Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Film You Won't Soon Forget

Unless, of course, you're the main character in this movie.

Okay, okay, that was a cheap joke.   And, frankly, I don't want to be one making fun of this dreaded Azlheimer's disease.   So I need to disclose right from the get-go that I'm reviewing the movie not the condition.

The obvious stuff first.   Julianne Moore won this year's Best Actress Oscar for her role as a renowned college professor diagnosed with the disease at the relatively early age of 50.   The award was merited.   Miss Moore took some risks with this performance and all the pain and confusion is perfectly displayed up there on the silver screen.

It's a shame she had to come down with it in this movie.   Written by these writers.   And directed by these directors.  The culprits are Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and they're the main reason why "Still Alice" is a mediocre movie, despite the acting talents of its star.  I feel a little bad writing that because Mr. Glatzer just died of ALS.  I'm sure he and his life mate, Mr. Westmoreland, were/are very nice people.  But, here, I am reviewing their work on this movie, not their lives.

And their work on this film is nothing short of a Lifetime movie that you saw on a rainy Sunday afternoon two months ago.  You know the kind I mean?  Justine Bateman as the heroine with John Stamos as the long suffering husband.   In the case of "Still Alice," they've been given Tiffany jewelry but have opted to wear the cubic zirconium wrist band they saw Susan Lucci advertise last night on QVC.

You know the plot already and you know that Moore's character will get worse over time.   The family will wring their hands and fumble through their attempts to make the situation better.  It's been done many times over in many other films.   Miss Moore's performance elevates it to another level.   But, at the same time, the writing and directing, which is incredibly amateurish and uninspired, sinks it all.   

I mean, just think about this sappy and hackneyed device.   Every time Moore's character has an episode of confusion, everything in the background becomes cloudy.  Duh?  You can't convey the scene any better than that.   After ninety minutes of this nonsense, not only do you sympathize for Julianne Moore, you also can identify with anybody who's suffering with a cataract.

"Still Alice" was Julianne Moore's crowning glory.   Gee, let's see what she can do when she gets some really good people to work with.

LEN'S RATING:  Two stars.

Dinner last night:  Had to fast all day so I ate my lunch sandwich at night.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - March 30, 2015

We conclude our eighth anniversary month-long celebration with that classic...a damn stupid cat.

Dinner last night:  Chicken steak and salad.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - My Life On The New York Stage

Well, not really on stage.  But does being in the audience count?

I just enjoyed a week in New York and I wound up going to not one, not two, but three different shows.  No excursion to my former and still sometime home gave me a taste of what my life used to be like than this one.  Back in the days when I used to go to a new show once a month, if not more.  Seeing the new hot musical as soon as it would open.  Checking out the buzz for some clever comedy still in previews.

That would be me. And, other than my friends, the NY theater scene is the one thing I miss most after re-locating to Los Angeles.  Oh, sure, I go to shows there.  And, trust me, the venues on the West Coast offer more amenities, wider seats, and ample more legroom.  But, there is nothing more exciting than seeing live people performing in front of you.  Perhaps on a stage that is over 100 years old.

So, the last journey prompted me to open up my NY file cabinet.  Every Playbill gets thrust in there.  I open it again and they spill out in no particular order.  And the memories...or, in some cases, lack of them...overwhelm me.

Angry Housewives:  This sounds like one I got dragged to by my good buddy and theater maven, Lorraine.   She has all the inside scoop on what's new and what's coming.  She must have gotten advance word on this.  It played Off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater.  Sadly, I remember nothing of the play, the venue, or even the meal beforehand.  Anybody? 

Sophisticated Ladies: I vaguely remember seeing this tribute to Duke Ellington. Must have been 25 years ago at least. I vaguely remember not liking it. I vaguely remember enjoying parts of it. I vaguely remember remembering.

My Fair Lady: No, not the original with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. How old do you think I am??? This is one of my favorite musicals with a no-name Brit cast.

The Crucifer of Blood:  It's amazing to pick up an old and yellowed Playbill to see cast notes and realize that you saw somebody before they were well known. This Sherlock Holmes mystery included Glenn Close as a femme fatale, ages before she cooked a rabbit in "Fatal Attraction."  And, in a supporting role, there's Dwight Schultz.  Heck, didn't he end up on "The A Team??"

The Front Page:  Yeah, this play's been around for almost a century.  The version I saw starred Richard Thomas, John Lithgow, and Julie Hagerty.  There's the dreaded slip of paper included that tells me Miss Hagerty was understudied that night.  I probably dropped an F bomb or two.

Present Laughter: I saw a Noel Coward play? Apparently. I actually saw George C. Scott live on stage. Apparently. And, listed in smaller roles, I apparently also saw Nathan Lane and Christine Lahti at very early stages of their careers. 

Victor/Victoria:  I loved the movie so I, of course, saw the Broadway version in previews.  It still hadn't opened because I saw director Blake Edwards making notes at the end of the row I was seated in.   This was Julie Andrews singing before the botched surgery.  Oh, and speaking of Nathan Lane, I met him in the men's room at intermission and we traded chit-chat about the show as we peed side-by-side.

Gilda Radner Live From New York:  As Yogi Berra would say, I saw this when she was alive.   Sad, sad, sad.

Precious Sons: I have no recollection of what this play was, when I saw it, what it was about, or whether I enjoyed it. I hope the meal was good that night. The small cast includes Judith Ivey and Ed Harris. Not just unmemorable. Memory-less.

The Graduate: Oh, yeah. A brutal night in the theater. One of the worst evenings I ever spent on the planet, let alone a Broadway theater. The stage version of the movie was a sewage spill. Kathleen Turner took her clothes off, but you could see nothing because they reduced the lighting to 30 watt bulbs. I remember being pissed because the theater was full of tourists, who gave this a standing ovation. It was like they heard Bennigan's was giving out free buffalo wings. One slob in the row ahead of me was munching on potato chips. I think I spit my gum on his coat. 

Same Time Next Year:  So long ago that the girl I took has been married for probably 25 years.   I remember they used to shuttle in TV actors to do this play as a means of keeping it running for ages.   I saw it with Loretta Swit and Ted Bessell.  Like my date, he's long gone, too.  Not married.  Dead.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee:  This is the Broadway show that got Jesse Tyler Ferguson of "Modern Family" on the road to success.  He apparently was in it that night, according to my Playbill.  So was Josh Gad who amounted to something as well.

Chicago: This was when the revival of the revival first opened. I actually saw Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking. A great production that inspired the movie. Reinking fell about ten feet into the orchestra pit and that was the most original choreography of the show.

Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway: A Neil Simon play from about 15 years that never became either a movie, a TV show, a musical, or, apparently, a good play. I have no clue what it was about, except it probably was based on about five minutes of his life.

The Music Man: Arguably one of my top ten Broadway experiences. This is the revival that came out about 9 years ago with Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker. My favorite music of all time and they did it justice.

Night of the Iguana: I am not sure how I saw this, except perhaps I had a book report due. According to the cast list, I saw Jane Alexander perform live for probably fifty bucks. I also once saw her crossing a street in Westwood for nothing.

Whose Life is It Anyway?: This was ages ago. Mary Tyler Moore took the male lead. I had seats in the very front row. Depressing, of course. As are most plays about people with broken necks and spines.

Show Boat: This was the revival about 15 years ago, and I remember liking it a lot. Nice cast. Audra McDonald. Rebecca Luker. Elaine Stritch. I saw the latter in her own one-woman show, too.   I do recall having a fight with the woman next to me who would not dissolve a sour ball in her mouth.

They're Playing Our Song: Well, heck, I was bound to pick up this Playbill. You've no doubt read about this musical in my blog before.  I saw the freakin' show five times. It was one of those Broadway experiences of serendipity. I loved it so much that I had to treat all my friends to it one at a time. In retrospect, the score was just okay, the script was a little sitcom, and it really was only about two characters. But, it became the only musical score that I would sing out loud to completion at home. This particular Playbill must have been early in the run, because it lists the original players, Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz.

The Devil's Disciple:  Another one I am completely clueless about.  George Bernard Shaw wrote it.  Okay, I know him.  The cast?  Philip Bosco.  Victor Garber.  Rosemary Murphy.  Anybody?

The Pirates of Penzance:  I saw it years ago when Linda Ronstadt was in it and really nice to look at.  If nothing else, this particular blog entry is aging the crap out of me.

Meet Me in St, Louis:   They made this legendary screen musical into a stage version and I remember tourists from Missouri flocked to see it.  As a matter of fact, I took a friend from Missouri who was visiting at the time.  Oh, look, more actors who have passed were in the cast that night.  Betty Garrett and Milo O'Shea.  Yikes!  The passage of time.

On The Twentieth Century:  Yes, you just read my review of the 2015 revival.  Well, I found the Playbill for the first version.  By the time I saw it, Madeline Kahn was long gone.  I had John Cullum, Judy Kaye, Kevin Kline, and Imogene Coca.   And, way down in the small print in a bit part, the now well-known Christine Ebersole.

Grease:  Okay, this thing has been running since William Shakespeare was in short pants.   I knew I saw it at some point.  The version I saw had Brooke Shields as Rizzo.   And TV's own Adrian Zmed.   At the time, it likely prompted me to use the joke that "I never miss an Adrian Zmed musical."

Lunch Hour:  I totally forgot that I saw Gilda Radner on Broadway twice.  This time, it was a comedy (?) with Sam Waterston.  The play was directed by Mike Nichols.   So, I suppose this was a big deal.   Unfortunately, even big deals can fade from memory.

Sugar Babies:  It was a huge hit and ran as long as Ann Miller's long legs and Mickey Rooney's short legs could.  It was the hottest ticket on Broadway when I was much younger and the gags in the show were already a thousand and one years old.  

Grandchild of Kings:  This had disaster written all over it for me.  It was an Irish theater company way off-Broadway.  I went because my date was doing pro bono work for the play's famed director Hal Prince.  It was one of those theater events where the actors would have scenes in the audience.  I remember that one of them next to me screamed so loud that I was wearing his saliva.  The things you do for a cute girl. 

Picnic: It's one of my favorite movies and I wanted to finally see the stage play in some revival from about 15 years ago. Kyle Chandler and Ashley Judd played the leads. I didn't think she appeared anywhere unless it was a B movie with Morgan Freeman. I remember preferring the movie over the play.

Carousel: Wow, I recall this evening. It was a Lincoln Center revival and another great performance by Audra McDonald. But, there was more to the evening. I was taken by a friend and her then 15 year-old daughter as a Christmas present. I almost didn't go. My mom was on a respirator at the time and we were just waiting for the inevitable. They convinced me to partake in the show as a respite. I know I was a mental mess by the end when they did "You'll Never Walk Alone" (which, by the way, was not written by Jerry Lewis). But I will always be grateful that they coaxed me out that night. She died the next evening.

And that's what I call a lasting NY theater memory.  But, heck, aren't they all?

Dinner last night:  Not feeling well so just Greek yogurt with strawberries.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - March 2015

The movie that comes in at #3 amongst my most favorite films of all time.   The cool thing with any Alfred Hitchcock trailer was that he used to do them himself.   And this one for "North By Northwest" is no different.

Dinner last night:  Chicken salad sandwich.

Friday, March 27, 2015

33 1/3 RPM Albums from Hell

I wonder if he'd do anything by Whitesnake.
Note the price tag on the album.   Still overpriced.
That was actually the nickname of a girl I knew in college.
He blow drys it every morning for about three hours.
I'll take a drumstick...and two breasts.
I don't think we want to know.

I wonder what's on the flip side.
Not impressed.  My mother could do four at a time.
Now that's one strong piano bench.
Well, then, it sucks to be you.
Somehow I think Julie's sixteenth birthday was about ten years ago.
All my mailman can do is...well...he can't do much of anything.

Dinner last night:  Garlic chicken.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

More Than Just a Play

Sometimes the really good story's not on the stage.

My March Broadway whirlwind continued with a snowy Friday night excursion to see "It's Only a Play."  This is a show that is loaded with stars and different actors have been shuttled in and out like a revolving door at Sardi's.  The latest edition features Martin Short and that was my primary reason to see it.  I'd watch him recite the lunch menu at the Carnegie Deli.

For the performance I attended, I was notified at the purchase of said tickets that co-star Matthew Broderick would be on vacation this night.  Okay, no worries.  I have heard the buzz that Bueller is the weakest thing in the play.  But, as I open my Playbill, another dreaded slip of paper falls out.  The guy playing the role of Frank Finger is being understudied as well.  Supposedly, the departing actor had left the show the night before to go film a television pilot.  No loss.   I didn't know who he was anyway.

So, the comedy by Terrence McNally is suitably witty and bitchy and very inside-Broadway.  It plays out like an extended episode of "Will and Grace."  It's all about a bunch of show business types holed up in the swanky bedroom of a Broadway producer who just opened her new play.  The after-premiere party is going on downstairs.  Our cast of characters is waiting for the New York Times review upstairs.  Everybody spins like a whirling dervish around each other.

The dialogue has a feel that it's updated every day.  The jokes are that topical.  I am pleased because Marty is doing a little ad libbing of his usual shtick.  He makes a joke about "The Goodbye Girl," which he starred in a long while ago on Broadway.  He works in a spot-on impersonation of Harvey Fierstein.  He even invokes the name of Nathan Lane, whose role in this play he assumed.

All good.

The rest of the cast has wonderful moments.   Stockard Channing as a drug-addled actress who's also wearing a court-ordered tracking device around her ankle.  Katie Finneran, who I adored in "Promises, Promises" and "Company," is suitably ditzy as the producer.  F. Murray Abraham is the toupee-coiffed theater critic who must take off his rug when a plate of lasagna lands on it.  And Micah Stock, in his Broadway debut, steals scenes left and right as the party's coat-check boy.  His delivery is akin to a super-low-IQ version of Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory."

The first act, while very funny, seems to drag on a little bit too long.  Nevertheless, who can argue with laughter in the theater?  I note the two understudies on stage.  But wonder to myself how the original actors would be in the roles.

Okay, my friend and I got two sippy cups of Diet Coke at intermission.  I head to the bathroom and come back to find my theater compatriot in conversation with the guy seated next to her.  No surprise here.  She's prone to striking up a dialogue with an empty chair.  Nevertheless, I am introduced.  

As it happens, the young lady with the man is the fiancee of the understudy playing British director Frank Finger.  He's only gone on once before.   Because he is subbing for a whole week, her dad next to her rode down on the train from Rochester, NY to see the show.   

Suddenly, I'm actively engaged in this real life story.  This was a first time for both of them.  And obviously a big deal in the life of the actor on stage.  I pepper with some questions.  Does he really have a British accent?  No, he's from Texas.  Are you going backstage after the show?  Yes.  Can two other people wander behind you?

The show took on a whole new light with me.  During the second act, I not only paid attention to the action on the stage, but I also tried to watch the reactions of those patrons in Seats 5 and 7.  It was a hoot to watch their excitement.  And I myself focused my attention on the actor whose name fell out of my Playbill on a slip of paper.  

Indeed, with my senses heightened and perhaps a crisper pace, the second act worked magically for me.  At the conclusion, we wished our new friends all the best and told them to convey it to the actor as well.   There was no offer to drag us along for the rest of the evening, but that was fine.  I had made a human connection to this play and it made me realize that theater is presented by real people doing real jobs and trying to succeed in very real ways.  Those are honest-to-goodness living and breathing folks up there.  

And that's why I love going to live theater.  It's real.  It's organic.   And, more times than not, very, very good.

I go home and naturally become a private detective.  I Google the actor.  He's done some work in his young career, but a Linked In entry lists him as an
actor and real estate agent."   I guess you have to pay the bills before you can really pay the bills.  I see he's got a Facebook page and I tap in.   The heading is the Dallas Cowboys logo.  


I do a bizarre thing and drop him a Facebook message.   I explain that we were seated next to his girlfriend and her dad at this performance.   I thanked him for his performance and also the impromptu opportunity to share in their excitement.  Maybe he'll see.  Maybe he won't.  Nevertheless, it was something I needed to do.  He reminded me one more time that live theater is just that...live.  And crafted by some very gifted individuals.

Thank you, Ben Hollandsworth.  For letting me know one more time that it's more than just a play.

Dinner last night:  Long travel day for me, but I brought on the plane a proscuitto and provolone wedge with sweet peppers from Angelo's Deli in Yonkers.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This Date in History - March 25

Happy birthday, Elton John.  The music of your life has been the music of my life.

421:  VENICE IS FOUNDED AT TWELVE O'CLOCK NOON, ACCORDING TO LEGEND.

Actually it was 12:10PM.   There was a pre-game show on TBS.

708:  POPE CONSTANTINE SUCCEEDS POPE SISINNIUS AS THE 88TH POPE.

Because the former Pope had a sisinnius infection.

1199:  RICHARD I IS WOUNDED BY A CROSSBOW BOLT WHILE FIGHTING FRANCE, LEADING TO HIS DEATH ON APRIL 6.

Leading to...I guess...a Richard II.

1306:  ROBERT THE BRUCE BECOMES KING OF SCOTLAND.

What kind of last name is The Bruce?

1409:  THE COUNCIL OF PISA OPENS.

I wonder which way they're leaning.

1584:  SIR WALTER RALEIGH IS GRANTED A PATENT TO COLONIZE VIRGINIA.  

Roll that tobacco.

1634:  THE FIRST SETTLERS ARRIVE IN MARYLAND.

And that's about when Cal Ripken's streak started, right?

1802:  THE TREATY OF AMIENS IS SIGNED AS A DEFINITIVE TREATY OF PEACE BETWEEN FRANCE AND ENGLAND.

For now.

1807:  THE SLAVE TRADE ACT BECOMES LAW, ABOLISHING THE SLAVE TRADE IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE.

So now you can get a slave through free agency?

1811: PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY IS EXPELLED FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD FOR PUBLISHING THE PAMPHLET "THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM."

Believing in a cause that is not believing God.  Got it.

1865: DURING THE CIVIL WAR, CONFEDERATE FORCES IN VIRGINIA TEMPORARILY CAPTURE FORT STEDMAN.

Oprah's phony boyfriend??

1908:  DIRECTOR DAVID LEAN IS BORN.

The director of one of my favorite movies...."The Bridge On The River Kwai."

1911:  MURDERER JACK RUBY IS BORN.

"Jack, you son of a bitch."

1918:  THE BELARUSIAN PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC IS ESTABLISHED.

For all those who want to vacation in Belarus.

1918:  SPORTSCASTER HOWARD COSELL IS BORN.

He had no hair then either.

1918:  COMPOSER CLAUDE DEBUSSY DIES.

La Mer.  Le Morte.

1926:  MOVIE CRITIC GENE SHALIT IS BORN.

Most likely to be confused with Jerry Colonna.   Or a floor mop.

1931:  THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS ARE ARRESTED IN ALABAMA AND CHARGED WITH RAPE.

Later to become a Broadway musical.  ?????

1942:  SINGER ARETHA FRANKLIN IS BORN.

You make me feel like.....

1947:  ROCK STAR ELTON JOHN IS BORN.

Gee, I wonder why he never married.  Oh, wait, he did.  A couple of times.  To a woman.  To a man.  I better check with the registry at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

1948:  THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL TORNADO FORECAST PREDICTS THAT A TORNADO WILL STRIKE AN AIR FORCE BASE IN OKLAHOMA.

Yeah, but how many did they get wrong?

1957:  US CUSTOMS SEIZES COPIES OF ALLEN GINSBERG'S POEM "HOWL" ON OBSCENITY GROUNDS.

I bet that, if this happened today, "Howl" would be produced as a sitcom on Fox.

1965:  MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. AND OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETE THEIR 4 DAY MARCH FROM SELMA. 

Movie to come.

1965:  ACTRESS SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS BORN.

After her parents had some sex in the city.

1969:  DURING THEIR HONEYMOON, JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO HOLD THEIR FIRST BED-IN FOR PEACE.   IT LASTED FOR A WEEK.

Do Not Disturb sign in place.

1975:  FAISAL OF SAUDI ARABIA IS SHOT AND KILLED BY A MENTALLY ILL NEPHEW.

Every family has one.

1990:  THE HAPPY LAND FIRE AT AN ILLEGAL NIGHTCLUB IN THE BRONX KILLS 87 PEOPLE.

So not so happy.

1992:  ACTRESS NANCY WALKER DIES.

Rhoda's mom!

1995:  WIKIWIKIWEB IS MADE PUBLIC FOR THE FIRST TIME.

And ultimately helps to populate this blog every Wednesday.

2005:  TV PRODUCER PAUL HENNING DIES.

Whee doggie.

2008:  SCREENWRITER ABBY MANN DIES.

He was a guy, by the way.

2009:  NEW YORK YANKEE JOHNNY BLANCHARD DIES.

What a great pinch hitter!!

Dinner last night:  Lasagna at Osteria Al Doge.







Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Don't Miss This Train

Every once in a while, I go to a Broadway show and everything works for me.  It happened just a few months ago with the original and super-clever "Honeymoon in Vegas."   It was the same just last week when I saw the recently-opened revival of "On The 20th Century."  It hit me just right.  From the raucous cheers of the audience, we all got hit with the same serendipitous lightning.

I feel like such a Broadway maven.  The show had only opened the previous Sunday and the reviews, even from the always cynical New York Times, were raves.  I had an evening where I had to be in the city for an early client party.  That location was conveniently two blocks away from where "20th Century" was playing at the American Airlines Theater, which, by the way, gave me no leg up because of my flying Platinum status.  Nevertheless, I scored myself a single orchestra ticket and on the aisle, to boot.  I paid full price.

And it was worth every single penny.  Because this revival of the 1978 musical comedy by the legendary and now late Betty Comden and Adolph Green is pure gold.

Moreover, this production stars Kristen Chenoweth and, if she wasn't already a full-fledged star, this show would make her one.  I've seen her both in concert and in a show, "Promises, Promises," where she was sorrowfully miscast.  There are times where her talents don't fit the venue or material and vice versa.  With "20th Century," it all melds together for Kristen like one of those long, white gloves she wears for the finale.


Now here's the thing with this show.  I know I saw the original some years ago but I remember little about it.   I remember that the magnificent and sorely-missed Madeline Kahn was the first to play the starring role back then, but she left that production early on due to some vocal cord damage.  I know I did not see Madeline.  But I can recall nary a moment from that night.  Unmemorable and apparently, at the time, unremarkable.

Not so with this production.  It shines so brightly and is one of those Broadway blockbusters that becomes a hot ticket for a while.  Indeed, as I surveyed the audience around me, it was more of the old-style Broadway crowd.   The older folks in town who live in a posh but rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side.   They see everything as soon as it opens, making sure to get there before the dreaded tourist crowd of Mort and Marge from Bumfuk, Iowa walk into the theater with their Reeboks and a bag of Cheetos.  

Yep, this was a Broadway crowd.  And they got a superlative Broadway show.

"On The 20th Century" is part farce, part operetta, and part screwball comedy.  The latter fits because it was based originally on the hilarious 1934 film starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard.   The plot on Broadway is as simple as it was on the big screen.  Downtrodden but egotistical Broadway producer Oscar Jaffee is traveling by train from Chicago to New York and hoping to entice his former discovery and now Hollywood diva Lily Garland to star in his new play.  She's riding the rails with her lunkhead/actor/boyfriend Bruce Granit and, as a result, wants nothing to do with Oscar.   That's it.  
But there are so many glorious twists and turns to the tale that it's hardly as basic as it seems.   There's an Evangelist on board who is escaped from the mental institution.  Every train employee seems to have written a play that they want to pitch to Oscar.  And, in case there is a lag of ten seconds or so, there are four high-stepping and tap-dancing Red Caps who earn cheers every time they show up on stage.

There's clearly money behind this superlative production and it definitely shows up on the stage.  From the 30s Art Deco motif and costumes to movable sets and a locomotive which, at one point, seems destined to plow right into the first four rows.  All of this was most certainly designed to be nothing more than sheer entertainment and it delivers.

Peter Gallagher has just the right pomp and bravado to be Oscar Jaffee.  Meanwhile, the supporting cast is equally as spot-on.  Mark-Linn Baker, who everybody remembers as the "kid" in "My Favorite Year," plays Oscar's older press agent and that bit of casting is sure to age everybody in the audience just a bit.  Mary Louise Wilson has some wonderful moments as the Bible-toting nut job.  And Andy Karl, who recently played Rocky Balboa on Broadway, steals a scene or two as Bruce Granit.   In one segment, he continually gets in the face with a swinging door and it makes me wonder if this role is indeed more painful for him than the one where he was repeatedly punched in the head.   Count on Tony nominations for Gallagher, Wilson, and Karl.
But, at the end of the evening and the "arrival" of the train in Grand Central Station, this show belongs to Kristen Chenoweth.  She arrives at the right role at the right time and in the right place for her career.  Her performance easily moves from ultra-slapstick to operatic-like solo to wry dialogue comedy.  There are moments where, unintentionally, she channels up the best moments of Madeline Kahn, which is fitting since Kristen has even named her dog after her idol.  But, while you're thinking about Madeline, you also realize that this is truly now a Kristen Chenoweth role.  You want proof?

There are, of course, always dissenters.  As I took the customary urinal break at intermission, two old Broadway mavens were deliberating on-line ahead of me.

"Don't you think Kristen is terrific?"

"Yes, but I saw the original.  Trust me, she's no Madeline Kahn."

Uh-huh.   And I'm thinking that, ten years from now, the same conversation will be comparing some new Broadway discovery in the same way.

"Er, she's good, but she's no Kristen Chenoweth."

So, Chenoweth and company will likely clean up on Tony Award night.  Meanwhile, this is a limited engagement and set to end in early July.  If there's money to be made, they'll certainly extend.

But don't wait that long.  Get your full-priced tickets now.  

"On The 20th Century" is the ride you've been waiting for.   All aboard.

Dinner last night:  Sandwich and salad.

 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Morning Video Laugh - March 23, 2015

The eighth anniversary celebration of this blog continues with some swinging...and classic laughs.  It's even a little...ahem...hair raising.
Dinner last night:  Prime rib at Outback.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Sunday Memory Drawer - To Grandpa On His Birthday



Today would be my grandfather's birthday.  Well, I guess it still is, although he died decades ago.  It still is the anniversary of your birth whether you're here or not.

The above photo is one of the rare ones I have of my dad's father.   Seated with my grandmother at some family gathering during the five years where my father was a photography nut.  Trust me, there aren't many snapshots of Grandpa.  To that point, he is the relative I can least conjure up an image of in my mind.

That's weird, since we lived in the same house with them.  My grandparents lived downstairs.   My folks and I lived upstairs.  Despite this close proximity, my memories of my grandfather are not many.  I didn't have him long.  I was only twelve when he died. 

Like his birthday, I cannot forget the date my grandfather died.  March 23.  That's tomorrow.  It's easy to remember because it was one day after his birthday.  Symmetry like that is not hard to ignore.  A few years back, I recall from his obituary that TV host Mike Douglas actually died on his birthday.  Well, that certainly makes for clean record keeping in Heaven's central office.  Grandpa missed that distinction by 24 hours.

All the elders in my family are gone.  

My parents, as well as my aunts and uncles, all got wiped out over a ten year period.  Some people remember the date their relatives die.  Truth be told, I'd actually have to look up the exact day that my parents and my grandmother passed away.  It's not worth remembering.  When I want to conjure up a calendar point to recall the good times, I much prefer to do that on their birth dates which are forever etched in my mind.

But, because of Grandpa's astute scheduling, the one really lasting memory I have of him is the day he died.

In reality, though, I really don't know much about the man beyond what I was told by my grandmother. Or what I remember from my very wee years.

From what I was told, Grandpa had a variety of jobs over the years. I did see a picture of him standing behind a bar with an apron on, so I assume he was a bartender at one point. There was some other talk about him driving a delivery truck. But, the job I know he had the longest was for a milk company. Borden's or "Bordink's" as my grandmother called it. What he did there was a mystery, except, at least, he had achieved an upgrade in the healthy aspects of the beverages he was involved with.

But, as far back as I can remember, he was already retired. Sitting in that big easy chair in the living room and yelling at the wrestlers on TV. If the match got particularly nasty, he would move closer to the edge of the cushion, as if his next move was to vault into the ring himself. If it was really intense, the instructions yelled at the set by both Grandpa and Grandma were in German, so I'd be lost. At the foot of his easy chair was always a glass bottle of Kruger Beer. My grandfather actually had beer delivered to the home every Wednesday morning. Tuffy, our beagle, would hear the truck's squeaky wheels from blocks away and her incessant barking always heralded the "beerman's" arrival.

On Sunday afternoons, I can always remember Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, reading the Daily News. I'd sit alongside him, which was always the signal for him to go into Fiorello LaGuardia mode. Even though I could read at a very early age, my grandfather liked to read the funnies to me.

"So, Moon Mullins sits down on the couch and says to Kayo..."

I have no clue why Grandpa liked to do this with me, but it happened like clockwork every Sunday.

There are other snapshots.

Grandpa's lunch often consisted of a slice or two of head cheese in a plate covered by vinegar. Head cheese is the cold cut that is made up of all the parts of a pig most people don't eat. The whole meal looked gross to me.
"Wanna try some?"

I'd run away in horror.

My grandparents would eat their supper early. Usually around 4:30PM. Which meant that, from 3:30PM to about 4:15PM every day, Grandpa was missing in action. That was his time to walk two blocks and hoist a few brews at what my grandmother referred to as "the beer garden." He never came home drunk. It was simply his daily cocktail hour.

I do recall, however, one night where Grandpa was completely snockered. There was a community place on Stevens Avenue in Mount Vernon called the Turn Hall and they frequently featured Saturday night dances for any Germans interested. My family and all its tentacles always showed up. And, for some inexplicable reason, I got carted along at the age of 5. They'd sit me down at a table with a Coke and my favorite Colorforms set while the immediate world would commence to polka. While I got bored, Grandpa got pickled.

It was a rainy night and we all piled into my dad's car for the trip home. I was in the back seat, seating beside Grandma and on my grandfather's lap. Soaked to the gills, he used the moment to get very amorous. With me.

Kissing me all over my face, Grandpa kept announcing over and over. "I love you, I love you so much, I love you, I love you so much."

It was mere minutes before Grandma had endured enough. There was an ice cold stare.

"If you don't stop that, I'd gonna pop you one with this goddamn umbrella."

Who knows what happened behind their closed bedroom door that night.

When I was really young, my father worked days. So, any transport that my mom and I needed during the daytime hours was provided by Grandpa and his green Buick sedan. On my very first day in the first grade, my school was closed at noon because of an impending hurricane which was going to hit New York dead on. Grandpa picked me up outside for the five block ride home. He never ever showed much emotion. But, looking out the window at a raging wind and blinding rain, he appeared a little vulnerable. Almost scared.

"Oh, my God, this is going to be a hurricane."

During the summer months, the Grandpa transport extended to Orchard Beach where he would drop us off and pick us up after a day at the "Bronx Riviera." On one ride home, there were two other passengers with us. One of my mother's friends and her kid. Well, anyway, mucho chatter had ensued. And, for some reason, Grandpa seemed to be a little unsure about the way home. And then he ran a stop sign. And whacked a car coming the other direction.

I got knocked onto the floor of the back seat, but everybody was otherwise okay. Surprisingly, there was no damage to our car. And a medium-sized dent on the car we hit. But, the real trauma was etched on Grandpa's face. He was crestfallen. He had never been involved in an accident before. His demeanor showed the result of his epiphany. With his reflexes slowing down, he was encountering the inevitable.

His driving days were over.

As my family often did, we went into lockdown mode. Grandpa whispered to me.

"Don't tell your grandmother."

Check.

My mother whispered to me.

"Don't tell your father."

Check again.

Somehow, this was going to be a little secret between my mother and my grandfather. And me. But, there was an obvious leak because I soon noticed that my father would do all the driving whenever my grandparents needed to go someplace. To the supermarket every Thursday. To the Bronx on the first Tuesday of every month when my grandmother saw her doctor and then they shopped for Kosher dill pickles at some neighborhood they called "Jew Town." More importantly, that accident was never discussed ever again.

The years and more were closing in on Grandpa.

That fall, he came down with pnuemonia and pleuresy, which had him bedridden at home for about a month. He really was never the same after that. Breathes became shorter. Walks to the beer garden became extinct. And he even stopped smoking his beloved pipe.

By the following March, the days were dwindling down to a precious few. On the day Grandpa would pass away, I would conveniently be home from school. I had brokered an afternoon home sick. Partly because of a sore throat. Mostly because I wanted to listen to a Met spring exhibition game on the radio. My mom had walked around the corner to the grocery store. Sequestered in my room on the bed with my transistor radio, I suddenly heard my grandmother wail from downstairs.

"Lenny, quick. Go run and get your mother. I think something happened to Grandpa!"

I scooted quickly out of the house like Lassie when Timmy fell down the well. My mother dropped all her groceries in the store and told me to come along. I told her I would stay there. It was no time to argue. She ran out.

Within five minutes, amidst the cans of Krasdale vegetables, I could hear the faint but scary sound of sirens. Those noises have bothered me to this date. But, the only thing worse than hearing those piercing mechanical cries is knowing that they are headed to your house.

Eventually, I headed home and kept myself busy. Upstairs away from the activity. Because of all the strangers in the house, I grabbed Tuffy and hid in the bathroom. I don't think I came out for an hour.

Grandpa was gone. I later heard the details. His labored exhales had caught the dog's attention as she sat at his feet. My grandmother noticed this.

"Pop, Tuffy is listening to you breathe."

He apparently leaned forward to look at my dog, smiled, and then leaned back to die. In his favorite easy chair.

When I mustered enough courage to exit the bathroom and go downstairs, our immediate family was already starting to gather.   My father was summoned from my work.   Grandma was sitting in her bedroom, eyes glistening from tears.   Grandpa was still in his easy chair, covered by a white sheet.  A visiting relative walked into the living room and lifted up the sheet to look.

"He looks just like he's taking a nap.  Wanna see?"

Er, no.  My phobia of looking at dead relatives had started a few years back.   I was going to have to get through this one, too, as my family was one that liked the three-day wakes of public viewing.  

My stomach was turning in knots.  There would be all this drama.  And, oddly enough, our household of five had just been diminished by 20%,  I was 12 but still didn't know how to process finality just yet.

I wandered outside and went "up the block" to see what friends were around.  Most of them had come home from parochial school to see the paramedics parked outside my house and were wondering what happened.   I did a mini-press conference for them.  What's tougher than a kid trying to understand the immediate passing of a loved one?  His young friends trying to offer words of sympathy for an event that not many of them had even dealt with yet?  As I fumbled with words, so did they.

My best friend from childhood, Leo, was there was some baseball cards in his hand.  He looked through them.

"Here's a Met.  I've got doubles."

It was this journeyman outfielder Al Luplow.  This was the very card.  And I guess the first condolence gift I would ever receive.
An odd connection for sure.  But, to this day, I can't think of the day my grandfather died without thinking of Al Luplow.

Sometimes, it's astounding how things connect in this strange world of yours and mine.

Happy birthday, Grandpa.  The memories are few, but they are still majestic in scope.

Dinner last night:  Chicken with proscuitto and mozzarella at Via Veneto 26. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Classic TV Theme Song of the Month - March 2015

Knots Landing was one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  And one of the cool things was they changed the opening credits every season.   Here's the version from Season 7 when they got very artsy.

Dinner last night:  Pizza with proscuitto at Il Forno.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Come In, We're Open












Dinner last night:  Assorted bar food and snacks at Iron Bar.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Morons of the Month - March 2015

This lunacy is breaking news.   I want to write this while it's still piping hot fresh in my mind.  

I arrived in New York yesterday for a week of part-work, part-fun, and part-dusting my apartment.  I haven't been in town since December and it turns out this winter was one that should have been avoided by yours truly.

But there was no sustenance in the house so it was off to the A and P in Hastings.   

Okay, they're the direct morons of this piece.  But, in reality, it's not their fault really.  Indeed, the blame can get pointed all the way to Santa Monica, California.   The first bureaucratic idiots to ban plastic bags.  Yep, the moronic city leaders in that town contended that plastic bags were a traffic menace!  They cause auto accidents, don't you know?   As if you've ever seen a plastic bag driving under the influence.  

Of course, this nonsense spread to other parts of Los Angeles.  And, much to my horror, it's apparently reached Westchester County as well.  

I had piled up a bunch of groceries on the check-out counter.   The kid at the register looked at me when he was finished ringing things up.  

"Okay, thank you."

Um, what am I supposed to do now?  He advised me that they no longer had plastic bags.   Oh, I can buy a couple of paper bags.

PS, these would be paper bags without handles.  D'oh.  Jeez, you can even get handles at Ralph's in LA.  So, three brown paper bags, which were as porous as Quilted Northern Toilet Tissue, were loaded with my groceries.  I had to hold them in my arms like I was Jerry Lewis in "The Errand Boy." 

And one completely fell apart as I attempted to carry it through my garage.   Of course, it would be the bag that I had some Diet Snapples in.  

For the next twenty minutes, I was picking up glass shards that were all over the place.  Luckily, I had Band Aids in the house for the two finger cuts I got.  

All because the A and P has really shitty bags.  With no handles.

So, yes, for that, I am labeling them as morons.  But, let's not forget where this is all coming from.   The environmental kooks that have driven our state and local and federal governments into the ground with their rules and regulations and justifications for their high salaries.

We're so worried about killing trees and environmental hazards.  Remember that when you sift through the Sunday newspaper laden with five or ten pounds of circular flyers.

More importantly, remember the waste of paper next Fall when the candidates want your vote.  And virtually attack your mailboxes with all the reasons why you should vote for them.  

Shameful, shameful, shameful. 

Dinner last night: Roast beef and potato salad.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

This Date in History - March 18

Happy birthday, Kevin Dobson.   We make it a policy here always to celebrate special days of Knots Landing actors.

37:  THE ROMAN SENATE ANNULS TIBERIUS' WILL AND PROCLAIMS CALIGULA EMPEROR.

Okay, now the fun begins.

633:  THE ARABIAN PENINSULA IS UNITED UNDER THE CENTRAL AUTHORITY OF CALIPH ABU BAKR.

Good.  I was worried.

1229:  FREDERICK II, HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR, DECLARES HIMSELF KING OF JERUSALEM IN THE SIXTH CRUSADE.

And later he calls himself the Duke of Earl.

1314:  JACQUES DE MOLAY, THE LAST GRAND MASTER OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR, IS BURNED AT THE STAKE.

I hope they used a good brand of olive oil.

1438:  ALBERT II OF HABSBURG BECOMES HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR.

But we won't be as much fun as Caligula.

1608: SUSENYOS IS FORMALLY CROWNED EMPEROR OF ETHIOPIA.

Susenyos?   Wasn't that a Phil Collins song?

1741:  NEW YORK GOVERNOR GEORGE CLARKE'S COMPLEX AT FORT GEORGE IN BURNED IN AN ARSON ATTACK, STARTING THE NEW YORK CONSPIRACY OF 1741.

There's no conspiracy.   I just wish all these people weren't against me.

1766:  THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT REPEALS THE STAMP ACT.

Forcing everybody to deliver their letters in person.

1848:  IN BERLIN, THERE IS A STRUGGLE BETWEEN CITIZENS AND MILITARY, COSTING ABOUT 300 LIVES.

That's a little more than a struggle in my book.

1850:  AMERICAN EXPRESS IS FOUNDED BY HENRY WELLS AND WILLIAM FARGO.

Don't leave home without them.

1865:  DURING THE CIVIL WAR, THE CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES ADJOURNS FOR THE LAST TIME.

Last one out, please shut off the lights.

1886:  ACTOR EDWARD EVERETT HORTON IS BORN.

Mrs.Horton Has a What?

1892:  FORMER GOVERNOR GENERAL LORD STANLEY PLEDGES TO DONATE A SILVER CHALLENGE CUP AS AN AWARD FOR THE BEST HOCKEY TEAM IN CANADA.

Little did he know that some players would be peeing in it 100 years later.

1915:  DURING WORLD WAR I, THREE BATTLESHIPS ARE SUNK DURING A FAILED BRITISH AND FRENCH NAVAL ATTACK.

I used to re-enact this in the bathtub when I was a kid.

1922:  IN INDIA, MOHANDAS GANDHI IS SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS IN PRISON FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.

Going, going, Gandhi.

1926:  ACTOR PETER GRAVES IS BORN.

He dies in 2010.  No, wait, he self-destructs.

1927:  AUTHOR GEORGE PLIMPTON IS BORN.

I never quite knew what this guy wrote.

1940:  ADOLF HITLER AND BENITO MUSSOLINI MEET AT THE BRENNER PASS IN THE ALPS AND AGREE TO FROM AN ALLIANCE AGAINST FRANCE AND ENGLAND.

Such a sinister act to have over a nice cup of Ovaltine,

1942:  THE WAR RELOCATION AUTHORITY IS ESTABLISHED IN THE US TO TAKE JAPANESE AMERICANS INTO CUSTODY.

Relocation is a nice way to say "internment."

1943:  ACTOR KEVIN DOBSON IS BORN.

Every Thursday night at 10PM for over twelve years, this guy was one of my heroes.

1944:  THE ERUPTION OF MOUNT VESUVIUS IN ITALY KILLS 26 PEOPLE AND CAUSES THOUSANDS TO FLEE THEIR HOMES.

I guess you can't blame them.

1945:  OVER 1,200 AMERICAN BOMBERS ATTACK BERLIN.

Finally.

1959:  PRESIDENT DWIGHT EISENHOWER SIGNS A BILL INTO LAW ALLOWING FOR HAWAIIAN STATEHOOD.

Aloha.

1970:  THE US POSTAL STRIKE OF 1970 BEGINS, ONE OF THE LARGEST WILDCAT STRIKES IN US HISTORY.

I think my mailman, who shows up after 6PM most days, must still think he's on the picket line.

1990:  GERMANS VOTE IN THE FIRST DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN THE FORMER COMMUNIST DICTATORSHIP.

Can somebody show me how to pull this lever?

1992:  IN A NATIONAL REFERENDUM, WHITE SOUTH AFRICANS VOTE OVERWHELMINGLY TO END THE RACIST POLICY OF APARTHEID.

Would they do the same thing if they knew Al Sharpton?

2001:  SINGER JOHN PHILLIPS DIES.

All my leaves are brown...and my face is pale.

2009:  ACTRESS NATASHA RICHARDSON DIES.

Reason # 77 why people over 40 should not ski.

2010:  ACTOR FESS PARKER DIES.

That raccoon wants his skin back.

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken sausage and vegetables.

Tomorrow....from New York!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Strictly for Musical Comedy Fans...And Those Who Love Anna Kendrick

Admittedly, "The Last Five Years" is not a movie for everybody.  I think you have to be a huge fan of the musical comedy genre.  Or dream daily of Anna Kendrick.

That would be me.   And, yes, that would be me.

If you're in that very narrow target audience, you won't be disappointed.  I wasn't.  I've been humming some of the music ever since.  I've been humming Anna Kendrick, too.  

I had never heard of the off-Broadway show that this film is based.   With music and lyrics composed by somebody named Jason Robert Brown, it apparently opened for ten minutes a decade or so ago.  I guess it got no traction.   But, from what I read on the internet, it had its core and ardent fans.  People were clamoring for it to be filmed for the big screen.   Well, okay, I'm not sure four people can actually work up a clamor, but you get the point.

When I read that there's a movie out that resembles a musical comedy, I'm going to be interested.   And, when said musical stars Anna Kendrick, well, I'm going to be super interested.   I've been a fan of her since her Supporting Actress Oscar nominated-turn in "Up in the Air."  She's one of those triple threats.   She can act.  She can sing.  She can make me swoon.  

One, please.

And, even though I am slightly biased, Anna Kendrick steals this picture.  Granted that there are really only two characters and granted that co-star Jeremy Jordan is no Broadway slouch himself.   But, every time she is on the screen and singing, you are riveted.  She has so much delicious energy that you can't take your eyes off the screen.

It also helps that she doesn't exactly look like Ernest Borgnine.

"The Last Five Years" is a cleverly devised tale that is told practically all in song.  Jamie and Cathy are a Manhattan-based married couple.  He's a successful novelist.  She's an unsuccessful musical comedy star.  Their stories are told separately and in two different directions.   As the film opens on Cathy, she just has learned that Jamie has left her for another woman.   Her story is told in backwards fashion.   Meanwhile, we meet Jamie just as he first encounters Cathy.  His story moves forward in linear fashion.

If any of that sounds confusing to you, it's really not.  Apparently, on stage, the characters never had any scenes with each other.   But, on the big screen, they connect all the time.   In songs that depict their lives, their frustrations, their wedding, their careers.   When the film concludes, it all makes amazing sense and you've essentially had a terrific time for ninety minutes.   Yes, folks, ninety minutes.   How freakin' economical is that??

As engaging as Jamie and Cathy were together, the solo numbers mastered by Anna Kendrick alone are remarkable.   She has a vitality on screen.  Whether the song is serious or funny as all hell, Kendrick delivers.  I may have to see it again just so I can view what I missed by simply gaping at her.

True, this is no blockbuster of a movie.  I heard it's already available on ITunes and Video-on-Demand.  It won't make tons of dough.  I doubt anybody in the entire states of Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma will see it.   But, for a select few of us, it's a perfect way to spend some time in the dark.

You know who you are.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Bacon and cheddar cheese omelet.