A Look at the Moana Soundtrack

Disney has a new princess. Moana hit theaters a few weeks ago. With a stellar cast and an even more stellar soundtrack, the film does two very cool things:

1. It features a non-white female protagonist with no romantic story line as the lead character

2. It features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson singing.

The film has a lot of really fantastic elements, including animal sidekicks, beautiful animation and some really funny bickering between Maui (The Rock) and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho).

The Moana soundtrack is full of original music written by Hamilton composer and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.  The soundtrack also features music by Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i.

Newcomer and Hawaaian native Auli’i Cravalho shines in the part. The 16-year-old’s voice conveys a passion and strength unexpected in someone so young. Her best song, How Far I’ll Go, gives Frozen’s Let it Go a run for its money.  The soundtrack does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Hawaiian culture and adventure in the music.

Miranda not only led his song-writing skills, but his vocals to a few songs as well. The soundtrack is full of talented musicians. Jemaine Clement, one half of the Flight of the Concords duo, lends his voice as well. Although Clement’s strange giant snail character seemed to be an unnecessary and even distracting addition to the film, his singing is catchy and well done.

With such an impressive amount of musical talent in Moana, I was surprised to find that my favorite song of the entire film was actually performed by The Rock.

His voice is unexpectedly fantastic and although he may not have as strong a voice as some of his cast mates, his energy and goofiness won my heart. The Rock has a confidence and an undeniable energy that’s absolutely contagious. His egotistical character Maui sings a song called You’re Welcome to Moana, essentially spending three minutes singing about how awesome he is and telling her “you’re welcome” for his very existence.

Check out the soundtrack. Not only does it have all the catchy songs from the film, but also includes some cool covers by various artists and demos performed by Miranda.

Moana–the soundtrack and the film– are absolutely fantastic. Go hit the theater and enjoy Moana’s musical adventure across the sea to try and save her people with the help of a self-absorbed demigod. The film is charming, heartfelt and very entertaining. Disney did not disappoint on this one.


Musical Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is making its way through California. Last week I drove to Hollywood with a few friends to watch the show live at the Pantages theatre.

The rock musical moves from Hollywood to San Diego at the end of November and plays at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Dec. 4.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a Tony Award-winning musical. It won best revival show in 2014 when Neil Patrick Harris put on a wig and played the titular character.

The musical tells the story of Hedwig, a German transgender musician who’s botched reassignment surgery left her with an extra “angry inch.”

Now, Darren Criss has taken over the role. The former Glee star, is one-man powerhouse, rocking the stage in his wig, skimpy dress and impressively tall heels.

The musical follows Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch, as perform on tour and Hedwig shares her life story about escaping East Berlin and her failed dreams of rock stardom. Hedwig is obsessed with being the center of attention. The character flaw is hilariously executed as Darren Criss, pushes his bandmates out of the spotlight and then bats his high lashes and smiles flirtatiously at the audience.

While the story may seem out there, at its core it explores the truths of love and

Like the story itself, the music is unexpected. There’s no crooning lullabies, operatic ballads or oboe solos playing in the background. Hedwig sings rock & roll. Of course, there’s a theatrical element to the music, but Hedwig jumps around the stage screaming out songs with a background band of electric guitars and drums.

The premise is one of the strangest to grace the stage. Hedwig constantly breaks the fourth wall during the show to address the audience directly. At one point, he even got off the stage and started kissing an audience member in the front row.

Instead of watching the story unfold on stage, Hedwig tells the story to the audience. There were a few other characters, but Hedwig is essentially a one man –or woman– show. Criss is a brilliant performer. He switches voices and mannerisms each time he introduces a new character into the story. His nonstop dialogue and jokes kept the audience engaged and entertained. He gives a phenomenal performance.

If you want to see Criss on stage, you’ll have to make your way to Hollywood. Once the show moves to San Diego, there will be a new lead taking over.

It’s not my favorite show I’ve ever seen and I wish there’d been more story shown and less of Hedwig just talking to the audience, but who am I to criticize a Tony award winning musical? My Hollywood road trip was worth all the sitting in traffic and overpriced parking. The comedy, music and dynamic cast performance make Hedwig and the Angry Inch well worth the ticket.

Even if you can’t make it out to the show, check out the original cast recording on Spotify. Origin of Love is especially good. I guarantee it’s a musical unlike any you’ve heard before.

Photo Credit: HedwigBroadway.com

Dead Man’s Bones: A Musical Monster Love Story

Did you know that Ryan Gosling is the co-founder of a Halloween inspired indie rock band?

Dead Man’s Bones, the name of both the band and their album, is an homage to Gosling and his friend Zach Shield’s love of ghost stories.  The duo released the album, the only on their discography, back in October of 2009.

According to ANTI, the band’s record label, Dead Man’s Bones was originally intended to be a stage play.

In a brief bio on the label’s website it says that, “This album was not supposed to be an album. This was intended to be a soundtrack to a play about a monster-ghost-love-story. When Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling met in 2005 and discovered their mutual obsession with ghosts, they decided to write the afore-mentioned ghastly love story. Scrapping the stage show when costs became prohibitive, they already had songs written and Dead Man’s Bones was born.”

Gosling’s deep haunting vocals and the band’s blend of indie and folk rock create a sound that is completely unique. Dead Man’s Bones teamed with the Silver Lake Children’s Conservatory Choir to record the album. The dark indie rock features the smooth, sweet vocals of the children’s choir singing along in the background to Gosling’s crooning.

The band wanted the music-making process to be real and raw. They decided to play all the instruments themselves despite not actually knowing how to play all the instruments when they started. They learned instruments such as the drums and the cello specifically for the album.

The music is not perfect or clean, but that was the idea. Gosling and Shields are not master musicians, but they recognize this. Gosling has an old school voice lacking a contemporary sound. This is actually a strength not a weakness though. The concept album is unpolished and a little bit messy. That’s what makes it so perfect.

With songs like In the Room Where You Sleep, My Body’s a Zombie for You, Lose Your Soul and Dead Man’s Bones, the album is an excellent option to rock out to this Halloween.

Do yourself a favor and add Dead Man’s Bones to your Halloween playlist. After all, you can only play Monster Mash so many times.

The Girl on the Train is an Intensely Captivating Psychological Drama

Last weekend I went to see The Girl on the Train in theaters. I haven’t read the book yet so I approached the film anticipating suspense but unsure what to expect.

The film features suspense, intrigue, obsession, alcoholism and violence. The film has drawn many comparisons to Gone Girl. Like Gone Girl, it’s an intensely dramatic story that shocks and intrigues. It absolutely reels you in trying to figure out what is real and what is fabricated.

The film centers around Rachel (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee who is obsessed with her past life and ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux).

Every day Rachel rides the same train and passes the same houses. She spends her time fantasizing about this seemingly perfect couple she always sees as the train goes past their house. One morning her fantasy is shattered when she sees the woman (Haley Bennett) with another man.

When this woman goes missing, Rachel gets caught up in the police investigation. The missing woman, Megan, lives only a few doors down from Rachel’s ex-husband and works as his family’s nanny.

Rachel’s out-of-control alcoholism and absolute obsession force viewers to sort through the layers of the complex case and her erratic behavior to discover the truth. Throughout the film, all she does is ride the train, drink, stalk Tom and obsess about Megan’s disappearance.

Emily Blunt is the glue of this film. She gives a fantastic performance as the troubled and tragic Rachel. Watching the drama unfold through the eyes of a narrator you don’t entirely trust is a very unsettling yet captivating experience. I switched back and forth between empathizing with her and suspecting her of murder throughout the entire film.

Image result for the girl on the train movie poster

The beautiful cinematography is worth noting, as is Danny Elfman’s dark and intriguing musical score. At the film’s most intense and distressing moments, the unsettling soundtrack builds the tension and forces the audience to feel Rachel’s internal distress.

The Girl on the Train didn’t leave me in shock the way some films in this genre have, but watching the story unfold through the hazy lens of such an imperfect character kept me focused in desperate anticipation to uncover the film’s secrets. The twist, a convention of this genre of film, was well executed if not entirely unpredictable. The film’s ending gave me the answers I craved, but I still felt a bit unsatisfied with it after so much buildup.

I recommend this film to fans of Gone Girl and other psychological thrillers and melodramas. Despite its overall low ratings by official critics, I give The Girl on the Train a solid 7/10. Watch the movie or better yet, read the book.