Sunday, May 31, 2009
I have not seen any Little People out here in Strasburg, so I can only assume that the sign means they are being used as the pigskin.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I have arrived in Middletown, VA, the scene of my next crime. Though it's only a quick 90 minutes from Capitol Hill, it's a world away. The town has only one stoplight, and Wayside Theatre is apparently its biggest business. There is a definite small-town feel to the place; just take a look at all the flags which appeared this weekend, lining Main Street about 20 feet apart. There is no parade planned or anything, the town just puts up flags for every national holiday.
My digs couldn't be nicer, a rustic cabin in the hills of neighboring Strasburg. Well, it's actually a guest cottage on the expansive lot of one of the benefactors of the theatre. It's secluded from the street (and from the outside world) by several acres of woods.
From the outside, it doesn't look like much, but inside, it's a terrific bungalow with huge kitchen (about the size of my bedroom at home), and a great room with homey furniture and, um, interesting touches. (Note the Christmas tree in the corner, and the ladder going nowhere.) I currently sit at the desk placed against a window, through which I can see a rabbit hopping by. The sleeping chamber is a loft above the living area, reached by one of those staircases which is so steep, it's almost a ladder. Really, despite it's surroundings, the place isn't all that rustic (how could it be with a full kitchen, including microwave and laundry facilities?)
Friday, May 29, 2009
I admit to being nuts about Dixie Carter. I’ve been her fan for years, and I mean YEARS. I recall, decades ago, seeing her on The Edge of Night, and wondering how the heck somebody that unique was ever hired in the cookie-cutter world of soaps. Carter spent only a few years in daytime before graduating to prime-time and Broadway roles. She had two failed marriages (including one to Broadway star George Hearn) before settling into one of the more stable Hollywood matches, with Hal Holbrook. Dixie found her metier in sitcoms, co-starring in the short-lived On Our Own with Bess Armstrong, and in Diff’rent Strokes, in which she created the role of Maggie Drummond (the role was later played by Mary Ann Mobley). Her appearance in another short-lived series, Filthy Rich (above),brought her in contact with two women who would figure prominently in her later career, Delta Burke and writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. The latter created the Sugarbaker sisters of Atlanta for Carter and Burke, and Designing Women was born. The show was often compared (usually unfavorably) to The Golden Girls, as their runs roughly coincided. Both shows featured four strong comic actresses, but otherwise, had few similarities.
It was through Designing Women that Carter became a star. Her characterization became famous for her lengthy and often hilarious diatribes on any number of issues. Here’s one of my favorite clips, in which Carter’s “Julia” is trapped on a jury, endangering her planned dinner with Jimmy Carter:
Dixie’s role on Designing Women was an avowed liberal, and her rants were often political in nature, a direct contrast to Carter herself, who describes herself as a “libertarian,” but is in fact a Republican. She had a deal with the show’s creators that, anytime she delivered a particularly left-leaning speech, she (the actress) would be rewarded with the chance to sing in another episode. (Dixie Carter is an accomplished singer, appearing in musicals throughout her career and headlining her own cabaret act.)
This week’s Dance Party is one of those “paybacks” from Designing Women. In the episode, a slightly tipsy Julia Sugarbaker dedicates a sweet song to her son on his wedding day:
Dixie Carter turned 70 years old this week.
Monday, May 25, 2009
These pages have been dormant for several days, as I have made the journey to rural Virginia and have leaped into rehearsals for Man of La Mancha. Getting online is not possible in my digs (which are absolutely swell, I’ll describe them later), so contributions to this site will be a bit more random for a little while (how could they be MORE random? I’ve always just written when I wanted to, rather on a time-table, but whatever). I’ll be checking email and posting items from the theatre in the coming days, so stay tuned for the riveting story of my first week’s rehearsal, playing a tenor role with a baritone voice. Ack.
Oh, and if anybody interesting dies, it will be a while before their obit will show up here. Tragic, I know.
As I write this, from my rustic cabin in the woods of Old Virginny, I am watching a family of squirrels frolic under a tree. This woodland variety seems far removed from the crazed city dweller I dealt with in DC, the one stuck in my stove’s exhaust vent. Oh, there goes a bunny! Gotta go.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Saturday, May 16, 2009
There was an unexpected adventure today. I had a surprise when I awoke this morning. Scratching. No, not me with bedbugs. There was a loud scratching sound coming from the kitchen. Investigation revealed that it was coming from the cabinet above the stove. Now, everybody knows I'm a scaredy cat, and I hesitated to even open the cabinet door. But I could not imagine what had gotten into the cabinet, or how. And the sound did not appear to be something scratching wood, but rather, something scratching tin foil.
I screwed my courage to the sticking place (thanks, Lady M) and slowly opened the cabinet door. Nothing had disturbed the mountains of Tupperware, the fondue pot (don't make fun), the box of steak knives, the empty jars, the large jug of Costco cinnamon sticks, or the popcorn popper. (Yes, I choose to organize my cabinets eclectically, rather than, you know...logically.) But I could hear that the scratching was louder and more frantic.
There was no doubt. There was an intruder trapped in the exhaust piping of my oven hood, which snakes its way through the center of that cabinet.
It was a freaky, freaky sound. Imagine Bruiser, the Legally Blond Chihuahua, racing around on a cookie sheet. Long fingernails on aluminum. Icky.
I was sure it was a squirrel. In the last year or so, the tree right behind my unit has grown exponentially, and its top branches now flick my fire escape. I like this development, and hope in another year or two, that tree may be tall enough to mask the building behind mine, which is too close for comfort. But the tree has now allowed the squirrel kingdom easy access to my fire escape, which they use with abandon. Last year, I had two pots of basil growing out there, and I frequently (like 8 times a day) discovered a rodent rummaging around in there. And once, I walked over to the open window to come face to face with a squirrel which had clawed its way up the screen and just froze, meeting me eyeball to eyeball.
This problem consumed my day, a day which I had earmarked for running errands in order to get ready for my gig at Wayside, which, as I said, begins Tuesday. Instead, I had to deal with this crap. I went to the gym and the post office, hoping (irrationally) that the squirrel would find its way out of my vent, but no such luck. He simply had nothing to grab onto and climb out with.
I called around to several outlets which advertised pest removal, but had no luck getting anyone on the phone. This is a common problem I have whenever I have to find a professional to come out and do something around here. It seems like nobody really WANTS to perform the services which they advertise they perform. I finally called our building's management company, headed by a woman I do not like, and who does not like me. I know it's hard to believe somebody doesn't like me, but there it is. She put aside her animosity toward me, and gave me the name of the "trapper" she has used before.
Hours later, I had a grizzly old coot in my kitchen, dismantling my exhaust piping above the stove.
He then used a blower and blew out the passage, which was packed full of twigs and other nest stuff. He capped the outside vent with a cage material, to prevent anybody else from entering my condo uninvited, and left a bill for $320.00
Thankfully, the condo association will be picking up the tab on today's adventure, but there's one thing they can't do: get rid of the lingering aroma which the technician left behind. This guy smelled worse than anybody you might encounter in a New York subway car. But I liked him anyway. Remember, he saved everybody's life, and was genuinely excited to release the intruders into the outside world.
I'm lighting scented candles.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Anybody remember the Archies? They were a fictional (in fact, two-dimensional) pop group of the late 60s and 70s, created in the studio to add music to their corresponding cartoon series, The Archie Show, which was in turn based on the Archie comic books. It was a pretty awful series, but appealed to an audience which would today be called "tweens," as the characters were all high school students who spent their time annoying adults, causing hijinks, and occasionally solving crimes. Well, if you want to know more about The Archie Show, pick up a comic book.
In 1969, Sugar, Sugar was introduced on the program, and shot to number one on the Billboard chart, remaining there for four weeks, and in fact becoming the number one selling single of the year. Not bad for a band that did not actually exist. The music was played by studio musicians, and became so successful that several albums were released, as if The Archies were an actual group. The series spawned a television genre which included Josie and the Pussycats, Scooby Doo, and Sabrina the Teen Aged Witch, all of whom included musical numbers in their Saturday morning programs.
Before being recorded by The Archies, Sugar, Sugar was offered to The Monkees, who were struggling to break free from the "Bubblegum Pop" genre and be recognized as serious rock musicians (I wrote a bit about that struggle here). Record producer Don Kirshner remembers that Mike Nesmith, the Monkee in the wool hat, rammed his fist through the wall of the Beverly Hills Hotel while refusing to record the number. Anyway, Sugar Sugar did all right for the non-existent Archies, and has been covered by other singers as well.
Here, it's sung by one of the biggest Disney stars of the 1960s and 70s (I should say, one of the biggest Three-Dimensional stars), Kurt Russell. Didn't know he could sing? Well, he really can't, but that didn't stop Uncle Walt from placing him in a few musical situations. He played a supporting role in one of my favorite Disney musicals of the period, The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (I bet a clip from that boffo classic will show up in these pages one day), and below, our clean-cut stud puppy sings at Disneyland (who knew Kurt had dimples!). As you can see, he is singing the song as a duet with an actual professional singer, cuz somebody has to carry the tune. The program was called "Disneyland Showtime," and aired in 1970 on the Wonderful World of Disney (back when the show was Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color).
So, enjoy this week's Dance Party, celebrating Sugar, Sugar, which turns forty years old this year. Sadly, we must mourn the passing of bubblegum music, turtle neck sweaters, double breasted jackets, and Kurt's cutiepie haircut (which I still wear today...go ahead, make fun).
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I absolutely love this story. Have you heard of Shane Fitzgerald? By now you should have, but if not: he's a college student in Dublin (right) who was concerned about the fact-checking (or lack thereof) of current media. The recent death of film composer Maurice Jarre gave him a chance to illustrate his concern. He invented a quote, attributed it to Jarre, and placed it on the composer's Wikipedia page. The administrators of the site promptly removed it, not because of suspicions it was fabricated, but because there was no attribution for the quote. Fitzgerald would not be thwarted, however, and placed the quote back on the page after its removal. (He apparently had to post the quote on Jarre's page three different times, as the Wiki people kept removing it.)
During the period this fake quotation was present on Jarre's Wiki page, it was picked up by "dozens" of bloggers and newspaper websites, and included in their announcements of Jarre's death. No word on how many dozens passed on using the quote because it could not be verified.
Here's the first fun part. All this happened last March, and weeks went by without anybody discovering the hoax. With the impatience of youth, Fitzgerald finally realized that his quote was so convincing, no one was going to recognize it as forgery; he couldn't contain himself, so he spilled the beans. Since his revelation, the media sites in question have, for the most part, removed the quote from their online obituaries, but only one outlet, The Guardian of Britain, has apologized for its slipshod fact-checking.
Here's the next fun part. The blog you are reading was one of the "dozens" which used the fabricated quote. If you pop by the AAvist site regularly, you know that I often write a little obit when someone of interest to me dies. I don't do this for everybody, just people in whom I have an interest, or someone I particularly admired (or despised). In fact, many of my obits contain tidbits about how or why this dead person intersected with my life. I met Charlton Heston once, for example; I attended a taping of Bea Arthur's Maude, and I loved Paul Newman's salad dressing...well, you get the idea.
My Maurice Jarre obit did the same; I spent as much time reminiscing about my mother in the article as I did writing about the dead guy. But here's the part really tickling me now. Yesterday, a comment was posted on my Jarre article, by someone courageously calling himself "Anonymous," who took me to task for "journalistic sloppiness." I hooted with laughter when I read it, then just had to check to see if Shane Fitzgerald himself had found my site. No, he had better ways to waste his time. The comment came from (get this) the University Of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Some student (or teacher!) at this school, presumably in the journalism department, has mistaken my personal blog for an attempt at journalism! Anyone who reads even one of my entries can tell these pages are an outlet for me to write about the life of an actor, and includes my own experiences, my reactions to various shows I have seen, and sometimes my reactions to certain stories in the news. But it ain't "journalism".
Friday, May 8, 2009
Please enjoy this special Dance Party, a moment of heartwarming emotion from Dom and Gilda:
Thursday, May 7, 2009
...no, not that Civil War. I mean The Civil War currently playing at Ford’s Theatre in DC. It’s Frank Wildhorn’s musical version. Except it’s not really a musical. It’s more of a concert, really. Except it’s not really a concert, either. I’ve just checked the program, which calls it a “Song Cycle.” I’ll buy that. Actually, it’s more of a “Song Circle.” The songs circle round and round and round the subject, like the nifty turntable which circles the show’s onstage orchestra.
Which brings me to the first thing I learned from The Civil War: turntables are awfully fun. Especially when someone is walking on one while it is moving in the opposite direction. It’s really fun to watch somebody walking but not getting anywhere. I also learned that a turntable should be used very sparingly when transporting a single, solitary person on and off stage. It sort of makes the performer look like a manikin (there are manikins in this play, too, by the way). The Civil War already has a museum quality to it, which is not helped by the sight of lone actors slowly circling onstage to begin their big number.
What else did I learn from The Civil War? Well, here’s a biggie I learned right up front: the Civil War was only about slavery. Not about regionalism between North, South, and West. Certainly not about States’ Rights vs. Federalism. Not about anything but slavery. This was big news to me; my teachers in grade school spelled out at least three major reasons for the war. But Frank Wildhorn has decided there really was only one cause, and who can blame him? Songs about freedom and slavery and being sold as property and those terrible things, they practically write themselves. On the other hand, songs about political, governmental self-determination must be impossible to write, and really boring, too. I bet not even Stephen Sondheim could do it! Well, actually, he kind of did, in Pacific Overtures, when he wrote the Act II opener (above), all about various foreign governments forcing changes on Japan. Never mind, I never should have brought that up. It does Wildhorn no favors to appear in the same paragraph with Sondheim.
Let’s see, I learned many more things from The Civil War. I learned the talented Chris Sizemore (right) has a great pair of lungs. And a great pair of arms, too. His solo number, “Sarah,” is a standout. So are those biceps in that sleeveless shirt. In fact, everybody looks really good in their costumes, which are contemporary, but with a subtle “period” slant. I think they work great. And it sets up the final moment of the show, when the entire cast suddenly appears onstage dressed in period clothes. The moment is startling, and strikingly effective. (I think I read a review that did not like it, but they are wrong. It’s a quick but stunning moment.)
By the way, I also learned that EVERYBODY looks good in white choir robes.
In terms of learning things, well, I already knew that Stephen Gregory Smith (left) has a great set of pipes. Everybody in town knows that. But did you know he can also blow horns? I didn't, but he can, and he does a bang-up job. I wonder how he learned to pucker so well... I loved his little moment as a dying soldier, asking a nurse to read from the Bible. That reminds me of something else I learned: this show could use more little moments like that. There is almost no book here, but one of the most moving moments (in addition to the nurse sequence) comes when a Union and a Confederate soldier have the briefest of conversations with each other. They don’t SING to each other, they talk to each other, and the scene is heartbreaking in its simplicity. It couldn’t be more than two minutes long, but it is a highlight of the production.
Oh, that reminds me of another thing I learned. Just because an actor appeared on Broadway, it doesn’t mean he’s a dynamic performer. And when somebody is sitting alone onstage, strumming a guitar and singing a ballad, he really needs to be a dynamic performer.
But you know who IS a dynamic performer? My grad school buddy Elliot Dash, who has matured into an actor of depth and gravitas (I mentioned that a while ago, after I saw him in Driving Miss Daisy). Also, I learned from The Civil War that Elliot can hit bass notes. I thought he was a tenor! I can now see Showboat in his future...or at least Big River.
What else? Well, I learned that gospel music, when sung well, never gets old. It’s sung REALLY well here, and it never gets old. But when Power Ballad is piled upon Power Ballad, well, that gets old. No matter how well they are performed (and here, they are performed VERY well).
I learned that playing the keyboard is great for the biceps. Both Jay Crowder and Howard Breitbart tinkle the ivories in the show’s orchestra, and they are doing us all a FINE favor by wearing short sleeve shirts. In fact, they should be required to wear short sleeve shirts, cuz, you know, if you got great guns, let us enjoy them, too.
I also learned that, onstage, the more often actors shake each others’ hands, or pat each other on the back, or hug each other in that “aren’t we best buddies?” kind of way, the more artificial it seems.
I learned that the pronunciation of the word “scourge” rhymes with “gorge.” That is indeed a surprise. I was taught that the pronunciation of the word “scourge” rhymes with “merge.” I just looked it up in my old-fashioned dictionary (you know, the one that sits on your bookshelf, rather than the one which resides in your Microsoft Word), and “Scourge” does indeed rhyme with “merge.” Well, the word was mispronounced by actor Michael Goodwin, and was probably a slip of the tongue. He will correct it in subsequent performances, I’m sure. Except that Goodwin’s performance in The Civil War is all on tape, as he recites various writings of Abe Lincoln. So, when Ford’s Theatre went into the studio and recorded these snippets, nobody noticed that Goodwin was mispronouncing the word “scourge.” Now, they’re stuck with it. The show's press boasted that these pre-recorded speeches were going to be delivered by Hal Holbrook, but I guess that plan fell through. Perhaps Hal disagreed with Ford's on the pronunciation of certain words...
Hey, I learned that, even after a multi-million dollar renovation, the sight lines at Ford’s Theatre still suck. I hate those columns in the audience. I’m always sitting behind one. And it’s pretty frustrating to be seated in orchestra seats but miss many of the swift projections which apparently add depth to the show, because the floor of the balcony is in the way. I bet those projections were great. Wish I could have seen them.
Well, I whined a while ago about trying to see The Civil War on a discounted rate, which ballooned an additional nine dollars when being sold online BY A COMPUTER, so I am very glad I ended up seeing the show anyway. It’s a very strong cast, and probably the best production, concept-wise, this piece is ever likely to receive.