PopCornucopia is all about free associative pop culture tidbits as they strike my fancy, just like kernels of corn exploding into fullness at a random and unpredictable pace. And of course, the cornucopia is the horn of plenty.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's Shakespeare, ya dig?

Last night I saw a performance of Taming of the Shrew with Katharine, a friend with whom I have seen many Shakespeare productions.

I have seen multiple treatments of this play, but before yesterday evening I had not seen it as it was written. I've witnessed Kiss Me Kate by the Young People's Musical Theater in SF and the Broadway Version. And while Cole Porter's songwriting is superb, truth be told, I was underwhelmed by both these performances.

I've also seen 10 Things I Hate About You, the teenybopper update on the play. It features a post-Roar, pre-Brokeback, strangely dark-haired Heath Ledger singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You"-- the only halfway funny thing in the movie.

Although if you just lift Shakespeare's plots without its language, you basically lose the essence of the Bard's genius. Because, from what I've learned, many of Shakespeare's plots usually weren't even entirely his own to begin with. Not to mention that the plots are far from airtight, and some of his comedies might be nothing but generic farce were it not for the literary complexity.

So finally I went to a production of the play in it's traditional form. It was done by the African American Shakespeare Company, and while it took some liberties with the langauge and was set in the 70's, most of it remained intact.

In fact, while purists may squirm at the sound of Shakespeare's English being tainted by an occasional "Ya, dig" , "Yo", or "Foxy Lady", I felt that it was a clever reimagining. This was a spirited interpretation with funky style (think leather trench, ultra-crazy full length print dresses, afros, newsboy caps, platforms, and even a dredlock or two). Plus, there were some delightful moments in the play where the characters would break into 70's soul classics. Whether it was a quick clip from "Sexy Thang" to commemorate allusions to Petruchio's late father, or "Could it be I'm Falling in Love" lip-synched and danced to by Lucentio, the lyrics and sentiment of the songs actually matched the storyline fairly accurately. These musical interludes, while treading the line of cheese, were pulled off with flair surprisingly well. They never crossed the line of being too over the top, and served only to increase the hilarity of the comedic nature of the play, making it that much more of an entertaining experience--you never knew when a little Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye would sneak up on you. Furthermore, the artistic choice to juxtapose their music with Shakespeare is an acknowledgement of the cultural and literary value of their musicianship.

The innovative blocking that reflected the era--like a Shaft pose or a James Brown disrobing--which could be construed as a form of modern urban gesticulation/movement, also contributed to the creativity of the intepretation to great effect.

But do not think for a moment that the success of this rendition relied solely on gimmicks or 70's nostalgia. The acting by the two leads was very strong and high energy, which is absolutely necessary for such demanding roles. Nor did they butcher the language, which can often happen in Shakespeare. There were a few weak performances, but overall it was a excellent job by a fine company.

I'm convinced to see future prodcutions of theirs, and maybe next time you can come with me!

Check it out! http://www.african-americanshakes.org/

Monday, October 02, 2006

Once again, patriarchy quells artistry

The doorbell rang this afternoon, the postman presenting my fabulous purchases from Amazon. One of the more anticipated CD's was the David McCallum album Music--A Bit More of Me. I will elaborate more on this in a later post. But in downloading the CD onto my ipod I was looking at the songwriters for the songs. A cover of Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" was credited as written by Moy/Wonder/Cosby. Seeing what was an ostensibly Chinese name, Moy, I was intrigued. After all, my brother's preschool teacher Sharon Moy was Chinese American.

Well it turns out I was wrong. As wrong as the time my parents tricked me into thinking that Nat King Cole was part Chinese.

Sylvia Moy was an African American songwriter and producer who spent a large part of her career at Motown. In fact, she was the first female at the label to have the title of record producer. She wrote so many incredible songs with both Wonder and Henry Cosby, including 'My Cherie Amor". She also wrote the Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston classic "It Takes Two".

And for those of you who grew up in the 90's I am sure you will remember this theme which was also written by Moy.

Which got me thinking about female producers. Especially in a time when so many manufactured pop starlets make it big not on their own merits but on the ingenuity of their super-producers (who often become stars themselves, e.g. Pharell) it is interesting to note the paucity of women in this position. So for all the young women shaking their booties on MTV very few will have women behind the scenes with the power in determing a would-be pop diva's musical persona. This easily explains the subject nature of so many of the songs these young booty shakers sing. They lament loosing their man, they want to be dirty, they just wanna be your girl . All perfectly crafted to the heterosexual male ideal.

NPR's All Things Considered did a two part story on this. Take a listen. It's a sad ending to the story though. Make sure you listen the second part to hear it. As usual, it is the women who are always caught in the dilemma of choosing loneliness and vocational success or a relationship and lessened career aspriations. Here's to hoping there are more people who can really handle an accomplished and driven woman as a partner. Because if they don't exist, so much amazing music will go uncreated.