Friday, August 7, 2009

REVIEW: Spamalot

With our young children now getting older, after a long hiatus from live theater (aside from the occasional forays), my wife and I subscribed this year to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for the 2009-10 season. The first show we saw was "Spamalot," running until September 6.

Based, of course, on the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (one of the first films I saw as an adolescent with buddies and without adult supervision), "Spamalot" is great fun and a real crowd pleaser. With book and lyrics by Python member Eric Idle, and directed by noted film and stage director Mike Nichols, the show retains much from the original movie, both literally and in spirit. The most recognizable and funniest bits of the film have been kept in the show to keep fans happy (of which you can imagine there were many in the audience), but there also is enough new material (and, of course, songs) to make it fresh and not just a cheap retread.

It's a wonderful tribute to the production that the show feels comfortably familiar despite providing a very different through-line from the movie. The characters are somewhat more defined and are given a small semblance of a character arc to help carry the story. The most significant departure is the addition of the Lady of the Lake as a major character. So while feeling totally familiar and faithful, I would guess that at least 50% of the material is new and not from the film.

Again, to keep the material fresh, the show expands on some of the familiar material. One example are the French taunters—knowing that this sequence is one of the best known in the film, the actors playing the Frenchmen go over the top and milk their gestures and taunting for maximum laughs. Another personal favorite song of mine, "Knights of the Round Table," is expanded into a huge Vegas extravaganza. ("What happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot.") As you can imagine, the play had great fun with anachronistic devices like this, which particularly made the choreography hilarious.

Much of the comedy (and the story's impetus) comes from the fact that the show is very self-conscious about being a stage show. The Lady of the Lake is a stage diva, which gives the performer in the role, Merle Dandridge, a chance to show off her singing chops, which were indeed impressive.

Overall, a fun and memorable show—the 2009-10 season at the Ahmanson is off to a great start!

And as a tribute to the original film, one of my favorite bits:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Report from the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con

Below is my annual report on the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). (Click here to go straight to the photogallery.) While I always note that working at one tiny booth in the huge convention hall during the four days of Comic-Con probably limits my ability to provide a complete, accurate overview of the show, I usually find my observations and experiences to be in agreement with the commentaries and reports of others. So with that disclaimer out of the way....

Comic-Con anniversary book coverAlthough I saw the same sales trends that other exhibitors reported (Saturday sales took a dive as attendees decided to focus on going to presentations that took them away from the main exhibit hall), when all was said and done, the show overall turned out to be one of my best in years. However, due to the continued growing dominance of the big studios and media companies at the show, it's no longer a given that everyone at the convention and coming to my booth is interested in comics. But it was nevertheless fun seeing longtime supporters of my comic-book, Rob Hanes Adventures, and making the occasional new fan. (Issue 12, pictured below, debuted at the convention.)

This year was the San Diego Comic-Con's 40th anniversary. The convention marked its anniversary in several ways, such as through scheduled programming, and in a nicely-done history included in the souvenir program. SDCC also published in time for the convention a handsome coffee-table-sized book about the history of the show, Comic-Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans and Friends (pictured above right), which I pre-ordered for pick-up at the convention.

PhotobucketI began attending SDCC back in the mid-1980s, when it was still being held at the Convention and Performing Arts Center in downtown San Diego. The convention moved to its present site, the then newly-opened San Diego Convention Center, in 1990. (I first exhibited at the show in 1993.) Back then, the "big" Hollywood names featured atthe convention were folks like Clayton Moore (Lone Ranger), Kirk Alyn (of the '40s Superman movie serials), and Noel Neill (from the Superman television show). Though it was a simple "old school" comic-book convention in those days, it always was a magnet for the biggest names in comics, science fiction and fantasy like Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison.

Over this time I also made the transition from a fan to a professional. And thanks to the show, I've made some good friends, both professional and personal, and met some of the top talents and names in the comics industry.

Obviously, the show has evolved and changed immensely. Though some have decried the changes the convention has undergone over the years, SDCC has proven resilient and flexible enough to be a "big tent" for all things pop culture and geeky, ranging from comics, to fantasy and science fiction, to film, to gaming, and costumes. While the convention's original focus on comics seems to risk being overwhelmed by its runaway success, the organizers nevertheless have found a way to keep much of the show true to its original spirit, even while attendance has soared, and the glamour of celebrity and Hollywood monopolize all the attention. If you're just about the comics—whether new, Silver Age or Golden Age comics, original art, manga, graphic novels, or meeting the professionals (or any of the many other specialized fields of fandom covered at the convention)—you can still find your bliss, and ignore the rest.

To read the rest of the report and view my full photogallery, click here...