My thoughts on CORALINE...

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My thoughts on CORALINE...#1
Posted: 5/15/09 at 12:27am
I saw Coraline this evening. Being a fan of the original novel and the movie adaptation that opened in February, I went in fully prepared to love it. And love it I did not.

It is an extremely uneven show. It's a shame, because when it gets things right it gets things RIGHT. But the opposite is also true.

Let's start with the things it gets right:

Jayne Houdyshell:
Absolutely excellent. I believe she holds the production together. She has the unenviable task of being both protagonist AND narrator, routinely saddled with lines of dialogue describing what she is seeing. Yet, she speaks with all the wonder and fright of a 9-year-old girl. I totally bought she was Coraline Jones, from the second she stepped on stage. She brings real emotion and warmth to the show. Enough good things cannot be said of her.

The Ensemble:
Consisting of January LaVoy, Francis Jue,Julian Fleisher, Elliot Villar, and William Youmann. Again, very excellent. Portraying all the characters in the story, other than Coraline and the Other Mother, the ensemble of this show is excellent. Julian Fleisher in particular stands out, drolly playing the Cat.

The Technical Elements and Staging:
The set is very interesting- like an antique shop/piano repair store. Don't know what the deal with the pianos is, but it made for some very interesting visuals. The space was used very well. The staging is very abstract- very presentational, comparable to John Doyle's Sweeney Todd.

The CONS:

David Greenspan as the Other Mother:
I... I cannot fully articulate how much this did not work for me. First, I don't understand why a man is playing the Other Mother. Symbolic of things not being what they seem? Perhaps. But what happens with this is a very easy trap for such male-playing-woman roles to fall into: wink wink, nudge nudge, camp it up. Greenspan's Other Mother is not at all threatening, or could even be a viable threat. He delivers lines with a knowing irony and in some odd accent that isn't quite British. Just as baffling was his costume: black fright wig and red apron over generic men's clothing (and of course button eyes). The Other Mother is stripped of menace and replaced with a sort of wannabe fabulous villainy that doesn't work and doesn't gel with the tone of the show.

And, of course, this fabulous villain has a fabulous death. That goes on and on and on, culminating in all the female elements (wig and apron) being removed from him. Singing about falling down a well for 3 minutes (which is precisely what happens) is not compelling.

The Score:
A major disappointment, considering it's from Stephin Merritt. The score is loaded with superfluous songs that weigh the show down. Do the living toys in Coraline's Other Bedroom need a song? Why does the Other Mother's illusion of Coraline's parents happily going on vacation without her warrant a song? Or the confrontation with Other Mr. Bobo? These songs are extremely repetitive, say what they need to say and then keep saying it. They kill the moments in which they are embedded and many times stop the narrative cold. There are some musical moments that work, but as a whole I was surprised at how few songs there actually were in the show- and found myself wondering what this would be like without songs entirely.

Let us not speak of the Other Mother's death song, "Falling" (I assume that's what it's called, no song list is given).


The show is just so... disappointing. There are truly excellent moments- the opening is good, Coraline finding the souls of the ghost children is great (aside from the odd Other Mr. Bobo song). But the show feels so long, which is a very bad thing considering it clocks in at an hour and forty minutes. I would not spend more than the $20 on this show, if anyone were planning on seeing it.

"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
Updated On: 5/15/09 at 12:27 AM
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#2
Posted: 5/15/09 at 1:38am
Man, I gotta agree with you 100%!

David Greenspan is AWFUL. I think it would have been more interesting if they went full tilt with it and just made him in drag at least, and given him some sort of height. As it stands (no pun intended), Coraline is bigger (taller, weight, etc) than the Other Mother, so there is no threat.

The score is totally uneven, but I thought the Toy's song worked, as did the Parent's going on vacation. But the "Falling" song was AWFUL. The joke just didn't work, and it wasn't helped by the boring staging. And did you understand The Other Mother's random like speech/monologue/poem in the middle of the show? It just sort of came out of nowhere.

I think the show would benefit from better interweaving of the songs and the story. As it is, it's essentially a book musical, where as I think it would fare better as a more sung-through type of structure. Not like "Next to Normal" or "Rent," but just so the songs don't have to act as stand-alone songs and more as just songs to push the story forward.

But Greenspan should be re-cast or something. I feel like since he wrote it, he plays the party with the whole "I know I'm so funny" wink in his eye, which isn't funny.
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#2
Posted: 5/15/09 at 1:45am
Sorry to threadjack, but I'm still thinking about it, ha.

I think the show should have taken more risks almost. Like, why not make the songs in the "normal" world more cliche and normal with pretty standard orchestration, and then when she's dragged into the "other world" then use the more stripped down version with the piano plucking, etc.

And why not keep the neon lights on when they're in the "other world." They seemed so random and out of place for the times they were used.

And seriously, what's up with the piano motif? Is it big in the books or something? I mean I know it's a musical, but there aren't any references to pianos in the show?
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#3
Posted: 5/15/09 at 3:08pm
I don't get the piano motif either. Pianos play no part in the novel.

Also- the closing song was just silly.

This show just becomes more and more disappointing the more I think about it.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#4
Posted: 5/15/09 at 5:06pm
Same here, actually.

The more I think about this and "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," the more similarities I find. They both are full of missed opportunities.
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#5
Posted: 5/22/09 at 1:12am
Saw the show tonight...

Here's the thing. When Merritt was in a room with other people, where was the person who should have said "Writing an entire score based on an out of tune toy piano is a BAD IDEA."??? I don't know Mr. Merritt, but he has an amazing reputation. He can write melody, but this was a really dumb idea.

I thought the cast did amazing jobs with what they were dealt, but what a horrible show that was. First and foremost, writing the entire score for a musical on an out-of-tune toy piano is a BAD IDEA. It wasn't a musical.

It was a PAINFUL earful for an audience.

You can Ronald Tavel this all you want, but as an audience member tonight, I was pained. So was the rest of the house.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a Kurt Weill fan, and a Benjamin Britten fan, and even a Phillip Glass admirer, but this toy piano idiocy was comparable to none of them.

Even as a children's theatre piece (which it was), I don't think children would like it.

Yikes.




Updated On: 5/22/09 at 01:12 AM
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#6
Posted: 5/22/09 at 1:40am
I'm curious to see the reviews. Part of me thinks they'll applaud it's (somewhat) creativity, but it's also just so glaringly bad at points.
ZiggyCringe
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#7
Posted: 5/22/09 at 1:55am
Ripped, I have no idea what the critics will think.

I suspect Isherwood will hate it.

BUT, you brought up something I'd love to address. I think Leigh Silverman directed the hell out of the nothing she was given. I also think Denis Jones, the choreographer, (a newcomer on the scene who I'm looking forward to seeing more of) did a great job. I don't know the guy, but his choreography impressed the hell out of me.

And again, I think the entire cast was terrific.

The show? Misconceived. IMO.







Updated On: 5/22/09 at 01:55 AM
broadwayguy2
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#8
Posted: 5/22/09 at 5:44am
To be fair, Id hardly call Denis Jones a newcomer. He choreoed High School Musical at Paper Mill, was Jerry Mitchell,s assistant on Legally Blonde, has helmed Broadway bares for several years, originated the role of Keno in Full Monty on Broadway, was in the '94 Grease revival's original cast, etc etc
ZiggyCringe
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#9
Posted: 5/22/09 at 3:00pm
"To be fair, Id hardly call Denis Jones a newcomer. He choreoed High School Musical at Paper Mill, was Jerry Mitchell,s assistant on Legally Blonde, has helmed Broadway bares for several years, originated the role of Keno in Full Monty on Broadway, was in the '94 Grease revival's original cast, etc etc"

You're splitting hairs. Denis Jones IS a newcomer, he's never choreographed a Broadway show. But I hope he does. He's talented. Unlike that Tony-nominated idiot, Andy Blankenbauer, Denis knows how to stage things. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with a real musical, and I think he has a big future.


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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#10
Posted: 5/22/09 at 3:02pm
I agree- the performances and the staging are really the only redeemable aspects of this production. And it's really a shame. The source material is excellent, and it really could've been a great show. The possibilities are there, but then they're steamrolled over by superfluous songs, obnoxious orchestration, a pace that has no right to be as draggy as it is.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
AndAllThatJazz22
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#11
Posted: 5/22/09 at 3:05pm
Are there any pictures of this musical?
"There's nothing good on. The media hates Christmas. The media loves vampires, though. Maybe they will show a Twilight Christmas."
-Danmeg's 10 year old son.
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#12
Posted: 5/22/09 at 3:06pm
I haven't seen a single picture.

You'd be shockingly underwhelmed, though.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
ZiggyCringe
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#13
Posted: 5/22/09 at 3:14pm
So Bernard Telsey was "holding court" last night. The entire audience was papered.

The lesson is this: CASTING DIRECTORS should not produce musicals.

I was not papered, I bought a ticket for last night. But 90% of the audience was paper, and most of them actors. And if you were an actor with a free ticket, can you imagine that you would tell Mr. Telsey he has a suckey show? (If you don't know, he's the biggest casting director in NYC. "Wicked," "9 to 5", etc.). Nope. You wouldn't get cast ever again. Mr. Telsey, therefore, thinks "Coraline" is a good show.

Mr. Telsey, your show sucks. There, I said it. I'm not an actor, you have no control over my life.

Updated On: 5/22/09 at 03:14 PM
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#14
Posted: 5/22/09 at 5:34pm
But can we please get more Jayne in our lives? She was perfect!
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#15
Posted: 5/22/09 at 7:27pm
Telsey, along with Bob LuPone and Will Cantler, are the ADs of MCC. Say what you want about them, more often than not, they produce damn good theater: FROZEN, Fifty Words, the LaBute plays and so forth.

Besides...he's not the one financing the shows.
Updated On: 5/22/09 at 07:27 PM
ZiggyCringe
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#16
Posted: 5/23/09 at 2:37am
"Besides...he's not the one financing the shows."

Are you sure about that?
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#17
Posted: 5/23/09 at 5:22pm
Okay, I guess I'm glad I didn't read this thread before I saw it on Thursday (I'm not an actor, and I wasn't papered), but dare I say, I thought it was ... awesome.

The closing song that was "just silly" I actually thought was surprisingly effective/moving, and I couldn't put my finger on exactly why -- which, come to think of it, describes the show to a tee. Everything felt a bit off-kilter and abstract and I think once you get past the first few minutes, you completely forget that you're watching an "unconventional' production ; you just learn to roll with it. Yeah the out-of-tune piano will not be for everyone, but I really dug its use and I thought it lent the songs an oddly haunting quality (even if it does also render them not terribly memorable).

I do half agree on David Greenspan. I thought he played up the humor about half the time, rendering the Other Mother unthreatening, but a good deal of the time I thought he played her in a genuinely unsettling manner. I will say though, NONE of the time did I think he played it as camp -- just sometimes for creepiness, others for humor.

And I think it's wildly simplistic/dismissive/inaccurate to label this a "children's theatre piece." I don't know exactly what children would make of it, but the little boy to my right was covering his eyes for about half the show. A lot of it, particularly the rats, is fairly scary.
Updated On: 5/23/09 at 05:22 PM
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#18
Posted: 5/24/09 at 12:20am
Perhaps Greenspan has altered his performance since I saw it? The show is still in previews, after all.

I did think there were some unsettling moments- the rats are definitely very effective, creepy, and well done, the encounter with the Other Father in the basement is likewise creepy.

Hopefully some of the things I disliked will, or are going to, change. I really would love for this show to work. I think, with some alteration, it could.

It really is worth going to see Houdyshell's performance. She is marvelous.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#19
Posted: 5/24/09 at 12:24am
When does this show run till?
"I never had theatre producers run after me. Some people want to make more Broadway shows out of movies. But Elliot and I aren't going to do Batman: The Musical." - Julie Taymor 1999
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#20
Posted: 5/24/09 at 12:26am
June 20th.
"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#21
Posted: 5/24/09 at 1:15am
Oh well looks like I'll miss it.
"I never had theatre producers run after me. Some people want to make more Broadway shows out of movies. But Elliot and I aren't going to do Batman: The Musical." - Julie Taymor 1999
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re: My thoughts on CORALINE...#22
Posted: 5/24/09 at 1:18am
From word of mouth, it sounds like you won't miss it. :P
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