Category Archives: Performing Arts

Adieu, Jon

Earlier this week, Jon Stewart announced that he will be leaving The Daily Show later this year. For my wife and me, it’s going to be like losing a treasured family member, albeit one we’ve never personally met.

Stewart’s ability to speak truth to power, to take issue with guests espousing points of views with which he disagrees, to express outrage when warranted, and to be wildly funny as he skewers political and social absurdity, well, all of these things have endeared him to my household, and we will miss him sorely when he no longer visits us four nights a week.

Perhaps Stewart’s greatest strength is his ability to attack on a factual basis rather than the opinion foundation upon which idiots like the Fox News staff operates. True, he does do a wicked imitation of Mitch McConnell as a turtle but, well, McConnell does look like a turtle, and when Stewart goes into turtle mode, it’s to assail the senator’s positions even while imitating his image. I’m not in favor of ad hominem attacks, but Stewart somehow manages to hold people like McConnell up to ridicule less because of what they look like than for what they seem to stand for. And sometimes he does it by mimicking them in much the way that a political cartoonist might with pen and ink.

It’s of course been well noted that Stewart’s positions veer left, and that at least 70% of his viewing audience is liberal. But many conservatives watch him, as well, and it is hard to know how they can continue to support morons like Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert after Stewart repeatedly points out that, just as the fabled emperor, these guys and others, perhaps slightly less stupid but no less deserving of exposure, have no clothes.

It may be true that no one is irreplaceable, but at least we’ll have John Oliver on HBO, a worthy candidate for the title of court jester, although he could stand to learn the key lesson that judicious use of profanity is far more effective than the wholesale spewing of it. Regardless, we’re glad he’s there. And will anyone actually be chosen to succeed Stewart on Comedy Central? We hope so, but his act is going to be more than hard to follow.

Jonny, we hardly knew ye.

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And Now for Something Completely Different

And now for something completely different. Well, sort of, but it’s a stretch from my usual writing about writing.

I’m about to make an admission. Maybe not a manly one, but I’m old enough that I can suffer the slings, arrows, and jibes that just about anyone might aim at me. So, here it is: I love musical theatre.

My love for musicals began in 1957, when my parents took me, an 11 year old boy, to my first Broadway show, L’il Abner. I loved everything about it: the staging, the comedy, the music, and most of all, Edie Adams as Daisy Mae (no further comment necessary). Two days later, I saw The Most Happy Fella. Thus was my love for musicals ignited, and the flame has burned brightly ever since.

Why mention (admit?) this? Because musicals, like novels, short stories, and articles, are written. And just as for these other works, some musical shows are written brilliantly, the music, lyrics, and spoken dialogue meshing perfectly. A few examples: the aforementioned L’il Abner, Carousel, West Side Story, 42nd Street, The Scottsboro Boys, Chicago, Pippin, Little Shop of Horrors, et al.

Others, less than perfect, nevertheless succeed despite their flaws. Take Miss Saigon, which has wonderful music and at least some very well written lyrics, but also some that are awkward and even trite. Still, the show overcomes its flaws on the strength of its story (a modern updating of Madame Butterfly), its emotionality, and the beauty of its music. The Phantom of the Opera offers another example of a wildly successful show that succeeds more because of its elaborate staging and lushly romantic plot than because of its unremarkable writing set to some admittedly catchy, if occasionally largely indistinguishable melodies. I will never understand why Cats has been so successful.

On the other hand, there are the flops. Does anyone really remember, or want to remember, Aspects of Love?

So, what’s the point of all this? It’s that writing a successful musical is a terribly difficult thing to do, and the skill and creativity involved in doing so are grossly underappreciated. Too many people dismiss musical theatre as trivial when, in fact, like jazz, it is a truly American, highly complex art form that deserves much more respect than it gets. I love musicals and, if you don’t, perhaps you should take another look. And listen. Maybe you’ll find love, much as I once did with Daisy Mae.