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March 26, 2004 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-03-26

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily - Friday, March 26, 2004 - 9

Fairy tales
retold in
Oakland's
'Woods'
By Dawn L Low
Daily Arts Writer
F INE kA TS VIEW ***
Watching actors sing their hearts
out only a few feet away from your
seat can be a strange experience. But
in a new production of Stephen Sond-
heim and James Lapine's "Into the
Woods" by the Oakland University
Department of Music, Theater and
Dance, director Karen Sheridan turned
a potentially awkward experience into
a delightful one.
"Into the Woods" is a conglomera-
tion of fairy tales tied by Lapine's
invention of the Baker and his Wife.
But these aren't tales for children

Butterfly not a platinum Blonde
By Alexandra Jone
Daily Arts Writer

There are two kinds of boring music: the kind you can for-
get and the kind you can't ignore. The forgettable - and for-
givable - makes an album sound stale after only a few
listens. Hooks lose their sparkle, ballads become innocuous
muzak and lyrics turn into mere background chatter. The
other type, however, can be offensive, disappointing and just
plain sad for audiences. When expectations are high for more
of the same great music or when listeners crave further explo-
ration of new directions previously hinted at, a band's stumble
or slump can seem like more of a _____________
descent into mediocrity than it really is. Blonde
Blonde Redhead's Misery Is a Butter- Bede
fly falls into the second category. The Redhead
ultra-intellectual content and scrap-metal Misery Is a
instrumentals that made Melodies of Butterfly
Certain Damaged Lemons a musical 4AD
Easter egg hunt lose their cutting edges
on the band's fifth full-length release as a trio. Twins Amadeo
(guitar) and Simone Pace (percussion) and guitarist/vocalist
Kazu Makino have always carried the stigma of indie corpo-
ratization - their self-titled debut was produced by Steve
Shelley, Sonic Youth's drummer, and they appeared in a Gap
ad - but their albums were always interesting to hear. Their
first release after switching labels from Touch & Go to 4AD,
Misery Is a Butterfly provides the same uber-hip sound tem-
plate, but none of the crunch and glitter that used to make
Blonde Redhead interesting.
On previous releases like Melodies of Certain Damaged
Lemons, you had to strain your ears to pick up all the sonic
filigree and detritus that Blonde Redhead hid in their
songs - and you were rewarded. Tracks like Damaged
Lemons' "This Is Not" explored a wide range of different
sounds, from meditative guitar riffs to sing-songy delivery
of lyrics to Kazu's bone-chilling vocal manipulations.
Unfortunately, sound gems like these are hidden or omitted
on Misery. Kazu's vocals are just as breathy and dreamlike

though. Yes, there
is a quest, and all
of the well-loved
characters make
an appearance -
Little Red Riding
Hood, Rapunzel,
Cinderella and
Jack (of
Beanstalk fame)
- but the writers
don't sanitize the
cruelty and vio-

Into the
Woods
Friday through
Sunday at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m.
$8 Students
$15 Adults
At the Vamer Studio
Theatre
Oakland University
campus,
Rochester Hills

as before, and the Pace brothers provide a solid instrumen-
tal base. But rather than creating layers with blankets of
vastly different sounds, in songs like "Doll Is Mine," the
trio has injected wide swaths of thick, plodding strings
between their three core elements. It's not that the band
isn't trying; the larger elements make for a backdrop
against which limitless narrative and musical possibilities
could unfold. Maybe that's the problem: Without the junky,
jangling effects to jar us out of the standard indie rock for-
mula, Blonde Redhead become quotidian and ineffectual.
Misery Is a Butterfly isn't an unpleasant listen if you're
looking for an album to put on the stereo while you're doing
something else. But Blonde Redhead have always made a
point to remind listeners that they're hearing something
unique - and if their previous releases are any indication, the
band is anything but forgettable. Skip Misery Is a Butterfly,
but don't count them out yet. Hold out for something better
from this motley New York trio.

lence of the original stories. Rapun-
zel is abandoned in the desert, her
Prince is blinded and the eyes of
Cinderella's stepsisters are plucked
out. The world is seen through
shades of gray: People aren't always
good, witches can be right and "hap-
pily ever after" doesn't last far
beyond Act One. For better or worse,
this is a thoroughly postmodern
show, lighthearted though it can be.
Adding to the production, Sond-
heim's score is brilliant, both musi-
cally and lyrically.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature
of Sheridan's production was the
space: Rather than the usual prosceni-
um that frames the action and allows
for huge sets, the theater seats audi-
ence members at opposite walls, fac-
ing both each other and the action in
the center. The orchestra - which left
much to be desired - plays on the
third side, with the entrance and
Rapunzel's tower comprising the
fourth. It's impossible to use much

Who's afraid of the big, bad ... owl?
scenery without obstructing sight
lines in such close quarters, but
designer Kerro Knox 3 created a few
outstanding set pieces. Most notable
were the abstract house that rises to
surround the Baker and his Wife and
the giant beanstalk that sprouts from
the center of the stage. Also, Sheri-
dan's skillful direction could be seen
in the actors' use of space, especially
during the scene where the Wolf
devours Little Red.
Few of the actors were singularly
excellent, but they were strong as an
ensemble. During the opening-night
performance, there were a few
places where the singers were not
together with the orchestra, and
there were also frequent sound prob-
lems, the most irritating being mix-
ing imbalances. However, Phill
Harmer was outstanding as the Wolf,
as theatrical and lecherous as one
could want him to be, a capacity that
resurfaces when he seduces the
Baker's Wife as the Prince. P. J.
Vasquez, Rapunzel's Prince, was
likewise striking, with a resonant
voice and a presence to match.
Most of the costumes were disap-
pointing, including the Witch's
mask. The one piece that stood out
was the Wolf's costume, later worn
in a fashion by Little Red, with gray

'80's rocker hair.
Overall, the production was
engaging, though not without flaws.
It reminds us that although "happily
ever after" doesn't exist, compan-
ionship does.

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