespeare’s iconic Hamlet protagonist and antagonist, and the intense humanist emotions conveyed never fail to make me forget that I’m watching something originally intended for kids. The caliber of the Broadway show is also a testament to the quality of Disney’s initial creation in that they were able to take an animated movie and elevate it to such great artistic achievement. I suppose addressing universal themes, treated in whatever context, transcends boundaries and makes a piece truly timeless [insert Circle of Life joke here].

The movie

"The Lion King," album cover

"The Lion King," album cover

Watching a 3D Disney movie, you expect limbs to project into the audience, aromas of food to fill the air, and water to be splashed in your face while a character is swimming or being doused by an army of marching broomsticks (all of which Imagineers like to call “4D”). While the movie does not sport such features, it is a spectacular revisitation of a childhood masterpiece. Having not seen the movie in years, nostalgia would be an obvious statement, but it’s amazing the freshness and relevancy the film has been able to maintain. With the exception of the hand-drawn animation instead of computer graphics (humans? gross), it could easily be released today to the same acclaim (and judging from the box office the last few weekends, it has).

The Lion King

The Lion King

Watching this film also becomes a tragic reflection on today’s society in that kids’ movies aren’t like this anymore. Instead of films with classical plots and Oscar- and Grammy-winning songs, they watch animal rumpus shaking and rapping penguins voiced by pop-star “it” girls, stand up comedians, and TV stars looking for something to do between seasons of their basic cable sitcoms. I suppose it is the movie industry that is to blame for conceding to popular commercial antics and poorly shaping taste, as it seems that Pixar is the only one consistently producing quality films of such sort in Hollywood. If it wasn’t for the upteenth sequel and the establishment of franchises, “Madagascar” and the like wouldn’t even be in the household vocabulary, while even the Real Housewives are still serving their children “Little Mermaid” birthday cakes. This might sound ageist of me, but you’d be hard pressed to find many who disagree (and the Oscar statistics would incontrovertibly prove me right).

And into the theater

"The Lion King," playbill

"The Lion King," playbill

I hope to one day received entrance applause for my costume. The new ad campaign for the Broadway show is “Imagination Untamed,” which masterfully summarizes the legacy of the show, for it is without a doubt the greatest theatrical visual arts landmark of all time. That may sound like hyperbolic language, but if you’ve seen the show, you should agree with it. A half of a blog post isn’t really enough to explore this theatrical phenomenon, but the creative genius of Julie Taymor runs rampant onstage in this fusion of cultural arts and performing arts traditions. It’s simply stunning to witness the stage transform scene after scene into the most splendorous jungle environments inhabited by a population of the most technically complex puppetry and sculpted costume that go so far beyond suspension of disbelief to a place of true wonder and amazement—just one of those masks has more personality than half of the movie-adaptation musicals on Broadway in the last ten years (seriously, I would not want to run into the Mufasa mask in a dark alley). Despite the drama and negative publicity around her most recent directorial endeavor, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, The Lion King still solidifies Taymor as one of the most innovative directors the theater world has ever seen (and in this case without a $65 million price tag). But one quick note: can we please have some canned roar at the end? Human growl is a slightly anticlimactic intro to the grandiose reprise of the “Circle of Life.” Rawr. See what I mean?

"The Lion King," www.broadway.com

"The Lion King," http://www.broadway.com

Suggested wine pairing: This is the king of the jungle we’re dealing with, so a robust cabernet would probably be appropriate.

Sum of Days

"Sum of Days," by Carlito Carvalhosa

"Sum of Days," by Carlito Carvalhosa

What’s behind curtain number one?! Despite the cliché, game show connotation this phrase evokes, it is the very notion that incites the excitement for “Sum of Days” by Carlito Carvalhosa, the current multi-floor installation at the Museum of Modern Art. It fills the entire multi-story second floor lobby of the museum with a billowy, white iridescence. If you choose the explore the museum chronologically by starting at the top and working your way down (although it is MoMA, so whichever way you wish to delve into the collection is entirely your prerogative), you see the mysterious mass floor after floor, and anticipation builds. As you get closer, you hear muddled sounds and your curiosity peaks further. You notice that there is a line to enter the installation and you begin to grow nervous. What could this possibly be? It’s strange to be scared in a museum—well, aside from seeing a sea of uniforms and realizing that you accidentally came on a school field trip day. You start having flashes of Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” at check your abdomen for protruding shards of glass. The noise builds as it is finally your turn to enter—and then you are emancipated from your anxieties as you realize it is a sheet hanging from the ceiling. Sorry, it is two sheets hanging from the ceiling.

"Sum of Days," by Carlito Carvalhosa

"Sum of Days," by Carlito Carvalhosa

If I am horribly misinformed about some underlying magnificence that this piece embodies, independent of scale, please let me know. But my friend and I buzzed through the “elliptical labyrinth” faster than ABC cancels their entire fall lineup or a Teen Mom violates the terms of her probation. It has a vague reminiscence of playing in the curtains of the living room as a child, but even that got boring after about three minutes. I suppose part of the novelty of the piece is that you can touch it and truly interact with it (I for one have always dreamed of curating a ‘Scratch & Sniff’ exhibit—not one focusing on stickers but instead where you could touch the objects), but again, this is two sheets of fabric, not a shoe that’s just a squiggle or a chair made of plush toys. Conceptually, it works—if you can figure out what that is without reading the wall text. However, a mere cogent believability after reading the description is not a success if the perception of the viewer is nowhere near the desired interpretation and is rather a state of pure confusion.

"Sum of Days," by Carlito Carvalhosa

"Sum of Days," by Carlito Carvalhosa

The component that really jarred my experience was the added element of sound, which unfortunately is the crux of the meaning of the piece. Music or noise is not frequently incorporated into exhibitions at art museums, and when it is, it primarily serves to supplement or complement the visual piece. However, in this instance, the sound seemed to be more a distant, discontinuous cacophony that was not integrated into the empirical product. No, it’s not supposed to be communicating intelligible or articulate thoughts, but the layering of days—as it was supposed to be—just reminded me of a Futurist orchestra. Its clunky loudness contrasted awkwardly with the ethereal glow of the fabric.

I guess to quote an astute professor of mine would be most appropriate: “MoMA does it the way MoMA does things.” Whatever they do, they’ll always be cooler than you, and you’re an uncultured moron if you don’t get it. But that is Contemporary Art anyway, right? It’s also part of what makes it so amazing.

Suggested wine pairing: Hmm…this one’s hard. Conceptually it feels like a red, but if you spilled it, it would be like spilling red wine on your mother’s living room carpet or Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. Still, let’s go with it.

“Bossypants,” by Tina Fey

"Bossypants," by Tina Fey

"Bossypants," by Tina Fey

This book review may be outside the scope of this blog, but since I am the author, I will do what I want, and I will never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of the smartest, funniest person ever (or at least working in Hollywood today), Tina Fey. Her new book, Bossypants, which has been on bookstore shelves for a few months (and is probably now 30% off next to Chelsea Handler’s latest mindless patter about drunken hookups and one-night stands), is part introspective autobiography, part social manifesto, and part assortment of hilarious witticisms mixed with backstage insight. It is dense with punch-in-the-stomach one-liners that are far too numerous to cite here—perhaps a quote of the day calendar would be more appropriate. The book (or audio book, as I listened to it) really serves as an excellent display of both her rapier wit and impressive intelligence, a quality that is severely lacking—or at least not readily exercised—in the entertainment business. Centered on her childhood in suburban Pennsylvania, she chronicles her youthful experience at a summer camp called Summer Showtime, her career development at Chicago’s Second City, writing and performing at “SNL,” her “dream job” on the set of “30 Rock,” and the trials and tribulations of trying to capitalize on her pending last moments of fame (with a surprisingly philanthropic motive) while being a 40-year-old mother—all of which she sums up in being a “goal-oriented, obedient, drug-free adult virgin.”

Tina Fey, American Express Advertisement

Tina Fey, American Express Advertisement

Being the intelligent, perceptive feminist that she is, the salient theme presented is sexism—with the occasional bout of heterosexism—in the workplace, particularly in the entertainment industry. To put it bluntly, she calls people out on their misogynistic shit. This theme is incredibly dominant in Fey’s work (as frequently illustrated by her fictional counterpart Liz Lemon), but her discussion is necessary because there are far too few people addressing it as assertively and tangibly on this level. Sure, “Sex and the City” and other like-minded shows have done their part in socially liberating women and exposing double standards in gender relations, but they camouflaged it in (or rather preempted it with) pretty shoes, purses, and an overall fabulous lifestyle that was really not attainable by any of them in reality (except maybe Miranda, since she did go to Harvard Law). Fey presents the issue in approachable, relatable anecdotes that highlight her unpretentious, middle-class upbringing. Even when discussing becoming a viral Internet sensation as Sarah Palin on “SNL” (something that I doubt anyone reading this will ever attain, sorry), her cool demeanor and friendly tone still make it relevant and accessible. This is one of her “East Coast media elite” problems, but she even says that phrase with the kind of witty disdain that ensures you that she knows she sounds ridiculous in saying it. Regardless, her uniquely informed feminist perspective is unparalleled in conviction and dedication, and hopefully turns some heads and changes some executive minds.

Tina Fey at the 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards (Photo copyright AP)

Tina Fey at the 2008 Primetime Emmy Awards (Photo copyright AP)

Tina’s original television show “30 Rock,” while not necessarily embraced by the public (although this is the same public that fawns over “Glee,” so maybe it doesn’t want the public’s accolades), eats awards shows for breakfast. I will not be as humble as Fey (who occasionally mentions in the book the years in which it won SEVEN plus Emmy Awards) in boasting its accomplishments because it is, in my opinion, the greatest comedy series of all time. While simultaneously being one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen, it also offers a biting social commentary through genius writing and over the top satire that invites the viewer to challenge social norms and constructs. Some find it to be over-intellectualized and, in many cases, it probably goes too far for some viewers (for example, it has done black face on multiple episodes). However, it always finds a way to counter any offensive material in a way that makes you reflect on why you are actually offended. Many things in our society are not inherently offensive, only the meaning we’ve put behind them is. That statement may sound like it came out of an undergraduate Sociology course lecture (because it did), but I think it’s presence as a paradigm of the series coupled with the exploration of many of today’s most pressing social issues is what has made “30 Rock” the impressively bold and refreshingly idiosyncratic series that it is. This upcoming season is rumored to be the final season (for which reason I will find myself in a sea of tears every Thursday at approximately 10:30 ET/9:30 CT), so my only hope for humanity is that Ms. Fey continues to write books like this…and perhaps a few more movies like “Mean Girls” (“Fetch”? It’s slang…from England.)

Suggested wine pairing: per Liz Lemon’s recommendation, “Pinot Grigio, please”—although keep consumption to under one bottle and make sure there are no phones nearby with which to drunk dial the co-op board currently reviewing your application to buy an apartment, a warning also based on Liz Lemon’s recommendation and personal experience. Video Evidence Here.

Cirque du Soleil “Ovo”

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

“Ovo!” Shut up, damn clown. I’ve never been quite sure who finds the clowns in Cirque du Soleil entertaining, because neither I, nor anyone I have ever seen a show with, have. Alas, the audience laughs…inexplicably. These cartoonish beings explicating gibberish always seem to strip the rest of the show of its sophistication. Yes, all the performers are dressed as bugs like the cast of a Pixar movie, but the creativity of design and intricacy of the performers’ physical movement elevates their work to a mysterious and awe-inspiring art form. The clowns, not so much. If I wanted to deal with a sassy ladybug, I would talk to the one that lives between the window and the screen in my bedroom that insists on getting stuck in the blinds while I’m trying to nap.

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

Fortunately for “Ovo,” the mind-numbing performances of the clowns make up a smaller percentage of the overall spectacle than other Cirque shows (I’m talking to you, “Kooza”). The circus offered the company’s usual tasty palette of tricks: trapeze artists, tumblers, contortionists, and aerial performers to name a few. The theme of each act seemed to fuse creatively with the insect represented: aerial artists wrapping themselves in long strands of fabric as moths; a tubular, fuzzy mass twists around itself as a caterpillar; grasshoppers for hopping trampoline tumblers. Having seen a number of Cirque du Soleil shows, the flow becomes somewhat formulaic, but always entertaining. People laugh and applaud the smaller, more nuanced acts featuring young children with quirky talents (in this show spinning enlarged kiwis with their feet), and a vibe of excitement radiates through the audience as the trapeze and the safety netting—always the precursor to something enthrallingly dangerous—descend upon the stage.

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

Being on just this side of arachnophobia, I was shocked to find that my favorite performers were the contortionists channeling the sultry, murderous appeal of the black widow spider. Its act-two web is one of a few set pieces that precariously extended over the heads of the audience, as if drawing you into the venomous lair. The merely four limbed performer is one of the most abstract of the show, but still manages to capture the angular and elongated movement of the overly dexterous beast. The image of her crawling down the rock-wall-esque backdrop upside down still holds my mind prey. It’s one of those moments, characteristic of Cirque, when you think to yourself, “They have to be wearing a harness”…but they’re not.

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

Aside from the clowns, the only real issue with the show was the under utilization of the egg. After an exaggerated parade into the theater through the audience, it seemed at the very least to be anti-climatic to title the show after a prop that doesn’t advance the discernable plot. It served as somewhat of a power staff amongst the clowns, but its individual power did not extend far beyond that and was underwhelming. I assume I’m not alone in wanting to see it break or hatch or incubate into a mutant bug shedding exoskeleton clones capable of some superhuman feat. The show started with a massive inflated egg full of potential and ended with a sad prop abandoned onstage by the exuberant cast.

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

"Ovo," Copyright Cirque du Soleil 2011

For Cirque, the brilliant blue ocean strategy of transplanting a delicate European gem into the jaded American entertainment market has certainly been a profitable enterprise, as evidenced by the scores of productions that populate the globe, nation, and Las Vegas Strip. One of the reigning assets of the Cirque du Soleil franchise is the fascinating world into which you are invited. Going to an event in the United Center parking lot raises some eyebrows, but when you see the Big Top, minds change. Because of the all-encompassing atmosphere and admittedly the foreign intrigue, the wild fantasy seems so tangible and engaging. The carefully planned aesthetic and articulated language round out the details that transport you into this new world (really, “Tapis Rogue” sounds so much sexier than “V.I.P.”). It is a luring adventure that has put a much fresher spin on the idea of a circus than elephants and lion tamers.

Suggested wine pairing: a zesty Sauvignon Blanc, preferably in a carafe.

Gravity’s Loom

"Gravity's Loom," by the Ball-Nogues Studio

"Gravity's Loom," by the Ball-Nogues Studio

In the interest of not posting yet another review of a colorful and whimsical art museum installation but still offering new works, I will keep my discussion of this piece brief.  “Gravity’s Loom,” by the Ball-Nogues Studio was the winter lobby installation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The cavernous lobby lends itself spectacularly to a piece of this magnitude. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to observe such thin strings hung so delicately that still create such massive color and movement. It’s almost like a representation of light or sound, void of a physical mass but still possessing the power to alter the physical world. Perhaps in twelve years it will be cast by James Cameron to star in the next ‘Avatar’ film.

"Gravity's Loom," by the Ball-Nogues Studio

"Gravity's Loom," by the Ball-Nogues Studio