Our Table – Broadway Records

Composed by David Shire

Lyrics & Book by Adam Gopnik

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Essentially an unabridged performance of the Musical-Comedy, this live concert recording of David Shire’s Our Table is a rising taste sensation across America. The story of a much-beloved New York restaurant which fights for its life during financial uncertainty is painfully relatable across industries right now. Recorded live on a January evening, in the company of fans, friends and Rob Schneider at Manhattan’s sensational new writing and musical venue Feinstein’s/54 Below – this cast recording enables all of those who find themselves without reservations to take a place at the table.

Everyone’s got one, a local restaurant, not a chain, something family-run that doesn’t pander to ‘green’ pizzas, espresso bars and specialised cheeses – yet. TABLE is one such place, run by husband and wife duo chef David and host Claire, with their two kids Bix and Katie. It’s a small-time business, but it’s theirs, and David will do everything he can to maintain this, even at the unknowing cost of his marriage. Desperately seeking aid, David turns to Sergio, a talented chef turned television personality who has placed down his spatula and picked up a marketing gig –the issue is that Sergio only has eyes for reigniting a past romance with Claire.

Adam Gopnik’s lyrics divide the album, composition overarches as an engaging jazz album, with spatters of a traditional musical theatre format. It all sounds marvellous against the 54 Below walls, and the natural tones of vocals may be less than pitch-perfect but have a believability to the unpolished performance. Lyrically this division happens when exposition overcomplicates the narrative. Melissa Errico and Andy Taylor bring a performance element to their vocals as David and Claire, but the script offers little in the way of interaction for the two outside their duet performance Chopping Onions.

Espresso, however, is a pure musical theatre number, expanding on a character and their traits without painting it out by number and verse. Humorous, with nifty lyrics, and a building score which compliments the caffeinated subject matter, while the rest of the cast are having decaf, Mark Nelson is full of vim and vigour. The cast recording capitalises on the liveness of the recording, bouncing off of Shire’s arrangements and excelling at putting the instrumentals to the forefront, greatly accentuating jazz numbers like A Slice of LifeEveryday Dance or Take My Life.

Glaringly, as Our Table looks to the future of small, independent restaurants and family businesses across New York – it inadvertently subverts its primary narrative with a superior one following the love story between Anna and Bix and their ‘green pizzas’. There’s tangible chemistry noted with the pair throughout the album, shifting from the broken, awkward vocals into a powerful rendition of growth in What Do We Do Now. Tyler Jones and Analise Scarpaci have a significant impact, equally as impressive as Errico or Taylor, but the memorability of their numbers and catchier dialogue sequences with Nelson snap the attention quicker. It’s the album’s cardinal sin, and one Gopnik’s writing should have avoided, where our leads numbers become less memorable than the side-tracks.

Serving a full-course for listeners, including two aperitif bonus tracks, the starter, mains and desserts are satisfactory – but the side salads are too much, these additional numbers add little character, suffer from over-saturated writing and bulk out the runtime, bogging down the album and bloating one’s appreciation. With Our Table, you’ll return for second helpings, but it may not quench as much as you thought it would.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/cd-review-our-table-live-at-feinsteins-54-below/

Our Table Live at Feinstein’s / 54 Below is available from Broadway Records now

A Whisker Away – Netflix

Written by Mari Okada

Directed by Jun’ichi Satô & Tomotaka Shibayama

 Japan / 2020 / 104 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5.

leeping all day, prowling all night – the life of a cat seems a pretty sweet gig, right? No responsibilities, no commitments and all the glasses you can knock off the table. For Miyo Saski, being a cat means more, though: it’s the only way she can feel loved. Or at least, loved by someone specific. A schoolgirl, Miyo is smitten with classmate Hinode, and her over-zealous attempts to woo have failed. One night, a mysterious Mask Seller offers Miyo a Noh mask, with whiskers and pointed ears. By day, Miyo is a young girl who ‘masks’ her emotions and pain, by night she takes the form of Taro – a white cat, and goes on adventures.

Captivating as it is peculiar, there’s a mesmeric drive behind committing to Mari Okada’s film which will (assuredly) pay-off. Living up to western stereotypes of the genre, A Whisker Away plays into the hegemonic ideas of what anime ‘subscribes’ itself as – exaggerated, perplexing, and occasionally awkward to a western mindset. Yet, it has a droll charm, with a fascinating wit behind the storytelling and fantastical characterisations set against whimsical animation. 

Undoubtedly paying homage to the Cat Returns series from Studio Ghibli, A Whisker Away reinforces itself with European and American fantasy, notably Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaidand passing references to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Animation studios Toho, Colorido and Twin Engine design A Whisker Away with a soft palette of primarily pastel shades, solely utilising the intensity of colour for Taro’s eyes. Much of the backdrop fades into a watercolour, with a focus on characters, and occasionally allowing the scenery moment to shine.

Only when we enter the Island of Cats and find ourselves at the mercy of the omniscient Mask Seller does the tone shift to an intense blaze of lights, deep forests, and emeralds. Illustrated in a way to maximise how different this is to the human world, the Island reflects fantastical versions of bars, fountains, and parks, but with enough removal from reality to suggest an uneasy feeling.

A poignant symbol of folklore in Japanese culture, the antagonistic Mask Seller lurks not as a villain, but as a playful spirit akin to the Norse Loki or Shakespeare’s Puck. Sinisterly frolicsome, Kōichi Yamadera’s voice performance and Okada’s writing hint at a deeper, more enigmatic structure than a simple bizarre tale of cats and school children. Offering Miyo the opportunity to shed her human face and live the life of a cat, the Mask Seller allows the audience to reflect reality through the eyes of a troubled adolescent, whose home life and experiences belay a hidden truth she refrains from confronting.

Gradually, the narrative lets these truths unravel in a deceptively authentic manner, as revelations and troubles are suggested, hinted and then reinforced or discussed after a breaking point, rather than spouted as exposition. Mirai Shida captures boundless energy as Miyo, but when called upon switches her into a distressingly subdued shell of sentiment. Even her characterisation of Taro alters enough of the pace and pitch to compliment the feline aesthetics.

If you could buy into The Little Mermaid trading her soul for legs, then you can get behind a young girl trading her legs for a tail. A Whisker Away is as bemusing, absurd and enchanting as one would expect. Yet, it shocks in how surprisingly astute its portrayal of childhood emotions is, from undervaluing a parent’s struggles at keeping a steady home and grappling with divorce to the dangers of concealing emotions. Tapping into an intense, if bewildering imagination, A Whisker Away spins out a contemporary fairytale, with firm roots in Japanese lore and feline escapades. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/a-whisker-away/

A Whisker Away is available to stream on Netflix

Le Brio – French Film Festival

Directed by Yvan Attal

Written by Yaël Langmann, Victor Saint Macary, Yvan Attal, et al.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

t’s pretty easy to offend someone these days, isn’t it? For the past few years, an age of resentment has simultaneously grown as a counterculture against elitism, prejudice and right-wing media. It’s a complicated issue; when do free-speech and jokes lose their acceptability, or were they even acceptable to begin with? Le Brio examines the relationship between an aspiring law student, Neïla, and her encounter with Professor Pierre Mozard, an expert in his field, with some evidently choice opinions on international students.

What compels our viewing lies squarely in the performances of Daniel Auteuil and Camélia Jordana, without whom the film’s success would diminish considerably. They have to win us quickly. Following Rémy Chevrin’s wonderfully shot pans of the University of Paris, Le Brio plunges us into one of Pierre’s class as Neïla arrives late. Antagonising her, seeking to humiliate, Pierre makes jabs of Sharia Law, Algerian names, and the way she dresses. All live-streamed, Pierre is forced to take Neïla under his wing to prepare her for upcoming inter-university competitions – all to keep a board of directors off his back, and protect the University’s image.

A counter to the counterculture, Le Brio has little concern for offence, indignation or appeasing an audience’s protestations with the character Pierre, offering a valiant argument against the blame and cancel culture we find ourselves within. Yet, the writing team accomplishes a sense of balance; Pierre is by no means a hero, and Auteuil does his utmost to rile a response, proving this point of quick blame and immediately devolving the accuser’s argument. 

Let’s get it over with – the character of Pierre is a deplorable racist, with a dangerous level of wit, utilising archaic methods of teaching. He is also the best thing in the film. Intentionally offensive, Auteuil refrains from playing Pierre as ‘misunderstood’ – he’s just a dick. The character is a testament of French comedy, blunt in delivery and refusing to conceal humour behind sarcasm, a tremendously British delivery mechanic. Pierre is so depraved in his attitude, that it’s difficult not to find the performance compelling. His chemistry with Jordana is wholly natural until the pitfall of the climax, where a budding understanding, which took time to develop, poisons the dynamic by resolving rapidly.

Her reactions to racial comments, understandably angered, humanise her performance, as the emotional response is believable. Disenchanted with the world – particularly with the old white patriarchs in it – Jordana’s engagement with the character connects with viewers. She isn’t perfect, however, often leaping to conclusions, allowing her temper to overcome her and her pride to slip into arrogance. Throughout, the evolution of Neïla has run seamlessly; her relationships with her mother, Pierre, boyfriend Mounir and importantly herself have momentum, but no conclusion, as Le Brio seems to force a stalemate between her and Pierre.

Perhaps the film’s best are the quieter moments as Jordana and Auteuil reflect on the impact one has had on the other. Chevrin’s wonderful use of light as Jordana travels across the murky Parisian evening, passing the fluorescent tower blocks, contrasts Pierre wandering across the orange-hued cobbles that filmmakers normally prefer to capture of the city.

And then, Le Brio falls on its sword. It stumbles into the narrative derisions it was so wonderfully avoiding. With happy endings, schmaltzy sacrifices and tropes it was lampooning before, it’s a disappointment from an otherwise clever piece of writing. As Pierre and Neïla hurl insults at one another, smiling and laughing, there’s a sense that Attal was afraid of his own film’s gall, tying up the gutsy narrative with a cheerful, lurid bow of an ending. 

Review originally uploaded for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/le-brio/