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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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


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:

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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