Saturday, February 23, 2013

I saw COUGAR THE MUSICAL

I would never have seen COUGAR THE MUSICAL on my own, but my friend Starra from LA was in town and that's what she wanted to see, so I thought why not. 

I was pleasantly surprised because I thought it would be totally cheezy, but it was only maybe 8% cheezy - which isn't bad at all because musical theater has a standard baseline cheeziness of 5%, just by the nature of the genre.

I knew I wasn't going to hate it right from the beginning because one of the characters quotes something that I've said many times: the term for a man who chases younger women is "a man."

However, just because I didn't think it was excessively cheezy doesn't mean I thought it was great - my rating is "pretty good." 

Most of the actors were great - but unfortunately they had someone filling in for Brenda Braxton in the role of Clarity, and watching the video on the Cougar web site of Braxton doing "I'm My Own Queen" makes it clear how much more right Braxton is for the role than the understudy. But in general the singing was quite good, and even the understudy hit some impressive high notes during the song "Julio." 

But the songs themselves were just OK. I thought the lyrics were often unnecessarily  complicated and the tunes were not catchy. "Julio" worked best, I thought, because the music had a Latin-lite rhythm going for it, but in general the songs had that washy generic Broadway tune feeling. I don't remember how any of them go. In contrast to a successful musical theater song like "Popular" from WICKED - after I saw that show I could immediately tell you how it went, and I wanted to hear it again and again. Same with "I Don Quixote" from MAN OF LA MANCHA. You can hear Brian Stokes Mitchell singing that here. Although that song also has the advantage of a Latin rhythm - probably the catchiest of all rhythms. You pretty much can't go wrong with a song with a Latin rhythm.

But the actor/singers really sold them, for the most part. And Julio must be really great when Braxton sings it.

The various scenes usually worked pretty well in themselves, but they didn't work as well as a collection of scenes in order to tell a story. Also I could pretty much guess aspects of the plot.


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SPOILER ALERT

I figured out right from the start that the Mary-Marie character was going to end up with the guy who keeps calling her, who is the same age as her. And I also figured that Mary-Marie and Lily would end up feeling betrayed by Clarity's studying them for her Master's thesis on the cougar phenomenon. Although I might have gotten that idea from the musical I saw last summer, MOTHER EVE'S SECRET GARDEN OF SENSUAL SISTERHOOD, which had a similar plot point - although in neither case did I think that it was executed just right.

I actually enjoyed Mother Eve more than Cougar - the songs were more catchy (although I can't remember any of them now, months later) and less generic-Broadway musical-y. And Cougar is an Off-Broadway show, Mother Eve was a lowly Fringe Festival production. In both musicals I thought there were too many songs and the show would be improved by cutting the weaker ones. Or songs that really shouldn't be in there in the first place. The song about motherhood in Cougar was an OK song, but I didn't think that it had a place in the show. Especially coming right after the scene where Mary-Marie ends up meeting up with a younger man who, to her horror, turns out to be her son.

One aspect of the plot I did not guess was that Lily breaks up with her younger guy at the end so he can go off to get a law degree and, it is implied, so that he can find a more age-appropriate woman. I found this basically a betrayal of the message of the rest of the show which is that women should go for it, and not care about tradition etc. etc. And the scenario was handled badly - although it's hard to think of a way for it to be handled well considering it's a betrayal of the rest of the show. But what happens is, Lily blurts out to the other two women that she loves the guy, she runs off to tell him,  they meet up, he tells her he's going to law school and wants her to come with him. She tells him no. He makes facial expression that shows he's not happy about it - but it is never really addressed in the song they are singing about love being ageless. And of course his going off to end up with a younger woman (as revealed in the show's epilogue) does not sell the concept of love being ageless. It ended the whole show on a sour note, I thought.

I mean, would a 40-something man think twice about continuing a relationship with a 20-something woman, and instead insist that she find someone closer to her own age? OF COURSE NOT. So what this tells me is that the show's creator Donna Moore still has some hard-core traditionalist attitudes that she needs to examine.

But Moore isn't exactly an incisive sociological thinker. Here's her explanation for the "cougar" phenomenon:

When I first heard the term “Cougar’ eight years ago, I was doing stand up comedy and writing ‘The UnBalancing Act”, a show about my divorce- and I thought, “How come we have to place a derogatory name on an older woman? I mean, what do you call an older MAN who’s linked with a younger woman? I’ve researched it…It’s called MAN!” 
It got me thinking that maybe our society’s fixation on the ‘sexual older woman’ was a misplaced yearning to go back to a more matriarchal system after a millennia of patriarchal dictation. I mean, in older times, the MATRIARCH was revered by her family, her tribe, her community as a wise, healing servant of strength. Perhaps in the year 2000 plus, we need to embrace the sacred feminine in all of us so that we can heal ourselves, our loved ones and the planet.
No, a society doesn't just suddenly have a yearning to go back to a matriarchal system. And as anthropologist Marvin Harris has pointed out, in no matriarchal society did women actually rule over men. Women may be more revered in a matriarchy, and wealth may be passed down through the maternal line, but women in matriarchies still only offer advice, at best, to the people who are really ruling the society - which is always men.

No, the Cougar phenomenon has nothing to do with some new-agey yearning for matriarchy - it's all about economics.

And I thought that Moore understood this based on the plot of the show. She doesn't come out and say it's about the money, but two of the characters are wealthy self-made women and Lily was married to a high-earning business man and presumably was traditional enough to get an alimony deal. So these women can afford to pursue attractive men for the sheer pleasure of it, instead of attempting to marry for money, which is the standard role for women in a patriarchy. But apparently Moore doesn't consciously get the connection between women controlling/earning their own money and women having the luxury of pursuing younger men.

It should be clear that economics is the deciding factor - at no time in the history of human civilization have women been in a position to earn and keep their own money to the degree that we can, right now, in the West. Could it really be just a coincidence that right after this unprecedented economic change has taken place, an unprecedented change in female mate-selection has taken place?

At least Cougar doesn't celebrate a woman being stalked and bullied into submission (which she secretly really wants) like TALLEY'S FOLLY.

Maybe the best part of Cougar was Danny Bernardy, who plays all the male characters as well as the mani-pedi shop lady. He's cute as hell and has lots of charisma. And with all his quick changes and various accents I couldn't help thinking he'd be perfect in my JULIA & BUDDY. I don't know if I could afford him, or if he'd consider a step back into off-off Broadway, but it can't hurt to ask.

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