Archive | November, 2010

The Sound of Music @ the Hippodrome: Review

18 Nov

Last night the Hippodrome was ‘alive with the sound of music’ as Connie Fisher et al took to the stage in their curtained attire to entertain an audience of all ages, with what is probably the world’s favourite musical.

The show was brilliant, and Fisher pitch perfect, if a little irritating at times, in her exaggerated clumsiness with swinging that guitar case around her head and grinning from ear to ear. Expectations were, of course, sky-high. All of us there were huge Sound of Music fans, and unable to stop ourselves from mentally comparing each stage scene to its equivalent film scene. I feel that the film compares favourably, but then who has ever preferred a screen adaptation to a beloved book?

The sets were fantastic, especially those at the Abbey, and I often felt that if I looked behind me, instead of peering into the faces of other enthralled audience-members, I would instead see the Alps looming large into the distance. For this very reason, I ignored a nagging desire to turn my head, and the view in front was certainly far more entertaining.

Michael Praed, as the Captain was handsome, though I thought, a little old with grey hair that belied the more youthful black tresses of film favourite Christopher Plummer (that is of course excluding the real-life Captain Von Trapp). He was, however charming, and exemplified that literary phrase of ‘the softening of features’ upon the realisation that Fraulein Maria has brought music back into his house.

Unfortunately sparks between Fisher and Praed were only noticeable in their absence, perhaps due to the relatively few scenes between the two prior to the Captain’s return with the Baroness. It is understandable that the show’s writers did not wish to match the films 174 minute length, though I am confident that most of the audience – myself included – would have been perfectly happy to enjoy a lengthy scene-by-scene recreation of the film classic.

The greatest moments of the show were – as in the film – when Maria sang with the children. ‘Do-Re-Mi’ was a particular highlight, and the children were brilliant; Gretl (Claudia Hall) was perfectly cute, Liesl (Claire Fishended) suitably haughty (at first) and Brigitta (Eleanor Shaw) displayed just the right amount of precociousness. I was not impressed with the liberal song-swapping that saw ‘My Favourite Things’ displaced by ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ during the thunderstorm, but could just about forgive the added songs that deservedly gave Max (Martin Callaghan) and Baroness Von Schraeder (Jacinta Mulcahy), additional stage time.

Marilyn Hill Smith, as the Mother Abbess drew an intake of breath from just about every member of the audience as she reached the dizzying heights of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’s climax, with not a note out of place. Had glass been permitted in the auditorium, I’ve no doubt that the Hippodrome would have had more than one health and safety suit on their hands.

I have concluded that it is nigh impossible for a stage show to outdo a great film original, but given those limits, The Sound of Music certainly matched expectations.

Review: The kids are all right

4 Nov

The kids are all right can be most easily referred to as the ‘lesbian parents film,’ but thankfully it does much more than just fulfil a progressive agenda. In fact the film subtly makes fun out of its own ‘progressiveness’ with over-sexed nouveau hippies on eco organic farms, talk of ‘loving local’ and rubbishing of composting (that’s com-post-ing in Yank speak) all winning approving chuckles from the audience.

The story is this: Nic and Jules are a happy lesbian couple with two kids, Joni and Laser. When Joni turns eighteen Laser persuades her to search out their ‘donor,’ the handsome Paul – a manchild who capably shags nubile twenty-somethings and says ‘right on’ too much – and in the ensuing summer of discontent, his presence causes a shift in formerly-established family relations.

This is, essentially, a classic narrative of the happy family being challenged by the arrival of an erstwhile absent parent, with the inclusion of lesbians and a sperm donor to provide a modern twist. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are entirely believable as the long-term couple coming to terms with their children growing up and fighting the feeling of bitterness over the other’s imperfections. Whilst Mark Ruffalo is pitch-perfect as Paul whose new-age posturing and 20-year-old lifestyle, are at first only a bit annoying, but who – by the film’s close – looks like a sad man who doesn’t really know what he wants, but is immature enough to believe that he can obtain it without any integrity or significant effort.

Dramatic as the plot sounds, the kids are all right maintains humour throughout that keeps it from becoming too heavy. Nic and Jules’ penchant for gay male porn is a source of laughter more than once, particularly when Jules attempts to explain to Laser why she and mom prefer ‘gay man porn’ to lesbian erotica. Cue serious embarassment, not from teenage son, but from mom 2.

Paul easily has the funniest lines, telling his newly-discovered offfspring ‘I love lesbians’ on first meeting, while Julianne Moore perfects the laid-back adolescent mannerisms of Jules that veil disenchantment with a lack of achievement that compares so unfavourably with her doctor wife. But it is Annnette Bening, often pitted as the least likeable of all the characters, who really shines in her unglamorous role.  On discovering a shocking piece of information that belies her usual red wine-inspired confrontations, Bening shows all the emotion and resilience of the moment without a single word, as the rest of her motley family carry on as normal around her and makes you feel the tension of the situation beyond the screen.

The kids are all right – though occasionally smug in its middle-class organic openness – ably treads a fine line between comedy and melodrama that never quite teeters over into the tearful end of the pool, and makes you forget that you came to see the film about the lesbians.