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Sunday, February 2, 2003

With Moulin Rouge last year, Baz Luhrmann changed the way I looked at movie musicals. In that movie, the music and narrative flowed relentlessly forward from beginning to end. It was a total cinematic experience, with the added element of a song score that highlighted and emphasized the story and characters. I'd never seen anything quite like it, and it totally knocked me out.

Having seen "Chicago" on stage, I realized why it had taken so long to bring it to the screen. The play has a feeling to it that's driven by the satirical bite that's in both the songs and the atmosphere they create. So I went into the theater yesterday with expectations, and I was thrilled to see one of my favorite stage musicals transformed so beautifully into movie magic.

If anything, Chicago the movie is more vivid and personal than the play. The characters, especially Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, seem to jump off the screen in three dimensions. The transitions back and forth between the narrative scenes and the musical numbers are elegantly done. And the feeling is very much of a piece with the way I saw it on stage.

The success of the movie reminded me a little of Moulin Rouge, but even more of another amazing Kander and Ebb musical that was made into a great movie. Like Chicago, Cabaret was much more than a filmed version of a stage play. I wore out the grooves in my vinyl copy of the soundtrack, and as I listened I could see the film play out in my mind.

For a story about murder (and getting away with it), Chicago managed to lift my spirits immensely yesterday.

When I saw "Chicago" on stage, I came out thinking it was the best play I'd ever seen, and nothing could match it. The trouble is, every time I come out of the theater, unless it's a dud I think what I've just seen is the best ever. This happened again Friday night when Mom and I saw the Santa Rosa JC Theatre Art Department's production of "All in the Timing," by David Ives.

I'd love to say I knew what to expect when I walked into the theater, because the play has been around for ten years and has won a lot of awards. But I'd never seen it or even heard much about it. It's a series of comic sketches on topics ranging from language and relationships to the vagaries of luck and fate.

Mostly it's about communication. It's about words and meaning. It's very witty and very, very funny. The production we saw had six segments, beginning with "Foreplay, or: The Art of the Fugue." This one is about a guy who has his pickup routine down so pat that he can't cope when one of the girls he takes to the miniature golf course on a first date throws his own words back at him. The gimmick here is that three actors play Chuck, with three different women, in a sort of interwoven fugue of lines and interactions.

Other segments were "The Philadelphia," about an alternate reality where you never get what you ask for, so you have to adjust the way you ask; "Sure Thing," about a couple meeting by chance who get to start over every time their conversation takes a wrong turn; "Words, Words, Words," about three monkeys with typewriters, trying to reproduce "Hamlet," and discussing the process among themselves; "The Universal Language," a hilarious bit about a guy who runs a class in Unawunda, a made-up language that sounds like nonsense at first but makes more and more sense the more you hear it; and "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," which is about exactly what the title indicates.

The only reason I wanted to go into such detail is to encourage anyone in the area to see this production. The theater was a little over half full when we saw it on opening night, but the young actors were so polished already that it's a shame more people weren't there to see them. The rapid wordplay and precise timing it requires to pull this off probably mean that every production of "All in the Timing" isn't quite as well done as this one.


My garden is getting a little out of hand.

Well. This is an unusual entry. I don't do reviews, and I don't tell people what they should do. You don't want to hear about my day, really. I sat around the house making my very first mix CD. It turns out to be quite easy, but I'd never done it before, so to me it was a challenge. I never venture into undiscovered territory without a map and a hatchet, but for once I just forged ahead, more or less blindly. I think I did okay.

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Congratulations, Wendy (and family) on your great news!

Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Two-Two-Oh-Two
"I love kids, everybody knows that, but there's a time and a place for rambunctious ten-year-olds to be running back and forth across a restaurant dining room and shouting to each other. Or maybe there isn't a time and place for that."

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Not a bit reprehensible,
It's so defensible.