ArtsWatch Tuesday: It’s a smash…

Though I should have been working on the ArtsWatch eNewsletter (subscribe!), instead I spent Monday night watching Kentucky play Kansas in the NCAA Division One basketball championships. I’m a native Kentuckian, after all, and though my allegiance has weakened, I have enough rabid Blue Nation relatives (hi, Mom!) to keep me interested.

After the game, tense but ultimately satisfying from the Kentucky perspective, I caught an episode of NBC’s “Smash,” a relatively new series about the drama around the birth of a Broadway musical centered on the life of Marilyn Monroe.

Anjelica Huston stars in NBC's "Smash.",/Mark Seliger / NBC

In some ways it’s pretty cool. Anjelica Huston is one of the stars, for example, and I have a soft spot for backstage, showgirl-makes-good stories, though I tend to gravitate toward the comic ones. “Noises Off”! Theresa Rebeck, one of our leading playwrights, is the brains behind the show, so the writing is fine, and as the season has progressed, the non-show biz families of some of the characters have become entangled in the action.

As a cultural product it has possibilities, too. The old City Mouse/Country Mouse story is invoked from the beginning, so one of the central conflicts is at least as old as ancient Greek comedy, but mostly I think of it as what happens to the kids on “Glee” after they graduate. They keep on singing and dancing, not to mention exploring their sexual identities and possible new partners! Show biz satire sneaks in, too, of course: Last night’s episode featured a CGI ad for orange juice, with the Country Mouse dressed in a green body suit so the computer could more easily do its business… which was actually pretty funny. In some ways, the whole thing can be considered a show biz satire, except for the soap opera-like bits.

At the end of last night’s episode, we had a rapprochement between the two handsome young women competing for the part of Marilyn, the City blonde (Megan Hilty) and the Country brunette (Katharine McPhee), and they sang their hearts out in an “impromptu” street performance of Rihanna’s “I’ll Drink to That.” And hey, you can buy it this morning on iTunes! That gives you some idea of where the show is musically, though it does have its more restless moments. Last week they sang Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music,” so yes, retro-pop but cool retro-pop, and an original dance club number. It sort of wants to have it all, really, Lady GaGa to classic American musical numbers to country. It’s like an old-fashioned ‘60s pop radio station, which actually I miss, the melting pot of American songs.

I haven’t heard ANYONE in Portland mention “Smash,” so maybe nobody is following it here whatsoever, and I’ve just been singing on an empty street in the rain, the music magically welling behind me, and I look behind me and the kids from the chorus have magically appeared and they are smiling and dancing and flirting…

And now back to Tuesday, and maybe the perfect segue — a Chrysler commercial that features 45th Parallel regulars Adam LaMotte on viola, Justin Kagan on cello and Julie Coleman on violin. Go, Wieden+Kennedy (the theories of Baudrillard applied to the dance of today)!

How about a little art? The web photo for K Scott Rawls’s first solo exhibition, “Adinkra,” which opens Friday at galleryHOMELAND caught my eye. What’s “Adinkra”? We defer to Mr. Rawls: ““Adinkra, originating from West African culture, represents visual symbols. The symbols have a decorative function but also represent objects that encapsulate evocative messages that convey traditional wisdom and aspects of life or the environment. The paintings were created with both meanings in mind as they are imagined equations and visual edicts in flux.”

from "Adinkra" by K Scott Rawls/ Courtesy galleryHOMELAND

ArtsWatch believes in the power of partnerships. In this culture if arts groups of all sorts can’t figure out how to work together for the common good, their effect will diminish, which is bad for all kinds of reasons, though the body politic may not have figured that out yet. Anyway, we just learned that Tin House, the Portland-based literary magazine conglomerate, has joined forces with Portland State University’s Masters program in Creative Writing to bring writers to town for consultation with students. First up, non-fiction nature writer Amy Stewart, who will give a public presentation at 6::30 Friday, May 11, at the Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave., Portland; admission will be $10.

April is Photography Month in Portland, with events all over town. We go to the Photolucida blog to find out about events as they unfold, and this week is packed with openings, including First Thursday shows at Blue Sky (of course!), Chambers Gallery, Annie Meyer Artwork Gallery and the inaugural screening of Photolucida’s THEN.NOW.HERE. projection on the south side of the DeSoto building (which houses Blue Sky), which is hard to explain but involves large numbers of photos submitted a slew of photographers in a slide loop, which will be projected in sites all over town.

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