Saturday, April 28, 2012

"A Thousand And One Nights"

When the NBC show "Smash" premiered, it was not my intention to watch it.  "Glee" had already disappointed me, and I had a general boycott against NBC anyway.  You may laugh, but in 2003 NBC cancelled a series I really enjoyed called "Boomtown."


I thought it was inventive, well-written, and original (which is probably why NBC cancelled it).  But they did cancel it while keeping on moronic fare such as "Fear Factor."  I was annoyed.  At the time, I was watching "Friends," "ER," "The West Wing," and "Law and Order," and I decided to finish those shows out, so I guess it wasn't a very good boycott.  But I did vow not to watch any new shows on NBC.

"Friends" ended a year later and "The West Wing" two years after that, and "ER" got stupid towards the end, so pretty soon I was down to just "Law and Order," and that held on for a while, ending in 2009 (and I admit to watching "The Office" on Netflix, so yeah, my boycott sucks.  Sue me!)  Aside from "The Office," I was diligent about not watching any new series on NBC between 2003 and 2010.

When the TV series, "The Event" came on in 2010, it looked intriguing to me, but NBC again canceled a show I really like.


They also brought "Fear Factor" back, and that whole Jay Leno / Conan O'Brien debacle really made me feel that NBC is run by a bunch of idiots, and I put my very ineffective boycott against new series back in place.

I actually was surprised NBC even gave a show like "Smash" the green light and have been even more surprised that it was renewed for a second season.  Jonah actually was the one who started watching "Smash," and I barely paid much attention to it while he watched it.  However, there was something intriguing about it that made me take interest, and I watched the episode again on Netflix a few days later and gave it my full focus.  The irony is that I'm the one watching it regularly while Jonah only watches it in passing.

I actually quite like it, which is another reason I'm very surprised NBC hasn't cancelled it.  It's actually turning out to be what I had hoped "Glee" would be, but never was (for me, at least).  Reviews on the show have been mixed, and I get the impression critics feel like the show is getting progressively less and less good.  I think I heard the head writer has been let go, so perhaps producers are feeling the same.  But I have been enjoying it quite a bit.  I think it's well-written and well-acted; I find the characters to be pretty three-dimensional and the storylines interesting; and for the most part, the songs seem to sprout naturally out of the action, although one or two have felt forced.

I also quite like the original songs that have been created for the show.  The composer is Marc Shaiman, and his partner (both in life and professionally), Scott Wittman, is the lyricist, and I have been a fan of their work.  Shaiman and Wittman are probably best known for their work on the musical Hairspray, for which they won a well-deserved Tony for Best Score.  This is "You Can't Stop the Beat" (with Matthew Morrison as Link (in white) for all you "Glee" fans.

I actually remember Shaiman as the pianist and arranger of the songs for the Sweeney Sisters (played by Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks) on "Saturday Night Live" in the 80s,

but Shaiman has also composed and arranged music for many movies, including When Harry Met Sally, Sister Act, Beaches, Misery, A Few Good Men, and Southpark: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, among others.  I especially enjoyed this unique arrangement of the popular 60s song "I Will Follow Him" in Sister Act:

This number, "Here's to Love" (by both Shaiman and Wittman) from the movie Down with Love, performed by Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger, is a really fun tribute to 60s variety show numbers.  Shaiman and Wittman both have cameos in this video (Shaiman as the pianist and Wittman as the bartender):

And during the whole Prop 8 hoopla, Shaiman conceived and composed Prop 8: The Musical, which went viral at the time and starred such celebrities as John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Andy Richter, Allison Janney, Jack Black, and Neil Patrick Harris, among others:

I think Shaiman and Wittman are very good at pastiche (numbers that imitate or pay homage to familiar styles of music).  This number, "A Thousand and One Nights" was on last Monday's episode, and I think I've watched it about ten times now.  I don't know what it is that has me so riveted and entertained, but I find it very infectious:

The number is a dream sequence, which isn't really "Smash"'s norm.  I think the number is quite fun as a stand alone number, but if you know the characters in the show, the number is more meaningful.  For example, one of my favorite parts is at the 1:38-1:39 mark when the character Ellis steals a necklace.  If you don't know the character, the moment doesn't mean much, but knowing the character, that moment is really good at pinpointing who Ellis is.  Likewise, the moments at 2:15 and 2:20 are good at summing up those characters' situations in a nutshell.

The male lead singer in the number is Raza Jaffrey, who plays Dev on the show, and maybe that's another reason I found this number refreshing.  "Smash" is basically about a bunch of theatre people trying to mount a show about Marilyn Monroe on Broadway, and the character of Dev is the boyfriend of one of the actresses in the Marilyn show and is not involved in the theatre except through her, so we never see him sing or dance (until this dream sequence, that is).

Evidently, Raza Jaffrey is quite a dancer, so it was nice to see him putting that talent to use.  Likewise, another of my favorite moments in the video comes at the 2:41-2:42 mark when we see Joshua Bergasse (Josh), Brian D'Arcy James (Frank), and Debra Messing (Julia) singing and dancing.  Like Dev, Josh and Frank are only involved in the theatre through Julia, who is the show's lyricist and book writer, so we never get to see them perform (or Julia, really, for that matter), and so it's fun to see them singing and dancing.  Joshua Bergasse actually looks like he is having a lot of fun in that moment, and that's nice to see.  It's also fun to see Angelica Huston getting her groove on at the 2:59 mark, too.

As I said, the number is a dream sequence dealing somewhat with the relationship issues of Dev and his girlfriend, Karen (played by Katharine McPhee; I never saw her when she was on "American Idol," but I have been quite impressed by her singing, dancing, and acting).

I assume because Dev comes from an Indian background and because the two are dining in an Indian restaurant when Karen has this "daydream," that is why they chose a kind of Bollywood influence.

I actually read a somewhat irate blogger's comments on this number when I was looking for a copy of the video.  Apparently the blogger was complaining because they felt the creator of the number was very ignorant about Bollywood picturization and felt it was a lazy interpretation of the Bollywood style.  They also felt it was campy and used Arabic imagery that was inappropriate to the Bollywood style.  The blogger obviously knows much more about Bollywood than I do, and her points may be perfectly valid.  Not knowing anything, really, about Bollywood and not having anything invested in that style, I can't really comment on that.

I can only comment on the fact that I enjoyed the song itself, the choreography, and I liked how the characters' stories were incorporated into.  There is a style in Indian-inspired dance that I quite enjoy.  I remember when I saw the ending credits of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, I really enjoyed that style of dancing, and I see that same style here.

I just liked the number because it was fun and catchy, and I love watching good dancing and singing, and I felt those were in evidence here.  I love when the song kind of climaxes at 2:33, and I like what I call the "sprinkler move" at 2:48.

Anyway, I've watched the video numerous times, and I love it.  It's been my favorite number in the "Smash" season so far, although "Let Me Be Your Star" (no video available, but here's the song) is a close second:

I plan on buying the "Smash" album off of iTunes once it's fully available.  I like the songs enough, and I'd rather pay a lower price for the whole album once the season ends rather that $1.29 a tune.  Anyway, I thought I'd share "A Thousand and One Nights" with you if you haven't seen it.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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