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Categorize me, I defy every label!

Aaaarrgh, Janelle Monáe makes me so happy! I've been intending to write a post for the past 2 and a half months attempting to articulate my love for her music (specifically her album The Electric Lady) and what she stands for but I kind of get overwhelmed with my fangirling.

Also, this!.


Songs That Made Me

Last week, I went to a small gig at the Camelot Lounge in Sydenham to see a bunch of amazing women tell their stories and sing some tunes. Called 'Songs That Made Me', it was originally billed as a night presenting Katie Noonan, Abby Dobson and Ella Hooper, the lead singers of George, Leonardo's Bride and Killing Heidi respectively, but Ella had to pull out last minute and was replaced by 19 year old Martha Marlow. Also sharing the stage with them was Thelma Plum, who Lydia recognised as a Triple J darling and also apparently won best new talent for the National Indigenous Awards recently. The four singer songwriters were accompanied by two backing musicians on upright bass and drums (also women!).

Each of the artists took turns to perform a couple of songs that inspired them musically, along with two of original songs of their own with the support of the others. Katie Noonan opened with Joni Mitchell's A Case Of You on the keyboard, and later gushed about her experience seeing Jeff Buckley on his tour in Queensland back in the '90s before delving into a sublime cover of Last Goodbye. Katie's career as an artist has been quite diverse, spanning alt rock, jazz, opera and pop, and her ethereal vocal runs are as astounding as ever. Back in high school, I was obsessed with the album Polyserena and was ecstatic that she decided to sing The Special Ones at this show, which she described was about the deterioration of a platonic relationship. She also performed a song about female friendship called Sweet One which she co-wrote with Sia.

Abby Dobson told an anecdote about the time she had an argument with her husband and the next morning, he had left little notes around the house as she went about her routine. A note in the bathroom read "I love you even when you're washing", one on the cereal box said "I love you even when you're eating", and one on the door said "I love you even when you're leaving". 17 years after the release of Even When I'm Sleeping, it's so heartwarming to discover that Abby still feels joy from performing that song. And what a special rendition it was, as a duet with Katie Noonan! Their voices are worlds apart - Abby's is low and throaty and Katie's soars effortlessly - but together they blended so beautifully. Abby did an acoustic cover of Carole King's Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and together with the other women, they re-interpreted Kylie Minogue's Confide In Me into a sultry lounge version.

The two younger girls are virtual unknowns but they held their own and shone in the group collabs. Thelma Plum reminded me a lot of both Lisa Mitchell and Lily Allen, throwing F-bombs in sweet, folksy melodies. She was pretty hilarious in an awkward, Gen-Y sense, whereas Martha Marlow had a self-assured confidence. We were obviously there for Katie and Abby but by the end of the night, Martha stole the show and closed with Big Yellow Taxi. She hasn't got anything released yet, but here's a track off her upcoming EP.


Just like Jesus, I'm growing a pair!

It's been about four months since I saw the Book of Mormon musical in Chicago and I'm still giggling at the jokes from the soundtrack. Written by the creators of South Park and Avenue Q, the show is a hilarious parody of Mormonism and somewhat of a love letter to religion in general. It touches on every comedic taboo possible (AIDS, cancer, female genital mutilation, rape, repressed homosexuality, bestiality, just to name a few) and has some of the filthiest language in stage history, but still manages to be light hearted, sweet and not at all mean-spirited, which is almost an impossible achievement when it comes to making fun of a religion. It really is testament (no pun intended) to the genius of Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez. The story basically follows two missionaries to war-torn Uganda where they try to convert the villagers who have more serious issues to attend to. One of the missionaries is Elder Price (played by the talented Nic Rouleau at our show), a good-looking but selfish young man who is devastated at not being sent to Orlando instead, and his partner is the hapless Elder Cunningham, whose character is originally written to be overweight and unattractive, but we were spared the fat-shaming jokes with the casting of Ben Platt, better known for his role in the movie Pitch Perfect as the goofy magician guy. They both earnestly explore the concepts of faith and doubt in their own individual ways and their mismatched pairing is an endearing story of friendship.

The music gives witty references to much loved classics like Annie, The Sound of Music, The Lion King and even The King And I. One of the Ugandan characters sings of her version of paradise in Sal Tlay Ka Siti which borrows from The Little Mermaid's Part of Your World and is simultaneously amusing and heart-wrenching. There's also a song about introversion called Turn It Off, in which the missionaries teach their "cool little Mormon trick" to someone struggling with unwanted feelings, complete with an adorable tap dance sequence. Being an introvert with an appreciation for tap, I found it particularly hilarious. :) The whole soundtrack is just so goddamn catchy. I can't wait to see the musical again if it ever comes to Australia! 9.5/10

A brief rundown on other Broadway shows we saw:
- Alan Menken's Newsies had a bunch of incredibly athletic dance routines by the mostly male cast that had me seriously wondering how they could sing live at the same time. I was pretty disappointed by Corey Cott who played the male lead as I really love Jeremy Jordan who originated the role (also seen in the TV series Smash)... but I was excited to see Evan Kasprzak, one of my favourites from So You Think You Can Dance, season five! 7.5/10

- Nice Work If You Can Get It is a 1920s pastiche with songs by George and Ira Gershwin, weaving songs like Someone To Watch Over Me and S'Wonderful into its screwball comedy. I'm not a fan of Matthew Broderick as a Broadway entertainer so I was glad that we got his understudy, Joey Sorge. It was super fun with great slapstick humour and songs with brilliant lyrics like these:

I studied all the rhymes that all lovers sing
Then just for you I wrote this little thing:
Blah blah blah blah moon
Blah blah blah above
Blah blah blah blah croon
Blah blah blah love


- Anything Goes is extremely similar to Nice Work, as both are based on material written by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, and both directed/choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, but Anything Goes is set to music by Cole Porter. I'm not sure why but I thought it was pretty mediocre overall, and Jo and I cringed at the end over the jokes about Asians. The only standout was Rachel York playing the lead as Reno Sweeney and there were about 3 or 4 awesome ensemble tap sequences. Here's one of them, with Sutton Foster as the lead:

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the revival of the musical Hot Shoe Shuffle at the Lyric Theatre. I only knew two things about it: that it had tap dancing set to big band tunes, and that it was Australian. Oh, and that it had a terrible logo. The first quarter trundled along with bad jokes and an awful script but well into the second half I was wishing the show would never end. Once they donned on top hats and coat tails and tossed away any remaining shreds of the story, it was one thrilling dance sequence after another. I loved that the entire band got to feature on stage in the second half, all dressed to the nines in white tuxedos as they played brass heavy jazz tunes by the likes of Ira & George Gerswhin and Duke Ellington. A highlight was watching the Puttin' On The Ritz in homage to Fred Astaire with five of the tappers, followed by a lightning fast tap solo from newcomer Max Patterson. Bobby Fox as the leader of the seven brothers also has a jawdropping solo of his own. Jaz Flowers (who played Tracy Turnblad in 2010's Hairspray) was spell-binding as a goofball turned sultry bombshell. I didn't like her in the recent season of The Voice as she oversang everything but she mastered the art of subtlety in songs like How Long Has This Been Going On and I got goosebumps as she hit the killer notes. Seriously, her talent on stage matches the standard of West End and Broadway.

It was evident that the performers were having a good time and a couple of times they tried to suppress random fits of giggles when they flubbed their lines. However, the men looked a little nervous for the grand finale when the divided platform was brought out, and understandably so, as it is sheer insanity. Here's that number from the original cast 21 years ago, starring David Atkins (and a baby-faced Adam Garcia).

Here's another version of Puttin' On The Ritz by this year's top 20 and choreographers from So You Think You Can Dance. Ten seasons on and it's still as amazing as ever. I've watched this group dance roughly 10 times and I'm still bowled over by how it's all done in one take!
It's been 10 years since Wicked opened on Broadway, propelling Idina Menzel's career into a household name (well, amongst the musical theatre community at least) and earning her a Tony for her leading role as Elphaba. I wouldn't call myself a huge fan of the musical but after youtubing her live PBS concert in Toronto, I geeked out by her setlist of showtunes and big vocal moments.

At the Sydney Opera House, she opened offstage with Somewhere Over The Rainbow, a song from a more innocent Oz, before bounding onstage with bare feet and launching into The Wizard and I. She exchanged some flirty banter with Vanessa Scammell, the conductor of the massive Sydney Symphony Orchestra. "This woman is upstaging my shit. I love her ASS!" Throughout the night, her feisty sense of humour shone through her anecdotes and audience interaction. Right in the middle of belting out Barbra Streisand's Don't Rain On My Parade, she interrupted herself for a few minutes to compliment a little girl in a pink sequinned tutu, and then scanned the men in the first few rows, joking that they were either gay or dragged here by their wives. She gave a shoutout to the DOMA repeal announced earlier that day that would pave the way for her friends to marry the ones they love and compared that to her own experience marrying a black man (Taye Diggs, the hot MC guy from the movie Chicago) and how that would have been illegal a few decades ago. Practically in the same breath, she promptly delivered the rest of the song with the orchestra matching her theatricality.

Idina told her memories of being a wedding and bar mitzvah singer in Long Island and how she got sick of singing the Conga and demonstrated how one of her rivals would incorporate cheesy dance moves to The Jacksons. She shifted gears and performed a sultry mash up of Cole Porter's Love For Sale and Roxanne by The Police. She gave a touching tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, a father figure who passed away recently. She sang two of his songs from A Chorus Line, followed by an original song she's been working on and also a beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell's Clouds.

She noted that the musicians in the orchestra have been playing Bach and Beethoven their whole lives, only to be reduced to perform a Lady Gaga song (Poker Face from her appearance on Glee) and made fun of the lyrics and its inappropriateness in the context of her mother/daughter relationship with Rachel.

Before Wicked, her breakthrough role on Broadway was for originating Maureen in Rent and she clambered off the stage to find a duet partner in the audience for Take Me Or Leave Me, and it was hilarious watching starstruck fans sing and hyperventilate simultaneously as she offered them the microphone. All of them were nervous but a couple of hardcore musical theatre fans hit all the notes with flair. Idina was gracious and warm, and even though I was sitting in the box section slightly behind her, she would turn around to sing and wave to us throughout the show.

A spellbinding moment came when she put away her microphone to sing For Good acapella, her voice projecting throughout the concert hall. Then a ripple of excitement reverberated from the audience for the opening bars of Defying Gravity, the signature song from Wicked. Hearing her voice soaring above the swell of the orchestra was truly magnificent, and a real highlight for me in all my years of watching musicals. For her encore, she chose to sang her favourite song in the world, Somewhere from West Side Story and I vaguely remember clutching my heart from the sheer grandeur of it all.

I'm not crying on Sundays

What a wonderful day it is for the UK. I only hope that our miserable politicians will come around soon. However, I'm extremely proud of our country for putting a song about marriage equality to the number one chart position last week.

I don't remember the last time a music video moved me to tears.


I absolutely adored watching The Sapphires! Such a beautiful story about four indigenous girls who perform soul music for the troops in Vietnam. And Chris O'Dowd is such a scene-stealer with his dopey charm!

Being the musical nerd that I am, I was pretty intrigued when I heard about the concept of the tv series Smash, which revolves around the people involved in creating a new Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Munroe, everyone from the writers, producers, competing lead actresses and the chorus. Starring Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, a string of Broadway veterans and produced by Steven Spielberg, it also features BRILLIANT original music by Marc Shaiman (who also wrote the music to Hairspray!) for all the Marilyn-related showtunes. The covers of the pop songs are so-so, but even so, Smash is in a whole different league to the abysmal writing of Glee. I was hooked from the first episode and raced through the whole season... now begins the painful wait for the second season! I think Channel 7 is about to start broadcasting the first season next week.

Speaking of Marc Shaiman, apparently he's composing the music for the musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which will open in London in June next year! If it's anything like the Matilda musical (or Hairspray) it's gonna be a winner....

Why Be Married When You Could Be Happy?

As part of the Sydney Writers' Festival, I went to see a panel discussion about whether marriage equality is a distraction from deeper, more complex issues that gay people face and whether it's absolutely necessary to legalise same sex marriage in Australia. Moderated by Annette Shun Wah, the speakers were: Dennis Altman, writer of political discourse and sexual liberation; Jeanette Winterson, acclaimed British author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit; Benjamin Law, journalist and one of the great, articulate voices of my generation (and no, that is not an oxymoron); and Masha Gessen, Russian-American journalist and author. The panel was called "Why Be Married When You Could Be Happy?", a reference to Jeanette Winterson's latest memoir "Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?" which in turn was a line that her Pentecostal mother said to her when Jeanette came out as a lesbian at age 16.

As all of the panellists are prominent queer writers, it was a no-brainer that they all agreed that same sex marriage should be legalised as it symbolises equal rights and acceptance. Most of them stated that while marriage isn't personally for them (Benjamin: I would rather get hit by a bus set on fire than get married) they do think LGBT people should have the right to. After briefly outlining that historically, marriage was an economic arrangement to settle property, there was discussion on whether marriage should be something to aspire to as it implies traditional conventions on lifelong monogamy and Masha Gessen argued that institutionalised marriage should not exist in the form as we know it (she has a fascinating model of a family unit which is so confusing I won't even attempt to explain it). Dennis Altman went a step further in his condemnation of marriage, and thinks it marginalises people who don't wish to engage in long term relationships. I looked up one of his articles and his views are summarised as thus:

Is there a danger that homosexuals are parodying an outmoded institution by seeking inclusion in the romantic myth of marriage?... Feminists have long criticised marriage as the institutional basis for male supremacy and restrictive notions of monogamy, and sexual radicals have long denounced marriage as a declining and oppressive institution. The notion of marriage implies a long term commitment to both sexual and emotional commitment. Yet the two are not necessarily synonymous, and most gay men, at least, accept a whole range of sexual adventuring as co-existing with long term partnerships. There seems something hypocritical in the rush to embrace marriage vows, which were designed to restrain any idea that commitment was to be measured entirely by sexual fidelity.

One audience member pointed out that this was a stereotype of gay men but it did lead on to the more controversial topics of polygamy and polyamory. It's interesting because the argument that many religious groups use is that by allowing same-sex marriage, it would open the floodgates to other immoral practices like paedophilia and polygamy. Benjamin quipped "God forbid, I should want the right to marry my fridge!"

Masha Gessen explained a little known fact that same-sex divorce in America is actually a lot more complicated than getting the rights to marry. She separated from her first partner 6 years ago after they married in Massachusetts but since she lives most of the year in Russia, she is legally unable to divorce, even though she has a new family with her current partner. Here's an explanation on the issue, which I think is utterly preposterous.

For you infographic-lovers, here's a wonderful one by the Guardian that someone on the panel mentioned outlining the different same-sex rights allowed in the US. It's a rainbow!! :D

I like Benjamin Law's optimistic view:
In Australia, same sex marriage is inevitable. 80 percent of young Australians between 18 and 24 want to see it happen. (Old people eventually die.)


Do people still read this thing?

LJ, how tired and outdated you look these days compared to all the other shiny blog platforms out there. Can't believe I've been on this for over 10 years, but I can't even entertain the thought of leaving.

Anyway, I found this recipe on Pinterest and the concept blew my mind. AVOCADO FRIES, OMG. Why haven't I heard of it earlier??

I haven't been keeping up with the music scene, but I know that there's a huge buzz building up around the band Alabama Shakes, who I first heard about last year. They recently performed on Later with Jools Holland and I was reminded how much I love them. These guys are the epitome of awesome.

Norah Jones was on the same show performing new material and I'm really digging her collab with Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells fame).


Different, not less.

I just watched HBO's film biopic of Temple Grandin and it was totally inspiring. She's a sought after speaker and her work is highly cited in both humane animal slaughter and autism fields (she revolutionised understanding of both), and the film covers her life in the 60's and 70's where she struggled to get by everyday life in her teens because of her autism. It's a compelling story about parenting, being an outsider, overcoming sexual discrimination and dogged determination. Claire Danes is freakishly good in transforming her voice and physicality to portray Temple and won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance. It's a shame that there's so much meaningless rom-com crap out there earning millions of dollars when stories of real life heroes should really get more attention!

Temple also spoke about the world needing all kinds of minds at TED last year.

Reclaiming my mother tongue

My Chinese was much better as an 8 year old. My handwriting looks about the same today (ie atrocious), but I can't remember how to read or write half these words. Lately, mum has been patiently sitting down with me going through my old primary school level Chinese workbooks. Languages are freaking hard to learn!

Chinese seasons

Rough English translation (in a less poetic tone):
I know when spring has arrived
Flowers blossom and little birds sing

I know when summer has arrived
Everyone wears less clothes

I know when autumn has arrived
Everyone sweeps the fallen leaves

I know when winter has arrived
Northern winds blow and snowflakes float

The Artist

So, so many great moments in this gem of a film! 9/10

At this point, they're starting to get a little nutty from repeating the same answers at interviews and press junkets. ARGH, SO ADORABLE.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Photo by Manuel Harlan

My mummy says I'm a jumped up little germ
That kids like me should be against the law.
My daddy says I should learn to shut my pie hole
No one likes a smart-mouthed girl like me.

Matilda walks onstage with frazzled hair, forlornly singing these lines just after a gaggle of brats have boasted about their own parents' affections for them.... and thus steals our hearts in the opening scene of the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic, which opened just last week at the Cambridge Theatre. Eleanor Worthington Cox is one of the 4 girls cast to play the little leading lady and is one of the finest performers I have ever seen - and she's freaking 10 years old. It's mindboggling that anyone that age can carry solo numbers, memorise complex dialogue, dance several romping routines, and - in one particularly hilarious scene - speak in Russian. Her pint-sized fellow performers are equally matched in talent and when I wasn't busy going "DAAAAW", I was laughing my ass off. Although a lot of the plot details have been altered, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly have kept true to the spirit of Dahl's dark humour and childlike imagination in their writing of the songs and script, adding their own flavour of anarchy. Bertie Carvel is delightfully terrifying as a cross dressing Miss Trunchbull, and as for Matilda's odious father, the Guardian describes Paul Kaye as "a Quentin Blake illustration made flesh." The set design was brilliant - when you walk in, you're hit by a visual barrage of oversized wooden scrabble tiles with beautiful hand drawn letters arranged across the theatre. Every scene incorporates the motif of squares and blocks, creating a compartmentalised chaos (see amazing library photo).

10/10 - New favourite!

Here's a video of the song Revolting Children - one part Spring Awakening, one part Oliver! and two parts Dahl:

Matilda a Musical: Revolting Children from Dusthouse on Vimeo.

(1) Pencil vs Camera: integrating sketches with reality
(2) Dear Photograph: a similar concept, but with old photos.
(3) Splitscreen, A Love Story: beautifully filmed on a humble mobile phone.
(4) Posters explaining philosophies through minimalist shapes
(5) Back To The Future by Irina Werning, an ambitious feat of revisiting the past, often with hilarious results. Be sure to check out part 2 as well!
(6) The World Is Where We Live: man vs wild.
(7) Move: 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles.
(8) National Geographic Photo Contest 2011
(9) Food magnified under an electron microscope.
(10) Criminal Penguins from the mindblowing BBC Frozen Planet series
(11) New York gets invaded by 8-bit monsters
(12) Rubbish made into art by Chris Jordan.
(13) Everything Is A Remix: four part series exploring reappropriation within music, films and inventions.
(14) Old typewriters made into sculptures.

And last but not least, a cartoon that perfectly summarises this post.