Tag Archives: song

 ‘La La Land’ is something to sing about

In time for Christmas, there’s the eye-popping, heart-lifting “La La Land,” which honors and modernizes the screen musical to such joyful effect that you might find yourself pirouetting home from the multiplex.

OK, perhaps we exaggerate.

“La La Land,” created by the copiously talented writer/director Damien Chazelle and featuring the dream pairing of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is not for everyone.

Perhaps you don’t like music, or singing, or dancing. Or romance, or love, or beautiful people falling in love. Or sunsets, or primary colors, or pastels. Or stories. Or, heck, the movies themselves.

If you don’t like any of those things, maybe stay home.

Otherwise, be prepared: By the end, something will surely have activated those tear ducts. The one complaint I overheard upon leaving the film was: “I didn’t have enough Kleenex.”

The first obvious gift of “La La Land” is its sheer originality. Let’s start with the music. Unlike in so many other films, nobody else’s hits are used here. The affecting score is by Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul (also getting kudos for Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

Our setting is Los Angeles, and so it begins — as it must — on a jammed freeway.

But unlike Michael Douglas in “Falling Down,” the drivers here simply brush off their frustrations, exit their cars, and break into song and dance.

This virtuoso number, “Another Day of Sun,” which was filmed on a freeway interchange with some 100 dancers toiling in sizzling temperatures, establishes Chazelle’s high-flying ambitions. It also tells us we’d darned well better be ready for people to break out into song — because that happens in musicals. And it introduces our main characters.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a struggling jazz pianist, with stubborn dreams of opening his own club. Mia (Stone) is an aspiring actress, working as a barista while auditioning for TV parts. They clash on the freeway. She gives him the finger.

They have a second bad meeting at a piano bar. Finally they meet a third time, at a party. Suddenly, they find themselves on a bench overlooking the Hollywood Hills at dusk. And then … they dance.

Is it Astaire and Rogers (or Charisse)? Yes and no. Stone and Gosling are charming musical performers, but way less polished and ethereal than their cinematic forbears. This human quality in their first duet makes us root for them.

And we keep on rooting. It’s hard to imagine more perfect casting here. Gosling’s Sebastian is suave and sexy but also ornery and unsure of himself; Stone’s Mia is warm and ebullient but also fretful and self-doubting. They need each other to chase their respective dreams.

But what will success mean, and can they possibly achieve it together? It’s this pillar of the story that lends it a very modern, melancholy bite.

Chazelle, 31, shows his love for cinema with references both sly and overt to classics like “Singin’ In the Rain” and Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

And then there’s the nod to “Rebel Without a Cause,” with a scene at LA’s Griffith Observatory.

There, at a place built to watch the stars, the two dancing lovers actually lift up into them.

It’s corny, sure, and gorgeous and romantic. As Sebastian says to his sister earlier in the film, “You say ‘romantic’ like it’s a bad word!” In a musical, romantic is NEVER a bad word.

Some people resist musicals because in real life, people never break out into song; they just speak their feelings. To which musical lovers say: “Exactly! And this is why we need musicals.”

Long live the musical. Bring enough Kleenex.

After Kaepernick’s protest, singers question anthem

Grammy-winning R&B singer Anthony Hamilton has sung the national anthem in the past. Don’t ask him to sing it in the near future.

Hamilton’s frustration with “The Star-Spangled Banner” is shared by some other black Americans, who feel like the tune sung before major U.S. events is not the best representation of all Americans.

That sentiment became part of the national conversation after the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick announced he would not stand for the anthem in protest of racial discrimination against blacks in the United States, particularly after a spate of police shootings of African Americans.

Since Kaepernick has decided to take a knee while the anthem plays at games, others have followed suit, from the NFL to high school to other sports.

There are still plenty of singers singing the national anthem at major events.

But Hamilton is among those who are reconsidering whether they’d do so.

“I’m gonna take a little time away from the anthem until it starts feeling like it’s for me,” said Hamilton, who is black. “We need a new song, one that really speaks for all of us, or bring some new life to the one that we have.”

Several musicians declined to be interviewed for this story.

The anthem, one of the most popular songs in the country, has become a badge of honor for musicians when invited to sing it, and a well-received live performance of the song normally boosts an act’s career. Whitney Houston’s performance of the anthem at the Super Bowl is considered one of her greatest, and one of the best renditions of it.

Alicia Keys, who has performed the anthem at the Super Bowl and other events throughout her 15-year career, said she gets where the San Francisco 49er quarterback is coming from.

“I understand. I understand,” she said seriously in an interview.

Keys, who like Kaepernick is biracial, said that she learned new information about the anthem after the athlete’s protest sparked countless articles. A third verse that is rarely sung includes the lines, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

Francis Scott Key, the song’s author, was a supporter of slavery.

“To actually read the facts, you know, I can understand it. It’s time for a lot of things to change. We know what this country was built off of and based off of, and it’s time for that to evolve. It’s time for the story to evolve,” she said.

“There’s some great things that have carried on for generations and generations and there’s some things that have to change, like that was an old way of thinking and now if we’re going to move toward really looking at each other in the same eyes and in the spirit of oneness, then we have to make changes from past mistakes.”

That third verse is also one reason why John Legend tweeted shortly after Kaepernick’s protest that he wasn’t a fan of the national anthem. While Legend has sung the anthem previously, he called the anthem “weak,” opting for “America the Beautiful” instead.

The NFL said teams arrange for their own anthems, and while some singers are second-guessing performing the song after Kaepernick’s protest, the organization said “no teams have identified this as an issue.” But on Monday at the Sacramento Kings preseason game, singer Leah Tysse, who is white, kneeled while performing the national anthem.

“I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability,” Tysse wrote on her Facebook page. “The sad reality is, as a white American I am bestowed a certain privilege in this nation that is not enjoyed by all people. Black families are having much different conversations with their children about how to interact with the police than white families. Let’s be honest. Until we can recognize that white privilege exists we cannot have a dialogue about race.”

The Kings Organization said in a statement they “respect the personal decision of Leah Tysse to exercise her freedom of speech.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released this week shows that most white Americans disapprove of protests by athletes during the national anthem while black Americans approve of the protests by an even larger margin.

Pop singer JoJo, who burst on the music scene at 13, said she’s still proud to sing the anthem because of the veterans in her family.

“When I sing the national anthem, I’m thinking of the veterans in my family, and I completely respect Colin’s stance to bring awareness to black people who are still facing injustice, and I really do respect it. But for me, I’m just, I enjoy singing the song,” said 25-year-old JoJo, who is white.

“Well this is what my mom said to me: ‘We’re all just trying to somehow make things right, so if we can come together as a country over that song, great. But at the end of the day, it’s easier said than done,”” she added.

Hamilton said he currently feels mixed emotions about being black in America in these racially charged times, and even sometimes feels betrayed.

“It feels like it’s a lie by the way they treat us,” Hamilton, 45, added of the anthem and how blacks are regarded in America. “Seems like the Constitution ain’t really constituting us.”


‘12 Days of Christmas’ items top $114K

The price of lords-a-leaping and ladies dancing has spiked this holiday season, but other items mentioned in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” still cost the same as they did last year.

Buying one set of the gifts mentioned in each verse costs $27,393 in stores, or 7.7 percent more than last year, according to the so-called Christmas Price Index that PNC Wealth Management updates annually. And if you buy all 364 items repeated throughout the carol, you’ll pay $114,651 — 6.9 percent more than last year.

Last-minute shoppers who turn to the Internet will pay even more for all the gifts — about $173,000.

“We were surprised to see such a large increase from a year ago, given the overall benign inflation rate in the U.S.,” said Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC.

The federal government’s core Consumer Price Index rose only 1.7 percent this year.

In the three decades since the list was started in 1984, year-over-year increases have averaged 2.9 percent, which is the same number as broader U.S. inflation. But it’s a fickle list because the price of some items has barely budged, while others have soared.

Seven swans cost $7,000 this year, the same as in 1984, while the cost of a single partridge went from $12.57 to $15 during the same period. One pear tree to put that partridge in? Thirty years ago it cost $19.95, but will now set you back $184.

The cost of nine ladies dancing is now $7,553, or 20 percent more than last year’s $6,294, while 10 lords-a-leaping jumped 10 percent, to $5,243.

Seven items on the list cost the same as they did last year, including gold rings and turtle doves, while pipers piping, drummers drumming, and the pear tree showed only modest changes up or down.

The swans are the most expensive item at $1,000 each. The eight maids-a-milking still cost a total of just $58 because the federal minimum wage hasn’t risen. At $7.25 each, they’re the least expensive gifts in the song.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. checks jewelry stores, dance companies, pet stores and other sources to compile the list. Among its sources this year were the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Ballet Company.

Hip hop artists Macklemore, Ryan Lewis join United Nations LGBT rights campaign

U.S. hip hop artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have joined the United Nations Free and Equal Campaign to encourage greater respect for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky announced their support.

Macklemore and Lewis are well-known for their song, “Same Love,” which celebrates same-sex relationships, and quickly became an anthem for LGBT equality.

The U.N. Free & Equal Campaign seeks to raise awareness about homophobic and trans-gender-phobic violence and discrimination. It was launched by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in Cape Town, South Africa last July at an event featuring Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Other celebrity supporters include pop star Ricky Martin, South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury.

Gilbert & Sullivan return to the Skylight New Year’s Eve with a wacky revue that takes a modern approach

History tells us that librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan hated each other so much that they wouldn’t communicate for years at a time. When they finally did collaborate, many of their works were left unfinished because they were unsatisfactory to one or the other – or both of them.

But like the proverbial little girl with the little curl, when they were good they were very, very good, and their Victorian-era operettas such as “The Pirates of Penzance,” “H.M.S. Pinafore” and others enjoy great popularity to this day. Milwaukee theatrical impresario Dale Gutzman has combined some of the pair’s best with his own wacky interpretations to create “Here’s Howdy Do: The Mischievous World of Gilbert and Sullivan,” which opens at Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre on News Year’s Eve.

The musical revue is the 25th Skylight production directed by Gutzman, who’s the artistic director for Milwaukee’s Off the Wall Theatre. Gutzman also wrote the show, and audience members can expect a collision of silliness and song.

“The Skylight thinks this is something I do especially well,” says Gutzman, who also was responsible for the “The Bathtub Gin Revue,” “Beertown Burlesque” and “Holiday Punch” – all done in the Gilbert and Sullivan vein. “I write other things as well, but most people seem to know me for my satiric revues.”

Fans of Gutzman’s “An Evening With Gilbert and Sullivan,” produced for the Skylight in 2010, can expect something completely different this time. In fact, audiences should anticipate an entirely new approach to some very familiar material.

“The show is a series of G & S songs performed in totally different ways,” Gutzman says. “We are doing some as nightclub jazz pieces, some as parody, and many with just a bit of new or contemporary feeling.”

The production includes men singing songs written for women, women singing songs written for men and audience participation using cellphones. There’s a production of the “Five-Minute Mikado,” complete with a dance number that will truncate the famous songs and reduce the action to just 300 seconds.

“We analyze humorously the G & S formula and the fact that all of their shows are really exactly the same,” Gutzman says. “We also do some pieces that the famous team created alone, without each other.”

Gilbert and Sullivan each had modest careers prior to coming together in 1871 for the first of 14 comic operas. Sullivan, the son of a military bandmaster and six years Gilbert’s junior, had always wanted to be a serious classical composer. Gilbert, the son of a naval surgeon, had early on developed a “topsy-turvy style” that created absurd situations drawn to their logical conclusions. He was part of London’s theatrical reform movement, helping to elevate the acceptability of theater in his day.

The pair was at odds starting early in their joint career. Gilbert was confrontational, but thin-skinned, while Sullivan avoided conflict whenever possible. Gilbert’s topsy-turvy world often skewered Great Britain’s class distinctions, something that complicated Sullivan’s pursuit of patronage and support from the upper classes. These differences, coupled with ongoing artistic disagreements, strained the pair’s working relationship right up through their last production – “The Grand Duke.” Composed in 1896, it was considered by many to be an outright failure.

But the duo had a profound effect on modern musical theater and literature. The works of author P.G. Wodehouse, the songs of Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman, and even Monty Python’s Flying Circus all show an influence, and their work continues to be revived in various forms.

“The friction between the two helped elevate Gilbert’s silliness to beauty through the use of Sullivan’s music,” Gutzman says. “They were very much like the ‘Saturday Night Live’ of their day, if SNL (had) to use Sondheim music each week to get its points across.”

Gutzman’s Skylight production, which stars vocalists Niffer Clarke, Paul Helm, Ray Jivoff and Diane Lane, aspires to combine both the highlights and lowlights of a dual career that has provided moments of both beauty and laughter to audiences for over a century. However, it’s not designed to be about Gilbert and Sullivan themselves.

“This show is about what they do to us, rather than about their lives,” Gutzman says. “It’s about how they get under our skin, how we recall certain memories with them and about how we share the joys of love and laughter through them.”

There is no better way to ring in the New Year, Gutzman says.

On stage

Skylight Music Theatre’s production of “Here’s Howdy Do: The Mischievous World of Gilbert and Sullivan” runs Dec. 31–Jan. 18 in the Studio Theatre in Milwaukee’s Broadway Theatre Center. Find details at www.skylightmusicthatre.org.