Summer Soup (Elvis and Beanie and Huma, oh my!)
Alphabet Soup makes a thrilling comeback
Sweet, sweet, stackers,
I recently paid $9 for a lumpy cup of “peach gazpacho,” and in the wake of this troubling incident I felt it imperative to pay my soup forward and serve you some summer dish. Without further ado: a fresh, free cup of alphabet soup.
B is for Beanie, L is for Lea, C is for Casting Director who Should Really Be the One at Fault Here, right?
As Britney Spears once purred, “There's only two types of people in the world / The ones that entertain, and the ones that observe.” After this week, I think the two types of people in the world are the ones who know every detail of the Beanie Feldstein Lea Michele Funny Girl drama and the people who know nothing, would rather know nothing, or would rather be waterboarded than to have to hear about this mess anymore.
TL;DR, Beanie Feldstein, who made a name for herself in Booksmart as the champion of secretly-psycho-goody-two-shoes girls, somehow got stuck with the impossible task of being the new Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, a musical that hasn’t been revived on Broadway since its original 1968 run. The standout song of Funny Girl is far and away “Don’t Rain on My Parade”; a song made for a diva with a killer belt, it’s been performed by everyone from seventh grade Broadway nerds at their middle school talent shows to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) on Glee. Oh, and also by Beanie, with what Helen Shaw (a genius critic I’ve been reading for some time who is moving from Vulture to The New Yorker) calls “foghorn force.” “Everything else,” Shaw writes, “goes sour.”
The producers of Funny Girl announced this week that Lea Michele would be replacing Feldstein in the run, which set the drama lovers – pun certainly intended – reeling. Michele is made for the part – her character on Glee even had an entire plotline dedicated to starring in the revival of Funny Girl. But Michele also reportedly threatened to shit in a co-star’s wig, and might be illiterate. As for Feldstein, critics agreed that her vocal performance wasn’t powerful enough for Broadway, but many – including Meg Masserson in American Theatre – thought the criticisms veered into fatphobia.
I didn’t see the show, so I can’t really speak to what was going wrong in Feldstein’s performance. But can we all agree that this is totally the fault of the casting director, or music director, or whoever decided to throw a mostly film actress up on stage to sing songs that weren’t in her range? If you market a show entirely around a lead, can’t you also transpose the score entirely around a lead?
My only real take is that this drama hasn’t particularly made me want to go see Michele gloat and preen in a role she got to snatch from Beanie– I really just want to see Lea and Beanie in a WWE cage match. Which won’t happen, because Lea will be up there marching her band out and beating her drum, and Beanie – I hope – will be hiding from the press having hot gay sex with her new English fiance.
R is for Rebound of the Century
Cat’s out of the bag – Huma Abedin is dating Bradley Cooper. Weird flex, but I actually knew that the woman behind the Hillary Clinton email scandal was shacked up with the man behind “Shallow” since January – my sister’s ex-boyfriend got a tip about it and blabbed, and she blabbed to me, and I chose the path of righteousness and didn’t blab to a major news outlet, where I probably would have made bank selling the story, but instead just texted my high school friends. The news received this reply:
The whole thing is like some fucked up Hallmark movie – reeling from the shock of finding out her husband had sent his Wiener around under the moniker “Carlos Danger” [I’d totally forgotten this part of the saga], a dedicated political aide and classified email sender finds love again with a hot movie star who recently strapped on a prosthetic nose to play a Jewish dude. Re: the Jewish nose prosthetic; is that, like, weird? More importantly, do I have to have an opinion about it just because a plaster cast of my (Jewish) uncle’s schnoz hung on my bedroom wall for my entire childhood?
Whatever. The whole story did remind me of this iconic faked Hill email, though.
3. E is for Elvis, and the Emmys!
I saw Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS last week with a theatre full of salivating octogenarians. I’m starting to realize that biopics – a genre that I’ve flip-flopped on quite a bit over the years (final answer is, it’s pretty weird if the person is still alive) – are lucrative because the star appeals to the youngsters while the name appeals to the old folks. Fun – and sex appeal – for the whole family!
I was prepared to sneer at Austin Butler, but I genuinely found myself screaming real screams more than once in the theatre. I think part of this had to do with the fact that his eyeliner made him look like Adam Lambert, the runner up of Season 8 of American Idol, and my big time childhood crush:
My big long take is that the movie – mostly a clumsy attempt to reconcile Elvis’ stardom with his cultural appropriation with the formulas of a biopic with Baz Luhrmann’s zany editing style with Tom Hanks’ boring acting – missed an opportunity to more deeply consider the implications of Elvis as a quirked up white boy with a little bit of swag who busted it down sexual style. Because really, that’s what he was – someone whose raw sensuality pushed at the established norms of 1950s white masculinity in an undeniably transgressive manner.
Luhrmann seems to want to imply that Elvis’ unique masculinity presented an alternative to the more violent white masculinity pervading the South. In one scene, Luhrmann cuts rapidly between one of Elvis' performances in Memphis and a segregationist rally taking place just a few miles away. These two mass events – the vitriolic rally and the fanatical concert – are intentionally juxtaposed, and while they’re not explicitly opposed, the scene still has a hero vs. villain vibe to it. Pick your side: racist rally or Elvis concert. Never mind that both arenas were segregated.
Last spring, Chet Hanks – the son of ELVIS’ co-star – declared that 2021 would be a "White Boy Summer." “I’m not talking about, like, Trump, you know, Nascar-type white,” Hanks added as a caveat. “I’m talking about me, Jon B., Jack Harlow-type white-boy summer . . . Let me know if you guys can vibe with that." After ELVIS, I wondered if Baz Luhrmann imagined Elvis Presley kind of like Jack Harlow – a Southern white boy with a sexy drawl who tops the charts by performing musical styles originated by Black artists. Luhrmann is obviously aware of the parallels between Elvis and “white rappers”: on the soundtrack to ELVIS, Eminem literally raps the lines: "I stole black music, yeah true / Perhaps used it (For what?) as a tool to combat school" and "Now I'm about to explain to you all the parallels / Between Elvis and me, myself / It seem obvious, one, he's pale as me / Second, we both been hailed as kings.” Instead of really delving into questions of influence and appropriation (past and present), Luhrmann just pads the movie with musical performances from Elvis’ musical forebears – an empty homage that misses the opportunity to get into how Elvis was perceived by other Black performers at the time, including the ones he profited off of. As Aisha Harris put it in her great NPR review, “excising any criticisms or apprehensions from Black artists in the script ultimately does a disservice to him and the inherent nuances in how his art has been received.”
“Appropriation” implies that a performance is disingenuous – but neither Elvis or Jack Harlow or Eminem, even, are necessarily playing something they aren’t (as far as I can tell). What Luhrmann could have focused his entire movie on is the fact that performers like these might be simultaneously threatening to white supremacy and Black performers alike – to white supremacists, because they often reject white supremacy when paying homage to the Black performers that shaped their style, and to Black performers because such so-called “cultural exchanges” still often wind up with white artists as the true beneficiaries.
Well, that’s the soup! See you soon for some longer-form musings – and, as always, feel free to shoot me a message if you have any thoughts.