Monday, January 20, 2014

Weight Loss Update

So, after the difficult last 3 months of 2013, (read here and here if you missed those posts), I have been ready to drop the weight I gained and get back to happier times.

For Christmas, I got The Firm Express.  I've always been a HUGE fan of The Firm, and have used their programs each time I loose weight.  Last March when I began loosing weight again, I used this program:

I lost 38 pounds and fit into a size of clothing that I hadn't worn in YEARS!  In November I saw a commercial for their new program, The Firm Express.  I watched the 10 minute video and was SO EXCITED.  20 minute workouts that would do the same amount of work as the 40-50 minute workouts I was used to doing.  They cycle through, 3 workouts a week for 4 weeks.  They get progressively harder, and then you can restart it all over again.

So I began this process on January 6th.  The first 3 workouts were difficult, but I made it through them. I definitely felt muscles in my body that I'd not felt in quite a while, which was fabulous.  First week:  3 pounds down.

The second week of workouts almost killed me.  After the first one, my lower ab muscles (those horrible "pooch" muscles) felt like they were going to die.  I LOVED it!  I don't mind being in pain when I know that I am benefitting from it.  The second day, my thighs were done!  The rest of the week I had to stop progressing because I had parent conferences and didn't get home until late on those two days.

I stepped on the scale this morning, expecting the scale to have gone up.  I had eaten fast food twice during the week, and had some candy over the weekend.  I was STUNNED to see that it went down 2.6 more pounds!  Excited, I decided to rethink how I'm going to do this program.

Instead of going through a cycle each week, I'm going to master the workouts of the cycle I'm in before moving onto the next cycle, which gets harder.  I want to put all my energy and effort into doing it correctly, and not have to modify the movements to make them easier.  So I restarted today, and was able to put my all into it.

I'm so excited about this program, that I've attached the link for it.  The Firm Express is awesome, and where it tells you that you can loose up to 15 pounds in 30 days, I'm not stupid.  I always give myself a 5 pound a month goal.  That way I don't overdo it, and it's a tangible goal.  So far I've already reached that goal.  I'm excited to see what results I get from it next Monday.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Love Never Dies....But Maybe it Should

How many of you are aware that there is a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera?  I had NO IDEA about this until recently.  If you haven't seen it, or plan on seeing it, I'm about to give the entire story away in this review, so you've been warned!

The following is from the Love Never Dies musical page on Wikipedia:

Act I

In a brief prelude, Madame Giry walks along an abandoned pier recalling Phantasma, Coney Island's 'City of Wonders' ("Prologue"). She is then confronted by Fleck, a freak who once worked with her there, who reminds her of 'the good old days' and blames her for 'what happened.' The audience is transported back in time through "The Coney Island Waltz."

It is now ten years after the events at the Paris Opera House, 
in 1907--admittedly a chronology inconsistent with the first show, and the setting is at Phantasma on Coney Island in New York. An excited group of vacationers arrive overwhelmed at everything that Phantasma has to offer, and speculate about its reclusive, masked owner - known only as Mr. Y ("Heaven by the Sea"). Meg Giry, Christine Daae's friend from the Opera, is now a headlining performer at Phantasma with Madame Giry, her mother and the Opera's ballet mistress, at her side.

As Meg prepares for her performance, she wonders what the boss will think and states she will be performing "Only for Him." She wins the crowd over with her performance of "Only for You," and learns afterward that Madame Giry has arranged for her to "meet" an important client.

In "The Aerie," it is confirmed that the Phantom is Mr. Y, the mysterious creator and owner of Phantasma. In a dark, private lair in a tower high above the park, he interacts with an automaton that resembles Christine. In spite of the ten years that have passed and his many successes, he still longs to be reunited with her ("Til I Hear You Sing"). Meg intrudes and presses the Phantom to give feedback on her performance, but he dismisses her as an annoyance.

Madame Giry is irritated that the Phantom is still longing to be with Christine after all the help she has given him over the years ("Giry Confronts the Phantom/Til I Hear You Sing - Reprise"). She reveals that she and Meg helped smuggle him out of Paris and to a ship departing from Calais, where he made his escape to America. Ignoring Giry, the Phantom summons Fleck, who appears with two other freaks, Squelch and Gangle. The Phantom has them send a letter to Christine inviting her to come and perform at Phantasma.

(Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle; the Phantoms "freaks")

Three months later, Christine, Raoul and their son, Gustave, arrive in New York to crowds of paparazzi ("Christine Disembarks"). It is revealed that Christine is no longer performing and that Raoul has spent much of their fortune on drinking and gambling. They are greeted by the freaks who arrive by a strange mechanical horse and carriage and take them to Coney Island ("Arrival of the Trio/Are You Ready to Begin?").

Raoul is angry at the way they have been greeted by the freaks and upsets Gustave by not playing with him ("What a Dreadful Town!"). In spite of Christine's pleas, Raoul leaves to go drinking as Christine tells Gustave to "Look With Your Heart" to try and help him understand his father’s behavior.

After Gustave leaves to go to bed, the Phantom enters and reveals that it was he who summoned her to sing at Phantasma. In "Beneath a Moonless Sky," the Phantom and Christine recall the night of passion they shared the day before her wedding. Early the next morning, Christine awoke prepared to abandon Raoul for the Phantom, but found that the Phantom had left her. He admits that he left because he was too afraid of being rejected by her again.

They recall that "Once Upon Another Time," they thought their love had a chance of succeeding, although current situations prevent that from happening. Gustave wakes up screaming from a nightmare and meets the Phantom for the first time as Mr. Y ("Mother Please, I'm Scared!"). The Phantom promises to show Gustave more of Phantasma the next day.

In the rehearsal studio for Phantasma, Meg unexpectedly reunites with Christine, and is surprised and jealous to learn she will be singing there. Raoul runs into Madame Giry and discovers it is the Phantom who has invited Christine to sing there ("Dear Old Friend"). Christine becomes concerned when Gustave goes missing. The freaks bring Gustave to the Aerie where he is greeted by the Phantom.

Gustave plays a haunting melody on the piano, which leads the Phantom to have a revelation that he could be Gustave's father ("Beautiful"). The Phantom questions Gustave about his feelings and musical abilities, finding that they are kindred spirits. He unmasks himself, believing Gustave will accept him ("The Beauty Underneath"). Gustave is horrified and screams.

Christine enters to comfort a terrified Gustave. When the Phantom presses her about Gustave, Christine confesses to the Phantom that Gustave is his son ("The Phantom Confronts Christine"). The Phantom declares that everything he owns will go to him. A furious Madame Giry overhears this and fears all of her work over the years for the Phantom has been for nothing.

Act II

Following the ("Entr'acte") we see Raoul sitting alone in a bar contemplating his relationship with Christine ("Why Does She Love Me?"). He is joined by Meg who suggests that he should leave that night with Christine and Gustave.

Raoul refuses, saying he is not afraid of the Phantom, who has since appeared behind the bar. The Phantom makes a bet with a drunken Raoul: if Christine sings Raoul must leave alone; if she doesn't then all their debts will be wiped away. He also makes Raoul question his paternity of Gustave ("Devil 

Take the Hindmost")


At the beach, it is the last day of the season and the holiday makers are enjoying the experience ("Heaven By The Sea - Reprise"). A balloon then lands on the beach and the freaks advertise that night's performance ("Ladies...Gents!/The Coney Island Waltz - Reprise"). That night, they present Meg, who performs a strip-tease routine about her choice of swimming costume ("Bathing Beauty").

Backstage, Madame Giry tells Meg that the Phantom had not been there to watch the performance, and it had all been for nothing ("Mother, Did You Watch?").

("Before the Performance"), Raoul asks Christine to reconsider her decision to sing, asks her to leave at once if she loves him. As Raoul leaves, the Phantom enters and tells Christine that Raoul knows his love is not enough and that she must sing for him once more.

Alone in her dressing room, Christine recalls the Paris Opera House where she had to make the difficult decision between Raoul and the Phantom. Backstage, Madame Giry, Raoul and the Phantom are wondering whether or not Christine will sing and who will win the bet.

As Christine prepares to perform, Meg makes a hurried exit ("Devil Take The Hindmost - Reprise"). Christine then walks on stage and performs an aria for the crowd ("Love Never Dies") while Raoul and 
the Phantom watch from the wings.


The Phantom greets an overwhelmed Christine following her triumphant performance. Christine finds a letter from Raoul stating that he has left for good. Christine realizes that Gustave is missing and becomes worried. Fleck reveals she had discovered Meg's dressing room smashed up and seen her with a small figure. Madame Giry believes she knows where she has taken him.

On a pier, a distraught Meg is preparing to drown Gustave when she is confronted by the others. She holds up a gun to them so that the Phantom will listen as she reveals the truth: the resources that Madame Giry has afforded him all these years have mainly come from Meg being forced to work secretly as a prostitute to supporters of Phantasma. The Phantom tries to get the gun from her but in the confusion Meg accidentally shoots Christine.

The Phantom rushes to a mortally wounded Christine as Meg watches, horrified by what she has done. Christine reveals to Gustave that the Phantom is his father. Her final words tell the Phantom that her love for him will never die. They have one final kiss, and she dies in his arms. The Phantom hands the body of Christine to Raoul and he comforts Gustave who unmasks him as the curtain falls.

Love Never Dies Finale

The musical was not received well by critics or fans.  It opened in London in 2010.  There were plans for it to make its way to Broadway, but reviews were mixed to bad and it closed without ever making it there.

A revised version, with additional work from "Phantom" lyricist Charles Hart, book rewrites by Frederick Forsyth, and new staging by Simon Philips ("Priscilla Queen of the Desert"), opened in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011.  Lloyd Webber preferred it to the London edition and authorized it to be filmed for broadcast to cinemas worldwide.  This Australia performance is the one that I've shown clips of in this post.  While it features lovely tunes and impressive performances, "Love" lacks the bite, charm, and romanticism of Phantom of the Opera.

The song "Beauty Underneath" tries to be the catchy, rock opera song of the show, like the song "Phantom of the Opera" was in that musical.  Watching the song is difficult because everything going on around them is distracting.  I understand that Phantom runs a "freak" vaudeville show, but that doesn't mean I want to see a man with fingernails that go down to his ankles....even though I know they are fake.  

I completely enjoyed the song "Devil Take the Hindmost".  It's definitely my favorite song of the musical.  I LOVE the tango feel, even though it's a stretch to believe that Raoul would ever make a bet like that with the Phantom.

They tried to put suspense in, but there was never any doubt that Christine would take the stage and sing....duh.  And at first I was surprised to learn that she went back to him the night before she and Raoul were to be married.  At the end of most versions of The Phantom of the Opera, Christine is sad, but has no problem leaving the Phantom there.

There's no laughter in Love Never Dies, like there is in Phantom.  Carlotta and the theatre owners are greatly missed to bring that comedic part to life.  They showcase the freaks and vaudeville acts at Coney Island to attempt humor, but they are not fun to watch; I fast forward those songs when I watch this.

Overall, it's no Phantom of the Opera.  I did enjoy seeing an idea of where everyone was 10 years later.    

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Movie Versus Musical Version

I've been on a musicals kick lately.  I've always loved them, grew up watching them, singing them.  Two of my favorites have always been The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables.

I discovered the 25th anniversary LIVE version of The Phantom of the Opera that is on Netflix, which is absolutely incredible.  Brandon is singing the song "The Phantom of the Opera" around the house, I LOVE IT!  I also just received the Les Mis 10th anniversary special for Christmas.

Friday night I saw the movie version of the musical Les Miserables for the first time.  I wasn't interested in seeing it when it came out in the theaters, but after all the hype it got last year about how they sang live on the set, and the Emmy award wins, I thought that if I ever had the chance to watch it I would.

Needless to say, that's 2 hours and 33 minutes of my life that I can never get back.  Why does Hollywood continue to make movie versions of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time?  In my opinion, Movie to Broadway, or Broadway to Movie worked back in the 1950's - 1970's, but it just doesn't seem to be working the same way today.  Guys and Dolls, Hello Dolly, and Funny Girl are three of my all time favorites, and I actually enjoy the MOVIE versions better.  West Side Story, Mary Poppins, and Grease are other musicals that have been done both ways successfully.

Something just seems to be lacking today.  "Back in the day", it seemed more important that you could sing BEFORE you were cast in a role that actually required singing.  (Marlon Brando is the exception.  He did his best in Guys and Dolls, and luckily only had one big number to sing, "Luck be a Lady".  He was surrounded by men who COULD sing, and since he was a great Sky Masterson, I can overlook his singing ability).  Now it seems that Hollywood is more interested in casting an actor/actress that will bring people to the theatre BEFORE they think about whether or not they can sing.  Barbara Streisand, Julie Andrews, Natalie Wood, and Frank Sinatra can sing!

However, when you take on two the most FAMOUS BROADWAY PRODUCTIONS OF ALL TIME, you'd better really be ready, because no matter what you do, there will be fans who hate it.

Ready to hear some music?  I'm going to show you clips from the most popular song from both the movie and Broadway versions of Les Mis, and The Phantom of the Opera, and you can decide which you think is better.

First we'll start with Les Miserables:

Ms. Hathaway does a fantastic job of selling Fantine's desperate situation.  She looks like garbage, since the character of Fantine was a prostitute,  and the raw emotion is convincing.  What bothers me here is that it's almost overdone.  Is it just me, or does she seem to cry her way through a lot of this song?  And why did everyone make a big deal about her cutting her hair for the movie?  If I was getting her salary for making a movie, I'd cut my hair too!  It does grow back people!

Ms. Henshall busts out her singing chops, and I feel the emotion all WHILE SHE'S STANDING AT A MICROPHONE!  While I believe that Ms. Henshall sang the best version, I appreciate the emotion that Ms. Hathaway brought to the song.  But let's face it:  I'm NOT going to listen to Ms. Hathaway's version over and over again.

Movie Version: 0
Broadway Version: 1

Mr. Armstrong, and Ms. Hallway, as Thenardier the Innkeeper, and his wife, simply steal the show.  Not only is it fun to watch the two of them sing it, but everyone around them gets into it, bringing even more fun to the song.

First of all, I can't stand Sasha Baron Cohen.  And I'm not a real big fan of Helen Bonham Carter.  That being said, I think that they were a good choice for these roles.  They are both flamboyant, over-the-top actors who sell it.  I ended up hating these two characters, which might have been the point.  If it was, then they did their job.  My problem with this song is that it lacks the "pizazz" that the version from the musical has.  "Master of the House" is one of the show-stopping numbers.  The crowd during the live show goes WILD when this song comes on.  The song is funny in the broadway version.  This version is slower, andy I found no humor in it.  I listened to about 3 minutes of it and couldn't handle it anymore.  There's no doubt which version of this song I'd rather listen too.

Movie Version:  0
Broadway Version:  2

Absolutely PERFECT!  Again, they are only standing at a microphone and I can feel the emotions.  Marius is devastated since he's just discovered that his childhood friend loves him, and now she's died.  Eponine is finally where she has always wanted to be; in Marius's arms.  I cry every time I watch this clip.

I have many problems with this version.  I understand that after being shot in the stomach you wouldn't have the strength to belt out a song; you are dying after all.  However, whispering the lyrics of a song doesn't count as singing in any way, shape, or form... in my opinion.  One of the elements that draws people to the Lea Salgona/Michael Ball version, is the emotion.  Marius is truly sad to see her die.  In this version, I don't feel any of that.  Eponine dies, Marius hardly sheds a tear, and then she's gone.

Movie Version:  0
Broadway Version:  3

Considering this is one of the most well known songs of all time, and has been covered by some powerhouse singers, Hugh Jackman had HUGE shoes to fill.  I don't think there was anything Jackman could have done to make this work.  I would've been having panic attacks if I was him!  The last note is cringe-worthy, but otherwise I feel the emotion.

Colm Wilkinson, the man who originated the character of Jean ValJean, has a voice of gold, plain and simple.  I want this man singing at my funeral, which means pulling out recordings since he will probably go before I do!!

Movie Version:  0
Broadway Version:  4

Russell Crowe played the character of Javert, the police officer who hunts ValJean.  I will never understand why he was chosen for this role.  And because I thought his acting, and more importantly, his singing was HORRIBLE, I'm not going to even post it here.  If you want to hear it, look it up on YouTube.  I am going to give the Broadway version points though because Russell was so awful!

Movie Version:  0
Broadway Version:  5

The best part of this movie came, when 30 minutes in, Colm Wilkinson showed up playing the Bishop!!  I was so excited, I started jumping up and down!  I loved that they gave him a "shout out", and it was five minutes of pure joy; the only pure joy in the entire movie.

Movie Version:  1
Broadway Version:  5

As you can see, I believe that the movie version is AWFUL and the Broadway version is far superior.  However, I did learn a few things about the musical from watching the movie.  The movie helped fill in the gaps of the story since I've only seen the version where they are standing in front of the microphone and singing.  However, that's all I gained from the over 2 hour movie that I watched.

And now on to my favorite musical of all:  The Phantom of the Opera

I'll be comparing the live version from the 25th anniversary at the Albert Hall (currently on Netflix), starring Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karminloo to the 2004 movie starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum.

We begin with the songs "The Phantom of the Opera", and "Music of the Night" from the movie.

Is it just me, or does Emmy Rossum's voice sound like that of a 10 year old girl?  It sounds very nasal-like to me, and it's annoying.  Christine's voice is supposed to be mind-blowing, amazing.  They missed the mark here.  One of the biggest differences between this movie and the Les Mis movie is that the tracks were pre-recorded for Phantom.  You would think that this would allow the actors to focus more on their acting and put more emotion into their characters.  Apparently they all missed that memo.  Gerard Butler doesn't sound that bad.  He sounds like a guy who doesn't sing for a living who was asked to sing in a movie.  But again, there's no passion, which is what the character of The Phantom is full of.  These two songs set the stage for the relationship between The Phantom and Christine.  She is entranced by him, she can't say no to him.  I don't feel that here at all.

Can you feel the passion of the characters here?  Holy cow, they are DRIPPING in it!  Their faces, movements, SINGING, everything draws you into their relationship.  I feel each of their struggles, and emotions.  It is oozing off of them.  And I don't know about you, but I've never found The Phantom a "sexy" character.....until now.  Ramin Karminloo does a fabulous job of making me see this character in a way I've never seen him before.

Movie Version:  0
Musical Version:  2

This was never one of my favorite songs from the musical but OMG...Sierra pulls me into this every single time.  The emotions on her face make it impossible to not find yourself getting caught up in the moment; her feelings are POURING out of her.  The first time I watched this I found myself yelling at her through the television to realize that her father wasn't singing to her!

I love the setting of this scene, but I can't help coming back to the fact that this was a pre-recorded song, giving the actress nothing else to worry about but selling it to us.  Why can't she give more emotion?  She's hardly moving her lips, so it looks like she isn't even singing to begin with.  If she looked like she was actually in character and paying attention to what she was supposed to be doing, I would've really liked this song.  I give more emotion to this song when I attempt to belt it out in the privacy of my own home!  It's very disappointing.

Movie Version:  0
Broadway Version:  3

The last song is "The Final Lair".  I had to put it in 3 parts to show you the movie version.

Does anyone else think that The Phantom isn't ugly enough in this movie?  Throughout the entire movie/play we are left wondering what he really looks like beneath the mask.  The movie was a big let down in that area.  Raoul is obnoxious; or maybe it's his hair that bothers me, I can't quite tell.  The Phantom displays emotion, but still nothing from Christine.  This Emmy Rossum person can't act!

I couldn't embed the Broadway version, so here's the link for their version.

Phantom of the Opera; The Final Lair

Holy cow.  Simply FAB.U.LOUS.  I can feel the Phantom's pain.  In this version I'm not feeling like Christine is kissing the Phantom to simply free Raoul.  Here, she wants the Phantom to know that she really does care.  The look on the Phantom's face at 6:55 says it all.  His hands are shaking, eyes wide open.  He can't believe what is happening.  It is pure love, and intoxicating.  His face is very disfigured, but I would've kissed him too!!  Ramin makes me feel sorry for the Phantom.  He makes me root for him to win Christine!  When he nods to Christine to go, she almost doesn't go.  I love that part.  If Raoul hadn't come back, the story could've ended differently.  One of my favorite sequences in the entire play.

Movie Version:  0
Broadway Version:  4

Bottom line:  The movie versions of these two movies were beyond horrible.  I'm grateful for the internet that gives us the ability to constantly watch the versions we prefer, and leave the rest of the garbage behind!