Friday, November 28, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Here's the good news: You really don't need to see the first Horrible Bosses in order to understand its sequel, Horrible Bosses 2. Here's the bad news: You don't really need to see Horrible Bosses 2, period.

I saw the first one, laughed a few times, and immediately forgot about it. Going into the sequel I chose not to remind myself what happened in the first one, just to test the theory about whether it would be necessary to or not. I ended up being slightly confused about only one thing: why Kevin Spacey's character, one of the original Horrible Bosses, was now in jail, so, quick explanation for that: in the first, he ends up killing one of the bosses the three heroes wants to kill, because he thinks he's sleeping with his wife.

So, yes, Kevin Spacey has a small role in this one, and he elicited some of the movie's biggest laughs. Also back is Jennifer Aniston, and I couldn't tell you if she was funny or not because I spent most of her screen time distracted by thinking I had to clean my glasses, because the screen would suddenly go all soft and blurry. I can tell you she's just as sex crazed and foul-mouthed as she was the first time.

And, of course, the three original dummies, played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, are also back, now hoping to leave the world of horrible bosses behind by launching their own company, whose first product is a "Shower Buddy," a kind of mini automatic car wash for people. Unfortunately, they get duped into going into business with an evil one-percenter, played by Christoph Waltz, and his equally evil son, (Chris Pine). Before you know it, they're back planning the demise of MORE horrible bosses, although this time the plan involves kidnapping, not murder. And back to help out is Jamie Foxx's Motherfucker Jones.

I'll be honest--I did laugh, several times. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day have really good comedic chemistry, and I will always be a sucker for Bateman's extreme deadpan, straight guy routine. The problem is, almost all of the laughs are completely expected, so that most of the movie is spent just waiting for the punchlines that inevitably come. And that can get pretty boring. There are no real surprises in the Horrible Bosses 2, and for a movie whose plot is supposed to be filled with them, that's a bad sign.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Theatrical Time Travel: I Love Lucy Live On Stage

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I Love Lucy Live On Stage seems like a weird concept for a theatrical show: recreate two episodes of the classic sitcom with performers imitating the iconic characters of Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel. These are, after all, shows anyone with an internet connection can watch any time they want, not performances lost in time forever.

But luckily, Lucy Live is more than just the mimicking of a classic. Instead, it's a little bit of theatrical time travel. The show is presented as it would be in the early 1950's: the audience is there to see the recording of two "I Love Lucy" episodes, complete with a host; a quartet of singers performing live between-act commercials and musical standards; and even a tourist from Oklahoma named Birdie Mae Figg, (really actress Denise Moses), who makes her way through the audience before the curtain goes up, seeking autographs from all the movie stars she sees. (Apparently, I'm an actress famous for her work in Westerns; I gladly gave her my autograph.)

The show is presented without an intermission, but with a slight break between episodes, featuring a trivia contest between two audience members. (Well, one audience member and Birdie Mae Figg.) The first episode is "The Benefit" in which Ethel asks Lucy to ask Ricky to perform at a benefit held by her women's club. Lucy, of course, wants in on the act, and insists she be included in the show. The second episode is "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined" wherein Lucy, once again, hopes to break into show business by auditioning for a Broadway producer friend of Ricky's, but an eye exam leaves her hopelessly blind during her jitterbug audition.

An obvious question would be why they didn't choose much more memorable episodes to recreate, like Vetameatavegamin, or Lucy stomping grapes. I think one factor may be it's easier to accept the actors and their imitations when they aren't doing things you've seen many times before. Also, these episodes require only two sets: their apartment, and the Tropicana club, both of which fit on the stage. (Although the Tropicana is a little cramped.)

Thea Brooks doesn't look or sound exactly like Lucy, but makeup and hair go a long way to create the illusion. And she can definitely dance a blind jitterbug, and sing as badly as the real thing. Euriamis Losada looks even less like Ricky, (he's much more handsome), and he actually sings a little better than the real Ricky, too. But the Cuban accent is spot on. ("Lucy! You have some 'splaining to do!")

Also spot on is Lori Hammel's Ethel. Ethel's is not the easiest voice to mimic, but close your eyes and you'll swear that's her on stage. It's a shame they didn't pick episodes that were a little more Lucy and Ethel-centric.

The show is definitely lively; the minute you get a little tired of the Lucy shenanigans, they break for a commercial, which include "Dinah Beach" (Sarah Elizabeth Combs) singing the Chevrolet song, and a visit from Speedy the Alka Seltzer boy (Denise Moses again), among other surprises. The costumes are also terrific, full of brightly colored new look dresses, and broad shouldered suits.

I'm not sure how appealing the show would be for the younger set, let alone someone who's never even seen an episode of "I Love Lucy." But those with a love of all things mid-century and a soft spot for nostalgia will probably love Lucy all over again.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jazz Hands And Hat Tipping: Chicago The Musical

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Here's something I didn't know prior to seeing the San Francisco premiere of Chicago the Musical at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday: it's a comedy! And a really funny comedy, at that!

My only previous exposure to Chicago was the 2002 movie that won a surprising number of Oscars. I saw it once, thought the songs were definitely catchy--a few of the cast members certainly sang them better than others--but aside from that, I wasn't too impressed. And I certainly don't remember laughing much.

But the stage production is an entirely different matter. It's a biting and laugh-out-loud funny satire about fame, tabloids, and America's hunger for sinners. The original musical, with a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, premiered in 1975, was a huge hit, ran for almost 1000 performances, and was revived in 1997. And it's pretty much been playing somewhere ever since. This touring production features John O'Hurley as Billy Flynn (and he's getting top billing since he's probably the best known actor in the cast, him being J. Peterman, and all), Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly, and Bianca Marraquin as Roxie Hart.

The production is pretty simple; it's all about the songs, which are almost all instantly recognizable at this point, and the choreography, in this case choreography by Anne Reinking "in the style of Bob Fosse," which means, yes, lots of jazz hands and hat tipping. There are no real sets to speak of, aside from the bandstand, which is on the stage, allowing the performers to interact with the musicians and the conductor. The costumes are all black, and all skimpy--pretty much what you'd expect to see in a 1970's musical. Tight, tight pants and sheer t-shirts on the men, leotards and fishnets on the women. (Aside from Billy Flynn, who's forever in a tux.)

The musical zips along, opening with the memorable "All That Jazz," and before too long both Roxie and Velma are in prison for murder, and their fellow inmates perform "The Cell Block Tango," (aka "He Had It Comin!"). It was with this number that I began to notice the show was a little...subdued. I don't know if it was a problem of opening night stiffness, or just a need to turn the audio up a little bit on both the singers and the band, but the number didn't have the simmering up to a boil energy it should have.

Roz Ryan's performance as Mama, with her big number "When You're Good to Mama," punched things up a bit, with powerful vocals and comedic delivery. And John O'Hurley is definitely the show's consistent comedic relief, from his opening number "All I Care About," surrounded by burlesque girls with feather fans, to the excellent "ventriloquist" routine with Roxie, "We Both Reached for the Gun."

Bianca Marraquin's Roxie Hart was the show's biggest revelation. She plays the character's combination of naiveté combined with calculation, and a starry-eyed yet ruthless lust for fame perfectly. There's nothing pathetic about her Roxie Hart, and her solo number/monologue "Roxie" is riveting and hilarious.

Terra C. MacLeod's Velma is tough and funny during her solos--including the opening number--but her best moments come during her interactions with her rival, Roxie, and her duet with Mama, "Class." But being that one of her biggest solo songs is her pleading with Roxie to join her in a duo act, with "I Can't Do It Alone," it's fitting that she hits her highpoint with the show's finale routines with Roxie, "Nowadays" and "Hot Honey Rag."

Seeing the musical made me go back and re-watch the movie, just to make sure I wasn't wrong with my original assessment. I maintain I wasn't. The original musical is just so much more fun, and I'd recommend this current production over watching the movie any day.