March 2006 back
Entertaining Mr. Sloane : March 29th Laura Pels Theatre
When I was a teenager, in the 1960's, I was having a conversation with my mom and I said something about Liberace being gay (For those of you too young to remember Liberace, think of him as the Elton John of the 50's except twice as flamboyant). She looked at me somewhat surprised and asked "You really think he's gay".
My mom was a librarian who had read countless novels by gay authors or with gay characters, but in the 50's and 60's homosexuals were like unicorns or mermaids, you may have read about them but you've never actually seen one or knew anyone who had (or so they thought).
I bring this up because some plays are "of their time", and "Entertaining Mr. Sloane", which won writer Joe Orton the London Critics Variety Award for Best Play of 1964, was probably shocking and hysterical at the time.
Alec Baldwin plays Ed, a gay businessman trying to maintain an air of respectability who agrees, against his better judgment, to let his unstable nymphomaniac spinster sister rent a room to Mr. Sloane, a young muscled sweet talking thug, because of his own sexual attraction to him.
When their father threatens to expose Mr. Sloane as the perpetrator of an unsolved murder, Sloane kills him. But rather than turn him in, Ed and sister Kath (Jan Maxwell), negotiate to share his services. When Sloane promises everlasting devotion, Ed corrects him and says "Not everlasting, just a few years". Still a funny line.
The cast (which also included Chris Carmack and Richard Easton as Sloane and Kemp) did a great job, and seeing Alec Baldwin play flamboyant gay in a tailored suit had some comic appeal, but the shock value of the story line as well as some of the comedy has greatly diminished over the decades. These days most people would have to see a real mermaid to be shocked, and no one would assume she was straight.
Kathleen Edwards : March 23rd Joe's Pub
Now pay attention. I'm walking up Lafayette Street going to Joe's Pub and I see my friend Mabelle, who's originally from Colombia in South America, in front of the club talking to Boris, an Austrailian who's taking in lots of music while here on vacation. Mabelle is waiting for her friend Hugh, originally from England, who's in a band with country singer Amber Rhodes from Kentucky.
I reviewed Amber in 2003 when she was in a duo called Laura and Amber. Hugh was in their band and told Mabelle about the review which led her to my website and eventually to meeting me. Boris needed a ticket and I had an extra comp from WFUV, so the four of us went in to see Kathleen Edwards, an alt-country singer songwriter from Canada. Is it just me or is the world getting smaller?
Kathleen Edwards is most easily compared to Lucinda Williams, writing country flavored rock tunes and ballads. She performed songs from her two highly acclaimed CD's "Failer" and "Back To Me" alternating between acoustic and electric guitar and backed by the very talented Jim Bryson on electric guitar, keyboard and backing vocals.
Although, for the most part, I preferred the up tempo catchy rock tunes like "One More Song The Radio Won't Like", my favorite of the night was a haunting ballad called "Pink Emerson Radio" which had Bryson playing xylophone. (I couldn't actually see what he was playing but I think it was a small xylophone) That was the song that reeled me all the way in after being somewhat on the fence in the early part of the set.
The encore included Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" with opening act Joel Plaskett joining in. Kathleen said she and Joel are both nominated for songwriter of the year in Canada but since Lord Neil Young was also nominated, she didn't anticipate either of them having to give an acceptance speech.
When I got home, I recapped the evening's events to Judy who was happy to hear that I was able to utilize the extra ticket. (She's originally from Perth Amboy, New Jersey).
"Bring Em Home Now" Concert : March 20th Hammerstein Ballroom (Michael Stipe, Joseph Arthur, Rufus Wainwright, Fischerspooner, Steve Earl, Moby, Bright Eyes, Susan Sarandon, Margaret Cho, Cindy Sheehan, Peaches...)
This show was what you'd expect from a politically inspired event. An assortment of artists each performed between two and six songs with various celebrity guests giving some short speeches between sets. Most of the speeches, and some of the songs, contained anti-war/pro-soldier sentiments with lots of Bush bashing generously sprinkled throughout.
Comedian Margaret Cho was very rude, very crude and very funny in a routine that had the room hysterical but will have conservatives calling for her deportation (Regardless of the fact that she's American). She told us how the last time she criticized Bush at this type of event, she received swarms of hate e-mails, most of which essentially read "fat-chink-dyke, fat-chink-dyke, fat-chink-dyke, Jesus Saves".
Some musical highlights worth noting were Rufus Wainwright's beautiful rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" accompanied by his mom, Kate McGarrigle, on piano and a performance of Joseph Arthur's "In The Sun" with Arthur and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. sharing vocals. Stipe recently released the song, a favorite of mine, as a Katrina fundraiser. Bright Eyes also did an up tempo acoustic rock set of protest songs which included the very topical "When The President Talks to God".
But the indisputable high point of the evening for me was the entire set from Fischerspooner. It was psychedelic, avant-garde, retro, electronic, theatrical, colorful and one of the most exciting and surprising things I've seen on a stage in recent memory. With music that rocked and dancers in wild outfits flying all over the stage, it was an extravaganza that you couldn't take your eyes off. Definitely over the top, but great fun. After their set, the beautiful and eloquent Susan Sarandon came out and said "I feel so inadequate following Fischerspooner". I can understand her feeling that way and I sense a Fischerspooner concert in my future.
The most impressive speaker of the evening was Goeffrey Millard, an Iraq veteran who spoke convincingly about the need to get out of Iraq. When harassed by an over zealous audience member he remained calm and articulate. His dignity and experience made him more credible than people who had nothing more to offer other than "Bush is an idiot".
Taj Mahal Trio and Mavis Staples : March 9th at McCarter Theatre
If you're a regular viewer of these pages, you may have been wondering why this is only the second show I've seen since the end of January. I guess the short answer is that I didn't feel like it. There were a number of shows that I had some interest in, but none that I was compelled to see, so I decided to take a break. Besides, I had American Idol to keep me busy (Just kidding! I do watch it, but more on that some another time). I decided that seeing these two great legends would be a good way to get started again.
Gospel singer Mavis Staples was the youngest member of the Staple Singers who had a some pop hits in the 70's including "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There". Her set included both of those songs plus a very moving version of "God Is Not Sleeping" from her recent CD "Have a Little Faith". She said that she thinks of the people of New Orleans when she performs that song. She also did the title cut from the CD plus her version of "The Weight" which is more commonly known from "The Band".
She told several amusing stories like how difficult it was at her age to get a record company to get behind a CD project. She said "They all want Beyonce so I tried to tell them that I used to be a Beyonce". She added "If Beyonce keeps on living, one day she'll be a Mavis and they'll tell her she was good in her day but they want the young blood now". She closed the story with "Don't tell her I was talking about her". It was one of several amusing anecdotes.
Taj Mahal has also been in the business for quite some time. He's a master musician who plays about twenty instruments and has spent a career exploring the musical possibilities of jazz, blues, folk, gospel and even Hawaiian music.
Performing on guitar and keyboard, and backed by bass and drums, this was mostly a blues show which included a variety of styles and songs including "Corrina", "Stagger Lee", "My Creole Belle", "Fishing", "Queen Bee" and "Checking Up On My Baby" to name a few. He also played an instrumental tune called "Zanzibar" which came out of a recent trip to East Africa and was very much in the African/Indian style of that part of the world.
He said he was dedicating most of this evenings songs to the big legged and wide hipped women in the audience. He added "You twenty something women aren't even in the game until you're thirty five". He's quite a character with a very amusing stage presence. I think it's fair to say that a good time was had by all.
With the rest of March and April filling up with interesting shows, I suspect there won't be another stretch of inactivity like this for quite some time (except maybe during the American Idol finals. :-)