Phantom v. Phantom

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing "Phantom of the Opera" for the first time on Broadway, with the formidable John Cudia in the titular role. Jennifer Hope Wills' lilting voice and charming innocence made Christine shimmer with longing. Though it has run for twenty-two years now (longer than any other Broadway), the cast played it as though it were first night. "Music of the Night" was a sublime stand-out in a show that I first listened to at the age of seven. "Point of No Return" had an unmistakable passion and fairly steamed up the Majestic.

While I have never been a rabid fan of the Lloyd Webber musical, it has a particular place in my heart despite its flaws. I watched the movie Phantom of the Opera (2004) for the first time yesterday, pre-disposed to like it with the show still ringing in my ears.

Gerard Butler("300"), why oh why are you in this movie? He sings quite well for a movie star, just not well enough for one of the most challenging vocal roles on Broadway. Emmy Rossum, who looks 'Christine' to such perfection - all apple-cheeked porcelain and brown ringlets - that one suspects Webber gengineered her for this role. She sings beautifully, though a little more pop-inflected then I would like. Minnie Driver's plays Carmen Miranda, excuse me, Carlotta and spends the entire time chewing the set and lip syncing opera.

Joel Schumacher's production choices create several puzzling questions: Why the gratuitous midget? Why are there sheep in the Act Three Ballet? Why do they vogue during "Masquerade"? And finally, though maybe they thought it necessary for film audiences...why speak the transition lines that were sung in the show? It gives it a preposterous artificiality. Lloyd Webber actually wrote the screenplay as well as produced, so how did...oh well.

This leads me to the real question in this post: why do some movie musicals work flawlessly and some dribble out onto the floor, leaving fans in flaccid-jawed discontent? What makes a Sound of Music, Chicago, Singing in the Rain and Guys and Dolls (to name just a few)? Conversely, what makes a Sweeney Todd (just the most recent example of Hollywood musical slaughter)?

Film allows directors to cheat a little. If their actor can't dance, just cut away or use a double. If their actors can't sing, dub or use production to obscure the fact. However, no amount of reverb can hide a non-singer. This was Sweeney Todd's greatest weakness, real actors who cannot sing. What a cast: Depp, Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman...can't sing a note between the three of them. Whereas Singing in the Rain featured three triple-threat performers singing and dancing until they got it right. Debbie Reynolds spoke in an interview once about taking off her tapshoes and finding blood.

But compare Phantom v. Phantom for yourself. The first video is John Cudia and Sarah Lawrence in the live stage performance.

This is a longish clip from the 2004 movie of the same song.

What do you think? Stage vs. screen? To me, the movie plays like a overwrought music video (go check out Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman's version from the 80's on YouTube - they are the real thing, but the video production exudes cheese). Could Phantom be converted? Or are some shows only to be seen live?

I'll be wearing ribbons down my back this summer...

It occurred to me yesterday that I was all wrong. For years, I have been saying (like many I know, similarly disaffected) that I live my life like I am from another century. That's not true. I exist in a century that -doesn't- exist, a made-up amalgam of customs and courtesies and costumes.

I prefer hand-written letters (16-19th), use powder of violets (18th), dress for work in pencil skirts and pumps like a secretary from the 50s (20th), listen to opera from the 19th century and symphonies from the 18th.

I avoid television, write stories longhand, wear ribbons in my hair and fret when people tease me about it. I study etchings and engravings, dream about writing a Paul Helleu catalog raisonne and a book about Austen's life. At work, there's a running joke that Anna goes home on Friday night and reads Shakespeare...which is occasionally true.

I am hopelessly sentimental, read poetry aloud, cry unabashedly at movies, wear my heart on my sleeve so any idiot passing by can poke a hole in it. It comes down to a longing for a time that never existed in the first place.

This fairytale of a prettier, gentler time...I blame it on too many Merchant-Ivory films, on too many Austen books, too many Wilde and Coward plays, too many musicals with happy endings...a diet of comedy of manners and soft-spoken romances.

I know very well that if I had been alive at that time (usually the 18th or the 19th century) and privileged, I would be a very different person. Yes, I could sit alone in the elegant splendour of my drawing room. I could spend my days writing letters and playing the piano, sewing (well, maybe not) and spending hours on my toilette to make myself as decorative as possible (in contrast with the days that I wad my hair in a bun).

I could also not vote, not own property, not even necessarily own myself in the sense that I could marry as I please. The corset of my life would tighten around me until I could not even breathe, as the choices dwindled to nothing. The constraint of manners and societal expectations can be a smothering one.

Not that the exact opposite is necessarily desirable. I occasionally refer to 'basic human courtesy', which may be a contradiction in itself. Humanity always has its dull, cruel, ugly and disenchanting aspects. Manners are the armor in which each century cloaks itself and our century has shown up like the Emperor without clothes.

The noise, the brutal noise, of everyday life has been hammering at me lately. The jackhammer working on the bridge, the piercing voice of the passing trolley guide, the obnoxious roarings of a cavalcade of motorcycles (it's Bike Week), the sawing and the shouting. After the leaf blowers and the stentorian church bells and the car alarms, I just want to go in the back room of the gallery and plug my ears with my fingers.

Since I cannot hide, I just have to accept. For now.

I may at some point have to go off where real life cannot find me. You may stumble upon me some day there, tucked in a little cottage in some wild countryside, living out my life in the century that -I- want to be in...with ribbons in my hair.

  • Current Music
    In Paradisum - Faure

And in her head, she danced the valse all night long

Sometimes I can't bear the lack of whimsy in the world. I can't bear the funny looks at my funny words, words like 'mellifluous' and 'myrmidon' and 'mandibular'. Nor should I fail to mention the endless sneers at my swoons, mocks at my sensitivities, and the daily careless picks at the well-worn sweater of my heart.

I've almost finished writing a book about a funny girl like that, who doesn't use any words at all, and still squints her eyes in an effort to see the world as she wants it rather than the world as it is. Not that the world lacks beauty - it comes in unexpected gasps: a riotously berried bush, sun on an old wraparound porch, the pungently ironic words of a White House spokesman, 'Seeking wisdom in the President's speech is like searching through a drawerful of diamonds'.

When I am denied the opportunity for blitheness, I get truculent (hah, there's another one!).

Why can't I splash in puddles? What's wrong with wearing plum colored tights with a black work dress? I like my nerdy knee socks and my disintegrating sneakers. Why can't I spend the better part of my day off staring at the ceiling, picking at my cuticles, and teasing my cat with a bit of discard Christmas ribbon. Why shouldn't I cry when I want to, for PMS, for love lost, for the cruelty in the world, for the endless picky-nit choices of adulthood? For god's sake, do you want me to grow up?

I'm enrolled in 'Adult Ballet', which ought to be a banned oxymoron. Ballet is not for adults, who lumber through the studio like the hippopotami in Fantasia. In my head, I am Anna Pavlova. With eyes open, I am more Anna Nicole heavy and jaw cluelessly agape - the final indignity.

This is a shame, for I adore ballet. There are fluid, flitting-by moments where I feel as though I can't be held down by gravity. I fly...only to land a lumbering jete, all wounded gazelle and not wounded Giselle. But to be able to grasp that feeling at all...totally worth it.

I want to be the Ballerina Grandma, the Artistic Director, the memorable Author, the limpid Starlet, the Anti-Styrofoam Crusader, Super Secret Spy Girl, Jane Austen, Audrey Hepburn, Amelia Earhart, the lady in the plum tights, the oversensitive girl, the owner of the tombstone's epitaph: 'She had one hell of a life.'

Is that so much to ask, World?

  • Current Music
    La Vie En Rose - Edith Piaf
Two Girls

Sharing a whistle for two

After a week of not sleeping, I was enough short of REM last night to wonder if maybe I wasn't tooting a bicycle horn in an empty room - loud and persistently repetitive to no avail. Facts were discouraging. Apparently I can't, indeed, do everything I want to do.

If I want to buy a house, I'm locked into my current  job or one that earns me similar, likely in a similarly smothering fashion. Or, I continue the pattern of moving every year or so and continuing to flush money down the overpriced rentals of St. Augustine pipe.

I do want to buy a house. I want to have pretty things and not worry. I also want to launch my theatre into the stratosphere. I've got myself and my staff strapped into the trebuchet and they look to me to pull the lever. House. Theatre. Job. Happiness. Financial Security. Fear. Bliss.

These thoughts tumbled through my head until I had moved past exhaustion into mild delirium. I finally crawled into bed around 2 am. I had a dream of such startling clarity that it jolted me awake.

Last night I dreamed that I gave my mother a tin whistle (unsurprising, since I am working on an Irish play). She and my dad and I were standing in the foyer of our house. When I first gave it to her, I think she was confused, but after blowing into it a few times she smiled. She began to play "Over the Rainbow". We opened the front door to our house and she trailed down the street in a beautiful, rippling thread of notes. I can still hear it.

My dad squeezed my hand and I was almost in tears, in my dream, to see my mother so happy.

Sometimes it's not about me. Frequently, even. One of the key reasons I started this company was to give my mother and I a chance to collaborate again. Twenty years from now, these are the memories I want to have.

It's not to say that I should sacrifice myself or make poor choices on behalf of others. But I am weaving a dream that others can sew their threads into. And that is something, I believe.


Nate called last night and told me that his brother, Josh, was dead. He was killed in a helicopter crash outside of the base near Corpus Christi, Texas. I was driving down U.S. 1 while I talked to him and, had I not been nudged to pull over by my boyfriend, I might have driven all the way to Key West. I was driving blind.

When I pulled over, I cried and I cried and I cried, for a man I had never met.

I met Josh online, at 17. He was a founding member of Shadowrift, an original-themed MUSH. The stories we created there will live long in my memory. We drifted in and out of each other's lives for over a decade.

On Shadowrift, he played Palamon, as courtly and chivalrous a character as you could ever dream up. Josh never wanted to play the villain, never wanted to play the bad guy. His characters were full of valor and bravery, though also vulnerability.

We had a private, running joke that he was my knight and I was his fair lady. He indeed played the knight, but I played the plainest, coarsest Captain of the Guard - Natalya. And yet, still, he was my knight and I was his lady. He would ride up on his white horse and I would toss him a rose. Even back when I still believed that love arrived on white horses, I knew Josh had a true heart.

I loved him with a very sweet, innocent kind of love. When I wasn't playing the fair lady, he treated me as a kid sister - I called him 'Pally' and he called me 'Nat'. He always made me laugh.

I logged on Shadowrift today. I logged on in Josh's little haven, the last place I spoke with him, the last place I logged off.

I miss him very much and I never got to meet him. I like to think that when I am released from this world, Josh will meet me in the next.

With a rose.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince.

Seeking the Magi

We have completed the opening weekend for "Gift of the Magi". Somehow, that which existed only in my mind before has manifested into a truly sweet, touching little show. O. Henry gets the majority of the credit. His story is one of the most affecting short stories ever written. One hundred years later, it has an audience completely spellbound.

This is one of the first shows where I actually can feel the audience getting swept up along with me. By the time I sing "I can't give you anything...but love," I can feel them holding out their hearts to me as I hold out mine. The tears in their eyes are the tears in mine.

I would encourage you, if you are reading this, take a page from his story this Christmas. Take a long look at the combs and watch chains and electronics and gourmet food baskets and giftcards on your wishlist. Get the things you really want for those you love and ask for the same. Instead of buying blindly, buy with intent. Buy the things you feel they really want, but remember sometimes they just really want you. Your time. Your love. Your attention.

Give the gift of time to those you love this Christmas. it's the one thing we can't get any more with them.

"...And here I have shared with you the uneventful story of two foolish people who most unwisely sacrificed for each other their greatest treasures. But of all who give gifts, those two were the wisest. They are the magi."

  • Current Mood
    thoughtful thoughtful
Two Girls

It's just a little crush...

 I humbly present Royo, one of the great living figurative masters of our time. 

This weekend was the Royo show. I was fortunate enough to meet him and was completely smitten by the man. Never mind that he's sixty-odd if he's a day, a spitball over five-nothin' and ninety pounds soaking wet. And yes, he's married and lives in Spain. Allow me my crush. At Friday night's dinner, the gallery was packed with over a hundred devoted clients. He has a presence which is quite remarkable. He walks into the room and we all have to pretend that we're not staring at him. Or at least I did. Eye contact is enough to cause a thrill. When he kissed my hand I actually think I fluttered. I, who pride myself on my lack of non-fluttery sophistication (at least in the gallery). I just grinned like a schoolgirl.

He signed a book for me too. Woo!

Below are the originals I've sold over the last two weeks and at the show:




La Blusa de Color



Perfil en el jardin

Sobre Blancos

The next work in my collection will be a Royo...and the crush has nothing to do with it!

"Museum Field Trip Deemed Too Revealing"

I was going to write a post today about the Foley email scandal, but was pre-empted by a new headline that popped up on my Yahoo! News page. "Museum Field Trip Deemed Too Revealing" is the headline for The New York Times story. I clicked it, assuming it would be some misguided furor over a controversial nude, possibly in a modern art museum. Instead, I found that the institution in question was the prestigious Dallas Museum of Art. The artworks in question included Maillol's Flora, Rodin's The Shade, and a Greek funerary sculpture from the 4th century B.C. The students in question were 5th graders, who are apparently not old enough to be exposed to the unclothed human body. The accused in question was an enthusiastic and popular art teacher with 28 years of experience in Frisco, Texas - Sydney McGee.

According to The New York Times, "the principal, Nancy Lawson, wrote: “During a study trip that you planned for fifth graders, students were exposed to nude statues and other nude art representations.” It cited additional complaints, which Ms. McGee has challenged...In the latest of several statements, the district contended that the trip had been poorly planned. But Mr. Gibbs, the district’s lawyer, acknowledged that Ms. Lawson had approved it." 

Despite years of positive job reviews, Ms. McGee has been suspended with pay as of September 22nd. In addition, she cannot transfer to another school in the district and her annual contract will not be renewed.

Most people know how underappreciated and undersupported school teachers are by their school boards, their principals, and the parents of their students. My mother teaches high school; it was a field that I attempted and quickly backpedaled away from, once I realized what a headache it is. You really have to burn to teach.

My thanks to Nancy Lawson, Principal at Wilma Fisher Elementary School, who has underlined the idea that we are housed in bodies that should not be viewed or revered for their beauty. It warms my heart to know that young people are not being exposed to such filth as the work of Rodin.

It is likely that, even if Ms. McGee wins this battle, she will have lost what she was fighting for: "“This is very painful and getting more so,” she said, her eyes moistening. “I’m so into art. I look at it for its value, what each civilization has left behind.”"

Enjoy the artworks below that my young friends in Texas are not permitted to view.


Greek Funerary Relief, 4th c. B.C.

Anonymous, Greek Funerary Relief, 4th c. B.C.

Auguste Rodin, The Shade

Auguste Rodin, The Shade, 1880

Aristide Maillol, Flora, 1911



The New York Times, Ralph Blumenthal, 9/30/06

The Dallas Museum of Art (


Mischief afoot! brand-new Yaris.

Isn't she a beaut? I sense trouble ahead (despite the jaw-unhinging 40+ mpg she achieves).

She has sass. I've already been stopped by two strangers who wanted to know where they can buy one. I got the only automatic silver hatchback on a lot in South Georgia/North Florida. Huzzah!

I've always been bad at naming cars, but it does seem that she deserves proper nomenclature. So...I open the field for suggestions.

I would recommend either a Japanese name, since she's a Toyota (though please, make it pronounceable) or a French name since she's so clearly a Eurocar and is, in fact, one of Toyota's top-selling models in Europe.

Female names only, please, since clearly anything so beautifully designed -must- be a "she". ; )

  • Current Music
    Beautiful Stranger by Madonna

Sobering Reminder

Last night, September 7th, at approximately 7:48  pm, I slammed my poor little Chevrolet Metro into the back of a scrap truck. My car is demolished. Luckily, my airbags deployed and I threw my arms up in front of my face. It was the worst crash I've ever been in; I was terrified. I cried for a solid hour after it happened. My arms are covered in airbag burns and purple-black bruises, my hands and fingers are so jammed up I can hardly type this. But, incredibly, I am unhurt. I was wearing my seatbelt, which undoubtedly went a long way to saving me from serious injury. I don't usually do Public Service Announcements, but I am pretty shaken up today.

So please, if you are reading this, be sure to put on your seatbelt when you get in your car. Today and everyday. You are too valuable to lose that way.