Lots of Questions, No Real Answers

Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Sheen…

Last night I saw the news about George Takei. Today I read Ellen Page’s Facebook post.

There are so many things I’d rather be writing about today. Namely, the stuff that entertains me, rather than the stuff that leaves me feeling ill and heartsick. When the two intersect, as they do right now with daily revelations of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, I have many conflicting feelings as well as questions.

Do we believe everyone who comes forward with a story? How do we support the victims, while being fair to those whose lives and careers would be harmed by false accusations? It’s easy to believe allegations against people we don’t respect. Are we less willing to believe allegations against those whose work we admire?

Kevin Sorbo’s story about the late Italian designer Versace makes me wonder, what is accomplished by accusing someone deceased, who can’t respond or apologize, and who also can’t be prosecuted? Corey Haim can’t testify against those who abused him, but I certainly understand why his friends still want justice for him. That’s especially true if the people who hurt Haim are still around, hurting others.

Some folks on social media say they will boycott all Hollywood productions until this mess is cleaned up. What has to happen to make the entertainment industry a safe workplace for women, children, and anybody else in less powerful positions? I personally rely on movies and TV shows to keep my spirits up, now more than ever with our current president. I’ve always said, whenever someone has a bad accident or dies on a set, that I don’t want anybody to be harmed just so I can be entertained.

I’m not in the entertainment industry myself. How should I respond as a consumer?

I don’t have any answers.

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Thor: Ragnarok

Korg

A friend and I saw Thor: Ragnarok yesterday. We went to a 12:30pm matinee in an almost empty cinema. I missed some of the beginning of the film because the lights didn’t go down before it began. I ran out to find a staff member. Once I settled back into my seat, I enjoyed the movie.

It was good to see Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in plenty of lighter moments. My favorite was Korg, voiced by director Taika Waititi. I also enjoyed the performances by Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, and a cameo appearance by…wait, no spoilers here.

Will I remember much of the film in a week? Probably not, but we had fun. It looked like the cast did, too.

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Grove Street Halloween Block Party 2017

Today was my friend’s very first American Halloween. We went to the Grove Street Halloween Block Party here in San Francisco. Every year, the blocks between Baker and Central are closed to traffic. The neighbors decorate their stoops, garages and yards, and parents dress up with their kids. There’s a costume contest, and this year a band from the University of San Francisco performed. So much fun! And the kiddies in their costumes…oh, my! Just precious! Be sure to click on photos to see those faces better…

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A Dear Evan Hansen Halloween

I haven’t done a Halloween costume since my Bend It Like Beckham costume a dozen years ago, when I was disappointment that nobody noticed my dyed black hair. This year I put in a lot of effort (and bad sewing) to do Dear Evan Hansen, this year’s Tony Award winning Broadway musical. I’ve been told by my roommate that it’s too obscure. We’ll see. If even a few folks at my Street Fair get it, I’ll be happy.

I made my “cast” out of soft white fur, so I can bend my wrist and use my hand. That’s especially important because I’m a lefty. Since the song Waving Through A Window is performed before Connor signs Evan’s cast, I left off his name. The only striped polo shirt I could find was a men’s XXL, so I took in the sides and shortened it. I wish the stripes were closer to the one Ben Platt wears in the musical. I photoshopped the map together (“Navigating Adolescence: A Map For Parents” for the song Anybody Have A Map) and cut the window out of cardboard.

Sincerely, me.

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Time and The Conways & Matthew James Thomas

As a fan of Matthew James Thomas, I’ve been following his Broadway play Time and The Conways. Following how? Through google alerts, rehearsal photos, press photos, reviews, Broadway sites, YouTube videos, and tweets from cast and audience members. Since I’m in San Francisco, I won’t get to see the play.

Matthew James Thomas did an “Ask Me Anything” interview for BroadwayRadio last week. The first two questions interviewer Kaitlin Milligan asked him were ones that I submitted. Milligan guessed that I’m a he— that’s okay, though! My second question about going back in time and changing things wasn’t specifically about Pippin, but I’m always happy to hear more about that production. I agree with Milligan (at the 25 minute mark) that the internet allows fans like me to connect with Matthew James Thomas from afar. Thank you, Kaitlin Milligan, BroadwayRadio, and Mr. Thomas!

 

Photo credits: Rehearsal photos by Jenny Anderson. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

More interesting questions and answers: https://www.broadwaybox.com/daily-scoop/five-burning-questions-with-matthew-james-thomas/

For other posts here about Matthew James Thomas, click on his name in the tags below. (I’m quite proud of my screen capture collection!)

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World Premiere: The Prince of Egypt

Yesterday, my friend and I went to see the new stage musical The Prince of Egypt at the Mountain View Center for The Performing Arts. It’s a TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production in collaboration with Fredericia Teater in Denmark, where it will be staged in April with a Danish cast and the same actor playing Moses. The musical is directed by Scott Schwartz, son of the composer Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the songs for the film and additional numbers for this stage version.

The drive down to Mountain View from San Francisco, where we live, is a lot longer than I realized. I don’t have a car, so I don’t get out of the city often enough. We got there early, and parking was easy.

When we went got inside the theatre, I asked the young woman at the information desk for the location of the stage door. She looked somewhat alarmed and asked me why I wanted to know. Wow, really? I always like to visit the stage door after a show to meet to some of the actors. She explained that she wasn’t allowed to take people backstage, but that’s not what I was asking. Anyway, she pointed out the door, not at the side or back of the theatre, but in the lobby far too close to a women’s restroom. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our seats were in the second row of the balcony on an aisle in the center section. There was very little leg room, but the sight lines were fine and the raked seating allowed me see over the folks in front. Unfortunately, the family in front of us had a small boy, about 7 years old, and when seated, he couldn’t see over the solid balcony wall. His mother told me they asked for a booster seat, but the theatre doesn’t have them. I think the Center staff should accommodate small children better, and they should warn folks with kids about that first balcony row. There were quite a few children in the audience, being a matinee for a musical based on a popular animated film.

It became immediately clear during the opening song that the balcony acoustics are very poor. The sound was muddy, especially during solos. It also wasn’t loud enough. I don’t know if the problem is with the mics or the theatre acoustics or both, but it was disappointing.

The set design for The Prince of Egypt utilized a roughly diagonal platform with irregular curved edges, raked at the back. The background was a flat scrim with a wide solid piece, well above the stage, used for various projections—palm trees, arches, hieroglyphics, stars, mountains, etc. The dancers/ensemble moved an assortment of lightly-colored “stones” to create walls, barges, seats, and thrones throughout the show. When Moses was enjoying the hospitality of the Midianites in the desert, patterned rugs and colored tent walls were used instead of the stones. The set was enhanced by the lighting design, especially the lighting projections, including ones suggesting sand dunes and reflections on moving water. The balcony was a good place to view and appreciate these effects.

The dancers and the choreography by Sean Cheesman were excellent. Whether playing river waves, chariots and horses, the burning bush, or actual people, the dancing ensemble was the best aspect of the production. Jason Gotay as Ramses and Diluckshan Jeyaratnam as Moses were both winning and energetic as young princes. Jeyaratnam is perhaps not mature enough for the authority required in the second act. All of the actresses were consistently good and had beautiful voices, including child actor Natalie Schroeder as young Miriam and young Leah. David Crane’s Aaron was the easiest soloist to understand from my balcony seat, so I especially appreciated his performance.

Back to the stage door. There was a long line for the women’s bathroom after the show. The women were facing the bathroom with their backs to the stage door a few feet away. I watched a number of performers open the stage door and hit the women. Definitely a design flaw, and another issue that the theatre staff could easily address. Several of the ensemble came out to the lobby, and I got to say a quick hello to Alison Mixon, Dominic Dagdagan, and Ramone Owens.

I have not seen the original animated film, so I had no preconceived ideas about The Prince of Egypt. I have seen the DVD of the 2004 stage musical The Ten Commandments with Val Kilmer as Moses. (And Kilmer voices Moses in The Prince of Egypt film.) I tried not to compare the two, but I was very curious to see if baby Moses floating in the river was handled better. I’m happy to report that dancers playing water waves carrying the basket along to Pharaoh’s wife was much more effective.

Wait, Pharaoh’s wife?  In the Bible, it’s Pharaoh’s daughter that adopts baby Moses. I re-read some of Exodus today, and it’s short on details but it does specify this. The names of the Pharaohs, the relationship between young Moses and young Ramses—these are not in Exodus. A lot of the story we’re familiar with comes from Cecil B. DeMille and The Ten Commandments, especially the 1956 version. Still, I found it jarring when The Prince of Egypt strayed from the familiar, especially at the end.

There’s a reason this musical is called The Prince of Egypt, and not Moses or Let My People Go. In fact, it might be more accurate to call it The Princes of Egypt. Moses and Ramses are both central characters, with the primary focus on their relationship, to each other and to the other members of the royal family. The anguish that Moses expresses at the deaths of the Egyptian first-borns (the song For The Rest of My Life) seems more heartfelt than what he expresses for the suffering of his people. Ramses tells Moses that he changed his mind about releasing the Hebrew slaves because Moses betrayed him and the family. Moses comes back with “It’s not about YOU!” Ramses’ fervent reply, “It’s always about ME!” got the strongest reaction from the audience.

Driving home from the show, my friend and I tried to pinpoint what was missing from The Prince of Egypt. Not all the songs are memorable, with only When You Believe moving enough to inspire a strong emotional response. It’s obviously a challenge to bring freshness to a well-known story, but the dancing helped a lot. I waited to read reviews until I had the chance to judge for myself. I have to agree with Lily Janiak who writes about the secularization of the story. Except for the brief but effective burning bush, it’s not really clear that the God of the Hebrews is guiding Moses. The Egyptian religion gets a longer introduction in the song Ma’at. Even the song When You Believe (“Who knows what miracles you can achieve, when you believe, somehow you will, you will when you believe”) is open to interpretation. Is it God performing miracles through you, or is it believing enough in something? Anything? Yourself?

Is The Prince of Egypt ready for Broadway? I don’t think so. Am I glad we made the effort to see it? Definitely. Especially when followed by a dinner of Indian food. There’s nothing like plagues and parting the Red Sea to work up an appetite!

Photo credits: The Prince of Egypt stage photos are by Kevin Berne for TheatreWorks. The theatre photo is my own.

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MHz Choice

Last year while searching the DVD shelf at my library, I came across the Montalbano series from Sicily. I checked out the first set of discs more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. The opening scenes were just okay, but about 20 minutes in, I knew I was hooked. Here’s a guy (played by the brilliant Luca Zingaretti) who looks tough, but really he’s a big softie. I’ve now watched all 30 TV movies, plus all the spinoff Young Montalbano episodes as well.

Montalbano

Young Montalbano

The two Montalbano series are distributed by MHz, and two months ago I subscribed to their streaming service. The first month is free, and there is usually a coupon for half off the second month. I’ve been enjoying the shows from all over Europe. I’m especially drawn to the Scandinavian ones. The subtitles are excellent, although I wouldn’t mind them being lower down on the screen.

I really enjoyed the Danish series Unit One with Mads Mikkelsen. Filmed from 2000 to 2004, this show has aged very well. Only the phones look dated. A police procedural about a homicide unit that travels to different parts of Denmark to help on cases, it’s refreshing how most of the crimes and violence happen off-screen. The later episodes are a bit more graphic. Unit One strikes a good balance between investigations and the personal lives of the detectives.

Unit One

I wish there was more of Anno 1790, a Swedish series about a military surgeon who uses his medical skills to solve criminal cases in Stockholm. With dangerous Enlightenment ideas of liberty and equality threatening the social order, and an attraction to the young wife of the police chief, surgeon Dåådh has a lot on his plate. With only 10 episodes, this one doesn’t require a big commitment.

Anno 1790

Borgen isn’t showing right now on the streaming service, but it’s mentioned in the description for 1864. I found Borgen at my library, and it’s also distributed by MHz. I’m halfway through the first season of three. Featuring Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones), it’s about a woman who becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark. The charismatic Asbæk plays her PR specialist/spin doctor. It’s a fascinating look at modern politics and the media. It helps to be familiar with a parliamentary government, which is different enough from the American model to require some google searches.

Borgen

Other series I’ve been enjoying are Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, the Arne Dahl mysteries, Crime Scene Cleaner, Cain, and Antigone 34. There’s a lot more to explore, and I just need to find the time!

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