Frozen; The Band’s Visit- Proctors

Frozen: technically brilliant

Band's Visit.playbillOne of the perks of retirement is that I’ve gotten season’s ticket to see musical matinees at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. Oh, I’ve had them before, but it’s been a few years that I went to the THURSDAY matinees. Those particular matinees mean three things: cheaper tickets, a lot of older patrons, and best of all, a discussion with the cast after the shows.

In some ways, the after-show talk is the best part. For instance, there were three cast members fielding questions from the audience at the mid-November 2019 performance of Frozen. I had seen the movie when it came out and thought it was though it was fine.

The cast let us know that they were up in Schenectady running technical rehearsals. Probably for geographic reasons, Proctors is often the first show on national tours. This involves making sure the show is set not just for that venue but all of the subsequent ones.

The three performers were a guy who was in the ensemble, a woman with a small role who was otherwise in the ensemble, and the guy who voiced the Olaf the snowman puppet-like creature. The first two had to make costume changes after almost every scene. The controller of Olaf had less changing, but had to make sure it was the snowman, not the person operating him, who was the focus.

Technically, Frozen was brilliant. Thanks to lighting, smoke and other effects, one believed the country was getting colder. There were audible gasps and even applause with the transition. The show was well-performed, but the extra songs did not enhance the narrative. I thought the second act in particular dragged. But I blame the script/songs, not the performers.

2018 Best Musical

Here’s the plot of The Band’s Visit. “When an Egyptian police band gets stranded in a tiny Israeli town, the musicians wait in a cafe — and get to talking with the locals.”

It is “one of four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial “Big Six” Tony Awards, which include Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. It won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.”

My wife and I enjoyed a performance in late December. The woman behind me clearly did not. “Thank God it’s over!” We surmise it’s because there’s no big numbers in The Band’s Visit to let one know It’s A Broadway Show. It’s more subtle than that.

The four cast members we saw afterwards, all men, were particularly engaging. A couple of them were from the Middle East. One said he loved the show because it’s an antidote from being told he could only play a doctor or a terrorist.

Not incidentally, two of the leads in the show were played by understudies. Was that to allow them a chance to play a show or two each week? NO, the usual leads were not available.

Silly political quiz and process

NYS presidential primary April 28

voting.booth The New York Times had an online quiz that I filled out a couple weeks ago. It asks you how you stand on certain issues. It then supposedly tells you who your ideal candidate would be, picking from among those still in the Democratic race.

Strictly by the criteria, Bernie Sanders was my #1 pick (10/10), followed by Elizabeth Warren (8/10), Michael R. Bloomberg (5/10), Tom Steyer (4/10), Pete Buttigieg (3/10), and Joseph R. Biden Jr., Amy Klobuchar, and Andrew Yang (2/10 each).

Except, as Mark Evanier noted: “Here’s the problem with a quiz like this. I have to answer each question Yes or No and I don’t think either choice correctly describes my position on most of these questions.” Quite true.

Do you view President Trump’s election as an anomaly? My answer isn’t Yes or No. It’s more like, “I’m not surprised that a lot of Americans wanted what he was offering. I think it’s an anomaly that so many people became convinced he was presidential material and could or would deliver on those promises.”

Moreover, one could find 10, or 100 more questions, meaningful questions, that would totally skew the results.

In the Wall Street Journal, Sheila Barr made The Republican Case for Elizabeth Warren. “She has independence and integrity and is no socialist. She just wants the market to work for everyone.”

Will my vote matter?


But the New York State Democratic primary isn’t until April 28. There’s no way to know who’ll even be in the race by then, besides Mike Bloomberg, who’s self-funding his campaign. My choices will be made by who’s left after the wacky Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire, which, unlike in closed primary New York, allows non-Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary.

Certainly, my options will be determined by Super Tuesday on March 3, when California, Massachusetts, Virginia and other states vote. I feel for supporters of those fallen candidates, such as Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, and Jay Inslee, whose supporters never even got to cast a ballot at all.

The Democrats, because they’re Democrats, will continue to snipe about whoever is the candidate as too liberal or too corporate or too whatever. The incumbent gets four more years, and the recriminations will continue. Incidentally, I think it was brilliant political theater that DJT held rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire in conjunction with the Democrats’ selection process.

I also think that the concentration on Ukraine in the impeachment process ended up hurting Joe Biden in Iowa. It’s likely that some Democrats were scared off by the sniff of scandal and preferred a candidate that wouldn’t have to defend against it in the general election.

Yes, I’m voting on April 28. But unlike some folks, I’m not promising to pick a certain candidate in the primary this far out. I’ve long thought primary voting is “from the heart”. Whereas the general election in November, I’ve already made up my mind.

Cybill Shepherd turns 70

Moonlighting (1985-1989)

Cybill Shepherd.Bruce Willis.NewsweekCybill Shepherd turns 70 today. That, of course got me thinking about the television series Moonlighting. It was a very entertaining show at first, which ran off the rails for various reasons.

It occurred to me that if such a show were made now, not dependant upon a 22-show season, it might have worked better.

The Moonlighting set was, by all accounts, a miserable place. And it started so well. “After reading the script, [Cybill] immediately realized this was a part she wanted to do…

“During her first meeting with [Glenn Gordon] Caron and producer Jay Daniel, [she] remarked that it was reminiscent of a ‘Hawksian’ comedy. The two had no idea what she was talking about, so she suggested they screen Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, and His Girl Friday, three of her favorites, to see how the overlapping dialogue was handled.”

The premise: “Top model Maddie Hayes [Cybill Shepherd] was betrayed by her investment adviser… All the unfaithful manager has left Maddie is her house, her unbelievable beauty and intelligence and the run-down detective-agency… renamed by Maddie into ‘Blue Moon’.

“Because of her lack of money, she wants to sell the agency, but the houses only detective David Addison [Bruce Willis] tries to convince her to join the agency as the new boss. So Maddie Hayes becomes involved in the work of a real private detective… While doing this Maddie and David… recognize their complete difference in life-style, humour, amusement and of course in the way how to run a detective agency.”

Too many words, too little time

Moonlighting was a hit with TV audiences and critics. But it became increasingly difficult to keep on schedule. “Typical scripts for an average one-hour television show run 60 pages, but those for Moonlighting were nearly twice as long due to the fast talking overlapping dialogue of the main characters.

“While the average television show would take seven days to shoot, Moonlighting would take from 12–14 days to complete with episodes and dialogue frequently being written by Caron the same day they were shot.”

The days were too exhausting for Cybill Shepherd from the beginning. Her real-life pregnancy a couple seasons in added to the stress. She was considered “difficult,” a reputation that dogged her in future projects.

Bruce Willis broke his clavicle during a skiing accident. Then when he had a hit movie, Die Hard, his patience with Moonlighting production delays grew thin. “‘Willis… suddenly cared a lot ‘about not working, about getting out of work, leaving work early,’ a source told People at the time.”

What if the show actually had a bigger budget, and more time to finish each episode? Would it have survived? No way to know. But the quality would not have plummeted, with the storyline shifting to secondary characters. Those early shows were lots of fun, at least at the time.

Big Man on Mulberry Street episode.
Maddie’s dream, from that episode, based on the Billy Joel song.
Theme, sung by Al Jarreau
The single Moonlighting – Al Jarreau, 23 pop, 32 soul in 1987

Presidents Day: living exes

The pendulum now swings the other way

herbert hoover
Herbert Hoover, 31st President (1929-1933) lived until 1964
There have been times in this nation’s history when the United States has had only one living President, and others when we’ve had as many as six current and former Commanders-in-Chief.

Of course, George Washington was the first President (April 30, 1789-March 4, 1797). When he died on December 14, 1799, his successor, John Adams, was the only living President until March 4, 1801, when Thomas Jefferson took over.

These things wax and wane. From March 4, 1861 to January 18, 1862, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler (who died on the latter date), Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and the then-current occupant, Abraham Lincoln were all alive.

Yet, a decade and a half later, the US experienced the longest period with no living ex-Presidents, from July 31, 1875, when Andrew Johnson died, until the end of Ulysses Grant’s term on March 4, 1877. Taylor (1850) and Lincoln (1865) had died in office, and other ex-Presidents died relatively shortly after leaving the office.

And then, there were none

When Grover Cleveland died on June 24, 1908, there were no living ex-Presidents until Theodore Roosevelt’s term ended in March 1909, and Howard Taft became President.

Calvin Coolidge died on January 5, 1933, making lame-duck Herbert Hoover as the only living President until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration in March.

Richard Nixon became the only living President when Lyndon B. Johnson died on January 22, 1973 until Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford took over on August 9, 1974.

The pendulum now swings the other way.
From January 20, 1993 to April 22, 1994: Nixon (died on the latter date), Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton (incumbent)

From January 20, 2001 to June 4, 2004: Ford, Carter, Reagan (died on the latter date), GHW Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush (incumbent)

From January 20, 2017 to November 30, 2018: Carter, GHW Bush (died on the latter date), Clinton, GW Bush, Barack Obama, Trump (incumbent)

Losing for winning

Sometimes, the person who loses the popular vote wins the Presidency.
1824 – John Quincy Adams lost both the electoral and popular votes but won the election. Because none of the four candidates, including his eventual successor Andrew Jackson, won a majority in the Electoral College, the vote was sent to the House of Representatives. They decided JQ was the best man for the job.

1876 – Rutherford B. Hayes who won the disputed electoral vote v. Samuel J. Tilden who won the popular vote

1888 – Benjamin Harrison won the electoral vote v. Grover Cleveland who won the popular vote. Cleveland both preceded and succeeded Harison

2000 – George W. Bush won the electoral vote v. Al Gore who won the popular vote.

2016 = Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million, a lead of 48.3% to 46.2%. But her opponent received 304 electoral votes to her 227.

Also

Why No One Can Agree on What George Washington Thought About the Relationship Between Church and State

Lincoln bible unveiled in Springfield, IL

Now I Know: Almost Saved By the Bell

Z is for Abraham Zapruder, who filmed JFK’s asassination

Author Jeff Sharlet at APL April 22

born in Schenectady County, NY

Sharlet, Jeff_credit_JuliaRabig“Why do we sometimes gravitate toward the unknown when we feel alone? The writing in Jeff Sharlet’s gorgeous new book, ‘This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers,’ takes place between lonely traumas: his father’s heart attack and his own, two years later. As a magazine writer and the author of several books, Sharlet has made a long career of telling stories, but after his heart attack he started to re-evaluate the kinds he thought were worthwhile.”

That’s the opening of the stellar review in the New York Times of Sharlet’s seventh book. “He turned to posting snapshots on Instagram. These were not solipsistic selfies but images of strangers and their lives.” It’s a book framed by insomnia, late-night driving and “the companionship of other darkness-dwellers: night bakers and last-call drinkers, frightened people and frightening people, the homeless and the lost (or merely disoriented), addicts and people on the margins.”

Jeff, who was born in Schenectady County, notes that while most of the book is reported, every now and then, it returns to the personal. He says it’s a very upstate book. Three chapters take place in Schenectady, including the longest narrative text-image sequence and the penultimate scene. There are a few other bits of the Capital District, too. It also takes place in L.A., Moscow, Dublin, and Vermont, but there’s a Schenectady sensibility throughout, he believes.

The Family

The acclaimed author and journalist is noted for The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, his bestselling 2008 book. It explores the most powerful and most weirdly secretive Christian conservative organization in Washington. The book was adapted to a 2019 five-part Netflix documentary series, THE FAMILY.

Jeff Sharlet is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College. His work has earned numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award and the Outspoken Award.

Please join The Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library for the National Library Week Distinguished Author Dinner and Lecture on Wednesday, April 22th with author Jeff Sharlet. The dinner begins at five o’clock p.m. at the University Club, 141 Washington Avenue in Albany and costs $30 per person. If you wish to attend, please purchase tickets online.

The lecture by Mr. Sharlet begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington Avenue Branch, 161 Washington Avenue. It is free and open to the public.