Friday, May 31, 2013

The Power of Positive Thinking

It's that time of year again! After all the TED talks, all the Sunday sermons, and all the self-help seminars, 'tis the season for those who have walked a hundred miles to stop, look back, and share a few kernels of wisdom with this year's class of graduating students.

Commencement speeches come in all styles, from somber to hilarious, delivered by celebrities ranging from Meryl Streep, Joss Whedon, and Oprah Winfrey, to the President of the United States. Two of this year's favorites, however, skip a lot of the lame platitudes that litter this particular literary genre and try to keep it real. One is by Michelle Obama (a woman everyone knows and loves); the other is by Christian Cagigal, a talented local magician who was asked to speak to the graduating students from the theatre department at his alma mater, San Francisco State University. Each is highly entertaining and well worth your time.

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It's hard to cure some people of their optimism (although many have tried). In a new short entitled The Scenes, filmmaker Laura VanZee Taylor shows how a group of fifth grade girls at Mount Diablo Elementary School have taken matters into their own hands by forming a comedy troupe known as What the Heck Was That?

Confronted with the growing lack of arts programs common in today's public schools, this group of proudly theatrical youngsters decided to created their own opportunity to replace those that had been denied them by short-sighted politicians. With little adult supervision (and despite a few encounters with bullies) these students are learning, growing, and thriving while growing older, stronger, and wiser.  See for yourself!

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Escaramuza: Riding From The Heart  (which will be shown at San Francisco's 2013 DocFest) shines a light on the team of first-generation Mexican American horsewomen who comprise the Escaramuza Charra Las Azaleas as they spend two years preparing to represent California and the United States at Mexico's National Charro Championships in Puerto Vallarta.

Poster art for Escaramuza: Riding from the Heart

Rooted in the cattle culture of Colonial Mexico, Charreada blends equestrian skills, folkloric costumes, mariachi music, and ethnic food into a living folk tradition. In between the men’s riding and roping contests, the women (escaramuzas charras) perform precision horse ballets as they lead their animals through intricate, synchronized patterns.

A scene from Escaramuza: Riding from the Heart

The Latina women of Las Azaleas are proud role models in a society where female athletes are a rare phenomenon. Using video captured on cell phones to analyze their performances, the team must deal with unexpected pregnancies and the threat of Mexican gangsters lying in wait on the road to Puerto Vallarta. The film is filled with thrilling horse displays, great music, and a tremendous sense of team building and sportsmanship. Here's the trailer:

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In 1957, Federico Fellini's film, Nights of Cabiria, was released. Starring Giulietta Masina, the film told the story of a Roman prostitute who (despite having a hooker's proverbial heart of gold) was extremely unlucky in love. Long before the language of codependency had entered the mainstream, Cabiria was conceived as the diminutive equivalent of a schlemiel. It's fascinating to note the difference in tone between the film's original trailer and the trailer for its 1998 re-release.

The musical adaptation of Fellini's film, Sweet Charity, landed on Broadway in January of 1966 with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The original production featured a thrilling transition to Charity's workplace, the Fandango Ballroom, created by Robert Randolph (who  designed both sets and lighting).

The star of the show was Gwen Verdon (a beloved Broadway icon whose husband, Bob Fosse, directed and choreographed Sweet Charity). While Fosse's production numbers were famous for spoofing cultural trends ("The Rich Man's Frug" and "The Rhythm of Life"), Sweet Charity gave him a chance to mold a major musical around the talents of the woman who was both his wife and his muse.

Molly Bell as Charity Hope Valentine (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Sweet Charity has been given an excellent revival from Center Rep in Walnut Creek (which was made even more delightful by the fact that it was performed in the intimate 300-seat Margaret Lesher Theatre). Molly Bell stars as the hooker who keeps hoping that some day, somehow, someone will love her.

Under Timothy Near’s direction, Bell got sturdy support from Alison Ewing as Nickie and Brittany Danielle (doubling as Helene and Ursula). The various men bedeviling Charity were portrayed by Noel Anthony as Italian film star Vittorio Vidal, Keith Pinto as Oscar Lindquist, Colin Thompson as Herman (the owner of the Fandango Ballroom), and as James Monroe Iglehart as “Big Daddy Brubeck.”

Charity (Molly Bell) with film star Vittorio Vidal (Noel Anthony)
in Sweet Charity (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Jennifer Perry’s choreography was obviously inspired by Fosse’s work in the original Broadway production; Neil Simon’s book remains a bedrock of comic writing. The miracle of Charity's character is that she never succumbs to the bitter disillusionment of her fellow taxi dancers at the Fandango Ballroom. No matter how many men hump and dump her, she never loses faith that someday she will meet Prince Charming.

The dance hall hostesses of the Fandango Ballroom in Sweet Charity
(Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Whereas Gwen Verdon's voice gave many of the characters she portrayed a unique vulnerability (it certainly helped make Charity more of a Chaplinesque figure than a pathetic emotional doormat), Center Rep's revival  takes a more determinedly positive approach to Charity's problems. Some notable changes from the original production include a musical number for Oscar ("Good Impression") that was added to the second act. As in the 2005 revival starring Christina Applegate, Charity's basic black sheath has been traded in for a bright red dress. As embodied by the tireless Molly Bell (who has the energy of a cheerleader), this Charity is a whole lot perkier.

Molly Bell as Sweet Charity (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Performances of Sweet Charity continue at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek through June 22 (click here to order tickets). If you've only seen the film adaptation, you should really treat yourself to a live performance.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am already done it and find that this post is really amazing.
positive thinking