Monday, July 09, 2007

The Engrossing Blinibake

  • Mark Lawson of BBC Radio 4's Front Row interviews Tom Stoppard amid Rock 'n' Roll rehearsals. See 'Editor's Pick' on the right-hand side or scroll down to the download and podcast links. Topics discussed include Rock 'n' Roll, Czechoslovakia, Englishness, parallel autobiographies, and how a play is like a diagram on the back of an envelope.

  • More thoughts, this time from Playbill, on Mark Bennett's incidental music score and its ability to recapture 'the dizzyingly-supreme heights' of the production:

[...] To call this incidental is inapt; the music, in Jack O'Brien's New York production of Tom Stoppard's monumental trilogy, was as integral to the whole as the sets and lighting and performances. Stoppard and O'Brien, both, offer Bennett encomiums of praise in the liner notes, and they are well deserved. The rewards of listening to The Coast of Utopia will perhaps be greater for fans of motion picture soundtracks than standard Broadway cast albums; there are no songs here, after all. (Well, not quite; Felicity LaFortune sings "La Marseilles," and joins David Pittu for three Italian arias. ...) But people who like to listen to show tunes, and only show tunes, are advised that there are none here.

The most famous incidental music from plays, perhaps, are the scores by Felix Mendelssohn for A Midsummer's Night Dream and Edvard Grieg for Peer Gynt. (Shakespeare, Ibsen, Stoppard. . . . interesting combination.) In both earlier cases, the numerous music cues were far more accessible once joined into suites. That might well be the case with The Coast of Utopia as well; listening to 38 tracks — many less than a minute long — makes for a somewhat disjointed experience. Even so, Mark Bennett's original music for The Coast of Utopia is quite as engrossing as the whole eight-and-a-half hour clambake. Or, rather, blinibake.

  • Judith Newmark of STLtoday discusses the relevance that The Coast of Utopia and Spring Awakening have for the modern world:
[...] Historical plays sometimes speak most eloquently about the present - and the future. With their exceptional backward view, they position us to note the key, cultural transitions that we might have missed reading our daily papers. That's precisely what Sater and Sheik, in a musical, and Stoppard, in plays, put us in position to see in 2007. Both of the acclaimed productions doff a hat to old-style conventions: charming period costumes, lowly serfs silently schlepping furniture in "Coast," autocratic schoolmasters berating their pupils in "Spring Awakening."Furthermore, both plays acknowledge their periods' mores. The brainy aristocrats of "Coast" ice-skate, attend balls and, to change the world, write newspaper articles. The teenagers of "Spring Awakening" become object lessons in the tragic consequences of an unplanned pregnancy or of a kiss between boys. There's no notion of therapy or tolerance; calamitous action breeds calamitous consequence.

... Herzen's intellectual sons fomented the Russian revolution, an
event that, regardless of its hideous consequences, played a large part in shaping our modern world.

... In both plays, the characters are moderns, almost by definition. We know who they are and what they are worried about, even when we encounter them, onstage, in worlds that ended long ago. But they still sound and look like us, albeit in different clothes.

... That's precisely the strength of theatrical art. It doesn't need to be real to be true. It may even seem truer if it hasn't been real for a long time."The Coast of Utopia" and "Spring Awakening" both profit from that gap. Their remote, historic underpinnings allow a contemporary audience to keep its distance and, simultaneously, to recognize that the characters onstage — whether nascent revolutionaries burning for an egalitarian society or nascent flower-children burning for each other — live very close to home. It's just that smart theater artists have had the wit to change the addresses.
  • Rock 'n' Roll is now up on BBC Radio 3, but only for another six days. Listen out for Bill Paterson of Melissa and Sunshine fame as Max. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is scheduled for Sunday July 15, 21:40-23:30 (British time) on Radio 3. Until then, Night Waves (available for three more days) explores the play's origins and legacy with those that have been involved in bringing it to the stage, including the director of the very first production, Derek Goldby.

  • To mark the fantastic Billy Crudup's birthday, are drawing our attention to their biography of him, which lists his professions as 'Actor, waiter and parking valet'. Nice to know Tony Award winners started somewhere. Unless acting earns one even less roubles than we thought...Billy's blinibakes, anyone?!

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