Monday, December 5, 2016

Don't Call Hamilton Curtain Speech Bullying

Brandon Victor Dixon of Hamilton addresses Mike Pence
The tempest in a teapot over the speech delivered by Hamilton cast member Brandon Victor Dixon to audience member and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence appears to have finally died down. It has elicited a firestorm of comments on both sides of the political aisle. The hashtag #BoycottHamilton trended on Twitter, but it appears the box office has not been significantly affected. A pro-Trump audience member get rowdy at a Chicago performance, but there have not other reports of a major backlash. On a public bus I was standing right next to a group of young people talking about Broadway in general and how difficult it is to get tickets to the hip-hop Tony winning show. "But it may be easier now because some people are calling for a boycott because of the lecture they delivered," said the young man.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Let's Fake a Deal!

Monty Hall from the old Let's Make a Deal show.
Trump is copying the format.
The news has been depressing me so much lately that I have foresworn cable channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox. Never mind that I don't have cable anymore, I could have gotten access through YouTube. So now my default viewing when there is nothing worth watching on broadcast channels and I'm too lazy to surf through all the choices of Netflix and Amazon is Buzzr, a game-show haven where I can watch visions of the past including What's My Line, To Tell the Truth, and I've Got a Secret. An hour-long block of Let's Make a Deal is on at 8, but even that comfortable echo from my childhood makes me think of our hellish new political landscape.

Announcer (Paul Ryan): These suckers...I mean people, dressed as they are have come from the four corners of the world to the marketplace of America on LET'S... FAKE...A DEAL...and now here's TV's big dealer...Monty Trump!

(Orchestra plays theme music: Let a Winner Lead the Way. Monty Trump enters. Audience cheers)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts IV: The Selling of the Presidency

(Right) First Daughter and Jewelry Hawker in Chief
We are now in a shit storm of Trump coverage, every single thing he and his Kardashian-like relatives do will be the source of a thousand Tweets and Facebook posts. After the 60 Minutes interview, Ivanka Trump was hawking the $10,000 bracelet she wore on the broadcast (as seen as TV!) She has since apologized and blamed it on a subordinate's mistake. To be perfectly fair, Trump did say he would not be taking a salary as president (UGH! just writing Trump and president in the same sentence makes my flesh crawl.) That has not been reported or commented on in my liberal elitist circles too much, so I will give him credit for that. Look, I'm giving him a chance! But we'll see if he follows through. There is also a report that he tried to use his influence to get the value of his Trump Hotel in Washington, DC knocked down several million dollars so he won't have to pay as much tax on it. And BTW, where are his tax returns?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts III: Cabinet of Horrors

Trump's closest advisors
My emotions are in turmoil about the election. We are being asked to "normalize" Trump. Now if it were Kasich, Jeb Bush or even Rubio, I wouldn't be in such despair, but Trump goes beyond that. I do accept that he's won, but if I support him and wish him well, it would be like supporting all the racist, crude, disgusting things he said and did during the campaign (and everything before that). It would be saying, "It's okay to be racist and to discriminate against Muslims and make fun of disabled people." It's okay for a MALE, buffoonish, sexist crude oaf with questionable business practices and violent tendencies to be my president instead of a highly qualified FEMALE who may have made a mistake with her email (a mistake which many of her predecessors as Secretary of State evidently also made). BTW, ain't it ironic Pence is trying to keep his emails secret?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts II: Obama Is the Better Man

Regardless of your politics, you have to admit Obama is just a better person than Trump. Quick example: Before the election, a pro-Trump protestor heckled the current president at a Clinton rally. Obama chided the crowd for yelling at the protestor and told them to respect their elders and this man's service to his country since he seemed to be a vet. He said "Don't boo.. vote." The epitome of graciousness. This is all on video. A day later, Trump distorts the President's remarks at his own rally saying Obama screamed at the protestor and carried on like a crazy person. WHAT? The difference between a dignified adult (Obama) and a lying child who twists the truth for his own purposes (Trump).

But never mind that. The Wall Street Journal reports that in their first meeting after the election, Trump hinted he didn't realize the scope of the job. Evidently, he thought he could just phone it in and play golf on the weekends. He implied Obama will be helping him, meeting with him more than most exiting chief executives do with their successors ("We'll be seeing each other many, many times"). Translation: Trump is begging Obama to hold his hand since he has no freaking clue what he is doing. For the good of the country Obama will do it. He is going to help the man who called him the "founder of ISIS" and cast doubt on his administration by demanding to see his birth certificate and accusing him of being born outside the US. Remember all that crap about Trump promising their were "experts" in Hawaii who were going to prove it? And nothing ever happened. Now Obama is going to help this creep be a better president because it will help our country. Can you imagine Trump ever doing anything like that? The man who said the most important thing in business is to screw your enemies ten times worse than they tried to screw you.

Obama is a hero for helping Trump and the Trump supporters will never admit it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts

Here's the thing. I accept that Trump won the election. It's done.The electoral college is not going to vote Hillary in. It's not going to happen. I have to live with this horrible man as the leader of my country and I am deeply ashamed to be an American right now. It does seem a bit early for impeachment, but we'll see what happens. Having said that, I support everyone's right to protest against the positions he took during the campaign and the positions he's taking now: destroying climate change work, possibly getting rid of Social Security and Medicare (Ryan says he wants to do this), legalizing discrimination against gays (yes he said gay marriage is OK on 60 Minutes, but what about this religious exception bullshit Mike Pence wants?) Also the racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim things Trump's said. Deny it all you like Kellyanne Conway, he said racist things. Are you going to sue me?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Critical Shrinking; Broadway Update

Elysa Gardner, no longer with USA Today,
now freelances
The NYC community of theater critics continues to shrink. We're like some rare endangered species in a seldom-visited jungle and nobody seems to care as our numbers diminish. (We don't even get a late-night commercial with sad music pleading for funds to save us.) It was barely noticed that Elysa Gardner left USA Today where she was the theater and rock critic since 2000. There has been no announcement as to whether she was let go or departed voluntarily. She briefly tweeted the information that she was no longer with the nationwide publication on Aug. 1. Worse, there was no mention of it in any of the chat boards or on any of the theater-related websites (Not that I could find anyway.) USA Today has apparently dropped theater coverage altogether. They did not assign anyone to review the first two Broadway openings of the fall--The Encounter and Holiday Inn

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Who's Afraid of Virginia State?

The 2016 Presidential Debates will resemble
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The moderators for the 2016 presidential debates have been announced and a startling image came into my mind. The second debate will be co-hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Martha Raddatz. This will be the first time both the debaters and the moderators will be opposite-sex pairs. It made me think of the event as a horrible nightmare version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, two drunken couples clashing in an all-night boozefest. Here's my version of the debate:

Who's Afraid of Virginia State (with apologies to Edward Albee)
Hillary Clinton as Martha
Donald Trump as George
Anderson Cooper as Nick
Martha Raddatz as Honey

The scene: a living room in Washington DC, late at night. The set is in darkness. We hear loud voices arguing offstage. The door opens, Hillary and Donald enter, returning from a late-night party.

Hillary: What a dump!...What's that from?
Donald: How the hell should I know?
Hillary: It's from some damn movie. Some damn Warner Brothers epic.
Donald: Ah ha! Your memory is failing. Just like I've been saying. Your health is terrible. You're falling apart. You don't have the stamina to be president.
Hillary: Listen, baby, I can drink you under any goddamn table you want and don't you forget it. You're the one who's in terrible shape in spite of what that crazy doctor of yours says. Now fix me a drink, lover.

Friday, August 19, 2016

2016-17 Broadway Season Update

Andy Karl in Groundhog Day,
now in London and coming to Broadway, but when?
Credit: Manuel Harlan/Old Vic Theater
We are in the valley between seasons. It's the trough of summer and nothing will open on Broadway until well after Labor Day. The only hot-weather openings have been revivals of Motown (which has already closed) and Cats. The upcoming 2016-17 roster has a few highlights,  but very few new plays. Right now there are only five new plays announced--two are American and both have appeared Off-Broadway previously (Oslo and Significant Other), the other three are British or Australian (The Encounter, The Present, Heisenberg which played MTC Off-Broadway last year). The most exciting nonmusical productions are revivals with an all-star Front Page and Cherry Orchard, Jake Gyllenhaal in Burn This at the newly renovated Hudson Theatre (Broadway's 41st theater), Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating lead roles in The Little Foxes, and Julie Taymor's take on M. Butterfly. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Clinton vs. Trump: Wicked Stepmother vs. Drunken Uncle

I get it. I understand how many voters are frustrated by both major party candidates in this presidential election. Let's take a look at both sides of this difficult bargain. Trump is a total non-starter, totally unacceptable even in a nightmare to be the leader of the free world. Can you imagine the havoc he would wreak. Every day he'd shoot his mouth off insulting a world leader, breaking a treaty, being "sarcastic" and we'd be on the perpetual brink of World War III. It's reached the point now where even members of his own party are disowning him. He doesn't even understand basic grammar or concepts of rhetoric. This past week, his "off-the-cuff" controversial statements on "Second Amendment people" and Obama "founding" ISIS caused violent reactions among the media and in the halls of power, and were purposefully ambiguous. He could have clarified them, but he wanted the explosions to detonate. It's his way of having fun. (He often says during his rallies after inciting violence and mocking his enemies, "Isn't this fun?")

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Trump or Clinton: Who Is the Biggest Pirate?

Jimmy Olsen #118
Politics rears its ugly head in the weirdest of places. Earlier this week I went to return a Jimmy Olsen comic to the guy on 40th street in Manhattan who sold it to me (It turned out I already had a copy of it--It was the one from the late 1960s where Jimmy turns into a hippie and launches a Hate-In against Superman.) The comic-book seller also has numerous campaign buttons for both Clinton and Trump on his card table. He was engaged in conversation with another gentleman with a British accent. The English guy was saying he'd won a bet of several hundred pounds that Trump would win the Republican nomination and he was laying a similar wager that the Donald would become President. He went on to say that Hillary was a tremendous crook and there would a Watergate-sized scandal if the Justice Department did not indict her for the email thing.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

More Critics Axed; B'way Update

Elisabeth Vincentelli
The number of paid, professional New York theater critics has been reduced yet again. Jeremy Gerard of Deadline and Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post have both been given the axe. It's becoming like a remake of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None where ten strangers are called to a remote island for a weekend and are bumped off one by one. Gerard and Vincentelli are just the latest in a long line of scribblers to be shown the door as print shrinks, the web expands and fewer readers click on theater reviews. Media corporations are losing money, slashing budgets and cutting out marginal, niche writers. Steven Suskind, David Finkle, Jesse Oxfeld, Michael Sommers, the late Jacques LeSourd, and many others were let go from their long-standing perches. Some have landed on their feet. One such is Michael Feingold who was dismissed from the Village Voice in 2013 but was reinstated this year when the paper got a new owner. There is no shortage of bloggers and freelancers but they are paid little or nothing. In another disturbing development, Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press announced the wire service would no longer be covering Off-Broadway because their client publications felt it was a waste of money.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

2016-17 B'way Preview: Big Stars, Blasts from Past

Spongebob Squarepants the Musical
Credit: Joan Marcus
With the broadcast of the Tony Awards, the 2015-16 Broadway theater season is now officially over. It was one of the most exciting and original ones in recent memory. Hamilton transferred to the Richard Rodgers from the Public and totally transformed America's relationship to the stage, making it cool to go the theater again. Similarly, Stephen Karam's The Humans and Danai Gurira's Eclipsed made the voyage from Off-Broadway to on, allowing new, young playwrights to have their voices heard by a larger audience. Hopefully, we'll have more fresh talent on the Main Stem in 2016-17, but so far, as per usual, the majority of announced productions are revivals with big Hollywood stars or British imports. We've already started with a retread--Sean Hayes in An Act of God which we've seen just last summer with Jim Parsons. Next are two more blasts from the recent past--Motown and Cats.

There are two Off-Broadway musicals set for transfer: Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. But very few original musicals are solidified at this point. In fact the only two with a firm official  opening date are Holiday Inn based on the 1942 Hollywood film with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, from Roundabout Theater Company., and Groundhog DayA Bronx Tale, based on Chazz Palminteri's autobiographical one-man show, is unofficially set for the Longacre. In the Tony Award press room, the producers announced it was coming in after a run at the Paper Mill Playhouse, but there has been no press release. There is a stage version of the animated Nickelodeon series Spongebob Squarepants, opening this month in Chicago and projected for a Broadway opening sometime this season. The long-awaited stage version of Anastasia is currently at Hartford Stage and is much-buzzed for a New York production.

The Seventh Annual David Desk Awards

Shuffle Along got shafted at the Tonys,
but wins big at the David Desks.
Credit: Juliana Cervantes

Once again it's time for the annual David Desk Awards in which I select my personal favorites of all the on, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater I've seen this season. This time I have lined up with the more conventional New York theater awards such as the Tonys, the Obies, the Drama Desks and the Outer Critics. Like many of these, Hamilton was eligible for the Davids last season for its Off-Broadway run and so is off my list (I know, it's going to kill them at the box office.) The one production which many of the more mainstream awards ignored was the Roundabout Theatre Comany's revival of The Robber Bridegroom which did get some recognition from the Lortels, but was snubbed by the Drama Desks. Shuffle Along was totally blanked at the Tonys on Sunday night, a victim of the Hamilton tidal wave. But it wins big at the Davids.

I have tried to limit the number of citations in each category to six, the old limit for the Drama Desks. (This year they stuck mostly to five.) But there were a few where I expanded it to seven. I also included Jennifer Simard for Disaster! even though she was in the Off-Broadway production two seasons ago. She gave the funniest performance on Broadway this season and deserves as much recognition as possible.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2015-16 Ends as 2016-17 Gets Ready

Nathan Lane will star in a revival of
The Front Page next season.
The 2015-16 Broadway and off-Broadway theater season is heading into the home stretch with a whirlwind of openings, nominations and awards about to be unleashed. Meanwhile, 2016-17 is waiting in the wings and raring to go. Though there was no official press release, an Equity casting notice revealed Nathan Lane and John Slattery will be starring a revival of The Front Page with John Goodman, Rosemary Harris, Sherie Rene Scott, and Jefferson Mays. The Great Comet (shortened from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812) with Josh Groban has announced an opening date of Nov. 14 at the Imperial. We also have Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The SpongeBob Musical, and lots more. Here is a breakdown of the end of this season and what we know about the next one and beyond:

Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this coming Sunday Feb. 28 and it's time to make my annual predictions. This year has not been particularly exciting with no huge blockbuster dominating the proceedings. The new Star Wars has not generated much excitement, but Mad Max: Fury Road has garnered a bunch of nominations and will probably sweep the technical awards. I usually try to see all of the Best Picture and acting nominees. This time I did catch nine and a half of the top film candidates (I only got through the first hour of Mad Max on HBO.Go before I had explosion overload, I'll try to get back to the rest of it.) I've seen most of the acting nominees, three of the five feature documentaries, one each of the foreign and feature animated films, and all of the short films (I wrote them up for and here's a link). I always say some year I will see all of the nominees but I never make it. Here are my predix:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hitchcock's Marnie: Pure Film and Woman as Object

Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in Hitchcock's Marnie. 
Hedren's character is more tightly wound than her hair bun.
The recent documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut prompted me to view the master filmmaker's works I had not previously seen. Top of the list was Marnie, the 1964 psychological "sex mystery" starring Hitchcock ice blonde Tippi Hedren, who became a star in his The Birds the year before. The doc also pushed me towards The Girl, the 2012 HBO film detailing the Svengali-ish relationship between director and star which was broadcast about the same time as Hitchcock, the film starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, was released. The latter movie focused on Hitch's unique marriage to his collaborator Alma Reville and the production of his masterpiece Psycho. I also want to revisit Vertigo, the 1958 Hitchcock classic which topped previous champ Citizen Kane as favorite all-time film in an annual poll of film critics. In the documentary detailing the famous interviews between Hitch and the French filmmaker/critic, several scholars said that Vertigo was the essence of filmmaking and defined the movies for them. At the end of The Girl, a title reads that Hitchcock died a few years later with only a few more films to his credit and that Marnie was his masterpiece. In a behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD of Marnie I ordered from Netflix, another scholar says "If you don't love Marnie, you don't really love movies."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cutting the Cable Cord, Part 4: Listening to Jack Benny

Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone,
and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson
Since cutting the cable cord, I’ve found numerous other avenues of entertainment. Earlier this week, a visiting friend from Mexico and I spent the entire evening watching GetTV’s variety Monday night including the legendary segment of the The Judy Garland Show with guest star Barbra Streisand and a surprise appearance by Ethel Merman; a Mitzi Gaynor special with fantastic dancing (I recognized several of the dancers from The Carol Burnett Show) and George Hamilton; and a Merv Griffin Show with Carol Channing walking from the St. James Theater where she was starring in Hello, Dolly! to the Little Theater (now the Helen Hayes) where Griffin filmed his talk show. She was leaving Dolly on Broadway to go on tour.

But I find myself most frequently listening to old broadcasts of Jack Benny on YouTube. Benny’s TV show was in daytime reruns when I was a kid. Today hardly anyone under 50 knows who he is and yet along with Bob Hope, he was probably the famous comedian in America. (Arthur Miller mentions him in Death of a Salesman, and Benny said that brief reference in the classic play would be his ticket to immortality. How right he was.) From 1932 to 1955, Benny did a weekly radio show (he started TV in 1950 and did both for five years.) I find it fascinating that an entertainer could have been so big and now only a small cultish figure in the public consciousness. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Political Thoughts

God help us!
GOP candidate Chris Christie recently said parents shouldn't have to worry about sending their kids to school and not having them come back alive. The irony is he was speaking in reference to the San Bernadino shootings by a radical Islamic terrorist couple. He's overlooking the fact that parents have been worried about their children's survival ever since the crazy guy shot up that school in Newtown, Conn. GOP candidates are picking and choosing which mass shootings to be concerned about. If they involve Muslims then it's a real cause for panic. If it's white guys then there's basically nothing we as a society can do about it because that would mean taking away someone's precious gun. You'll notice no one is doing anything about the militant ranchers taking over a government wildlife preserve in Oregon because they didn't like a judge's ruling on their court case. Could it be because these guys are white and Christian? Can you imagine what would happen if they were African-American, Native American, or Muslim?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cutting the Cable Cord Part 3: Default Mode Viewing

Judy Garland guest-starring on The Andy Williams Show
The cable cord is now totally cut and I don't miss it at all. We now have a digital antenna for broadcast channels with Netflix and Amazon for streaming. Almost every show I would have missed from cable will show on the latter two services sooner or later. The same for most broadcast shows since we no longer have a DVR. I did catch all of the last season of the Amazing Race and I have caught up with Big Bang Theory for free on CBS's website.