Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Reads

I have read...

Stones for Bread  by Christa Parrish (keep you posted. will review for Novel Crossing)

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott (premise more interesting than the author's writing )

The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson (perfect. still. sunshiney look at love and loss and love in the years between the wars in a small English village)

The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers (read a bit too much like propaganda for me; but the writing was taut and I loved the guy )

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding  (LOVED! Bridget! Bittersweet! Maybe the best Bridget Jones yet)

An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson ( Literary Christian fiction. Compelling .Erudite )

Little Girl Blue (The Life of Karen Carpenter ) (WHY NOT) by Randy L Schmidt ( my brother is always reading Musical biography; so I read this. And the Carpenter's Reader: ephemera  of articles and reviews and interviews)

Christmas at Claridges by Karen Swan (sweet)

Trading Christmas by Debbie Macomber ( short)

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

Currently reading:

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

Seven Men by Eric Metaxas 

Still a week of Holidays left so keep you posted

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Theatre Review: Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin is currently in its final weeks of its pre-Broadway engagement at the Ed Mirvish theatre.  I enjoy that Toronto is often a test audience for Broadway bound adventures because it gives us a bit of a sneak peek and allows the production team to tweak and experiment with the material, hopefully perfecting it.

c/o West Midland Theatre of our cast
I believe, from what I have heard, that the production  I saw last evening has come a long way since it first opened in early November: what with several changes undertaken; but, at the core, I really think that this is the weakest of the Disney fare to date.  With the exception of The Little Mermaid, I have seen all of their theatrical adaptations so far and because each story is so inherently built into a musical format, I have never been disappointed. But, readers, Aladdin just doesn’t work.  From the beginning you know that there is something off: in the timbre, the cadence of the tale expressed in opening bars by a trio of Aladdin’s friends: Babcack, Haseem and Omar--- playing the comic relief in a show already filled with it--- straight to the first major chorus number of Arabian Nights: which seems flat, with the wrong tone, the wrong colours, a busy stage and a set that just tries so hard.  In fact, an early moment for the set: it is so elaborately crafted that they use several devices which block the audience from it in order to switch scenes.  There are no seamless transitions here. There is a cute use of “split screen” and several, SEVERAL filler moments where the curtain ( in complete Persian tapestry motif) separates the audience from the action and filler reprises of Arabian Nights propel the action forward.

This production breaks the Fourth Wall like nothing I have ever seen before. Ever.  And it is so tediously mundane.  How many reprises and bridges and musical overtures set to the Arabian Nights can one audience handle ….? Apparently a lot. 

The songs by Menken maintain their Disney flare; but the new additions (with the exception of Proud of Your Boy which I understand was cut from the movie ) seem to be shoved in. There’s a radically horrible duet between Jasmine and Aladdin on the rooftop of Agraba and an equally horrible declaration of Jasmine’s independence sung alongside her ladies’ maids which, if I had been musically stronger, may have recalled the scene with Megara in the animated Hercules.

Kids, the first act drags. Drags has nothing has ever dragged before and they are trying so evidently to cleverly transpose the animated action to the stage.  But, the story as told in its original Disney context, does not loan itself to stage. Its too ambitious.  The plot changes they have replaced to save themselves from having to technically undertake …oh I don’t know… a giant snake or Aladdin sinking to the bottom of the sea are replaced with awkward sword-fighting numbers and THIS IS TOO EASY moments where Aladdin just happens to leave his lamp lying around. For a clever and charming young street rat ( and, face it, Adam Jacobs is delightful in this role and just perfectly animated and wonderful: armed with a great voice, dancing impresario and the whitest teeth I have ever seen ) to just leave his last wish around just seems…. Amateur. Easy.

Jasmine. Guys Jasmine. Yawn. ( Courtney Reed)And I was kinda hoping since she was so forced and, well, yawn-worthy that she would bless us with a gorgeously sweet and chimed voice with the timbre and quality that Disney seems attracted to when casting heroines. Nope. Nothing to write home about. I am not sure if this is a technical imbalance or if Jasmine just couldn’t keep up but Jacobs unconsciously drowned her out.

I got off on a tangent; so back to how draggy the first act is. Draggy.  Then, THEN! In a Christmas miracle, the genie appears and saves the trainwreck from flying itself off of the rails.  In all of my 32 years of theatre-going ( this is supposing  I went to the theatre as a baby, which  I didn’t ) I have never, EVER seen one performer turn a show around and make it not only watchable but exciting in the way the Genie does (James Monroe Inglehart).  We can’t just credit the writing of the role, either; it is the pizzazz he infuses into every movement and charismatic gesture.  The Genie loves the roar of the applause and the audience loves him. Thus, “Friend Like Me” becomes the saving grace of a show so quickly sinking I was recalling my viewing of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s equally bland Wizard of Oz early this year.

Once Genie shows up with his pipes and his uncanny ability to move his broad build around the stage with surprisingly deft aplomb, I was given something to invest in. More still, the flat and dimensional and just too easy choreography that had everyone prancing around with their arms in triangles ( not unlike Jem practicing his walk like an Egyptian dance in To Kill a Mockingbird) was upgraded big time for an old-timey tap number complete with… COMPLETE with--- the most dazzling use of a self-aware Disney medley one has ever heard.

Genie brought the house down. Genie took the show and shoved it in his pocket and proved he is not only better than the material, he is so confidently comfortable as a performer he didn’t once try to emulate the great Robin Williams who vocally originated the  role. Sidenote for vocal origins: the gent who voiced Jafar in the movie plays Jafar here. Huh.

After intermission we are treated to a big Genie chorus number, Prince Ali, which is ---again --- salvaged mostly by the genie; but kudos to the elaborate costumes and the largest ensemble I have seen in a bit. Then the ante is technically upped by the miraculous feat of a flying carpet for the Whole New World scene.  This isn’t your mom’s Phantom of the Opera candle-boat, kiddy cats. This is one of the most impressive moments of stage brilliance, trickery and magic I have ever seen.  Jasmine is pitchy and boring; but darnit! Who cares, they are floating amidst the stars.

From there on in, you wait until the end when you know that the carpet will make an encore appearance ( why would they use that dazzling piece of magic just once ) and fall into one of the shoddiest plot denouements I have ever witnessed until the finale and the ultimate marriage and crowning of Aladdin as Sultan and the freeing of the Genie and all that.

Guys, Aladdin just doesn’t work.  It needs some major-re-writes. The production values are brilliant, the costumes, the cast ( for the most part) and often the staging are pure theatrical magic; but a show cannot ride on one outstanding Tony-calibre Genie performance and some cool magic carpet stuff.
I kept thinking about the Lord of the Rings musical : in all of its tedious and tawdry nonsense and how it seemed like SUCH a good idea and was so technically innovative but failed so greatly to tell any type of story.

I don’t know. I mean, I love Disney.. but this? This?

Toronto is exporting two things to Broadway in the New Year: Canadian Ramin Karimloo leading as Valjean in the revamped production of Les Miserables (just finishing its run here ) and Aladdin. Save your ticket money and invest in Les Miserables.


...This is one way to explain the Great Hiatus: with a wink and a smile

Monday, December 16, 2013


I am a few episodes of White Collar behind but I watched the dinosaur one last night and guys… GUYS! I have figured out what is going on

All season 5 it has been: WTF happened to Peter! It’s like he’s never met Neal before. He’s reverted to season 1 Peter.

There were two rational conclusions for why this has been so weird (it can’t be that they re-jigged the writing staff. I mean, NO!  any writers worth their proverbial salt would be as invested in the dynamic over the first four seasons as the rest of us).

The first: seasons 2-4 were all a dream.  This one holds some clout; but I wanted to dig a little deeper.

The second: okay. do you guys remember in Due South when Benny was hit by a car and got amnesia? Of course you don’t: cause unless you were a Canadian in the 90s you never watched Due South. Okay, I’ll recap:Benny ( the Mountie ) and Ray ( the cop) are bestest friends. Like, totally my first exposure to bromance. Like, the greatest and most devout partnership of all-time. But THEN Benny gets hit by a car while chasing a criminal HE LOSES his memory –for like an ENTIRE HOUR OF AN EPISODE! --- and he cannot remember who Ray is.



And it’s super heartbreaking but through the power of human will and Ray’s friendship, BENNY IS CURED

So, that leads us to PETER HAS AMNESIA! He doesn’t remember that Neal is his friend. In fact, HE HAS SELECTIVE AMNESIA which allows him to only remember certain instances when he was chasing Neal as a criminal: not the birthday cards and cookies, just the BAD STUFF. Not the hugs and the prom suits and the dinners, just the CRIMINAL NEAL IS A CRIMINAL WHO IS A CRIMINAL? THAT WOULD BE CRIMINALLY CRIMINAL NEAL WHO I CANNOT TRUST AND I FORGET THAT HE SAVED ME FROM KELLER AND THAT HE IS MY BESTEST FRIEND BECAUSE I HAVE SELECTIVE AMNESIA


Whew. Problem solved.

There were some cute moments when Neal and Peter FINALLY find the dinosaur :) the smiles and giggles and Peter gets VIP status to the museum

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rachel Rants about 'A Bride for Christmas' Bad TV Christmas Movies with a Moral Conundrum

Okay so Christmas movies. Some have been cute “Very Merry Mix-up” and “Trading Christmas” and then there is A Bride for Christmas

I hate the Guy is bet that he can’t get girl/ Guy accepts bet and gets girl/ Guy falls for girl so calls off bet/Girl feels like she is actually a poker chip ( cause she is).  I HATE THIS PLOT DEVICE.

I hate it. I hate the "when women are poker chips" plot much to the amusement of some Douchebag's smarmy office buddies so I obviously hated this movie.

Anyways, Girl ( I’ll be darned if I can remember the character’s name ) has been engaged THREE times and never made it down the aisle. In her defense, every proposal has been some big hullabaloo and she hasn’t wanted to hurt the guy’s feelings or embarrass him ( Jumbo Tron. Movie TheatreMarquis. You get it)  I mean, seriously, I would probably say “yes!” in front of a million people too.  (Though maybe not because I HATE cliche engagement spots) So, she ends up walking down the aisle or almost walking down the aisle. 

She hasn’t had a lotta luck. The most recent guy is that Sargeant from Psych Buzz McNab who got the end of the Hallmark Hair budget on this and is a mechanic and really loves Girl.  Girl is all, Sorry! I don’t love you. Audience is all: WHERE DO YOU FIND THESE GUYS WHO ARE OBVIOUSLY SO WRONG FOR YOU WITH MIDDLE HAIRPARTS?

Then Girl meets a guy who has been bet by his friends – who are sure he is not the marrying kind--- that he can’t get a woman to say yes.  It’s all very underhandedly primate and Neanderthal and primitive and terrible. Guy is all: but she’s hot! And he hires her to decorate something because she has one of those ROM COM jobs that Mindy Kaling talks about .  And he falls for her cause she wants to eat a burger instead of Thai or sushi ( regular girl foods, I suppose) and is nice to dogs at a shelter and watches horror movies.

GUYS! We need to talk about this.  THIS IS WRONG!  I mean, I usually don’t read THAT into these things;but THIS IS A STATEMENT we have to stop making.

WOMEN (and men for that matter, I’m looking at you: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days ) are not poker chips. You cannot barter a relationship and you have to stop COOKIE-CUTTER (here, because it is Christmas, in sparkly shapes like SANTA! And STARS!)  molding heroes and heroines into these boxes. The -cool-marriageable-girl because- she -eats -a- lot-of-non-"girl" food- and- watches- guy -things box and the Guy- who -is- a -rake- but- can -play -The First Noel -on- the- bar- piano -really- well box.

She starts to like him. They kiss and there are fireworks. In fact, she proposes to him!  But that won't last will it? that's not the way things should be in our neat little Hallmark boxes of fetid festive fare so INSTEAD they have to loop it so the big Bet reveal leaves the proposal ball in HIS court and he can---again---assume alpha stance.  God. Shoot me.

Yes, they get married at the end after she finds out she was bet on and he repents and she drags her wedding dress down the street all desolate and Buzz McNab tries to win her back but she gives away the ring he once gave her and her parents (HER PARENTS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD APPROVE OF THIS MARRIAGE) surprise her with a Christmas wedding to this douchebag who is no longer unmarriageable because he found a sweet and perfectly-toned girl who can scarf down fries like the rest of  the lads while jumping up at a scary flick

I just. I can’t.

I mean.

YAY! I've known this guy for two weeks and he's a Grade A Douchebag but he looks HOT beside my Christmas tree so WHE-BANG! I'm a Christmas Bride! 

Trading Christmas  did it right. It started with the cookie cutter molds ( Lacey from Corner Gas is all I HATE MEN!  And that hot guy with the dimples who played the teacher in Jake and the Kid  is all I DON’T WANT LOVE I AM WRITING A BOOK but they end up learning about each other AT CHRISTMAS and softening so that they blur the molds they are cut into and find a reciprocal and compromised love). I ended up buying and reading the novella. My first ever Debbie Macomber.

I can’t do it anymore.  Girl shouldn’t be condemned because she was too soft to turn a guy down in front of a million stadium viewers and thus is ostracized for bad choices and forced to become pawn to a stupid game.  It just makes me mad.

This isn’t just Bad TV Christmas movie of cheese and poor synthesized soundtrack composition and We Spent our Actual Budget on Cheryl Ladd so Amber from Clueless you get mediocre hair and makeup, no. This is something actually wrong with our society.   Death to this plot. It is not romantic and it is not festive. 

Monday, December 09, 2013

Guess what I'll be doing New Year's Day?

Finally, a REAL trailer for Sherlock Series III

First off,  make sure you go and re-read The Empty House to keep it all canonical. Project Gutenburg link

Then, watch this fabulous new trailer. WE GET MARY! WE GET MARY!

John's all: "I don't care how you faked it" and I am all " I AM DYING TO KNOW HOW YOU FAKED IT"

Friday, December 06, 2013

hahahha is this a record?

Had a Sound of Music viewing/mocking party on my fb last night and this chain made it to epic commenting proportions.  Did we break a record? 1194 fb comments! at least 20 contributors!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me

Now, I have already seen the acclaimed, bound-for-Bway production of Les Miserables 3x now but darnit guys! I am seeing it again because it was announced yesterday that Colm W. is returning to the stage to play the Bishop opposite Ramin Karimloo's Valjean for one night only.

I am not sure how many more times ( if any ) I will be able to see Colm on stage and he is a long favourite to see live so I bought myself a Christmas present: a ticket.

It's for CHARITY. It's gonna be EPIC and I bet we all get a few duets.   If you're in the Toronto area you should consider tickets:

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The This is All I have Time for 'Frozen' review

Dear Blog,

We need to have a talk about Frozen. It is ADORABLE and it more than passes the Bechdel test and the central relationship is not a romantic one and the singing is Broadway fantastic and it is basically the Disney version of Wicked (complete with Idina Menzel) and there are some lovely little twists and Olaf the Snowman might be the best side-kick since the Genie in Aladdin

And it is so freaking adorable I want to go back right now. Which won’t work because I am at the office doing important things

But, really…. It is high time you went and experienced the warm fuzzies for yourself. Guys, ‘tis clever! SO clever and brilliant and bright and charming and ENCHANTED

The end.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Son of God trailer

I absolutely LOVED The Bible miniseries. I think it was one of my highlights of 2013  and I was SO overjoyed to see this trailer at the movies today.