Wednesday, August 9, 2017

SYTYCD 14 - Top 10 Recap: MOVING FORWARD BY GOING BACK TO BASICS


Well, hello again, Dance Fans! It's been a long time since last we met here. I've been blogging over at CrazytownBlog for the past several years, and during that time While Not Making Other Plans was taking an extended nap. But then Crazytown suddenly went the way of the lost city of Roanoke this spring, and SYTYCD live show recaps still had to happen, so here she is, boys! Here she is world, WORLD! It's the reawakening of the blog just in time for Cat Deeley, ageless as ever, to preside over two hours of (mostly) live dancing and the reveal of Season 14's top 10. Grab a glass of Frosé and get comfy, because we have a lot of Our Show of Shows to .



A note on the season as a whole before we get to the dancing. I'm very happy to have the show back again and with grown-age dancers this summer. As is the case with every season, the format has been tweaked and most changes will only be revealed to us right when they show up on screen. The season was billed as "Back To Basics" which means adults and more ballroom, but beyond that, expect new twists and budget-saving techniques all over the place. For the auditions, we only got an hour of airtime a week, so even though there were only two audition cities this year, they stretched on for over a month in TV watching time. Contestants first performed for this year's judging panel comprised of EP Nigel Lythgoe, Returning HotTamaleTrain Engineer Mary Murphy and brand new judge Vanessa Hudgens, who I loved in Grease: Live and I won't have a word said against her! Instead of "Vegas Callbacks" the top 100-something auditioners went to the "Academy" which I assume was an (admittedly rather beautiful) facility somewhere in LA. Here's where the first really big change happens, Instead of the whole group vying for spots in the Top 20, the judging panel disappears entirely and instead the season's 10 All-Stars get to pick a team of 4 dancers they like best and then whittle that group down to just one contestant who will join them as their partner for the Live Shows and thus be in the running to be America's Favorite Dancer. 



I was iffy on this change, because in order to succeed, contestants really had to match well with one All-Star instead of just being an overall great dancer who can look good with any All-Star. I felt like there were some really fantastic and unique dancers who got cut early in this process because of this change. Also the show's narrative shifted from the contestants trying to make it to the Top 20 to being more about the decision-making drama of the All-Stars. It's more in line with how The Voice handles its Mentor-Judges. I'd rather be invested in the contestants' journeys than the All-Stars' Sophie's Choices. But hey, it's Season 14 of this beautiful Dance Show That Could. As long as Cat Deeley is still hosting, the producers can make whatever changes they want to try to keep it on the air and I will show up for it. But please, no more Juniors!



So tonight we find out who each All-Star chose from their top two options... except we don't get to see any of the dancers' reactions to the news. For each reveal, there's a cutaway from the tape of The Green Mile back to live stage and the selected dancer just runs out to perform. Weird. Are they saving that footage for a future clip package? The not-selected dancers really gets shafted without a proper goodbye. Anyway, Cat Deeley is in the house with her stunning red Stella McCartney dress and Tamara Mellon shoes. We've got a lot of dancing to enjoy together, friends. Here we go with the Top 10!



Wait, I lied! Before we get to the contestants, we get more All-Stars dancing together which I will never turn down. The lovely group number with choreo by Stacey Tookey and set to "Knocking On Heavens Door" by RAIGN is notable for 2 things: 1) There's a new set and the set has STAIRS! Welcome back to the show, Stairs! I feel like we haven't seen you for at least 10 seasons! Also, there are now cameras and lights EVERYWHERE! Seriously, what a nice upgrade! This is the stage of the future!! 2) There are only 9 All-Stars on stage! Where the F is Allison? Injured already? NOOOO!!! She is in the audience with her arm in a sling and Twitch by her side. I hope she can return next week because it would be really unfortunate if she picked her Top 10 contestant and then never got to actually dance on the show with him. Okay, NOW to the Top 10 reveals and dances.



Fik-Shun Stegall and Dassy Lee (Hip-Hop) —  Choreographer: Popin’ Pete, “Shake Your Pants” by Cameo. Fik-Shun chooses Dassy over Kyle and I'm not really surprised because Dassy is awesome and Fik-Shun already did the "mentor-a-younger-me" thing when he won last season with Kida. This routine is a lot of fun. They both have personality and moves for days in their favor. What's agains them is that Dassy and Fik-Shun are just a smidge out of sync at times, they spend a lot of time seated in those chairs and Dassy's hat cast a weird shadow over her face at times. Overall, it was very good, but not the explosive WOW you hope for from the first routine of the live shows. The judges are very encouraging toward them. Wait, are we already voting people off tonight? We are. But no more numbers? Just texts and internet votes? Okay. I've really liked Dassy since her first audition. I want to see more from her. I think there's a lot of potential in this partnership and Fik-Shun definitely knows how to win this show, so don't count out Dassy just yet!



Allison Holker and Logan Hernandez (Contemporary) Choreographer: Tyce Diorio, “Protocol” by Leon Else. There was not a lot of drama in Allison's decision for those of us who already knew Zachary joined the Broadway cast of CATS, taking over for former SYTYCD-winner Ricky UbedaWORK! as Mr. Mistoffelees. The surprise here really is that Allison is injured, and we have to call in an All-Star Sub to dance with Logan. So welcome back to the stage Season 9 contestant Audrey Case, who totally nails the routine on just a few hours of rehearsal like the total pro she is! I wonder if the All-Star Subs have to shadow rehearsals so they have a basic idea of what's going on should they be called into service at the last minute. Logan danced and partnered well. I was missing the emotion from his face a bit, but that might be a combo of nerves at having a new partner and being on the younger end of the field at 18 years old. In the judging, Nigel basically told him he's gonna need to work his ass off and let his natural personality come through, reminding us that someone is going home already next week, and with Allison currently on the sidelines it might be a tough road for him.




Jenna Johnson and Kiki Nyemchek (Cha-Cha) Choreographer: Dmitry Chaplin, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” by Shawn Mendes. Thank goodness. Jenna was pissing me off during the Academy, seemingly bending the rules all the way through her final 2 decision, until they almost broke. Nothing against Kevin “Konkrete” Davis Jr, but Jenna saved him from being eliminated from another All-Stars team, ultimately dumping three of her own dancers to keep him around. Then while all other contestants had to each dance the same routine with their All-Star, Konkrete got a special routine from Jenna so he didn't have to dance the same style as Kiki. WHAT GIVES, SHOW? Nobody else did this. But in the end, Jenna went with ballroom pro Kiki anyway. (I like to think Mary Murphy staged a behind-the-scenes intervention with her, in which Mary said, "DO NOT ROB ME OF THIS!") When Kiki and Jenna finally dance this routine together, her decision makes total sense. I love a contestant on this show who can really lead in a ballroom routine and not just get dragged around by his partner and "keep up." She could never have danced in her own style like this with Konkrete. Of course Mary loves every second of it. Nigel thinks that Jenna outshines him even though the whole point of the dance is to show off his partner. Whatever. I like Kiki. Jenna might have been stirring up drama at the Academy for no reason, but I'm sending votes his way!



Cyrus Spencer and Kaylee Millis (Contemporary/Hip-Hop Fusion) Choreographer: Tessandra Chavez,“Clown” by Emeli Sandé. Blue-haired Impavido is now known as blue-haired Kaylee. I pegged her from the beginning as someone who would make the live shows. She just has that spark. I don't know that she is a great pick for Cyrus, though. Cyrus is dancing tonight out of his style and comfort zone tonight, and he wouldn't be if he'd chosen Havoc instead. But then again what would Cyrus and Havoc done when they got a dance in one of the more classical categories? Cyrus wouldn't have been able to elevate Havoc's game, just as he struggles to support her in this routine. The routine is kinda heavy and awkward. It's not bad, but it comes off looking like a struggle. Kaylee's dress doesn't seem suited for the routine either, so I'm not sure what the costuming dept. was going for there. The judges don't like it and aren't shy about saying it was subpar. Even Vanessa goes in, saying Kaylee needs more, “weightlessness and breath.” Welcome to the judges' table, Vanessa!


Gaby Diaz and Lex Ishimoto (Tap)Choreographer: Anthony Morigerato,“More” by Bobby Darin. I thought for sure that Gaby picked Evan when they announced heading into commercial that she'd be doing a tap routine after the break. After all, Evan is the tapper. But no, she picked Lex and is having him perform in her style. It's a good routine, but Gaby shines so effortlessly in it and Lex is clearly working at times. His arms are not at ease during some of the more complex tappa tappa tappa that the routine requires of him. He does do some boffo flips and tricks that let you know he's always got something in the tank to wow you. In weeks to come, I think Lex's versatility and training will be an asset to him in a way that this routine didn't fully show off. Instead, this really played into Gaby's wheelhouse and she stole the show. Nigel tells him to rehearse his personality which sounds like terrible advice on a human level, but Vanessa counters that she likes his sweet and shy personality. Mary goes for someone where in the middle recalling how back in Season 9 they said week after week that Chehon had no personality, and he went on to win the whole thing! Dreams come true, bitches! A breakthrough for Lex is on the horizon!



Comfort Fedoke and Mark Villaver (Hip-Hop) Choreographer: Luther Brown, “REDMERCEDES” by Aminé. I love Comfort. She just gets better and better each year, which is insane to me because she already started out amazing. How is there no awesomeness plateau with her year after year? Anyway, I really wasn't sure if Comfort was going to go with Deja or Mark, mostly because we didn't see a lot from either of them during the Academy. But then the routine starts and DAMN! It had to be Mark. These two are SO GOOD together! Personality, swagger and chemistry for DAYS. The routine is so fun and they both let loose and nail it. Afterwards, Mark is still bouncing everywhere while Cat tries to reel him in so the judges can do their thing. Easy, dude. Cat may have two hours tonight, but there's a lot to get to before she brings the show in on time. Nigel brings up Mark's resemblance to Bruno Mars and Vanessa thinks he looks like Rufio from Hook. He is kind of cross between them in a very attractive way. This is the kind of first impression you want to make with the audience in the live shows.



Marko Germar and Koine Iwasaki (Contemporary) Choreographer: Stacey Tookey, “Memories” by Alex Somers. I have to say I really liked Sofia and I hope if this show gets to do Season 15, that she'll try for it again. Koine is a fantastic partner for Marko though, and their routine is beautiful and effortless with great emotion between them. The lighting design does this starburst thing about halfway through that's just gorgeous. It has nothing to do with the actual dancing, I know, but still - attention must be paid. If I have anything negative to say about it, it's that it felt short. I could've used another 16 bars of dancing. Nigel of course comments on their chemistry and asks them if they've set the wedding date. Don't be gross about it, Nigel! Koine smiles and thinks, "First comes love, then comes the title of America's Favorite Dancer, then comes marriage." This girl has her priorities straight!


Paul Kamiryan and Sydney Tormey (Ballroom) Choreographer: Val Chmerkovskiy “All Stars” by Martin Solveig feat. Alma. So close but yet so far for Sofia! I feel like Paul couldn't make a wrong choice between his final two dancers. They both were amazing both on their own and while partnering with him. But there can be only one. Although, maybe in season 15 we can expand it to a Top 20 and each All-Star gets to choose two from the whole field? Guys, Val from DWTS is doing the choreo. I like when these shows are allies for the promotion of dance instead of rivals for dancers and choreographers. The routine turns out to be very solid. Sydney looks gorgeous and has legs for days, but there wasn't a lot of electricity between them. The song they are dancing to definitely has a beat but the vibe feels kinda mellow. The dancing was missing a little crackle of excitement that I expect when it's two ballroom dancers tearing it up in their own style. During judging, Vanessa notes that Sydney was lacking some oomph, and I'm relieved that V's actually going to point stuff like this out instead of just giving us variations on, "I loved it. You did your thing!" after every performance, like some 3rd-seat judges in the past were inclined to do. Was this routine enough to keep her out of danger? I'm doubtful. That's unfortunate because she danced well, but when we start with only 10 finalists and people are really knocking it out of the park, it's important to make a lasting impression in people's minds or you go home.




Robert Roldan and Taylor Sieve (Contemporary) Choreographer: Travis Wall, “Change Is Everything (A Capella Version)” by Son Lux. During the green mile sequence between Taylor and Jonathan, I realized I've never noticed how much shorter Jonathan is than Taylor. When they were standing next to each other facing Robert, Taylor was towering over him! Was this some trick of the camera angle? Anyway, Robert picks Taylor and they do a Travis Wall routine and it blows everyone's minds. It starts with Taylor standing on Robert’s shoulders (!!) and then she rolls forward off of him to the floor ((!!!). The insanity continues from there. The gymnastic poses don't stop throughout and there is a strong emotional presence coming from Taylor supported by the haunting vocals of the song. Robert is the most solid of partners. It was weird that there was that time during the Academy where no one wanted to be on his team. That might have been a result of the weird persona he adopted as he'd declare, "I WANT YOU ON MY TEAM..." the delivery of which landed somewhere between Jeff Goldblum's and Christopher Walken's most creepily oddball characters. The dancers were all like, "Yeah... no thanks! I'll go with the All-Star who isn't scaring me right now!" But these kids should've remembered that SYTYCD loves Robert. He's always going to get the best routines and the best placement in the show and that will only help his partner succeed. Taylor has the skills and personality to win the show and she also has the right partner to get her to the finals. In judging, Mary calls it one of her Top 10 routines of all time on the show. We'll definitely be seeing an encore of it before we crown the winner. I can't wait! Again! Again!



Jasmine Harper and Robert Green (Hip-Hop) Choreographer: Chris Scott, "Perm” by Bruno Mars. Even though Jasmine's team got minimal screen time during the Academy, I still had a good sense of who Howard and Robert were from their original auditions. Poor Howard was in tears before Jasmine could even deliver the killing blow. Come back next year, Howard! I promise you the format will change again and that might give you a better chance! So even though all the other contestants ran out on stage to reveal that they made it, Robert is already set in his spot on the stage which is decked out like a minimalist beauty parlor. Jasmine turns his styling chair around for the reveal to the audience that he made it, and then together they dive into a fantastically fun hip hop routine that's big on energy, precision and sass. There are hairspray can props that are used to great effect creating clouds of mist around them as they dance. Everything about this routine fits Robert like a glove. It's a perfect showcase for him. I'm looking forward to what else these two will do together.


Now, it's almost 10pm and we have to wrap this up before the local news kicks in, but we can't roll credits just yet, because there is still an All-Stars and Top 10 routine to go! Choreographers: Wade and Amanda Robson, Tony Testa. “This Time” by Son Lux. Dude, Wade has not done choreo on this show in FOREVER. I wonder if one his conditions to return involved them adding stairs back onto the stage. He always made great use of those stairs. The routine is very cool and does not conform to traditional gender norms in the costuming which was refreshing to see. The All-Stars are in black and grey pants and hoodies, with flashlights in their mouths while turning giant lanterns into talking heads. The Top 10 are all pink cocoon goo to start and then blossom into tulle-skirted beings and then... i'm not sure what happens. They join up like the Skeksis and the Mystics during the Great Conjuction or something. I can't tell you exactly what the story was, but I liked the visuals a lot. Welcome back, Wade and company!



So that's our Top 10, America! 4 Contempos, 2 Ballers, 1 Popper, 1 Jazz Hands, 1 Hopper and 1 Breaker. I'm pleased with who made it through. I'm thrilled we're finally in the live shows so they can strut their stuff and we can spend some time with them! My understanding is the season finale is in the end of September, so that means we'll lose one dancer a week until the final four face off in the finale. But we'll have to wait until next week to learn just how they'll be eliminated. Will there be a bottom 3? A bottom 2? Will the judges decide? Will their be "dancing for their lives" solos? Who knows? They will tell us right before it happens. Here's how I split my 20 online votes among the contestants. I favored Kiki and Taylor this week, but everybody got some love. It was really based on my initial reaction to the routines. If I had two more available votes, I'd have given one each to Lex and Robert.



For now, I'll guess my bottom 3 for this week are Logan, Kaylee and Sydney. Early picks to win it all? I'll go with Lex or Taylor. But they've all got a fighting chance. Next week will be the first big test to see what they can all do. I can't wait! See you then, Dance Fans!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscars 2014 Recap: I Know My First Name's Idina...

Classy People. Classy Show. 

So Guys. The Oscars Happened. Oh, did they ever happen!

In a show that ran long and had virtually no upset wins ("Get a Horse" lost animated short, and... that was it.) the show still managed to spin out a little wild and be entertaining as some late evening craziness kept the internets ablaze with comments. Here are some highlights from the night.

1. Lupita WINS! Bobby EGOT'S! Cuaron makes history AND wins twice!


It was a night of eloquent speeches and lots of fun first time winners. Maybe it was a result of housing the orchestra in some building down the street again, but I don't remember anyone getting plaid off despite several people going on for a bit. Even when a team won, and one person was the main speaker, the second person was always given a few seconds to quickly shot hello to his or her mom or kids. Bobby Lopez completed his career EGOT, winning for "Let It Go" (over 2.5 hours into the ceremony - JESUS.), Cuaron won for editing and also became the first Latino winner for Best Directing. But in my opinion, the most lovely win went to Lupita Nyong'o. Here's her beautiful speech in total:

Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own. 

Steve McQueen, you charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life. [Tears, applause.] I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and watching and they are grateful and so am I. 

Chiwetel, thank you for your fearlessness and how deeply you went into Solomon, telling Solomon’s story. Michael Fassbender, thank you so much. You were my rock. Alfre and Sarah, it was a thrill to work with you. Joe Walker, the invisible performer in the editing room, thank you. Sean Bobbitt, Kalaadevi, Adruitha, Patty Norris, thank you, thank you, thank you — I could not be here without your work. 

I want to thank my family, for your training [laughs] and the Yale School of Drama as well, for your training. My friends the Wilsons, this one’s for you. My brother Junior sitting by my side, thank you so much, you’re my best friend and then my other best friend, my chosen family. When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. Thank you.

Thank YOU, Lupita!

2. Twitter breaks.

Ellen broke the internet with this improved A-List selfie. She told everyone to retweet it, and retweet it they did until twitter could retweet no moew! You know, despite everyone's nerves about the night, the big nominees were all very game to play with Ellen whenever she called on them in the audience. You could tell they have a lot of trust with her to have a good time and enjoy making moments.

3. American Gets Hustled!


Bored Now. Poor American Hustle! It was probably my favorite movie this year, it had 10 nominations tonight and went home with zero wins. You will have your time, Amy Adams! You will! I swear it!

4. Jennifer Lawrence Falls Down Again!

Jennifer looked amazing and got the falling out of the way on the red carpet instead of during the actual ceremony. Unfortunately, it was still under the watchful eye of Ellen who called her out about it in the opening monologue. She'd have gotten extra points had she succeeded in taking down the young lady in front of her as well.



5. Introducing Adela Dazeem


Having already broken twitter once last night, John Travolta tried to make it happen for the Oscars a second time when he bizarrely introduced Idina Menzel as something close to Adela Dazeem. It was one if those truly special WTF moments. Many Frozen and Broadway fans had been anxiously awaiting Idina's live performance for weeks now. We had to wait until after 11pm for the show to finally give us what we wanted. And then John Travolta takes the stage. Upon initial viewing, I did not hear his flub because we were not interested in Travolta and were urging him to hurry up out of there. But then as the performance started things got weird on stage and online. The song felt rushed. Idina seemed nervous or flustered. They cut out the middle verse where the song builds vocally. The ear piece was malfunctioning. The band wasn't even in the same building! Through all this the presentation was still lovely. She cracked a bit on the top note, but girl was singing live and that note's in the stratosphere. It happens. She gave it her all. Did the whole performance fall short of our extremely high expectations? Yeah, a bit. We would've wanted it to go perfectly for Idina, because she deserves a perfect moment! The missed high note doesn't bother me. It was more that I thought Idina looked pressured throughout a song that's about release. I felt like the production never let her relax.

But even before the song ended, twitter and FB started ripping into Travolta. What name did he call her? Certainly not Idina. People couldn't figure it out. Eventually, we settled on either Adele or Adela Dazeem. Either way, it was so preposterous! Quite ironically, social media was NOT gonna let it go at all. As of this posting, @AdelaDazeem has over 14,000 twitter followers off of just four tweets.

Okay, obviously he had some kind of brain fart reading the prompter. But he doesn't know who Idina is? She starred in Rent. She starred in Wicked. They didn't meet backstage moments before he did the intro? It just seems insane. But it certainly woke everyone up as the show headed towards midnight. I laughed til I cried reading people's scathing comments. I missed two awards while trying to compose myself. Thanks for all the laughs at your expense, Jorn Tromolto.

6. Encyclopedia Ellen and The Mystery of The Red Rose Curtain


The sets on stage last night were certainly... interesting. There was the army of gummi bear Oscar statues. The array of blinding spotlights. The giant scrim that showed projections of the Wizard of Oz in front of P!nk while she sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow. But the strangest one for me was this huge curtain of giant red roses. It was enormous! And I couldn't stop myself from thinking, "Why is that thing there??" Nobody acknowledged it, despite it taking up the whole stage. Was is hiding some big set piece or star entrance? Was there going to be a big reveal? No, it just hung there. Did it symbolize the red carpet? Was it an ode to the poppy fields of the Wizard of Oz? The world may never know...

7. Ellen was Mean. Liza was Displeased.


She's not quite as Super Nice as Jimmy Fallon, but Ellen is not known for throwing sharp jabs either. Still, there were some delightfully prickly moments in the opening monologue I appreciated. Liza Minelli might have felt differently at the time. Ellen shouted out the real life Captain Phillips and Philomena who were in the audience that night and then mentioned the real Liza as “One of the best Liza Minnelli impersonators that I have seen in my entire life… Good job, sir!” Liza was like "Did she call me a MAN??" The audience wasn't totally with her (Liza was there to celebrate mom Judy Garland and the 75th Anniversary of the Wizard of Oz.) Not ready to make nice just yet, Ellen closed out the monologue by offering up two possibilities, “Possibility number one: Twelve Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists. And now welcome our first white presenter, Anne Hathaway!”

If that drag queen read wasn't enough, she got shut out of Ellen's Group Selfie for being too short! Look at her stretching! Won't someone notice poor Liza??!



8. The Happy Shimmy

Thank you, Pharrel for giving the world the Happy Shimmy. Streep came ready to play last night, folks.



9. The World is Round, People!


Jared Leto gave a nice long speech with shout outs to his Mom, Ukraine, Venezuela, AIDS victims and 30 Seconds to Mars. Matthew McConaughey thanked the Holy Trinity of Me Myself and I. But my favorite of the actors' acceptance speeches outside of Lupita was the lovely Cate Blanchett who said. "To those of us in the industry who are perhaps foolishly clinging to the idea that female films -- with women at the center -- are niche experiences, they are not. Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money!" Thunderous appplause and then, "The world is round, people!" She is divine. And the first Australian ever to win multiple Oscars!

10. Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!


Ellen made a joke about ordering the starving nominees pizzas. And then later the pizzas arrived. And then Ellen handed out the pizzas. And then the nominees actually ate the pizzas while sitting in the their seats in the theater. And then Ellen went around with Pharrell's hat collecting money for the pizza. It sounds simple.But it was a fun way of engaging with the audience and keeping them involved as more and more of their categories were settled. Again, it speaks well of Ellen that so many people continued to play along with whatever she asked them to do. It turns out they did not map out these interactions in rehearsal. Ellen just let them know she'd be doing something and they waited to see what it was. I thought these bits worked really well. And made me hungry for pizza!


So overall, it was a nice night with some lovely wins, funny jokes and head and baffling errors. I guessed 20 of the 24 winners which I score as "not too shabby." 12 Years a Slave is a worthy best picture win. Hopefully next year Amy Adams takes hope the gold trophy and John Travolta will be on hand to call her Armani Slumndal.  That'd be a win for everybody. Our dreams are valid.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions: Academy Hustle



(Let's all head straight to the after-party, since we're not likely to win anyway.)

The 2014 Oscars are upon us! Before I live tweet this bitch later tonight, I figured I'd break my long blogging hiatus (all my writing time this year has gone to playwriting and FB statuses! Sorry, blog!) by going on record about my pics to win this year. All the early results from this awards season indicate it will be a "spread the wealth" sort of year with no one movie sweeping all the technical or the performance categories. Conventional wisdom would also indicate that 12 Years A Slave will win Best Picture, but it's not a total lock. It's a very powerful film and expertly made, but I found it so painful to watch. It's not a movie that if I would just sit down and watch flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon while folding my laundry. Same thing could be said for Schindler's List, though. Shakespeare in Love, however...

I DO like to be entertained by films, so in that sense if I was voting this year, I would pick American Hustle or Gravity as my top choice. But I certainly wouldn't begrudge 12 Years a well deserved win. We'll see what happens. What we'll all remember about this anyway is After Earth's Best Picture snub. It is unconscionable.

All the categories have their front runners, but Academy Voters don't always stick to the Awards Season script. There could be some delicious upsets. As long as "Let It Go" wins Best Song whatever else happens is fine with me. Should it somehow lose... just wait for my tweets.

Here's hoping Ellen brings back the Swan Dress!! And without further ado... my predictions (in BOLD)!

Best Picture:

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Animated Feature:

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Best Cinematography:

The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)
Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)
Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael)
Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

Best Costume Design:

American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)
The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping)
The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)
The Invisible Woman (Michael O'Connor)
12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

Best Directing:

American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best Documentary Feature:

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

Best Documentary Short:

CaveDigger
Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal

Best Film Editing:

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
Omar (Palestine)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Best Original Score:

The Book Thief (John Williams)
Gravity (Steven Price)
Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song:

Happy (Despicable Me 2)
Let It Go (Frozen)
The Moon Song (Her)
Ordinary Love (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Best Production Design:

American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
12 Years a Slave

Best Animated Short Film:

Feral
Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Possessions
Room on the Broom

Best Live Action Short Film:

That Wasn't Me
Just Before Losing Everything
Helium
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
The Voorman Problem

Best Sound Editing:

All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Best Sound Mixing:

Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Best Visual Effects:

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay:

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Tweets of Music


"What the f**k did I just watch?"


That was the serious question I posed to myself at the conclusion of yesterday's 3 hour tour through Rodgers & Hammerstein's Sound of Music Live! I asked myself that question not because I hated it (by its conclusion, I decided I enjoyed it very much) but because I wasn't actually sure what it was. It was a "live television musical event," but what IS that? It's not a movie, but it's being filmed. It's not a staging of the classic movie version of Sound of Music, but the stage musical version of Sound of Music that came before the film. But it's also not a live performance happening in a theater. The action is happening on multiple sets in a sound stage. There's no live studio audience so there's no applause and there's no energy for actors to feed off of while performing live. The actors are essentially performing in a vacuum, save for each other and the camera crews. There are commercial breaks throughout the performance which affect the natural flow of a two-act/one intermission stage show. So ultimately, what IS THIS?? The best I can come up with is: It's... unique! It's a "live television musical event." Cozy up on the couch, open the social media site of your choice and live-blog about it to to your heart's content! That's what live TV is for!

There's a bit of debate (mostly online, ironically) as to whether snarky live tweeting is "fair" to the production or the performers involved. Are we really allowing ourselves to experience the piece as a whole if we're constantly throwing out our opinions to the interwebs, picking things apart before we've allowed them to sink in. Personally, I think it's totally fair and a delightful part of the communal TV watching experience to live tweet. If you don't want to be involved, don't be! At a live theater, I would never act that way. But creatively riffing on something that is happening live is its own sort of improv skill. I think it should come from a good place in our hearts though. We kid because we love. Taking the piss out of something doesn't mean we don't ultimately appreciate it. As I said to a friend online, Shade isn't hate, it's just shade. If you can only complain and not not enjoy it, you should spend three hours doing something else.

Overall, I thought  Sound of Music Live was a huge success for NBC. Nobody tripped down the sets giant stairs (despite my urging), nobody forgot their lines, the camera work and sound work were pretty much always on point, the sets were great, Broadway stars were out in force on screen and there was a live musical on network TV in  prime time! And the network promoted the hell out of it and millions of people watched. So they'll probably do another musical in the future, because seriously, what else does NBC have that pulls those numbers? Pretty much nothing! So nice job, everyone.

And naysayers, keep in mind this was an experiment! No one would know if the live show would work at all, and some things worked really well! And for the things that didn't, why not be a force for good and point out the obvious flaws so when they do it next time there's a public record of what areas could be improved? It's our DUTY as musical theater lovers to tweet and post our FEELINGS! Just put some thought into your thoughts, you know?

God Bless, Carrie Underwood. She is not a trained actress, and her line readings especially in the first half of the show were ROUGH, but I applaud the effort. She was trying. I could see she was trying. I felt she was invested. She was stretching as an artist. There was no sense of her just going through the motions. No glazed over eyes while her scene partners were talking. She had one performance to nail everything. No previews. No safety net. All eyes on her. Whether you think she was miscast, she still fully committed to this 3 hour journey. There was no turning back. Even a high school production would let the kids have 3 or 4 shows over a weekend to settle in and get some perspective on what they're doing. I was left with the impression that she started out very nervous and as things went on, she relaxed. I also felt that given the opportunity to keep playing  the role, her confidence would build and her performance would improve. I'm not discounting the shortcomings, I'm just applauding the risks she took professionally in taking on the role and for investing herself in it. She knew she'd be opening herself up to a lot of scrutiny and she did it anyway. And her attachment to the project brought a lot of eyes to TV screens.



PLUS there were the highlights of the night in Audra McDonald as Reverend Mother and Laura Benanti as Elsa. These women are INSANE talents. And they got to show what they can do to millions of viewers! Audra's "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" made the whole thing worth it. It's glorious. Carrie's present and emotional reactions as her scene partner during the song made it even more special. And separately, Laura's reaction shots throughout the performance were PRICELESS. When Elsa exits the story, we were all sad to see Laura go.


And then there was Kurt! Little second-son Kurt! I didn't even know that could be a scene-stealing part. Just like when Maria's saying her prayers, Kurt can be a little forgotten. But that little kid had stage (and screen!) presence. He was a delight.

So in conclusion, it's fun to make jokes, but it's also fun to support the art form and recognize the effort put in to make something nice. It doesn't replace the stage musical, or the classic movie we watch over and over again, but it can compliment both and introduce new viewers to the joys of musical theater.

And for the record, here's all the snarky things I had to say about the show last night:

























Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rafael Nadal: We're Still Having Fun and You're Still No. 1

"We've been together since way back when..."

The 2013 ATP World Tour season has been a tremendous year for Our Hero, Rafael Nadal, and therefore a very exciting year for all of his fans. Last year was so difficult having been out for 7 months with injury, missing the Olympics, The US Open and the Australian Open and seeing his ranking slide during his absence. He missed the game and the game definitely missed him. But look at where we are now! At this year's ATP Tour Final Championship Nadal got two special trophies. The first was for being voted the ATP World Tour Comeback Player of the Year (richly deserved) and the second was for earning the title of Year End No. 1. I'm so thrilled for him! It's had me singing that old Orleans song since the news became official last week. Coming back from injury, his ranking had fallen as far as No. 5, but he is now back at the top of the  Emirates ATP Rankings for the third time in his career, having also taken the title in 2008 and 2010. No player has ever regained the year end No. 1 ranking after a three year absence form the spot. Given all the obstacles in his way, this achievement is truly astonishing, and for me personally, truly inspiring.

You're still the one that makes me strong
Still the one I want to take along
We're still having fun, and you're still No. 1

Nadal completes this season with a remarkable 75-7 match record from 17 tournaments he entered. He reached the final in FOURTEEN of those tournaments and achieved a 10-4 record in those finals. His tournament wins include two Grand Slam tournament titles and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles. He achieved this goal having gained NO ranking points in 2 of this year's 4 Grand Slam tournaments (He didn't play the Aussie Open and he lost first round in Wimby. So there are points still to pick up next year!)


Do we wish he'd have beaten Novak in the year end tournament final claiming that unique trophy for the first time ever? OF COURSE. But seriously, if you can't be happy with this successful of a year, following what had happened the year before, you have serious mental problems. Celebrate the victories and look forward to 2014!! With both Novak and Rafa healthy and at the top of their games the rivalry should continue to be riveting. They went 3-3 in their 6 match-ups this year. Nadal won their Grand Slam matches, but Novak got three big titles as well. It's amazing to think how the musical chairs of the top 6 players shifted around this year considering how things have ended up. To illustrate how Rafa and Novak have once again separated themselves from the pack, Nadal ends the year with 13,030 points, Novak has 12,110 points and then in 3rd place David Ferrer (!!) has... 5,800 points. So that's... quite a gap. I can't wait to see what happens next. Since Nadal has no points to defend in Australia in January and Novak has champion points to defend, the rankings should not change through the first few months of 2014. Nadal still has a slight career edge on Novak. I hope it's more wins for Rafa!


So enjoy your extremely short off-season, Rafa! It will seem like no time at all. Before he gets some well-earned R&R in Mallorca eating his shrimp and pasta and chocolate chip cookies, he travels to the British Virgin Islands for a charity event with Richard Branson and then hits an exhibition tour of South America with Novak in Chile and Argentina. In the blink of an eye, Nadal will then open his 2014 season in Doha, at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open (which actually starts in 2013, but I guess it ENDS in 2014 so people aren't too fussy about it) and then I'll be off to see him in Melbourne for the Australian Open!! I can't wait. There is so much to be excited about in the 2014. I expect epic battles and tons of entertainment, and hopefully Rafa will continue to break records to our astonishment and delight. VAMOS!!!!!!

You are still the one that makes me shout
Still the one that I dream about
We're still having fun, and you're still No. 1...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Noel & Me: A Musical Journey

(always providing comfort, on stage and off.)

Last week, a great mentor of mine, and one to countless other artists who grew up on Long Island, passed away unexpectedly due to heart failure. Noel S. Ruiz had an impact on so many lives and shared so much love with everyone around him. For a man with such incredible influence and impact on the young people in his shows, he was never controlling of us. He was a great listener, teacher and guide. He was someone who treated people of all ages with respect and care. I can't really measure the impact of this man on my life. If you want to get an overview of who he was and how much he contributed to the community, please click the link here to get a nice glimpse into what Noel was all about.

What follows here is a personal recollection of the artistic journey we took together from the time when I was in kindergarten through my first year of college. I feel like I should preface all this by stating that there are many people that knew Noel better as a day-to-day person than I did. There are people I grew up with who spent much more time with him in their adult years and got to understand him better and can probably tell you better stories about him as a result. I moved to the city after college, and never really went back and never really developed a strong adult understanding of Noel. In my mind he looms as NOEL, a force of nature and the font of artistry who sits atop the pedestal in my mind (wearing a gold lamé Herod costume, naturally), than just Noel, the man who worked really hard to make his impossible dream possible and had a lot of love to share.

Still, as I have reflected over the lessons I've learned and the gifts I've received from Noel throughout my childhood, I felt moved to write about our relationship and our time together. I am almost overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to grow up and play in his artistic sandbox with so many lifelong friends. What my life's journey would be like without him, I cannot imagine. I like to make people mix CD's, so as I go along, I'm dedicating a song from each show to him  as a little soundtrack to our lives. I'm not sure anyone is ever going to read all of this, but it felt right to express it. Off we go. This is the story of Noel and me.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

SYTYCD 10: Results FINALE - Everybody Had Matching Towels!

Well, here we are Dance Fans, it's time to wrap this mother up. 2 contempos, 1 hip hopper and 1 tappa tappa tappa remain. Two titles hang in the balance. We'll find out who won in about two hours time, but before that we get to celebrate all the awesomeness that was Season 10.


Cat kicks things off by reintroducing the top 20 (in their original pairings! since we have two original couples left! Although Malece is without Jade who is still injured.) all the way through to the top 4 who are then announced individually. She directs our attention to the Final Judge's Table which this week is comprised of tWitch, Adam Shankman, and Paula Abdul along with our resident judge's Mary, and Nigel. Everyone is dress in their very best finale outfits to mark the special occasion. Each judge will pick a favorite routine for an encore, Cat will pick a favorite, each finalist will pick a favorite and there will be several old and new group numbers. Don't forget the audience vote (HAHAHA!) routine as well. And plenty of montages from across the season. I feel compelled to note that I don't consider these "filler" segments. The montages buy the dancers a little breathing/costume changing times in between partner dances or group numbers and this year especially the padding seems justified.

I wonder what routines will be selected for encores this year. There are so many great ones to choose from starting with Meet the Top 20 week all they way through to the performance finale. I would like to see Travis's Brothers Dance and Amy and All-Star Alex's Bollywood. Also something from Comfort, because she has been an amazing All-Star all season. Encore routines can be a mixed bag. The best routines either have a hard time recapturing the moment, or soar beyond the original once they are free from the pressures of competition. We'll have to see how everything shakes out tonight.