Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bella, An American Tall Tale

This week, on my vacation, I went to see Bella, a musical comedy about an African American woman in the Wild West of the 1870s. She takes a train from Tupelo, Missisissippi to reunite with her Buffalo soldier sweetheart in the New Mexico, but she encounters colorful characters and has over the top adventures. It's also an antidote to whitewashed history, showing that the West was full of Mexican vaqueros, black Exodusters, Native Americans, and Chinese laborers who built the railroads. (The Chinese character does mention his people building the railroads, but he says that he himself is a rich cattle baron's adopted son; Tommie Haw is a wildly sexy fantasy in Bella's dream one night.) Many actors play multiple roles, singing and dancing.

The musical is partly inspired by the story of Saartjie Baartman, too, the South African woman who was tragically exploited in European freak shows, used as a scientific specimen to support theories about racial inferiority, then dissected and displayed in museums until 1974. Thankfully, her remains were finally sent home to be buried with honor in 2002. Like Baartman, Bella has a big booty, and her grandmother boasts that they are descended from an itty-bitty girl who came from Africa, but never forgot her pride in her roots. (The itty-bitty girl's spirit is depicted as a woman in a body stocking suit probably similar to Baartman's actual costume in her shows.) In the way of tall tales, Bella's booty has magical powers, saving her from a white man's attempt to rape her, as well as a train robbery and a huge fall down the mountainside. Unfortunately, Bella is exploited for her booty too, getting talked into joining a circus for fame and fortune, only to discover that she will be a primitive Princess Ooga-Booga "captured" from darkest Africa and turned into white man's servant. Fortunately, Bella is able to turn the tables to change the degrading act and regain some of her dignity, but the show business life costs her dearly, and she turns to drugs and alcohol (as I think Baartman did in her final days). But Bella finds redemption with help from her family, and the story stays upbeat, celebrating the diversity of forgotten American history.

The songs were really great, with wonderful performers. They even got a standing ovation in the end. Also, they mentioned that the show is going to New York in the spring 2017. I wonder if the whole cast will go? I wish them luck.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fall TV

Finally, Supergirl is back! The move to the CW seems okay so far, but I'm upset that they suddenly dropped the Kara/James relationship after building to it the whole first season. I guess if the show stops doing love triangles and other romantic nonsense, that will be fine, but it does seem abrupt to end that plot instead of just shoving the relationship into the background. They could have followed the example of Jake/Amy on Brooklyn Nine-Nine last year, keeping them low-key and stable while the plots focus on the core team working together. Oh well. I hope Superman doesn't get annoying, and I can't wait for Lynda Carter to guest star as President.

As for new shows, I'm enjoying The Good Place, Speechless, Pitch, and now Timeless. I'm also watching Designated Survivor mostly waiting for Maggie Q and Malik Yoba to get something important to do. I was frustrated that the President chose that scumbag liar for his Chief of Staff; he could have kept the guy around to be his devil's advocate without elevating him above his true ally. So annoying; but I guess the writers want irony and drama about the Chief of Staff conspiring against the President. Whatever. I enjoy Timeless a lot more, especially last night's episode about Lincoln's assassination. Rufus got to talk with black soldiers after the war, and write their notices to find their families. It was really touching, in the midst of the main plot, and I am curious about the Rittenhouse conspiracy involving the tech mogul played by that British guy from You, Me, and the Apocalypse. I hope the ratings will stay good.

As for movies, I saw Queen of Katwe and Birth of a Nation recently. I liked Katwe more and wish it had been more successful. You don't have to know chess, and there was plenty of family drama to be interesting. I look forward to seeing Loving soon.