Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sound of Music Update

I thought some of you might be interested in how Sound of Music rehearsals are going :)

We're all supposed to be off book for act 1 now. We've blocked every major scene in the first act (except for the tail end of the party scene) and have only a few songs to block. So next week is our first full run through of act 1! That's always an exciting rehearsal, especially if you haven't watched every scene in rehearsals. When the directors just sit back and see how everything goes (stopping only for MAJOR trainwrecks in blocking) it's often amazing to see how everything begins to come together in a rough sort of way. It can also be frustrating if people don't know their lines. But at last night's rehearsal, the directors let all of the various cast members get a chance at something to get a feel for who they needed to get after to work on lines. :P

The part of Maria is double cast, and so my "double" is the same girl who played Marian in The Music Man. We've been friends ever since then, so we sometimes have way too much fun together. We tried on our costumes a few weeks ago. Our favorite is the wedding dress - it's got a long train that could be potentially dangerous backstage. The costumers will probably end up hemming it, sadly. My other favorite costume - the ugly dress. Isn't that ironic? It's sort of a dingy brown checkered material that's not very pretty, but the cut of the bodice and skirt are a tiny bit 40's-esque, the kind of cut that flatters anyone. So it's really not that ugly.

The more I rehearse, the more I realize that actually getting the part was only half the battle. There's all those lines to memorize, but I'm also not as strong a singer as the other Maria. And I'm not as experienced a singer as two of the girls I "beat out" for the role. I know that the directors cast me in this part for a reason, and they saw something they liked in my audition, but I do feel a lot of pressure to live up to everyone's expectations. I keep practicing my "trouble spots" at home. One of my biggest problems is in Do-Re-Mi - at the very end of the song, I have to hit a high G and hold it out for a very long time. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if I could just be standing still during this number. But Do-Re-Mi is a high-energy moving-around-and-around-and-around type of song. We blocked it last Friday. We (Maria and the Von Trapps) will have marched down through the audience and back up on the stage TWICE by the end of the song. By the time I hit that G, I'm completely worn out. All I can hope is that two months of hard practicing will pay off by the time the show comes around.

But the best part of this show is the Von Trapp kids. They make EVERYTHING worth it. There are three casts of Von Trapps (yes, THREE! It's crazy. But they did want to give as many kids a chance as they possibly could, and all 21 of them deserve it). The triple-casting makes it harder to bond with all of them, but we're making headway. ;) Now that everyone is getting more comfortable, we're starting to feel more like family and everyone's getting a lot crazier at rehearsals. The best is when the younger kids come up and hug me. :) My heart melts a teeny bit every time.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thoughts on BBC's Emma

Beware of the SPOILERS.

I finally got around to watching BBC's new adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. This is the only time I miss having television - when all my friends are watching long-awaited miniseries as they air and I have to wait to get the DVD from Netflix. But this was well worth the wait.

This is the third Emma adaptation I have seen, the other two being the Kate Beckinsale miniseries and the Gwynneth Paltrow movie. For some reason I could never explain, I was more picky about screen interpretations of Emma than any other Jane Austen film I've watched - some of you may know that while I love the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice, I adore the '05 film with Keira Knightley, despite its flaws and condensed adaptation. As far as I'm concerned, Lizzy is open to interpretation. As Keira Knightley said on the DVD special features, girls have a hard time seeing actresses play Lizzy because they like to envision themselves as the character. But who wants to be Emma? She's spoiled, selfish and blind to the true feelings of others, and even her own. Nevertheless, I care more about her story and how it's portrayed than any of Austen's other heroines.

It may be because I've had an Austen-worthy love story with the novel itself. When I first read it, I hated it. Most emphatically. I was fourteen and inclined to be critical. To me, it read like 400 pages of petty, yawn-inducing village gossip, with flat characters who made long speeches full of words no one would ever use in real conversation. And the romance - ugh! To my fourteen-year-old self, nothing was more dissatisfying than for the young, pretty heroine of the story to end up with the old, cranky and OLD brother-of-the-brother-in-law. It was the first of Jane's books that I read, and I did re-read it after I had read all of her books and grown used to her "voice" (and even learned to thoroughly enjoy her sharp humor in Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey). I wrote a post about that reading on my other blog. I enjoyed it more, and forgave Mr. Knightley for being 16 years older than Emma, but I never called it my favorite.

When I reread the book last month and then watched the miniseries, one of Emma's lines (not in the book) to Mr. Knightley struck me: "I examined my own heart... and there you were." Yes, I did. I examined my own heart, and there was Emma. I've stopped fighting it and now I know it's my favorite. Which explained why I was always so critical of the movies, from the very start.

I could make long lists about what was wrong with the Beckinsale and Paltrow versions. For Beckinsale: Unappealing and detached leads was the most noticeable thing. I couldn't get interested in them. Olivia Williams was a perfect Jane Fairfax, looks-wise, but I just couldn't bring myself to care about Emma and Mr. Knightley. Paltrow: Jeremy Northam made a good Knightley, and there was a lot of good humor, but Harriet looked way too old, Jane looked foreign (and I can't even recall her saying ANYTHING). Miss Bates was excellent, but Mr. Woodhouse boring, and Frank Churchill wore the most awful wig I have ever seen in my time on this beautiful earth. And again, Emma, the title character, though far more engaging than Beckinsale's portrayal, fell woefully short.

Like I said, not everyone likes Emma. Yes, she "unites some of the best blessings of existence," yet those very blessings (wealth, intelligence, beauty) turn against her and make us frustrated with her spoiled ways and her ignorance of feelings and thoughtlessness towards others. But at the end of the day, all of Austen's heroines (with the exception of Fanny Price, who I have always found slightly unbearable) are keenly human, including Emma. I think any actress who takes on this role has a duty to make us understand this, put all her faults right there for all to see, yet make us love her all the more for them.

So BBC's Emma was pretty much perfection, as far as I'm concerned. I'm sorry to make this long blog post even longer, but you must allow me to list some of the reasons why I love it:

The leads were engaging and loveable. Romola Garai was everything I could have asked for as Emma, and I enjoyed Johnny Lee Miller's performance much more than I expected to.

All the supporting actors were amazing. From the incredible Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse, who always seems to get shoved to the side in other Emma films, to Miss Bates, to the Knightleys in London (it's too easy to make them boring), to pompous Mr. Elton and the farmer Mr. Martin. I enjoyed watching every single one of them. Also, the minute I saw Harriet Smith, I got excited. I'm not exaggerating when I say she was exactly how I pictured her - those cute, school-girlish curls and all. And I loved how the way she spoke was so much in contrast with Emma's clear, precise voice.

Mrs. Elton was maddening. I must say, reading the novel for the first time, Mrs. Elton was the only character that roused any feeling in me at all. I do believe she (and my stubborn determination) was the reason I bothered to finish the book at all. (What if I hadn't? I may have given up on Austen completely!) Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton, from the minute she made her grand entrance in Highbury's church, had me pounding on my pillow in mingled exasperation and amusement. Even more hilarious are Emma's reactions to her (look at her face when Mrs. Elton calls Mr. Woodhouse her "old beau").

Emma's costumes had character. All the costumes did, really. Jane nearly always wore blue, Mrs. Elton was always "over-trimmed," Mr. Woodhouse often wore a warm scarf in his fear of a cold, and Emma had her own themes of bright colors and pairing coral and blue together. Who would have thought it could look that good?

And finally...

Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. I never cared a great deal for their story until this miniseries. Jane was adorable, and Frank was... okay, he was adorable too. When I didn't want to slap his face, that is. Box Hill, anyone? Oh my goodness, I never imagined how excessive "flirting excessively" could be. If I could have slapped him for Jane, I would have. My younger sister aptly nicknamed him "the little stinker." Yet, near the end, when Frank and Jane get their very own reunion scene (!), I couldn't have felt happier for them. In the book, it's such a shock to Emma that you never really see how well they are suited to one another (though I believe Mrs. Weston makes an observation to that effect).

There are so many other things I would love to say. Things about the script and adaptation and more about characters, and all the little things I noticed and appreciated. But this blog post is already long enough.