Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Keep it Gay

This piece of news from The Smoking Cocktail actually excites me a whole lot.

Damn Yankees, starring Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal? I really couldn't ask for a better cast. Now, who will play Meg and Lola? Without a good Lola, you have nothing (if they pick Renée Zellweger to play opposite these boys, I will probably cry). Without a good Applegate, you also have nothing, but I actually have a whole lot of confidence in Jim Carrey for the role. Don't ask me why. For Meg, I'm pulling for Randy Graff, who played her in last year's Encores! revival (which I didn't know until after mentally selecting her for the role), but that seems unlikely.

On another topic, though: the SNL video embedded on that page is rather upsetting. Not just for the gays-are-funny-let's-laugh-at-them sentiment--it is SNL after all--but for the way the performance completely excises all of the dignity that is the point of that song. This is absolutely not an artifact of it being a pseudo-drag performance; I could go on at length about the dignity that the drag tradition can often embody for its performers and audience.

The shift in tone arises, rather, from several factors, not the least of which is the song's out-of-context presentation. For me, though, the central thrust in the diminution of emotion comes from the vocal character and timbre of the singer--Jake does a good job of matching Jennifer Holliday's pitches, but he has no hope of ever launching a gospel career on the basis of this number. He's in a falsetto register in both the technical, physiological sense and in a more metaphorical sense; it is vocally clear that he doesn't mean any of what he's singing. That lack of any attempt at pretense (read: acting) keeps his audience completely emotionally unengaged. Which is often the point of a cheap sight gag, but not the point of a good joke.

Frankly, as a gay man who cried throughout Brokeback Mountain, studies musical theater for a living, and frequently struggles with notions of personal dignity, I'm a little tired of being a cheap sight gag.

The point of this moment in Dreamgirls is that this woman whose life is falling apart, who is hopelessly devoted to a man who won't give the same back, who has just been kicked out of the group she founded, who in every way is staring into the abyss, has vast reserves of human dignity that keep her upright. That keep her singing. Her voice, her unbelievable voice, is the prop that supports her and represents her core strength, that remains when all else is gone. Jake's performance, even allowing for the comedy-revue setting of SNL, cheapens the moment for everyone who has needed that kind of strength, who has sung along or lip-synced along or listened to the recording or watched the movie (or the stage show). For every lonely boy, girl, man, woman, and all the shades in between who needs Effie Melody White to sing for them, Jake is a poor substitute. His voice, like his acting in this sketch, has no depth.

He'll do better as Joe Hardy; I think he plays an athletic, straight, white guy pretty well. I just hope his tenor range isn't as emotionally empty as his alto.

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