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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

The Muppets: Pig Girls Don’t Cry (Season 1, Episode 1)

So I want to have this posted before I watch the second episdoe of the new Muppets show. So here’s my thoughts after watching the first episode of The Muppets: Pig Girls Don’t Cry.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

As expected, the performance and production value are top-notch. That’s not a surprise since that’s what I’ve been seeing in recent movies and Youtube videos. A few scenes I particularly enjoy: One is the scene with Scooter and Elizabeth Banks driving around on the lot. This kind of continuous shot requires some good logistical planning and execution, even if puppets aren’t involved. It’s particularly impressive with puppets (plural, because if you are familiar with how this kind of puppets work, you would probably think the one that’s driving around is a different puppet from the one that’s tossed from the cart) and it’s just a fun scene to watch.

Another scene that really stood out to me was the flashback scene for Kermit and Piggy’s breakup. Piggy’s facial expression was beautifully, beautifully done. There’s so much nuance to her facial expression. You can totally see the disbelief and confusion on her face. I totally felt that vulnerable moment. It was amazing puppetry.

Something I have a little bit of mixed feeling about are some of the lines. I feel like Kermit and Piggy are a little more mean to each other (and Tom Bergeron) than I think they normally would be. Some of the subject matters are more mature for some characters. It’s not to say that these weren’t normally a part of the Muppets universe. It’s just that I am expecting them to come from some of the more “mature” characters (such as Pepe) instead of some other characters. I’m fine with this and think they will find a balance soon enough.

Also, the show is updated from Muppets putting on a variety show to them working on a late night talk show, which I guess is a good, close enough modern day equivalence. But this means it will have more of a feel of The Office (some say also 30 Rock, but I can’t judge since I didn’t watch that show). There’s simply more of an excitement while putting on a live show versus a late night show, which can be a daily grind of sorts (ask Craig Ferguson towards the end). One of the most Muppet-y moment of being excited to do a show that reminded me of the old one was that horrible “Dancing with the Czars” idea. I love it when Muppets are excited about horrible ideas, because I personally love horrible ideas.

I think some people will not like it, just because it’s not what they remembered. But I think there’s no point in doing something if you don’t allow them to evolve. It might not go the way they (or I) want it to go, but that’s the sign that the characters are still very well alive. If they are just going to be like the old times, why not just watch the old show?

I enjoy the show and will keep on watching it.

We Have to Go Back: A LOST Musical Parody

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing We Have to Go Back, a musical parody based on the popular TV show LOST, which ran for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. It was quite a fun show. I went with two friends who were big fans of the TV show, while I was mostly going because my friend (Will Choi) was in the show.

For those who didn’t know, LOST opened with a plane crashing onto an island. The survivors had to come together to figure out how to live on the island, which was full of mysteries itself. Throughout the series, there were flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways that intertwined with the current time line to tell stories about the characters and the world they faced.

Because I haven’t actually seen the show, Will highly recommended watching this 80-minute TV special that was the summary of the entire series up to the final episode, probably what they aired right before the finale:

When the cast came out for the opening number, before they even open their mouths, I was able to recognize most of the characters just by the appearances of each cast member because I watched that recap TV special.

Since the special had many of the key moments and characterizations from the TV show, which the stage show also focused on, I was actually able to understand most (I thought) of the references they were using. And I knew exactly what they were parodying for the most part.

I talked to my friends during intermission, and they were surprised that I’ve never watched the show. “How are you even understanding anything at all?” But they did a great job with the recap TV special that I had no difficulties at all.

What I loved about theater was that immediacy and shared experience. You could tell that the cast was really having fun with it. You could also tell that the audience members were enjoying it. And by the reactions people were having, you could tell that the audience consisted mostly of fans of the TV show, because they were responding to all these references that were being made fun of.

Of course, to me, there was the added bonus of watching a friend perform, which was always fun. I thought he did great. He happened to have a solo that was really fun too. I remembered talking to him when the show was still in rehearsal stage. He was a big fan of the show, and this was his first time performing in a musical so it was definitely meaningful to him. I knew he spent a lot of time preparing and had already cut dairy products (which was not the best for your voice) during the run of the show. It was a lot of hard work, I was sure, so it was great to see it come together.

Here’s their website:

And if you are in the Los Angeles area and want to see this very entertaining show, here’s where you can purchase your tickets:

The show runs from September 18 to October 26. Catch it while you can!

How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular

A few weeks ago, I went to this show called How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular. It’s based on Dreamwork’s animated movie. It has life-size dragons (well, life-size according to the recently discovered dragon fossils), and is quite spectacular.

Take a look at this preview:

I went to the show fully expecting to thoroughly enjoy the show, because, you know, GIANT PUPPETS! I was sort of expecting it to be just Walking with Dinosaurs all over again, though, since it’s using the same technology. Well, wrong!

First of all, we have dragons. Dragons are different from dinosaurs, and that’s common knowledge that anyone should have. Seriously though, with dinosaurs, they were more focused on these gigantic creatures walking the earth with heavy steps and might. The dragons, however, felt a lot more light and flexible, because, after all, they fly. Oh, and they spit out smoke and light things on fire. Since when do dinosaurs do that, huh?

Second of all, this one actually has a story. The premise of Walking with Dinosaurs is that they are shooting a documentary in the creatures’ natural habitat, so there is not as much of a plot. With the How to Train Your Dragon story, there were so many interactions between the dragons and the humans. The humans fought, trapped, petted the dragons. And of course, they hopped on to the dragon and flew into the sky on it! The human performers were a delight to watch too.

On the technical note, they’ve definitely improved on the puppets. If I remembered correctly, the entire Walking with Dinosaurs show had only one flying dinosaur and it pretty much stayed in one place. This show had a few different flying dragons and they flied all over at different heights and angles. Some of the human actors also did stunts on wires. All these made for a very busy flying rig. As for the movements on land, they were not that different from two years ago, but definitely looked more polished.

There were also a lot more theatrical elements. The characters were great, both the actors and the puppets. The massive projections onto walls and the floor worked really well creating the environment. I was really impressed with the precision of execution in the scene in which the main character ran through the forest, encountering various terrain and dangers. The landscape was an animation projected on the wall, and the performer was on a wire running on the wall. That was one impressive stunt.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I highly recommend it. Los Angeles was the last leg of the North American tour, though. So it was probably too late for most of my readers if you haven’t seen it. The world tour is up next.

Les Miserables: International Trailer and Preview Clips

I am watching these clips obsessively and feel like I should write down my thoughts before I see the actual film, which comes out on Christmas.

International Trailer

Mostly stuff we’ve already seen in the other trailers, but there are a few new things. We get to hear part of the iconic “One Day More”. A few more observations just from the really short clips in the montage:

1) There was this part where Marius asked “Who was that girl?” and Eponine answered “Cosette.” Hm, then it wouldn’t make sense when Marius sang “Oh god, for shame, I do not even know your name” to Cosette later. I wonder how they’ve changed this part for the movie.

2) The part where Javert (played by Russell Crowe) had a sword and Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) had a piece of wood, and they looked like they were ready to fight is most likely from “Confrontation“. It’s interesting to see these small differences because in the current stage production the two fought with the handcuffs that Javert was going to use on Valjean.

3) The barricade scenes sure are much bigger than on stage (of course). This is going to look great!

4) There’s this part where Javert was walking away and Valjean fired a shot behind him. This is most likely the part where Valjean released Javert but fired a shot pretending to have executed the prisoner. In the stage production, Valjean didn’t fire a shot into the sky until Javert left the stage. This would have more impact, as we can visibly see Javert’s reaction.

A Heart Full of Love

Amanda Seyfried (as Cosette) was not bad, although I felt like her high notes were a little shaky, as in, she could hit them, but I am not quite sure if she could hold them. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne (as Marius) was excellent. The performance was good, overall. Hm, Marius did sing “Oh God, for shame, I do not even know your name” again. Either he didn’t hear Eponine earlier because she was mumbling under her breath, or Marius was one sly dog. Real smooth, Marius, real smooth.

Who Am I

A little more talkier than I am used to, and at the end of the clip, he just said (instead of sang) “I am Jean Valjean” instead of belting it out. It was probably because this version was more introspective and he was in his study. On stage, he turned around and he was suddenly in the court house (stage magic, yay!). But he better still belt out that “24601” at the end of the song. Either way it would still be good. I just have that much faith in Hugh Jackman’s ability to make things awesome. In terms of just listening to the song though, my favorite version is still John Owen-Jones’ version from the 21st Anniversary BBC radio special.

On My Own

In terms of singing alone, this is my favorite clip in this batch. Samantha Barks simply had the character down after performing the character like eight shows a week for a year. I realized that when I listen to soundtracks of a musical that has many adaptations, I tend to prefer the live performance version (if there is one), over the studio soundtrack of a stage cast, over the movie soundtrack. This is probably because the performance for the stage is more about the sound and the movements, while the performance for film is more about the face. I loved her singing, but if you watch other clips closely, you can see that the professional film actors do more little things with their faces. Oh, another thing. I saw a comment on Youtube that said her arms hung weird in the beginning. I was wondering if it was a habit carried over from stage since her costume had a coat and she had her hands in the pockets.

Javert Releases Prisoner 24601 on Parole

It is kind of amusing to me that Valjean seem to be doing a different manual labor in every single production. But I guess this would be the most faithful one to the book since movies are not limited by set pieces and props. (I haven’t read the book yet.) Anyway, when I was just listening to it, I felt like Russell Crowe was underwhelming. It was not like he couldn’t sing, but his singing style just didn’t seem to fit the genre and the rhythm was a little off. (I am thinking it’s because he let his voice trail off at the end of a phrase, which made it less classical sounding.) But when I was watching (instead of just listening to) the clip, it didn’t seem as out of place. I guess this is because there’s visual information as well, and I need to look at everything as one piece. The stage actors, due to the audience might not be able to see faces well in the back, tend to pack more into their voices and be a little more over the top. The scene looked great as a whole, though. These are two good actors playing off of each other. Also there are some line changes to actually explain what that piece of paper is before the two talked about “the meaning of the law”. I think it would help clear things up for some audience members.

At the End of the Day

Hm, you know what? I found nothing to pick on. Anne Hathaway as Fantine was perfect in this clip. Give her the Oscar now.

As critical as I might sound, I am really looking forward to seeing this film, or I wouldn’t be staring at it with such attention. Though I love the stage version, I do not expect it to be (or want it to be) just like the stage version. I want to see some different interpretations that play to the strength of the film medium.

Now I am just hoping that the world doesn’t actually end four days before the movie comes out.

I’m A Broadway Puppet

On August 11 and 12, 2012, I went to a puppet show called I’m A Broadway Puppet at The Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. It was the graduation show for the new batch of Puppet School students, featuring 14 songs from musical theater classics like A Chorus Line, The Sound of Music, and Hairspray.

After doing Puppet Jukebox last year, I was thinking a musical theater one would be the natural progression, but instead we had Puppet Jukebox II. So when I was told that the new batch of students were doing a Broadway one, I was not surprised at all. And the musical numbers lent beautifully to a puppet show.

Seriously, these songs already had so much built into them, such as a collection of very distinctive characters, the progressions of different rhythms, a plot, and even some choreography. And many of the pieces were big ensemble pieces, which certainly made the show quite an ambitious one.

Some of my favorite ones:

That Face: This love song from The Producers becomes a hilarious and very adorable one when the beautiful Ulla Inga tor Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson was played by a monster with sharp teeth. But oh well, love was love. It was a simple piece with only two characters but the movements and interactions between the two characters were simply a delight to watch.

Skid Row (Downtown): This song from The Little Shop of Horror was quite catchy and was stuck in my head for days. (Actually, multiple songs from the show got stuck in my head, taking their turns, such as At the Ballet from A Chorus Line, and Seasons of Love from RENT.) And it was beautifully performed by many very talented singers.

Welcome to the 60s: This song from Hairspray was something I was a little partial to since we did use this song for an exercise in class, but it was such a happy, cheery song! And this one was a fun rendition. But I guess they’ve also been hit by the economy. The Dynamites were downsized from three to two. :-)

It was a really fun show. The two friends that went with me actually both signed up for classes afterwards. They really need to give me some commission, hm. Oh, and did I mention that the show was so much fun that I watched it twice?

The show starred Marky Andrews, Ray Busmann, Leah Calote, Zachary Crook, David Dobrow, Michael Earl, Keith Ferguson, Steven Fletcher, Rachel Herrick, Will Kistler, Jennifer Kekumu, Libby Letlow, Josh Livingston, Constanza Mazeau, Tod McClain, Russell Nauman, Janine Pibal, Aiysha Sinclair, and Amy Smith.

Avenue Q – 3D Theatricals

A few weeks ago, I went to a local production of Avenue Q. This production was put on by 3D Theatricals at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, California. It was great. Even though I already saw it five years ago, and I pretty much knew what was going to happen next, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

According to the person making announcements before the show started, they were going for an authentic Broadway experience. They got the original Broadway / Las Vegas production set. The puppets were also of the original design (though I doubt that they are the original ones since these things do go through their wear-and-tear). Although I have not actually seen it on Broadway, everything was just like the North American tour that I saw a few years ago, down to the blocking and movements.

I think these local / regional productions are great. They are often in smaller theaters, in terms of the size and the name, so for the same price, you can get a much better view than on Broadway or a national tour at bigger cities. These productions try their best to have an end result as close as possible to the original. The performers are quite superb as well. I don’t know if it’s the same case anywhere else, but here in the Los Angeles area (well, technically the production is in Orange County, but close enough), the pool of talents is certainly big enough to fill a bunch of productions with quality performers.

Another interesting about local productions is that they often have a “wink, wink” at the local audience. For example, when Brian and Christmas Eve were moving away and asked where they were moving, they answered Santa Ana, which would mean nothing unless you are familiar with the area. Also, in the original version, there’s a song about what’s only “for now”, and the examples are sex, your hair, and George Bush. Now that George Bush is no longer president, they chose to replace it with “Prop 8”, which would not make sense unless you are in California. (From what I’ve been told, the script has “George Bush” with an asterisk followed by a list of possible words to replace it with. Prop 8 was one of them.)

To go off on this tangent about productions adapting to the local audience, I also recently saw a production of The Producers at the Hollywood Bowl. In one scene, the main characters were fighting with each other and the microphone of one of them got knocked out of place. They were fixing it while he was off stage, so he made his entrance late. When he finally ended up on stage, he blamed it on that “damn traffic”, which, of course, we could all relate to, considering that most of us had just drove into Hollywood not so long ago. And in one song, the line “don’t forget the balcony” is changed to “don’t forget the people in the cheap seats”, since the Hollywood Bowl doesn’t have a balcony. That was fun, and of course, we, the people in the cheap seats, gave him a big cheer. (By the way, I got the ticket for free. Yay!)

Okay, back to Avenue Q. It’s always fun to see people you know perform on stage. In this production, Camille Chen played Christmas Eve. She was great. And although her character “tried to worked at a Korean restaurant” but she “was Japanese”, she blurted out some Chinese too, which I found really amusing. Also, the Director of Puppetry is Christian Anderson. He was part of the North American tour that I watched (didn’t know him back then), and I later ended up taking classes taught by him. He really emphasized the breathing when he taught us, and during the performance I could see the performers did a great job remembering to have the puppets take a breath before singing. I could tell that he really drilled on those.

And of course, what was really exciting for me to watch was the “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” song. Why? Because we did this in class over and over and I was curious to see if the version they would do was any different. Well, nope. It was the exact same thing! That certainly brought back memories for me…

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