Category Archives: Literature

Aaron Tveit, Neil Patrick Harris, and the Generosity of Moms

Last week, my attention was focused on the Supreme Court nomination and the hearing with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh. Thankfully, I had two terrific events on my calendar to lift my spirits.

Thursday night I went to Marines’ Memorial Theatre to see Aaron Tveit in concert. I’ve been a fan since seeing him as Enjolras in the Les Misérables film (good performance, bad hair). I love his rendition of Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, and I also enjoyed the first season of Graceland on USA. The BrainDead Partridge Family salami sex scene with Tveit and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is insanely funny. I’ve seen some of the Broadway bootlegs of Next to Normal and Catch Me If You Can on YouTube, but Thursday was my first time seeing Tveit live.

The Marines’ Memorial Theatre is intimate (564 seats), with a very nice foyer that features comfy chairs and and a bar. I got there early, so I sat down and noticed that several ladies had autographed Aaron Tveit posters. I asked the two ladies nearest me where they got them. They told me their ticket package included a meet & greet earlier that night. A few moments later, the younger woman got my attention and said, “My mom wants you to have her poster.” Oohhh! I turned to her mom and told her, “That’s so nice, but you might change your mind after you see him live!” She replied, “I met him and got a hug. I’m happy.” We had a nice chat about Tveit’s work and traveling to London and Scotland.

Once the auditorium opened, I went up to my seat in the balcony with my new poster. I was in the second to the last row on the left side, but the balcony only has seven rows, so it wasn’t a bad seat. There’s not much leg room at all, but it’s still better than the Curran! The fellow on my left was nice and friendly, and the folks on my right moved as soon as the lights went down. This gave me some extra leg room, so I stretched out and relaxed.

Aaron Tveit posterThe shallow stage had a piano, a stool, a microphone stand, and a music stand. Tveit’s pianist is also his music director, and he joined in on some of the songs and the banter in between. Tveit began with In Living Color from Catch Me If You Can, followed by Fight The Dragons from Big Fish. Other songs included a Sandy/Heart and Soul mash up, I Miss The Mountains (from Next to Normal), One Song Glory (Rent) and an Italian aria from La Boheme, Shut Up And Dance, Every Breath You Take, Thunder Road (Springsteen), Dancing On My Own, Irish Girls (The Last 5 Years), and Being Alive from Company. His encore was Come What May from Moulin Rouge, his most recent stage musical. I didn’t keep notes on his set list, but that’s what I remember. The theatre has lovely acoustics and Tveit sounded great. There were lots of hardcore fans in the small audience, because many folks clapped when he asked if any of them had seen Moulin Rouge in Boston over the summer. He told us his last trip to San Francisco was in 2006, which was well before I started following his career. The concert started a little after 8pm and was finished not long after 9pm, so short but sweet and well worth the effort

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Friday night I walked over to the JCCSF (Jewish Community Center of San Francisco) for Neil Patrick Harris at Kanbar Hall. NPH is on tour to promote The Magic Misfits: The Second Story, his second book in a series for middle grade readers. Our ticket included a pre-signed copy of the book and a raffle ticket. Five lucky winners and their plus ones were getting a VIP Meet & Greet with NPH at the end. My seat was in the front row, and on my left was an excited young woman in a vibrant red dress. We introduced ourselves, and I told Elisa that if won the raffle, she could be my plus one. Then I assured her that she didn’t have to reciprocate, since she was with her mom. She told me she was giving her mom’s copy of the book to a friend who also love NPH.

Kanbar Hall seats 460, and the event was sold out. There were kids in the audience but far more adults. Neil Patrick Harris sat on stage and answered questions from the young interviewer, then took questions from the audience. He was in the chair closer to me but angled away, so I appreciated how he regularly turned in our direction when speaking. He said his last trip to San Francisco was in 2012. Before that, he used to come up from LA often to see David Burtka when he was in The Opposite of Sex at the Magic Theatre here.

NPH is a man of many talents, but since he was promoting his book, the interviewer focused on his writing. When he asked how many in the audience hadn’t read the The Magic Misfits, lots of us raised our hands. (I’ve only read his Choose Your Own Autobiography.) There will be four books in the series, one for each suit in a deck of cards, and he’s currently busy writing the fourth one. Each book focuses on a different kid in the Misfits group. The kids do different kinds of practical magic (card tricks, illusions, sleight of hand, etc) since that’s the magic NPH is passionate and knowledgeable about. He talked about visiting a magic shop in the Albuquerque mall and watching Doug Henning’s yearly magic specials on TV when he was growing up. A friend from Theory11.com is currently helping him with card tricks, and the cards he used later were from the online shop.

For the Q&A with the audience, they had two portable microphones on either side of the auditorium. NPH asked that the lights be brought up partway so he could see out. I think he directed the staff to choose kids, which made a lot of sense as he was promoting a children’s book. No complaints from me, because the kids were cute and funny and their questions were better than mine. One boy at the beginning was given a black envelope for having such a good question, but NPH told him to hold on to it, don’t open it, and “don’t leave!” One of his longest answers was about the 2013 Tony Awards; he described rehearsing the opening number and learning the closing recap on the fly as it was written backstage throughout the show. NPH was adorable interacting with the kids, and he was funny as well.

NPH did one card trick, involving the three of hearts and the envelope he gave the boy during the Q&A. The woman sitting on my right criticized his card shuffling (“It’s not so fancy”) so she got most of the deck thrown at her, as well as a lot of grumbles and scowls.

At the end, NPH and a little boy pulled red tickets out of a fishbowl for the raffle. Elisa next to me was the fifth and final winner. The way she said “Yep” when her number was read was matter-of-fact, but I was stunned. Elisa assured me that I was her plus one, so we got red wristbands from a staff member before being led backstage. I thought all ten of us would do the meet & greet as a group, but instead we were taken in to the green room in pairs. Elisa and I got to go first, which was nice because her mom had to wait in the lobby/atrium. The green room was small and crowded, with lights and a blue background for the photos, a couch and coffee table with a cheese plate, several staff members, and of course, Neil Patrick Harris himself. A photographer was shooting us as we interacted with NPH, while another fellow took photos on our phones when we posed against the background. Elisa was the winner, so I stayed near the door and let her talk to Neil Patrick Harris first. They discussed her tattoos, and he looked genuinely interested as she described their significance.

Then NPH moved over to me. I awkwardly shook his hand, then told him I saw his Sweeney Todd with the San Francisco Symphony (summer 2001). He grinned and said he’d forgotten about that—a temporary lapse, I’m sure, not a Full Kavanaugh! I started to gush, saying back then we didn’t know he could sing and his song Not While I’m Around with PATTI…LuPone. He was looking at me with an expression that might have been “Um, yeah, I know; I was there.” I was trying to convey that his performance as Tobias stayed with me all these years, but yeah, not very coherent. I switched subjects to ask him why there were six kids on the book cover. We were on firmer ground again. He was adorably enthusiastic, explaining that the extra two were the twins Izzy and Olly. He held up the book, took off the dust jacket, and showed how the spines of the four books will have Magic Misfits spelled across them. (The Second Story has ICM.) Izzy and Olly are comic relief in the series, but they don’t get their own book. Since jokers aren’t part of the four card suits, there could be a fifth book in the series, but hey, that’s for NPH to decide!

Next, we had our photos taken with NPH. I went after Elisa; she told everyone that we’d only just met that night,Neil Patrick Harris and me probably to explain why we wanted separate pictures. After NPH put his arm around me (gently), I put mine around him (very gently) because the photo would be that much more awkward if my arm was down between us. I think Elisa and I both were pretty dazed after that, because NPH had to remind us that he’d personalize our pre-signed books. I told Elisa to have my copy signed to her friend, and I would take the one her mom had in the lobby. It was only fair, since Elisa and her mom were so generous with me. Elisa also had a playing card from the magic trick, and NPH kindly signed that as well.

When we came out of the green room, it seemed like there were more than eight people waiting to go in, but I didn’t count. A fellow with clipboard asked for our contact info and signatures to allow the JCCSF to use any of the photos taken for their social media. He also said they might send us some of the good ones, but so far that hasn’t happened. Many of the JCCSF events are available to watch online later, but I didn’t see any cameras, so I don’t think one will be shared.

So, thanks to Aaron Tveit, Neil Patrick Harris, and two generous moms and their daughters, I have a new poster, a new book, a new screensaver, and another awkward “stage door” story.

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Love, Simon (Advance Screening)

Don’t worry, no spoilers here!

Tonight I got to attend an advance screening of Love, Simon at the San Francisco Cinemark Century 9. I read the book back in August (Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli) and I’ve loved Nick Robinson since seeing him in The Kings of Summer (2013). I can’t discuss the movie until it opens on March 16th, but I really enjoyed it. My friend who didn’t read the book enjoyed it, too. I’m still smiling!

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My Year End Wrap Up 2017

Normally I approach my Year End Wrap Up with enthusiasm, but 2017 has been a very tough year. Most mornings I wake up with a sense of dread, almost afraid to open up the laptop to see what real-world horrors will dominate my morning news feed. The Stuff That Entertains Me is now more likely to be The Stuff That Keeps Me From Total Despair. Until recently, I used to ignore the news as much as possible; now I probably give it too much of my attention. I’m grateful that I can still turn to books, movies, TV and music to raise my spirits.

I began 2017 watching foreign soaps and making Chad Lowe collages. The year has ended with more reading, less television, and a bunch of new actors on my watch list. I started blogging again, although not as regularly as I’d hoped. There have been plenty of entertainment surprises along the way.

Best Books

The year started out slow, but then I finally got reading glasses! The two best non-fiction books I read this year were The Lost City of The Monkey God by Douglas Preston and Caesar’s Last Breath by Sam Kean. My summer LGBT reading project was fun, and the books from that post that have stayed with me the longest are Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin and Spy Stuff by Matthew J. Metzger. The best guilty pleasures this year were the Midnight Texas trilogy by Charlaine Harris and The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. My ambitious Dorothy Dunnett project— reading all 14 Lymond Chronicle/House of Niccolo books—has been a great escape for the last three months. I’m finally in the homestretch! (Whew.)

Best Movies

I had a good year for seeing movies in the cinema. I saw more than usual and there weren’t any duds. Some of them may have been less spectacular than I hoped, but nothing was truly disappointing. The loudest was Dunkirk in 70mm IMAX; I enjoyed the performances from the young cast but the scale of the evacuation seemed anemic. Their Finest was a lovely film and a good companion to Dunkirk. In the superhero category, I enjoyed Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok pretty much equally. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was less memorable, but I enjoyed Baby Groot and the music. I went into Baby Driver thinking, I don’t really care about car chases; I came out thinking, more car chases, please! Beauty and The Beast and The Greatest Showman were visually rich and very entertaining.  Older movies included Summer Magic at the Walt Disney Family Museum and Adventures in Babysitting at the Castro Theatre. The cast of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was fantastic, but I had some issues with the movie itself. I’m glad I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi before spoilers, and I love Rose, but her name bothers me. (It’s very…earthy?) Call Me By Your Name was gorgeous, and I’m now a big fan of Timothée Chalamet. I want him to be nominated for all the big awards, but I worry that winning too soon won’t be good for his career.

Best Television

This year, I was more likely to watch TV shows on DVD sets from the library. Except for Saturday Night Live, I’ve only watched one hour of network television since September. I haven’t been able to stomach the NBC Chicago Fire/PD/Med shows since they did the Ghost Ship Fire episodes without warning Bay Area folks before the broadcast. I’m still waiting for Code Black to return (what’s up with that, CBS??).

2017 was the year I finally joined the Game of Thrones craze, binge-watching the first six seasons on DVD in early summer.  I also FINALLY watched My So-called Life. The Borgias was fun, and I also enjoyed Unit One (Rejseholdet) from Denmark.

Finally, seeing the miniseries When We Rise in the cinema, with the cast, creative team, and real-life activists, was one of my best experiences of 2017.

Best DVDs

The DVD movie that had the deepest impression on me this year was The Impossible (2012). I avoided it because I don’t usually like natural disaster films, but Tom Holland was amazing. Older films I enjoyed included As It Is In Heaven (Så som i himmelen) and Saint Ralph (both from 2004). Bob Roberts (1992) is a must-see for predicting many of Trump’s campaign tactics. I ugly-cried through most of The Shack. Megan Leavey and Tanna were happy surprises. The Bronze (2016) had my favorite sex scene, and Tiffany Haddish owned Girls Trip.

Best YouTube

I’ve enjoyed the crosswalk musicals from James Corden, especially Beauty and The Beast and Hair. Broadway bootlegs have become a guilty pleasure, particularly anything with Ben Platt. Little Alfie was adorable in his brother Oliver’s coming out video.

As for my own YouTube videos, the Ed Sheeran one has gone over 1 million views. I wish I’d given it a cleaner ending, but I’m still learning to use Shotcut.

Best Tweets

My most popular tweets of 2017 were a #DuvetKnowItsChristmas photo and my Academy Award tweet about the White Helmets.

Swear Trek has given me the most belly laughs this year.

Twitter has made me angry, made me cry, made me think. I used to ‘like’ tweets to save the best ones. These days I ‘like’ tweets to show support for political opinions and causes, which means I don’t have time to go back over the whole year to find the gems. Here are some standouts from the end of the year:

Best Theatre

I went to the theatre only twice this year, to see Homefront and The Prince of Egypt. I followed Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt, and Matthew James Thomas from afar, and I also started reading daily newsletters from Playbill. I may not see many shows, but at least I’m better informed.

Best Music

I started listening to Ed Sheeran this year, and I also added a lot of Broadway cast albums—Kinky Boots, Matilda, Anastasia, The Band’s Visit, Bandstand, etc—to my playlist. I also listened to lots of Matthew James Thomas tracks from Britannia High and Pippin.

Biggest Time-Sucker-Upper

I’ve spent a lot of 2017 reading email news briefs from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the LA Times, and The Guardian. I’m better informed than ever before. I’m also more bitter and angry. Hopefully. 2018 will bring more activism and better ways of coping.

Entertainer of the Year

This year I was more successful than usual at keeping my interests broad and wide-ranging. I didn’t obsess too much over any one actor or entertainer. That makes it harder to choose just one Entertainer of the Year. Some of the honorable mentions: the cast of Game of Thrones, Francois Arnaud, Matthew James Thomas, Ben Platt, Jack Lowden, Sebastian Stan, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Holland, Wilson Cruz, Timothée Chalamet, Swear Trek, and Ed Sheeran. For sheer number of hours spent reading (over 6000 pages), I’m going to have to choose Dorothy Dunnett as my 2017 Entertainer of the Year. (Finally, a woman!)

Dorothy Dunnett (1923-2001)

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Love, Simon

Have I mentioned that I love Nick Robinson?

I saw him first in The Kings of Summer, and now I try to catch all his work. Even Jurassic World, and I can’t stand dinosaurs. 

Today on Twitter, Nick Robinson shared the poster to Love, Simon. This new movie opening in March is based on the book Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I read the book in August, and it was very entertaining. I couldn’t help noticing while watching Everything, Everything that Robinson is looking a bit too old for high school movies, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for this one. Mainly because he looks adorable in the poster, and he’s playing a gay character. Maybe it’s not as risky career-wise as it once was, but still…yay, Nick!

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Summer Reading: LGBT YA Novels

Happy Book Lovers Day!

I spent some wonderful summers as a kid reading books with specific themes. One summer was knights and squires, another was cowboys and horses, yet another was mysteries with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. In college, I read female authors in the summer to balance out the male-dominated required reading for courses in the winter. My last themed summer was black women writers, but that was years ago.

This year, I’m reading LGBT+ young adult novels. I’ve been exploring the nominees for the Lambda Literary Awards (Lammys) as well as the Stonewall Book Award. Some novels are from ‘best of” lists, usually tweeted by authors I followed after reading one of their books. There’s no particular order to my choices. It’s really down to what my library has available and what sounds interesting. Here’s what I’ve read so far, with my personal reaction to them. I always do my best to avoid plot spoilers.

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My Year End Wrap Up 2012

Another year has slipped away, and here I sit, reflecting back on what entertained me in 2012.  I always start my wrap up by going back to the beginning of the year, to see how my interests have changed.  I began the year dividing my time between British stuff and vintage television shows…and that’s exactly where I find myself now.  Only the faces have changed!

Best Books:  Might as well get the embarrassment out of the way first.  Normally I read a couple of books a week, but I went 8 months out of the last 12 without finishing a single book!  Oh, the shame.  I could blame my eyes, since I need new glasses, but the real truth is that I spend too much time online.  Making videos has also sucked up my reading time, but that’s for another category.  Of the small selection of books read this year, I really enjoyed Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, and Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim.  (More about Arngrim’s book in an upcoming post.)  The biggest disappointment was Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

Best Television:  My television is usually always tuned to either Me-TV or CBS, except on Sunday night, when I watch Masterpiece on PBS.  I still enjoy The Big Bang Theory, but I do think it’s losing something from having too many separate storylines, with the characters spending less time gathered in the same living room.  More characters means less screen time for favorites Sheldon and Raj.  I discovered Leverage in reruns just as the show got cancelled, but at least I have five seasons to explore further.  Since September, I’ve been enjoying reruns of Emergency! on Me-TV.  Another season of Sherlock brought more delight, as well as more Inspector Lewis.  Thanks to a friend, I’m now back to enjoying EastEnders, the British serial drama, and already my life wouldn’t be complete without weekly visits to Albert Square.   This year’s favorite program was Call the Midwife, featuring new favorite Miranda Hart as the wonderful Chummy.  I can’t wait for more of this series!

Best Twitter:   I’m very picky about twitter.  Too much shameless self-promotion?  Unfollow.   Too many retweets?  Unfollow.   Too many conversations that should be private?  Unfollow.  No sense of humor?  I shouldn’t have been following in the first place!  I enjoy humor, whimsy,  and folks who don’t take themselves too seriously.   The most consistently entertaining tweets this year have come from Josh Groban.  I’ve also enjoyed following Russell Tovey.  I can count on a friend to share the best of Demetri Martin and The Onion, so I guess they count, too!

Best Theatre:  Oops.  Didn’t see any.  Never mind.

Best Movies:   I had good luck with the movies I saw in the cinema this year.  Mind you, I still haven’t seen three of the four films I was most looking forward to in 2012, so they will have to wait until 2013!  The Avengers was terrific, and I also enjoyed Life of PiThe Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a favorite, but Tom Conti and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made it worthwhile for me.   I saw my first 3D movie, John Carter, but I’m not a fan of the technology.  It was a great year for silents: Napoleon was stunning, and I also saw three films at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with The Canadian (1926) making the deepest impression.   Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan had an entertaining beginning and middle, but I was disappointed by the third act.  The best new film I saw in 2012 was Argo.

Best DVDs:  I spent six months of this year with Wagon Train at the top of my Netflix queue.  They never sent me any on the discs, and my queue always said “short wait.”  I could have bought the DVDs for the money I spent on my Netflix plan, especially since I wasn’t watching the discs they sent me instead.  I cancelled my account.   This means I can’t go look at my history for this year to review, but this an easy category.  The best DVDs of my year have been the classic television western Laramie, particularly seasons one and two.  When I’m not watching the episodes again and again, I’m making tribute videos and posting them on YouTube.  I now have more YouTube followers than blog followers!   Which leads me to a new category…

Best Time-Sucker-Upper:  Call it a hobby, a passion, an obsession, a skill or an art.  But this year I started making videos, and now I can’t stop.  I’d been making slideshows using still images at animoto.com, and this summer I tried using their template program for short video clips.  It was okay, but I didn’t like their wide border which wasted space, so it forced me to try Windows Movie Maker.  I had no idea it would be so much fun!  My Laramie tribute videos aren’t very interesting to people who aren’t fans of the series, but I’m proud of my channel and grateful for all my followers.

Best Music:  Mostly I’ve listened to older stuff this year.  When Davy Jones died, I started listening to lots of the Monkees.  I love Gaelic Storm’s album How Are We Getting Home? (2004), discovered in a stack of my own CDs that I never got around to hearing.  I’m definitely going to listen to more of this group in 2013.  I’ve also been enjoying lots of Kate Rusby.  One of my favorite new old songs is “Can’t Turn My Heart Away” by Art Garfunkel.  I’m still enjoying The Book of Mormon Broadway soundtrack, but I learned the hard way not to listen to it in public.  Even with earphones, you look like a nutter snickering at the lyrics.

Best Music Video:  My choices are never conventional, but that’s what you get for taking musical advice from me!   Here’s my favorite:

Never mind that it was uploaded in 2008.  It’s still the most adorable video I’ve seen on YouTube this year!  If you don’t know it, this is India’s national anthem. [the original video was deleted, so this is an updated link.]

Best New-To-Me Software:  Handbrake for ripping DVDs, and Google Talk for saving me a fortune on phone bills.  I chat now with friends around the world, without the complications of installing Skype, and no webcam to show everyone how hideous I look through a fisheye lens.

Entertainer of the Year:  Honorable Mention this year goes to Miranda Hart.  I discovered her in Call the Midwife, and now I’m enjoying her comedy on YouTube and her BBC series Miranda.  The winner is an easy choice.  In April, I purchased season one of Laramie on DVD, and by the end of May, I was a member of Robert Fuller’s official fan group.  While my favorite role is Jess Harper in Laramie, I’ve been enjoying Wagon Train, Emergency!, and all of Fuller’s other television shows and movies.   I’ve spent hours chatting with other fans, making tribute videos and collages, and searching ebay for vintage photos.  For so much entertainment in so many different ways, Robert Fuller is my Entertainer of the Year.  Thank you, Mr. Fuller!

Jess Harper whip blog crp

Robert Fuller in Laramie

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Dreams & Portents

Nance Crawford edited a dream dictionary originally published in 1885, and it’s now available at Amazon and Smashwords.  It’s a fun book to browse through, from a time before dreams had Freudian associations, when a snake was still a snake.  The reason I’m sharing the book here?  I helped to design the cover.   Check it out!

Be sure to check out Nance Crawford’s website, and consider registering as a member.  You’ll get access to her members-only blog posts, like “John Wayne Slept in My Room.”

Sweet Dreams!

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