Post-company fun with music videos

“Born Free,” M.I.A.; “Tightrope,” Janelle Monáe featuring Big Boi; and “Islands,” the xx.

A couple weeks ago, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Mary Sue, and my brother, Michael, all visited New York to see Sean and me. Everyone had a great time, but it was sort of exhausting, and Sean and I spent the following weekend holed up at home to recover. This weekend, I’m buried underneath a freelance project I’ve neglected, what with the family craziness and subsequent decompression. So basically, now I don’t have anything to write about, which means it’s time for my favorite filler: music videos!


In theaters.

The title Kick-Ass is something of a misnomer. Sure, wannabe superhero Dave Lizewski, a.k.a. Kick-Ass, is the ostensible protagonist, but the best he can hope to achieve is status as a sidekick. What’s more, he doesn’t have a good reason—an interesting reason—for wanting to be a superhero. In the opening narration, he bluntly acknowledges that he doesn’t have a traumatic past or a loved one to avenge; he just naïvely thinks costumed vigilante crime-fighting would be cool. But there is someone in the movie who has excellent superhero credentials, the training and equipment and open eyes, not to mention a darkly fitting rationale for following that path. For a variety of reasons, the movie is not titled Hit Girl, but no matter: she’s the reason to see it, think about it, be disturbed by it, and remember it. Hit Girl is what’s wrong and what’s right about the movie. Hit Girl is the movie, no matter its name.

A Little Night Music

Now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway.

There’s something a very A Midsummer Night’s Dream about A Little Night Music. The Sondheim musical (based on the Bergman film Smiles on a Summer Night) introduces us to a number of unhappy, mismatched couples and then sends them all to the forest—well, the countryside here, but it serves the same symbolic purpose—where they sort themselves out, partnering off as they “should” more or less by accident. Anyone watching could be forgiven for mumbling something about what fools these mortals be. It’s that kind of story.

Which is to say it’s sweet and sometimes charming but also a bit exasperating because everyone is so blundering: few of the characters are truly actors in their own lives; rather, they just react, blindly, which makes for a flailing piece of drama. Certainly, a character’s passivity can be true to life, but I find it unpersuasive here, a little too glib, too smug—lazy sneering at the bourgeois. Sondheim’s music is always intriguing, but A Little Night Music will not go down as one of my favorite musicals.

Three Little Words

Maude Maggart at the Algonquin Hotel on Friday, April 16.

Maude Maggart has a wonderful voice, but recordings don’t do her justice. So much of her performance is in the performance—in her expression and bearing, in the intimacy she creates as she sings, the crooked smiles, the elegantly raised eyebrows, the hushed notes you have to hold your breath to hear in the small room—that CDs feel inadequate by comparison. Audio alone lacks that spark that makes her such a mesmerizing singer.

But in person, she’s magical. Her latest program isn’t so themed as the ones I’ve heard previously (Parents and Children and Good Girl/Bad Girl, still my favorite), but it, too, is perfectly paced and very thoughtfully put together. I never get over just how good Maggart is at getting her listeners to really listen to a song, mull over its lyrics, and experience the arc of its melody as if for the first time.

In Time Of…

Chanticleer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, April 10.

Months ago, when I learned that the name of Chanticleer’s 2009–2010 spring program would be In Time Of…, I immediately realized that the choir must be planning to perform “in time of,” a work by Steven Sametz recorded in 1999 on Colors of Love. I sent Sean a giddy, overexcited e-mail to that effect (direct quote: “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”) because “in time of” is my favorite track on that album and I’ve wanted to hear it live for years. I was right about the program, of course, and the performance was gorgeous, of course, but with some distance (sorry about the protracted writing schedule—we’ve had company and I’m dreadfully behind), I now wonder whether this all might be a sign that I’ve gotten a bit too fangirl-ish about Chanticleer. Working myself into a happy frenzy months before the actually concert is probably excessive, you know?

But the choir is just so good, and the spring concerts are held at the Met’s Temple of Dendur room, with its vast glass windows and reflecting pond and reverberant sound, and it’s like a sort of secular worship service, and I look forward to it every year. Maybe I do get a bit giddy, but I don’t overestimate the performance’s beauty. It’s lovely. So there.

How to Train Your Dragon

In theaters.

I wasn’t completely on board with How to Train Your Dragon until that dragon made its first real appearance. Oh, sure, the human hero Hiccup is cute and all, and the dragon attack on his village is exciting and well done, but meeting the Night Fury up close was what really captured my attention. The animators don’t try to anthropomorphize the creature. It doesn’t talk, and it doesn’t understand every single word humans say. It is clearly alien, clearly dangerous, and thus absolutely fascinating. And yet, gradually, the movie also reveals dragon traits that feel familiar. I’ve heard it described as dog-like, but I think the dragon, whom Hiccup eventually names Toothless (a joke, not a descriptor), acts more like a cat. In fact, Toothless’s big golden eyes and his many feline mannerisms reminded of nothing so much as my cat Luna, and that made me love him all the more—which is appropriate, seeing as How to Train Your Dragon is, in a weird way, a sort of romance of domestication and human-animal symbiosis. If only my Luna could fly!

Ian Bostridge, tenor

With Julius Drake, piano, at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday, March 31.

Tenor Ian Bostridge has an odd presence on stage. He must be in his forties, but he has the gawky, stretched-out limbs of a teenage boy who’s just experienced a massive growth spurt, his adolescent air exacerbated by overlarge ears and floppy, baby-fine hair. As he sings, he lurches about unpredictably, swaying and twitching, hands fluttering. Some people consider his bearing and behavior distracting (a couple of them sat behind me at this performance), but I find it sort of endearing. Too goofy to be contrived, his movements might be weird but they’re undoubtedly innate and sincere. Then again, I often sit with my eyes closed at concerts, so I might not be the best judge—especially because Bostridge’s clear, expressive voice could easily inspire me to forgive all manner of sins.