Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Just came back from Edward Mast's Peach Blossom Fan, dir. Chen Shi-Zheng, music by Mr. Stephin Merritt, downtown at Redcat. Phil. Dept. colleague Thi Nguyen (a big M. Fields fan) and I had planned to go Thursday, but there were only student/rush tix available tonight. The funny part about this -- funny to anyone who recalls the punchline to Stephin's "The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure" -- is that it meant missing something else I'd been looking forward to: A rare live (instore) appearance by Lamont Dozier.

It gets a little stranger: Driving home, flipped on an oldies station instead of the news, immediately heard "My Guy" (not Holland/Dozier/Holland but Smokey), and HDH's "I Can't Help Myself" (a.k.a. "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch"). Then, in the lobby, before performance, there's this "self-service karaoke" [non-critical] set-up that wasn't there before. Turns out this is sort of a prequel to the performance: Two of the show's chorus of courtesans some out in the lobby and start singing (actually, screeching at mic-distorting levels) various oldies: HDH's "Stop! In The Name of Love" (which the girls tried to drag poor Thi into on the chorus), Lieber/Stoller's "Love Potion No. 9" (a more sophisticated song, musically, than its utter naturalness suggests), and...."My Guy."

Feels like the great songwriters of the age are following me around (possibly also mocking me for not having written a song in about 2 mos.) Oh...and Ange Mlinko had the perspicacity to uncover "The Sentimental Units" as the O'Hara poem mentions Lieber.

Oh, the show? Well, it's an translation/update/something of a trad. Chinese opera, with a strongly pictorial staging and some attempt to get Western actors to work in a different, highly stylized tradition, w/ mixed success. The one Chinese-trained actor, Zhou Long, kicked ass over everyone else. As David Patrick Kelly, from Twin Peaks and, I read here, a bunch of Richard Foreman plays, was pretty good too.

I was quite impressed with Stephin's music, which, although it does sound like Magnetic Fields songs arranged for double bass, marimba, percussion and yanqin (the huge Chinese dulcimerish thing like Tara from Amps for Christ plays, you'd know it if you heard it) it is defintiely a score, despite a few indulgences like the song that starts "Ukelele Me-kele, 1-2-3-kelele." Various characters introduce themselves to the same tune, a ballad from halfway through comes back at the end to good effect, "Floating Pavilion" moves the plot along. The rhyming is good w/ a few moments that didn't work (but which I've already gotten), better-turned lyrics overall than the new MF (though I haven't listened enough, why does he let a 'face/disgrace' rhyme pass on "I Looked All Over Town"), but even here he does that one thing that drives me nuts, given the kind of song I thought he was trying to write -- stressing the wrong syllable. Dude, seriously, I can cope w/ offrhymes Hart/Porter/Sondheim would have tossed, even w/in musical theater ("Billion"/"Brilliance") but if you're gonna be the next-X, I can't understand why you won't play by this particular craft-rule. Takes me right out of the song -- I know, I know, I'm the only human being under 60 who cares. Rant (that some of you have heard before) over -- it really is a solid piece of work, a couple of the songs might be more durable than the show, but most are wedded to the material admirably, and I'm surprised there's no OCR yet.

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