Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun, Or So It Seems ...

Going Nuclear at Garden Bros. Circus Can Be Crazy Fun,  Or So It Seems ...
Kijome Hara with the World’s Smallest Man and Wini McCay

Monday, January 22, 2007

Asian American Idol, Where Are You? Pat (“I Enjoy Being A Girl”) Suzuki Would Have Blasted Simon Cowell out of His Deep Freeze.

She could belt out a song with the best of them. She had, and still has when you talk to her, sass and candor and a quirky sense of humor. Her mind is a probing force full of racing philosophical ideas. She is very real. So real, that today in Manhattan, she walks the grim streets littered with the socially lost, passing out informational leaflets directing them to self-help centers.

I know a little about the real Pat Suzuki, for I was lucky enough (long after concluding I would never be lucky enough) to land an interview with her. This happened while I was writing Flower Drum Songs: The Story of Two Musicals. During our telephone conversation, I felt as if we had been friends for years.

Suzuki helped deliver Rodgers & Hammerstein’s breeziest, most contemporary hit to Broadway, when Flower Drum Song, in which she co-stared with another Japanese song gem, Miyoshi Uemeki, opened in 1958 at the St. James Theatre.

Then, as many as five shows on he Great White Way boasted at lest partly Asian faces in the casts. Then, the Orient and its exotic looks, banners and manners seemed to be at last making a big mark on the American theatre audience in New York.

So long ago. The spell didn’t last. After Flower Drum Song, there were no other flower drum songs. A few of the original cast members (like dancer Patrick Adiarte and comedian Jack Soo) got jobs in television. None made it big beyond FDS.

Pat Suzuki languished over the years. So did Miysohi Uemeki. In one of her e-mails to me, Pat believed that Miyoshi’s retreat from the spotlights was a life-saving exit to avoid the depressing ugliness of a cruel business that could turn on you in a cold second.

Both of the ladies were stellar vocalists, each with a distinctive style, and each put out albums in the years immediately following their moments in the Broadway sun. On Pat’s LP, her gutsy rendition of "Lady is a Tramp" is as amusing a take of the song as I have ever heard. For her turn, Miyoshi’s song catalog is on the wistful side; she excelled with numbers like "The Man I Love."

What happened, Asia America? Here is my best and saddest guess, which I fear Asians do not like hearing. It’s all about the culture — an outwardly gentle show of self-respect and restraint that fosters dignity over exhibitionism, emotional containment over free and rampant self expression. A culture of honor and tradition that does not push itself in your face. The parents by and large do not want their young bearing either attire or desire in front of an audience. I have to think they dread the idea of a child of theirs being humiliated before a national audience on American Idol.

Away from the vulgar void that is Televison, notice the emerging number of top-flight Asian concert musicians both filling out the ranks of our leading orchestras and appearing as featured solo artists. Need I explain why?

In her day, had Pat faced Simon Cowell, she would have brought him out of his sarcastic deep freeze She was authentic. She was an original, and if some of us referred to her as the Asian Merman, it was only as a flattering point of reference. For Pat Suzuki delivered a gusty, at times free-wheeling realism to the stage in Flower Drum Song that dramatized the up and coming younger generations breaking free of the old world restraints.

They have still yet to break free. Maybe, considering the "culture" into which they would be liberating themselves, holding back is still the better choice.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Cruel Folly of American Idol: Another human sludge pile takes it on the chin.

What to say for this shrieking sideshow? It exploits America’s obsession with the great Hollywood dream. Some skeptical impressions:

Do the producers purposely select these early-round weirdos and off-key clowns just to bait Simon Cowell?— or to prove that raw talent can be shaped into starhood only on AI?. That’s what some Seattle-based bloggers think. They claim that the eliminations (last year, I think) excluded some of the city’s top talent.

Going out of my way to watch the first round last night (in total, over the years I’ve watched a total of about two hours of Idol), I wonder if this country is so pathetically bereft of talent.
Don’t kick a loser when he’s down: Last night, Randy Jackson (wasn’t he supposed to be the really nice guy?) lashed out at a vocal coach after his audition: not only was the vocal coach a no-talent singer according to Jackson, but he was in effect committing malpractice by taking on students.

Ouch. Bad taste. Stupid and uncalled for, Randy. Don’t you know that some of the best teachers are themselves failures at what they teach? Or do you suffer from Simon envy? I felt sorry for the vocal coach, who took Jackson’s nasty tirade with class, and I remembered that some wonderful instructors I’ve had who probably did not realize their own dreams.

But in the Idol insane asylum, that would be too logical and far too polite.

Enough idolhood for the moment. Maybe at the bitter-suite end (what, in another 15 months?), I’ll devote another hour to watching the contrived spectacle reach a contrived climax.
Any Gong Show reruns schedule?

There it was tonight, in Minneapolis and starting all over. Another sludge pile of hopefuls, some of them possibly real, others maybe set up for entertainment value. I laughed at the weird ones who either had been set up or genuinely believed in themselves. I felt sorry for others, and I always, of course, waited to see what Simon would say or, how he would look in grave shock when another hack wannabe started to "sing." Hands over face. Eyes to the sky. Eyes closed.
Randy lost whatever cool he had, tearing into a vocal coach after the dude failed to impress the panel, telling the guy in effect that his students were losers to by taking lessons from him. Oh? Randy seems oblivious to one of the great and sad irones of life: Some of the best teachers are those who will never make it themselves.

How far do you go trying to be another Simon when you are not Simon?

Watching the vocal coach struggle not to lose his composure in the face of such a reckless and ignorant attack, I thought of some of the wonderful instructos I’ve had, knowing they some of them made have had ambitions like myself and yet did not realize their own dreams. Randy went beyond the pale, surprising even dissmaster Simon. Or was this, too, a setup?
But then again, isn’t that what tv is all about these days – going beyond the pale to shock and titillate and keep viewers wondering who next might be assaulted by a judge’s acerbic tongue.
That’s enough idlehood for me until maybe the final episode.

Yes, showbiz can be cruel, a fact that underpins these traumatic auditions.