Weird; Godspell; The 39 Steps

Day By Day

Here’s a roundup of some entertainment I’ve seen recently.

The first and only thing I’ve gotten around to seeing on my newish Roku set is the movie Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, starring the unlikely but oddly convincing Daniel Radcliff. I’m a  big Weird Al fan, owning at least 90% of his work on LP or CD.

I imagine that familiarity with not only the music but the backstory of the creation of the songs and the launching of this career would enhance the appreciation of the storyline. The movie was written by Al and director Eric Appel, and it is a parody of biopic films about musicians.

It’s often funny, definitely silly, and inevitably excessive, especially in the second half, featuring Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), when the pace sags for me.

The pool scene featuring Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), Wolfman Jack (Jack Black), and several well-known icons is my favorite. I also liked the resolution involving Al’s father (Toby Huss). And Al is convincing s the record producer who wants to have nothing to do with Weird Al.

The film sometimes seems rushed, probably because of its 18-day shooting schedule, but I’m glad I saw it.


My wife and I had said in the spring that we might see three or four shows at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY, over the summer. Suddenly, it was Sunday, August 13, and the final day of the third or fourth show. She said, do you want to go see Godspell?

I love Godspell. In 1976, I was in a production in New Paltz. I’ve seen the movie starring Victor Garber.

But this Godspell was sublime. Check out this review:  ” This Godspell, this gospel according to [director Trey] Compton, is an edgy, piercing, gritty, brilliant piece of theatre… “

This is how the show starts: “Cue the Gospel. As the ensemble cast of eight enters, each clutches a cell phone in his or her hand as if they are the last lifelines to their very existence. The soon-to-be disciples are quite literally separated one from another by virtue of Compton’s sharp and intentional staging, scattered about the theatre like the wandering souls they are at this moment.

“Looking for all the world like a world-weary crowd gathered on a dark subway track awaiting the last train of the day, they begin to deliver the Prologue/Tower of Babble, a number not always included in every production, but thankfully included here…

“[It] is a truly unique, brilliant, thought-provoking, cutting-edge work of theater art.” That says it all.


My wife wanted to know if I wanted to go to the Spectrum Theatre to see the film The 39 Steps (1935). I had never seen it, so absolutely.

What I liked is that the protagonist, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian vacationing in London, didn’t believe the mysterious agent Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) and her fanciful tale about an international spy ring involving something called the “39 steps.”

That is, until Smith ends up dead in Hannay’s apartment, with him as the only suspect. Hannay has to elude those chasing him while trying to figure out the truth behind the secret. His life becomes entangled with Pamela   (Madeleine Carroll), his unwilling accomplice, who doesn’t believe Richard any more than Richard initially believed Annabella.

The chase is a bit improbable, as the pursuers are mainly inept. It’s also a very humorous and early rom-com.

Incidentally, I did see The 39 Steps before, but it involved shadow puppets.

W is for Weird

Steve Silverman was a high school science teacher who wrote a book called Einstein’s Refrigerator and Other Stories from Flip Side Of History. Guess which story shows up as the very first in this book?

I need to tell you about Mike the Headless Chicken. Then I’ll tell you something REALLY weird.

On September 10, 1945, there was a farmer in Fruita, Colorado named Lloyd Olsen who experienced something unusual. Being a farmer, unsurprisingly, from time to time, Lloyd would lop off the head of a chicken, or in this case, a rooster. While the cliche about running around like a chicken with his head cut off is true, this particular poultry was still strutting his stuff the next day. So Lloyd decided to feed the bird, using an eyedropper full of ground-up grain and water, with “little bits of gravel down his throat to help the gizzard grind up the food.”

Mike could hang on high perches without falling, gurgle in a faux crowing style, even attempt to preen his non-existent head.

Sideshow promoter Hope Wade convinced Lloyd to put Miracle Mike on tour, and for a time, he made $4500 per month, from 25-cent viewings, good money even in these days. Mike even made it into LIFE magazine, a hugely popular US periodical in the day.

Guesstimates were that, sadly, Mike died in March 1947, eighteen months after the beheading, from choking on his mucus.

But the legacy of Mike the Headless Chicken lives on. On May 17, 1999, Fruita held its first Mike the Headless Chicken Day, complete with a 5K Run Like a Chicken race. You’ve missed the 2010 event in May, alas, but there’s always next year. Punchline of the festival theme song: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To try to find his head!”

I first became aware of Mike when I watched the October 8, 2000 episode of CBS Sunday Morning, not long after the show aired. Subsequently, I came across a PBS documentary and even a film about Mike.

Now here’s the weird part.

My wife and I have a friend named Kelly. Kelly used to have lots of parties we used to attend before parenthood. At these parties, we met her friend named Steve Silverman. Steve was a high school science teacher who wrote a book, published in 2001, called Einstein’s Refrigerator and Other Stories from Flip Side Of History. Guess which story shows up as the very first in his book? If you guessed Einstein’s refrigerator, you would be wrong.

With the tape from CBS News and the chapter from Steve’s book, my wife put together lesson plans that her junior high students really ate up enjoyed. Read Steve’s chapter about Mike the Headless Chicken here, and other information dubbed by Steve himself as useless here.

ABC Wednesday

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