Justin Timberlake Brings It on The 20/20 Experience Tour

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I am an unabashed Justin Timberlake fan. Musically, he can do no wrong. His concerts are top to bottom amazing and they are my reason for going to concerts in the first place. The first real concert I attended (and by that I mean non-Vietnamese) was the Justin Timberlake & Christina Aguilera – Justified + Stripped Tour, which also had the Black Eyed Peas as the opening act. To this day, that is still my favourite concert line-up: LOVE JT, BEP were getting popular thanks to “Where Is the Love?” and their album “Elephunk”, and this concert is what made me a Christina fan. The second time I saw Justin was during the 1st leg of the FutureSex/LoveShow Tour. The show was over 2 1/2 hours with a short intermission that consisted of Timbaland DJ-ing; in total, 3 hours+ of almost non-stop music. I mean, there was maybe a 10 minute break between the opening act (Pink) and Justin – that rarely happens these days. That show just blew my mind that I went to see it again during the 2nd leg of the tour; it is also the standard to which I judge all other concerts I go to now. Last summer, I saw Justin team-up with Jay-Z for the Legends of the Summer Tour, and though I had problems with the staging (particularly from where I was sitting), they put on such a great show – performing together, mashing-up each others’ songs – that I forgot about it and just enjoyed those 2 1/2 hours of music.

Which brings me to this past Thursday, where I got to witness The 20/20 Experience Tour in person at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. That entire day leading up to the concert, nothing could get me down because I was just so freaking excited to see Justin do his thing, knowing that he was mixing up the old songs with tracks off his past two albums, and getting to see some amazing dancing. And seriously, as much as I love the music, I LOVE the dancing. Inexplicably, dance has always been a part of me and I have always loved it. I am not a great dancer by any means, but I’d like to think that I’m at least decent (I was a part of my high school dance crew and they must’ve had reason to keep me or even let me on in the first place). Every once in a while I’ll even find myself making up choreography in my head for songs I love, even though I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Anyways, back to the point, I was just SO excited to see everything and man, Justin really does not disappoint. I don’t know why I say that like I’m surprised because I know I always have a good time at his concerts, but he just brings it every single time I see him.

[Of note: Justin doesn’t have an opening act for this tour, opting instead for a DJ freestyle prior to the show. It’s a shame though, especially considering he has a record label and probably should’ve used this tour as a platform for whatever artist he has on his roster.]

Justin starts off the show with Pusher Love Girl, the first track off part 1 of The 20/20 Experience album. It’s not a typical party starter song but it’s still a great song to begin the proceedings with The Tennessee Kids backing him up and the wonderful throwback groove. Part way through the song before he gets to the “interlude” part, Justin stops for dramatic effect, though after it went on for too long we knew something was up. Turns out his mic stopped working! “You broke the mic! Y’all were so loud, you broke the mic!” Justin hilariously laments after tossing the dead mic to the side. And so the show goes on.

"Y'all broke the mic!" Ahaha whoops! Sorry JT!

“Y’all broke the mic!” Ahaha whoops! Sorry JT!

After the staggered start, the rest of the show went off without a hitch as Justin made his way through new and old songs seamlessly. I’ll admit, I took a peek at the setlist beforehand so I knew Gimme What I Don’t Know was coming up next; unfortunately, it was only the intro. It’s not a GREAT song, but again, I was just really looking forward to seeing the choreography for it! Justin, how could you deny me the chance to see world class choreography from Marty Kudelka for this song? I didn’t have much time to be mad because he went right into Rock Your Body, which we can all agree is a total crowd pleaser. But you wanna know what was great for this dance-lover? What JT and his dancers did on TKO. The choreography was on point and they were giving it all to me – so completely into it.

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Four JTs are better than one?

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Justin’s verse on Jay-Z’s Holy Grail, leading into Cry Me A River was genius, and ended off the first half of show. A short 10 minute intermission later and we were back with the second half. It was a relatively low key start to the second half with Only When I Walk Away (this one did include a fair amount of lasers) and Drink You Away. The fun really amped up once Justin got into Senorita (again, a total crowd pleaser) which naturally led into Let the Groove Get In; it was here that the audience got a real treat as part of the stage got raised up and slowly moved across to the end of the arena. Justin stayed at the other end for a good 6-7 songs, and even making his way down from the breakaway stage to the mini-stage located in the bar area. Also keeping up with the dance theme, you have no idea how much I wanted to see some choreography to Groove. To be honest, I’ve been imagining a straight-up Latin Ballroom routine to this song, every time I hear it so I was invariably going to get disappointed.

The stage breaking off and heading our way!

The stage breaking off and heading our way!

Something that I hadn’t seen Justin do before during concerts, and is something that I personally love when I go see any concert, was the fact that he added some covers into the show. The man has two new albums for which he’s touring, plus two previous albums chock full of hits and crowd favourites, and he STILL put in some covers. Touching on his Memphis roots, JT covered Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel; he also did a very nice cover of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature (a music inspiration to all). And just for some added fun, we got a little Jungle Boogie and Bell Biv Divoe’s Poison (complete with awesome 80s/early 90s dancing).

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Performing from the mini-stage in the bar area.

Unfortunately, at some point, the show had to end. For the encore, Justin gave us his two biggest hits, SexyBack and Mirrors, and then it was over. Nearly 2.5 hours later, my voice was cracking from singing along all night and walking was only slightly an issue due to all the dancing. I love seeing my bands and regular singers + musicians, but just because of what I grew up on, I just completely LOVE a well-produced and well-choreographed show, and that is what this show was. From top to bottom, beginning to end, Justin Timberlake had us all in the palm of his hands, and all of us fans in the audience were more than happy to oblige, reciprocating the energy that he was putting out. Let it be known though that he also had an amazing group of people backing him up. The Tennessee Kids, his band and backup singers, were as energetic as ever trying to match the energy and enthusiasm of JT. And because I can’t say enough good things about them, the dancers are EVERYTHING; Dana Wilson, Ivan Koumaev (again, so proud of how far he’s come from SYTYCD), Nick Bass, Natalie Gilmore, Lyle Beniga, and Lindsay Richardson – just the best! I don’t know what the chances are of them doing another go-round of North America (probably not), but I sincerely hope they at least release this show on DVD so I can add it with my FutureSex/LoveShow DVD that I watch ALL THE TIME. If The 20/20 Experience Tour hits your town, go see it if you can because I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

The amazing Tennessee Kids

The amazing Tennessee Kids

The equally amazing and talented dancers

The equally amazing and talented dancers

FULL SETLIST:

  1. Pusher Love Girl
  2. Gimme What I Don’t Know (Intro)/Rock Your Body
  3. Don’t Hold the Wall
  4. FutureSex/LoveSounds
  5. Like I Love You
  6. My Love
  7. TKO
  8. Summer Love
  9. LoveStoned
  10. Until the End of Time
  11. Holy Grail/Cry Me A River
  12. Only When I Walk Away
  13. Drink You Away
  14. Tunnel Vision
  15. Senorita
  16. Let the Groove Get In
  17. That Girl
  18. Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis Presley cover)
  19. Not a Bad Thing
  20. Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
  21. What Goes Around…Comes Around
  22. Cabaret
  23. Take Back the Night/Jungle Boogie (Kool & the Gang cover)
  24. Murder/Poison (Bell Biv Divoe)
  25. Suit & Tie
  26. SexyBack
  27. Mirrors
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TIFF 2012: Jason Reitman Stages Live Reading of ‘American Beauty’

When director Jason Reitman began doing live readings of classic movie screenplays in Los Angeles and more recently, New York, I was completely jealous of all the people who were able to witness it all. Screenplays of The Breakfast Club, The Princess Bride, The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs, and The Apartment, read by a group of different actors – how awesome does that sound?

At some point last week, Reitman rather cryptically tweeted a picture of a “surprise event” that was set to happen on the first day of the Toronto International Film Festival. Alarms immediately sounded in my head: “Could Reitman be doing one of his live readings for TIFF?!” Short answer: YES. When single tickets went on sale on Sunday morning, it was officially announced that Reitman would in fact be doing a live reading and the screenplay of choice was American Beauty. I jumped at the opportunity to witness one of these readings first-hand and didn’t even care that I hadn’t even seen the movie; it proved to be as amazing as it sounded.

Leading up to the day, Reitman had slowly announced what actors would be at the event, reading the lines made famous by the movie cast. Bryan ‘Motherfucking’ Cranston (Reitman’s words introducing the actor at the reading) took on the role of Lester Burnham, originally played by Kevin Spacey. Christina Hendricks became Carolyn Burnham, previously played by Annette Bening. Mae Whitman took over for Thora Birch, in the role of Jane Burnham, while Sarah Gadon took on the reigns of Mena Suvari’s Angela Hayes. Woody Harrelson was initially supposed to take part in the live reading as Col. Frank Fitts, previously played by Chris Cooper, but a plane delay led Nick Kroll (a frequent presence at Reitman’s readings) to take on the role. Taking on the role of Ricky Fitts made famous by Wes Bentley was Adam Driver (an actor I was unfamiliar with because I haven’t seen HBO’s TV show ‘Girls’). Rounding out the cast was Paul Scheer in Peter Gallagher’s role of Buddy King and Canada’s favourite TV/radio personality George Stroumboulopoulos in the role of Jim Olmeyer, played by Scott Bakula in the film.

From L-R: Paul Scheer (Buddy), George Stroumboulopoulos (Jim), Nick Kroll (Fitts), Christina Hendricks (Carolyn), Bryan Cranston (Lester), Mae Whitman (Jane), Adam Driver (Ricky), Sarah Gadon (Angela), Jason Reitman

I have to admit I hadn’t even seen American Beauty when the live reading was announced; I was too young to have seen it when it came out and I just never came around to seeing it. I immediately rectified that and essentially did my homework, and watched the movie. It’s a funny thing, but having it fresh in my mind didn’t spoil the experience for me at all. The purpose of the readings was to essentially play out the whole “What if someone else had been cast in the role?” aspect.

It was fun to witness these actors bring these characters to life and put their own spin into it, even the little details of them acting and reacting to each others’ characters. I think what sort of astonished me most was how much the audience (myself included) was transfixed, sort of mesmerized, and completely attentive to this group of actors who were simply sitting on stage reading a screenplay. It was entertainment in the most simplest/almost purest form.

I am so happy that I got to see this and I can only wish that Jason Reitman does more of these live readings in Toronto. Whether it be at TIFF or during the year outside of TIFF, I don’t care – if Reitman puts on another live reading in Toronto, consider me there!

Bring It On The Musical: Entertaining to the Fullest

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I am by no means a musical theater geek. I’ve read about a lot of shows, but as far as having seen shows, well I can count the number on my one hand (Wicked, Legally Blonde, Spring Awakening, American Idiot). So my judgment as to what is good may not be the best, but at the same time, the shows that I have seen were decided with great consideration and lots of reviews read. I now get to add another show to my list: Bring It On The Musical, which I saw here in Toronto twice, the last stop on their national tour before they head to Broadway. The verdict? Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.

Bring It On The Musical is brought to us by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights), Tom Kitt (Next To Normal), Amanda Green (High Fidelity), and Andy Blankenbuehler (In The Heights). As a fan of the original Bring It On movie (honestly, I’ve seen it WAY too many times), I immediately took an interest in the musical, much like my interest in Legally Blonde The Musical. Now whereas Legally Blonde was very much the film in musical form (which is completely understandable and totally works), Bring It On took the “inspired by” route. It wasn’t the Toros and the Clovers brought into the musical world, but rather a new story with 2 different cheer squads. And even after having watched all 4(?!) DVD sequels, I must say, leave it to the musical to really capture the spirit of the original and bring something fresh (and not just songs).

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Taylor Louderman plays Campbell, captain of the Truman High cheerleading squad. She’s got support in her 2 friends, Skylar and Kylar (Kate Rockwell and Janet Krupin) and her boyfriend Steven (Neil Haskell from SYTYCD!). In an odd turn of events, Campbell is forced to transfer schools to Jackson High, where she is now the odd one out, like former Truman mascot Bridget (Ryann Redmond), looking for a place to belong. Though it takes some time, she ultimately works her way into the dance crew at Jackson and befriends Danielle (Adrienne Warren), Nautica (Ariana DeBose, also from SYTYCD), La Cienega (Gregory Haney), and Randall (Jason Gotay). Things take a turn when Campbell gets suspicious of Eva, a sophomore cheerleader at Truman whom she put on the squad before she got transferred, and convinces the Jackson dance crew to become a cheerleading squad to exact revenge.

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From start to finish, the musical was simultaneously funny, endearing, and just great fun. One thing that was really important to me was that, unlike the DVD sequels, the musical was not predictable and like I said, it captured the spirit of the original movie. The sequels focused too much on the whole aspect of two teams going against each other. While the original film was about the competition between the Toros and the Clovers, it was also about the characters’ intentions and working as a team, which the musical really brought to the forefront. The songs weren’t all typical musical theatre/Broadway numbers, and to fit with the story, they added in a nice mixture of pop and hip-hop. With news that they are finally going to Broadway, I truly hope the cast gets to do a full-length recording of the show so I can get more than just the 3 songs that are on the sampler (check it out on iTunes!). Also, it obviously goes without saying that the cheer routines and choreography were simply outstanding. All in all, very much like Legally Blonde the Musical, Bring It On was completely entertaining and left you with a smile on your face. And really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Knowing TV/Movie Shooting Locations: Hindering the Watching Experience?

For the past few years, I’ve become intrigued by finding out where TV shows and movies get filmed. In the past I just thought it was cool when I heard a movie was shooting somewhere in Ontario, didn’t really give it much thought beyond that. I’m guessing it’s safe to say that my interest piqued when I went to Los Angeles 2 years ago. It was my first time back to L.A. in about 5 years, so it was a different feeling being there at 21 than 16. Anyways, when I went I started doing research as to where some things were filmed. I really just ended up looking at where The O.C. used to be filmed.

Now I really started getting interested in where things were being filmed, especially in the Toronto area. Things really went to another level once I found out last year that Nikita was being filmed (mostly) in Toronto. I went into uber-fan mode: “OMG! They are filming in Toronto! I have to go there more often than I do! I could meet Maggie Q or Shane West!” I just thought it was the coolest thing EVER (kind of still is).

I went back to L.A. last December and decided to be my pop culture geek self and went on a tour of the Warner Brothers lot. Best $45 I spent. Being able to see the sets of these shows I love, it was a little unreal. I got to see Central Perk. I stood on the set of Chuck. It was so cool seeing the stages and even just the “regular town” sets.

There is a point in prefacing my blog with these stories, as I so often do. In the past year of watching television, it occurred to me that while it was cool finding out/knowing where some things were filmed, it took me out of watching the show. My suspension of disbelief was temporarily lifted when I knew exactly where something was filmed.

I remember when Nikita filmed for a day in my hometown of Cambridge. They posted in the local newspaper that the bridge in the downtown area was going to be shut down for the day for filming, and when I read it, I freaked knowing that I literally could go see Maggie Q. I made my attempts at trying to find and meet her, but luck was not on my side that day. When the episode (1×18, “Into the Dark”) aired, I got excited watching it but quickly realized I shouldn’t have been. The scenes that were filmed in Cambridge were meant to be a substitute for London, England, so as soon as they said they were in London, I’m like thinking “They’re in Cambridge!” Took me right out of it. Not to mention, as the scenes played out, I’d go “That’s City Hall! There’s the bridge! And the church near the bridge, etc.”

Back in October, after a concert, my friend and I had to go pick up her brother and drive him back with us. As we pulled onto the street where he lived, we saw all these crew trucks and I’m thinking “Are they filming something here? What are they filming? Is it Nikita?!” Short answer: Yes, it was ‘Nikita’ and apparently they’ve been there all week according to my friend’s brother (he didn’t even have the decency to tell us ahead of time.) I managed to catch a glimpse of Maggie Q when we passed by but couldn’t actually meet her. Again, the episode (2×08, “London Calling”) airs, and I’m like “Hey! I know where they filmed that!”, followed by “Damn it! I’m not supposed to know!” Didn’t help matters that in one of the scenes you can still see an Ontario license plate on one of the cars, when they’re supposedly in London (and there I go being one of those annoying people noticing goofs).

Most recently, I saw promo pictures for the upcoming episode (2×11, “Pale Fire”) and soon realized that they had come back to Cambridge to film part of the episode. Unfortunately, I was away on vacation at the time, or else you bet I would’ve known about it and went to find a way to meet Shane West and Devon Sawa. This is how bad it’s getting: I can tell from a picture where they’re filming, and the background was blurry because the focus of the pic was Shane and Devon.

Obviously my interest in knowing where ‘Nikita’ is being filmed is starting to hinder my TV watching experience. And it’s not just ‘Nikita’ that this happens. I’ve watched episodes of ‘Covert Affairs’ and ‘Suits’ where some shots, I’m like “That’s [insert street/place] in Toronto!” because I know those shows are shot in Toronto. Watching the second episode of ‘Hart of Dixie’, they introduced the Rammer Jammer, the local bar/hangout. The Rammer Jammer is also known as Merlotte’s from ‘True Blood’. How do I know that (besides from watching True Blood)? The tour guide pointed it out when I went on the WB Studio tour. From that point on, I’ve been watching ‘Hart of Dixie’ calling the Rammer Jammer, Merlotte’s, and wondering where on the WB lot they’re filming.

But the funny thing is I watch ‘Chuck’ and I don’t even think about the fact that I stood on the set. Same thing with watching ‘Friends’ re-runs – I don’t think about the fact that I saw Central Perk and sat on the couch.

Which leads me to wonder, at what point does knowing a shooting location affect how you watch TV? Is it different knowing that something is a set that was built specifically for that TV show, as opposed to something that’s a part of the world? Because clearly my issues of disbelief arise seeing the streets of Toronto + Cambridge being used as the streets of New York, Washington, London, etc. Also, how do people in LA and NY deal with this? Although I guess, when something is meant to be LA and it is shot in LA, it shouldn’t be such a problem.

Lesson from all this? Maybe I should be less obsessive about ‘Nikita’ and just in general, watch less TV….That’s most likely not going to happen.

Christina Perri on Tour!

It was just a little over a year ago that Christina Perri was just an aspiring singer-songwriter, working as a waitress in a cafe in Beverly Hills. Then her song “Jar of Hearts” was featured on So You Think You Can Dance in a contemporary routine choreographed by Stacey Tookey. This song that very few people had heard of before picked up interest and started charting on Billboard and selling on iTunes. Soon enough, Christina got asked to perform the song on SYTYCD, and found herself with a record deal. It’s a music industry Cinderella story that seems to rarely happen in this day and age.

Now one year later, Christina’s released her first album, lovestrong, and has just embarked on her first headlining tour after previously opening up for singer James Blunt.

Seeing success stories like Christina’s has increased my belief in the music industry. Upon reading about Christina’s Street Team and how they were looking for volunteers at all her tour stops, I decided to jump at the opportunity to help promote Christina and her music. Personally, I think there’s nothing like discovering new music and introducing new music to others, so helping out was a no brainer. In particular, I’m helping to promote the show in Toronto (Aug. 4, Opera House – Tickets still available on Ticketmaster!) but be sure to also check out her website: www.christinaperri.com for a complete list of tour dates.