Musicals: Seussical and Urinetown

seussicalMy wife and I continue on our parade of attending musicals. On July 24, we went to Rochester to see Seussical, the Musical at the Blackfriars Theatre.

The program, one of those online-only items that are increasingly common in venues (and also restaurants), notes the massive initial failure of Seussical. “After an initial run in Boston to solidify the evolving script, Seussical premiered on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on November 30, 2000, and received almost universally negative reviews… As a result, Seussical closed after 198 performances, and its estimated financial losses of eleven million dollars make it one of the worst financial flops in Broadway history.”

As a Seuss fan and casual follower of Broadway goings-on, I remember much of this. “And yet, in the most Seuss-like of developments, Seussical, over the past few decades, has developed a long life in frequent productions in schools and theatres throughout the country since the rights became available in 2004… The story of Seussical could easily be one of Seuss’ own titles. His books are replete with characters that refuse to give up on their goals and remain steadfast in the presence of enduring obstacles.”

We really enjoyed this production of high school and college kids. Now, we drove 230 miles because our niece Alexa was in it as part of a trio who would have given The Shangri-Las pop group a run for their money. Ireland Fernandez-Cosgrove starred as The Cat In The Hat, and she was very good, as was the whole ensemble. But I must mention Mason Morrison, who played Jojo. If he chooses to pursue theater or music, he’s likely to be a star by 2037; he turned ten the week after we saw him.

Also, set designer Abigail Manard painted not just the set but about 95% of the Seussian walls. The photo does not do it justice.

Water shortage

In many ways, Urinetown, which my family saw at the Mac-Hadyn Theatre in Chatham, NY in mid-July, is the opposite of Seussical. It’s a comedic musical that “satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics.” It also takes on the musical as a form. In 2002, it won three Tonys, including Best Book Of A Musical (Greg Kotis) and Best Original Musical Score (Mark Hollmann and Kotis), and was nominated seven times.

The story isn’t as far-fetched as it might have been a couple of decades ago. “A twenty-year drought has caused a terrible water shortage, making private toilets unthinkable. All restroom activities are done in public toilets controlled by a megacorporation called ‘Urine Good Company’ (or UGC). To control water consumption, people have to pay to use the amenities.”

On one hand, it is quite funny, occasionally corny. This review is dead-on. “Audiences will relish the return of favorite Gabe Belyeu in a vocal role as Officer Lockstock, the narrator of the piece and Keeper of the Pee-ce in ‘Urinetown, the musical…not Urinetown, the place’, as he repeatedly takes pains to distinguish between the two.” The rest of the cast of young adults is excellent as well.

The Race Card Project

Michele Norris

race card projectThe Race Card Project began with a simple-sounding yet challenging premise.

“In 2010, journalist Michele Norris began inviting people to distill their thoughts on the word race to only six words. Printing 200 postcards and issuing a call to action, Norris and her team were unsure of what – if anything – would result. What took root was a groundswell. With just a small footprint, it was clear Norris created a vehicle for expression and voice for which it seemed many were longing.”

You are invited to make your own Race Card. “Race Cards can be thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, brave, teeming with anger, and shimmering with hope. Some make you smile. Others might make you squirm. You just might wonder why some of the more prickly submissions deserve a place on this website’s Race Card Wall?

“Here’s the answer: The intention is to use these cards to get a peek at America’s honest views about Race, so I must try to honor those people who offer up candor, even if what they share is unsavory or unacceptable in some people’s eyes.”

“The Race Card Project received a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in electronic communications for turning a pejorative phrase into a productive and far-reaching dialogue on a difficult topic. It began as a small experiment encouraging people to talk about race by sharing Six Word essays on their personal experiences or observations. The Six-Word Stories that poured into the mailbox and the online inbox became the basis for a series of reports on NPR’s morning edition, exploring identity, prejudice, pride, and equality.”

Allentown 

I  became aware of the site from this piece on CBS Mornings on July 8, 2022. A study finds a correlation between race demographic shifts and the January 6 Capitol riot. It discovered “that the uniting characteristic of people arrested for the January 6th Capitol riot was that they came from counties that saw a substantial decrease in the white population. Tony Dokoupil visits Allentown, Pennsylvania – a community that saw that decline – and talks to residents about how they feel about it.”

Allentown was over 95% non-Hispanic white in 1970. Now only 31% are in that demographic, with the plurality of the area Hispanic. The oldtimers often are nostalgic for the way things used to be. Of course, the people of Allentown in the 1880s likely said the same thing about the influx of Italians and other groups.

Check out the website and the video.

Personal History: Sunday Stealing

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

daughter, wife, niece, sister, sister, niece (Feb 2011)

This week’s Sunday Stealing is called Personal History, an interesting topic.

1. What would you like people to know about your mother?

I was thinking about this a lot this week. My father was the more outgoing and visible member of the couple. But I doubt they would have been been able to pay the bills if it wasn’t for my mom.

She was a bookkeeper at McLean’s Department Store in Binghamton, NY, then worked at Columbia Gas, not even a block away. When she moved to Charlotte, NC, she was a teller at First Union Bank, which eventually was swallowed by Wells Fargo. I probably got my love of numbers from her. When I told her we were learning base 2, which we were told was the basis of computers, she was clearly excited.

2. What would you like people to know about your father?

I’ll be writing about him on August 10, the anniversary of his death. My eclectic taste in music started with him.

3.  What was your childhood bedroom like?

HA! After my second sister was born, my father put up two walls in the dining room, built a wooden shelf into the two walls, then put a mattress on top of that. My storage was under the “bed,” though my books were around the corner on a bookcase. My dad painted the solar system on the ceiling.

Ballgame

4. What was your favorite activity as a child?

Alone: playing with my baseball cards. With others: playing softball/baseball/kickball. And singing.

5. What was high school like for you?

When we first got there, there was a certain hostility from some because my friends were identified as against the Vietnam war. But by the time I graduated, most of the school was against the war. I was on the stage crew and president of the Red Cross club. I was also president of the student government, which is how I sort of got to introduce Rod Serling.

6. Write about your cousins.

I have no first cousins. My parents were only children. Well, essentially. My mom had a younger sister who died as an infant. So my cousins were my mother’s cousin’s kids who lived in NYC and were a decade or more younger than I. Still, aside from my sisters and their daughters, they’re the closest relatives outside my nuclear household.

7.  What was your favorite food as a child?

Spinach. Totally indoctrinated by Popeye.

8. What was your most memorable birthday?

My 16th was held at the American Civic Association, so it was a real party. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten, gave me Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. She was afraid it might be too country for me; it was not.

9. What world events were significant to you as a child?

The integration of the high school in Little Rock, AR. Sputnik. The Cuban Missile Crisis – I didn’t really understand it, but I grokked adults all being nervous. The assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy. The massive 1965 blackout was the only time I ever heard my father worry about a possible Soviet plot.

To Starr Avenue

10. What did a typical day look like as a child?

During the school year, walk to school about half a mile, usually trying to vary my route. At lunch, walk home to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch, watch JEOPARDY with her sister, my wonderful Aunt Deana, back to school, then walk home with, in geographic order, Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray. I’d walk home.

11. Write about your grandparents. 

Gertrude Williams (1897-1982) operated out of making us afraid of the boogie man. I don’t remember her husband, Clarence Williams (d. 1958), though I may have gone to his funeral. 

Agatha Green (1902-1964) was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to play canasta. She was the first person I knew well to die, and I was devastated. McKinley Green (1896? -1980) was a custodian at WNBF-TV-AM-FM and would bring home stuff the station no longer wanted, such s the soundtrack to The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

12. Did you move as a child?

I moved from the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY, to the first floor when my mother was pregnant with her second child. Until college, that was it.

13. Who taught you to drive?

Several people tried, including the Okie, Uthaclena, my father, and a professional.

14. Which job has been your favorite?

FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order/publisher/convention, where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988.

15. What was the best part of your 30s?

Working at FantaCo, singing in the Trinity UMC choir

1972 #1 hits: Watergate break-in

“I headed for the ditch”

I’ve been writing a lot about 1972 in 2022. 1972 was the year that Richard Nixon went to China, in February. The Watergate break-in was in June. Yet, in November, Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected, much to my distress at the time.

I have the vast majority of these hits of 1972, on vinyl or compact discs. But I was not a singles buyer. All of these songs were gold records except the ones marked *. I suspect the lack of the designation is a function of the record companies not submitting the paperwork.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack, six weeks at #1 – one of the best covers ever, especially if you’ve heard the Ewan MacColl version
Alone Again (Naturally) – Gilbert O’Sullivan, six weeks at #1

American Pie, Parts I and II – Don McLean, four weeks at #1. We sang this at my high school reunion last year
Without You – Nilsson, four weeks at #1. Despite my basic cynicism of romance songs at the time, I was a sucker for this one
I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash. four weeks at #1. there are two songs that made me feel hopeful during the pandemic, and both are on this list

Group named after Vespucci

A Horse With No Name – America, three weeks at #1. Before this became a hit, this group played at SUNY New Paltz for fifty cents admission. I didn’t go, alas.
Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me – Mac Davis, three weeks at #1
Me and Mrs. Jones – Billy Paul, three weeks at #1. A great early Philadelphia International/Gamble and Huff track
The Candy Man – Sammy Davis Jr. with the Mike Curb Congregation, three weeks at #1. NOT my favorite song
Lean On Me – Bill Withers. This is the other inspirational song. Unfortunately, both Nash and Withers died in 2020.

My Ding-A-Ling – Chuck Berry, two weeks at #1. His ONLY #1 hit, and one of the WORST #1 songs ever.

One week at #1

Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) – Looking Glass
Let’s Stay Together  – Al Green. Ah, cousin Al. (He’s not really my cousin, but I used to say that a lot. He was actually born Albert Greene, but sensibly dropped the last letter.)
I Am Woman – Helen Reddy. ANTHEM
*I’ll Take You ThereStaple Singers. I SO love this song and this group
Heart Of Gold – Neil Young. In the liner notes from the compilation album Decade: “This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.”

Oh Girl – Chi-Lites
Ben – Michael Jackson. If you don’t think about the song being about a pet rat…
*Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – the Temptations. Read the intro to this post
Song Sung Blue – Neil Diamond
Black and White – Three Dog Night. I wrote about the history of this song here

 

Nichelle Nichols; Vin Scully

the voice

Nichelle NicholsBarrier-breaking Nichelle Nichols inspired the naming of her Star Trek character. “When [she] came to audition…, she was carrying the book she was reading. Uhuru is a 1962 novel by Robert Ruark about the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, and Roddenberry noticing, a 20-minute conversation ensued… [Gene] Roddenberry was inspired to read the novel and decided to name the communications officer after the title.”

Famously, she got work advice from Martin Luther King, Jr. “He told me that Star Trek was one of the only shows that his wife Coretta and he would allow their little children to stay up and watch. I thanked him, and I told him I was leaving the show. All the smile came off his face, and he said, ‘You can’t do that. Don’t you understand, for the first time, we’re seen as we should be seen? You don’t have a Black role. You have an equal role.'” And, of course, she stayed on the series and for several movies.

It only occurred to me later that one of the reasons my father was drawn to Star Trek was that she was one of the few black people on network television, along with Greg Morris as electronics expert Barney Collier on Mission: Impossible and very few others.

NASA recruiter

People magazine: “Last December, the star made her final convention appearance before her many fans as part of a three-day farewell celebration at L.A. Comic-Con. Nichols was seen waving, blowing kisses, and flashing Star Trek’s famous Vulcan salute to the many fans… She was surrounded by members of her family and longtime friends, including… former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who joined NASA as a result of Nichols’ role in recruiting women and minorities into the space program in the 1970s and 1980s [thanks to] her Star Trek fame.”

Her impact is seen in the many tributes: George Takei (Sulu) wrote: “My heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”

Also paying homage: Zoe Saldana (Uhura in the 2009 movie) and Celia Rose Gooding (Uhura in the Paramount+ series). Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan on ST: TNG) said, “Nichelle was the first Black person I’d ever seen who made it to the future.” Nichelle Nichols was 89.

Iconic broadcaster

Vin ScullyIn baseball announcing, Vin Scully was the Greatest Of All Time. The Los Angeles Times touted his “folksy manner and melodic language.”

He covered the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers for 67 years until 2016, from “the 1950s era of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson” to “Clayton Kershaw, Manny Ramirez, and Yasiel Puig in the 21st century.” He also covered golf, tennis, and the NFL. “In 2010, the American Sportscasters Association named him the greatest sportscaster of the 20th century.”

Scully was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982; here’s a Scully bobblehead. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016.

The Los Angeles Times declared: “For legions of Dodgers fans, Vin Scully was the voice of their beloved baseball team. But for many Angelenos, the ginger-haired broadcaster was more like a family member: a grandfather, a tío, someone they welcomed into their homes on game day.

“Heartbroken fans mourning Scully’s passing… at age 94 say it felt like a death in the family.

“‘It almost felt like I lost my father again,’ said Desiree Jackson, who took the bus from skid row to Dodger Stadium to lay flowers and pray at the makeshift memorial that sprang up there overnight. ‘I fell in love with sports because of my dad, and my brother, and Vin.'”

Here is Mark Evanier on his father’s love of the Dodgers and Scully. An emotional Ken Levine wrote: “No one besides my father has had as much impact on my life as Vin Scully,” and was thrilled to have worked with him.

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