Monday, July 29, 2013

Six Songs Is All You Need, Part 1

Taking a brief hiatus from Fine, Fine Line, this segment of Musical Mondays is called:

Six Songs Is All You Need
Each new segment, I take a rather hefty musical theatre cast recording and narrow it down to the six most essential songs that you need to listen to get an idea of the show. I try to pick songs based on musical construction, aesthetics (meaning I lean more towards songs that can stand apart from the narrative of the show), or eschewing that somewhat, I go towards particularly poignant character development or lyrical content, meaning you may get more out of the song if you see it in the show first, but out of context, it's still pretty good. Basically, whatever can showcase the musical in its best light possible, while not necessarily enticing you to listen to the entire recording if you don't want to. 

Today's musical is:

Children of Eden
Last week, I covered "Defying Gravity" from Wicked as part of Fine, Fine Line and I wanted to touch on another Stephen Schwartz musical while I'm at it.
The Old Testament pop synth musical came around in that weird time just before 2001, and was one of the musicals that showed promise but never really managed a Broadway production. For all intents and purposes, it's an interesting take on the two stories, that of Adam & Eve and Noah and the Flood, and much more substantial than something like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but it's occasionally difficult to relate to the characters and the show often feels overly long.
The cast recording weighs in at 2 discs, with 37 total tracks. 

I'll try and trim the fat a bit. Here are the 
Six Songs You Need from Children of Eden

1.) Track #7: "Spark of Creation"
This could be the most obvious evidence for CoE's flaws. The first song of want in the show is seven tracks in, after a lengthy opening number and a couple not so great incidental numbers. 
This song is about character development, and is about desire. On the original recording it's Stephanie Mills, who brings this interesting vocal quality to Eve, who was born with the "desire to create" within her. 
It's a fascinating concept: the rebellious spirit that eventually leads us to the Fall is somewhat of a godlike quality that makes us relate to the Father even more so than we might have imagined. 
With the exception of a few lyrical weaknesses, the number is fantastic. I always enjoy a driving, upbeat number full of urgency and at the same time introspective insight.
This is my favorite, Natalie Weiss, performing the song in concert.

2.) Track #15: "Lost in the Wilderness"
Speaking of songs of want with a driving rhythm backbone, the song, sung by Cain, is probably the best number to come from the show. Besides the inimitable voice of Darius de Haas, the number is a logical extension of "Spark of Creation" as well as furthering the continued divide between the father and sons, a recurring theme throughout the show.
I think it's the most earnest of Schwartz's numbers in the show. I prefer Cain's character to Adam's throughout. It seems to be a more well-rounded character, and Abel provides a more interesting foil.
I'll let the man himself do the song he does best. It's even better on the cast recording with the arrangement. This is Darius de Haas at a benefit concert performance of CoE:

3.) Track #17: "A Ring of Stones"
An odd choice to some, but as a storytelling piece, I think it's the strongest, much better than "Piece of Eight", or "In Pursuit of Excellence." I also think it's really great for a group number. This is the dissolution of the family. We watch Cain fight with Adam, Adam fight with Eve, and Abel torn in the middle of it all. It's intriguing.
I think it's hard for musicals to pull off a number that involves more than one character that furthers story but functions as a stand-alone piece. You can gather a basic idea of what's happening here, and it's both heartbreaking and compelling.
My favorite line: "And look what we got, look where it brought us...Look at the lesson our bravery taught us..."

4.) Track #20: "Children of Eden"
The finale song of the first act, as well as the first disc, is awesome, and should've been the ending to the entire show. As it is, it's a great arc for Eve, who is accepted back by the Father following her death at the end of the first act. It's redemption, it's reconciliation, and it's growing up. With age comes perspective. The number's one of the slower ones in the show, but it functions like "In the Beginning" (the actual finale), and "Let There Be", the opening number. And I think this number is a better representation of this type of song in the show.

5.) Track #7, Disc #2: "In Whatever Time We Have"
CoE sports two love duets, and between this and "A World Without You", it's an easy choice.This one I think is better written, it's coming from a place honest to the characters, and it's bittersweetness is felt more than the Adam and Eve song. I think "World" has one good line in it, but this is just a better song overall. I've heard countless pairs sing it. This is one of my favorites: Shoshana Bean and Matthew Morrison.

6.) Track #15, Disc #2: "Ain't It Good?"
If "Children of Eden" couldn't be the end of the show, then "Ain't It Good" just has to close it. It fits better with the second act's jazzier feel, starting with "Generations" and going all the way through. "Ain't It Good" is just a fantastic vehicle for Stephanie Mills' voice on the original recording, and it's just a great, spirited number. After centuries of wandering, a century away from the father, and months on water, with the prospect of never seeing dry land again, the family steps off the Ark and for the first time, they embrace their humanity and are grateful for what they have. Throughout the show, the characters strive for guidance and a return to the Garden, a way home, while longing for more, for exploration and free roaming. This is the song where they actually embrace their new roles as independent people in the world. As Mother Noah says to her husband, "You must be the Father now," and this is the number where they become the new family.

Missed the Mark:
Some people will be sad to see "Stranger to the Rain" off the list.
And that's honestly a personal call for me: I've never enjoyed the number, in or out of context. And I don't think it represents the show better than "Spark" or "Wilderness." It's just not a particularly remarkable song, and it's hard to connect to the character of Yonah to warrant that solo. Your mileage may vary, but it's just not a standout number for me.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Re-Blogged! Three: Resurrection

This article I wanted to ReBlog is pretty close to my heart. It was making the rounds a few months ago on my friends' Facebook pages. It's important stuff to remember, because theatre extends to all of us in a performing capacity.

Things I Wish I Had Been Told In Theatre School

#5 is important. Very important.
In college, I learned never piss off the stage manager. That's the first person you don't want to piss off. The next people are the crew. Because you don't want to piss off the people who are in charge of either: having your props ready, having your quick-change ready, keeping you lit, keeping you mic'd, and doing your make-up and wig well.
After working for Front of House these past few months, I'll also say this to the theatre youth, because I've been "meeting" quite a lot of them lately: the way you treat front of house staff members may not affect how well or badly you do as a performer, but it is much more reflective of how terrible of a person you will be in real life. Much like a waiter, or retail person, or some other low-level position that gets little respect but has to deal constantly with the worst society has to offer, I'll just say this: you'll get a lot further with us if you start off with, "I'm sorry, could you help me," or "Excuse me?" as opposed to, "Hey. You. Over there."

And #25 is the most important to understand of all.

But I also love #30.
I hate it, I hate it when people are intoxicated in any way, when they're about to go onstage. It's stupid, it's childish, and yeah, you're worse. Do what you want for your solo act, but everyone's expected to be at their best when they go and do a show with other people. I agree, it has nothing to do with professionalism. I think it has everything to do with respect. Do you respect the people you work with enough, and do you respect what you do enough?

Monday, July 22, 2013

There's a Fine Fine Line, Part 3

Hello, and welcome back to Musical Mondays, a late-night edition (for me, anyway) if ever there was one.
You can read the last couple week's here: Part 2 and Part 1

Today's number comes from arguably the most iconic number of what has now become the defining musical of the modern era, for multiple reasons: the strong female characters, the familiarity and success of its adaptation, the more pop and rock-inspired anthems, movie studio investment influencing productions, and its widespread popularity resulting in multiple regional repertory companies (Chicago, L.A., London, Tokyo) plus touring shows, plus the long-running Broadway show at the Gershwin.
That's right, folks. It's time to take a small glance at the Act 1 finale of Wicked. The song is "Defying Gravity."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a song young women are singing, or striving to sing. It's got to be the new most overused song since "On My Own" from Les Miserables (just like the Yellow Brick Road leads every corner of Oz to the Emerald City, everything can and will lead back to Les Miz).

Honestly though, I think Wicked is one of those rare shows a lot of people really love, most everyone finds something to enjoy about it, and very few people detest it. If we were to think of it in terms of Dorothy's three companions, I think the one it really lacks is any courage. It's got a lot of heart, it's an intelligently adapted musical (those of you who read the book can attest that the book and the musical are pretty distinct), but there isn't anything too groundbreaking here. Though I would say it's an interesting twist on the rags to riches story, and a cool idea to adapt an adaptation, rather than the original iteration (something Peter and the Starcatcher is now doing).

"Defying Gravity" is a beautiful act 1 closer. It brings our main character, Elphaba, who will soon assume her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, to the realization of what she wants and who she is. It's a song about understanding what odds are against you, and by knowing those odds, you know how to overcome them. There's a particularly wonderful line, "Some things I cannot change..." and a particular Elphaba I saw perform, who was black, (I have since, unfortunately, forgotten her name) stopped and looked at her skin. Suddenly, the song, that one moment, carried so much more weight. It was amazing.

Let me start by saying this: Lea Salonga is better than you.
It's not up for debate, she just is.
I love Lea, ever since I first heard the Les Miz (there it is again!) 10th anniversary concert.
Her vocal purity is pretty unmatched, and the sincerity and earnestness shines through not only in her voice but in her amazing acting.
I recently saw her in Allegiance, in San Diego, which is an amazing production in itself. She was the standout performance for me.
All that being said, sometimes, we all have a bad performance.
This is Lea's.

From the get-go, Lea makes light of the fact that she's nervous, but it shows through. Her breathing never gets to where it should be, and she chases a lot of the song.
Actually, the first line is really great, up until "game." I just don't like how wide the vowel is for it.
- :56 - The flip to falsetto for "sleep" is so labored, and normally she lines those up really well.
- 1:16 - Now, this is a tough line, admittedly, because it skirts the break just about every word, and she has a tough time negotiating it.
- 1:30 - The strain of her voice on "accepting limits" makes me nervous.
- 1:40 - As I said, she's not breathing right, and it affects the dynamics of this line.
- 1:48 - Personally, I don't like when actors speak-sing, "Well, if that's love," it doesn't sound like a choice, it sounds like you ran out of air.
- 1:54 - "Sooner", "buy", and "defy" are again very labored head voice notes. The flip into the "good" of "good-bye" almost gets away from her.
- 2:11 - Now, she actually sounds really at home with the "Unlimited" interlude, which they'll sometimes use for solo arrangements. Her voice is relaxed, she's breathing, and there's power and dynamic to her voice again.
- 2:55 - The "take-off" verse is where it gets a little scary. Her "find me" and "Western sky" don't have a chest quality to them so they lose power.
- 3:10 - Again, I don't like the choice of yelling or speak-singing a word in a song. "Everyone deserves the chance to fly," gets a bit diffused by the choice.
- 3:24 - If you hear Eden Espinosa sing this song (though it is hard to match power and strength note-for-note in this song against Eden) you'll understand my problem with how Lea sings "Tell them how I..." it's all in head voice and there's no resolve to it.
- 3:30 - Again, "I'm flying high, defying..." another line that should have resolve, but doesn't.
- 4:02 - Finally, her first "Bring me down" is good, her second flounders a bit, and her last note is too far back.
Now again, I love Lea. But it's just not a worthy performance. I'm told she's pregnant in this though, so again, Lea Salonga is better than you.

I think Shoshana Bean in the Elphaba role is a polarizing choice. For some, she's the queen of overdoing it. She's too stylized, she's too pop, and she treats it like a concert. For me, I think those people are selling Shoshana short.
She is the riff queen, to be sure. I don't agree with every riff she chooses to do, but there's no denying that she does them better than any musical theatre performer and that's because she's not primarily one. She is R&B and blues and gospel. And it shows. It's also the recent trend of musical theatre to head more towards pop concert performance. Watch Lea Michele perform, watch Rent, even something as far back as Lion King, it's the trending style.
Shoshana's range is flawless. She knows how to color her voice, she knows how to add dynamic. I'm never worried about her, like I was with Lea, who was making me nervous. Shoshana is in complete control.
This video is only about a minute long. I tried to find this full performance specifically, and couldn't. So I'll go lyric-for-lyric, instead of by time signature:
So if you care to find me ----- She sometimes does a riff up on "me", that I love.
Look to the Western sky ----- There's the power I was talking about for this line. It's more of a declaration, maybe even a challenge.
As someone told me lately
Everyone deserves the chance to fly --- Love the riff on "deserves" and see what I mean about singing "fly"? It just sounds better.
And if I'm flying solo ---- I don't particularly like the "solo" riff, but Shoshana's phrasing also makes it sound like the word "solo", (Idina Menzel, Eden, Stephanie Block...sometimes, they tend to sound like they're saying "so low")
At least I'm flying free
To those who ground me
Take a message back from me ---- I love her conviction with "YOU take a message back..." love it. And listen to that flip on "from" into "me." It lines up so well, and Shoshana does that time and time again.
Tell them how I am defying gravity }
I'm flying high defying gravity         } The flips back and forth in these two lines are amazing.
And soon I'll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz --- Shoshana's dynamic on "all" is what I think Lea was going for with her pulled back notes, but Shoshana just has better control over the note.
No wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down  ----- Holy crap. Just no words.
Ahhhh! ----- See, she overdoes the riff with that glissando at the end, but regardless, it's still pretty cool.

To get a better idea of Shoshana in the role, this is a pretty good quality bootleg. I won't deconstruct it as I normally do, just suffice to say, she's is remarkable in this video. It's also pretty subdued for her; a lot of the more riff-crazy videos don't seem to exist on YouTube anymore, or are part of compilations now.

I think she's absolutely fantastic in this video.

And to redeem Lea Salonga a bit, here's this.
Watch her outsing Christina Aguilera to the end of time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

An All-Star SNL Cast, Using a Cast That Never Appeared on SNL

With the news that both long-time cast members Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are leaving the show, I got to thinking about what in the world the cast was going to do without them. Who was going to step up and take these two impossible-to-fill spots? Armisen's off-the-wall character work, Hader's mastery of impressions, they're not easy to replace. You're not losing a powerhouse like Ferrell, but you're losing something incredibly vital, like a Darrell Hammond or Mike Myers.

Instead, the article that popped into my head was, with a show like SNL, one that's been around so long and established so many careers, you're bound to get quite a few surprising names of people who never were cast members. Over the years, it's actually become quite an impressive list. I wanted to see if I could compile a really great group from over the years, but once I get a point of view in my head, it's hard to veer from that. Here's the pattern I noticed:
- My cast is mostly 90s and early 2000s. There's some exceptions, and I don't know that the cast could have existed altogether as a sort of "alternate universe alternative", but that's what I was mostly going for.
- The cast skews much more musical than most of the real casts. We've been lucky at all to get one really good singer in an entire ensemble for any given season. 
- I also enjoyed the "overfull" casts of my childhood, in terms of quantity and quality, so my choices, and the number of choices, reflect that.

Anyway, ready?

 First off, I wanted the cast to be anchored by two comic forces:
Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert fit the bill. There's never really been a comic pair to take the SNL screen. You had some pretty good pairings with Fallon and Sans, Ferrell and Hammond, and of course Sandler and Farley. But you kind of just threw these pairings together because they were the strongest. Now with Carell and Colbert, you have something unique. The two play off each other extremely well. Imagine them doing something like Even Stephven for Update. Then imagine them in sketches on top of that. Carell's quiet charm, Colbert's unstoppable shamelessness, and the combined ability to hold it together (as well as their ability to not look like they're reading off the cards). I'd like to think that The Office and The Colbert Report both happen because of their stints on SNL. 

It's hard to explain the necessity of a highly physical performer who can pull off self-aware obliviousness like Chevy Chase until you lack one, and SNL has never really been able to find one. That's where Matthew Perry would come in.
It'd be hard to imagine the turn of the century without Friends, but it could likely have run simultaneously (and henceforth not had such a lengthy run, past its prime). Perry could do it all: sarcasm, the look to the camera, the sly wit, plus the pratfall. All the Friends could do it, actually, but I just saw Perry fitting in with this cast the most. 
Imagine Perry filling up the Kevin Nealon spot on the show, with a touch of David Spade's stand-offishness, but he's got this unknowable charm that many SNL performers give off but you don't know why.
I could see many sketches revolving around Perry's nonplussed reactions to the "fools" of the cast.

To offset Perry's Spade-like deadpan, I imagined Jack Black filling the Chris Farley role. Just a ball of energy, a wild abandon, and somewhat unpredictable. Black is also a great character actor. He's also not a bad singer himself, adding to the musicality of the show (which we'll get into more below). Black may have started as a feature player for this cast but the energy and talent is quickly recognized. Imagine seeing a precursor to Nacho Libre or a Super Mario Bros. parody from a young Black.

And speaking of balls of energy... Jim Carrey auditioned for SNL, didn't make it, and wound up finding amazing success with the sketch show In Living Color. But imagine what could have been, right? Pure energy, Carrey's elastic face, rubber voice, and unrivaled physicality, he would've been something unheard of on the show, something best left to the more absurdist Monty Python, or Korman and Van Dyke on The Carol Burnett Show. There's no way Carrey would've been kept on the show too long. Like Eddie Murphy, his star would've been just too big to contain.

It surprises many people to hear that Steve Martin has never been a cast member of the show. He's simply been a host enough times to warrant his own "Best of" DVD. Well, I shouldn't say 'simply.' I should say that Martin created some very iconic memories and moments for the show, my favorite among them simply being him ballroom dancing with Gilda Radner.
Gravitas that could only be brought by a seasoned pro like Phil Hartman did for the show during the tenure of an unwieldy cast is what Martin would be doing for this cast. With energy and edge ruling the roost, Martin could bring it all down for a moment's pause with a wordless sightgag, or an off-kilter monologue from a slightly surreal character of his own.
Martin is Kaufman and Hartman combined. And I'd like to think he is a major help in the writers' room too.

A controversial choice for some, but many many people forget how truly funny Dane Cook is. The episode he hosted was actually one of the strongest of that season. Cook's style and delivery would've propelled him into a prominent spot as a Jason Sudeikis type figure on the show, often playing lackadaisical authority figures, sarcastic observers, or tongue-in-cheek straight men to the insanity around him. Given the right writers around him and the proper sketches, Cook would've been propelled into a similar stand-up career post-SNL, though I don't know how monumental it could've gotten compared to a filled-stadium stand-up special.

 Another controversial choice for some, but I have always loved Stephen Lynch. In the same vein as Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon, you need a guitar-playing fool, and Lynch more than fits the bill. I would also argue his musical comedy stylings are more interesting, and his voice is much easier to listen to than Sandler. Granted, he lacks Fallon's musical impressions, but Lynch need not worry about that in this cast.
I think it helps to have a real "big guy" on the show, and with Black taking up the Farley role, there isn't really a spot for a Sanz or a Moynihan, but Mike McShane would've been a different kind of energy. He could be big and loud sure, but during his time with the British Whose Line is it Anyway? he was a gentle giant. He could play sweet, soft-spoken cowboys, innocent school children, and maybe even the voice of a pair of acrobatic insects.
Rounding out the repertory men who weren't hired primarily as singers or impressionists, you have the underrated Paul Reubens. Reubens failed to click with producers and went on to create Pee-Wee Herman and his Playhouse, but imagine if that creation had been born of a "death spot" sketch, similar to Wayne's World. Reubens would have been a fantastic addition. And Pee-Wee's Playhouse rounding out the show every night would've been too fun. Imagine the whole Playhouse screaming the iconic opening line of the show, because it's the secret word. 
Add to that the fact that the Playhouse characters would have to be played by members of this cast... Jim Carrey as Jambi... Jack Black as Chairry...

The Ladies
SNL's female cast has always been incredibly important, and I'd argue the strongest group of females on TV, anywhere. It was also incredibly difficult to compile this part of the list because when you think about many of the funniest women on TV or in movies today, they were all from SNL: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig...

Three of the amazing ladies on the original MadTV are my first picks to head the female contingent on the show. The inaugural seasons would've given SNL a run for their money in terms of female star power. Besides Alex Borstein, Nicole Sullivan, and Debra Wilson, you also had Mo Collins, and these four ladies were ridiculous. I have a different choice for Mo Collins, but I love her no less. I just saw Borstein and Wilson able to handle almost all of the impressions and then Sullivan being a much more capable Victoria Jackson, as in playing the dumb blondes but also capable of some great impressions unexpectedly, like Abby Elliott.

I tried to think of someone like Rachel Dratch, just that sense of abandon, along with Gilda Radner herself, and I could only think of one woman: The State's Kerri Kenney-Silver
The State is an 11-man sketch ensemble. I should say, 10-man, and 1 woman. And before a cry of sexism echoes out, I need only say that Kerri Kenney was the only woman The State ever needed. Watch her there, watch her on Reno 911! and you will understand what I mean. Kenney is a force to be reckoned with. Unbelievably versatile, strong, and not afraid to push limits. Kenney could have done it again on SNL, and been the only woman, but I am happy to surround her with equally capable comics of her caliber.

Chief among them, Amy Sedaris. Amy, who broke out with her Comedy Central show Strangers with Candy, is Amy Poehler and Laraine Newman all in one. She's this tiny, unpredictable force, with strong characters and stronger timing. She easily could have fallen into a Wiig-like role on the show, or at the very least, Cheri Oteri.

And rounding out the female cast for now, another Friends alumni, in the wildly funny Lisa Kudrow. It's funny to imagine that both she and Aniston auditioned for SNL, and rather inexplicable (in her case, anyway) why she didn't land the show. But then we might not have gotten Phoebe Buffay. But Kudrow's antics and brainless (almost selfish) characters would've been a welcome addition to the roster for this SNL dream cast. 

Two Singers
These two are initially hired to bring more music to the show, in addition to their quick wits and personalities. 

Between Jane Lynch's effortless comedic timing and Wayne Brady's ability to parody pretty much any music act you can think of, the door opens for more musical-based sketches, as well as a whole gallery of untapped impressions. Lynch is my replacement for not bringing in Mo Collins, and while Brady fills in the "token black guy" of the cast, he's astoundingly more than capable than any of the black guys that have ever appeared on the show, save for one: Eddie Murphy, and Murphy doesn't have Brady's voice.
But just imagine what these two would've been like on the show. I think Brady, who I find enormously funny, would've been much more effective in sketch over improv, and Lynch would've found precursors to Coach Sylvester as well as some of her other memorable characters.

The Feature Players
Whether because of their youth or part-time schedule, these guys appear less frequently, but some of them could break out to be big stars later on.
One more golden voice stands out among the feature players, in Justin Timberlake. In reality, Timberlake, who hosts frequently and cameos once in a while, brings up the energy of the cast considerably. Not initially considered a comedian, and probably initially written off post-N*Sync, Timberlake has proven his staying power and likeability. I feel like with the early setting of this cast he would be mostly unproven, hence his feature status.
I can't imagine the world without The Simpsons, so I imagine that they find a way to keep him on both, hence why this cast features Hank Azaria. Azaria, who would've been notable at this time for stealing the show in Birdcage, would've been a master impressionist too, filling in the spot before Carrey takes the spot full-time, and the rest of the cast manages to branch out. Azaria would've been a capable feature player, I feel brought in like Timberlake, to raise the energy.

And to counter upbeat energy from Timberlake and Azaria, I was always a fan of Kids in the Hall alumnus, Dave Foley. We'd be lacking David Spade on these SNL seasons, and with Perry filling in more leading man roles, you still need an acerbic sidekick for the drier observations. Foley is that and more.
What more can be said? Watch his episodes of Scrubs to understand what I mean.
To round out the feature players, I wanted to dip into the All That pool. I hesitated to pick Amanda Bynes with her recent troubles, plus she would've been just too young at this point, and my original idea was to take both Vital Information hosts, but then I remembered one unforgettable performer from the show. So I finally went with Lori-Beth Denberg and Nick Cannon
Denberg is an underrated member of the All That cast, but I think she would've proven more than capable featuring with this cast. Vital Information of course is unforgettable, and she would've found even more iconic niches to carve on SNL. As for Cannon, from the moment he started on that show, it was obvious he was meant for something more. He's always been a dynamic comic performer, and on this show, he would've thrived. He's Kenan with more versatility, he's Chris Rock with more accessibility.
The Head Writer
Going along with the rough-house cast, and wanting a more social and cultural commentary throughout the show, I tried to think of a writer who could pull sketches together in a short amount of time, and sustain momentum over a surprising amount of time. Only one show has run with that kind of momentum and continued edge without the criticism of decline in quality that The Simpsons has suffered. That show is South Park. And I cheated a bit on head writer choice, because it's two head writers, in Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Imagine a cast that includes a young Carrey, an even younger Jack Black, Paul Reubens, the MadTV girls, and Sedaris, all reined in by the comic duo behind one of TV's most consistently funny animated shows? I guess reined in wouldn't be the right phrase. Let loose or cut loose would be better. Parker and Stone would've made SNL straddle every line. They would've been the reason MadTV ended after a season or two and those girls were brought into the cast. SNL would've been every sketch show to us, MadTV, Flying Circus, The State, and Kids in the Hall all in one.

And finally.... Who's behind the Update Desk?
I really had to think hard about this. I dug deep. Colbert and Carell would've featured on Update, neither would've developed their news personas yet, because in this timeline they weren't on Daily Show. I wanted someone that would be reflective of Parker and Stone's style and humor, while still being somewhat believable as a news anchor. I thought about my favorite Weekend Update anchors, Norm MacDonald, who was far too out-of-character, but funny as hell, and Dennis Miller, who epitomized that role and made it so, so important, as well as very hard to fill. Now for the most part, this cast replaces the Miller era, so we don't have that template to go on. But we want someone who can sustain a solo act, offer bite in his commentary, sarcastic, but somewhat believable as a parody news anchor? I finally could only think of one man. And how I wish his sign-off line could be, "This has been Weekend Update, I'm Denis Leary, I hope you all die."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

There's a Fine Fine Line, Part 2

Welcome back to Musical Mondays!
Last week, I started with "Close Every Door" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and you can read it if you like, here:
Fine, Fine Line Between a Good Performance...and a Bad One -- Part 1

This week, another one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite musicals:
Feed me.
The song is the duet "Suddenly Seymour", and this performance was one of the reasons, I wanted to start the old Blog in the first place. Even when I was a kid, watching the performance on Bravo's Best of Broadway, I knew something was...wrong...

It's probably the most recognizable duet in all musical theatre. It's arguably the most fun. Seymour and Audrey are fun characters and the whole show is more or less a punk rock musical at its finest. Despite its reckless abandon, it has quite a bit of heart, unlike similar musicals to it, like Rocky Horror.

I got to do the musical my sophomore year in high school, playing Seymour, with my best friend Roger as the Dentist, big guy Bryan as Audrey II (those who know Bryan know he fits "Twoey" perfectly), and another friend Larry as Mr. Mushnik and it was my second favorite show I was ever in.
I've gotten to see Anthony Rapp as Seymour, as well as the immortal Joey Fatone as Seymour, who I would've loved to have had on this entry, but inexplicably (to me, your mileage may vary), Fatone was serviceable in the role!
I also have both the original cast recording, which is a wonderful listen for Lee Wilkof as Seymour, Ellen Greene (who also stars in the movie) as Audrey, and Ron Taylor voicing Twoey, and the revival cast recording which features the equally talented Hunter Foster as Seymour, Kerry Butler as Audrey (doing what I would argue is the first successful, non-Ellen Greene impression in the role), and Douglas Sills as Orin the dentist. It also restores Call Back in the Morning, even though that's a much more visual number, uses the more up to date arrangement of Mushnik and Son, and the extended arrangement of the opening number that appeared in the film (which I love).

Mandy Moore & Adam Pascal sing "Suddenly Seymour"
I can't think of a more inexplicable sentence to utter aloud than "Mandy Moore and Adam Pascal sing "Suddenly Seymour."" But that's what happened on this Bravo special.
- :14 - Right off the bat, Mandy, if you're a huge fan of Adam Pascal, just say you love Rent. Let's not diffuse what little credibility you have left with "I'm a huge fan of Rent and stuff."
- :30 - I love Adam Pascal, I really do, but he's just not suited to this role. He looks too handsome, he sounds too sure, and it just looks wrong. Also, please note the floor fan Mandy is sitting in. Because Drama.
- 1:06 - I feel like this modulation is out of sorts. It doesn't flow well with the feeling of the song, and it feels like too much of a confident choice, acting-wise, for Seymour.
- 1:26 - I mean, it doesn't really need to be said. Mandy's voice is so thin she's working extremely hard to get out this incredibly simple verse. There's no power behind her notes.
- 1:32 - Pascal's best acting he's ever done: acting like he's okay with being on this special.
- 1:39 - If the Audrey decides to play it safe through that opening verse, she can cut loose on the first big note of the chorus here. But Mandy doesn't. She loses it with this nasally mix that makes the song sound way bigger than her.
- 1:54 - Oof, Mandy loses most of the big notes here, either from shallow breathing or improper placement. The note especially on 'condescend' is frightening.
- The rest of the song just makes me uncomfortable to watch. Mandy stays in the same breathy four notes the whole time, when she should be the more dynamic voice, and Pascal's stage presence is as awkward as ever.
A disappointing showing, perhaps expected from Mandy, but not from Pascal. 

Seth Rudetsky & Julia Murney perform "Suddenly Seymour" 
I first learned of Seth Rudetsky through Legally Blonde: The Search for Elle Woods, one of the terrible star search shows I mentioned in the last Musical Mondays. But Rudetsky, the vocal coach, was engaging, flamboyant, opinionated, and knowledgeable. He also has a YouTube channel where he vocally deconstructs awesome Broadway performances. I first heard Julia Murney, live, as Elphaba on tour in Wicked. She can also be heard on The Wild Party. These two are amazing.
- Actual song starts: 1:13.
- First off, I love Seth accompanying himself. Obviously, not every Seymour could do that, nor is it quite fitting, character-wise, but it's a nice touch. Seth also possesses the voice you'd expect Seymour to have. It's almost spoken, most of his opening verse.
- 2:10 - To steal a phrase from Seth himself, I'm absolutely obsessed with his riff down on 'suddenly Seymour.' I think it fits the musical style much more, it's unexpected, and Seth just does it great.
- 2:24 - Love it or hate it, That's not Julia's real voice, she's doing the "Greene-esque" impression.
- 2:44 - There's the power Mandy was missing in the first video. Julia drops the impression slightly (which I believe was done as a joke anyway) and shows the real power of her voice. It has this incredible ping to it, as you'll hear throughout. It's never too thin, but it sounds incredibly high in placement.
- 3:01 - An incredibly clean belt and vibrato on 'condescend', followed by a rock growl on 'suddenly', and then a return to the Greene mousiness for 'Seymour.' I love actors who can manipulate their voices so quickly, and I think this is a great moment.
- 3:27 - Julia duplicates the riff down on 'understand that' that Seth did earlier, and it's just as good.
- 3:41 - I love the way Julia hits the note for 'purified', the placement's incredible.
- 3:45 - I love Seth's riff on 'purified' in the echo. It's a pretty gospel-like riff.
- Please to enjoy the rest.
What makes this performance especially fun to watch, despite bootleg quality camera work, is that the performers are having fun doing it. The Mandy/Pascal effort just looks stiff and uncomfortable. Seth on piano, Julia doing a wild voice, it's just awesome. The back-up singers are better too, at times you can hear the girls outsing the leads. It's hard to beat Julia as an actor, and I think Seth gets extra simply for doing a great performance while also accompanying himself.

To redeem Mandy a bit, here she sings with a different Pascal, and I'll just leave you with one of my favorite vocal performances of hers:
Thanks, and see you all next week!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Family Tree, and other Random Acts of Christopher Guest

HBO has a comedy on it right now, I'm not sure how well known it is, and if you're a comedian and you're not watching it, I think that's a crime for two reasons:
1) It's British. And we all know that British things are classically funnier than American things.
2) It's a Christopher Guest project, and that means it's subtle, sarcastic, truthful, slightly off the wall, and constantly human. It's also some of the best improvised comedy you'll ever see.

Guest and this unofficial ensemble of sorts are known for five movies, four of which are done in a mockumentary format, and are arguably the best examples of the form. The last movie is an attempt at a more traditional style movie, but with an informal mockumentary format thrown in.

The TV series, Family Tree, is excellent. It just aired its first season finale on Sunday, and the eight-episode arc is a joy to take in, and once again, a mastery of improvisation. The storytelling is paced a little differently from its movies counterparts of course, so it took a couple episodes to hit a good stride, but I think it certainly got there. The charm of the cast has certainly helped get the show over in my head.

But I'll start from the beginning.

"A very good place to start." - Yeah. I coined that phrase.
Starting from top left:
This Is Spinal Tap - The first venture is actually directed by Rob Reiner (who plays, of all things, a documentary director in the film) and follows the heavy metal band, Spinal Tap, while on the road. The band consists of five members, the core 3, plus a keyboardist and a frequently rotated drummer (one of the running jokes is the drummers' deaths).
Here, much of the groundwork for the later incarnations is laid. At the heart of every project is a group of characters who are, for all intents and purposes, unremarkable. They may have captured success at some point earlier in their lives or have some minor notability, but by the time of the documentary, they are has-beens, they are losers. And this makes them incredibly human. Not necessarily sympathetic, because many of them are in denial, or worse, oblivious, but they become all too real, as if you were meeting these folks at a bus stop.
Spinal Tap's gritty cinematography lends to the realism of the piece. It's the best shot in my opinion, with its shaky camera, odd angles, the voyeuristic nature of the filming. The interviews are all incredibly fun. In particular, Christopher Guest himself as Nigel, shows remarkable ease with monologue-ing and waxing incoherent about guitars and M&M's.
Ultimately, the band suffers multiple falls from glory and friction from without is caused by being members of a bygone era (their latest album cover is deemed too offensive, though that could be a cover for the real fact that they no longer draw money as an act) and from Michael McKean's (David St. Hubbins') meddling girlfriend, a Yoko Ono-esque character who thinks she knows better than the band, their manager, and anyone else.
See if you can spot: Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal, Paul Shaffer, Archie Hahn, Patrick MacNee, Fran Drescher, Howard Hesseman, and Angelica Huston in cameos.

Overall, the movie is rewarding if you take the time. I honestly think it's a tough one to start with, though.

Waiting for Guffman
This, I find is most people's introduction to the unofficial franchise. Guffman perfectly sums up the idea of a group of individuals living in a self-congratulating vacuum, turning self-made tragedy into inadvertent comedy.
Blaine, Missouri is celebrating their sesquicentennial anniversary as a city and for the festivities, they've commissioned a musical to be written and performed about the history of the town from its humble beginnings. Hired to helm the production is semi-notable off-off-off-off-off-off Broadway director and choreographer Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest). He pulls together a pretty ragtag group of actors: a pair of "old pros", a backwoods hunter and part-time taxidermist, a dentist who fancies himself a comic, a feisty Dairy Queen employee, and an uncertain but handsome auto mechanic, and has to work with the neurotic music director.
The town council is very excited and fond of Corky...That is, until Corky gets word that the show could head to Broadway if a producer, Mort Guffman, likes the show enough...and Corky asks for more money. He is denied, but resolves to put together the show in spite of this. It goes off successfully, but the epilogue reveals the groups' ending to their brief and quick fifteen minutes of fame.

It's short, sweet, and anyone who's done community theater will just love how important everything is to everyone. It's incredibly true, and incredibly sad. And makes for some comedy that is uncomfortable on the level of early episodes of The Office.

Best In Show
I argue that this movie is their strongest piece, and the most fully realized. Everyone in the movie is for the most part split into pairs, and each pair owns a dog being entered in the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. They're each in different categories, but the title "Best in Show" is up for grabs by the winner of every category. 
Aside from the characteristically strong performances from all the usual members of the ensemble (Guest, Eugene Levy who again co-wrote the outline of the screenplay with Guest, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, and Michael McKean...Harry Shearer is regrettably absent, as well as Guffman joiners: Michael Hitchcock, Larry Miller, and Parker Posey) this is also the first-time appearance for a lot of the mainstays: Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, and Don Lake.
The piece follows the respective pairs on the road as well as the competition itself. The chemistry of the respective pairs is what really makes the movie for me, and leads to some unbelievable dialogue and timelessly funny lines.

The movie is ridiculous on many levels, once again particularly on the level of how seriously the characters take everything. If you only watch one of the movies of the group, make it this one. You won't be sorry.

A Mighty Wind
I remember that by the time I had an awareness and affinity for these movies, I was only able to see this one on the big screen. It was perfect. Some of it is a bit darker than the rest, in the sense that the characters are quietly more tragic than the rest.
The movie's impetus is a famous folk music producer has died, and his family wants to air a concert tribute to him because of all the timeless music he helped bring to the world. In particular, it follows the journeys "back to the stage" for three folk groups big in the folk scene in the 60's: The 9-person, "pop" group the New Main Street Singers (the original group disbanded in the 70s, but was reformed by one of the founding members with a new ensemble), the serious artists but never quite fully mainstream successful The Folksmen (a trio played by the same actors as Spinal Tap who, when Spinal Tap would tour, would occasionally open for themselves as the other music group), and the "sweethearts" Mitch & Mickey (played to perfection by the Best In Show pairing, Levy and O'Hara).
The music is quite good, and much more my taste than Spinal Tap's and the ensemble's performances are beautiful, verging on art. O'Hara in particular gives a very nuanced performance as Mickey, and some of the epilogue is almost unbearable. What makes these characters especially tragic is that they were big at one point. Truly big. What separates this movie from the others is that in a lot of the documentary interviews, it's other people talking about how much this music and these groups changed their lives, rather than the groups talking about themselves (which they do, but less so than the previous movies) so it creates more of a connection to us as the audience. It bonds us more to the acts.

Overall, it's not as laugh out loud funny as Best In Show, but it's much more complex. The slow builds to all the respective threads they lay out in the beginning is beautifully done, and a true clinic in pacing for long-form improvisation.

For Your Consideration
Rather off-beat in its presentation, following four documentaries and considered by some to be the weak link, Consideration nonetheless offers some worthwhile bright spots.
A quiet little movie production based on a dramatic screenplay by a notable writing duo is getting some Oscar buzz for the performances of several of its actors which in turn leads to some executive meddling from up top to ensure the production as a whole gets noticed and gets some mainstream attention.
Everything gets a little too big in too short of a time, though the movie does get made with all the alterations and updates. The notability of the actors though, possibly gets lost in the shuffle.
Again, it is a little bit of a letdown after the previous movies, but everyone still gives a great performance, the pairings are all shuffled up a bit, and O'Hara once again, lends some gravitas to what is a dark comedy and turns in a compelling dramatic performance.
I think the movie suffers most from its pace, which is incredibly abbreviated. But perhaps that's just the whirlwind feel of being on a Hollywood set.
Consideration also rivals Spinal Tap's star cameos: John Krasinski, Richard Kind, Sandra Oh, Ricky Gervais, Scott Adsit, and a young Casey Wilson.

I think if you watch it first, you'll be really impressed, even if you watch it second or third. There's some standout stuff to be had.

Family Tree
And we've arrived.
Family Tree is about Tom Chadwick, who, after his great aunt dies and leaves him a box full of clues to his lineage, embarks on a journey to trace his genealogy even across the pond to America. He's helped along the way by some oddball characters, and for the most part his family, close and distant, who all have quirks of their own.
What really makes the show fantastic, is its these same off-center characters Guest is so good at conceiving of, but the family connection to most of the cast makes them sympathetic to the audience. We know our family is weird, this show evidences another weird family and their idiosyncrasies.
The show is anchored by the wonderfully charming (and wonderfully Irish) performance of Chris O'Dowd who is funny in his own right, but sets up everyone else beautifully. It's really his loveability that makes us care about the rest of the characters, in the same way Michael Scott made us care about The Office workers.
He is joined for most of the adventure by Nina Conti, famous ventriloquist (who had a brief cameo in For Your Consideration) plays Tom's sister Bea, who's puppet Monk is her mouthpiece for the most part, and best friend Pete, played by Tom Bennett, who is immature, idiotic, and self-obsessed. All three are newcomers to the ensemble, but it feels like they fit right in.
So far, in the eight episode first season, we've had appearances by Guest, McKean, Jim Piddock as an eccentric store owner (who pulls off a South African accent way too convincingly), Begley Jr., Don Lake, and Balaban, as well as Willard as an intrusive neighbor who gets a season finale twist reveal that finally gives one of Willard's characters a heart. My hope is that the show continues because it's a wonderful comedy, and so that many, many more of the ensemble have a chance to make an appearance.

The first season, which finished on Sunday, is only eight episodes and they're each only a half-hour. If you can get your hands on them somehow, please do so. It's charming, oddball, at times heartwarming, and as always hilarious.

What I really wanted to dive into are the actors of the ensemble, who truly make it all work. What I love is its really like an improv troupe, the same people recur in different roles that are vaguely similar or connected, and the same themes play out as an ensemble will tend to do. What makes the cast so fun is that everyone is so incredibly strong from bottom to top.

Strong support: Paul Benedict, Christopher Moynihan, Will Sasso, Rachael Harris, and Paul Dooley.
Paul Benedict:
Appearances: Hotel manager in Spinal Tap, Guffman himself in Waiting for Guffman, and one of the music historians in A Mighty Wind
Benedict is so charmingly British, and so quietly deadpan. His role in Spinal is all of maybe forty seconds, but he gave me one of the heartiest laughs of the movie.
Best moment: His single Mighty Wind interview has one of the funniest worded lines in all the films.

Christopher Moynihan:
Appearances: Newest member of the Main Street in Mighty Wind, and fresh-faced actor Brian in For Your Consideration
Moynihan has a lot of potential, and really broke through in Consideration, even though I loved him in Mighty Wind. 
Best moment: It's a little "inside", but his first monologue that's actually to Guest about how he prepared for the role is literally every Acting Class reference you can make.

Will Sasso:
Appearances: Friend of Guest's character in Best In Show, and most recently as an obnoxious car driver in Family Tree
You might recognize Sasso from MadTV and most recently (and unfortunately) as the "new Curly" from the uncomfortable abomination that was Three Stooges, but Sasso is an underrated comic force. 
Best moment: As everyone embarks on the road, Sasso has a truly confounding moment in his goodbyes to Guest. It's a moment of improv at its purest.

Rachael Harris:
Appearances: Balaban's assistant in Mighty Wind, and the actress playing the lesbian character Mary Pat in For Your Consideration
Harris has been all over TV, and you probably know her from either The Sarah Silverman Program, or maybe even Reno 911! where she played Deb, Tom Lennon's (Lieutenant Dangle's) ex-wife who used to be fat. Harris is subtly brilliant too, making the most of her brief appearances.
Best moment: Party-pooping moment early on with Balaban in Mighty Wind

Paul Dooley:
Appearances: UFO abductee in Waiting for Guffman, George Menschell of the original Main Street Singers in Mighty Wind, and a brief cameo in one of the movie clips opposite John Krasinski in For Your Consideration
Dooley is so subtly funny, and disappears into so many of his characters. You may also recognize him as the station manager in the musical Hairspray movie. 
Best moment: It's hard to beat that UFO monologue.

Sometimes, you barely realize it's them: Ed Begley Jr., Carrie Aizley, Don Lake, Larry Miller, Deborah Theaker, Linda Kash, and Bob Balaban
Ed Begley Jr.:
Appearances: One of the unfortunate drummers in archival footage in Spinal Tap, hotel manager in Best In Show, cable TV executive and folk music enthusiast in Mighty Wind, O'Hara's outspoken make-up artist in For Your Consideration, and Tom's American cousin obsessed with conspiracy theory in Family Tree
Begley is pretty prolific when it comes to these outings, missing only Guffman, and he's hilarious in all of them. Something he has in common with Don Lake and Bob Balaban is he plays these incredibly knowledgeable guys. They know their specialty really well. 
I think his performance on Family Tree is getting better and better every episode.
Best Character: I think his best performance overall is the hotel manager in Best In Show. He's believable, charming, and funny, in particular watch his scene with Parker Posey's meltdown in the hotel room.
Best Moment: I have to give best moment though, to his executive in Mighty Wind, in what I call the "Yiddish monologue." 

Carrie Aizley:
Appearances: Interviewer in For Your Consideration, and Begley's wife in Family Tree
Aizley is delightfully dim in her roles, and she's pretty funny. 
Best Character and Best Moment both go to Kitty in Family Tree. You have to see to believe. I won't spoil anything.

Don Lake:
Appearances: One of the Blaine historians in Waiting for Guffman, show producer in Best In Show, one of the Steinbloom kids in A Mighty Wind, "Love It" critic in For Your Consideration, and a Civil War enthusiast in Family Tree.
Incredibly knowledgeable, charmingly bashful, and occasionally darker, Lake is a staple. His appearances are a little drier, but he can have his moments.
Best Character: I love the Steinbloom kid from Mighty Wind because he's the one that hates folk music and it adds this level of quiet tension amongst the three kids. 
Best Moment: I can't decide if his better monologue is in Guffman or Best in Show

Larry Miller:
Appearances: Mayor of Blaine in Guffman, touchy-feely ex-boyfriend of O'Hara in Show, PR guy in Wind, and a studio executive in Consideration.
Miller also gets delightfully dark with a lot of his improv. He's got this great everyman appearance. 
Best Character and Best Moment are Best In Show, without a doubt. He's a hostage negotiator, inappropriately still in love with O'Hara's character Cookie even though they're both married, and his unforgettable threats to his son who is completely not right in the head.

Deborah Theaker
Appearances: one of the town council members in Guffman, a friend and neighbor of O'Hara and Levy in Show, the Steinbloom sister in Wind, and O'Hara's friend in Consideration
Theaker gets some brilliant mileage out of being a self-important unimportant character.
Best Character: Ms. Steinbloom in Mighty Wind is so grief-stricken, she is a joy to watch throughout the finale concert.
Best Moment: I have to give it to her councilwoman in Guffman. She's a descendant of one of the town founders and her analysis of the situation is priceless.

Linda Kash:
Appearances: Mrs. Pearl in Guffman, and Miller's wife in Show.
Kash needs more appearances because she's enormously funny in what she's done. As Levy's wife, she never appears with him but plays a delightful town gossip, and in Show she quietly steals the awkward dinner scene between the two complicated couples.
Best Character and Best Moment: Again, that dinner scene...It's Levy who gets the funny line, but Kash brings it home with her reaction and timing.

Bob Balaban:
Appearances: The obsessive music director in Guffman, the Kennel Club president in Show, the no-nonsense Steinbloom kid in Wind, one of the screenplay writers opposite McKean in Consideration, and one of Tom's many relatives in Family Tree.
Another true mainstay of the franchise, Balaban is deliciously neurotic to the point of unadulterated annoyance, culminating most famously in Mighty Wind, where he is mostly paired with Michael Hitchcock. All of Balaban's characters would be a pain to meet, but are a joy to watch.
Best Character: Mighty Wind's Jonathan Steinbloom is the most neurotic of all.
Best Moment: I could give it to his exchanges with Hitchcock throughout the final stages of Wind, but I absolutely love his conflict with Guest's St. Clair in Waiting for Guffman.

Unbelievably hilarious: Jim Piddock, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, and Michael Hitchcock
Jim Piddock:
Appearances: Play-by-play commentary for the dog show in Best In Show, Mickey's husband in A Mighty Wind, lighting designer in For Your Consideration, and a novelties store owner in Family Tree.
Piddock's characters are all experts. His knowledge of dogs and the competition in Show is formidable. In Wind, he sells bladder medical appliances, and seems to be able to talk for hours about it. All of his characters are so dry and serious, he leaves quite the impression without meaning to.
Best Character: Paired with the inimitable Willard in Show, Piddock remains immutable and looks amazing.
Best Moment: I have to say the model train scene is my favorite Piddock moment.

Jennifer Coolidge:
Appearances: Owner of Rhapsody in White in Best In Show, PR assistant in A Mighty Wind, and the producer in For Your Consideration.
You may recognize her more as Stifler's mom from the American Pie franchise but rest assured, Coolidge is deeply funnier than even that. Coolidge's characters are all dimwitted blondes. Her monologues are incredibly deep in their vapid shallowness and incoherence, and her Consideration character especially says some of the weirdest things in or out of context.
Best Character: I love her in Best In Show the most. You want the dumbest characters to stumble into the most intelligent of moments.
Best Moment: And speaking of which, her best moment is actually in A Mighty Wind, where, during the dinner party scene, she utters possibly the most brilliant line of the entire series.

Jane Lynch:
Appearances: Trainer of Rhapsody in White in Best In Show, part of the New Main Street in A Mighty Wind, and a posturing tabloid show host in For Your Consideration.
Lynch has made quite a name for herself outside the series, and could arguably be its biggest star. She's on Glee, she was in Role Models, 40-Year Old Virgin, and many others.
All of her characters in and out of the franchise showcase Lynch's talent for improvisation and particularly improvisation of a darker nature. In a previous post, I showcased a clip from Best In Show that absolutely summed up Lynch's infamous style.
Best Character: Again, Best In Show absolutely does it for me.
Best Moment: But I have to give best singular moment to her monologue in A Mighty Wind. Her husband sitting uncomfortably next to her, she talks about moving from Chicago to LA, appearing in adult films, and finding music. She knows when to keep it vague too, and leave it up to the audience's imaginations.

John Michael Higgins:
Appearances: One of the gay dog owners opposite McKean in Best In Show, head of the New Main Street in A Mighty Wind, and a Hollywood PR guy in For Your Consideration.
I'm sad Higgins wasn't in Guffman. Higgins is so ridiculous. He's earnest to an unnerving point, and so straightforward with absolutely everyone.
Best Character and Best Moment are Scott Donlan in Best In Show, without a doubt. He has the best monologues, the best scenes, the best lines, and the best quips. Paired with McKean, who could only bring out the best in him, he's even better.

Parker Posey:
Appearances: Libby Mae in Waiting for Guffman, manic Meg Swan in Best In Show, perky Sissy Knox in A Mighty Wind, and serious actress Callie in For Your Consideration.
Posey, who still considers herself not an improviser, is ridiculously good at her roles. She's believable, from being a wonderful actor, and she captures this slightly jaded spirit in all her characters as well.
Best Character and Best Moment I have to give to Libby Mae. She thinks she's being so deep with her answers when she's not, she yells some of the best lines throughout the show, and her audition song is just the best. Also, if you get a chance to watch on the DVD version, watch the deleted scene of her monologue audition. It's like Mr. Show/David Cross's the audition funny.

Michael Hitchcock:
Appearances: Councilman in Guffman, Hamilton Swan in Show, Town Hall's theater manager in Wind, "Hated It" critic in Consideration.
Hitchcock is one of the few bright spots in Glee, and recently appeared in Bridesmaids where he is hilariously inappropriate with Kirsten Wiig.
I like to say all of Hitchcock's characters don't get to do what they want. He doesn't get to audition for St. Clair in Guffman, he gets disqualified from the competition in Show, he's a singer but not a folk singer in Wind, and he hates everything in Consideration. Hitchcock's characters are neurotic but much more high-strung and volatile. He plays them to absolute perfection.
Best Character: I love all of them. Maybe Hamilton in Best In Show.
Best Moment: I have to quote the line, from Best In Show. "Go get Busy Bee. Go! Mommy's gonna get it. Don't worry...No, look at me. Look...LOOK AT ME. Don't look at any of the fatass losers or freaks you LOOK AT MEEE!" all this, screamed at a dog.

The Immortal Six: Mastermind Christopher Guest, Master Critic Michael McKean, Master Voice Harry Shearer, Master Idiot Savant Fred Willard, Master Actor Catherine O'Hara, and Master Comic Eugene Levy
Christopher Guest:
Appearances: Nigel in Spinal Tap, Corky in Guffman, Harlan Pepper in Show, one of the Folksmen in Mighty Wind, the director in Consideration, and oddball family relation in Family Tree.
Guest is just so ridiculous in all of his appearances. He mostly works solo if he's not with McKean and Shearer, and Corky is probably one of the funniest comic characters ever. Harlan Pepper is no slouch either, with some of the best monologues in Best In Show, in the deleted scenes too.
Best Character: Nigel's probably the character I'd most want to meet.
Best Moment: Actually, he managed to get me most recently in Family Tree, his revelation at the hot tube scene. But he's had so many over the course of the franchise.

Michael McKean:
Appearances: David in Spinal Tap, Stefan in Show, Alan Barrows of the Folksmen in Mighty Wind, one of the screenwriters for Consideration, and Tom's avoidant father in Family Tree.
McKean's characters are all quietly critical of the situation they're in, and may be most aware of their hopeless situations. He tries to bring both Spinal Tap and the Folksmen to more mainstream success, and looks like he's trying to keep skeletons in the closet as it were throughout Family Tree.
Best Character: Stefan is his most against type character, more carefree and quippish. But he's no less pragmatic.
Best Moment: I would honestly say his facial expression for Spinal Tap's Stonehenge reveal is priceless, and ranks among my favorite moments from the series.

Harry Shearer:
Appearances: Completes the trio as Derek in Spinal Tap, and the trio of Folksmen in Wind, as well as the struggling Hollywood veteran in Consideration.
I wish Shearer hadn't missed Show, and I hope he appears soon on Family Tree. We all know Shearer's talent for voices, as 1/6 of the talented Simpsons cast, playing most notably Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Reverend Lovejoy, C. Montgomery Burns, Smithers, and God among a whole cadre of others.
Shearer always strikes as a bit of a jerk in all his interviews, so it's nice to see him in person playing rather sweet characters in the movies. Derek is so earnest, and Mark of the Folksmen has one of the better twist endings of the movie.
Best Character and Best Moment: I do have to give to Mark Shubb of the Folksmen. It's the funniest character, and the final moment of the movie is all his.

Fred Willard:
Appearances: Brief appearance in Spinal Tap, veteran actor Ron Albertson in Guffman, color commentator opposite Piddock in Show, the New Main Street's manager in Wind, idiotic tabloid show host in Consideration, and the nosy neighbor of Begley and Aizley in Family Tree.
Willard is a comic's comic. He keeps going. You can tell in the movies that his monologues are all cut down from something longer. The man has a limitless imagination. He can be corny, crude, crazy, and courteous all in a single sentence. All of his Willard's characters are idiots by nature, but they mean well, but usually do more harm than good.
Best Character: His color commentator for Best In Show. While it's obvious Piddock did a lot of research, it's obvious Willard did none. His color commentary borders on the inane and the fact that Piddock never strikes him or loses his cool is beyond me.
Best Moment: I have to quote another line. In the epilogue of Mighty Wind, Willard explains that network TV wants the New Main Street on a TV show and he has the idea to make them the Supreme Court Justices, because there's 9 of both. But, as he explains it, "I always thought there were 12 Supreme Court judges, turns out there are only 9. I don't know if there were budget cutbacks or something..."
The brilliance of the line...I mean, you think at first he was just corrected, but then you get the second part, where you realize he actually still believes at one point there was 12...The idiocy is encapsulated perfectly.

Catherine O'Hara:
Appearances: Opposite Ron Albertson as Sheila in Guffman, opposite Levy as Cookie in Best In Show, opposite Levy's Mitch as Mickey in Mighty Wind, and Marilyn Hack in For Your Consideration.
O'Hara, like I've been saying, is a truly rare gem. She's not only a fantastically funny improviser, but a nuanced actor. She brings so much heart and tragic beauty unfound in the rest of the ensemble. I think she's my number 1 pick to see on Family Tree hopefully next season. You won't get many improvisers like her, because many don't consider themselves good enough actors, and if you watch her as Mickey or Marilyn, you'll understand why the bar is so high.
Best Character and Best Moment: I have to give it to Mickey from Mighty Wind. How utterly brilliant, and, when you see the epilogue, how utterly tragic.

Eugene Levy:
Appearances: Dr. Allan Pearl in Waiting for Guffman, Gerry Fleck in Best In Show, Mitch in A Mighty Wind, and Shearer's agent Morley Orfkin in For Your Consideration.
I certainly hope Levy appears soon too. Considering that in addition to appearing in these films, Levy also co-wrote most of them with Guest, it wouldn't be unheard of.
Levy is absolutely masterful in his roles. They're wonderfully distinct, but Dr. Pearl and Gerry are so nerdy and then Mitch is just a comic tour de force of that movie. Levy makes every situation humorously uncomfortable, and then brings it home with a single line. It's beautiful every time.
Best Character: Mitch from Mighty Wind, who has some heartfelt moments of his own, particularly when he reappears after disappearing during the concert, and his final line of the movie.
Best Moment: Aside from the aforementioned, I like his party scene in Best In Show, where he and O'Hara are grouped in with Higgins and McKean, a meeting of epic proportions.

I hope Family Tree returns for a second season, and I hope you all get a chance to watch it.
I also hope you watch some of these movies, too. Some of them are absolutely the funniest you will see.