Clueless the Musical

A few years ago, I went through a phase where I tried to catch up on classic films. I watched Some Like it Hot and Casablanca and then I gave up after getting scarred by Chinatown. What I should have been doing was getting caught up on 90s movies.

Until last week, I had never seen Clueless. I’d been putting it off until I finished Emma, because it’s a modernization of the Austen classic. As always, I work better with a deadline and Dove Cameron, who is on my top 5 list of celebrity crushes, was playing Cher in an Off-Broadway production of Clueless: The Musical.

I finished the book just in time.

Dove Cameron had been dealing with an injury prior to the performance we had tickets for, but we were happy to see her back in her knee highs and yellow plaid during the opening number. Every song for this musical was a reworked 90s song, starting with “It’s a Beautiful Life,” during which they introduced Zurin Villanueva, playing Dionne, Chris Hoch, playing Mel, and Dave Thomas Brown, playing Josh. These performers were full of energy and charisma, with just the right amount of bubbliness for a period piece like this.

I liked the translation of Churchill’s deception to Christian hiding his homosexuality. It makes him more sympathetic while giving Cher another layer too. As in the book, my favorite bit was how Cher grew, which was even clearer in the musical. In the musical, she gained self-awareness enough to apologize to Travis for misjudging him as well as hosting a letter-writing campaign to help improve the environment.

The best change in the adaptation is how the visual medium allows us to see Josh’s feelings for Cher develop throughout the story. In the book, it’s subtle because the story is told from Emma’s perspective and she herself doesn’t see it until he says something to her. With the wider angle of the show, we see it before Josh himself does. As he sings “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” (which was way better than the Spin Doctors original, by the way), the audience can see his grudging adoration. By the time Cher and Josh are dueting over “She’s So High,” their feelings for each other are obvious to everyone…except them.

The rewritten lyrics propel the plot and immerse the audience in the 1990s, and its all thanks to Amy Heckerling who, despite never working in theater before, managed to perfectly adapt her own work (the original Clueless) to the stage. Beowulf Boritt, set designer, uses props to set the stage, transitioning easily from Cher’s cozy home to the public school and even to the spooky liquor store parking lot that Josh has to save her from. The party atmosphere was achieved with Kelly Devine, the choreographer, setting dances that looked more fun than staged.

Of course, all of this could only be achieved because director Kristin Hanggi knew what she was doing, bringing all the pieces together for a fun dance party, romantic comedy, and teen coming-of-age story all in one.

After a limited run, Clueless the Musical closed on January 12th. Personally, I’ll be excited to see what each of these talented people does next.

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Emma

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

The opening line of Emma by Jane Austen may not be as iconic as that of her Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”), but it does get the job done as far as opening sentences go.  By introducing the main character immediately, Austen is making it clear this is her story.  By saying she’d had “very little to distress or vex her,” she is telling us what is about to change to make a story happen: something is going to either distress or vex Emma.  Most of the time, that “something” was Emma herself.

As a character, I loved Emma.  She was sweet and well-meaning, with no self-awareness and a way of misreading people to match her own assumptions.  On the other hand, I had a difficult time getting into the book at first.  Austen coded her books with scores of rich social commentary that I don’t have the context to appreciate and, on a plot level, not much happened in that section.

But then Churchill returned, Elton got married, and Knightley…was Knightley, but Emma gained enough self-awareness to stop taking him for granted so he became more essential to the plot.  As she navigated her feelings and the consequences that came from her meddling in her friends’ love lives, Emma grew as a person and her relationships got stronger.  It’s hard to blame her for not hearing how others felt because she couldn’t even understand her own.  The best part of the book is to see how much she grows.  Well, second best.  The first best is Knightley’s line: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”

aroused alicia silverstone GIF

 

If you can push through the first half of the book, the payoff is absolutely worth it.

If you can’t get through the first half, try watching Emma Approved instead.Like The Lizzie Bennet Diariesit’s a modernized version of the story told in vlog form.  It’s a pretty accurate adaptation…even if it’s not quite as good as Clueless, but I’ll get to that on Sunday.

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I’m BAAAACK

Hello lovelies.  I was considering starting a completely new blog (“Carolina Girl Goes Big City,” or something like that), but I figured I’d save us all the trouble and just add onto this one.

I’m back.

Well, virtually, I’m back.  Physically, I’ve moved somewhere new.  If you’ve been following me on Facebook, Instagram, or IRL, you probably already know this: I finally made it to New York City.

Escaping is not the same as making it, Kimmy.

Well…that may be true.  And, so far, it still feels more like an extended vacation than a move.  I haven’t found a job yet.  I’m staying in an AirBNB.  I don’t have any bills to worry about at the moment (which is great, since there’s no money coming in right now).  And it doesn’t help that my first week up here actually WAS a family vacation.  We stayed in the Westin, ate out every day (thanks Mom), and saw a different Broadway show every night.  It’s going to take a while before I get acclimated to the real city beneath the glitz and tourism.

But sometimes, doing glitzy, touristy things are fun too.  So if you need any suggestions…

Bar 65: If you’re going to spend a lot of money to visit the observatory on top of the Rockefeller Center, you may as well get a drink.  Bar 65 has a large selection of cocktails and wines for you to enjoy as you gaze over the city lights – with possibly my favorite view of the Empire State Building.

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The Blue Box CafeWe have now visited this one twice, where you can have “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” any time of the day.  We usually opt for the tea service instead, which comes with sweet and savory scones and a variety of treats that includes a chocolate ingot dusted with actual silver.

The Brooklyn DinerThis is now my favorite place to get chicken and waffles.  Hands down.

The RideI told Mom she could only do this before I officially moved…but it was actually really fun.  We learned a lot of NYC lore that even I didn’t know and our tour guide was extremely funny.  The seats of this bus actually face the windows, so it’s a lot easier to see EVERYTHING.

And, of course, there were the Broadway shows, which I’ll start talking about on SHOWTIME SUNDAY.

(Which will probably be a bi-weekly thing, because I have accepted that I cannot see a show EVERY week, but have already seen three and have another one I’ll see in a month.  Also, won’t be exclusively Broadway, because there are so many other talents here.)

(I’m currently planning to alternate it with Book Club Thursdays so I get to ramble about some kind of story every week.  Stay tuned.)

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I Could Care Less

My biggest problem right now is that I am constantly fighting a growing cynicism and the temptation to just not care.

That isn’t me.  I care so deeply and overthink everything.  When I’m angry, it burns.  When I’m sad, I feel like I’m drowning.  When I’m happy, I can’t imagine being underwater ever again.

And yet, when it comes to people and relationships – friendship, romantic, or otherwise – it’s like I’m one speaker short of surround sound.

“Being cheated on is a wound, and it’s going to be a while before you’re back to normal,” Terri said, but this is older than that.  It goes back to middle school, when I befriended the new girl on the mission trip only to feel abandoned when two days later, she was spending all her time with the “cool kids” and I was alone again.  It goes back to my best friend in college, the one I spent practically every day with, who I never heard from once she graduated.  It goes as far back as I’ve been alive, as I’ve always felt just a little bit off and like I don’t quite click into place with most groups.  At some point, I stopped trying and just let myself be an outsider.

That’s fine.  No one needs to fit everywhere.

The problem is holding myself back when I do fit.  Spending an outting only half-present, or keeping conversation shallow despite someone already proving they Get It and are there for me.  When I assume relationships are temporary, I refuse to fully invest so I won’t be hurt when it ends.  I choose to actually not care instead of pretending I don’t, since it feels like everyone else is playing this game of “Who can show they care less?”

I hate that game.  I always lose and I’m tired of playing.  But caring deeply is exhausting and leaves you vulnerable.  Not caring seems so much easier, and I am consistently tempted to just stop.

And not just about people, but about everything: my job, the future, the state of the country and the world at large.  If you care, you could be disappointed.  Worse: if you really care, you’ll probably have to put in some hard work.

I had a friend tell me his second break-up was worse than his first and it about gave me a heart attack.  My first almost destroyed me and I had imagined it would get easier every time.  If it was actually going to be harder, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to risk it.

I expect the same thing of tragedies – each mass shooting, each natural disaster, every human rights violation.  I think they’ll keep getting easier to handle.

What’s awful is how true that often is.

Thinking about it, I had to consider why it might be easier.  The obvious answer is because I care less, because I’m less connected.  It seems harmless.  But in relationships, if I’m less connected, I’m also not experiencing the same magic or hopefulness for the future that makes a relationship worthwhile to me in the first place.

What do I lose if I’m not connected to the world enough to let its tragedies pain me?

I lose my anger, without which I’m not motivated to take action and make a difference.  I lose my ability to see the joy in the world, the beauty of its people and cultures.  I lose the chance to be part of something bigger than myself.

Letting yourself be open to hurting is scary, but the reward is so much greater when you allow yourself to be touched.  And this is something I have to remind myself of every day so I don’t give into temptation and let myself stop caring.

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Lucifer and The Good Place

You know how I feel about a good story, regardless of format.

Lucifer and The Good Place are both good stories while being very different.  The Good Place is light-hearted and humorous, with relatable characters who seem simple on the surface.  Contrarily, Lucifer is a murder mystery show, darker by definition, with characters who transcend the natural plane.  But, at their core, both shows contemplate questions humanity has been wrestling with since our inception, questions about the nature of good and evil, what it means to be human, and what happens when we die.  And, one of the most important: whether or not a person can be redeemed.  Or change.

In both shows, the answer is yes, with one huge “but.”  The road to redemption isn’t easy.

Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character of The Good Place, grew up with parents so wrapped up in drugs, alcohol, and themselves that they neglected her entirely.  Selfishness and self-reliance were not just coping mechanisms but survival tactics.

Tahani’s parents were emotionally abusive.  No matter what she did, it wasn’t enough to please them.  No wonder she became obsessed with how she appeared to others, constantly seeking the approval and validation they never gave her.

The show doesn’t say anything about Chidi’s early home life, but it makes it pretty clear that he suffers from anxiety.  He combats it by following a moral code so strict and nitpicking that it often prevents him from living at all.

And Michael?  He is literally a demon.  It is his very nature to be evil.

In order to become good people, they have to do two things.  They have to let go of what is outside their control and decide for themselves to be good.  Eleanor seeks Chidi out and asks for help, something she couldn’t do with her parents.  Tahani literally passes her test (and I don’t care what the judge says, she did pass her test) once she confronts her family and is able to recognize that she doesn’t need their approval.  Chidi fails his, but a few minutes later, he is able to do what he couldn’t at first and make his own choice by recognizing that his anxiety can factor into his decisions without overtaking them entirely.  And Michael becomes part of Team Cockroach and literally goes against his fellow demons while figuratively fighting his personal one.  He chooses to become “human” instead of staying a demon, but he does it with and for the four humans he cares about.

And that’s the other trick: they have to do it together.

Chidi teaches the others how to think in terms of ethics and morality, but Eleanor teaches him to live in the moment and consider how those morals look in day-to-day life.  She teaches Tahani to examine her motivations while Tahani teaches them both how to care for others and think of their true impact.  Michael takes this all in and teaches them, through example, that they can still change.  Anyone can.

Lucifer explores the same concept with higher stakes: the Devil himself.  Who is more trapped by external factors than him, the Lord of Hell himself, constantly blamed for all of humanity’s short-comings?  He leaves Hell to shed the image and to quit playing a role.  Once on Earth, he begins to examine his feelings and motivations with his therapist, Linda.  Plus, he finds himself physically and figuratively mortal with Chloe, proving its the humanity in others that helps us find our own.

Lucifer’s problem is that there is always that last obstacle he can’t overcome: his determination not to play into his father’s plan.  Every time he thinks his father is manipulating him, even a little, he immediately does the exact opposite of the “right” thing.  He ignores what other people want or need and focuses on rebelling to prove he’s his own man.

As both a writer and someone who has studied the art of storytelling, I have a theory the show won’t end until Lucifer has truly redeemed himself, until he’s proven he can be both good and his own being.  Since that’s the core of the story, they’ll drag it out until the end.  So what are we learning in the meantime?

Besides the fact that redemption is possible no matter who you are, it suggests redemption is possible no matter how many times you fuck it up at first.

The Good Place says the same thing.  These people get better once the scales have stopped weighing and “that’s not supposed to be possible” according to Michael.  And in Lucifer, he takes one step forward and ten thousand back…but he always gets that chance to take one more step forward.

Fiction is so important because it allows us to consider other perspectives but also because it can encourage and inspire us in ways we would never imagine.  These stories give me hope: no matter what you’ve done, it is never too late to do the right thing, to learn from others, to define yourself.  It is a new moment.  Live like it.

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Putting Out Fires and Picking Your Battles

If you don’t follow me on Snapchat, you may have missed the news: I was promoted at Kate Spade.  It’s pretty cool, especially since people have been saying I should be for months.  It isn’t something I saw in myself at first, but I grow more confident every day and I love having that connection to the store and the brand.

Here’s one of the things I’ve learned about management so far: it’s a lot of putting out fires and solving problems in the moment.  Which, as a 20-something human disaster, is not new to me.  It’s pretty much how I live my life.  And there will always be another fire to put out…but.  But.

But that’s not how you run a store.

You have to put out fires, but you also have to pay attntion to the other things.  The things that aren’t problems but could be.  Those things that need to get done because they’ll make everything easier, but there’s no specific deadline.

Only putting out fires is no way to run a store and no way to live a life.

Lately my life is all working too much, solving problems as they come up, and resting. I’ve been living like a sprint, not a marathon.

When the most recent school shooting happened in Florida, something occurred to me. The Pulse nightclub shooting hit me in the gut and made me want to do something. But I never did because I was too busy putting out fires. Instead of picking my battles, I let my battles pick me.

At the store, we have an ongoing list of projects, some of which have an official deadline from the Powers That Be. Those automatically become top priority. But sometimes, we have to pick something that “could wait” and put it on the high priority list. It’s the only way to make it happen.

I want to try running my life like we run the store. I want to make things a priority without the threat of a deadline to deal with. It comes down to living intentionally.

So there you go. I’m sure you expected me to write about gun control – and yes, it’s coming – but I haven’t given myself time to gather the information and actually do anything. I’m going to do better. It’s not enough to pick your battles: you have to actually fight them. And fighting fires just isn’t the same thing.

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5 Things to Go Watch Right Freakin’ Now

I haven’t had a lot of free time lately, most of it filled with reading and catching up with old friends.  But the things I have watched have been really good and I can’t stop talking about them.

  1. The Good Place – This show, starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, just completed its second season on NBC.  The concept is kind of random – Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up to find she’s dead and made it into Heaven, except there’s been some mistake because the Eleanor they describe isn’t her.  If she wants to stay, she has to do what she never did on Earth: become better.  I love this show because it’s fun and makes me laugh, but it also says a lot of things about what makes a good person and what we owe each other.
  2. One Day at a Time – Season two of this show just dropped as well, and I love it.  In the new season, Penelope struggles to keep her career, family life, and education afloat simultaneously.  Elena grows into her sexuality and has her first relationship.  Alex deals with racism, and Abuelita learns how to be proud of her heritage while still moving forward.  I love the familial relationships on this show as well as the hopeful message it shares, proving that we can handle anything with the right support.
  3. Coco – Guys.  GUYS.  Coco is a beautiful movie with beautiful artwork and beautiful music.  Miguel’s entire family hates music because of what one of his ancestors did, but something in Miguel’s soul tells him he has to sing.  He takes some big risks in order to follow his passion, including the loss of his family until he learns just how important those ties are.  It’s fun and heart-wrenching and touching and everyone should see it.
  4. DuckTales – “You kids are nothing but trouble…curse me kilts, have I missed trouble…I’ll have to teach you how to get into trouble properly.”  I was excited about this reboot since the moment I heard of it, and only partly because David Tennant (using his ACTUAL ACCENT for maybe the first time in his entire career!!!) is the voice of Scrooge McDuck.  I love the boys getting into trouble.  I love Webby, who knows kung fu and everything about exploring except how to actually interact with people.  I love how Donald, and eventually Scrooge, feel about their kids and the adventures they go on as a family.  Plus, the one-liners are guaranteed to give you a chuckle.Oh, and:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PecOU2y6d54
  5. The Hitman’s Bodyguard – The first time I saw this movie was in theaters, and I couldn’t stop laughing.  Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds are a true power team, with Salma Hayek rounding out the cast.  A hitman on his way to testify against a terrible dictator, Jackson is determined to take care of himself but is a little over his head.  Reynolds, a professional bodyguard, puts aside his disdain for the man he’s been pitted against so many times for the greater good…and to get his life back.  Besides being hilarious, this movie also makes a lot of interesting points about moral gray areas and leaving the past in the past.
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A Closed and Common Orbit

The best problem I ever have is the inability to tear myself away from a book.  It’s happened less and less lately, but A Closed and Common Orbit was so good I could barely put it down to get to work.

It’s the sequel/companion to Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planeta book Katie recommended to me back in 2016.  It was about a group of misfits doing a dangerous job while trying to keep the family they’ve created together.

A Closed and Common Orbit is still a “found family” story that also deals with questions of identity and purpose.  At the end of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the ship’s Artificial Intelligence has been rebooted in such a way that she’s lost all the personality and relationships she’s developed.  For everyone’s emotional health, she’s forced to take root in an artificial body and leave the ship.  The story follows her as she learns to fit into outside society, as her friends Pepper, Blue, and eventually Tak help her figure out who she is and what she wants to be.

The story is broken up by Pepper’s story, showing where she came from to get her where she is now.  Her story is just as strange as Sidra’s.  She was created to work in a factory with a group of girls all named Jane.  Once she escaped, she found a derelict ship housing an old AI who taught her about the outside world and took care of her until they could escape the planet together.

Being raised by the AI Owl gives her a unique perspective on the AI Sidra and allows the AI the opportunity to behave like a real person.  This is an example of how Chambers continues the themes from her first book, questioning the nature of life and consciousness and what makes us human.  But in this book, she also explores questions of identity.  Pepper truly understands Sidra because they were both created for a singular purpose and they both escaped being controlled over it.  She has spent years creating herself and forging a place for herself in society and she is patient as she guides Sidra to do the same.

For the first three-quarters of the book, the story is more character-driven than plot-driven.  It helps that the characters are so dynamic and enthralling.

Despite that, this is not a standalone book.  Without reading the original, it’s difficult to get a true understanding of how the universe works.   But since both the books are amazing, it’s worth it if you want to read both.

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Nipplegate

I developed young.

Let’s be clear: I mean breasts.  I developed breasts at a young age.  Before I graduated from middle school, I was already a C-cup and it only got worse from there.

I say “worse” because I felt bad about it.  I remember performing with a church musical group around then and being devastated when I needed the large shirt we were all wearing while the other girls wore smalls.  One girl specifically made me feel awful – not because of anything she did, but because I had been trying to live up to her beauty and talent for months.  To console me, someone said, “She may be tiny, but she’ll probably never be endowed like you.”  It just made me feel worse.  It had been ingrained in me that breasts were bad because they were automatically inappropriate and I should never do anything to draw attention to them.

Still performing a year later, I wore an outfit that made me feel good.  It was a graphic tee that said “You know you love me” and a black silk vest that buttoned directly under the words.  I thought it made my waist look tiny, but one of the leaders pulled me aside before the service.  She took me into the bathroom and had me look in a mirror.  “You shouldn’t wear this,” she said.  “See how the words draw attention to your chest?  And then the vest frames it?  It’s not modest.”

I started wearing over-sized t-shirts after that.  Any fitted shirt would call attention to my chest.

This is the environment I grew up in and “Nipplegate” didn’t help.

A lot of people in my social group don’t seem to remember this but I do.  Not seeing it – I don’t really watch football – but hearing about it.  The next day, no one was talking about the game or the commercials.  It was all about the halftime show, about Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson’s top off on live, national television.

I didn’t listen to popular music at the time (not in a hipster way, I was just strictly a country girl), so I didn’t know who she was and only recognized him from my school girl crush back when he was in N’Sync, but I knew it was bad.  Maybe some people blamed him but that wasn’t the impression I got at the time.  I couldn’t articulate it then, but I figured it out as I got older.  It was her own fault for having breasts.

I’ve come a long way since then.  Every other aspect of my body has the ability to give me a massive case of insecurity and self-hatred at a moment’s notice, but I have accepted my breasts as neutral, as a way to feed my future children (if I have them), and a place to hold my phone when I have no pockets.  No outfit makes them look big, they just are big.  And it’s okay.  It doesn’t automatically make me slutty or immodest.  It just is.

Fourteen years later, Justin Timberlake is performing at halftime again and I have no idea what’s become of Janet Jackson.  Some research suggests she’s been blacklisted from the Super Bowl and otherwise lost her career.  It also suggests that the incident inspired the founding of YouTube, proving that society wants to shame her while still profiting from her exposure.  As a woman who has fought for years to accept a natural part of my body while dealing with men I don’t know sexualizing me because of it, it angers and frustrates me that Jackson suffered so much from her exposure while Timberlake has been allowed to move on entirely and was even welcomed back to the Super Bowl.

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Turtles All the Way Down

I read my first John Green book in 2012 – which, you may know, is when his last one came out.  I loved them.  I went from having read none to having read all six of them within the same amount of months.  In a way, his books reminded me of Sarah Dessen’s.  They told the stories of teenagers trying to navigate their lives in a way that helped me navigate mine.  My favorite part about John Green books is that they always left me with the sense that everything was going to be okay.  I had a lot of anxiety in those days, so that feeling was crucial to me.

For four years after reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had no new John Green to read.  When he announced a new book, I was thrilled.

Turtles All the Way Down is about Aza, a teenager living with OCD and anxiety.  While she tries to cope, despite feeling overwhelmed, the world around her goes on.  A billionaire goes missing and her best friend, Daisy, wants to solve the mystery and collect on the reward.  The search has Aza reconnecting with an old friend who becomes a better one.  While her own inner world crashes, she has to learn how to manage her mind while participating in the world around her.

I believe every story we write has a little bit of autobiographical truth to it anyway, but this one was explicit.  At the reading in Charlotte, John talked about his own struggles with mental illness similar to Aza’s and how he managed it.

Now, I don’t have OCD.  In fact, I don’t have any diagnosed anything when it comes to mental illness.  But I still saw pieces of myself in Aza, thoughts she had that young Kari felt too.  He does such a thorough job of creating Aza’s voice and placing the reader in her head that I could feel the anxieties creeping back.

This story in no way glorifies Aza’s mental illness.  Instead, it does exactly what it’s intended to do.  For those who have never experienced something like this, it shines a light on what it’s like to live in a constant battle with your own brain.  For those who are currently living with it, it does something even more important.  It shows a realistic portrayal that proves there is a world outside of your head.  It gives a guide for how to live in it.  And it does what every John Green novel has ever done for me: it tells you that everything will be okay, even after the world has collapsed around you.

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