Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Unexpected SSC Merchandise

So I was at Target the other day, a different one than I usually go to, and as I am wont to do, I started by browsing the Dollar Section that most (all?) Targets have in the front. And I was just going about my business, when suddenly, I caught sight of something familiar. I swear I did a doubletake, but sure enough, this Target had 2009 Strawberry Shortcake items. After that I searched more carefully, and I found lip balms (small two-packs, and a large one of just Strawberry), Push Pencils, Hair Elastics, Blank Journals, and Socks (tiny children only, sadly). While I didn't find every character on each item, I'm assuming that one for each character exists. There may even be more items than I found, since I ended up needing to go to another Target, and this second one only had the socks. So, if you are near a Target and are interested, check and see just what your store has (and soon, since the Dollar Section changes on a fairly regular basis as far as I've noticed).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors: This one goes way back. Again, I'm not entirely sure of the year (I'm reasonably sure it was 1995, but it might have been 1994), but I remember the month quite clearly. It was a Sunday night in January, and my mother pointed out that the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors was on TV. Why exactly she pointed this out, I now have no idea. I mean, you'd think the title would have warned her off, but I guess the fact that it was a musical made her feel it was okay. The movie was almost halfway over by the time we tuned in, being just as the part where "Feed Me" starts up. Despite this, my sisters and I were hooked. I felt compelled to write up a synopsis of what I had seen in a letter to a friend the next day, although I left out the part about how I didn't sleep at all the night before (I was very impressionable when it came to horror stuff as a kid). Even though it scared me, I still loved it.
Either later that year, or the next year, in April, my younger sister and I came in from playing outside to find my older sister watching Little Shop of Horrors on TV again. It was already at the part where Seymour gets interviewed on the radio, but my sister had come in almost at the beginning, and told us what we had missed. After that day, I was obsessed with seeing the whole thing, and scoured the Movie Guide in TV Listings that came with the newspaper faithfully, week after week. It wasn't until October that my persistance was rewarded and I got to tape the Modified for TV version. (I'm not entirely sure why it never occurred to me to rent the move from the video store, but it didn't.) After that, things jumble together a little, but I recall that at some point we all went to see a high school production of the show, and were quite surprised to find the theatrical version has a very different ending (and I later learned that the movie originally had a similar ending, but focus groups reacted badly toward it, so a new ending was shot). Toward the end of the year, I acquired the film's soundtrack on cassette (which I still have) and the sheet music, which strangely enough had the musical's version of "The Meek Shall Inherit." Somewhere along the way I learned that the songs were done by the same guys (Alan Menken and Howard Ashman) who did The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, although I don't remember exactly when I figured this out.
Probably the biggest impact that my love for Little Shop of Horrors had on my life was that it got me into Jazz Band. When I was in elementary school, I played clarinet in the school band (5th and 6th grade), and every year, the music teacher would put together a medley of songs based on a theme for the final concert of the year. The sixth graders would play and the fifth graders would act it out. When I was in fifth grade, the theme was "Golden Oldies." I was a Village Person while the band played YMCA. And when I was in six grade, the theme was "Scales from the Crypt," a mix of horror movie themes, which included Little Shop of Horrors. I was thrilled, until I saw the clarinet part, which consisted of lots of resting with the occasional whole note. I couldn't stand for that, so after practice I went up to the teacher and asked why the clarinet part was so bad. She told me that the jazz band members had a bigger part, and wouldn't you know it, there was a jazz band opening. So I was able to squeak into the jazz band, which meant that I had to play at all three concerts (the music teacher taught at all three elementary schools in town), but I didn't mind because I got to play the part I wanted (although when we started rehearsing with the fifth graders on stage, I realized that I couldn't see what they were doing, which was a little disappointing, but you can't have your cake and eat it, too, as they say), plus my parents took me out for ice cream after each one. I continued to play clarinet in the band up through high school, and I continued to try out for (and get in to) Jazz Band through middle school, and I probably would have continued into high school if it was still offered.
I also remember one time when I was not yet in seventh grade and I was riding back home from a library with a friend and his mom. Her car ran out of gas, and while we waited for her husband to come pick us up, I pulled out my cassette of the soundtrack and we listened to it all the way through. Later, my mom's friend commended me to my own mom for being so nonchalant in that situation, but I didn't really see it that way. I had books and Little Shop of Horrors, what else did I need?
In the years in since, I've seen a couple of high school productions of the show and seen the movie that the musical was based on, but I didn't get to see the new Broadway production back in 2003. I did get the cast recording as soon as I could, though.
It was actually my older sister who got the movie on DVD, when she went through a phase of buying cheap DVDs at Walmart, whether she knew the movie or not (which is how we all got into A Mighty Wind, but that's a different, shorter story). I, frankly, had been holding out on the off-chance that I would either snag a copy of the quickly-recalled DVD that included the original filmed ending or that the copyright issues would be resolved and a new DVD would be released with the original ending. (As of yet, that has not happened, but if you're curious, you can see stills on this page a little ways down.) I had, however, rented the DVD, mostly for the commentary by the film's director, Frank Oz. I'm of the firm belief that every DVD should have some sort of commentary. But my sister did go ahead and buy it on DVD, and now that she has moved away, I'm starting to think that I really should get my own copy, original ending or no.

Bonus Section:
Do you remember the cartoon Little Shop that aired on Fox back in 1991? I only vaguely remember watching it, even though it also ran on the SciFi channel sometime in the late 90's. It was a mix of elements from the musical and original movie, but put the characters in junior high. You can read more about it here, if you so desire.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Crochet - Recently Finished Projects

Still working on the last of my Favorite Musicals posts, but what I want to say about it is not coming easily to me right now, so in the meantime, here are a few things I've made recently:

A rose potholder. The rose part gave me some serious trouble, but with some help I figured it out. Still not sure I pulled off the picots, but I like it. I feel like it came out bigger than it was supposed to, though.

Now, this waterbottle holder really comes in handy at work, but when I started making it, I just wanted to make something, and I already had the right yarn. A few people have commented on it, though, and it was fun to make.

A shopping bag, although it's not very big. This took longer to finish because the handles are made by crocheting with two strands of yarn, and with two sc in every third chain stitch. I could only put up with that for so long. And the first handle turned out way smaller than the second, so I had to make a third one. But now that it's finished, it's pretty nice.

Another shopping bag, but I'm pretty sure that this one turned out smaller than it was supposed to, even though my gauge was right. Then again, the pattern calls for crochet thread and a steel hook, but the pictures looked like regular yarn to me. so maybe that had something to do with it. The pattern (from a Crochet-a-day calendar) was missing a line, so I had to e-mail the patternmaker to ask what was up. And she got back to me promptly with the missing info. The handles were way wonky to make, though, but not because of missing info.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake - Sky's the Limit!

So, the long-awaited 2009 Revamped Strawberry Shortcake movie has finally been unleashed on the world, and while it isn't the most awesome ever (frankly, I wouldn't have expected it to be), it does has a number of fun scenes a couple of forgettable songs, and one that will not leave your head no matter what you do.

Welcome to Bitty Berry Land
The movie opens with the same shots from the pilot episode reanimated using a bluebird this time. Instead of getting a birdseye tour of Berry Bitty City, though, the bluebird catches up with Strawberry Shortcake on the Goodies- to-Go Scooter, making a visit (with Pupcake in tow) to the BerryWorks, where the Berrykins turn berries into the juice that powers everything in the city. With the arrival of Strawberry, the Berrykin Queen Princess announces the beginning of Berry Picking Time, which heralds a song and dance from Berrykins and Strawberry alike. After the song, Strawberry candidly comments, "What would we do without berry juice?" Although she obviously meant this to be rhetorical, the Berrykins are quick to point out that without the juice, there'd be no power for the whole city, a situation most dire. Strawberry brushes off their concerns and rides back into town.
Back at the cafe, Orange Blossom has commissioned some Berrykins to build a fountain, which she proudly shows off to the others. Blueberry's a little skeptical that the Berrykins can build a working fountain, but Orange rebuffs her with her own words:
Orange: You know how you're always saying, "Before you can, you need a plan?"
Blueberry: Do I say that?
Plum, Lemon, Raspberry: Yeah!!
The plan Orange put together is not a blueprint, but a drawing of her, Strawberry, and the fountain. Lemon tries to dissuade Orange with her worries that someone will fall in, but Raspberry takes that idea and runs with it, coming up with a number of different ideas on how to keep that from happening (ranging from adding life preservers to making the fountain a skating pond), with the Berrykins running around in the background, trying to make her ideas a reality.
Inside the cafe, Custard shows off her ability to run the blender, but Strawberry does not appreciate her cat's talent. As she admonishes her pet, a shadow falls across the frame...but it's only Mr. Longface Caterpillar (voiced by Paul Dobson). He's got nothing better to do, so he's just hanging out at the cafe. Seems he does well-attended readings at the cafe, so Strawberry tries to get a little information about the next chapter out of him, but Longface is not talking. Or rather, not about the next chapter. He's all too ready to talk about his family.
While Strawberry was chatting up Mr. Caterpillar, pandemonium broke out at the fountain, as an errant lean sent juice spewing from every half-finished pipe. Strawberry is horrified at the sight of all this chaos, but the other girls have been making the most of it, running around like a sprinkler. Until Strawberry cuts the juice and demands an explanation. The girls' attempts to explain all at once are cut short by the sound of a warning bell: a storm is coming! As everyone heads inside for safety, Orange's drawing flutters to the ground, and as the rain falls, the wind carries it up above BBC...
Holed up in the cafe for the time being, the girls try to trick Longface into reading the last chapter early, but he's still tightlipped about the story. Fortunately for him, he's able to distract them by pointing out the storm is over. But while the storm may be over, their trouble has just begun. It seems the BerryWork's water supply is blocked by an enormous rock, which is held in place by a keystone.
Princess Berrykin drives off in her little car to try and find more water while Strawberry and the girls try to figure out what to do about the rock. Even if they could move it, the riverbed would give it a clear shot at the town, effectively flattening it. Orange missed this piece of information, though, and tries to push the keystone out of the way. Her efforts cause the rock to shudder, raining debris down on her, and making it clear she'd better get out of there. Strawberry declares the rock off-limits, and they settle down to wait for the Berrykins.
Evening comes with no sign of the Berrykins, and Strawberry's about to go look for them when the Princess arrives. The good news: she found water; the bad news: it's too far away, so everyone in BBC has to move. On top of that, they only have two days to get all packed, as the Berrykins have to move all the berries, too, and they won't last long without water. No one is thrilled with this turn of events, and as the girls express their dismay in the cafe, Mr. Longface shows up again and tells them of the Great Geyser Stone. This stone, he says, flipping through his book, is golden and spurts water when placed in the sun. "Is it real?" Strawberry asks, and the caterpillar insist that it lies "just south of here." The other girls press him for more information, and with each answer, they grow more sure that the thing to do is go after this stone. Strawberry is still skeptical, though, and asks the caterpillar again if he's actually seen the stone. He continues to answer in the affirmative, so Strawberry decides that they should try anything, no matter how farfetched. They decide to leave first thing in the morning, and Longface chokes on his ice cream sundae.

We're just gettin' started
The next morning, Strawberry leaves Custard and Pupcake with the Berrykins, kisses Princess Berrykin goodbye, and she and the girls, plus Longface, are off. At first, the going is easy, but all too soon they find their path is blocked. "Looks like it's the end of the road for us!" Plum Pudding exclaims, posing dramatically. From the way she laughs afterwards, I'm guessing she was reenacting a scene from a play put on by the Berry Bitty Players. But Longface insists they just need to keep heading south. Unfortunately, his compass is broken, so he tries to use the sun to navigate. But they've gotten so far undercover of ferns that the sun is completely blocked. Orange gets an idea, but after her experience with the rock the day before, she lacks the confidence to act on it. So Strawberry works her esteem-boosting magic and gets Orange to share her observation: the Banyabana flower always points toward the sun, even when it's hidden, and since there's a Banyabana flower right there, they easily get their bearings. In honor of her observation, Strawberry makes Orange the leader as they continue their journey.
As the day wears on, the girls use leaves as parasols to keep off the sun's rays. Longface takes advantage of the stretch of time to review the previous week's chapter, which the girls put up with in the hopes that he'll move onto the next chapter without noticing. The only thing he doesn't notice, though, is the inclined slope in front of him. As he slides down the hill, the girls hurry to think of a plan to help him. Orange pulls out an oak leaf and the others get on, except for Blueberry, who tries to convince the others to find a more secure plan. But time is a-wasting, and the caterpillar is the only one who knows how to get to the geyster stone, so they take off, with Blueberry reluctantly joining them.
The girls and caterpillar slip and slide, avoiding obstacles until they end up going over a leaf ramp and get launched into the air, coming down on top of a field of daisies. As Strawberry takes stock of everyone, Blueberry admits that the leaf ride was really fun. Of course, the fact that everyone is all right probably helped. Strawberry helps Mr. Caterpillar right himself on another flower, and he is quick to grab his fallen book. Strawberry insists they must be way off course, but Longface reassures her that nothing could be further from the truth. She doesn't get how that can be possible, but her concerns are cut short by the arrival of a herd of bunnies.
With flowers falling in the bunnies' path, the girls and caterpillar make a break for it across the flower tops, except for Lemon Meringue, who is frozen with fear. Strawberry goes back for her and takes her arm, jumping from flower to flower with Lemon in tow. The others see this and follow her example, laughing and hollering as they go. Even Lemon gets in the groove, laughing along with the rest of them. But all too soon they come to the end of the daisy field. With the bunnies closing in, things are looking grim, until Lemon tells them all to run in place. The running twists the flower stem, sending the flower itself spinning off and up into the sky.
The girls enjoy the sensation of flying, until it becomes apparent they're about to land in a nest of bristling thistles. Most of the girls manage to land safely, but Raspberry Torte and Mr. Caterpillar's flowers get stuck on top of thistles. Longface slips down onto the stem, with his book in his hand, but he refuses to give it up to any of the girls so that they can help him. He slides all the way down with a bump, no worse for wear. Raspberry, meanwhile, has to wriggle her way down past spiky thistles, which Plum applauds as a "hot new dance." Longface remarks that they're right on course, and they continue on.

And the whole day through
As they travel, Mr. Caterpillar mentions that they might like to settle down where they are, "should we fail to find the geyser stone." This basically comes out of the blue, and Strawberry gets Longface alone to pump him for more concrete information on the stone. After a bit of hemming and hawwing, Longface flips through his book and tells her it's in the cavern of the seven waterfalls. "And where is that?" Miss Shortcake asks curtly. Fortune (perhaps) is with Mr. Caterpillar today, as there is a cave just ahead of them. Convinced, Strawberry leads the other girls toward the cave, only to be thwarted by a deep canyon. With no way to cross, they have to head back home, disheartened. Longface tries to cheer them up, telling them there's no dishonor in turning back now. He goes on and on about how they can build themselves a new Bitty City, better than the old one, but his pronouncements don't have the desired effect, and Plum runs off in tears.
Plum wants to be alone in her sorrow, but Strawberry gently tells her not to be ashamed of crying. So Plum confesses that she may joke around, but she loves Berry Bitty City so much, another one won't do. "That's all you had to say," says Strawberry, and the girls renew their resolve to get the stone. Using a vine, they try to pull down a branch to use as a bridge, but all their pulling isn't getting them anywhere. Longface comments that this maybe too much for the girls to handle, but they scoff at him; nothing is too difficult for them! Lemon braids some reeds together to make a stronger rope, and while this makes it harder to lasso the branch, eventually they get it, and pull down a branch. Even with the branch down, Longface tries to dissuade them from crossing, but to no avail. With Strawberry in the lead, the girls cross one by one. Raspberry makes the mistake of looking down, but Lemon takes her by the hand to help her cross. Longface tries to keep from crossing, but Strawberry won't take no for an answer and practically drags him across.
Inside the cave, the girls note a lack of both waterfalls and geyster stone. Mr. Caterpillar tries to brush the latter off as thieves, but just then, Orange spots a glittering stone sitting in a pool of light. As the girls go to grab it, Longface tries to tell Strawberry the terrible truth, but he is swarmed by the girls, singing his praises. They hurry outside to test it, but Longface stops them, telling them it's too late: the sun has already set and they'll have to wait until morning. Blueberry rushes past him anyway, desperate to try and catch the last bit of sun, but it is indeed too late. Longface once again tries to bring himself to say something, but he can't get it out.
While the girls camp out around a campfire (where did they get the marshmallows?), Longface sits off to the side, munching leaves. Strawberry and the other girls try to convince him to join them and finally read the last chapter; after all, what better place for a story than a campfire? But Longface begs off, claiming to be tired and slinking off to sleep. Though disappointed, the girls respect his right to a good night's sleep, and soon turn in themselves. Later that evening, as the girls snooze, Longface sneaks over and takes the stone from a slumbering Strawberry. He intends to throw it into the canyon, but when he tosses it, it lands on a ledge, not too far down at all. In his attempts to knock the rock down with his cane, he loses his hat, and his attempts to get that back loosen the book from its place in his vest, and when he tries to keep it from falling, too, he ends up falling himself and landing the ledge. All that noise wakes up the girls, and they find him crying pitifully on the ledge.
When asked how he and the stone got down there, Longface continues to sniffle and spins a story about a thief, but not all the girls are convinced. At any rate, they have to get him and the stone back up (Blueberry suggests getting the stone first), and Raspberry gets an idea, but immediately dismisses it as being silly. Since no one else can think of anything, they all implore her to share anyway, even going to so far as to promise to still like her even if the idea stinks. Not a bad thing to secure, since her idea is to use the rope to lower one of them (Strawberry) down while the others keep hold above the ledge. Strawberry gets hold of the stone all right, but while the others pull her back up, the ledge Mr. Caterpillar is standing on starts to crumble and he falls, managing to grab hold of a root. Strawberry has the others lower her, but her lowest isn't quite low enough. Raspberry quickly ties the end of the rope around her waist and has the others hold onto her feet in order to lower her as far as they can and get Strawberry within Longface's reach. Strawberry manages to grab Mr. Caterpillar with her free hand, but as the others slowly pull them up, his weight becomes too much for just one hand. She quickly weighs her options, but there's nothing to be done: she drops the stone and grabs Mr. Caterpillar. Once they are both pulled up, Longface expresses his gratitude for Strawberry saving his life, but the others mourn the loss of the geyser stone. Strawberry breaks down in tears over the choice she had to make, and for putting her friends in this kind of danger. Plum comforts her, and Longface starts to get up, his book falling from his vest. Blueberry immediately runs to pick it up, exclaiming, "Aha!" as she does (no wonder he never let go of it). As she reads, it becomes apparent that this is not the stories of his many relatives (as he'd claimed), but a cookbook from his mother. As Strawberry calls him on this, he bursts into tears again and tells them the tragic truth: he has no family at all, and the stone they found was just fool's gold. There's a nice reversal here, with Blueberry, who has been translating Longface's sesquipedalian phrases into regular speech for the others, giving the technical explanation about iron pyrite. Longface also explains that he was only trying to cheer everyone up with the story about the stone, not thinking that they'd want to, you know, go after the one thing that might save their home. Everyone is disappointed, but Strawberry blames herself for the whole thing.

Grab a partner, Lend a hand
Skipping ahead to the next day, the girls return home where they are hailed as heroes by the Berrykins. While Longface mopes in the back, Strawberry has to break the news about the geyser stone to the Berrykins, and everyone goes to start packing. Helping out at the general store, Blueberry finds Banyabana seeds on the shelf and reminds Orange about that part of their adventure. Over at the Sweet Beats Dance Studio, Raspberry cheers up a gloomy Plum with her thistle dance, and Strawberry surveys the pictures on the walls of her cafe, dejected.
As the denizens of Berry Bitty City begin traveling to their new home, Blueberry notices Orange's drawing from earlier up against a tree. Its colors muted by the rain, it somehow gives Blueberry an idea. She maps out her plan and explains it to the others: they'll split into two groups; Group One will lasso the keystone holding the rock in place while Group Two will use a net to deflect the rock into a nearby ravine. Everyone is keen on this idea except Strawberry, her confidence shattered by their failed quest. As the others start making preparations, she tries to convince them not to trust such a risky plan, while the others keep throwing her lines from earlier in the movie back at her. She points out that she let them all down, but they counterpoint out that there were a lot of things they did during that trip that they didn't think they could do. But still, Strawberry isn't convinced. She also points out that they'll need a lot of help to pull off the plan, and Blueberry tells her to ask the Berrykins. Strawberry thinks they won't take another risk, but Orange says that if Strawberry asks, the Berrykins will listen. When Strawberry wonders at this, Raspberry tells her point blanke that she has the talent of motivation, and the girls chime in with examples from their trip. With her friends' help, Strawberry believes in them who believe in her, and goes to get the Berrykins.
The girls continue to prepare, making rope, sewing up fabric for the net, while Strawberry and the Berrykins find a suitable fallen branch. Soon almost everything is in place, but Strawberry sees Mr. Longface sulking around in the background, so she tries to get him involved, too. Her ploy is accidentally thwarted by Blueberry, though, and he sulks off again. No time to worry about caterpillars, though, as it's time to put the plan in action. Blueberry's group successfully pulls out the keystone, and the rock goes rolling down the riverbed, like some kind of crazy potato. It crashes across the scenery, felling daisies in its wake, until it hits the net. Strawberry's group holds onto the rope until just the right time, but when everyone lets go, the end of the rope, knotted into a little bow, gets caught in the crook of a tree. With the rock threatening to just break through the net, Strawberry tries to reach the bow, but it's too high! Longface appears out of nowhere to give her a boost, but it's not enough. So he gives her his book, and she whacks the bow until it comes free, destroying the book in the process. The rope lets loose and the net acts like a slingshot, sending the rock out of harm's way and into a puddle of mud. The water flows free, and the BerryWorks starts up again. And there is much rejoicing, with hugs all around.

It's time to celebrate
A short time later, Strawberry throws a party at the cafe, with a special gift to be given to Mr. Caterpillar. Strawberry explains that if he hadn't taken them on their quest, they never would have figured out how to move the rock that was blocking the water. Longface isn't sure that he can be forgiven just like that, but if nothing else, Strawberry believes in second chances, and gives him a blank book to write his stories in. To cap things off, she and the girls welcome him home.
Another short time later, Blueberry and Raspberry present Orange with the finished version of her fountain, now nicknamed The Great Geyser Fountain. While it works just fine at first, it suddenly starts gushing juice all over the place, getting everyone in the vicinity nice and wet. Again, Strawberry doesn't appreciate the chaos in her yard, and goes out to put a stop to it, but this time she's waylaid by a celebrating Raspberry, and so she joins in the celebration as the camera pans up, up, and away.
There's a bonus song at the end, which starts with Strawberry playing guitar in the cafe and singing, but then segues into the end credits. Also, the only special feature (besides printing pages) is a Cabaret Sing-a-long, which is a completely different song set to footage from the movie. The end features a quick plug for the next coming movie "Berryfest Princess" which will debut Spring 2010.

I tried to stay objective while doing the write-up, but I have to say, I do not like Mr. Longface Caterpillar. I don't like plots where a character has to try and keep a lie until they're eventually found out, and I don't like this kind of character, either. Although, while thinking it over I realized that I do like that kind of character on occasion, but usually when they're not meant to be liked (or if the other characters don't particularly like them). But Longface here is liked by the characters quite a bit, although more for his stories than his actual personality. I guess he's supposed to be a grandfather figure for the girls, but I just hope he's not a recurring character or anything.
And really, he just wasn't needed as a character. I mean, the story could have transpired just the same with, say, Blueberry reading about the geyser stone in one of her books and the girls heading off to find it, and either getting to the cavern to find it not there (taken by others who read of it, perhaps), or discovering that the book Blueberry found was a work of fiction, not a true account. There might have had to be another trial or extra tribulation on the journey, but there are plenty of things that can happen on a trip, so that really shouldn't have been a problem.
Another story point that I couldn't help noticing was that with all the talk of moving and not wanting to move, no one mentioned that, hey, they'll all be together when they go. I mean, usually in a cartoon, if someone is sad about moving, it's because they're moving away from their friends. But everyoone is going to the exact same place, so that's not really an issue. And since they're building their own place from the ground up, nothing says they can't make it almost exactly like the original Berry Bitty City. So, really, what's there to miss?
The animation gets a little wonky in spots, and there's one scene where Strawberry seems to lose her lipsync entirely. Other than that, though, I thought that everything looked all right, but I can't help but feel this would all be so much cuter if it was 2D instead of CGI.

Bonus screenshots:

My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Starlight Express

Starlight Express: When describing this to people, I've often said that you have to be able to get over the fact that the characters on stage are trains. It's a strange concept, even for a musical: trains in love, racing for the big prize (actually, sounds kind of like a shounen anime), and on top of that, supposedly this whole thing is acted out by a little boy with his set of toy trains (which begs the question, why all the emphasis on who hooks up with who? He must have an older sister or something).
I don't remember exactly when I first borrowed the New Broadway Cast CD from the library, but it was probably when I was in seventh grade. I just remember that shortly after I did, I went on a field trip to visit a historical trainline, and had the songs playing in my head the whole time. This was another show that I shared, this time with both my sisters, and we all took to it like nothing else. We listened to it together, we exercised to it together, and we even acted it out together using my younger sister's Barbies and a handful of other toys (I specifically remember using a Woody, from Toy Story, puppet as Poppa/The Starlight Express). And years later, when a new tour was making the rounds, my sisters saw it together (as I was in college by then, although I saw it when it came to a theater near my campus).
Our love for Starlight Express was so great that my mother instinctively gave this as a gift suggestion to my uncle, and sure enough, I soon had my own copy. In fact, Starlight Express may very well have been my very first fandom, as I joined a Starlight Express e-newsletter soon after, and was exposed to fanfiction for the first time (not that there was a lot). I also learned about the upcoming On Ice and Mexican edition through that occasional mailing, and a good many other things as well.
Around 1998 or 1999, I got the original London Cast recording and was very surprised at how different it was from the new Broadway one. Between the shows, characters were cut, songs were cut and/or switched, and there were all kinds of different inflections, making comparing the two a case of apples and oranges. And when I saw the national tour in 2003, things had been changed around a little more, making this show a mix of the two others (plus the races were done as 3D videos, which was kind of cool, and a good way to get around having to rebuild each theater). Apparently the original Broadway production had an even more different plot, involving a giant silver dollar or some such, but there was never a recording made (or just released?) of that one, so all I know about that is from various websites here and there.
I am not a big memorabilia kind of person, but with the love I have for Starlight Express, I have come to own a few things, including a keychain (that broke ;_;) and a T-shirt with the original logo. I also own the German cast recording, but since I don't speak German or know anyone who does, I can't really comment on how it may have been different. Not to mention all those Andrew Lloyd Webber collection CDs that I got just because there was a song or two from Starlight Express on it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Big The Musical

Big the Musical: As the title states, it's a musical version of the movie Big. It came out in 1996, but did not fare well, only running for 193 performances. I discovered in in 1998, when I was in Musicon Ministries, a group that gathered high schoolers from all over CT, taught them a show, and then performed it at various churches around the state four weekends during the year. In the summer, however, we would go on the road for two weeks, performing at various churches different states. Since we spent a lot of time traveling on a bus, I always made sure to have a book or two on hand. Now, this particular summer, I had taken the book "Making it Big: the Diary of a Broadway Musical," which was all about the process that the musical Big went through as it was adapted and eventually flopped (and reading about how they were sponsored by FAO Schwartz reminded of how I had seen the merchandise two years earlier in the one store that's in CT, although I don't think it's there any more, and having no idea what it was for). Anyway, at one point during the trip, we got to go to a mall, and I suddenly had the songs from Pippin stuck in my head, so I decided to see if I could get a copy of the CD. The rack at the Sam Goody was so disorganized that I just started looking through all the CDs, and lo and behold, there was Big! Naturally, I bought it (and I still don't actually own Pippin, although I do take it out from the library every now and then), and listened to it continuously for the rest of the trip.
When I got back, I shared it with my younger sister, who also fell in love with it (my sisters both like musicals, but not on the same level as I do. Then again, my older sister was the one who really got into Les Mis, not me). About a year later I found out a town theater was putting on a production of Big, and so I bought tickets to it for her birthday. It was fun to see it, even though that production reinstated songs that had been dropped from the original production. Sometime in between getting back home and seeing the show I learned that the songs were written by David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr., who had earlier written the songs for a musical called Baby, which didn't surprise me at all, since I had also loved that cast album (and was quite annoyed to find out that my local library weeded it from their collection, especially since I found this out when I was trying to get it to add songs to a CD exchange I was in). And then, while I was in college, I found a CD of Starting Here, Starting Now, a revue of songs by the same guys which did a lot better than the musicals they tried to put the songs into in the first place. I wish that they had done more together, as I inevitably like their songs, but sadly, their shows (barring revues) did not seem to fair well. So there you have it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thinking about Musicals - An Intro

I've been reading "What Would Barbra Do?: How Musicals Changed My Life," and while I'm enjoying it, I keep stopping to think about my own life and musicals.
I can't really pinpoint that exact time of my life when I became a fan of musicals. I guess it all came from as a natural extension of growing up during the Disney Renaissance, and probably has something to do that up until fairly recently, all the cassettes and CDs at my hometown library were kept in one area, so it was easy to go from the kids' music to the rest of the collection. However, it wasn't until I was twelve that I started to fall in love with specific musicals, mostly based entirely on the cast albums. And despite growing up in Connecticut, it wasn't until I was in high school that I got to see a musical on Broadway.
Over this week, I'm going to be posting about my overall top three favorite musicals, and the ones I choose may surprise you, but they are all shows that have stood the test of time (and as such, they are all shows I discovered in (mostly) my teens).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Few Thoughts on The Mr. Men Show

So, you know the Mr. Men Show, that flash-animated cartoon currently airing its second season on Cartoon Network? (If you don't, check it out.) Basically, it takes the characters created by Roger Hargreaves (and a few made by his son, Adam) and puts them in a sketch comedy, using short interstitials, longer sketches, and even the occasional song or dance break, all focused around a theme (ranging from "farm" to "canned goods"). I enjoy the show both for its humor, but also for the superb voice acting. Which is why I'm not that crazy about the British version.
The show was released simultaneously in the US and UK, but since the different countries aimed for different demographics, the UK version has been redubbed and the dialogue dumbed down a little. Mostly these are little things, like making a line more explicit or adding a quick explanation where there was silence, but every now and then the joke is basically killed. For example, in one sketch, Mr. Grumpy is on a music-themed game show and has to name what song Miss Sunshine is playing. She plays an excessively fancy version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but Mr. Grumpy loses a point because he can't help griping, "Does she have to play like such a looney bird?" In the British version, he just guesses a completely wrong song. The joke is lost. Still, there's at least one instance where the UK show has a better line than the US: Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Quiet visit Miss Naughty's restaurant, where the food is as bad as her tricks. Despite this, Mr. Grumpy tells her the food is delicious, commenting to Mr. Quiet, "Well, I'm not rude." In the British version, he instead stage-whispers, "That is not true." It could be just me, but the delivery of it just made me laugh out loud.
I had more gripes about the British voices back when I watched the episodes, but as that was a while ago, I've mellowed out, so the only one I'm going to single out is that Miss Daredevil just does not sound right with a posh accent. So wrong. But it is interesting to hear Miss Whoops, Miss Scary, and Miss Naughty with lighter, more feminine sounding voices. And one last thing about the British version: it usually cuts out one sketch per show, which I'm assuming is to cover the extended version of the theme song (which I'll admit is better than the US version), although I believe the cut sketches and songs were included as bonus features on the UK DVDs.

Originally I had a couple more things I wanted to say about the show, but I can't quite muster enough words to justify talking about it, which I blame on it simply being too long since I first saw the show and writing it up now. What I mean is that I've come to accept all the changes that were made in the adaptation process (renamed/redesigned characters), so I don't really feel like talking about that anymore. So I just want to close with one thing: Mr. Small is such an enabler. That is all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fill in the Blank

This is sort of inspired by a Writer's Block from LiveJournal. It was a few weeks ago, but they asked about our favorite commercials. Out of the blue yesterday, I suddenly remembered this commercial for Poptarts Crunch (a cereal that didn't last very long, although Poptarts are still going strong):

This commercial lives in infamy with me and my sisters because we discovered one day that you could substitute any word in the song for "poptart" and it became hilarious (in that 'we were kids' way). I specifically remember that the first thing we used was Gargoyles, which should give you an idea of when exactly this was.