Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Diane of 'The Little Dog Laughed" -- the early years

The filthy underbelly of the entertainment industry once again is topside at Second Stage Theatre with Theresa Rebeck's "The Scene," now in previews for a Jan. 11 opening. Only this this time, the snake is just cutting its baby teeth.

Sad-sack Charlie (Tony Shalhoub), once of middling success as an actor, now finds himself reduced to schmoozing for bit parts in dim sitcoms while living in New York off the wages of wife Stella (Patricia Heaton), a frumpy, frustrated but successful booking agent for a television talk show. Hardly Hollywood royalty. There was a time, after all, when Charlie attracted the suck-ups at the party rather than being one himself. So when he and his pal Lewis (Christopher Evan Welch) meet a vacuous, worshipful and seemingly fresh-off-the-Buckeye-truck Clea (Anna Camp) at one of those parties, it's obvious from the start that the poor schlub doesn't stand a chance.

Comparisons will be inevitable between "The Scene" and Second Stage's last Hollywood cautionary tale, the now-on-Broadway "The Little Dog Laughed." While the latter has had moderate critical success as an engaging cartoon anchored by the tour de force of Julie White as the deliciously soulless agent Diane, "The Scene" benefits by a much smarter book and a stronger ensemble of performances. Besides, Diane wouldn't wouldn't notice people this far down the entertainment totem pole if they were on fire.

Camp, Heaton and Shalhoub all are superb. Although best known as television's Monk, Shalhoub boasts an impressive resume of New York credits, and he perfectly captures Charlie's descent as he loses, as he describes it, his final shreds of dignity. Even though the character is utterly unlikeable, he manages to still elicit empathy in his ultimate destruction. No doubt thanks to her own sitcom experience, Heaton has great comic timing as Stella, who seems initially to have made peace with her mediocre lot. She also proves her acting chops in later scenes after discovering her husband's infidelity.

Camp, most recently part of the stellar ensemble of Off-Broadway's "columbinus," makes her mark on the New York theatre scene here. A Lady MacBeth for the "Mean Girls" set, Clea is, as Stella observes, "a fucking nightmare of a human being," detestable to the core. Camp masters the typical Clea speech pattern: a loosely tied strand of thoughts that says nothing and everything at the same time. Vapid and evil is a killer combination. One can't help but think this could be how Diane got her start.

Welch is mostly effective but problematic in a few spots. As the one who initially has his eye on Clea, he needs to, as my theatre companion put it, butch it up in a few spots. His character also is a bit muddily written compared to others, as it wasn't clear to me by the end whether his character was a noble hero or a calculator giving Clea a run for her money.

Rebeck's dialogue is excellent for most of the show and is aided by great pacing by the actors. Like Clea's thought pattern, characters often wander off and never really get to the point, even when attempting to make grandiose pronouncements. But somehow, this makes the overlapping dialogue clearer.

A weak ending, however, hampers the entire show. During the final glimpse at the shell of what is left of Charlie, he mutters what could be one of the most predictable final lines this season. Still, it's just one final bad taste in what otherwise was quite a satisfying evening.

The performance I attended featured a talkback with director Rebecca Bayla Taichman. The audience response overall was largely positive toward the acting and dialogue, although they also had problems with the ending. One man put it nicely: It seems like a lot of good parts that don't quite add up to as good as a whole. They also had problems with the upbeat rock music choices, which my companion and I thought were quite appropriate.

A final note: A lot is being made of Heaton's recent conservative political stances and how they won't jibe with the average New York theatregoers. Barring any Anita Bryant-style campaigns, I have to say good acting is good acting, and I think it would be rather hypocritical of me to criticize her for her stances in this context, seeing as it had no effect on her performance (especially considering my earlier post about Barbra Streisand). I thought she was fantastic, and I have no problem with saying it.

I couldn't help but notice, however, that one of the books on Charlie and Stella's bookcase was one by conservative commentator Larry Elder. I wonder if that was a compromise over the considerable number of F-bombs Heaton had to deliver.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My nomination for most callous lede of the year

Bill O'Reilly was the latest Fox News personality to get a tour of Iraq. Now, as newly announced Democratic presidential contender Tom Vilsack mentioned on "The Daily Show" tonight, any visit is largely a scripted experience, but I'm sure we can count on O'Reilly's "no spin zone" to cut through the staging and get the real story. If not, at least it might give him something new to put on the placemats or whatever it is he's selling nowadays.

In the meantime, I was quite taken aback by the press release from the Multi-National Force -- Iraq on the visit. It begins:

In a war that has perhaps been even hotter in debates than it is on the streets of Baghdad, the one constant in the media has been “spin.”

Even with the "perhaps" to mitigate it...just wow. But I guess they're right. Every member of the armed forces I interviewed upon their return from Iraq said something like: "Yeah, sure, it was rough, but I'd rather be there than stuck between Brent Bozell and Donna Brazile on that Tucker Carlson show."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Peachy Pitts

Pam's House Blend today links to a great column by Leonard Pitts Jr. The column speaks for itself, but I was quite surprised by the number of people in the comments section who had never heard of Pitts, as I find him consistently to be one of the best columnists around today. And it's not just because I usually agree with him.

When I worked for The Facts, Pitts was one of two progressive writers (although the editor at the time we added him called him a moderate, which might be more accurate) whose work we ran. The other was Molly Ivins, known by many of the local editorial page readers as Satan Incarnate. People despised her. Her mere mention of the word "shrub" would inspire dozens of angry letters to the editor. Yet Pitts, even when talking about hot-button issues like gay rights, never provoked such a response. Why was this?

I admire columnists like Ivins, Christopher Hitchens and such who can shred their targets with their caustic wit. I also can admire florid writers like Peggy Noonan, which can sometimes be overly gooey but nonetheless paints a lovely picture. But when it comes to a straight hammer to the point -- no overwriting, no Ann Coulter-esque phony controversy, no pretension -- no one can beat Pitts. He's the type who actually makes people examine their own opinions, not someone who panders to already formed political opinions.

Just read his famous post-Sept. 11 column. No one said it better at the time.

My least favorite columnist, if anyone is wondering? No, it's not Ann Coulter. It's not even Chuck Norris or Pat Boone. At least they have some camp value.

It's David Limbaugh. And it's not because I almost never agree with him.

It's not so much any particular column he has written. Rather, it's that he exemplifies everything that Pitts isn't. His typical column is the most lifeless, condescending rehash of whatever Republican Party issue du jour is at the top of the Roger Ailes memo this week, the graveyard where prose goes to die. I'd sooner listen to his brother for three hours than make it all the way to the end of one of his pieces.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Accentuating what I can

The gorgeous Will Chase, on his myspace blog, is lamenting the eagerness some critics have in releasing their poison nowadays, spurned on by people like me who enjoy taking to the Internet to pick apart a show still in previews. While I could mention that every wannabe John Simon today could never pack a venomous bite like Dorothy Parker, I'll instead agree with him on the basis that critics did seem overly harsh with this show, which I saw tonight. And while I could also analyze why that might be, I see little point in picking apart a show that will be heading to that big flophouse in the sky tomorrow. So in honor of our antihero Rob, here's my Top 5 Things I Found To Like About "High Fidelity." In autobiographical order, or something like that.

1) The cast was mostly spectacular, particularly Chase, dynamite leading lady Jenn Colella and "Rent"/"Avenue Q" refugee Christian Anderson.

2) Amanda Green's lyrics hit more than they miss, even if the songs sometimes sound like rejects from "The Wedding Singer."

3) Mr. Chase starts the second act in his boxers.

4) It's hard to deny the enthusiasm from most of the audience. Despite everything, this show had its following, and I might even get the cast recording if it ever actually gets on the market (hello, "Lestat").

5) Ummm...the gingerbread latte I had before the show was delish.

So that's all I'll say about that -- except I couldn't help but admire the flop power displayed in the cast bios. "Lennon," "The Times They Are A-Changin'," "Ring of Fire," "Tarzan" (I'm assuming), "All Shook Up," "Urban Cowboy" and even "Bring Back Birdie." The show definitely beat all of those, as well as "Thou Shalt Not," "Hot Feet..." Wait! There's my No. 5 with a bullet.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Gay dating in the styx

Once again, I'm preparing to return to Brazoria County, this time for an extended Christmas vacation. I haven't had one of those in years! So to honor the moment, here's a recount of the worst date I've ever had, courtesy of Lake Jackson, Texas.

There being no gay hangouts in a 60-mile radius, I was always excited whenever someone local responded to my gay.com profile. Unfortunately, most of these people turned out to be married men in their 40s. So, whenever the person didn't fall into that category, I was sometimes willing to let my standards slip a little. That is, until I met Tim.

At 19, Tim admittedly was a bit young for me, but I was only 25 or so at the time, so the age difference was not that vast. There were other red flags that I ignored. He first wrote to me using his ex-boyfriend's account. He and his mother verbally sparred like Martha Plimpton and Dianne Weist in "Parenthood" while we talked on the phone. And he seemed quite proud of an eBay scam he was running.

Loneliness does funny things to one's judgment, however, so I agreed to a date. I met him near his house in Lake Jackson one Friday night after work, and he wanted to take me to a friend's party. As we walked to the front door, he handed me a small, white tablet. "This will get us rollin'," he smirked. Yup, ecstasy. I quickly pocketed the pill when his back was turned.

Once inside the friend's house, I found myself surrounded by a ring of strung-out, babbling girls, none of whom could have been older than 17. One particularly unfortunate one was nearly comatose against the wall, but the rest were too busy trying to sing along to Ruben Studdard's "Sorry 2004" to notice. The ecstasy was already starting to take its effect on Tim, and conversation with the girls was proving pointless, so I went ahead and poured myself a drink. After all, I was the only one there anywhere near a legal age.

After about an hour of this party that could have been a perfect PSA for the council on drug prevention, someone began pounding at the door. It was the party-thrower's father. The girls and Tim seemed calm, but I began to panic. Regardless of my sexuality, having a dad catch me, a 20-something, with a glass of wine in my hand while sitting around his polluted teenage daughter and her friends didn't seem like it would have a favorable outcome. Dad, however, was as polluted as his daughter, fresh from the Mosquito Fest (yes, the city of Clute, Texas has a celebration around the mosquito). Dad was so jovial, in fact, that he offered me a sip of the Snuffy Smith moonshine he was drinking out of a metal flask. I politely refused.

The party started breaking up at this point, and for some reason, Tim and I got stuck with the task of taking the comatose girl home. She managed to mumble out the directions to the trashiest trailer park I never knew existed in Clute, and after dropping her off, Tim suggested we visit another of his friends. This one happened to live in the same apartment complex that my sister did when I was a kid, and at least having her own apartment should indicate that she was above high school age, I thought.

She was. A typical Brazoria County blonde, she greeted me cheerfully enough but mostly ignored me after my arrival. I chatted with -- it was either her boyfriend or her roommate's boyfriend, but whoever it was, he was the most sane person I saw all night. The girl did take enough notice of me to ask why I was wearing men's shoes. After all, I was gay, right? Small town ignorance is so charming.

Later on, the ditz decided she was getting a bit of an earache, so as a cure, she thought it would be best to stick a cone of newspaper in her ear and light it on fire. Unfortunately, the newspaper kept burning, even on the grass after she tossed it over the balcony when she was finished.

After an interminable amount of time, and amazingly enough during which the apartment complex did not burn to the ground, it was time to go. Tim decided IHOP would be best. It was 2 a.m. or so, and that's about the only place open in Brazoria County at that time anyway.

Lo and behold, we met some more of Tim's friends upon arrival. I saw some people I knew, too: a few policemen from the Lake Jackson Police Department who I knew because of my job as a reporter at the local paper. They gave me a wave as I walked to the table with our new companions.

As it turned out, Tim had called these people beforehand, because they were his pot suppliers, there to give him weed in exchange for his ecstasy. In horror, I watched the clumsiest exchange of pills and grass beneath a syrup-stained IHOP table with two policemen only a few tables away. I pictured my arrest written up in the newspaper in a few days. When a reporter gets arrested, you see, it gets written up no matter what, as a point of fairness. We're treated no differently than elected officials. One of my fellow reporters even saw herself in the paper after a minor fender bender.

By some miracle, the police didn't notice, and I managed to quickly get my goodbyes. It was nearly 3 a.m. I had been out from more than six hours and barely even talked to the guy with whom I was on the date. He was supposed to have gone with me to a Gloria Estefan concert a few days later -- we had set it up before the first date -- but thankfully, my mother stepped in as a replacement at the last minute. I never saw Tim again, and the last I heard, the original boyfriend -- the one whose account he had used to contact me initially -- had moved in with him at his mother's house in Lake Jackson. I'm sure the three of them are a regular Norman Rockwell postcard every night.

When I go solo to my friend's New Year's Eve party in Houston in a few weeks, I'll keep this story in mind to cheer myself up. When there's nothing but cold rice left on the buffet, sometimes it's better to go hungry.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NBC rapes my childhood

Starting with a shameless self-promotion: I had a blast making my Carnegie Hall debut with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus last night, and I think the show went swimmingly.

During the show, however, I missed what I thought was going to be a cute television moment: a live-action remake of "The Year Without a Santa Claus," one of those cheesy Rankin-Bass shows that I can never switch off once they come on. So I set my VCR (I'm old-fashioned that way).

I know, I know. These things are inevitably terrible, but I thought this one had promise. I liked everyone involved: John Goodman (Santa), Delta Burke (Mrs. Claus), Michael McKean (the Snow Miser), Harvey Fierstein (the Heat Miser), Eddie Grif---uh, never mind. After popping in the tape tonight, I tuned out after about 30 minutes. Not only was it dull, dull, dull, but they had the nerve to give Dr. Laura Schlessinger a needless, fawning cameo. I didn't even know she was still around. Isn't there some theater in Branson that she should be performing in? What's next? Sean Hannity as the honking penguin in "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"?

Ah, well. I'm sure ABC Family will rerun the original plenty of times in case I need to restore the sanctity of my memory. Meanwhile, here's some fun trivia. The original Snow Miser (voice) was Dick Shawn, who also played the acid-dropping Hitler in "The Producers." And the original Heat Miser (voice) was George S. Irving, best known for, uh, playing the Heat Miser. But I did see him in a staged reading of "70, Girls, 70" earlier this year. So he's still around.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

When life hands you a lemon, make applesauce

One's opinion of "The Apple Tree," which opens this Thursday at Studio 54, is going to boil down to the opinion of the show's star, Kristin Chenoweth. Those who find her a cloying presence are going to find this show as indigestible as a mock apple pie made with packets of Equal. I like her, however, so I was able to appreciate the show for what it is: a half-hearted revival of a mediocre musical that has the benefit of three great Broadway performers.

The show, which last ran on Broadway in the 1960s, is really three short musicals in one, all tied loosely together by the motifs of desire and temptation: adaptation's of Mark Twain's "The Diary of Adam and Eve," Frank Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" and Jules Feiffer's "Passionella."

Chenoweth plays a title character in two of the three segments (she plays neither the lady nor the tiger), and she's certainly the star in all of them. She's not breaking any new ground here, as the characters are all variation on the one(s?) she has played before, but she's a good fit for all of them. She's the naive sweetheart in Adam and Eve, the Galindesque bitch in "...Tiger?" and gets to be both in the modern Cinderella story "Passionella." Her fans will lap it up, and she'll probably gain some new ones from those unfamiliar with her work, although I doubt she'll win many converts.

The Adam and Eve story, which accounts for the entire pre-intermission segment, is the strongest, largely because it's the only one that gives co-star Brian d'Arcy James a worthy part. A handsome leading man who recently proved his comedy chops as a replacement in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," James makes a good balance for our perpetually perky leading lady. He fades into the background in the other two stories. "The Lady or the Tiger?" might tie with "The Little Engine That Could" as the thinnest source material ever chosen for a musical, and this adaptation doesn't even involve roller skates. "Passionella" is cute and enjoyable but ultimately of little substance.

Marc Kudisch also does his usually great work in all three segments, although as with Chenoweth, he's largely playing parts we've all seen before. Few can ooze smarmy as he does. That was a compliment, by the way.

Aside from great casting choices, however, this production has its shares of misfires as well. I wish Roundabout had approached this revival more in the traditional "Pajama Game" approach rather than the minimalistic effect it was trying to get across. Bock and Harnick's music and lyrics are charming, if not somewhat forgettable, and there's plenty of good humor and even some proper poignancy in the book, but "The Apple Tree" is no "Cabaret." It's a bagatelle of a musical, and stripping away production elements--the Adam and Eve portion, for example, is done largely on a bare stage with little more than a few ladders as props and an enormous brick background--highlights its weaknesses rather than erases them. Still, it was a nice touch, I'll give them, to use Alan Alda, the original Adam, as the voice of God in the opening.

Overall, it's a good show for families, theatre neophytes and Chenoweth fans. For everyone else, stick to the original cast recording or the memories of the City Center Encores! performance (also starring Chenoweth) which is really a more appropriate venue for the show.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Tell me: Is this fair?

I've lived in New York for almost a year now, not to mention living in New Jersey and Connecticut for a year each and visiting the city most weekends. In all that time, I have never stumbled across a corpse in the street.

My roommate has lived in the city for about a month. He came across one the other day. Or at least he thinks he did.

I've always considered finding a corpse a rite of passage for New Yorkers. How is it that he came to his so fast? I did see a murder scene in the Wall Street area when visiting several years ago, but I don't think it counts, because the bodies had already been cleaned up.

I'm so sending this in to Al Scaduto.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Much more grateful than sorry

I grabbed a student rush ticket (yes, I keep my college ID for such occasions) for "Company" tonight. Although I know virtually every song from the show, I had never actually seen a production of it before tonight, so I was a little apprehensive that it might lose something with the John Doyle actor/musician approach. Fortunately, that wasn't the case at all. In fact, I think the convention worked better than it did in "Sweeney Todd." Overall, the production didn't quite have the strength of its Doyle/Sondheim predecessor. Still, it was enough to convince me that Doyle is not a one-trick pony.

Most of the cast members are making their Broadway debuts in the production, and there does seem to be a bit of polish missing from some of the performances, be they the fault of blandness or charicature. Still, I'm talking about a minority, and there are certainly a few shining players among the neophytes. Angel Desai is a knockout as the gregarious Marta and delivers "Another Hundred People" with enough zest almost to erase the memory of Pamela Myers' original interpretation. Elizabeth Stanley is another standout as another of Bobby's girlfriends, April, and her duet "Barcelona" along with her monologue leading up to it is one of the best moments of the show. So is the "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" trio with Desai, Stanley and Kelly Jeanne Grant (as the third girlfriend, Kathy), where the three girls bleat a furious saxophone flourish at the end of each phrase. Never in "Sweeney Todd" was the line between instrument and actor so delightfully blurred.

Broadway veteran Barbara Walsh, as the acid-tongued and vodka-soaked Joanne, has the impossible task of performing in Elaine Stritch's shadow. Other than the cast recording and the other innumerable instances of Stritch singing "The Ladies Who Lunch," I didn't have that comparison to make, so I found a lot to appreciate in her performance. I still couldn't get Stritch's voice out of my head every time she sang, but that was probably just my problem.

But it's Raul Esparza who makes this show worth seeing. I had long wondered what the fuss surrounding him was about, because the only show I had ever seen him in was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Now I know. His charming presence and gorgeous voice anchored the show, all building to an absolutely heartbreaking "Being Alive." It was almost cruel to subject a single person in New York to it.

Perhaps it's because the cast is a bit bigger and the instrumental selection is more diverse, but the orchestrations sounded much richer than they did in "Sweeney Todd," which at times sounded to me like a piano accompaniment with a few trumpet bleats here and there. "Side by Side by Side" sounds like there's a full pit in the theatre with the entire ensemble--except Esparza, who appropriately plays no instrument (not counting a few seconds with a kazoo) until his final epiphany.

Yes, the Doyle convention will get old if we start seeing it every season, but I was glad to be a guest at this party. Even if Patti LuPone and her tuba were a no-show.

Monday, December 04, 2006

When bad movies happen to sensitive, omega-list celebrities

WorldNetDaily today alerts us to an alarming trend: pedophelia flights!

Yes, it seems that the inflight movie on a recent Delta flight was too much for Mike Seaver and a traveling companion of lesser celebrity caliber. Said companion, Ray Comfort, recalls his experience:

Halfway into the flight, Kirk suddenly looked up and said, ''What's going on!'' We looked up at the more than twenty screens to see what looked like a nine-year-old child sexually gyrating and stripping in front of an adult audience. As we watched in horror, a few of the adults in her audience stood to their feet and began to clap to the music, obviously encouraging her to strip further, which she gladly did.
Now, unfortunately, Mr. Comfort never clues us in to which movie contains the Dakota-Fanning-gone-wild scene. Delta's Web site shows the most recent movies on westbound flights have been "Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Rudy," so I'm guessing neither of those were it, although those tiny airplanes screens could have distorted Sean Astin's figure to a confusing degree. But horror of horrors, the flight attendant and the other passengers didn't seem to care!

She smiled and gave her standard response, ''You don't have to watch it. Just get on line on the Delta website and register a complaint.'' She was too busy caring for the needs of the passengers to see the movie. One of the other passengers heard our protests and began to say that he actually enjoyed the film. Personally, I would like to know the names and addresses of anyone who enjoys watching little kids take their clothes off in public. I would like to warn the families in their area.
What a bitch that flight attendant was! How dare she worry about some schlub's ginger ale whenever a (probably edited) movie already approved by the MPAA was on the loose? Sadly, though, I think Mr. Comfort's anger might have clouded his sanity for a second:

This wasn't some in-house meeting of NAMBLA where perverts were getting off on seeing a young child take her clothes off in the privacy of their own clubhouse. This wasn't in some dirty little back room in downtown Los Angeles. This was in front of mothers and fathers and their children on a domestic flight on Delta airlines.
Oh, Ray, Ray, Ray. As punishment for reaching for the always stupid NAMBLA card, let me point out the obvious stupidity by saying that whatever they do at NAMBLA meetings, I'm betting "getting off on seeing a young child take of her clothes" is not an agenda item.

But cheer up, Ray. At least the inflight movie wasn't "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" or "Left Behind II: Tribulation Force."

On another note, I've added two links to my blogroll. First up is Steve On Broadway, who not only was kind enough to add me to his list, but who also does a great job of compiling theatre news and wise commentary with a focus my ADD self could never hope to have. I also added Diary of a Blood Ray, another brilliant theatre mind from one of those other big cities in the country. I forget the name, but it's in one of those states with lots of vowels. At any rate, his commentary on that vile "Christmas Shoes" song won my heart long ago. Not to mention that, as seen in his most recent post, he managed to come up with a life soundtrack that was even gayer than mine.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A job tailor-made for Florida State grads

Working in media, I get a lot of silly stuff from PR agencies and marketing departments trying to catch my attention. My workout clothes, in fact, consist heavily of freebie shirts sent along with a press release. My favorite is one from a certain airline boasting about its leg-room: a plain, black T-shirt with white lettering on the front that says: "Want an extra six inches?"

I've got to hand it to Four Points by Sheraton, however. They certainly got my attention by sending me a box of beer. Woo! And this was just a few months after they sent us pie.

What's better, though, was the release that went along with it. It seems the hotel is looking for a "chief beer officer" as a consultant for its best brews program. And it also seems that this is no joke, as the hotel has taken out ads in the Wall Street Journal promoting this. Quoth the release:
The world's first ever CBO will be responsible to share his or her in-depth knowledge of the wide world of beer and help cultivate, curate and promote its new Best Brews offerings at brewery tours, beer festivals and on bar stools across the country.

To be eligible, all one needs is a love for beer, a thirst-hand knowledge of this glorious libation, an interest in perks that are as tasty as beer itself and be 21 years of age or older.
Unfortunately, I'm just learning to like beer again after an extremely unfortunate incident with Old Milwaukee several years ago. Frankly, I think the fact that Old Milwaukee has touched my tongue should probably disqualify me automatically from any chief beer officer position ever. Now if there's a chief vodka officer job out there...

Oh, and truly sorry for subjecting everyone to the "thirst-hand knowledge" pun. At least I left out the part about applicants needing a "bubbly personality."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I'm back, not that there was time to build up cans of cat food and pate

Finally back after about a week with the parents -- and a week without Internet access. Yikes!

At any rate, I'll have more later, but for tonight, I just wanted to mention that I finally got around to seeing "Grey Gardens" last night. The show's not perfect, but it's certainly one of the best new musicals to come along in awhile, and Christine Ebersole was everything the critics said she was. And Mary Louise Wilson was superb as well.

Unlike every other queen, I've never seen the documentary, so I guess that's next on my viewing list!

Posting will be sporadic for the next few days as I prepare for my Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Gay Men's Chorus. It's less than two weeks away!

Monday, November 20, 2006

All about the benjamins (Harrison, that is)

Call me a dork, but I'm a little excited about the presidential dollar coins that go into circulation next year. Much like the state quarters, we'll be getting four new presidential coins each year in order of election, meaning George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison will be available in 2007. It's a new president every three months! And yes, Grover Cleveland gets two coins for his non-consecutive terms.

My dad was always the coin and stamp collector of the family, and he's put together all the state quarters for us kids. I'm sure he'll do the same with these, which is good, because collector or not, taking $40-something dollars out of circulation isn't something I'm likely to do on my own.

Outside of collecting, the ramifications are endless. People might actually know what Franklin Pierce looked like (and in his day, he was considered quite the hottie)! Ronald Reagan can finally get his own coin so certain deification-happy Republicans can leave the Roosevelt dime alone! And best of all, maybe these will generate enough interest that people will finally start using dollar coins. Seriously. I mean, if the U.K. can use a coin for a pound, which is worth a lot more than a dollar, why do we still predominantly use the weaker paper for such a relatively small unit of currency? On that same note, maybe my vending machine at work will finally start taking the things, too. The parking machine at New Jersey train stations always used to drive me nuts by dispensing $17 in change from them, leaving me stuck with them for days.

What should be interesting is seeing which president stops the cycle. The way it's set up, no president will be honored less than two years after his death, and it stops whenever we run out of presidents to honor.

Gerald Ford would have to live a few years past 100 to miss out, so it probably won't be him. Jimmy Carter would have to make it to 92, which is possible but still somewhat unlikely. George H.W. Bush is about the same age as Carter. Both are active, but health can be, pardon the expression, a flip of the coin at that age.

Bill Clinton is a likely candidate, as he'll be a wee lad of 70 in 2016. Still, he's already proven that he has a bum ticker, so I'm putting my money on our current president in ending the cycle. He's the same age as Clinton. Say what you will about him, but he does seem to be a pretty healthy guy. And wouldn't it burn some certain Republicans if there were Bill Clinton coins but no George W. Bush ones?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An alien abduction and holiday depression

Extraterrestrials and the end-of-the-year blues are about as fresh sources for art as World War II or high school romance, yet both are the central topics for two current Off-Broadway shows. Despite not breaking any new ground as far as subject matter, both have a lot of talent behind them. So why does only one of them work?

"Striking 12," which opened this week at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Union Square, isn't actually a new work, having already played in other cities and in New York at the Ars Nova. It's the brainchild of indie rock trio GrooveLily and isn't so much as musical as it is a concert with a plot. There's no set, little blocking and that plot isn't much: A depressed schlub decides to stay in on New Year's Eve, but a surprise visitor selling light bulbs prompts him to read Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match-Seller" -- hardly the story to brighten one's mood.

Keyboardist Brendan Milburn plays the nameless protagonist, and his wife, electric violin player Valerie Vigoda, handles the dual role of the light bulb seller and the match-seller in the story segments, as well as a few other females in our heroes life. Drummer Gene Lewin handles the rest of the male roles. Milburn and Vigoda also wrote the book, music and lyrics to the show, aided by Rachel Sheinkin of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" fame.

The story-telling style is consistently delightful. The three actor-musicians often break character for meta-action, such as when Lewin laments he's getting all the secondary characters, such as "post-nasal-drip guy," presenting the chance for a dynamo drum solo. The songs are witty, tuneful and serve the plot perfectly. Milburn makes an affable lead character, but Vigoda, a former performer with the Trans-Siberian orchestra, edges out as the slight standout performance here. Her voice is strong, pure and unaffected, almost of a Karen Carpenter quality at times. One particularly nice moment occurs in the song "Caution to the Wind," when she sustains a final note along with her electric violin, and for a moment, it becomes difficult to distinguish the instrument from musician. Overall, an enjoyable performance that clocks in a just under an hour and a half.

The same can't be said at this point, however, for "Dark Matters," now in previews at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The play, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, centers around Michael Cleary (Reed Birney), a recent transplant from Washington, D.C. to rural Virginia, who arrives home to find his wife Bridget (Elizabeth Marvel) missing. Sheriff Benjamin Egan (Michael Cullen) and the Clearys' 16-year-old son Jeremy (Justin Chatwin) all join in the search to find her, but she returns on her own with a fantastic story to tell of an alien encounter. Not an abduction, mind you. These are aliens she's been seeing all of her life.

I enjoyed Aguirre-Sacasa's "Based on a Totally True Story," which ran Off-Broadway last season, but "Dark Matters" never matches the frantic energy that made the previous show so endearing. The characters react to the fantastic turns of events with all the amazement as if Bridget had said it was car trouble that made her disappear for a few days. When Bridget tells Jeremy that the aliens have been watching him his whole life, his first thought is to wonder if that includes in the shower.

Despite the book problems, the cast is mostly fine. Birney has the meatiest role, and he and Marvel, most recently seen on Broadway as one of the lizards in Edward Albee's "Seascape," make the most of the sometimes silly dialogue. Birney also gets the most genuine moments in the show with periods of concern for his family, and they make for some of the best moments in the entire play. The baby-faced Chatwin, best known as Tom Cruise's son in "War of the Worlds," has the least stage experience, and it shows at times, but he usually holds his own. Cullen plays the sheriff as a somewhat sinister Andy Griffith figure, and it works until a ridiculous plot turn in the second act.

The show is a bit long and ends on somewhat of a baffling note. It's enjoyable in spots but never manages to achieve the cohesive pleasure of "Striking 12." For the freshest look on an old idea, that's the show to see in New York.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Iraq, Love, Philosophy, Cabbages and Kings

A quick note: Since I found out that these reviews actually can show up on Google alerts, I've decided to start posting a note at the top whenever I'm reviewing a preview performance, as is the case with the following. "The Vertical Hour" actually opens, and therefore is subject to the real reviews, on Nov. 30.

In an era when political discussion is regarded to be the mastery of talking points on "Crossfire" or "Hannity and Colmes," nuance is a liability. Supporters of the Iraq war are mindless Bush-bots, while its detractors are anti-American terrorist sympathizers.

Just don't tell that to Nadia Blye, a former war correspondent turned Yale political science professor whose firsthand experience with suffering around the world has convinced her that a war to free oppressed Iraqis was the United States' moral obligation (even if the execution turned out less than stellar). Although the work gets her steady spots on television and even once got her the ear of President Bush, her opinion hasn't exactly endeared the self-described feminist to her Yale colleagues and students. Still, the job is a more stable and safe alternative to her war correspondent days, and she's even found a stable beau to match: physical therapist Philip Lucas.

The character of Nadia in David Hare's "The Vertical Hour" marks the Broadway debut of Julianne Moore, which has already invoked comparisons of last season's debut of a certain other Hollywood golden girl by the name of Julia. I'm happy to say that Moore fares much better. But while Moore will probably and rightfully be the big draw to the show, there's a bigger reason to see this show: co-star Bill Nighy.

Nighy portrays Philip's estranged, womanizing father: nephrologist Oliver Lucas, whom Philip and Nadia visit at his isolated home near the border of Wales and England. The liberal, charming doctor obviously disagrees with Nadia about Iraq, but their discussion of the war and a few glasses of wine open up a much more personal discussion between the two.

Nighy's performance is nearly perfect down to the last expression and mannerism, and his appearance brings a spark to the stage that seems to be missing in the first scene, a discussion between Nadia and shallow student Dennis Dutton (Dan Bittner). Andrew Scott also is an excellent match for Nighy as the son who rebelled by becoming grounded.

The night I saw the show, Moore, who has only a handful of stage credits to her name, seemed just a little too broad in her first scene, a common occurrence from those most familiar with the film medium. That vanished by the time Nadia reached the United Kingdom, however, and Moore didn't disappoint from that point. There were even a few moments that neared Nighy's brilliance, no doubt in part thanks to the direction of Sam Mendes.

Hare's dialogue is sharp, although sometimes too much for its own good. As is often the case in intellectual works, the characters have a tendency to sound a bit like a Christopher Hitchens column. No one is that witty at 5 a.m. But I, for one, much prefer being talked up to than the alternative.

The set, designed by Scott Pask, is lovely in its simpleness: a gorgeous, giant tree in the middle of the stage that doubles as mere background for the window in Nadia's Yale office and the centerpiece of Oliver's yard. The black background that irises open to reveal the set following the brief monologues that begin each scene also is a nice effect.

Moore's presence probably means tickets for this show will be difficult to come by, but in this case, it would be completely justified. Brokers shouldn't have the same problem of having a hot ticket no one wants as they did with Julia Roberts' debut. And considering that more recent tenants of The Music Box theatre have included the dreary "Festen" and the bizarre "In My Life," I'm also glad the lovely little theatre once again has a tenant of which it can be proud.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's so nice to have you back where you belong

Word is that the Carol Channing interview I referenced a few posts ago was a huge misunderstanding, basically boiling down to:
Channing's publicist says that the writer left out a key word to make it look like the performer was anti-gay: "With reference to the Bible - she said about gay marriage 'You know what the Bible says about it ... Nothing.'"
I guess you could say it's a he-said, she-said at this point, but I think Channing's work with AIDS and gay charities speak for themselves.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tom Cruise is so vain; I'll bet he thinks this show is about him

I saw "Little Dog Laughed" yesterday, which is opening tonight at the Cort Theatre. So let's get this out of the way first: Yes, Johnny Galecki is briefly naked. Yes, it's fairly impressive. But yes, there are plenty of other reasons to see this show, and most of them involve Julie White.

The show centers around Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott), a rising star in Hollywood who also has an affinity for male hookers, and it's not just for the massages. He falls particularly hard for one of them, Alex (Galecki, best known as Darlene's boyfriend David from "Roseanne"), much to the dismay of his agent Diane (White) -- think Harriet Harris' character from "Frasier" without the heart. To further complicate matters, Alex's gold-digging friend Ellen (Ari Graynor) is looking to take their relationship to a more serious level.

OK, so a play about the corrupting effects of Hollywood on personal lives isn't exactly new ground. And nowadays, Perez Hilton would never let such a wink-wink relationship between Mitchell and Alex last. (Right Neil Patrick Harris? T.R. Knight? Lance Bass?)

The play's structure of monologues spaced within dialogue, however, keeps the somewhat trite story compelling, particularly when that monologue is one of Diane's frenetic cell phone conversations. White garnered applause nearly every time she left the stage, and deservedly so. The show would almost work if it were a series of monologues just by her, relegating the other characters as unseen presences, much like the other characters of the Hollywood drama, such as the gay playwright whose work Diane wants to see turned into a movie (sans that yucky homosexual romance, of course).

This is not to diminish the work of the other cast members, of course. Galecki -- yes, I had to mention him first after the word "member" -- is endearing, even if he is a bit old to be playing the 24-year-old prostitute with a heart of, well, sterling silver. Scott didn't quite seem the right type for his role to me. Graynor's character was the least developed by the playwright, but she was entertaining to watch nonetheless.

Overall, it's a fine production that, unfortunately, probably will have a limited run thanks to the subject matter and lack of a big name. The good news is that White already seems to be reaping the rewards. Let's just hope that eventually involves to projects that are more appropriate to her talent than "Transformers."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Who needs supporting actors?

I saw "Suddenly Last Summer," the Roundabout's latest interpretation of the Tennessee Williams' classic, this Saturday. While there are a few problems with the supporting cast, the two powerhouse actresses at the head of this production are more than enough to mitigate it.

Blythe Danner stars as Mrs. Venable, the overbearing mother (in a Tennessee Williams play? who knew?) who has lost her son and finds her niece's bizarre explanation of his death unbearable and thus seeks to have her lobotomized. Several reports from the show have criticized Danner's seeming stumbling of her lines, but they seem to forget one thing: Mrs. Venable just had a stroke. I found it to be an extraordinary performance of a fierce woman trapped in a failing body that she partly blames for the death of her son.

The other revelation is Carla Gugino as the niece, Catherine Holly. When she finally tells the story of her cousin's death, it's one of the more spellbinding moment I've seen in a theatre in quite some time.

Unfortunately, however, Gale Harold, best know as the man-eating Brian of "Queer as Folk," isn't quite up to the task as Dr. Cukrowicz, the doctor Mrs. Venable has hired to observe Catherine. He's not bad, but his rather wooden delivery does not stand up well against his more experienced co-stars.

The rest of the supporting task is hit or miss. Wayne Wilcox does some nice work as Catherine's brother George, and Becky Ann Baker does a fine job as her mother. Karen Walsh barely registers as Mrs. Venable's servant Miss Foxhill, but it's not really much of a part, so perhaps that speaks well for her. Sandra Shipley seemed to be a bit off as far as timing and physicality as the nun Sister Felicity, who is watching over Catherine, but I guess it could have been an off-night for her. After all, she is Danner's understudy.

"Suddenly Last Summer" opens this Wednesday at the Laura Pels Theatre.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Et tu, Dolly?

Pam's House Blend alerted me to some recent statements by Carol Channing, as reported in the Ohio-based Gay People's Chronicle, that really seem out of character for her:

Kaizaad Kotwal: You seem to have a very large gay following. Have you ever thought about why?
Carol Channing: I don’t think about them. I’m grateful that they seem to like me. They’re terribly loyal to me. But I’m knee-deep in the Bible and you know what it says about that.
Kotwal: Alright.
Channing: Oh, dear. Is this for a gay publication? Have I offended you?
Kotwal: Yes. For the Gay People’s Chronicle. Right now, it’s really not my job to be offended or not be offended. I am just asking questions and reporting answers. I read that you have fought for gay rights. Do you think that the things gay people are fighting for are important?
Channing: I don’t think about it. If they can’t take care of their own problems, why should I bother. It’s not my problem.
Channing's on record of being against gay marriage, but the "I don't care anything about them" attitude is quite contrary to her statements and actions in the past. Maybe it's the new hubby? Or maybe, sad to say, Carol's just losing it. I saw her show at Feinstein's at the Regency about a year ago, and while it was an enjoyable show, she had a difficult time getting through it. She had to be cued several times when telling her own personal anecdotes.

Come back to us, Carol! What happened to the fiery dame who made Richard Nixon's enemies list?

Oh, and the theme song choice list is down to three, as Jessica Molaskey's "Sail Away" came up yesterday. "Mount Zion" is still in the running, Mr. Mambo!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Golden Gate couldn't suspend this disbelief

My vote for the most far-out commercial on TV today:

I couldn't tell you the exact product, but it's some sort of Christmas decoration featuring three singing characters. The ad takes place in an airport, where a tired family gets word that their flight has been delayed for two hours. Mom and dad pull out the decoration, and not only does it captivate the children, but everyone in the waiting area clusters around to listen to it. They're so enthralled, in fact, that no one notices when (presumably two hours later) the airline employees are trying to get them to board the plane.

I've been on enough delayed flights to know:

1) A mere 30-minute delay is enough to cause a near riot, particularly on holidays. If it's two hours, it's time for the bar. Leave the kids at the Cinnabon.
2) Pity the person who pulls out a noisy toy in an airport waiting area, particularly in said delayed flight situation. I once got my head bitten off for shuffling a deck of cards too many times.
3) You're safer standing between Mark Foley and a Laguna Beach cast appearance than you are standing in front of the gate when it's time to board. I've never understood it, but people are an incredible hurry to get on the plane -- even those who aren't vying for carry-on space. I guess deep down, they think they might somehow get to their destination faster than you if they get in front of you in line.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

RIP: Chuck Norris jokes

There's not much I can say about the election outside of hooray for checks and balances and Arizona, boo for the other marriage amendment states and Rick Perry and I'm looking forward to a certain someone buying me a drink.

Hands down, however, the best election coverage, as usual, goes to the crackpot analysis at WorldNetDaily. I love how they immediately label Nancy Pelosi our new "socialist-leaning speaker," and nothing can beat Joseph Farah's top story of the day: a proposed rule for the New York Board of Health under which transgendered people, under certain circumstances, will be able to change their official gender. Where might this lead, oh blessed Joseph?

Surely everyone can see how this action can bring to a screeching halt all of the political debate taking place across the country over same-sex marriage. Because if all Person X has to do to marry Person Y is make a cosmetic change on his or her birth certificate, than all the constitutional amendments in the world can't save the institution of marriage.
A simple cosmetic change on a birth certificate, eh? Not quite. The rules require that a person changing gender must provide affidavits from doctors and mental health professionals, live as the new gender for two years and affirm that the change will be permanent. If I wanted to circumvent marriage laws, immigrating to the Netherlands would be easier.

Commentary of the day, however, goes to Maralyn Lois Polak. Looks like with the defeat of George Allen, the GOP's found their candidate for 2008, who as Pam's House Blend recently pointed out, also is WND's newest columnist:

Pam's post also reminded me of reading Chuck Norris' first column last week, when he addressed those ubiquitous Chuck Norris facts. You know the ones:

Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.
The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain.
There is no chin under Chuck Norris' Beard. There is only another fist.
Chuck Norris has two speeds: walk and kill.

So how does Chuckie address these "facts?" By sucking the humor out of them faster than Rush Limbaugh in a room full of McDonalds' milkshakes. Like this:

Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures.
By the way, without him, I don't have any power. But with Him, the Bible tells me, I really can do all things -- and so can you.

Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad he never cries. Ever."
There was a man whose tears could cure cancer or any other disease, including the real cause of all diseases -- sin. His blood did. His name was Jesus, not Chuck Norris.
If your soul needs healing, the prescription you need is not Chuck Norris' tears, it's Jesus' blood.
Again, I'm flattered and amazed by the way I've become a fascinating public figure for a whole new generation of young people around the world. But I am not the characters I play. And even the toughest characters I have played could never measure up to the real power in this universe.
Remember that MTV commercial showing the evolution of "bling-bling," ending with the term's death after grandma is saying it?

Remember when the Macarena became a Bob Dole punchline after he fell off a platform, and everyone knew the dance craze was finally over?

Remember when Pat Boone (another WND columnist) started dressing in heavy metal-style outfits?

Remember when William Hung got not one but two album deals and drained the small sliver of respectability Ricky Martin still held?

Chuck Norris Facts: Time of death, 1 a.m. Eastern, Oct. 23, 2006.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More than a mere theme song

Rather than obsess over the election returns tonight (although a very happy buh-bye to Ricky Santorum), I'm going to once again follow Mr. Southern Boy Eric's lead and mapping out the soundtrack for my life movie. Not surprisingly, it turned out very, very Broadway. Much more Broadway than my iPod actually is, I might add. But fortunately, none of the truly embarrassing songs came up. And I skipped nothing.

The rules:

1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc.)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button

6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...

Opening Credits: "Get Higher" - Black Grape
This is kind of an obscure song on my iPod. Basically, it's about smoking pot, splicing in the words of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. But mostly, it's about smoking pot. Hmmm...

Waking Up: "I'd Give My Life For You" - Lea Salonga & Company (from "Miss Saigon," London cast)
Ah, nothing like waking up to an ominous pledge of protection to your bastard, half-breed child. Maybe Lea's playing my mother? That would be pretty hot.

First Day at School: "Miss Celie's Pants" - LaChanze & Company (from "The Color Purple" original Broadway cast)
I do not remember what I wore on my first day of school. Maybe it was the stylish slacks that Celie designed.

Falling In Love: "Bitch, Bitch, Bitch" - The ensemble of "Jekyll & Hyde" (concept recording)
Oh, dear lord. Yes, I pick anyone I date to pieces. Which is probably why I'm currently single.

Fight Song: "Song Of The King (Seven Fat Cows)" - From "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"
Maybe this works, because Elvis impersonators always put me in a fighting mood.

Breaking Up: "All The Way" - Billie Holiday
Now this is depressing. Because it would totally work for so many of my breakups, if done in an ironic way.

Prom: "People Like Us" - Toni Collette and Yancey Arias (from "The Wild Party," original Broadway cast)
Great choice, actually, consider what happened prior to my prom.

Life: "Tina" - Nobuo Uematsu
Again, an obscure choice. This comes from a disc of lovely piano arrangements of music from the Final Fantasy series. Tina, known as Terra in the U.S. version of the game, was a half-human, half-magical creature hybrid who spends the game wondering if she will ever be able to love anyone. OK, this is really getting depressing.

Mental Breakdown: "It Takes Two" - Matthew Morrison (from "Hairspray, original Broadway cast)
In my mad state, I make a passionate dash to woo Marissa Jaret Winokur!

Driving: "A Christmas Festival Medley" - Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops
We played this every damn year in our high school band holiday concerts. I'm not too good at driving in the snow.

Flashback: "Every Movie's A Circus" - Wendy Walter and some others (from "Sunset Boulevard," original Broadway cast)
Starving artists get their dreams torn to shreds. Everybody sing!

Getting Back Together: "You Won't Succeed On Broadway" - David Hyde Pierce (from "Spamalot," original Broadway cast)
In case you don't know, the end of the line is "...if you don't have any Jews." I always knew I'd end up with a Jewish husband!

Wedding: "I'm Still Here" - Yvonne De Carlo (from "Follies," original Broadway cast)
I must be really old by the time I get married. Or just really drunk, and someone is stupid enough to give me the microphone at the reception.

Birth of Child: "Three Little Maids From School Are We" - Dorothy Atkinson and others (from "The Mikado," but actually from the "Topsy-Turvy" soundtrack)
I have triplets! Three girls, filled to the brim with girlish glee. And I send them off to seminary.

Final Battle: "You Gotta Get A Gimmick" - Heather Lee, Kate Buddeke and Julie Halston (from "Gypsy," most recent revival cast)
And the three daughters grow up to be bitter strippers who commit patricide.

Death Scene: "Last Midnight" - Vanessa Williams ("Into The Woods," Broadway revival cast)
Another great choice. I so want to go out in a puff of smoke, telling off everyone around me.

Funeral Song: "She Is A Diamond" - Paul Jones ("Evita," concept album)
"On the other hand, she's all they have. She is a diamond in their dull, gray lives." Will I be mummified and put on display in a glass coffin, surrounded by throngs of poverty-stricken admirers? Sweet!

End Credits: "Journey Through The Classics" - Louis Clark
We close with a swelling London Philharmonic medley of classical tunes, climaxing with Sibelius' "Finlandia." So I'll be the Eva Peron of Helsinki? Sweeter!

So basically, I'm a pot-smoking uber bitch who can't stay in a relationship but ends up to be a beloved Finnish political figure. Kind of like a really gay "King Ralph," I guess. Any backers?

Note: This does not replace my thrilling theme song quest, the search for which still goes on among four competitors.

Monday, November 06, 2006

'Welcome to New York, bitch!'

My morning commute usually takes me 45 minutes door-to-door. This morning, it took me and hour and a half, and I owe it all to tourists.

Getting to work most mornings involves about 20 minutes of walking and one 25-minute train ride on the A express train. This morning, however, the A train stalled shortly into the ride, and the ever-helpful conductor told us that because of a medical emergency on the train ahead of us, that we should move across the platform to the C local train.

Taking a local train is bit slower, but only by 10 minutes or so, so I wasn't too concerned. At least I wasn't until the C train also stalled because of some unknown incident at the 72nd Street station (one of the coolest looking stations in New York, by the way), and I got to watch the A train I had abandoned zip past me as we waited.

When I finally got to the Columbus Circle station, I saw a D express train across the platform and ran to it, thinking it would save me a few minutes on the remaining ride. This proved to be my biggest mistake.

After we left the stop before mine, a tourist apparantly whacked a native New York with her stroller and told her to move. This escalated into a fight, and some genius--I'm assuming another tourist--decided to pull the emergency brake. In the middle of a tunnel. This, of course, nearly started another fight, as everyone descended on the fool who pulled the break. The native New Yorker, by this time, was in a horrendous rage, kicking the tourist's stroller and shouting, "Welcome to New York, bitch!" Thank goodness for the isolating bubble of the iPod.

It took about 30 minutes to get moving again. When we finally got to the station, I saw the tourist whining to police about how the other woman had hit her. The other woman, meanwhile, had calmed down thanks to a prim, older woman who had sat down and talked with her. I don't know what the older woman said, but we should get her to straighten out that whole North Korea thing next.

There are some lessons here, tourists. First of all, if you whack somebody with your stroller, apologize or just move on. More importantly, however, never pull the emergency brake on a subway. For one thing, an emergency would be something like a heart attack or a stabbing, not two women fighting. If that makes you uncomfortable, just move to another car. But even if it's a real emergency, you never pull the freaking cord in the middle of a tunnel. Pull it when you get to a station, where there actually are people who can do something about the situation.

There was a lesson for me as well. The irony was that I had left home early this morning in an effort to get a jump start on work this week. Had I left at my regularly last-minute time, I actually would have made it to work on time. It's the last time I ever try efficiency.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ted Haggard exclusive

I've managed to get a copy of a piece of paper taken directly off of Ted Haggard's refrigerator. It appears to be a list of some sort:

What a tool.

In other news, my theme song choices are down to the final four, with "Our Children" coming up at the gym today. So, at least I don't have to worry about No. 3 on the list. Because, you know, I only date men for the massages.

One last letter to the editor

I need to stop this, because letters to the editor are almost too fertile a source for commentary, but I can't help myself, so here's one more. Background: A kid got in trouble for wearing some sort of Confederate memorabilia to his school in Alvin, Texas, aka Nolan Ryan's hometown.

Student has a right to display Confederate symbol at school

Marshall Alexander, keep up the good fight. If people can wear their “MLK “shirts to school or anywhere else, you have the right to where the Confederate Flag under the First Amendment of the freedom of speech and expression.
They preach freedom; the only problem is, they want it just for them and no one else. If it is legal to burn the American flag millions have died for, then it is legal to wear what you want. I am tired of other people telling me and others we shouldn’t wear something because it “offends someone.” I don’t care who is offended. If I am offended, no one will do anything about it because I am white. These “PC” types can take their Yankee ways and move north if they do (sic, I think) like the history of the South and being Southern. These school administrative types are trying to wipe the history of the South completely out of the minds of the young.
Question: How can anyone claim their ancestors were slaves if they can’t prove there ever was a Confederacy?
Marshall, if you have to, go to court and sue the school for millions for trying to restrict your Constitutional rights.

Steven Pousson, Angleton
"They"? "Them"? "These 'PC' types"? I think we know what word he really wanted to use. And if I ever have kids, I'll be sure they wear their Nazi insignias when studying World War II, because otherwise, how could we ever prove the Third Reich, and therefore the Holocaust, ever existed? I'm also glad to see those MLK shirts are still all the rage among the youngsters. Urban Outfitters has a great one, I hear.

Aside from all that, the first paragraph demonstrates something of a pet peeve on mine. A lot of people who harp on free speech really have no idea what the legal definition of it is. Namely, you do NOT have the right to wear whatever you want to school under the First Amendment. Otherwise, there would be no dress codes. Schools are not microcosms of the U.S., and there are plenty of Supreme Court rulings to back that up.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Take that, Winnie Anderson!

Someone else wrote a response letter for me:
If I hadn’t already voted for Mary Ruth Rodenbaugh (sic), I would for sure now after reading the letter in Wednesday’s paper from Winnie Anderson. I expect that kind of rhetoric from the “Bubba” crowd, but from a woman — it is not only embarrassing, but infuriating.
It’s sad Ms. Anderson thinks so little of her own gender. I happen to believe the world wouldn’t be as screwed up as it is if the “girls” were allowed to run things for awhile and the “men” took the orders. Men have run Precinct 4 for the 30 years we’ve lived here and very little has improved. It’s time to put a woman like Mary Ruth Rhodenbaugh in charge, even if she is a Democrat.
If the men on the commissioners court are as sexist as Mrs. Anderson, they can resign. And if any Precinct 4 employees feel the need to walk out when Mary Ruth wins, I’m sure there are women who’ll be glad to take their jobs, too.
Robbye Prilop, Brazoria
I'm assuming Robbye is a woman's name, so you go girl! And while I'm on the subject of Texas, I should also note The Facts has endorsed Kinky Friedman for governor. I always liked Chris Bell when he was on the Houston City Council, but I saw a few ads when I was in the area last weekend, and he is boring, boring, boring. Maybe Kinky's what the state needs to shake things up. I think my mother's voting for Chris Bell, and my father's voting for Carol Keeton "one tough grandma," Strayhorn, however.

See? I told you The Lone Star Times and I can find agreement on occasion.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I guess Eminem hates me

Or, at least, he would if I shaved my head.

In an effort to join in my first meme, I'm copying Eric over at his so highly rated gay blog an doing the MyHeritage face recognition collage. Actually, I've done these before, but I've never gotten an 80 percent match before. Yikes. Moby? Well, I really like that tea he sells. I'm also impressed that the database includes Adam Ant as well. At least I have one Oscar nominee, but damn it, where are my McFly guys?

Truth be told, there were a few others who were a bit stronger match than Dean Cain. But, uh, he makes the list anyway.

Please tell me this is a joke

An actual letter to the editor from The Facts in Brazoria County, where a very dear woman, Mary Ruth Rhodenbaugh, is running for the office of county commissioner:


A man is the only one who should be elected for the County Commissioner of Precinct 4 — or any other precinct in Brazoria County.

It certainly would be an “interruption” for a woman commissioner to come on board. My husband, Donald Anderson, was the safety man for Precinct 4 when he passed away Aug. 15, 1997. And if he were still living, and a woman commissioner would come to Precinct 4, he would be the first one to leave. And if I were still working there, I would be the second one to leave. This is no place for a woman commissioner, period.

The two girls who work at Precinct 4 are doing a great job. The 47 men have a safety meeting once a week, a morning meeting before they start their schedule of working on roads, mowing ditches, taking care of their equipment and working in the shop.

Mary Ruth seems to have done such a great job on all of the jobs that she has listed, that she should stick to one of those listed, letting a man take care of Precinct 4.

Winnie Anderson, West Columbia
Listen, you old hag. I was just trying to wax poetic about how impressed I was with my latest visit to my hometown, and you have to spoil it with this 1840s garbage?

So, Winnie, darling, I know that you're just a girl and probably don't have no need of no schoolin', but let me explain something about a county commissioner job. First of all, the commissioners do not actually go out there and pave the roads and dig the ditches themselves. That's what the crews are for. Even if they did, the woman in question, who has led the building of dozens of houses for Habitat for Humanity, would be a lot better suited to do it than some of the county commissioners of years past, some of whom have been so old that they've had a stroke while in office.

If your husband was so backward-thinking that he would have quit his job rather than work for one of them wimmin folk, then let me say that Aug. 15, 1997 definitely is not going to go down in my calendar as one of the saddest days on record.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Coming out all over again

Going to my 10-year reunion, I knew I had been a feature in the local rumor mill ever since my graduation. Near the end of my senior year -- a matter of days before prom, in fact -- I told my girlfriend of two years that I thought I might be gay. She almost made good on her promise not to tell anyone, but as anyone from a suburban-to-rural area knows, all it takes is one person for the rumor to catch fire. I had no idea how widespread it was until I finally came out to my mother at the age of 21, when she informed me that my fifth grade science teacher, of all people, had told her about me years earlier.

I didn't know if it would be an issue at the reunion, however. While I might be just a little flamboyant, my style has always been, at least while in Texas, to release that information only if asked. And for the first few hours of the family picnic portion of the reunion, no one did ask. Then, as I was about to leave, it happened. I started talking to someone whom I rarely talked to in high school, and in the course of the usual small talk, we had this conversation:

Him: So, what about you? Are you married? Do you have any kids?
Me: Lord, no.
Him: So, what? Are you gay or something?
Me: (I just laughed)
Him: Well, are you?
Me: Yes.

In this case, it wasn't the rumor mill. Apparently, the earrings gave me away. But not having been forced to have that conversation with anyone in a long time, it felt kind of good to have it again.

A few others mentioned it later at the cocktail party that evening, but to my surprise, it turned out to be a non-issue. I even had some wonderful conversations with some classmates with whom I'd never really associated before. And it was quite nice to catch up with those with whom I had.

I know a lot of people blow off their 10-year reunions, but I'm glad I didn't. One classmate and I mentioned how small our old elementary school looked whenever you went back inside as an adult. I know now that the same thing will happen to those demons from the past.

With that greeting card moment behind me, I also lost two more contenders for a theme song during the trip: "I Get A Kick Out Of You" and (sob) "Move Your Feet."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Back through the looking glass

I just got back from subUrbia, the new Eric Bogosian play showing at Second Stage Theatre. Even though it was very typical of the angry suburbian young adult angst and anger plays that are a dime a dozen nowadays, my overall impression was positive. I'm not, however, going to review it any further. It's closing Sunday, and a full review at this point would be a little stupid. I will say, however, that someone needs to find another project for Kieran Culkin as soon as possible once this one is over. He was phenomenal.

The show itself also was a nice segue for my trip tomorrow. Yes, for the next four days, I'm returning to my old stomping grounds of Brazoria County, Texas for my high school reunion. I'm sure it should provide plenty of blogging fodder and incriminating photos over the weekend.

A few other housekeeping items before I go:

i've added one more link: mambopalace. he's the South Parkiest of Republicans and almost got me fired today by making me laugh out loud in front of my boss at a joke about a crowd of people being birthed from rush limbaugh's belly. you had to be there. yes, i know there are no capitals in this paragraph. visit, and you'll see why.

And, in a theme song update, "Get Busy" and "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" both came up in the last few days, and therefore are off the list. Go Junior/Senior!

Nanny McFab

Audiences were more than kind to the first long-term tenant at the New Amsterdam Theatre after its opening in 1997, with "The Lion King"doing healthy business until its recent move to the Minskoff. I'm predicting a similar shelf life for its second tenant, the long-awaited "Mary Poppins."

The film was always one of my childhood favorites, and the stage version was able to appease my nostalgia while offering a few nice surprises. There are a few variations from the movie plot that make it a little darker, such as the appearance of the ghastly former nanny of Mr. Banks in the second act. Overall, however, it's a fitting complement to the Oscar-winning Disney favorite.

Ashley Brown is a delight as the title character, even in the more than practically perfect shadow of Julie Andrews. With enough surprise entrances to make Penn Jillette jealous, Brown is a radiant presences as she prissily struts the stage with a constant warm smile. The standout, however, is London import Gavin Lee, reprising his role as Burt from the original London production. The word triple threat is thrown around a bit too casually nowadays, and this isn't exactly the show to show off his best acting chops, but his ability to tap dance upside down on the ceiling -- as seen in the frenetic "Step In Time" number -- gives him enough bonus points to earn the designation for now. Plus, it's nice to hear a Burt with an actual Cockney accent. I think even Dick Van Dyke himself has admitted how awful his accent was in the movie.

Rebecca Luker makes a welcome return to Broadway as Mrs. Banks, a character who has been altered slightly from the movie. No longer is Mrs. Banks Glynis Johns' determined suffragette. This Mrs. Banks is a former actress who now doesn't quite know what to do with herself, stuck throwing tea parties for people she doesn't even know. The fleshed-out role gives the proper moments to Luker's soprano. Daniel Jenkins ably plays the two sides of the stuffy Mr. Banks.

Ruth Gottschall, as AntiPoppins Miss Andrew, leaves the strongest impression among the supporting cast.The rest fare well. The adorable Mark Price gets to reprise his clumsy Lefou schtick as servant Roberston Ay, although the slapstick seems a little out of place.

Although there are no giraffes walking down the aisle, there are plenty of great effects and stage tricks to dazzle the kiddies. Mary's anticipated flight at the end doesn't disappoint, but there also are some great visual tricks during the "Practically Perfect" number with a seemingly bottomless bag, and Burt's upside-down tap dance was almost a show-stopper.

One scene that receiving a lot of pre-show buzz is the "Temper, Temper" number near the end of Act I, when the toys in the Banks children's nursery rise up against their naughty owners. Some contend that it's too frightening for children. Nonsense. If they could survive the creepy Childcatcher in last season's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," this should be no problem.

I don't know what the critics will say about this show. My love of the movie might be coloring my opinion, but at the same time, it's nice to see a show that successfully married the family-friendly formula and quality. Chitty was just too soulless, and while I haven't seen "Tarzan," I think I know enough to deem it an overall mess. Mary Poppins, however, is a spoonful of sugar that happily did not leave me with diabetes.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Profanity, old people make great dance mixes

Didn't make it to the Streisand concert? No worries! Coming, I hope, soon to a dance club near you: a dance mix of of her infamous outburst. This was put together by a protege of Marc Shaiman, the composer of the South Park movie and Hairspray musical fame (they're both now working on Martin Short's show), and it's fantastic.

I've adored campy mixes ever since I first heard Crystal Waters' "Come On Down" set to scenes from "The Price is Right" at Rich's in Houston years ago. I could make a whole playlist out of these things. I'm also quite fond of the mix made to the ranting "God Warrior" woman from "Trading Spouses" as well as the babbling Janet Parshall's "La-la-la-la, I can't hear you moment," set to Outkast's "Hey Ya!" Diva moments are great, but of course, cheesy TV commercials can be just as much fun when put to music.

There's a whole cult on YouTube built around Wilford Brimley's Liberty Medical commercials and his mangling of the word "diabeetis." Of course, this includes some dance mixes. But they still don't beat my favorite...this classic from the early 90s.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

This blog is now just about three months old -- still a baby, I know -- but I finally think it's mature enough to start dating other blogs. That's right. My HTML-illiterate self managed to figure out how to add links even though they are a part of virtually none of the Blogger templates.

Like my music taste, my taste in Web sites is quite eclectic, and the list might cause anyone who actually knows me to say, "What the hell...?" For one thing, this is certainly not an exhaustive list of my daily read. But really: Do I think that somebody is going to stumble onto this blog and say, "Hey, Ma! I just found this site where this fella's talkin' about Barbra Streisand and absurdist theatre, and he has a link to this thing called the 'New York Times.' Ever heard of it?" No, to me, links are more of a self-observation than a reader service. With that said, here are the sites I have chosen to link for now:

Confessions of a Southern Boy in Yankee Land
Eric is my most faithful commenter, so he gets the top slot. Although he's lived in Manhattan much longer than I have, we've found it rather odd how parallel certain experiences have been. And, his fabulous site has just been featured on Best Gay Blogs.

Pam's House Blend
I've been a long-time follower of Pam Spaulding's Research Triangle-based blog and have watched it grow into one of the leading LGBT blogs. Pam braves the sewers of AgapePress, FreeRepublic and other spots to bring to light some of the most horrifying viewpoints out there. Her "best of" links truly fit the bill.

Andrew Sullivan
My favorite conservative. I know people on both sides of the aisle have issues with him, and that's why I love him even when I disagree with him.

I grew up with both Kevin and Mike in Texas. Kevin, like me, is now in New York, and Mike is still in Texas, but both have great blogs and far superior computer skills to mine.

I've been following John Aravosis since the StopDrLaura days, back when I had a writing gig with the Texas Triangle (now called TXT). John's best known for breaking the whole Jeff Gannon thing wide open, and I've had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a few journalism conventions.

Lone Star Times
As I said a few posts down, I'm not usually in agreement with these guys, but they do some solid work, and it's a good way of keeping up with the goings-on in Texas without actually having to read the Houston Chronicle's difficult online set-up. Plus, all the Kinky Friedman news I could ever want!

The Facts
My old employer. As someone who has been on the inside there, I can say--even though usual newspaper turnover has made it to where few of my contemporaries are still there--they are the most dedicated and hardest working newsroom I have ever seen. And there's no other way to keep up with Brazoria County...

The Brazosport News
...except for this guy. Banjo Jones, one of the pioneer bloggers. He kept me on my toes when I worked for The Facts, although I had the privilege of being mentioned by name only once on his blog.

The Comics Curmudgeon
Daily comics today are almost never funny. They're mostly groan-inducing, ink-wasting pages of corn and treacle. Start reading Josh, though, and you'll find enjoyment of these comics in a whole new ironic light. He's even got me following Mary Worth. Also, this is one of the rare sites where the wit in the comments is actually almost as good as the wit in the original posts.

Michelle Malkin
Wha...? Yes, I'm linking to Michelle Malkin. Look. I find it informative to read from all viewpoints, and while there is little for me to agree with on her site, the rare occasions when there are can be a special treat. There are several uber-conservative bloggers I could have chosen, but she won out because I was impressed with her coverage of the Foley situation. She held the right people accountable and did not once resort to the easy choice of gay-bashing.

Media Matters for America
They listen to talk radio so I don't have to. Read the outrageous comments from people like Bill Donohoe or Michael Savage in full context. And any enemy of Bill O'Reilly is a friend of mine.

AKA -- the snake pit. My bitchy home away from home, but aside from that, a great place to dogpile all news Broadway.

That's it for now, although I'll certainly always be open to adding more as I go along. Or, if any of the chosen do not want to be associated with me...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Your reviewing powers are of no use here

Lyle Lanley: Y'know, a town with money is a little like the mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it.[everybody laughs]
Homer: Heh heh heh... "Mule."

I had every intention of writing my thoughts on "Birth And After Birth," Tina Howe's new old work (she wrote it in the early 70s, but it's just now making its New York premiere) at the Atlantic Theatre Company. But I just can't. I cannot review absurdist plays.

I've always had a strange relationship with absurdism. I enjoy it, it makes me laugh, and it makes me think, but somehow, I don't think I quite understand it. I've read Pirandello. I've seen Pinter. I just feel like I'm missing a piece of it. It's like I've been smoking pot and find something really funny in the moment, but if you asked me to explain the joke the next day, I could never do it. I mean, I could read the other reviews to see what I'm supposed to think, but somehow, in a post-Julia Sweeney world, that just doesn't seem right.

How to explain this show? Bill (Jeff Binder, whom I last saw hanging upside down in "The Lieutenant of Inishmore") and Sandy (Maggie Kiley) are celebrating the fourth birthday of their son, Nicky (Jordan Gelber, whom I last saw, uh, not wearing underwear in "Avenue Q"). Yes, Nicky is played by an enormous, middle-aged man, who bulldozes through the scenery like...well, analogies fail me. Bill's a pathetic soul intent on capturing every manufactured moment on videotape, Sandy is a physical wreck with sand-textured dandruff and shedding hair and Nicky is every horrific child who has ever sat next to me on an airplane. That is, when he's not donning masks of former presidents Reagan, Lincoln, Carter and Nixon to recreate their famous speeches or playing the cello.

Later, we meet the childless relatives, Jeffrey (Peter Benson) and Mia (Kate Blumberg). See, Jeffrey and Mia are anthropologists who travel the world looking at exotic children in far-flung regions, but much to Bill and Sandy's confusion, they have no desire to have one of their own.

As is standard in absurdist comedies, characters have conversations on-stage that seem to be independent of anything else going on. Bill rambles about changing his name while Nicky and Sandy play a game in which they pretend to be children. Jeffrey shows slides while Mia talks about a tribe of tailed tree people they encountered. Nicky wants grape juice. With ice. Mia ends up simulating birth on the floor and passing out, and...

OK. I get the general premise. Women face a certain pressure to have children. The show made me laugh, the acting was solid and, quite a feat, the device of having an adult play a child did not grate on me once. But if I had to write a thesis on this? I'd fail.

How to get out of this gracefully? Oh! While waiting for the R train on the way to the show, "Christus, der uns selig macht" came up on my iPod. So, my theme song choices are now down to nine. Now if you'll excuse me, I could use some grape juice.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My kindred spirit is Pat? Who knew?

One of my more memorable moments in college -- while in class, at least -- came during the first semester of my freshman year, when all of us honors students were forced to take a class called "The Human Situation," a daunting philosophy/literature class that immediately threw all of the greats at us. The second assignment was the books of Samuel in the Bible. One of my classmates, an atheist, objected to the professor that she now, yet again, had to read the Bible after having it forced on her all her life. The professor explained that she was looking at it the wrong way. After all, we had just finished reading "The Iliad," and she certainly had no problems reading about Zeus and Athena while not believing they existed, right?

It was then I realized, for the purposes of the class, that I was reading the Bible incorrectly. I started reading it not as a religious document but as a historical text. I started looking at it beyond the usual Sunday School parameters -- and wow. I realized how little I actually knew about the Bible--and how little so many nominal Christians probably have read it, too--because there's a lot of messy things to resolve when one really looks at it.

There's the contradictions. The implausible or horridly gory stories: men living inside whales, men being asked to sacrifice their children, bloody massacres and talking snakes. Is it literal? Allegorical? How far should faith really eclipse reason?

Little did I know that I would later find a kindred spirit in that journey: Julia Sweeney. Yes, that Julia Sweeney, who used to play Pat on Saturday Night Live. I caught her show, "Letting Go Of God," at the Ars Nova (aka...the ends of the freaking earth in Manhattan) tonight, in which she details her spiritual journey that began when two Mormon missionaries come knocking at her door. Having never seen "God Said, 'Ha!'" I had no idea what an insightful evening it would be.

Her journey started when the Mormons began explaining the founding story of their beliefs to her. Hearing it for the first time, it sounds just about as wacky as the South Park explanation of Scientology. Yet, it caused Sweeney to step back and look at her own Catholic upbringing, and she realized that the basics tenets would sound pretty wacky to someone else hearing it for the first time.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing, though. The more she found out--crawling out of Plato's cave, if you will--the less she found to believe in. Whether it was the vengeful God of the Old Testament, the lingering rigidity in the New Testament, the latent oppression in Buddhism, the heartlessness of nature and the fallacy of intelligent design, the more she looked for God, the further away he seemed to be.

This isn't some faux Hollywood spirituality story. This is the absolutely fascinating story of someone discovering critical thinking. While Sweeney might have ultimately come to a different conclusion than I did--she's now comfortably an atheist, while I have found a comfortable merger of reason and Christianity, albeit one that Jerry Falwell might not like--I loved reliving her journey with her. And in an age where religion is increasingly used to justify absolute stupidity and ignorance, it's a story more people need to hear.

I should add that the pre-show and intermission music chosen for this show was absolutely perfect as well. Cher's version of "It Ain't Necessarily So," Nellie McKay's "Inner Peace," and a somber country version of "In The Garden" -- superb.

My sophomore year, I decided to take a class to examine the Old Testament in its entirety. One guy in the class was always getting into an argument with the professor, arguing for a literal interpretation for everything. He refused to believe that Adam and Eve, while certainly a interesting myth from which we can glean some cultural lessons, might not have really been prancing around in a garden 5,000 years ago. He failed every test. And I'll bet God said, "Ha!"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My theme for my 29th year

I enjoy goofy, randomly decided stuff that means nothing--as long as Diebold is not involved--so I'm letting my iPod decide my theme song for Mike's fiscal year 2006, which runs from (my birthday) Aug. 25 2006 until Aug. 25 2007.

Day-to-day, I almost always listen to my iPod on random shuffle for the nice eclectic mix that is my taste, and I've decided that the last surviving song with my birthday as the last-played date will be my theme for the year.

About 20 songs played on my birthday during the subway ride to and from work, and that's already been whittled down to 10 from the other songs showing up on shuffle since then. Fortunately, Reba McEntire's "For My Broken Heart" and "The Internet is for Porn" from Avenue Q have already been eliminated, but here's what's left:

"Get Busy" by Sean Paul (knocked out Oct. 24)
"Move Your Feet" by Junior Senior (knocked out Oct. 30)
A really schlocky Ferrante & Teicher version of "You Are The Sunshine of my Life" (knocked out Oct. 23)
"Christus, der uns selig macht" from Bach's Passion of St. John (knocked out Oct. 20)
"Our Children" from Ragtime, as performed by Marin Mazzie and Peter Friedman (knocked out Nov. 3)
"Sail Away" by Jessica Molaskey (knocked out Nov. 10)
"I Get A Kick Out of You" by Frank Sinatra (knocked out Oct. 30)
A remix of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler
"Let Mt. Zion Rejoice" by a rather shrill choir that I won't name (knocked out Dec. 21)
The "Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again" duet by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland (no Bush tribute artist in sight)

I rooting for "Move Your Feet," myself. It's my kind of theme song -- peppy and just a little sugary. The Barbra/Judy duet is just, well, too obvious. As much as I love Bach chorales, I don't really think that's me, and likewise with Mt. Zion. I hope not to be sailing away anytime soon, unless that means there's a cruise in store for me, and I certainly don't want any children. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is the only loser-in-love song left, so I'd like to see that one off the list as soon as possible. Sinatra and Ferrante & Teicher might have good intentions, but who wants an easy listening kind of year? No comment on how appropriate "Get Busy" would be.

Oh, and about the post title: This was an annoying little fact my father always has to bring up on everyone's birthday. You see, even though you're a certain age, you're actually in the "nth year" of one higher number. Get it? For example, when you're born, you're not considered to be a year old until your first birthday. But until that birthday, you're in your first year. So after your first birthday, you're in your second year, even though you're one year old. And since I'm 28, that means I'm in my 29th year. Now do you get it?

Of course, my dad also probably would tell me this is the dumbest thing he's ever heard. Sigh. Engineers.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Le odd duck: A review of 'Mimi le Duck'

Note: I saw the first preview of "Mimi le Duck," now playing at New World Stages, on Thursday. The show opens Oct. 31.

Paris has always been a source of inspiration for artists, but the colorless Mormon life in Ketchum, Idaho must be particularly draining, because it seems that only the technicolor Paris of a Pepe le Pew cartoon could snap one of its natives out of the artistic doldrums.

When we meet Miriam Sanders (Annie Golden), she knows precious little about Paris other than what she’s seen in a Gene Kelly movie, and her art is limited to paintings of the same duck with different backgrounds, which she sells on QVC. Husband Peter (Marcus Neville), of course, is oblivious to her ennui, even though it’s affected her so badly that she’s ready to stick a shotgun in her mouth.

Fortunately, Ketchum was also a favorite spot of someone else who knows a little about that suicide method, Ernest Hemingway, and his ghost appears in time to convince Miriam that a better answer might be to go to Paris and check out his old digs, where inspiration is supposed to come in the form of a green flash.

Yes, Hemingway’s ghost is a character in this show, and one of the more grounded ones, at that. Once Miriam makes it to Paris, sans Peter, we meet a host of characters who will now be her new neighbors. There’s Claude (Robert DuSold), the oyster shucker who harbors a strange fetish for Miss Marple. There’s Clay (Candy Buckley), the eccentric sculptress whose work looks as complex as the bottom of a lava lamp. There’s the faded chantreuse Madame Vallet (Eartha Kitt…who else?) and former lover Ziggy (Tom Aldredge), the owner of an empty, bird-themed nightclub. Strangest of all, there’s the con artist gypsy (Ken Jennings) who welcomes Miriam with a purse-snatching flourish.

Fortunately for Miriam, there’s no need for the American consulate after such a crime, because the denizens of Rue Danou seem perfectly happy to bend over backward to accommodate her. Vallet gives her Hemingway's old room, and Ziggy gives her a job in his club. Despite his warnings that the pay is tips only and it hasn’t seen customers in years, Miriam—now renamed Mimi—seems to make do (and it’s not exactly explained how).

"Mimi le Duck" is a bizarre little show that vacillates between some very lovely moments and some moments of almost "In My Life"-esque oddity. The windows and doors in the house at 22 Rue Danou sing, as do the portraits of Claude's oyster-shucking ancestors and we get to see Tom Aldredge glide around the stage on a scooter. And did I mention that Ken Jennings is playing a Spanish gypsy?

Annie Golden has always been a delight, and she doesn’t disappoint here. Miriam/Mimi is certainly endearing in her earnestness and naivety, but Golden doesn’t let it descend too far into aw-shucks foolishness. Despite the trite set-up, she and Nevelle have some nice moments in the second act.

Eartha Kitt is, well, Eartha Kitt, and no one should have gone in expecting any less. She’s obviously going to be the major draw to this show, and the audience lapped up her every purring syllable. She was nominated for a Tony for virtually the same performance in The Wild Party, so obviously, she’s doing something right.

The rest of the strong supporting cast does what they can, but the characters are so broadly written--they're all given a Cliff's Notes back story--that it seems almost laughable when they’re supposed to elicit sympathy from us. The plot twists among their storylines are either glaringly obvious, like Clay's, or somewhat pointless, like Vallet's big revelation at the end. But it's not their story, and the show does better when it remembers that.

The songs, by Brian Feinstein, are hit-and-miss. Some of the lyrics, by Diana Hansen-Young, are fairly repetitive and cliché-laden. Somehow, I doubt if Hemingway's ghost were singing today, he would be performing songs that boil some of his most famous works down into trite advice about "A Thousand Hands" ready to help out a stranger in need. Kitt has a nice lament onstage alone with "Everything Changes," as does Aldredge in the second act, with his wooing "The Only Time We Have Is Now." The fact that Aldredge does not have a beautiful voice and really sounds like an amorous octogenarian makes it work. Most of the second act songs, in fact, are far superior to the disjointed first act.

There were a few technical glitches last night, and some of the set changes were rather clunky, but they certainly can be chalked up to it being the first preview. One moving set piece proved particularly unstable, and I thought Aldredge was going to knock Golden to the ground every time he mounted it.

I left really not sure what to make of the show. I found it endearing, yet far too schizophrenic between the wackiness and the too-heavy pathos. The audience reaction was certainly mixed. One group of girls beside me laughed at it for all the wrong reasons, but the woman in front of me was moved to tears for the right ones.

When it comes down to it, I guess I would tentatively recommend the show just for the overall excellent cast—especially Golden—and for some parts of the lovely, albeit somewhat forgettable, score. With some work to the book, I see the potential for a good show. Perhaps, in time, this duck could be a golden goose instead of an odd bird.