I enjoy celebrating Easter Sunday by watching Godspell, which is as close as I wanna get to church. The film, based on the stage play of the same name, came out in 1973. That same year another musical about Jesus Christ, of the Superstar variety, was also released. I prefer Godspell, mainly because it’s so wacky. The gist of it is that Jesus (Victor Garber), John the Baptist/Judas (David Haskell), and a bunch of hippie disciples are traipsing around an empty New York City reenacting parables, singing, and dancing. It’s like a Sunday school lesson on acid. The cast, led by a baby-faced Garber, is very talented. You also have beautiful shots of early 70s NYC, including the recently built World Trade Center. The music is my favorite part, though. These are my top three songs.
Day by Day
When the hippie troupe first comes together, they sing this number while building their home base in an old junk yard. It’s a fun one to sing and clap along to, if the spirit moves you.
By My Side
A beautiful ballad with perfect overlapping harmonies. I like how stripped down it is.
Turn Back, O Man
This sultry number contains the line, “Come here Jesus, I got something to show you”. WTF?? But, I’m here for it. They filmed this at the historic Andrew Carnegie mansion. Great setting.
After the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, a second movie
about a flamboyant larger than life rockstar in the 70s and 80s might fall in
the shadow of what came before it. But I think it’s unfair to lump Rocketman
in with that other film. Especially because this movie is ten times better than
Bohemian Rhapsody. Like, glaringly better. But let’s move on.
Rocketman focuses on the personal life and career of
Elton John (Taron Egerton). He grows up in working class England in a very
unhappy home. His father is never around and when he is, he’s cold and distant.
His mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) isn’t much better. She thinks of her son as a
burden she must carry. Young Elton escapes his harsh reality through music.
He’s a piano prodigy, perfectly imitating any piece he hears. He pursues a
career in music as he matures, playing in a band and backing other artists. Elton’s
life changes dramatically when he meets Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). Bernie has the
lyrics to match up with Elton’s music. It’s a perfect partnership. Fame,
fortune, and amazing songs soon follow. And just as quickly comes the spiral,
with alcohol and drugs.
Even though Rocketman is considered a biopic it’s
really more than that. Much more fantastical, for sure. Elton and other
characters break into song and dance numbers all over the place. And his music
is used to establish the mood and further the plot of the movie. It feels like
an existing Broadway musical that was adapted for the screen. I was already a
big fan of his songs, but it was interesting to see them staged and performed
in new way here. “Tiny Dancer”, “Amoreena”, “Pinball Wizard”, and “Goodbye
Yellow Brick Road” are standouts. Director Dexter Fletcher creates a fun,
exciting spectacle for the viewer. The whirlwind of Elton’s life is captured
beautifully through his lens. And hats off (no pun here) to the fabulous costumes
designed by Julian Day. So many sequins!
I also enjoyed the fact that this was an R-rated movie.
Elton recently said, “I haven’t led a PG-13 life”. So, his movie shouldn’t shy
away from those elements. You get to see him exploring his sexuality, complete
with gay sex scenes. There’s also the heavy drug use. Sometimes a bit too
heavy. His downward spiral felt like it went on for far too long. But that was
the truth of his experience.
The heart of the film is Egerton. He’s in almost every
scene, carrying it all on his back. He doesn’t just slap on a wig and do an
imitation of Elton. He offers up his own interpretation of the icon. It’s a
strong performance. Huge points for actually using his own singing voice and
not lip synching…unlike other actors in recent biopics. Bell and Howard also
shine in their roles. Howard has a particularly tough job of making a heartless
woman seem human.
I walked out of the theatre with a renewed appreciation for
Elton and the path he took to get to where he is now. It’s an inspiring story
of highs, lows, self-acceptance, and perseverance. With a fantastic soundtrack
to accompany it.
You wouldn’t think that a real-life tragic event could make
a great musical, but The View Upstairs manages to do just that. The play is loosely
based on a horrific hate crime that took place in the 70s. At that time, the
UpStairs Lounge was a gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. On June 24,
1973 an arsonist set a fire that caused the death of thirty-two patrons. Adding
to the devastation, victims were mocked and ridiculed by the community. In some
cases, bodies were not claimed by their family members for fear of people
learning they had gay relatives.
In 2013, playwright Max Vernon created The View UpStairs,
paying homage to these people lost in the fire. It would go on to be staged
Off-Broadway, around the US, and overseas.
In the musical, Wes, a young self-centered designer/entrepreneur/influencer,
purchases the building that once housed the UpStairs Lounge. After snorting a
good amount of cocaine, he’s suddenly transported back in time to when the bar
was open in 1973. Once there, he meets the regulars. Patrick, a good-looking
hustler; Buddy, a closeted 50-something piano player; Willie, the optimistic
matchmaker; Richard, a priest who holds services for the gay community at the
bar; Henri, the tough but motherly lesbian bartender; Freddy, a fabulous drag
queen; Inez, Freddy’s accepting mother; and Dale, a bitter resentful outsider.
Over the course of the show, Wes gets to know and love the
people he meets at the UpStairs, especially Patrick who he quickly falls for.
He loses his callous edge and begins to feel like he’s part of a family. Unfortunately,
as in real-life, things take a tragic turn.
I saw a production of the show at the New Conservatory
Theatre here in San Francisco and was quite entertained. The premise can be
hard to digest, but after awhile you go with it no matter how off-putting the
time travel hijinks can be. You can forget about that and let the music take
you on a journey. Some song standouts are “Are You Listening, God?”, “World
Outside These Walls”, and “Theme Song”. That last song in particular moved me
with its intensity.
It’s hard to single out one actor because they are such a
strong ensemble, building off each other. Everyone is given a song and an equal
chance to shine. I will say that Coleton Schmitto, Anthony Rollins-Mullens,
Linda Dorsey, and Jessica Coker gave particularly strong performances.
I also have to point out Devin Kasper’s impressive scenic
design. The theatre is quite small, but he was able to do so much with such
little space. You feel like you’re transported back in time, along with Wes, to
1970s New Orleans. Big points for the nude Burt Reynolds Cosmopolitan poster.
The show overall is a nice mix of fact and fiction. So, it
provides a history lesson without hitting you over the head with it. It honors
the victims of the tragedy and celebrates the LGBT community. The main message
is that of acceptance and finding your chosen family. Something that most
everyone should hear and take in.