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The 10 Most Awesome And Best Narrators

I love to play with Narrators. I’ve always loved to play with Narrators. When i was a teenager and ran across the Bob Fosse holy trinity of Narrators (Cabaret/Pippin/All That Jazz) i was utterly fascinated, inspired and immediately set about playing with them in my own work. I really have a thing for when Narrators become a meta elements, more than just a voice doing a job.

This is a list of my top Narrators. This mean SPECIFIC roles, not just people who narrate. Yes, Morgan Freeman would win hands down for best person to get to narrate something, but i mean specifically an interesting narrator role. I also insist that the narrator has to be their own character. They can’t be the main character doing aside voice overs. They CAN dip into and be part of the cast in a limited regard. But they exists fundamentally as themselves, as Narrators and/or Masters Of Ceremony

10. The Criminologist from Rocky Horror Picture Show

It’s not that the guy has a big part, but it’s just so… memorable and fun and awesome.

9. Into The Woods

This is classic example of the kind of playing with the Narrator i love. He starts off as a straight Narrator, but dips into the play every so often as the long lost father figure. The two roles can strangely coincide at moments but THEN, in one of my favorite moments in musical theater, the cast, who’s getting absolutely buggered in Act 2, decide they don’t like how he’s telling the story AND KILL HIM. OMFG i LOVE this idea. On the other hand, i am seething with anger because they thought of it first and now i can’t do it without ripping them off.

8. Kurt Vonnegut- Breakfast Of Champions:

Bringing a book into this is a bad idea. Literature opens up a whole nother universe of Narrator possiblities and examples i can’t afford to get sidetracked on right now. But i must. I really must. The reason why is there are quite a few examples of the Narrator actually being the author and actually inserting themselves into the work itself in order to converse with the protagonist. Cerebus, Animal Man, The Dark Tower series, the list goes on. It’s a rarely used trope, but it’s out there and here’s the thing: Vonnegut did it first (i believe) and went so batshit with it, no one has come close to touching the jaw dropping existential awesomeness in which he did it. I can’t talk about playing with Narrators without bringing up Breakfast of Champions, i just can’t.

7. The Man From Another Place – Twin Peaks

This one isn’t actually a Narrator. At all. Hell, you can’t ever really understand him. And yet conceptually… conceptually he IS like a Master Of Ceremonies existing on another layer of reality, a sub-level to ours. He is the go between between that level and this one and the entities who exist on both. He’s… he offers the most heavy conceptual ideas of how to play with MCs and the most creative and wild speculations. He is a huge influence in ways that cannot be put into words.

6. The Big Lebowski:

What is not to love about the Narrator? Every line he delivers is gold to be quoted and requoted. He belongs in an over the top John Wayne movie but is instead describing The Dude and helps to strangely sell the idea that this lazy, washed up hippy reject does in fact, against all first rational impressions really have his thumb on a higher spiritual way of Being. Also, i reiterate, every time he shows up on screen i want to memorize every word he says and say it about people i know while walking along beside them.

5. Winnie The Pooh:

Oh you don’t think Winnie The Pooh is worth a serious discussion? You too grown up for The Pooh? I pity you and the fruits of your loin. For many of us, this was the very first exposure to breaking the 4th wall. 5 years old, watching a cartoon special on TV (especially back in the day when a cartoon on a. not on saturday and b. on prime time! was an enormously big deal. You’d wait for WEEKS for this shit.) And boom, breaking the 4th wall, going meta on your 5 year old mind. It was awesome. i never looked back and from then on, i was prepared at any moment to break the 4th wall of reality. (This is actually true. In elementary school i used to suddenly turn and address the audience of godlike beings who was watching us from the outside reality much like we watched TV people living their lives. I would make asides to them all the time.)

4. The Central Scrutinizer from Joe’s Garage:

What can i say? I know every word to this triple album. I have for years. Back in the youngin’ days you’d snigger over the songs on album 1 and all the sex jokes (of which there are a lot), but as you grow older, the insane musical shit that happens later and the sheer unapologetic darkness of Zappa’s uncompromising message stay with you and never gets old. The Cental Scrutinizer is  classic play on the Narrator trope. He sometimes dips into the actual story, he ACTS all knowing, he THINKS he’s all knowing, but clearly he is unreliable and to be ultimately fought against and disdained. Although at the end even he fades away and unmasks himself as Zappa after the message has been delivered. (Watermelon In Easter Hay. Holy shit.)

3. The Stage Manager from Our Town:

This SHOULD be number one. It really should and i apologize for that. The others had a  more personal impact on me so they’re getting the higher rating, but if this list were objective, this would be number one. You cannot hold a discussion, a real discussion, about playing with a Narrator and various Narrator tropes without using discussing the Stage Manager. I’ll even go so far as to say  the Stage Manager is the archetype to which all else is compared. I… i can’t even begin to discuss The Stage Manager because you can’t start talking about how the playwrite (Thornton Wilder) plays with the Narrator and stop in less than a half hour. The Stage Manager is EVERYthing… guide to the audience, dipping into the action, key to our understanding of the world we’re witnessing, an omnipotent catalyst (for Emily’s Day)… the town itself evolves a consciousness and that consciousness has a certain amount of godlike attributes and THAT is the Narrator.

2. Pippin:

Everything i did with Lloyd the Narrator in the Dieselpunk Opera ultimately traces back to seeing Pippin when i was 15 years old. I loved the songs, i liked the whole artist finding himself thing,. but HOLY SHITBALLS the ending BLEW MY LITTLE 15 YEAR OLD MIND. Seriously, it was the end of Pippin that did this thing to me that changed everything and set me upon a certain course and set of ideas that not only guided a whole shitload of my artistic explorations but culminated years and years later in The Dieselpunk Opera.

1. Cabaret:

This Narrator is not 4th wall breaking, not meta or mystical or omnipresent or any of the fancy things all these others are. He is just simply a Master of Ceremonies. But no other single Narrator inspired me to the degree the MC from Cabaret did. He’s dark. He’s decadent. He IS in control of the show and he is strangely… otherworldly. But not in the usual fantastical ways i often enjoy. It’s just a great character built so well by the original Joel Grey. He’s a blueprint for an archetype which i imagine has also inspired reams of other artists creating and playing with Narrators.

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Posted by on November 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Sweeney Todd In Concert

sweeney todd in concert

It’s no secret i bloody love Sondheim.

You’d think i would listen to musicals, being that i basically write them. But… look. I really was into them as a kid and a teen but as time went by i started to just be annoyed by them. Once i decided what i really wanted to do with music was to tell stories, it was too late. Sure i still love the ones i loved as a youth, and i was surprised one day when i caught The Last Whorehouse In Texas on TV and just enjoyed the crap out of it, but i still find it really hard to tolerate them as soundtracks. I prefer stuff like Dr. Horrible (luuuuuuuv).

But Sondheim… oh no. Sondheim has never diminished. Only grown, actually. I’ve gotten more and more into him as time has gone by. The music is… AWEsome. The stories and his storytelling continue to amaze me.

Such as tonight’s star, Sweeney Todd.

Despite the horribly low volume i never the less post Sweeney Todd in Concert. Damn i wish i saw that last revival in London when i was there back in May when it was still up, but alas, i was broker than broke and it was out of the question.

Fortunately i have the internet. Oh how i love you, sweet internet. With you, all things are possible. Not that revival, that damn thing’s forever gone, but this is from the 2001 Broadway run and is wondrously fine.

So without further ado:

 

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The 5 Greatest Movie Musical Soundtracks

Of course not. I’m totally messing with you.

Quite a few musicals have made it to the big screen and with them come a specially recorded album just for the movie version. In some cases those albums surpass the original or at least create fierce debates amongst devotees.

This is my personal list of my top 6 movie musical soundtracks. I LOVE these, many times over the original and they are all awesome.

5. Rocky Horror Picture Show

Come on. This soundtrack RULES. While the original LA soundtrack, hard to find but well worth it stand up perfectly well against the movie version, it’s the movie version we all know. This is a classic.

4. Little Shop of Horrors

I find as the years go by that every time i pick this up to listen to is till enjoy the living bejeezus out of it. The songs are awesomely fun to sing in the shower. Suddenly Seymour… you can just stand outside on a hill with your arms outstretched belting this out like there’s no tomorrow. At least i do. But i have no shame. The rest of you i hope have at least a little shame.

3. Moulin Rouge

“But Paul, this was never a stage show. The whole thing is just hyperdramatic renditions of tons of pop classics with an utter emotional masturbatory excess.” My reply is: YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH. YOU SHUT IT RIGHT NOW. THIS IS WHAT AWESOMENESS SOUNDS LIKE. HOLY MOTHER OF MAHOGANY DO I LOVE THIS SOUNDTRACK. IF I HAD THE CHOICE BETWEEN SAVING THIS SAVING THIS SOUNDTRACK OR SAVING ENTIRE REGIONS OF THE GALAXY I WOULD CHOOSE THIS SOUNDTRACK.

But that’s just me.

2. Grease

Why do i rank this over Moulin Rouge? Well, for one thing it’s stood the test of time. Made in the 70s, still sounds killer today. Two: Its influence. The influence of the Grease soundtrack cannot be understated. I might personally rather listen to Moulin Rouge, but here’s the thing: play Summer Nights or One That You Want and EVERYBODY around you will get down to it. No matter what music they like or don’t like. Everyone knows it. Everyone loves it. Try playing the soundtrack and NOT sing along with it. You can’t. No one can. Three: Summer Nights is one of the 3 best songs about love ever written.

1. Hair

Hair is what started this whole post. A friend and i took opposite sides of the debate which was better, the cast album or the movie soundtrack. THE MOVIE SOUNDTRACK. Dude… i LOOOOOVE this soundtrack. It’s not just fun. it’s not just singable. These songs in the soundtrack recording groove like MOTHER*******. Seriously, the band KILLS this stuff. Wipes the walls with it. Then add the fact that the songs are all truly great, and THEN add vocal performances that are just…. transcendental. Doesn’t hurt that the movie is ******** AWESOME. This is the greatest movie musical soundtrack ever made. The songs.. the grooves, the vocals….. i literally want to have sex with this soundtrack.

P.S. When you write to tell me the soundtracks i left off please do not mention: Hairspray (sucked), Phantom (can bite me) or High School Musical. You COULD mention Once. That’s an awesome soundtrack. West Side Story, Singing In The Rain, hell, i’ll even accept Annie as an acceptable argument. They’re not MY personal all time top favorites (although West Side is pretty damn stellar, if this list went to 6 i would probably have to put it on), but i could see how they could make someone else’s list.

And yes, my one great hope for X-Mas is that i can add Les Mis to this list. Holy crap can i not wait for that movie.

 

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Notable Musicals, Pt. 2: Jesus Christ Superstar

When i heard the album Jesus Christ Superstar at 14 years old, i was just becoming really into both music and theology. I also really liked stories made out of music and would listen to mix tapes at night and draw narratives out of the unrelated songs playing. Thus, this album blew my little 14 year old mind through the roof.  (of course you should have seen what happened to my little adolescent brain when i discovered The Wall a year later, (hint:  this ) but we’ll stick to musical theater for the minute.)

This was the album that first taught me how to reuse musical themes for storytelling purposes and how to be a character, fit the drama of the story and yet wail your heart out like there’s no tomorrow.

Fans of this show will never, ever tire of arguing who played the best Christ and Judas. For decades they’ve been waiting for someone to settle this burning debate. Well wait no longer, for here i am to settle this once and for all.

Best Jesus: Ian Gellan. Yeay yeah, Neeley this and that… folks, Ian Gellan set the standard every other Jesus since has tried to imitate, live up to or beat. No one would be squeezing their testicles to hit those notes on Gethsemane if he didn’t establish that was how to sing the song in the first place.

BUT…. but. For best PERFORMANCE Jesus: Steve Balsamo. Yeah i said it. I present the evidence:

Now for best Judas. Hmm. I’m going to throw down my FAVorite Judas, although i accept there are other Judases with better voices. But NO ONE, NO…..ONE…. has owned the character like Jerome Pradon. He does an excellent job vocally, but he brings an elevated level of acting to both his vocal performance and his sheer personalization of the role. He’s my favorite.

The 2000 version of Superstar is a divided bag for me. I hate the shmuck who plays Pilate so much that i cannot even watch his songs  because i cannot refrain from wanting to pummel him to death for the most over acted, over the top performance i’ve ever seen. I could go on about other aspects i like and dislike but i will say this: it has the single best moment i’ve ever seen in any production of the show EVER.

Seriously. Regardless of other great moments worth mentioning (Rik Mayall’s Herod, another best performance in the role) the song Superstar contains my favorite moment from any performance of the show ever. Throughout the show Jesus and Judas keep reaching out to one another, but they keep missing each other. And in the rift that grows between them the seeds of of Jesus’ betrayal and subsequent death are sown. But in the song Superstar almost at the end of the show, Judas and Jesus finally have their moment together. Even now it’s hard to have, for Jesus is in pain and Judas is gloating and bitter and mocking him, but finally, near the end, Judas puts aside his mocking and he and Jesus at last, at long last, have the possibly of the moment of connection they have missed out on. And in this moment, Jesus reaches out to Judas, in compassion and forgiveness. But the beat is thumping, the girls are singing, the cameras are rolling, and media is crowding around eagerly and just before Jesus can can finally connect to forgive him, Judas simply cannot resist having his rock star moment, and he turns away the final time to sing and prance and be the rock star. It’s haunting.

Having now completely ruined it with over analysis, here’s the performance:

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Notable Musicals, Pt. 1: Into The Woods

You know, since this blog is about the making of a Steampunk Opera (1 song short of finishing the 2nd Act. There will be 4 Acts, and i am also taking a break to muse over what i’ve done and carefully plan out the 3rd Act) i feel i should be talking a bit about theater in between the steampunky fun and cool bands.

I’ll be covering different aspects of theater, but for now let’s tackle musical theater, shall we?

I grew up with it, listened to quite a bit of it, but over time less and less and then one day realized i had a really hard time with it (and i’ve worked on lots of shows). Now i’m a little more friendly towards it, but musically have so many issues with the genre i wouldn’t even know where to begin.  On the other hand, seeing a show live is a much better experience than simply listening to the soundtrack.

I say all this because The Steampunk Opera is not an opera in that it has opera voices. There are no opera voices. And no orchestral score. It’s more an opera in a Jesus Christ Superstar way. It’s clangy and has beats and some victorian ideas and some Dark Cabaret ideas and is contemporary music friendly… listen to the Overture, it’s like that.

So i can’t escape the fact that musical theater plays a significant role in defining for me how to tell a story using music and voices. And that The Steampunk Opera will appeal to, amongst others, people who like musical theater (although there won’t really be “musical theater voices”  in it either).

So here are a couple of my favorite musicals, which i will defend any day, any time. We’ll take on one a day.

Into The Woods

It’s hard to pick just one Sondheim, but i’m going with this one. Sondheim is a giant in the musical theater world, and that’s because he’s the most brilliant composer who’s worked consistently in the business in 2 generations. I could easily list A Little Night Music or Sweeney Todd, but the fact is, i just plain love Into The Woods.

The show is several well known fairy tales woven together and the deeper and sometimes darker  meanings of them cleverly and subtlely exposed.

One of my favorite musical motifs revolves around Cinderella and her trips to the Ball.  Here is a montage of her discussing her 3 evenings at the Ball.

And here is Jack. You know, THAT Jack. The song subtely pokes the deeper meanings of the fairy tale: boy…. just around adolesence… his “magic seeds” start rumbling…. his “beanstalk” grows which allows him to see a whole new world that as a child he never saw before… adults/giants… befriends a big lady giant whose husband is never home…. husband comes home one day to find a boy with his wife… chases him but his beanstalk withers and can’t stand up….

I’m not saying all of this is contained in the song. But this is the hidden meaning I personally find in the fairy tale and i find that song wink winks and nudges that it understands that too.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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