Friday, October 31, 2008
Terkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, helped popularize oral history as a genre in books like Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do; Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession; and Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.
I met Terkel once, about 30 years ago, when I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears student at Northeastern University in Boston. At that time, The Boston Globe had an annual weekend-long book fair with all sorts of authors peddling their latest offerings.
I'm sure I was quite the sight when I approached him - eager and brimming with enthusiasm. I remember asking him how he found his interview subjects. I couldn't afford whatever new hardcover he had just published, so I bought a paperback copy of Working and asked him to sign it. I'm not sure why he wrote "A real journalism student," with the word "real" underlined.
I do remember that he was a very nice person in our brief exchange - gracious, encouraging and extremely approachable. I even dabbled a bit in oral history myself when I did a senior honors project - I interviewed people who had been students at Northeastern during the 1960s about their lives.
While I knew a lot about Terkel, I learned a few new things from reading the obituaries today. For example, I didn't realize that he'd been an actor - on the radio and on stage. He wrote radio scripts and acted in soap operas and once appeared in a production of Clifford Odets' play Waiting for Lefty at the Depression-era Chicago Repertory Group. The Chicago Tribune's drama critic Chris Jones has a brief tribute to Terkel as a friend of Chicago theatre.
Adaptations of two of Terkel's books, Working and Hard Times, made it to Broadway where, sadly, they weren't successful. Arthur Miller's The American Clock, inspired by Hard Times, opened on Nov. 11, 1980, and closed at the end of the month. A musical version of Working, with songs by Stephen Schwartz, began previews on May 5, 1978 and closed on June 4. In the cast were Patti LuPone, who played an editor and a call girl, and Joe Mantegna, in the roles of a migrant worker and an interstate trucker.
But a revamped version of Working, with additional songs by In the Heights composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, was produced earlier this year at Florida's Asolo Repertory Theatre. It'll be staged next year at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, from March 7 to April 12. The original is available on dvd, although I think it's with a different cast.
I'd love to visit Chicago someday. Hog butcher to the world, city of the big shoulders, it sounds so much larger than life. And Terkel, along with poet Carl Sandburg and journalist Mike Royko, was one of the great chroniclers of the city, as well as of American life.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I have to admit, I was only vaguely aware of Wicked a couple of years ago, when I found Steve on Broadway's blog. Looking through his archive of posts, in December 2006, I realized that he mentioned the musical quite a lot. In the midst of a very lengthy and memorable e-mail exchange, he told me how big a fan he was of the show, and he called it captivating. I didn't know it at the time, but Wicked holds special meaning for Steve and the love of his life.
I don't know if it was a coincidence or the planets aligning or it was simply meant to be, but the touring production of Wicked was making a stop in Providence the very next month. Steve's enthusiasm convinced me to buy a ticket. (And he assured me that those scary flying monkeys from the movie only fly out over the audience in the Broadway production. Whew! That was a big relief.)
The last time I'd been to the theatre was the previous fall, when I saw Hamlet. And before that, it had been nearly a decade, when I saw Fiddler on the Roof in Israel. So I hiked up to my seat in the mezzanine at the Providence Performing Arts Center giddy with anticipation.
And Wicked lived up to the advance billing. From the very beginning, when the dragon's head above the stage comes alive, its mouth opening wide and its eyes turning a fiery red, Wicked captivated me, too.
I loved all of the subtle and not-so-subtle references to The Wizard of Oz, the way many of the memorable lines from the movie are worked into the dialog. (As well as a hilarious shoutout to Evita.)
I loved the way Wicked filled in the back story of a classic and beloved movie with so much cleverness and wit. I mean, I really had no idea that it would be so funny. So that's how the Tin Man and the Scarecrow got to be that way. Who knew?
It cracks me up when I think of Glinda looking at the yellow brick road and saying "I hope they find it. I'm really bad at directions." I felt some of the same sense of amazement that I did when I saw the movie as a child. (And those monkeys still creep me out!)
And I thought the way Glinda (nee Galinda) and Elphaba were drawn: the spoiled rich, self-absorbed party girl and the unpopular, cerebral loner who looks different from everyone else, was so inspired. I'd recently watched the movie of The History Boys and I thought, in some ways, Wicked is a more realistic portrayal of adolescence - in all of its pettiness, jealousy and cruelty.
I started crying when I heard "For Good" and it still makes me cry. How awesome is it that the most tender love song in the musical is not about two lovers but about the enduring power of friendship. When I heard that line, "People come into our lives for a reason," of course I thought about the new friend I'd just made. Even though I went alone, I knew I could e-mail my friend all about the experience, and he'd be thrilled to hear from me.
Since seeing Wicked, I've also read Gregory Maguire's novel. And realizing how book writer Winnie Holzman, composer Stephen Schwartz and director Joe Mantello shaped the musical is pretty fascinating. (I think it's a big improvement. The novel, in my opinion, is much less accessible and certainly much darker. Definitely not for children!)
In the past two years I've seen lots of shows: some that engaged me, some that bored me, some that just left me thinking, "Eh." But rarely have I seen anything like Wicked, which I loved from start to finish. Happy anniversary!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
If I were writing this blog post 10 or 15 years ago it would have sounded much different - less personal, more theoretical. Back then, I hardly knew anyone who was openly gay. But times have changed. Like just about every other straight person I know, there's someone openly gay or lesbian in our lives - as a friend or acquaintance or neighbor or coworker or family member.
So even though I'm not in California and I don't know anyone who would be affected by Proposition 8, the debate is more personal now than it would have been at an earlier point in my life. When we talk about the rights of same-sex couples to marry, we're talking about my friends, people I work with, people I love and respect and admire. On their behalf, I urge you to vote "no" and protect the civil rights of every California citizen. While I've never lived in California, I've visited a couple of times and one of the things I love about the state is the incredible diversity, both in terms of its geography and its people. I've always believed that the things which unite us as Americans are so much more important than the things which we believe divide us.
As wonderful as my friends are, I'm not asking you to do this because they're nice people. I just believe that it's the right of every American to receive equal treatment under the law, to live life openly and without fear or discrimination, regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. While I don't think religion should enter into the debate, to me it's as simple as the Golden Rule.
Proposition 8 would overturn a recent state Supreme Court decision paving the way for same-sex marriage. I understand that supporters of the ballot measure say they don't have anything against gay people personally, they're just against "redefining" marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. They predict all sorts of dire consequences if the measure is defeated.
I would argue that if you look at the history of the United States, it's all about "redefinition." We've spent the last hundred years extending equal protection to people who have been historically disenfranchised, who were once thought undeserving of full citizenship solely because of the circumstances of their birth. It is time to finally extend those protections to include gay and lesbian citizens.
Two centuries ago in this country, women couldn't vote and most black people were slaves who could be bought and sold as easily as a piece of furniture. In some communities up until the middle of the 20th century, restrictive covenants kept blacks, Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans from moving into certain neighborhoods. All of those things have changed. And, I would argue, we're a better country for it.
I live near Massachusetts and from what I can see, life there goes on as normal since same-sex marriage became legal. The only difference is, gay and lesbian citizens are more secure and better protected. And that only strengthens our society, just as the ending of legal discrimination against African-Americans did nearly 50 years ago.
If you question whether the gay-rights movement should be linked to the civil-rights movement for African-Americans, well the late Coretta Scott King spoke to that topic. Here's just one example:
“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people.... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
As Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said, "In five years now ... the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened to swallow us all up, and more to the point, thousands and thousands of good people — contributing members of our society — are able to make free decisions about their personal future, and we ought to seek to affirm that every chance we can."
Finally, there was an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times a couple days ago by Jonathan Rauch on what's been missing from the public discussion over Proposition 8 - gay people. He points to a recent tv ad produced by opponents of the ballot measure that barely mentions marriage and never uses the word "gay."
Rauch says that when asked about the absence of gay couples, a senior "No on 8" official told KPIX-TV in San Francisco that "from all the knowledge that we have and research that we have, [those] are not the best images to move people." Rauch disagrees, arguing that the absence of gay people "leaves voters of good conscience to conjure in their own minds the ads that are not being aired: Ads that show how gay marriage directly affects the couples and communities that need it most."
Well, we don't hear nearly enough about ordinary, everyday Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian. Their lives and their struggles also embody family values and the American Dream. They can make the case for themselves far more eloquently than I ever could. So I want to leave you with some of their stories, in their own words:
"Taking advantage of California's recent same-sex marriage ruling we "tied the knot" in San Francisco on August 25th. A simple ceremony which took maybe 10 minutes. We told everyone and, on the 17th of October, went to stay for a couple of days with his brother and wife. They very kindly put on a small "do" in honor of our wedding and, as we were leaving on Tuesday the 21st of October 2008 I heard these words for the first time in my life: "Welcome to the family".
"California's constitutionally legalizing same-sex marriage is so exciting and important; and as we all know, so threatened by Proposition 8, which would remove that right by adding an amendment to discriminate against lesbians and gays who want to marry. Yesterday, we were able to affirm that what we want in the right to marry is all about LOVE and EQUALITY, not about re-establishing two classes of citizens."
"Two months ago, I married the man I love to the great acclaim of our families. Paul and have been married in all but name for six years. We are contributing, tax-paying and law-abiding members of our community. We live active, positive lives. We are well thought of and live in peace with our neighbors. Despite this, some people think the fact that we are both men is the only thing of importance. It invalidates our love, our commitment and especially our claim to equality before the law. Some will go so far as to call us a threat to family, children and faith. We’re not a threat to anyone or anything. Nor is our marriage. We’re just Ben and Paul. And we want to stay married."
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
You can read the details in the story but here's the list:
1.) Enough with the ********* Shakespeare already.
2.) Tell us something we don't know.
3.) Produce dirty, fast and often.
4.) Get them young.
5.) Offer child care.
6.) Fight for real estate.
7.) Build bars.
8.) Boors' night out.
9.) Expect poverty.
10.) Drop out of graduate school.
Okay, some of Kiley's suggestions may not be realistic, like Number 1, his call for a five-year, nationwide moratorium on all productions of Shakespeare. He says that Shakespeare has become a crutch that theatre companies use when they're timid and have run out of ideas. Kiley advises, "Stretch yourself. Live a little. Find new, good, weird plays nobody has heard of. Teach your audiences to want surprises, not pacifiers."
And some, like boors' night out, are kind of funny. Kiley says theatres should build audience participation into their productions, a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "For one performance of each show, invite the crowd to behave like an Elizabethan or vaudeville audience: Sell cheap tickets, serve popcorn, encourage people to boo, heckle, and shout out their favorite lines. ("Stella!")
But I really think that other items on his list have a lot of merit and definitely seem within the realm of possibility. Number 5, for example, is a great idea. Why don't theatres offer child care? A lot of theatre companies already have summer programs for kids, so it's not that much of a stretch.
Kiley says, let parents drop their kids off in a rehearsal room with some young actors who could entertain them for a couple of hours with some theatre-related activities. It'll encourage more people to subscribe, help fulfill the theatre's education mission and teach children to go to the theatre regularly. "They'll look forward to the day they graduate to sitting with the grown-ups."
And although Number 7, build bars, sounds a bit glib, Kiley actually has a good point. He says that theatres should "encourage patrons to come early drink lots and stay late." Trying to build a community with post-play talkbacks and lectures is going about things the wrong way. "You want community? Give people a place to sit, something to talk about (the play they just saw), and a bottle."
One of the things that amazed me about my visit to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in September is the extent to which the theatre is a destination. You can take a tour, take a class, eat in one of its restaurants, relax in the lounge and enjoy the view of the Mississippi River in addition to seeing a show.
Sure, not every theatre has the room for a full-service restaurant, the advantage of a breathtaking view or the staff to offer courses. But certainly most theatres could offer a backstage tour. And what about putting in a bar with some comfy chairs to entice patrons to come early or linger after the show?
Kiley's article has generated quite a bit of comment on The Stranger's Web site. Some readers took issue with his more snide remarks, like the suggestion to drop out of graduate school because theatre departments are staffed by "has-beens and never-weres." But I have to give him credit for being thought-provoking and starting a discussion.
Monday, October 27, 2008
This is a chance to show your support for gay and lesbian couples and voice your opposition to Proposition 8 on the California ballot, which would overturn a recent state Supreme Court decision paving the way for same-sex marriage.
Whether you're gay or straight, whether you live in California or someplace else, whether or not you normally blog about politics or same-sex marriage, please consider joining this effort. It doesn't have to be long. In fact, please consider posting something on your blog especially if you're straight.
I firmly believe that it's not solely the responsibility of gays and lesbians to fight homophobia, just as it's not solely the responsibility of Jews to fight anti-Semitism or African-Americans to fight racism or women to fight sexism. We all have a responsibility to fight prejudice and ignorance.
When the opponents of marriage equality talk about the supposed "threat" to children and families and to civilization itself, it's important to let them know that they're talking about our families, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, people we love and respect and admire.
It's important to let the opponents know that we care about the American values of equality and freedom and that extending rights to one group of people does not take away rights from anyone else. Rather, it enriches society by creating new, stronger families and giving them the protections they are entitled to as Americans.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
So I was thrilled last week to read that Apple donated $100,000 to the effort to fight Proposition 8 in California, the ballot measure that would overturn a recent state Supreme Court decision paving the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry. It's always nice when a company you like does something that makes you feel proud rather than ashamed.
Here's the statement that the company posted on its Web site on Friday:
"Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the No on 8 campaign. Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation. Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8."
Well, apparently not every Apple customer is as pleased as I am. I first read about the donation on a Web site called AppleInsider. Some of the negative comments shocked me. While many people were supportive, there was an incredible amount of bigotry, with the most disgusting, hateful remarks directed toward gay people. Some people vowed that they would never purchase another Apple product.
Wait a minute, these are my fellow Apple users? I realize now that I was naive, but I always thought of Apple users as a bunch of fair-minded creative types, banding together in an overwhelmingly Windows-dominated world, people who would never think of denying anyone their civil rights. Sadly, was I ever wrong about that one.
But some comments took a different tack. They questioned whether donating money to the fight against Proposition 8 was a legitimate action for a public company to take, whether it was in the best interest of shareholders. Some argued that it was improper for Apple to take sides in a political issue because it could harm the company's bottom line.
I would argue that Apple is looking out for the best interests of its shareholders in making this donation. If I were a shareholder - and I may well be in what's left of my 401(k) plan - I'd want the company to do whatever it could to attract the most talented, most diverse group of employees - and treat them equally.
A company where everyone's rights are respected and everyone is invited to the table - regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, - is simply a better company and it's going to attract better workers. If you shut off one segment of the population, you run the risk of losing some talented, creative people. And a company like the Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, which relies on continued innovation to be successful, should be drawing from as wide a pool as possible.
To me, offering equal benefits to employees' same-sex partners and fighting a ballot measure that would deny those employees their civil rights are two strands of the commitment to diversity and equality. It's a commitment that most American companies have made. It tells potential employees - and customers - that everyone is welcome and respected.
Apple is absolutely correct - this is a civil rights issue, just as the fight for equal rights for African-Americans was a civil rights issue. It's not about politics or religion or raising children. It has nothing to do with your personal feelings about gay people any more than the earlier struggle for civil rights had anything to do with your personal feelings about black people.
Standing up for equality is simply the right thing to do, the American thing to do and, I would argue, it's part of being a good corporate citizen.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
In The Oregonian, Shawn Levy interviews Jonathan Demme, director of the new movie Rachel Getting Married, starring Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt and Bill Irwin. I haven't seen the movie but I do love Anne Hathaway. Her character is a recovering drug addict who gets a pass from a treatment center to attend the wedding of her sister, played by DeWitt.
So, what does this have to do with Bob Fosse? I'm getting there. Apparently the father of the bride, played by Tony-winner Irwin, and the groom, Tunde Adebimpe of the band TV on the Radio, have an impromptu competition to load the dishwasher. Demme says that the scene comes directly from the personal experience of screenwriter Jenny Lumet.
"It's rooted in Jenny's reality. She's the daughter of Sidney Lumet, and one night Bob Fosse was over for dinner, and they drifted into the kitchen, and Fosse was watching Sidney load the dishwasher and critiqued him a little bit, and they had this showdown. And as Jenny tells it, she's got Sidney, who looks like a pomegranate, with his Joe-Six-Pack approach to the thing, and Fosse, who's dressed all in black and never stops smoking his Nat Sherman, with his kind of balletic style of loading the dishwasher."
Friday, October 24, 2008
Sigh. First Spamalot announces a closing date (although I have to admit I wasn't a huge fan when I saw it on tour), then Hairspray does the same and now Spring Awakening. I know Broadway is cyclical and there are new shows waiting in the wings. But still, I thought Spring Awakening had enough life left in it to hang on for awhile longer.
I saw Spring Awakening last summer as the final show in my seven-musicals-in-five-days marathon and I loved it. Honestly, I wasn't sure whether it would appeal to me. I mean, anxiety and sexual awakening among teenagers in 19th-century Germany didn't exactly sound like my plate of bratwurst.
But I loved the vibrant rock 'n' roll score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. I loved the incredible energy and vitality of the young cast, including John Gallagher Jr., Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. And I loved Bill T. Jones' thrilling choreography in numbers like "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally F***ed."
Even though some elements of the plot were fairly predictable, I got totally swept up in the story of these teenagers and their lives, to the point where I was in tears at the end.
Then, I met the gracious and talented cast at the stage door. The actors were all extremely generous with their time. This was after a Wednesday matinee, when they'd have to come back and do an evening show and meet a whole new group of fans afterward.
It was just the perfect way to end a trip to New York City. This may sound strange given my love for the show, but the day was so perfect, I don't think I want to see Spring Awakening again on Broadway. Don't get me wrong, there are some shows that I'd love see again with a new cast. But I want to keep the memory of that wonderful afternoon as a unique experience.
Spring Awakening is in the midst of its first national tour. I'll see it when it comes my way next year. And I'm glad a whole new crop of fans, who couldn't make it to New York, will have a chance to experience the show.
But there was just something so special about seeing the show on Broadway, with its original cast, then having a chance to meet the actors at the stage door afterward, that can never quite compare.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Now it's official. Hairspray, the 2003 Tony winner for Best Musical, will close on Broadway Jan. 4, ending its run of 6 1/2 years with a total of 2,672 performances at the Neil Simon Theatre. But - this is the great part - Harvey Fierstein, who won a Tony award for playing Edna Turnblad, will reprise the role starting Nov. 11.
For a whole host of reasons, many of which I've mentioned before, Hairspray is one of my favorite musicals. (Some of those reasons include: my interest in the 1960s and the civil-rights movement, my love of catchy pop scores, the fact that Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's Tony-winning book, based on the John Waters movie, is truly integrated, with substantive roles for white and black actors.) But I've only seen it on tour, never on Broadway.
In May, I met Scott Wittman, who, with Marc Shaiman, his creative and life partner of nearly 30 years, wrote the Tony-winning score for Hairspray. He was standing outside the stage door after A Catered Affair, waiting for Harvey Fierstein. When I told him how much I loved Hairspray, he graciously thanked me, then pointed to Harvey and said he was big part of the show's success.
Well, I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Wittman on one count. I think Hairspray's songs, memorable characters and inspiring story make it pretty terrific on its own, even without a star. But I'm so excited that now, I'll have a chance to see what he meant.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
While I knew some of the songs and I was vaguely familiar with the plot, I'd never seen the show. So I put the 1957 movie at the top of my Netflix queue. On a crisp fall night, who doesn't like to snuggle up in front of the tv with a pair of warm, comfy pjs?
The movie version of the 1954 musical about labor strife at the Sleep-Tite pajama factory stars Doris Day and John Raitt. Day is feisty union activist Catherine "Babe" Williams and Raitt, reprising his Broadway role, is the handsome, stern new factory superintendent, Sid Sorokin. Day and Raitt spar then fall in love then spar some more then fall in love some more against the backdrop of workers fighting for their 7 1/2-cents-per-hour raise.
I really enjoyed The Pajama Game. It's a very sweet musical with lots of humor, intricately choreographed dance numbers and more than a whiff of nostalgia. I mean, do they even make pajamas in the United States anymore? Let's face it, nowadays, the factory would probably close down before giving the workers their raise. (Plus, I spent one summer working in a factory and I don't think any of the women wore high heels!)
And when the workers sing about getting their raise, they figure out that in five years they'll have a grand total of an extra $852.74, enough to get:
"An automatic washing machine,
A years supply of gasoline,
Carpeting for the living room,
A vacuum instead of a blasted broom,
Not to mention a forty inch television set!"
So, the love story is nice and there are lots of funny, quirky secondary characters and great songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, including the beautiful and sad "Hey There." But for me the main reason to watch this movie is Bob Fosse's amazing choreography.
For someone who loves big dance numbers, The Pajama Game really is a joy to watch. And I can't believe how many of them there are in this movie. My favorites include "Racing with the Clock" in the opening factory scene, "Once a Year Day" at the annual company picnic, "Steam Heat" at the union meeting and "7 1/2 Cents" at the labor rally. Okay, I love them all.
Usually, when I see a movie musical, I'm impressed by the way the choreography is bigger, bolder, even more elaborate, featuring more performers and taking me to locations that you can't get to in the theatre.
But The Pajama Game is one musical where I thought, wow, I'd love to be sitting in the orchestra and watching these numbers on a Broadway stage, feeling the energy of a crowded theatre, instead of sitting by myself in my apartment. (Unless I had a 103-inch plasma TV with surround sound, of course.)
The original Broadway production of The Pajama Game opened on May 13, 1954, and ran for 1,063 performances, winning the 1955 Tony award for Best Musical. Since then, there have been two revivals, the last one produced by The Roundabout Theatre Company in 2006 and starring Kelli O'Hara and Harry Connick Jr. I wish I'd been able to see that show.
Unfortunately, there probably won't be another revival for quite some time. But I know these things tend to come around again and again. Next time, I'll be ready.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Casablanca is my favorite movie, so naturally I have three copies of it - a VHS tape I bought years ago, a relatively bare-bones release I got as one of my free selections when I joined the Columbia DVD Club, and the two-disc Special Edition that came out in 2003.
Well, apparently Warner Home Video has come to the conclusion that the Special Edition wasn't quite special enough. So a new, repackaged Casablanca, the Ultimate Collector's Edition, is coming out on Dec. 2, just in time for the holidays!
Here's a description:
The premium gift set is elegantly boxed in an intricate laser-cut Moroccan design and will include such collectibles as replicas of actual props (Victor Laszlo's "Letter of Transit") as well as a number of Warner studio documents (an executive's letter commanding a new PR image for Bogart from gangster to romantic lead; a note from producer Hal Wallis re-titling the film to Casablanca; and a memo from Wallis to Jack Warner strongly urging casting Bogart over George Raft). The DVD set will also contain a branded passport holder, luggage tag, photo book and a mail-in offer for a reproduction of the original movie poster. Additionally, with more than seven hours of bonus features along with a documentary on Jack Warner, no matter how often one has seen the unforgettable classic, there's sure to be something to enrich the experience.
I'm kind of torn. Normally I'm immune to these repackagings of my favorite movies with their bonus featurettes, making-of-documentaries and newly recorded screen-specific commentaries.
But I'd like to have my very own letters of transit and the Jack Warner documentary sounds interesting. I've always been a Humphrey Bogart fan and the very first purchase I made for my college dorm room was a poster of The Maltese Falcon. Sadly, I no longer have it, but a Casablanca one would be a nice replacement.
Still, I don't really need another copy of Casablanca. It's not like 2008 marks a noteworthy anniversary. But this is the "ultimate edition." If I don't buy it, I may regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life.
Plus, this will be the last one, right? I mean, after "ultimate," where else can you go? Oh wait, 2017 will mark the 75th anniversary of Casablanca's 1942 release. I guess there'll be at least one more.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Some facts about me:
1.) I own all nine seasons of Seinfeld on dvd. For other tv series, I just have a random year here and there, but for Seinfeld, every single, solitary episode.
2.) I once worked for the Defense Department but I can't talk about it. (Just joking about the second part!)
3.) I've walked in the footsteps of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad, although not on the same day.
4.) I started writing to my pen pal in England in 1969, to earn a Girl Scout badge, and we're still writing to each other. Related fact: I was quite fond of wearing my Girl Scout uniform to school.
5.) When he was running for president, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown offered me some trail mix and I accepted because, what if he won? I wanted to be able to say that I shared trail mix with a future leader of the free world.
6.) I have a master's degree in applied linguistics from the University of Liverpool. My thesis is titled: "An analysis of the interaction between volunteer tutors and adult ESL students in the United States." Impressive, no?
7.) I'm extremely squeamish, but I wanted to achieve my goal of seeing every Kevin Spacey movie, so I watched only the last 20 minutes of Se7en - with my glasses off.
Vance, tv watcher, theatergoer and moviegoer extraordinaire, at Tapeworthy
Linz, who has great points about books, movies, music, tv and theatre, at Linz McC's Completely Pointless Blog
Amanda, newly published author and mom to three adorable little boys, at The Ramblings of a Hopeful Artist
Dale, a proud Canadian, at Passion of the Dale
Matt, a dancer who's gracefully moving into a career as a writer, editor and photographer, at Ranting Details
Stella Louise, a screenwriter whose amusing musings and random thoughts truly are Well Above Average
Dan, media critic, political pundit and the man who made me the Bruce Springsteen fan I am today, at Media Nation
Friday, October 17, 2008
The move, of course, prompted a boycott from the usual array of self-styled "pro-family" groups. (I guess there's a limit to being "pro-family." Apparently, gay and lesbian families need not apply.)
To show my support for the company and to counterbalance the bigots, I sent a thank-you card to Hallmark's CEO. I thanked him for the company's inclusive stance and said that I would be buying Hallmark products whenever possible.
This week, I got a letter from Hallmark thanking me, which I think is kind of nice. It said, in part, "It is our goal to be inclusive rather than exclusive so that our products appeal to the widest range of people who wish to communicate and connect with one another."
I didn't realize this, but Hallmark makes more than 20,000 greeting cards - including ones for unmarried heterosexual couples, mixed-race or interfaith relationships and blended families "so people in each of these situations can find cards that meet their needs."
I don't know how many letters Hallmark had to send to people who protested the new cards but I think that those of us who support equality and inclusiveness are sometimes too quiet about it. Whereas people who feel the other way never seem to get tired of making their views known. I'm glad I wrote to Hallmark and I'm glad someone at the company responded. At least I know that I got through.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
(It's only the important stuff that I tend to forget - like something really crucial that I was supposed to pick up at the supermarket. Yeah, I know, I should always make a list. But I always think I'll remember. Then I forget that I never remember.)
Anyway, thanks to Pop Candy, USA TODAY's useful compendium of pop culture news, I found a free online Jeopardy! game. The questions are from the 1960s, an homage to Mad Men, one of my favorite tv programs. And the 1960s is one of my favorite decades. Truly a perfect storm of trivia. On Friday, Jeopardy will have a special Mad Men category.
Unlike real Jeopardy!, this is multiple choice. And you're not playing against anyone or the computer. The categories included ad slogans, fads and fashions, news and New York nightlife. I "won" $8,800. I aced the Daily Double but, unfortunately, bombed out on Final Jeopardy.
Some of the questions were pretty easy: "A U.S.-backed invasion of this country in 1961 failed miserably." Some required a bit of thought: "Jackie Kennedy wore this designer's A-line dresses and pillbox hats." A couple of the answers sounded plausible but I guessed right. And at least one question was downright shocking: "In 1961, Fred Flintstone said this brand tastes good like a cigarette should."
Fred Flintstone hawking cigarettes?! I don't remember that from my childhood. Or maybe I do, because I knew the answer. Here's the ad:
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Ponder this: she's away from Broadway for nearly 25 years, returns in 2007 - the very same year I attend my first show on Broadway - and now is about grace the New York stage again, for the second time in two years. Coincidence?
I loved Lansbury and Marian Seldes in 2007's Deuce, where they portrayed former professional tennis players looking back on their lives. What terrific conversation! What memorable characters! Deuce is simply one of the most enjoyable experiences I've spent at the theatre. It was 90 minutes of pure joy and I could have listened to them talk for another 90 minutes.
And now comes word that Lansbury will join British film actor Rupert Everett and Christine Ebersole in a revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, which begins previews in February. I was on the fence about this one. I saw a production of Blithe Spirit earlier this year and while it was good, it didn't quite grab me.
But Angela Lansbury changes everything. She'll play Madame Arcati, the psychic who conducts a seance at the home of a novelist, played by Everett, who hopes to use it as material for a book. Arcati ends up summoning the spirit of his late wife, who will be portrayed by Ebersole.
In addition to Blithe Spirit, 2009 will bring the Broadway premiere of the new musical 9 to 5, on the heels of its Los Angeles tryout. Plus, revivals of Hair, Guys and Dolls and West Side Story. Plus, two more play revivals: David Hyde Pierce in Accent on Youth and Matthew Broderick, whom I've never seen on stage, in The Philanthropist.
Toss in a couple of new plays and I'll be very happy. I probably won't get to see the political play Farragut North, with Chris Noth and John Gallagher Jr., off-Broadway, so I'm crossing my fingers that it'll transfer. I'd love to see Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen in Michael Jacobs' play Impressionism, described as "the story of a world traveling photojournalist and a New York gallery owner who discover each other and also that there might be an art to repairing broken lives."
Okay, I know we're not even through fall yet, but I think there's quite a bit to look forward to on Broadway in the spring. (In my next life, I definitely want to come back as a New Yorker.)
Monday, October 13, 2008
Stiller, who was 20 years old at the time, portrayed Ronnie Shaughnessy in John Guare's play The House of Blue Leaves when it debuted on Broadway in 1986. Coincidentally, Stiller's mother, Anne Meara, was in the initial, off-Broadway production, in 1971. Hmmm, I bet the connection didn't hurt.
If only I had access to the Wayback Machine because this is one of those shows I really wish I'd been able to see during its original Broadway run. I think Stiller is a very funny guy (Along Came Polly, There's Something About Mary, Meet the Parents), despite being in some lame comedies (Zoolander, Dodgeball.) The opening-night cast also included John Mahoney, Julie Hagerty (Wow, of Airplane! fame. I never knew she'd been on Broadway either), Swoosie Kurtz and Stockard Channing.
The House of Blue Leaves takes place in Queens on Oct. 4, 1965, the day Pope Paul VI visited New York City. It's described as a black comedy featuring nuns, a political bombing, a soldier headed for Vietnam (Stiller), a zookeeper who dreams of making it big as a songwriter in Hollywood (Mahoney) and his schizophrenic wife, Bananas (Kurtz). Channing played Mahoney's mistress and Hagerty, a deaf Hollywood starlet, a role described by Frank Rich in his New York Times review as "deliciously acted." (He doesn't have much to say about Stiller's performance).
The play opened on April 29, 1986, at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, then moved to the Plymouth Theatre (now the Schoenfeld) on Oct. 16, before closing on March 15, 1987, after 398 performances. It won four Tony awards, including for Mahoney and Kurtz, as well as for scenic designer Tony Walton and director Jerry Zaks. A taped version of the Broadway production aired on PBS in 1987 but, sadly, it doesn't seem to be available on VHS or dvd.
Ben Stiller hasn't made it back to Broadway, but that role did help launch his career in an unexpected way. A satirical film he made with Blue Leaves costar John Mahoney came to the attention of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, who offered him a spot as a writer. Stiller didn't end up staying long at SNL but he was on his way to movie stardom.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The story ties in with two upcoming movies based on recent Broadway plays: Frost/Nixon, with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, which opens Dec. 26, and Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, which opens Jan. 8.
John Patrick Shanley is no stranger to writing for the big screen. He won an Oscar for Moonstruck. But he says that turning Doubt into a screenplay was "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. You ask, 'Does the play have a compelling story to tell? Is it a tone poem, or a theatrical trick that could not be replicated on film? Is it basically a character study?' Doubt on one level, is a whodunit. It has that going for it."
Playwright Tracy Letts, who's working on the screenplay of his Pulitzer and Tony-winning August: Osage County, says that part of the challenge lies in translating stage diction to screen dialog. "In plays there is a heightened theatrical quality to language. It doesn't necessarily play on film. It can sound wooden. Without de-boning it, flaying the piece, you have to find a way to translate the language. It's scalpel kind of work."
The article notes that in recent years, stage-to-screen adaptations have been underwhelming at the box office. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that they can be hard to find at your local multiplex, which insists on putting The Dark Knight or the latest Judd Apatow comedy in six screens. That doesn't leave much room for smaller movies.
At one point, theatre was fertile ground for movies, and the Variety article wonders whether we'll see a comeback. In fact, my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca, was adapted from a play that was never produced, called Everybody Comes to Rick's.
A movie that I loved when I saw it years ago was Plenty, an adaptation of the play by David Hare. It starred Meryl Streep as an Englishwoman whose life in postwar Britain seems to pale in comparison with the war years, which she spent as a Resistance fighter. I'm not sure I even realized that it had been a play.
Today, a lot of the more noteworthy adaptations of plays have been done by HBO, including Angels in America and Wit. Sometimes, those adaptations can be a bit dutiful and dull rather than truly engaging and exhilarating. But I did enjoy Angels in America and Wit, and without HBO, I never would have had a chance to see either one of them.
Part of the question has always been whether you attract established Hollywood stars or stick to the original cast. The History Boys is a play that imported pretty much its entire Broadway cast to the screen. I enjoyed the movie and I appreciated the chance to see the same actors who created those characters on stage. In Frost/Nixon, Sheen and Langella are reprising their Broadway roles.
And the movie version of August: Osage County won't have trouble attracting household names. Producer Jean Doumanian says that while the film hasn't been cast yet, she's been inundated with calls from agents whose big-name clients have seen the play in New York.
But just as on Broadway, the audience for a straight play is smaller than the audience for a musical. I'm hoping that Doubt, and a few years down the line, August: Osage County, can fire up moviegoers. I've never seen Doubt, but August: Osage County, with its witty, blistering dialogue and truly memorable characters, certainly has the capacity to do that.
Veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg is blunt about the hurdle. "Some people like films with dialogue. But there are only 18 of them, and 94 million want to see the bus that crashes into the plane."
Friday, October 10, 2008
Justice Richard N. Palmer, who wrote for the majority, said, "Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice. To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others."
The state's Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, said that while she disagreed with the decision, she would uphold it. “I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision, either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution, will not meet with success.”
Okay, here's what I have a hard time wrapping my mind around. Why should the court's voice reflect the majority of the people of Connecticut?
When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, did it's "voice" reflect the majority of the people of the United States in 1954? Should the court have waited until a majority of Americans were willing to have black children and white children go to school together? Maybe Congress should have waited to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act until white Southerners agreed that black Americans should be allowed to vote?
I think the role of the court is to interpret the Constitution - including the part that calls for equal protection under the law for everyone. No one's civil rights should be put up to a popular vote. If we did things that way, which states would revive segregation? Which states would deny African-Americans the right to vote? None? Are you absolutely sure? Think about it.
This is a matter of fairness. I simply don't see why any group of Americans should be treated as second-class citizens. Beyond that, this ruling, like the ones before it in California and Massachusetts, harms no one - not one single heterosexual marriage or family or individual. It simply allows law-abiding, taxpaying gay and lesbian citizens - your friends and neighbors and coworkers and family - the same rights as everyone else.
Janet Peck, one of the plaintiffs in Connecticut, said that she and her partner, Carole Conklin, started hugging and crying after the decision was announced: "I can't believe it. We're thrilled; we're absolutely overjoyed. We're finally going to be able, after 33 years, to get married."
Well, I'm not likely to get to Las Vegas anytime soon, but later this month, there's going to be a one-night screening of All Together Now, a documentary about the making of Love. It'll be screened at select theatres nationwide on Oct. 20 and then released on dvd on Oct. 21.
Okay, two things. First, I couldn't find any theatres in my area that are showing the documentary. Hopefully, more sites will be added over the next week. I mean really, there's nothing at all listed for Rhode Island or Massachusetts. Second, apparently the dvd will be available only at Best Buy. These exclusivity deals seem to be a growing trend. For example, Barnes & Noble sells the current Broadway revival recordings of Gypsy and South Pacific with bonus tracks not available anywhere else.
According to the documentary's Web site, All Together Now is a detailed look at the project, from its birth through the friendship between the late Beatle George Harrison and Cirque cofounder Guy Laliberte, to the contributions of the surviving Beatles and producer George Martin, to the construction of a unique stage and sound system at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. The early stages were all filmed, as were the first rehearsals at the Mirage's theatre, where the show has been playing since 2006.
In addition to the 84-minute documentary, dvd bonus features include a 22-minute segment called "Changing the Music," a look at the decision to rework and remix the Beatles songs for the show; "Music in the Theatre," 9 minutes, creating the show's audio design; and "Making Love," 10 minutes, a look at the art direction, costumes, props, imagery and the use of the Beatles' voices.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked: Wow, that's a pretty long title. Now granted, I'd probably just skip ahead to the section on Wicked, but according to the publisher, author Carol de Giere spent 80 hours interviewing the composer and talked to more than 100 of his colleagues friends and family. The 544-page biography reveals "never-before-told-stories and explores both Schwartz's phenomenal hits and expensive flops." Available now.
The Grapes of Wrath: I don't anything about composer Ricky Ian Gordon, but I've been a big John Steinbeck fan since high school. My favorite work of his is actually the nonfiction account of his 1960 trip across America, Travels with Charley. Still, I'm curious about Gordon's opera version of Steinbeck's Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath. This 3-cd set was recorded last year with the Minnesota Opera. Available now.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular: I took a tour of Radio City Music Hall last year and it was great. Unfortunately, because a show was going on, we didn't actually get to go into the auditorium. So until I can see those high-kicking Rockettes in person, this may be the next best thing. This 90-minute dvd features last year's 75th anniversary production, including the reportedly spectacular Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. Release date: Nov. 4.
In Spite of Myself: A Memoir: I loved Julie Andrews' memoir, Home, and now her Sound of Music costar, Christopher Plummer, is weighing in with a 656-page autobiography. The early reviews sound good. Publisher's Weekly calls the book “An enchanting observer of the showbiz cavalcade, drawing vivid thumbnails of everyone from Laurence Olivier to Lenny Bruce and tossing off witty anecdotes like the most effortless ad libs. The result - a sparkling star turn from a born raconteur for whom all the world is indeed a stage.” Release date: Nov. 4.
The Gospel at Colonus: Since seeing The Dreams of Antigone last week, I'm on kind of a Greek tragedy kick. The Gospel at Colonus is a retelling of Sophocles' play Oedipus at Colonus through the medium of modern gospel music. This is the 9o-minute filmed version of a 1985 Philadelphia performance and features Morgan Freeman as a Pentecostal preacher and The Blind Boys of Alabama, collectively, as Oedipus. Release date: Nov. 18.
13: Even if I don't get to see Jason Robert Brown's new musical, I'll still pick up the original Broadway cast recording. I don't feel compelled to buy the cd of every new musical, especially if I've never seen it. But I enjoy Brown's music - whether I've seen the show, like Parade, or whether I haven't, like The Last 5 Years - and this is the kind of catchy pop score that's usually right up my alley. Release date: Nov. 25.
Hair: Let the Sun Shine In: If I could travel back in time to see the original Broadway production of a musical, Hair would definitely be high on my list. Maybe it's not so shocking today, but I can only imagine what it was like to see it 40 years ago. This 55-minute documentary, which also includes an hour of bonus footage, "conveys a portrait of an era, a generation and its politics." Release date Dec. 9.
Passing Strange: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical: Stew won the Tony award for Best Book of a Musical for writing Passing Strange and I can understand why. The dialog was smart, witty and memorable. I'm curious to see how his words hold up when I read them rather than listen to them. Release date: January 15.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Listening to the details of how he was tied to a fence and beaten and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie made me sick. And the fact that Shepard was targeted because he was gay made it even more horrifying.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of Shepard's death. His body was discovered on Oct. 6 and he died on Oct. 12, 1998.
One of the most noteworthy efforts to remember Shepard began five weeks after he died. Members of New York's Tectonic Theater Project, including cofounder Moises Kaufman, traveled to Laramie to interview people who knew him or were connected with the case, or were just ordinary citizens, straight and gay. After a year and more than 200 interviews, the transcripts were turned into a play, The Laramie Project. In 2002, the play became an HBO movie.
I watched The Laramie Project for the first time this week. Once again, hearing the detailed description of Shepard's injuries made me so sick that I had to turn down the volume on my tv. There are breathtaking views of the wide-open Wyoming landscape and I was struck by the contradiction of something so awful occurring in a place filled with so much beauty.
It's heartbreaking to hear gay and lesbian citizens talk about how they lived quietly, in fear, before the death of Matthew Shepard. And it's also inspiring to hear how his death galvanized them, along with many straight Wyoming citizens, to speak out against homophobia, no matter what the consequences.
But sadly, there's also a disheartening interview with a rancher and his wife, who seem totally unaware of their bigotry. They can't see the connection between saying things like, "I certainly don't approve of homosexuals" and the murder of Matthew Shepard. They don't seem to understand that their disapproval - their demonization - contributes to an atmosphere in which violence against gay people can occur.
I thought about how I would feel if the word "homosexual" were changed to "Jewish" in this excerpt:
Rancher: I think the Jewish community is taking this as an advantage, said, this is a good time for us to exploit this.
Wife: They made it sound like it was 10 murders instead of one.
Rancher: They're accusing the ranchers of being unreasonable and unsympathetic because of how he was.
Wife: And what his persuasion was. Well, he would certainly be welcome in our home we'd visit, sit down, have a cup of coffee.
Moises Kaufman: What did you think when you heard that two boys from your town did this?
Rancher: Well I certainly don't approve of Jews but I don't think anybody has a right to do what those two boys did.
Moises Kaufman: Well where do you think that comes from, their hatred toward Jews?
Wife: I think what most people fear in the Jewish community is that religion is their number one concern,
Rancher: Not many people condone it
Wife: When you wear it on your sleeve like a banner.
Of course today, they probably wouldn't talk like that about Jews, at least not openly, not to strangers who are recording their words. I'm fairly certain they would know it wasn't acceptable. But they seem perfectly comfortable expressing their disapproval of gay people, blaming them for homophobic acts, as if they had it coming.
As well-made and important as I think The Laramie Project is, my biggest fear is that people will take away from it the wrong message: that homophobia only occurs in small towns or rural America or among people from certain economic classes. But prejudice and antigay hatred and ignorance - as well as love and respect and support - occur everywhere.
Kaufman and the theater company returned to Laramie this year, to see how attitudes toward gay and lesbian people have changed, and to write an epilogue to the play. He tells The New York Times, "I guess what disappoints me isn’t so much Laramie, it’s the fact that more social progress hasn’t happened everywhere.”
One of the most moving parts of The Laramie Project comes near the end, when Shepard's father addresses the court before the sentencing of one of his son's killers and says that the family will not insist on the death penalty. His father talks about how Matthew was with God when he died. This week, as my thoughts are with all of those who knew and loved Matthew Shepard, I hope they take comfort in the knowledge that he is in a place where no one can harm him, that he is at peace.
Since Shepard's death, his parents have created an educational foundation to fight hatred. Last month, the University of Wyoming dedicated a bench in Shepard's memory. But the Matthew Shepard Act, a bill that would extend federal hate-crimes law to include crimes motivated by a person's sexual orientation, has still not been enacted into law. And, of course, hate crimes persist.
While it didn't have any connection to the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder, in August I joined PFLAG - Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It's a coincidence, but a fitting one, I think.
Over the summer, I wrote about the successful effort to overturn a 1913 law that had been used to prevent out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts. A dear friend e-mailed me, thanking me for being supportive and suggested that I join. I wrote him back and said it was a great idea.
I admire my friend so much for the way he's stood up against all forms of bigotry - including racism and anti-Semitism. How could I not do the same for him? Plus, as he and his partner celebrate their fifth anniversary, it seemed like the perfect way to honor their relationship - this year and every year.
I'm not normally a joiner but I'm glad that I joined PFLAG. All I have to do is look at their sweet, smiling faces and think about how much these two good men love each other, how much their friendship means to me, how proud I am to know them, and I know it was the right thing to do.
It may not be much, but it's my own little contribution toward ensuring that everyone has the opportunity that was denied Matthew Shepard - to live openly and free from fear. It is simply our right as Americans and as human beings to do so.