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Jesus Christ Superstar

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:32 AM

As I noted last night, I just had the pleasure of seeing the Muny production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It would be stating the obvious to say this was a bit different from Grease. Unlike my commentary on that a few weeks ago, in which I had a hard time pointing out non-objectionable parts of it, there is very little to object to in Weber's “rock opera” and a lot to appreciate.

As is the case for anyone dealing with Christ's passion, especially someone attempting to tell the story in a non-traditional way, Weber took some risks. It doesn't therefore surprise me that the musical was controversial when it came out. Jesus' humanity is emphasized over His divinity, even He seem to almost doubt His nature, but as a whole, Judas seems to suggest Jesus takes an active role in letting people call Him God, which is a far more noticeable recognition of Jesus as a willing recipient of that title than the minor comments made by Jesus that may suggest the opposite. That is, Weber and Rice do not run with the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God, unlike — yes, Mark, I'm sure you're waiting for this — Dan Brown.

As a whole, the musical provided a powerful portrayal of the last week before the crucifixion in such a jarringly different way that it actually amplified some parts, rather than diminishing them. I appreciate the perspective of Judas, something that the Gospels do not provide for us, but have rather left us to imagine for ourselves. I generally believe that suggesting Judas did the deed exclusively for the 30 pieces of silver is an oversimplification. Perhaps he did think he was helping Jesus, or at least keeping Jesus from causing more “harm” to His followers, as the Judas in the play suggests. (I've often leaned more on the idea that perhaps, like Simon the Zealot, he might have been looking for a — well — zealous removal of the Romans and was trying to force it to happen.)

The lack of a resurrection scene was a bit disappointing.

What I'd really like to mention again, though, is the actors themselves. The actor playing Jesus put in a superb performance, particularly in the temple scene's piercing cry. Judas, in my opinion, stole the show with an absolutely stellar performance; the actor playing Judas had the voice to tackle some very difficult songs and he did so powerfully (I think notably better than the singer on the official Superstar soundtrack). His voice was powerful and clear, even when he was hunched over. The man playing Herod, who apparently is no stranger to the Muny, also put in a marvelous performance that showed he felt entirely at home on this stage, and the actress playing Mary Magdalene had an excellent voice with a slight hint of a country music singer in it.

My major complaint, if it can be considered one, is that the majority of the music in this play was not memorable on its own. As a whole, the play was excellent, but unlike some other musicals (perhaps, to an extent, even Grease), it lacked the stand alone songs that otherwise might stick in my head. Meredith Wilson's the Music Man, which I enjoyed at the Muny last year, left me with such notable tunes as Marian the Librarian, Lida Rose, Good Night, My Someone, You Got Trouble and, of course, Seventy-Six Trombones stuck in constant rotation in my head for sometime after seeing it and they remain in fairly frequent “shuffle” there (not to mention on my iPod; I own the original broadway soundtrack of it now).

With a musical, I suppose one can seek two different things: music or a story. Ideally, the play will provide both. Superstar does, but, ironically, I think the fact that all of the words are set to music does actually weaken its music outside of the story.

Still, I'd be tempted to go back to the Muny and sit in the free seats to hear it again, if it wasn't quite so long of drive to go there.

Rating: ***1/2

Too Much Heaven on Their Minds

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:03 AM

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle.
Knew that I would make it if I tried.
Then when we retire, we can write the Gospels,
So they'll still talk about us when we've died.

—The Disciples

Tonight, I had the pleasure of seeing a production in the 87th season of the Muny, the United States' largest and oldest outdoor theater: Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar. Wow. It was, well, spectacular. The actors playing Jesus and Judas were absolutely amazing (especially Judas). Mary Magadeline also gave a stellar perfomance. And then there was Herod…

I was a bit afraid the show wouldn't make it all the way through; it started raining about two-thirds of the way through the first act. Fortunately, the rain stopped shortly thereafter and the weather cooperated the rest of the time. I'll write some of my thoughts on the show itself tomorrow.

Grease: A Short Reaction to the Play

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:31 AM

Well, today was Father's Day. So came the question that arrives every year: what to do with Dad to make his day interesting. Mom suggested that she had seen a play in the paper — a local production of Grease. Now, I had not seen the play or movie, nor had she, but we figured Dad would like it.

As a whole, it worked out well in that respect. But, I was thoroughly disappointed with the play itself. The majority of the characters were very unlikable, save for Sandy and “Cha Cha.” The former, the female lead, however, gets a happy ending, but only by switching to the dark side of the “Pink Ladies” (who are anything but lady like), and giving up the virtuousness that makes her likable to begin with. All of the male characters are, to varying degrees, unlikable as well. Sandy, at first, seems to be desirous of a real love, but she seems to give that up for the superficial, shortsighted pleasures and thrills the others seek by the end.

Moreover, the play is absolutely laden with sexual overtones. I am not referring to Shakespearan double entendres, either, but all kinds of overt references. In fact, that was most of the plot (if I can even say it had one). It was suppose to be a comedy and on the surface, it is: Sandy gets her guy in the end. To me, however, I'd say it was actually a tragedy, as Sandy all but sells her soul for some momentary facades of happiness. She seeks love and “improves” by seeking lust instead, a very different thing. Dr. Faustus comes out with a better deal!

Now, I may seem prudish to some, but I just would have hoped there would have been some kind of more meaningful plot. Is there nothing else to focus on in life or in love than physical lusts? Of course there is more, even Hollywood usually gets that much right, despite its generally distorted lens. I think what really disturbed me was the ending. I kept thinking someone would come around and love “Sandra D.” for who she was; that is, someone would improve. Instead, the happy ending requires the corruption of a basically good character. I cannot think of one virtue of the plot, one decent illustration or message to draw out of it, which is a pretty bad sign.

The music was mostly enjoyable — if you didn't listen too hard — but many of the lyrics fit the plot (or lack thereof), and so it did little to redeem the play. Yet, it certainly was not a set of songs I would want to own on CD, even dismissing the content of the lyrics momentarily. The big highlight of the play ended up not being the play at all, but the band that played during the intermission, which did a knockout job of imitating some 50's songs.

Critical Rating: ** (out of 5)

Revelations: Omnium Finis Imminet

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:56 AM

Joshua Claybourn recommends NBC's mini-series Revelations, and I'd have to agree with that assessment based on tonight's premier. This is the first prime-time, major network show I have watched in ages and it was really good.

So far, I cannot figure out the exact eschatological interpretation being employed, but there was nothing objectionable. Certainly, I am not expecting to watch this to improve my understanding of the books of Daniel and Revelation, but I think it has the makings of a good series that, as Joshua notes, puts a positive spin on Christianity for once. On the other hand, there were a very good number of quotes from apocalyptic Biblical passages throughout the program, both quoted by the protagonist nun and shown on-screen before or after commercial breaks.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said yesterday and I have marked elsewhere, it does have a certain X-Files-like feel to it (especially the cinematography). It also has some elements that remind me of the plot structure of the Da Vinci Code, which is probably no coincidence given that NBC did a special Dateline look at the Code immediately preceding Revelations.

It looks like the first part is going to re-air multiple times over the next week on various NBC-owned stations, such as USA Network and Sci-Fi, so if you missed the premier tonight, you ought to catch it elsewhere before part two of six is shown next Wednesday at 8 PM CDT.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)
Content: Moderate violence and perhaps some language, although I don't recall for sure on the latter part. I'd follow the suggested age rating given by NBC (14 and above).

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:13 PM

Well, it is March and not October, which can only mean one thing: baseball is getting ready to begin rather than end for the year! Given this striking revelation, wouldn't you like to get in the spirit by joining the Sakamuyo Network Baseball League?

Who cares if you don't know a thing about baseball, your friendly league commissioner doesn't know much about it either! I may know more about baseball than football, but given my knowledge of football that doesn't say much at all. I do know it involves bats and balls, and is played on a diamond, but I haven't established the carat weight yet.

All corny jokes aside, why not sign up? We already have three teams ready to play, but we need more (we can have up to 20 teams). Go here for more information.


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:31 AM

I don't know how I missed this previously, but it seems that the Passion of the Christ is back in a less gory edition. The Passion: Recut is six minutes shorter, removes some close up shots for more distant ones, and apparently tones down the soldiers' discussion of crucifixion. Interesting… I couldn't (quickly) find whether this allowed the movie to drop to a PG-13 rating or not.

Dishing Out About Cable

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 8:32 PM

The other day, it dawned on me. My telephone is digital service provided by the cableco, as is my internet access. Yet, I have a satellite dish. Surely, the cableco could offer something to make it worth my time to switch to cable tv, too, right?

Now, Dish Network has been good to work with. They have good technical support and they were offering a “free” DVR before anyone else. On the other hand, the Weather Channel lacks local forecasts, I can't get any of the local public service channels (occasionally, for instance, the City of St. Peters might have something interesting on, as does Lindenwood U.), and the DVR is not a dual tuner, so if it is recording, you can only watch what you are recording (that doesn't make much sense, now does it?). Dish, these days, gives you a dual-tuner recorder, but they want fifty bucks to replace the old one that I now own, since I was under contract. The one $50 will get me will be a no-charge leased unit instead of one that is mine to keep (although what you do with a satellite tuner/DVR if you cancel service is beyond me anyway…).

So, I called the cable company, Charter Communications. After talking to several people and getting multiple different answers, I finally got the bottom line: they offer about $13 in discounts for getting the “triple play” package (phone, internet and TV), but they are more expensive than Dish, so I'll end up at the same price point as before. Their DVR is also only a 40 hour one versus the 100 hour one that Dish gives out. On the other hand, they offer the aforementioned channels and some others, a GNU/Linux based DVR (a Moxi box) that can be expanded with an external hard disk, photo card readers, etc., and you can even transfer non-flagged material over Firewire to a computer or burner. Moreover, it consolidates all communication and media services onto one bill.

The question is whether it is a wise choice. Charter is ranked lowest for technical support of major providers. In my experience with their internet service, it is pretty good actually, although presently I need to get a technician out because I cannot download anything of substantial size (100 MB or more) without losing the connection). On the bright side, they have a new CEO who is promising to focus the company's resources on improving support and since I live in Charter's home city, we'll probably see any improvements first…

Second Hand Lions

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:55 AM

I'm not even going to try to summarize the whole plot — if you've gotten this far, you should have rented the movie and watched it already (or perhaps you caught it in theaters). Ok, Ed, you can keep reading, but anyone else must go rent the movie first.

The basic plot we have here is that of the two eccentric uncles and their young great nephew, Walter, who has been all but abandoned by his mother at the beginning of the movie. Throughout the movie, the uncles tell the story of their journey through Europe, fighting in Africa during World War I, and Uncle Hub's finding of, and loss of, true love. The story that the uncles tell Walt is certainly wild and the one uncle even questions if the young man believes the story. Along the way there are people that claim they know the “real” story — the Uncles really were mafia members or the uncles were cruel bank robbers. The latter storyteller, Walt's mother's questionable fiance, even suggests that Hub's “true love” Jasmine was actually merely someone left to die at the scene of a bank robbery.

Ultimately, Walter chooses to ignore the nay-sayers and stays with his Uncles rather than going with his lie-telling Mother. Despite that, I think both the audience and Walter wonder if the stories his uncles told him really are true or only a cover up. As Uncle Hub tells Walter, it doesn't always matter if something is true, that isn't always what is important. Walter needs to believe in his uncles and so he does. He takes a leap of faith.

This reminded me so much of how it is with our relationship with God. Like Walter, we are mere children in need of someone to watch over us and lead us. God offers us the opportunity to be His sons and daughters and we experience just a tidbit of a real relationship with Him while on earth. The world itself remains theistically ambiguous and there are plenty of people making claims as to who God really is or whether God is God at all. We can choose to believe the critics or we can choose a leap of faith.

Taking a leap of faith does not mean believing something that is not true. Walter has evidence to support his belief in his uncles' stories (such as the sandy chest with the picture of Jasmine in it), but he also has evidence that seems to point in the opposite direction (such as the bank-like safe hidden in the barn). Walter keeps the faith despite the ambiguity of things and that is what makes the end of this movie so poignant: as he arrives to see the airplane wreck that has brought both uncles to their demise, a helicopter from a Middle East oil company lands and out steps the son of the sheik from his uncles' stories. He had seen the plain wreck on the news and recognized the names of Walt's uncles. The stories were true both men standing there discover that day.

Isn't it the same with God? In this life we will never have all of the proof to silence every critic. I believe this is very much for a reason, which I'll address in my next movie review, hopefully later this week. But for now, just consider that fact. I will never be able to prove God to everyone. There will always be arguments from people trying to convince me otherwise. But, just like Walter needed to trust his uncles before he had all of the proof, so that he could gain the wisdom and love they had to offer, we must trust God now. After this life we will have the equivalent of a helicopter landing with “the proof,” but then it is too late to seize upon that truth.

Sunday Brunch: Sitcoms

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 10:53 PM

Christopher just had some Sunday Brunch, so I thought I'd have some too. Join me in the comment, if you'd like.

1) What sitcom have you seen every episode of?
None. I have come quite close with I Love Lucy and I Dream of Jeannie, but despite constant reruns, a few episodes elude me.

2) What sitcom makes you laugh until you cry?
Most any one I'll waste my time watching must, at least on occasion, cause me to laugh hard enough that I cry. Let's see, that would include the two aforementioned ones with episodes such as the Vitametavegimin episode and most of the Hollywood episodes of I Love Lucy, just to name a few. Likewise, for example the Tony sounds like Caruso episode on I Dream of Jeannie. I'd also point out the Beverly Hillbillies on this point, with classic episodes such as the one where Jed, Jethro and Elly May think they are buying a piece of land for Granny and they are really buying a cemetery plot — you have to see it to understand it.

3) What sitcom do you wish had not been canceled?
I Dream of Jeannie could have gone longer, as could have Gilligan's Island. Those two are the only ones coming to me right now as shows that died before they really deserved to.

4) What sitcom do you wish they WOULD cancel?
Given that none of the modern ones intrigue me, I rather wish they'd cancel them all so perhaps the writers would go back to the drawing board and come up with something a bit better.

5) Who is your favorite sitcom character, either past or present?
Tough! Probably Lucy Ricardo. But Dr. Bellows, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, Mr. Bean and numerous others also are worth mentioning. Lucy gets the nod because Lucille Ball had a knack for comedy that I have not seen from anyone else. Her perfect timing on facial expressions, proficiency at slapstick and her character's general “likability” all play into this.

Johnny English

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:49 AM

I watched Johnny English tonight (with Rowan Atkinson of “Mr. Bean”). It was quite a bit like I expected — completely ridiculous. :-) Sometimes that's exactly the kind of film you need to see, ya know? Don't expect a long blog post on this — there isn't all that much significance to it. But, if you like Atkinson's brand of humor, you'll enjoy this film. I know Christopher posted on this film in 2003, but I cannot seem to locate that post. At any rate, it was a good movie for ninety-nine cents at the drug store. I made my throat hurt from laughing.

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