Truth like a blazing fire: Musicals update!


Sorry I've been so negligent of my duties as a blogger who loves musicals. I recently went to see Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount. It was my second time to see it live, but I went with complete newbies who hadn't even seen the movie! The singing was superb, but I think all of us would have benefited from a libretto in our laps during the songs when everyone sings over everyone else (I'm looking at you "Notes.../ Prima Donna"). There's so much to learn and appreciate from the lyrics but it's impossible when it all sounds like gobbilty-gook. The Phantom was terrifying and sexy, and Christine was appropriately sweet and stubborn. "The Point of No Return" still tingles my spine like no other: "When will the blood begin to race/the sleeping bud burst into bloom/when will the flames at last consume us?"

Yesterday I saw the filmed last Broadway performance of RENT at my local movie theater. I have only seen the movie and listened to the OBC recording, so it was great to see songs that were missing from the film. So much of the show is sung rather than spoken, which I really prefer to the lyrics-turned-dialog of the film. It was a treat to see Tracie Thoms re-creating her film role of Joann onstage--though it made me miss the original cast that made it into the movie. I was blown away by the actors who played Mimi and Maureen--I soon forgot that their roles didn't originate with them and felt no need for comparisons.

The only less-than-perfect moment was the same moment that I dislike in the film: the end. Not the end-end, I love "Finale B", but the end when Mimi's dying, Roger sings "Your Eyes" and then she wakes up and talks about seeing Angel. First of all, I think "Your Eyes" might be the worst song in the entire show, so why it's at the end, I'm not sure. I would have preferred a reprise of "Without You" or "Goodbye Love", though I realize that the point is Roger writing a new song for her. And the way that she wakes up and starts talking about Angel seems almost laughable, and therefore inappropriate. And then Maureen is like, "Her fever's breaking" and it feels so unrealistic and cheap considering how we lost Angel--a song didn't save him. I can't get back into the story and get back "in it" until "Finale B" starts. I'm sad that the show has left Broadway, but it has yet to be retired--they're going to tour and be here in June. I'm curious about what a revival would look like--what would they update or change or re-imagine in the characters, scenery, choreography, etc.?

I also watched In the Good Old Summertime, an adorable Van Johnson/Judy Garland movie from 1949. Highly recommended, even though it isn't going to be one of my favorites. I'd only seen Van in Brigadoon, where he plays the cynical hunting partner of Gene Kelly. When he was the romantic lead in this film he sounded an awful lot like Jimmy Stewart, which is interesting considering Jimmy starred in his role in the original film with the same story-line, Shop Around the Corner (1940), nine years earlier.

And finally, I cannot stop listening to the Jane Eyre musical soundtrack. I've listened to it over and over and over again for hours daily but I have yet to get sick of it. I know that day will come, but for now it's wonderful to be so immersed in it and the story. With musical soundtracks, there's this point that I reach--and I think other people reach it too--where you've listened to it so much and poured over it and 'figured out' the songs to the point that it becomes a part of you--those songs fuse into your brain in a way that time and distance can't touch. I remember sun-bathing in my parent's backyard after seeing Phantom for the first time, and going through the songs with libretto, memorizing them and playing my favorite songs over and over on my disc man. Or when I ordered the RENT OBC soundtrack from my library and listened to the whole show while shelving books in the stacks, blown away by what I was hearing. And sure enough, when I revisited these scores again in the last week, I remembered almost every line, and waited breathlessly when I anticipated the joy I would experience as one of my favorite bits was about to be sung. And now it's happening with Jane Eyre--I want these songs to become a part of me, eager to share them with others. I just hope I get to see a stage version or movie of it someday!

Paul Newman


Paul Newman died yesterday. Ever since I heard of him having health complications, I told people that when he died, I would have a Paul Newman party that would include watching his movies and eating all Newman's Own products. I'm sad that day came so soon.

Of his movies, I think my favorites are Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, What A Way to Go!, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting. If I didn't already admire him for his acting or philanthropic food products, add his 50 year marriage to Joanne Woodward.

75 Books Every Woman Should Read


Jezebel compiled a list of 75 books every woman should read in response to Esquire's 75 books every man should read. Keep in mind of course that these are must-reads for men as well and, as they said in the post: "most of the extant rosters of must-read classics are full of old white dudes. So our list is going to be mostly women. Which doesn't mean there are not myriad male-written must-reads!"

Here they are, with the very few I've read in bold:

  • The Lottery (and Other Stories), Shirley Jackson
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  • The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  • Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
  • The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  • Like Life, Lorrie Moore
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  • The Delta of Venus, Anais Nin
  • A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
  • A Good Man Is Hard To Find (and Other Stories), Flannery O'Connor
  • The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
  • You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down, Alice Walker
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
  • Earthly Paradise, Colette
  • Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
  • Property, Valerie Martin
  • Middlemarch, George Eliot
  • Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid
  • The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
  • Runaway, Alice Munro
  • The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
  • The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  • You Must Remember This, Joyce Carol Oates
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
  • The Liars' Club, Mary Karr
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
  • Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  • The Little Disturbances of Man, Grace Paley
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker
  • The Group, Mary McCarthy
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
  • The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
  • In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
  • The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  • Three Junes, Julia Glass
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Sophie's Choice, William Styron
  • Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
  • Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  • The Face of War, Martha Gellhorn
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • Love In The Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Harsh Voice, Rebecca West
  • Spending, Mary Gordon
  • The Lover, Marguerite Duras
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • Tell Me a Riddle, Tillie Olsen
  • Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
  • Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
  • Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
  • Possession, A.S. Byatt
What would you add? I would definitely add more Austen, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, heaps of L'Engle, and loads of autobiographies. Other stuff too, but that's all I could think of right now. What would you add?

Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims and strap your hands cross my engines

In real life I'm in no way drawn to motorcycles, but in Bruce Springsteen songs, they are one of the sexiest things ever. Which is why I would have loved to see him and the E Street Band close their Magic tour at the Harley-Davidson 105th Anniversary Celebration in Milwaukee. He played his best road songs including "Glory days," "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road." According to Rolling Stone, "as the concert approached the three-hour mark, Springsteen asked guitarist Steven Van Zandt whether it was "quittin' time." It wasn't: Springsteen played for another half-hour, closing the night--and the tour--with a supercharged version of "Born to Be Wild." And to top it off, today he turns 59. Happy Birthday, Bruce!

(Image from

In other Rolling Stone news, James Taylor is doing a covers album! And it includes the Oklahoma! opener "Oh What A Beautiful Morning"! There's a bright golden haze on the meadow...

"Dolphins. Do I even need to write another word? Oh, I know I do, but...dolphins, I had to write it again!"


There's a sweet review of A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle at Jezebel. I always preferred the books with Poly O'Keefe and Vicky Austin to Meg Murray, but I love them all dearly. This may be the young adult novel closest to my heart, if for no other reason than it was easier to understand and follow than the crazy time traveling in An Acceptable Time. After Madeleine died my first instinct was to go out and get a tattoo of Vicky riding Basil the dolphin. I might still do it someday.


"Like Vicky's minister grandfather, the dolphins advocate a unified theory of everything, one in which not only life and death are intertwined, but evil and good. But when Vicky, on the cusp of womanhood, tries to assert her new psychic powers with the dolphins with Adam to form their own unified theory, she is slapped back:
Without consciously realizing what I was doing, I turned my mind toward Adam. Do a cartwheel in the water, like Basil.
I held my breath.
Adam dove down. Up came his legs. Flip. Head and arms were out of the water. Just like Basil.
Adam, do you really think of me as nothing more than a child? I realize I'm naive and backward for my age in lots of ways, but I don't feel about you the way a child feels. I've never felt about anybody else the way I feel about you, touched in every part of me...Is it only my feelings? Doesn't it touch you at all?
He broke in, saying sharply, "Vicky, what are you doing?"
I could feel heat suffusing my face. "N—nothing."
Now he was shouting at me. "Don't do that!"
"Why? Why not?"
"Because—because—" He clamped his mouth shut. But he was telling without speaking. Because it's too intimate.
But I did it with the dolphins. Why was it all right with the dolphins?
And the answer came lapping gently into my mind like the water lapping about my body. Because this is how the dolphins are, all the time. They're able to live with this kind of intimacy and not be destroyed by it.
I have always loved the part of this book where Leo tells Vicky how his parents made love after his own grandfather's death as an "affirmation of life" (it's not creepy, I swear), and it seems to sum up the entire thesis of this book—that sex and death are intertwangled with joy, which is, as Vicky's grandfather puts it, "the infallible sense of God in the universe.""



Finally finished the book, started listening to the Jane Eyre musical's soundtrack (LOVE IT--more to come), and tonight I am watching the highly praised BBC/Masterpiece Theatre version from 2006.

Battlestar Galactica: In Defense of the Best Show on Television


Moomin Light linked to a article about why everyone should be watching Battlestar!

"I think it’s the most difficult thing to do as a film [but] it’s the Holy Grail if you can do it [right]. I would love to do a musical"

Wecloming Remarks Made at a Literary Meeting, 9/25/2001


By John Hodgman (the PC guy in the MAC commercials and frequent visitor to the Daily Show) from McSweeneys:

READING, 9/25/01.


- - - -

Every year, we wonder what might be appropriate on this day, and we can never think of anything more appropriate than this piece, which Mr. Hodgman originally delivered at a literary reading shortly after September 11, 2001.

- - - -

Good evening.

My name is John Hodgman. I am a former professional literary agent, which on a good day is a pretty small thing to be, and these days feels rather microscopic. Before I was a professional literary agent, I thought it would be a good idea to be a teacher of fiction in a college MFA program because it is easy and you are adored all the time and of course it pays a lot of money.

I used to have a lot of bright ideas.

I even had two lessons planned out, which, by all accounts from MFA programs that I've heard, is one more than you need. The first would address the comfort of storytelling. I would explain to my adoring students that stories hold power because they convey the illusion that life has purpose and direction. Where God is absent from the lives of all but the most blessed, the writer, of all people, replaces that ordering principle. Stories make sense when so much around us is senseless, and perhaps what makes them most comforting is that, while life goes on and pain goes on, stories do us the favor of ending.

Not a very original idea, but one that seemed more or less reasonable before something happened that showed us how perversely powerful stories can be when told into the ears of desperate and evil men, and showed as well how sadly challenged stories are in providing comfort now. What happened on Tuesday was enormous, sublime in the darkest sense of the word, so large as to overwhelm our ability to describe it, to sense it except in parts, and certainly to order it and make it make sense. In the immediate aftermath, we have only our very personal flash memories, but personalizing an event that has touched so many and so cruelly, announcing by byline our own survival, feels shamefully self-involved. To convert this experience into metaphor, into symbolic gesture, feels almost offensive when we are still pressed by such an urgent reality that is ongoing and uncontainable by words.

I have heard a lot recently about the role of writing, song, music, painting, in the tragic blank space in our souls that this event has left behind. Of course, this preoccupation is largely a result of an unconscious bias of the media. If pig farmers had as much currency with NPR as literary novelists, we would be hearing just as much about the healing power of bacon. And knowing that power well, I can say that it is certainly comparable to the reading of a sensitive short story as far as comfort goes; and yet both fall far below the direct aid that is being passed from person to person, below Chambers Street, in our homes, on the phone with strangers, with an actual touch, in the actual, nonsymbolic, unannotated world of grief in which we live. The great temptation is to be silent, forever, in sympathy.

The second lesson plan that I had in those days was a very lazy assessment of storytelling's function, beginning in the oral tradition, when it served a civic purpose aside from getting you invited to cocktail parties. As I would explain to my adoring students, storytelling served initially in every culture three purposes: to inform, as in relay news and record history, to instruct, as in pass down a set of moral guidelines, and to entertain. We are, as regards this event and its unfolding, all too well informed. And as for entertainment: when I thought this was a bright idea, it was when I was younger and war seemed so far away. But I realize now that those in history whose lives were short and mean and threatened by sword and disease gathered and told stories not as leisure, but as desperately needed distraction, and reassurance that they were not alone.

So if art cannot contain or describe this event, and if for now the suffering is too keen to be alleviated by parable ... if stories are for the moment not as critically needed, as courage, as medicine, as blood, as bacon, they can at least revert to this social function. As time goes on, this will all pass away into memory, into a story with a beginning and a middle and finally an end. And that transition from the real into fable will bring its own kind of comfort and pain. Now, though, we may gather and distract one another, take comfort in our proximity, and know that we are, at this moment, safe.

Not many of my ideas seem bright anymore, and I am not a teacher. I am only humbled: to be here, to be alive.

That is all.

At the Arraignment


by Debra Spencer

Read it here.