Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wolverine Sings!

Hugh Jackman in SF.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Hugh Jackman in Performance, May 3-15 at the Curran Theatre, San Francisco.

This was a fun show! Jackman charmed and joked with his adorning audience from beginning to end, gleefully poking fun at the dichotomy of his action hero Hollywood persona and his life-long love of musical theatre. Throughout this entertaining song & dance show, stories and references to Wolverine kept coming up, most humorously a video bit that juxtaposed Wolverine and Peter Allen, and a continuing joke with his “personal trainer” insisting that the studio needed Jackman to bulk up.

While Jackman is a talented performer, the heart of this show seems to found in his interaction with the audience and his personal stories. He laughed and joked and wandered through the first three rows of the audience, cheering on audience members who brought glow sticks, flowers and feather boas. He answered people that called out to him, and remembered people’s names if he had heard them. It was one of the most intimately engaging nights I’ve spent in the theatre for a long time.  There was an excellent band, 2 female back-up singers, the “trainer,” and a couple of Australian performers. He even brought the Curran’s stage manager out on stage for a bow.

The show itself mostly worked, the few rough spots were quickly forgotten in the energetic pace of the evening.  Jackman has a quick wit and a strong voice; he’s the perfect musical theatre leading man.  The show opened, as Oklahoma does, with Jackman off-stage singing Oh What a Beautiful Morning (“There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow…”) and it was easy to visualize him starring in Trevor Nunn’s production of the show. He followed this with some high energy show tunes, and a very funny version of Fever that got a great audience response. There was a movie songs medley that mostly worked, Staying Alive was hysterical and I’ve Had the Time of My Life was great. Then it sort of took a bad turn, as my husband commented, it’s really hard for a man to successfully perform Lady Marmalade. Things picked right back up with a series of Peter Allen numbers and a very funny story about his early role as Salesman #8 in The Music Man (he sang all the parts in the rapid fire opening number of the show himself). Luck be a Lady Tonight was a natural fit. I hope someday to hear him try some Sondheim.

My favorite parts were two ballads Billy Bigelow’s Soliloquy from Carousel (nailed it!) and Peter Allen’s Tenterfield Saddler and a hearfelt tribute to the Australian outback and the aboriginal people that included him singing Israel "IZ" Ka'ano'iKamakawiwo'ole's version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and hope to catch him again on Broadway in the future.

Pulp Fashion at the Legion

Eleanor of Toledo, 2006 by Isabelle de Borchgrave
I love the Legion of Honor. I’ve been going there for so long that many of the masterworks in their collection seem like old friends.  The current special exhibition Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave (February 5, 2011 - June 12, 2011) was amazing. I was mesmerized by her highly detailed, life size costumes created out of paper.  The high-light of it, for me at least, was a gallery featuring costumes based on fashions worn by the Medici family.  It was as if all those endless slides I viewed in art history classes came to life.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

PCA/ACA San Antonio

San Antonio River Walk
The Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's national conference, in conjunction with the Southwest Texas regional chapter, was held in San Antonio a couple of weeks ago. Hundreds of scholars converged on the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter for this always amazing convention, with presentations on everything from Tarot Cards and Medieval Literature to Buffy and Twilight (and every imaginable topic in between, the program looks like a phone book!). Comics scholars come out in force at this convention, and between the national conference, and the the fact that the SWTX-PCA has an active comics contingent on their own, there were around a hundred papers on comics and related subjects presented.

panel from Captain
America #125,
May 1970
I was honored to chair a session with a group of excellent presentations. Kerry Soper's Doonesbury Goes to War discussed Trudeau's treatment of BD's war injury, and the way that war and wounded servicepeople are depicted in comics. Brannon Costello's presentation Fascism and Mass Culture in Howard Chaykin's 'Blackhawk' focused on Chaykin's use of motifs and layouts from propaganda posters and advertising. Laura Perna talked about the eerrie nature of Charles Burns' comics in her presentation There Was Something Screwy Going On: Viewing Charles Burns' Comics through the Lens of the Uncanny.  My own paper, Censorship and Super Bodies: the Creative Odyssey of Margaret Harrison, concerned my on-going research on the British artist Margaret Harrison and her life long relationship with the Marvel Comics character Captain America, as a foundation for inquiries about world politics and gender (previous posts).

Aside from hearing many interesting presentations, I enjoyed having some "face time" with my fellow comics scholars, many of whom were previously just names on the Comics Scholars listserve. I enjoyed Randy Duncan's progress report on his research into the Superman: Grounded storyline, Yuri Shakouchi's presention on Beat Culture and Beatniks in MAD Magazine, and Russell Johnson's analysis of fan culture's response to Grant Morrison's Hypercrisis. There was a tea sponsored by the SWTX-PCA that celebrated Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, authors of the Comics Studies Reader and recipients of the Peter C. Rollins Award.  The special session of the Institute for Korvac Studies was a fun and mystical experience. The PCA national conference always has a good exhibit hall, and as usual I have additions to my already groaning bookshelves. They also have an excellent tradition called "the paper table" where everyone brings 10 copies of their paper, and the papers are sold for a dollar to sponsor student travel to the conference. I always end up with lots of papers, because it's a great way to dip into other areas, and to get more detail on papers of interest (presentations are only 15 minutes).

I had mixed feelings about San Antonio itself, although I probably didn't have enough time there to do justice to such a large city.  The hotel was right next to the Alamo (it's the 175th anniversary) and the River Walk area. I admit, coming from California with our wealth of great Mexican restaurants, I wasn't very impressed with that part, but there's a big variety to be had, and I enjoyed my meals at the Zuni restaurant and the comics section dinner at Luciano's. I did feel a little sorry for people I'd talk with at the hotel that were looking for Vegetarian or Vegan meals, as it seems that San Antonio, at least in a touristy area like the River Walk, isn't real accommodating that way. I did really enjoy the conference though and the staff at the Marriott was unfailingly nice and helpful.  Next year, Boston!