When we experience trauma, the emotional scars have a tendency to last long after the event that created the trauma is over. When it resurfaces and starts to take control, there are two options. The first is to look it in the eye and stop running from it. The other is to let it take the wheel.
The new Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect, premiered last weekend. It tells the story of the late and iconic performer in two sections: her early years and the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, when her career was just taking off. Born and raised in Detroit, Aretha’s parents, C.L. and Barbara Franklin (Forest Whittaker and Audra McDonald) divorced when she was young. C.L. knew that his daughter was a musical child prodigy (played as a child by Skye Dakota Turner) and was more than willing to promote her gift to anyone who would listen. He was also controlling and unwilling to let her make her own decisions when it came to music.
In 1959, the adult Aretha (Jennifer Hudson) is eager to see her dream of becoming a professional musician turn into reality. But after multiple albums, she is at a crossroads. Aretha can either let her father dictate her career or take a chance on going her own way, musically speaking and letting her husband, Ted White (Marlon Wayans) manage her. But the marriage is not all sunshine and roses. While she is on the path to becoming a global superstar, the fight for Civil Rights continues on with Aretha on the forefront.
This movie is amazing. Hudson was born to play this role. She does not merely play the part, she embodies Franklin. There points in which I had to wonder if I was watching a documentary or a fictionalized adaptation of her biography. If this film and Hudson specifically does not walk away with an Oscar, something is wrong with the voting. Though some scenes could have been cut down a little, it is a wonderful film that reminds us of the power of overcoming what holds us back.
Sometimes, life presents us with a choice. We can either do what we need to do to survive or we can go for our dreams, no matter what the cost is.
In the 2008 TV movie A Raisin in the Sun (based on the award-winning play by Lorraine Hansberry), the Younger family is living in 1950’s Chicago, doing the best they can. Walter (Sean “Diddy” Combs) is barely making ends meet as a limo driver, but wants more out of life. His wife Ruth (Audra McDonald), in contrast to her husband, is satisfied with the direction her life has taken. Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan) is not only trying to become a doctor, but has to choose between two different men. While this is happening, Lena (Phylicia Rashad), the matriarch of the Younger family is waiting for an insurance check that could forever change the course of their lives.
A Raisin in the Sun made its debut nearly 60 years ago. Despite the fact that the play is 6 decades old, it is still as relevant today as it was in 1959. Not only the television movie an excellent adaptation, but Diddy surprised many with his acting abilities.
Cancer has a unique way of forcing us to re-asses our lives.
In 2001, the Margaret Edson play Wit, was adapted for television. Starring Emma Thompson as Dr. Vivian Bearing, an English professor diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer and Audra McDonald, one of Dr. Bearing’s nurses, the play is a unique and eye-opening take on how life changes when we battle cancer.
Sometimes, when the focus of a narrative is a character battling cancer, sometimes the writer(s) had a tendency to go overboard on the sadness or the what if thoughts that the character or their loved ones might be entertaining. But the writers found a way to balance the reality of battling cancer with humor and a sarcastic bite that helps to lighten the mood and help the audience release some of the emotional tension coming from the story.
Depression, like any illness, knows no bounds. Whatever labels we or others use to distinguish ourselves are meaningless in the face of mental illness.
The suicide of Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington last week hit many people hard. Linkin Park’s music is powerful, raw and real. It was not just the loss of one the great rock singers of this era, but of a man who lost the battle to the demons in his head.
One of the podcasts that I sometimes listen to is WNYC’s “Here’s The Thing”, hosted by Alec Baldwin. His guest on the most recent episode was actor/singer/Broadway superstar Audra McDonald. One of the things that she spoke of was her suicide attempt during her college years and how surviving it helped to create the person she is today.
The old saying “you can never understand a person until you walk in their shoes” is an especially potent statement when it comes to mental illness. Unless someone knows what it is like to live with mental illness, as well-meaning as they are, they cannot the difficulty of living with mental illness.
I will leave you with the video above. We have lost one too many to mental illness. How many more will we lose before we do something about it?
Art has a funny way of imitating life and politics.
In the short lived television series, Mister Sterling (2003), Bill Sterling (Josh Brolin) is in the family business of politics. Unlike most politicians, his reputation and career is spotless. Chosen by the current governor of California to replace a recently deceased senator, Bill Sterling declares himself to be an independent. While his staff, led by Jackie Brock (Audra McDonald) are loyal to their boss, some of the new senator’s colleagues are wary of the new kid on Capitol Hill.
Looking back, I believe that Mister Sterling had potential. It was one of those television shows that perhaps with a little more time, it might have grabbed a larger share of the audience and stayed on the air longer. Unfortunately, it only lasted one season and went the way of many shows that just didn’t make it.
This past Thursday, NBC aired a live telecast of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical The Sound Of Music.
Any national or Broadway revival of this musical will obviously be compared to the original production from the 1950’s with Mary Martin in the lead role and the iconic 1965 movie.
Carrie Underwood as Maria was an interesting choice by the producers. Yes, the woman can sing. One does not win American Idol and sell as many albums as she has without the ability to sing as well as she does. However, singing your own songs on a concert stage or acting in a music video which will ultimately be less than five minutes long is very different than playing one of the most iconic characters in musical theater. Did she know her lines? Yes. But there was little emotion behind those lines.
And now to Stephen Moyer. A great actor who is incredibly sexy on True Blood. And so wrong for Captain Von Trapp.
He is age appropriate and is as much as a name as Carrie Underwood. I don’t expect him to hit the high notes that Maria hits, but I found him to be stiff and his singing to be simply underwhelming. The Captain is emotionally closed off and stiff at the beginning of the story, but that is his character. Even when he began to open himself up to his children and become the father they needed, Moyer just wasn’t doing it for me. I found myself wishing that Christopher Plummer was still young enough to play this part again.
The upshot to this production was the decision to hire Broadway veterans to fill out the adult supporting roles. Audra McDonald (Mother Abbess), Laura Benanti (Elsa Schrader) and Christian Borle (Max Detweiler). Benati played Maria in the last revival, perhaps she might have imparted some advice to Underwood.
I applaud NBC for this undertaking, a live televised production of one of the most beloved musicals is not an easy thing to pull off. But next time, if there is a next time, I would recommend choose actors who actually have musical theater credentials and not just pop stars and TV actors who can sing.