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On the Culture Front: Tribeca Film Fest Afterthought, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Newsies and More

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It's been a busy month on the culture front, and I've neglected this blog. Since I last wrote here, a lot has gone down in the music, theater and film worlds. The beginning of the month saw the Magnetic Fields play a graceful, almost stately show at the Beacon Theater, complete with draped clothes and vases of flowers that sat atop them. Stephin Merritt stood stoically on one side behind a retro keyboard contraption and sang in a bassy croon for most of the show, which included several tracks from the band's much loved 69 Love Songs and their new album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea. It's quite possibly their strongest record in years, filled with tuneful melodies that both quicken the pulse and confound the heart. This is exemplified on the gender-bending song, Andrew in Drag, in which Merritt sings, "A pity she does not exist / A shame she's not a fag / The only girl I ever loved was Andrew in drag." Like that character, Merritt's best songs exist in the ethereal realm of heightened emotions.

Downtown, the cult hit show, Silence! The Musical, specializes in the over-the-top dance sequences, gestures and songs like "If I Could Smell Her Cunt," a lament Hannibal Lecter sings about Clarice. It's easily the best song of Jon and Al Kaplan's score. It should be said that the audience was hooting throughout, but I was pretty disappointed. Book writer Hunter Bell co-created the excellent Title of Show, but his writing here seems clumsy and too heavily relies making fun of the way Jodie Foster speaks. I had high hopes for Silence but was left with static instead.

Uptown, I was pleasantly surprised by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman and Harvey Feinstein's delightful adaptation of Newsies, a cult film from my generation. Make no mistake, this is definitely mainstream fare, but it's smart and tuneful. Menken's knack for writing melodies that burrow themselves deep in our heads coupled with Feinstein's snappy dialogue that slyly weaves in important political history makes for a satisfying evening. Christopher Gattelli's choreography is a little too showy for my taste, but you can't deny the energy of the talented young cast, and after all, it's Broadway.

Another young cast is rekindling the magic of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream under the playful and imaginative direction of Tony Speciale at Classic Stage Company. Christina Ricci and Halley Wegryn Gross exude nubile passion as Hermia and Helena, two young girls caught in a messy love entanglement with Lysander (Jordan Dean) and Demetrius (Nick Gehlfuss) that's further complicated by the meddling of Helena's father. The play begins on Mark Wendland's deceptively bare set covered in a dark, rubber-like material that's reflected in a giant mirror upstage. As the action moves into the forest, and we're introduced to Puck (Taylor Mac), color begins to saturate the stage. It's a joy to look at, but even more impressive, it's actually funny. Too often the humor is lost in new productions of the Bard's comedies, so it's refreshing to see one that elicits huge belly laughs often. Speciale sets the tone with an almost cartoonish comic lightness, but measures it against some unexpectedly solemn moments to keep us guessing.

On the big screen, the Tribeca Film Festival just wrapped up. I was most excited to see Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York, the sequel to her hysterical culture clashing comedy 2 Days in Paris. There's a lot of laughs and mayhem when Delpy's eccentric French family come stateside, and Chris Rock delivers a solid performance as her boyfriend, Mingus. But like many sequels, the joy had was a little shallower and more fleeting. Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister on the other hand, draws a rich and darkly comic portrait of a family of sorts at a cross section of loss. Jack's (Mark Duplass) reeling from the loss of his brother while coming to terms with his feeling for his brother's widow, Iris (Emily Blunt), who's also Jack's best friend. They escape to a remote cabin owned by Iris' father where her half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is holed up after breaking up with her longtime girlfriend. Shelton keeps it from feeling melodramatic or contrived by crafting an environment we can easily enter with her characters and just hang out for a while. Complicated motives play out in delightfully offbeat ways, making the film hard to forget. It was one of the first films I saw and the one I most remember.