Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
Between 1905 and 1915, Albert Einstein introduced the concepts of special relativity and general relativity to the world. When couples develop relationship problems, the cause can often be attributed to infidelity, financial stress, or difficulty communicating with each other. However, unlike Einstein’s famous theory of relativity, a different type of relativity can sometimes be the source of unhappiness.
William S. Gilbert was famous for the complex plots he devised for the operettas he wrote with Arthur Sullivan. In H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved A Sailor (a comedy which mocks Britain’s class structure), two men aboard a British warship are discovered to have been mixed up as infants by their babysitter. Not only should Captain Corcoran have become a lowly sailor, the humble Ralph Rackstraw (who has dared to love a lass of above his station) should have been the ship’s captain. Meanwhile, Sir Joseph Porter (the ruler of the Queen’s navy) is followed around wherever he goes by a boatload of “his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.”
Act II of The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty begins with Major General Stanley seated alone in his castle’s cemetery wearing a nightcap. After confessing that “I come here to humble myself before the tombs of my ancestors and to implore their pardon for having brought dishonor on the family escutcheon,” he is reminded by his future son-in-law that “You only bought the property a year ago and the stucco on your baronial castle is scarcely dry!”
“Frederic, in this chapel are ancestors: you cannot deny that,” replies the guilt-ridden Major General. “With the estate, I bought the chapel and its contents. I don’t know whose ancestors they were, but I know whose ancestors they are and I shudder to think that their descendant by purchase (if I may so describe myself) should have brought disgrace upon what, I have no doubt, was an unstained escutcheon.”
The plot of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore; or The Witch’s Curse revolves around a centuries-old malediction. Because Sir Rupert Murgatroyd (the first Baronet of Ruddigore) persecuted witches, as she burned at the stake one woman declared that all future Baronets of Ruddigore would be doomed “to commit a crime every day or else perish in inconceivable agonies.”
Among the townspeople currently living in the seaside village of Rederring is the evil Sir Despard Murgatroyd and the sweet young farmer, Robin Oakapple (who, as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, fled his hometown 20 years ago and is only known by his accursed birth name to his loyal servant, Old Adam). When Robin’s ruse is revealed, Despard is freed from the curse and chooses to lead a reformed life. Robin (Ruthven) then becomes the next evil Baronet of Ruddigore.
Operatic curses and mistaken identities aren’t the only complications that can arise from strained family relations. Two recent productions show how a happy young couple can be torn apart by surprises sprung on them by meddling relatives (as well as by a remarkable discovery about someone’s origin story).
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Written and directed by Aram Collier, Stand Up Man (which is being screened during CAAMFest 2018) begins on an optimistic note. An aspiring Korean-Canadian stand-up comic named Moses Kim (Daniel Jun) finally gets up the courage to perform at a comedy club’s open mic night. As he nervously finishes onstage, he tells the audience that he’d love to stick around and have some drinks with them, but he’s got to get up early because he’s getting married the following morning.
During the wedding service, Moses and his bride, Yoojin (Rosalina Lee), look radiant. However, as soon as the ceremony ends, Moses’s parents announce that they are leaving immediately to fulfill their dream of going to Mali on a mission for their church. Their wedding gift? The failing family restaurant in Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit), which they are entrusting to their son who has never run a restaurant.
Suddenly, Moses and Yoojin find their marriage crippled by a burden they could never have anticipated. Months later, Yoojin gives birth to the couple’s son. Between their lack of sleep and a severe drop in the restaurant’s business, the couple can barely make ends meet. Yoojin decides to take the infant with her to visit her mother in Seoul, leaving the responsibility for operating the restaurant in Moses’s hands.
When an opportunity to take over a vacant spot on an open mic night arises, Moses rises to the challenge but starts fumbling for words. He then resorts to telling dick jokes, describing how, ever since his wife gave birth, his dick barely functions. Moses gets a smattering of applause for his set but, unfortunately, someone posts video of his performance online. When she sees it, Yoojin is less than amused at the way her husband has talked about their marriage, her pregnancy, and their child.
Because Moses has not been checking his email, he is shocked to receive a call from his parents reminding him that he’s supposed to pick up his cousin from Korea, Joon-Ho (Daniel Deagun Lee), at the airport. When he last saw Joon-Ho at the wedding, the teenager was painfully shy and barely spoke a word. When Moses finds him, Joon-Ho is sporting a head of brightly-tinted orange hair but has not made much progress in learning how to speak English.
Depressed, exhausted, horny as hell, and stuck babysitting for a sullen teenager who can barely take his eyes off his cell phone, Moses finds himself up against a wall. The one saving grace is that Joon-Ho likes the only dish Moses knows how to cook (fried rice mixed with pieces of frankfurter).
Initially shy at school, Joon-Ho attracts the attention of Olga (Jessie Cox), a young white student who is leading a group in a local dance competition and thinks Joon-Ho could help her team with its choreography for a K-Pop number. Although Moses can imitate some robot and Gangnam Style moves, his offer to help Joon-Ho allows the teenager to feel more comfortable around girls despite the fact that Olga already has a boyfriend who is a major asshole.
In the following clip, Aram Collier decribes how making the film while trying to stay grounded as a new parent presented him with some unexpected challenges which he incorporated into the movie.
Collier’s film does a nice job of showing how women may be more pragmatic and better equipped to deal with growing up than men. It also captures the nagging awareness that some people feel when they realize that the carefree days of their youth are over and they face a generation gap that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Here’s the trailer:
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San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon, which specializes in reviving musicals that have faded from popularity, is currently charming audiences with a hit revival of Me and My Girl. The musical premiered in London in 1937 and went on to enjoy a lengthy run of 1,646 performances. The 1984 revival starring Robert Lindsay (which I first saw in London) racked up an impressive 3,303 performances before transferring to Broadway for a healthy run of 1,420 performances.
Ironically, at the same time that 42nd Street Moon is performing Me and My Girl, New York City Center’s popular Encores! series is mounting a revival starring Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly. With book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose and music by Noel Gay, the show has three great assets:
What else does Me and My Girl have in common with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas? One need only look to 1885’s The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu for the answer. In both shows, racist terms which were part of the vernacular at the time these shows were written have had to be changed in order to accommodate current political sensitivities.
In The Mikado, Ko-Ko’s patter song entitled “I’ve Got A Little List” originally referred to “the nigger serenader and the others of his race.” In Act II, the Mikado’s entrance song (“A More Humane Mikado Never Did In Japan Exist”) includes the following lyric: “The lady who dyes a chemical yellow or stains her grey hair puce, or pinches her figure is backed like a nigger with permanent walnut juice.” In Martyn Green’s Treasury of Gilbert & Sullivan, the famous comic tenor from the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company wrote:
“It was not until 1947 that any form of criticism was leveled at the use of this word, yet the D’Oyly Carte had played in the United States many times from 1934 on. However, serious objections were expressed in 1947. Rupert D’Oyly Carte approached Sir Alan P. Herbert, a contemporary lyricist, to provide alternatives to the word, both in this song and in the Mikado’s song. There was no difficulty over this one. The word was simply changed to ‘banjo,’ basing the change on Gilbert’s meaning of the word when he wrote it, viz., the itinerant street singer who, in imitation of the Negro minstrel, a craze that had come over from the United States, was using burnt cork and twanging away on a banjo at virtually every street corner.”
Numerous other replacements have been crafted over the years for Ko-Ko’s song. Opera Australia used “Those whinging letter writers and the pundits in the press.” The English National Opera substituted “The Republican contender who behaves just like a chump.” And the Savoy Opera wrote “There’s the punk rock serenader and others of his race.” To no one’s surprise, Seth MacFarlane went all out for Family Guy with Stewie’s version of the song:
In Me and My Girl, the ebullient musical number that opens Act II (“The Sun Has Got His Hat On”) originally contained the following lyric: “He’s been tanning niggers out in Timbuktu, now he’s coming back to do the same to you.” When Mike Ockrent and Stephen Fry were working on the 1984 West End revival, Fry chose to change the lyric to “He’s been roasting peanuts in Timbuktu.”
The plot of Me and My Girl rests on a simple twist of fate. Bill Snibson, a happy-go-lucky bloke (who is frequently broke) learns that, unbeknownst to him, he is heir to the estate of the 13th Earl of Hareford. However, in order to meet the terms of the will, the rowdy Cockney man must prove to its executors and late Earl’s relatives that he has sufficient class and manners to hold his own in polite society. Maria, Duchess of Dene (Milissa Carey) is hell-bent on transforming Bill to match his new title and insists that he dump his loyal Lambeth girlfriend, Sally. Sir John Tremayne (Michael Patrick Gaffney) is far more sympathetic to Bill and Sally’s devotion to each other, in large part because he has harbored an unrequited love for Maria for many years.
Set in 1936, Me and My Girl harks back to a time when musicals were meant to entertain the masses in such a way that true love won out and audiences went home happy after the final curtain. While the show’s lyrics are free from the sophistication of such theatre artists as Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner, and Stephen Sondheim, its songs are infectiously hummable.
Directed and choreographed by Mindy Cooper with costumes by Liz Martin, set design by Brian Watson, and lighting by David Lam, 42nd Street Moon’s production shines under the musical supervision of Dave Dobrusky. Me and My Girl also provides a superb opportunity for Keith Pinto to deliver a smashingly energetic performance as Bill Snibson that shows off his singing, dancing, and mugging to the pure delight of the audience.
Originally published at myculturallandscape.blogspot.com on May 12, 2018.