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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Reflections on Denver Theatre 2006

The Ovation Award winners have been announced. Congratulations to those chosen and all of the nominees. Public acknowledgement of one's work is a nice thing.

I also want to acknowledge those who were not nominated but put forth some amazing performances throughout this year.
I'm not sure exactly what qualifies -- or disqualifies -- a production for nomination. Does it have to have been reviewed by John Moore? If so, that disqualifies a lot of really good shows that only ran for a couple of weekends or that slipped under the Denver Post's radar. Don't get me wrong. the Ovation Awards are a good thing, and it's nice of John to go to the effort. It isn't practical to include every show performed in the greater Denver area in 2006 for consideration, and I think that John does a lot to keep the process fair and largely free from favoritism. It's not a perfect process.
I myself saw just over 30 shows this year (some more than once), so I would like to acknowledge what I saw as some stand-out productions this year, and companies to keep an eye on in 2007. This will include a bit of overlapping with the Ovation Awards, but also some shows that were probably missed by the "selection committee." I'm choosing not to single out individuals as I will inevitably leave someone out. (And, with my luck, it would be someone who carries pepper spray.)

Of the shows that I saw in 2007, these really impressed me:

The Pajama Game and My Fair Lady - Performance Now (looking forward to their Gypsy next year)

The Wiz - PHAMALy (Our Town opens in January with mostly the same cast)

The Full Monty - Arvada Center (I know I said it's not as funny as the movie, but it's still funny, and it was well done.)

Bat Boy, The Musical - Boulder Broadway Company (If anybody knows what they've got lined up in 2007, please let me know.)

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow - NextStage (Save the Phoenix! Save the Phoenix!)
Smell of the Kill -The Avenue Theatre

As It Is In Heaven - The Backstage Theatre

Equus - Lake Dillon Theatre Company

Proof - Evergreen Players

Tartuffe: Born Again - Germinal Stage

The Dresser - Bas Bleu

Turn of the Screw - Modern Muse Theatre

The Robber Bridegroom - Metro State College of Denver

Urinetown - Score Marketing

Cinderella - Town Hall Arts Center

Keep up the good work in 2007, gang, and I'll do what I can to help keep your seats filled.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Last Books I Read, 12/28/06

Okay, here are some interesting (and a bit sad) statistics about reading in America from a 2004 study by The American Bookseller's Association:

80% of Americans did not buy or read a book in 2004.

70% of all American adults had not been in a bookstore in the previous five years.

58% of American adults never read a book after high school.

42% of university graduates never read another book.

I'm so disappointed in you, piggies.
See? I'm not really arrogant. I just seem to be because I read. (Alright, everyone together: "Oh no he di-hent!")

I finished two books this week that were, by coincidence, in interesting contrast to one another.

Taming the Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanh
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master advises on how to conquer rage, jealousy, fear and the desire for revenge.

Night by Elie Wiesel
In this new translation by his wife Marion, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel recounts his experience as a teen and Orthodox Jew of being sent, with his family, to the German death camp at Auschwitz.

Taming the Tiger Within is a meditation on reaching a higher level of consciousness -- a new (actually, ancient) enlightenment. It is a journey of faith.

"Recognize and embrace your anger when it manifests itself. Care for it with tenderness rather than suppressing it."

Night demonstrates vividly how the Nazi death camps attempted (and frequently succeeded) in debasing their prisoners until they became barely animals, scratching and clawing for food, warmth, and survival. It is a harrowing tale about a young man's loss of faith.

"One day when we had come to a stop, a worker took a piece of bread out of his bag and threw it into a wagon. There was a stampede. Dozens of starving men fought desperately over a few crumbs . . . Men were hurling themselves against each other, trampling, tearing at and mauling each other. Beasts of prey unleashed, animal hate in their eyes."

However, as disturbing and disheartening as the story of Night is, the existence of the book itself stands as a hallmark of humanity's ultimate triumph over inhumanity.

Wiesel spoke these word in 1986 during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe. . .
"We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.
"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."

When I was in college, I went to a Martin Luther King Day rally (yes, there was a girl involved). While there, I noticed an elderly man in full black-face make-up. Shortly after I noticed him, a large group of angry African-American students noticed him, too. I turned to my friend and said, "That old guy is going to get himself killed." I was closer to the man than the angry students, so I ran over to him first.
"Excuse me, sir, but what do you think you're doing ?" I asked.
He didn't say anything. He just pulled up the sleeve on his left arm, and I could see a faded tattoo: a series of letters and numbers indelibly marked on his forearm.
That's about the time that the other students showed up. I turned around, waved my arms, and said, "Hold it just a second, guys. This man was in the Nazi concentration camps. He survived the death camps."
They stopped in their tracks, and nobody said anything for a moment. The black face make-up was this man's way of showing his solidarity with Martin Luther King's message. Then one of the guys nodded his head and said, "Word." (Well, it was the nineties.) We all stood there for a while and listened to the old man talk about what Dr. King meant to him, and then we all got a brief history lesson, first-hand.
Taming the Tiger Within is a useful book. Pick it up, and keep it nearby to peruse from time to time. Night is an important book. Read it. Cover to cover. (I read it in one night. I felt guilty every time I started to set it down, so I just kept reading.) Then give it to someone else. And tell them to pass it on.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hungry Like The Wolf 12/26

I suppose I could have called this, "The Better to Eat You With, etc.", but I just heard that Duran Duran will be putting out a new album soon, so I was "inspired." (Come on, Flock of Seagulls! What are you waiting for?!)
Anyway, in case you haven't surmised, I thought I'd tell you all about a dining discovery I made yesterday. About the only restaurants open on Christmas Day are Vietnamese and Indian, and I found a great Indian place when I came out of the Chez Artiste yesterday after seeing a terrific movie, Sweet Land, which I mentioned in my previous entry.
India Oven.
I was a bit late for the buffet (which I will have to go back and try sometime), so I had the Chicken Masala. The food is great, the portions are big, the prices are nice, and the hosting and waitstaff are friendly and fast. I had a great meal and a really nice time.
Now, I tend to have a somewhat adventurous palate, so take that into account if you're not one for trying the exotic. (I've branched out a bit from constructionally-challenged swine and dim-witted little girls and their grandmothers.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Better to See You With, My Dear 12/25

Okay, I've got a handful of movies to talk about this week. The blizzard coupled with the fact that I live in the Benson Dubois Apartments (as in, "Shovel out yo' own damn self!") meant that I stayed in a bit more than usual this week, and, as such, had more time for movie viewing.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The plot: A bizarre murder in the Louvre pairs an American Professor (Tom Hanks) and a French Detective (Audrey Tautou) in a race to unravel the cryptic clues before they are captured or killed by the police or a mysterious religious faction in Ron Howard's film of Dan Brown's best-selling novel.

Thankfully, the movie doesn't take as long to get going as the book did, and it is quite a ride. It's hard to say too much about what happens in this movie without revealing any of the surprises to those who haven't seen it or read the book, so forgive me if I'm a bit cryptic myself. At times the movie seems a little bit too proud of its own special effects, but a great deal of effort is made to dramatize the historical references of the story. Otherwise, it would be a little talky. If you haven't read the book, can you follow the movie? I'd say yes. If you have read the book, is the movie still interesting? Less so, but it's a fun way to re-live the story.

The Message (1976)

Plot: A biography of the prophet Mohammed and the birth of Islam.

It is highly offensive to the people of Islam to depict the image of Mohammed in any way, shape or form. So, how does one make a film biography of the prophet without ever showing his face? The answer, cliche though it may be, is: very carefully.
And if I were to sum up this movie in one word, it would be "careful." From a historical (or quasi-historical) perspective, The Message is an interesting film. Narratively, it's a bit melodramatic (even the masterful Anthony Quinn seems a bit soap-opera-ish at times). Is it particularly thought-provoking or challenging? Not really. This falls more into the "educational" category. Now, there are two terrific battle sequences, though a sword fight between Mohammed and an Arab enemy gets a little confusing (and almost hokey) since we can only see the prophet's sword. Even though the movie was made in 1976, the cinematography feels about ten years older, which isn't always a bad thing, but it is so often enough to drag down this film. The most difficult element, of course, is including Mohammed in the story as an active participant. There's a lot of scenes where another character comes out of a room, after ostensibly speaking to Mohammed, and says "The prophet says . . ." Another chosen solution is to have characters speak to the camera, as though the camera is Mohammed. But unfortunately, we can't hear Mohammed's voice either, so the "conversations" are mildly awkward monologues. (Thankfully, the director had the wisdom not to have the camera bob up and down for "yes" or side to side for "no.") One continual gaffe, though, is, right after one of these conversations where a group of characters is speaking to the camera, the director cuts to a wide shot, which Mohammed, of course is not in. Apparently, in addition to being a conduit of God's word, Mohammed was also a champion hide-and-seeker. (You know, sometimes I just ask for trouble, don't I?)
At three hours long, this movie is really only for the curious. If you want to spend more than a couple of hours watching a desert epic, rent Lawrence of Arabia.

Dracula (Spanish version) (1931)

Plot: Ancient Vampire Count Dracula purchases Carfax Abbey adjacent to Dr. Seward's sanitarium, and takes a particular interest in Dr. Seward's daughter, Eva, en espanol.

As an alternative to dubbing, Universal Studios opted to shoot a few of their films on the same sets with a different, Spanish-speaking cast. Dracula, was one of these films. Now, before I watched the Spanish version, I decided to watch the English version once again, and do a sort of side-by-side comparison. The trouble is that I couldn't decide whether to watch the originally-scored version or the newly-scored (1999) version with music composed by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. So I watched them both. (Don't judge me!)

I must say, though I prefer Bela Lugosi's count, Carlos Villarias is also very effective. (At times, I felt his interpretation was very similar to Christopher Lee's count, some 25 years later.) Overall, I'd have to agree with many of the critics who bow to the Spanish version as being superior. It's more passionate, the camera work is significantly more interesting, and Lupita Tovar (as Eva in this version instead of Mina) is far more charming and comely than Helen Chandler's Mina. (Who is no slouch by any means.) For Dracula fans and/or film buffs, this is one worth seeing.

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

Plot: A war-time love story between an ambulance driver (Gary Cooper) and a nurse (Helen Hayes) during World War I.

I'm not normally one for big, melodramatic love stories (and this is one of the earliest), but I do like this movie. This film literally shows its age -- the print from which it was taken is worn, and there may even be scenes missing, but the story (by Hemingway) ages well. Papa didn't care for the "ambiguous" ending the studio gave his story, but, hey, it's Hollywood. Touching, well-acted, and impressive special effects (especially considering the year) make this a movie for movie lovers.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Plot: I don't want to give too much away. Suspense and intrigue from Alfred Hitchcock.

As much as I like Hitchcock's own remake of this with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day in 1956, I really think I like the original best. Yes, this is early Hitchcock and some of his experimental photography misses the mark at times, but, mostly, this version is far more witty, suspenseful, and atmospheric. And Peter Lorre in his first English-speaking role? Not to be missed. A real villain's villain.

The Brother's Grimm (2005)

Plot: Fictionalized portrayal of Jakob (Heath Ledger) and Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) as a pair of goblin hunters from Monty Python's Terry Gilliam.

I follow the Pythons with a certain loyalty, so I've seen Jabberwocky, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and most of the other films that Gilliam has helmed. While I am usually a big fan of the atmosphere he creates in his movies, I tend to be disappointed by the loss of narrative thread midway through or the sometimes hackneyed resolutions at the end.
Not so with The Brothers Grimm. It's fun, fast-paced, and, though not all of the questions are answered, an overall fun film. Great performances throughout and a really great looking film.

Sweet Land (2005)

Plot: (from Set in 1920, Inge travels from Norway to rural Minnesota meet the man destined to be her husband. Bureaucracy and social morality cause major complications.

Though this movie has a 2005 release date, I was fortunate to still catch it at the Chez Artiste. Wow, what a beautiful and charming movie! I've seen a handful of independent films lately that I found to be very disappointing. They've felt rushed, amateurish, and a bit full of themselves. This movie is none of those things, and an absolute delight! See it. See it. See it! This movie is my highest recommendation of the week.

Okay. All for now. Relish life, support local theatre, and please, please, please, remember theatre etiquette: Hush, keep your feet on the floor (or at least off the seats in front of you), and ixnay on the origami with your Heath bar wrapper!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Better To Hear You With, My Dear. 12/24

Here's some of what's been filling my ears this week:

Barenaked for the Holidays - The Barenaked Ladies
If you're looking for an alternative to the same old Christmas carols (and by December 24th, who isn't -- they've been playing in the stores since Halloween), give a listen to this little gem from BNL.Delivered with tongues firmly in cheek, you may never look at Christmas (or Hanukkah) Carols the same way again. (Their rendition of "Deck the Halls" using only the words "Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young" as lyrics is not to be missed.) In addition to re-interpretations of old classics, there are a few original holiday tunes delivered with BNL's trademark acerbic wit and clever musicality. This album is not just for Barenaked Ladies fans. It's a nice way to unwind after a hard day of slugging it out with soccer moms for the last TMX Elmo doll.

Foiled - Blue October
Maija Gillespie.
My old schoolmate Erek's older sister. (Big sigh.) I had such a crush on her. I auditioned for my first school play because I knew she was going to be there. (Yep. She's the one you can all blame.) I used to spend hours and hours hanging out at Erek's house just on the off chance that Maija might be there or come home at any moment. It was at Erek's house that this old country boy was turned on to the music of the Psychedelic Furs and the Cure, among others. The British underground new wave sound of the 80's became indelibly associated for me with the Gillespie household as well as the brunette Finnish goddess, Maija. In fact, I even went on a road trip with Erek, Maija, and a few others to see the Cure in concert at Fiddler's Green (when it was still called Fiddler's Green. Thanks for stomping on my adolescence, Pete Coors!).
So what does one of my schoolboy crushes have to do with an album that was released just this year? Well, like many people who purchased this CD, I picked it up on the strength of the single "Hate Me." As is often the case, the single that gets the most radio play is the one song that is most different from all of the other songs on the album. (Did anybody else pick up the Finger Eleven album a couple years ago because of "One Thing"?) That's not necessarily the case with Foiled. Justin Furstenfeld's gravelly, angst-ridden vocals are a signature part of this band's sound, and, if you like "Hate Me," you will probably like the rest of this album. For me, though, the overall feel of this album evoked one particular memory.
Maija Gillespie.

Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
I am not going to review this album. If you have it in your collection, then you already know. If you don't, go buy it. Now. Don't make me smack you, piggy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The last book I read 12/23/06

"The better to see you with" I am already using for my movie entries, and "the better to comprehend you with" is just silly. (I'm told.) So, the title for my book entries is bit more on the prosaic side, at least for now. I'm open to suggestions. (I can scoff with the best of 'em.)
I had all of these great statistics about how many people actually read anymore, but I can't seem to remember where I wrote them down, so perhaps I'll share them next time. However, if I can paraphrase, to the best of my recollection, the ultimate analysis of the study:
Turn off the flippin' tube! Just because the WB refuses to cancel "7th Heaven" doesn't mean you have to watch it!
Or, something like that.
So, anyway, the last book I read to completion (I'm usually juggling four or five at a time) was a classic, and one of my favorites:
H.G. Wells's The Time Machine

Now, if you saw the 2002 film only, you don't really have the story. (Nice effects, but really just stupid.) The 1960 version is a better reflection of Wells's story, but even there you don't really get the beauty of the language. Wells's narrative, from the point of view of the time traveller is rich in description and analysis. I remember the first time I read this book I was learning about the scientific method in school, and this story really made clear to me the idea of conclusions, hypotheses, and theories, as the traveller encounters the worlds of the Eloi and the Morlocks in A.D. 802,701.
Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes and saying "sounds riveting."
Actually it is. Even though I know how it ends, Wells always keeps me on the edge of my seat. This really is an intense and action-filled story.
Also, this is a great book to get back into reading with, if you haven't picked one up in a while. It's not too long, and it's a lot of fun, and it makes you think. (No, that's a good thing. It is!)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Snow? What snow?

Hello, my snowy little piggies, I hope everyone made it through the blizzard more or less unscathed. I know that you must have been terribly worried about your Big Bad Wolf over the last couple of days, but fear not. A young lady in a red cloak invited me to stay warm by her fire. (Her grandma was apparently away vacationing in Orlando.)
For those of you flat-landers reading this blog, check this out.
An added tale: as I was walking back from the grocery store Wednesday night, I spotted a poor fellow hopelessly spinning his tires in a snow bank. I set down my groceries and walked over to give him a push. (Oh, what? If you all can take off of work because of the blizzard, I can take one day off from villainy. Besides, he was in my way.) After much shoving, we moved to shoveling, and we got his car pretty well dug out. (This was exceptionally interesting because my stuck new amigo spoke not one word of English, and what little Spanish I possess does not contain words or phrases like "stuck", "snow", "shovel", or "your tire is on my foot.") Then, to my surprise, he reached into his car and pulled out a large container of salt -- table salt -- and proceeded to sprinkle it all around his tires and in his intended path. Given our language barrier, and the fact that it was mucho frio, I elected not to tell him that what he really wanted was rock salt and simply gave him a "thumbs up." Whether it was because of the condiment-spreading or the significant bending of my spine, in a matter of moments, his little car was happily on its way (probably to the next snow bank.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hangin' out with the PHAM'

I spent this last Sunday afternoon over at Braun's Pub and Grill at the PHAMALy Holiday party. (I was invited. No, really, I was. I have the invitation right here.)
PHAMALy's production of Our Town will be playing in January over at the Aurora Fox Theatre. Those of you who've visited my website already know all about this, but it's worth mentioning again. Many of the Our Town cast was there, and I got to to talk to some of them. (At least those whom I could sneak up on.)
I talked to the fetching Regan Linton who will undoubtedly be delightful in the role of Emily Webb. Leonard Barrett talked to me a bit about playing the Stage Manager, but we quickly slipped back to talking about his performance in Bas Bleu's The Dresser this fall. (If you saw it, wasn't it great? If you didn't: nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!) Also, attention theatre companies: Leonard Barrett wants to do The Great White Hope. Soon. We also talked about another show he wants to do, but as it is also one of my favorites, I'm going to be a bit stingier with that one. (Hint: A musical derived from an Odets play. Not Two By Two.) Jason Dorwart, board member and organizer of the event has been juggling law school finals with rehearsals in his role as Editor Webb. Jason is more than up to the task, though, I assure you. I saw co-director Nick Sugar for just a moment but didn't get a chance to talk to him. I tried. I chased him for almost six blocks. That guy can run.
Teri Westerman (Farmer McCarthy) and I talked for a while about her stepping down from the board after nearly seventeen years. She was a founder of PHAMALy, and, until just last night, the board chair. I know it was a difficult decision for Teri, but she felt that it was just time for a change, and she's looking forward to focusing on her dancing and choreography. She will, of course, stay very involved with PHAMALy as a performer.
Since the Denver Post Ovation Award nominations came out on Sunday as well, I thought I'd mention the nods given to the PHAMALy, um, family.

Nick Sugar, nominated for Theater Person of the year.
Donna Debricini (and band), nominated for Best Band for THAC's Cabaret.
Juliet Villa, nominated for her breakout role as Dorothy in PHAMALy's The Wiz.
Leonard Barrett, nominated for the title role in The Wiz.
Debbie Stark and Cindy Bray, nominated for choreography for The Wiz.
The irrepressible Mallory Kay Nelson, nominated for costumes for The Wiz.
Charlie Packard and Jennifer Orf, nominated for lighting for The Wiz.
And Todd Debricini received a special nod for the make-up effects in The Wiz.

Congratulations to you all, and if you'll excuse me for a moment, I just wrote "The Wiz" six times in succession, so I need to go use the bathroom.

Okay, I'm back.
Congratulations to all Ovation nominees, and, if I can take a moment to mention some individual friends in particular (of course I can, it's my blog.): Congratulations to Kitty, Elgin, Michelle, Megan, Emily, Chris, Adam, Juliet, Nick, Terry, Leonard, Michael, Charlie, Jen, other Jen, Mal, Debbie, Cindy, Melissa, Juliana, Gene, Beth, Todd (et al), and Donna.

Back to Our Town, Jeanne Kloosterman, the Volunteer Coordinator for PHAMALy ( needs volunteers for the January tech week and production dates. It's really quite fun.
Yeah, Yeah, I know what you're thinking, "Brady volunteering?" but let me assure you: I was just there to meet chicks. All is normal with the world.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The better to see you with, my dear 12/18

So, with Sundays devoted to music recommendations, I thought I'd make Mondays about movies.
Here are the last three movies I watched:

Tiptoes (2003)

The plot: There is something that Steven (Matthew McConaughey) isn't telling his girlfriend, Carol. (Kate Beckinsale). He's a dwarf, genetically-speaking, anyway. Both of his parents, his brother Rolfe, and most (or all) of his extended family have dwarfism. When Carol finds out that she's pregnant, she is abruptly introduced to Steven's family, and the world of little people.

When I first heard about this movie, the fact that Gary Oldman was playing a dwarf (or little person, feel free to correct me), bugged me. Couldn't they find an actual dwarf to play the role? Well, it sounds like this was really kind of Oldman's project, and that's the role he wanted to play. And he's good. (Of course he is, he's Gary Oldman!) The camera work, etc. that turns 5'11" Oldman into a roughly 4-foot tall person is also very good. And, the fact that he's taking the role from an actual dwarf actor, is somewhat forgivable, because the remainder of the supporting cast, save for Patricia Arquette and David Alan Grier are little people.
Here's the problem: this movie is lousy. The acting is good, but the script is a mess, the story is all over the place, the editing is strange, and the overall experience is highly unsatisfying. It's a shame. This movie had a lot of potential. It still kind of works as a "slice of life" in the world of little people, but there's a reality show on TLC called "Little People, Big World" that does that a whole lot better.

The Silencers (1966)

Plot: Doesn't really matter. Dean Martin as semi-retired super spy/photographer Matt Helm.

This is the first of four "Matt Helm" movies that Dino made in the 60's, and is expectedly and intentionally silly. In the same vein as the James Coburn, "Flint" movies, there are lots of gadgets, explosions, and beautiful women. It's very silly and fun, but not nearly as funny as the Austin Powers films that it inspired. But, if you like Dino, you've gotta see it.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Plot: In this adaptation of Harper Lee's beloved (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) novel, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck)defends a black man wrongly accused of rape in the Depression-era South, while raising his two children.

I'm not sure how many times I've seen this movie. (Fewer times than The Great Escape, but more often than Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.) It's a classic. And, for me personally, Gregory Peck's performance is moving and powerful. You see, growing up, I didn't have any grandparents, so I have always imagined classic movie actors as being what my grandfathers must have been like: Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, Fred MacMurray in Follow Me, Boys!, and, Gregory Peck as the stalwart Atticus Finch.
If you haven't seen this movie, see it. Rent it on DVD (Widescreen, you heathen), turn off the cellphone, dim the lights, and watch this movie. It might not change your life, but, then again, it might.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Better to Hear You With, My Dear 12/10-12/16

So, in addition to blogging about noteworthy shows and enlightening you all to some of my behavioral issues, I did say that I would write some about music, movies, and books that come my way. (And, unlike local theatre, if I don't like it, I will say so.)
Sundays, I will devote to music. A few of the albums I had in my CD players this week are:

The Very Best of A Celtic Christmas- Various Artists
For those of you who've grown tired of hearing "White Christmas" by Andy Williams, and then by Mel Torme, and then by Dino, and then by Leon Redbone . . . (Thank you, KOSI 101), this is a slightly different take on Christmas tunes. It is a collection of the best from six Celtic Christmas albums released by Windham Hill Records. Artists include James Galway, William Coulter, and David Arkenstone. No chesnuts roasting on any open fires here -- there are even a couple of lively reels. (Uptempo foot-stompers, me wee bonnies.) I like it. It's good "stuck-in-the-Wal-Mart-parking-lot" listening.

Spamalot - Original Broadway Cast Recording
You know, I'm getting a bit weary of having some of my favorite movies (My Favorite Year, The Goodbye Girl, The Full Monty) turned into musicals that pale somewhat by comparison. Now it's been done to Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Yes, Spamalot is funny, but it's just not as funny as its source material, in my opinion. Eric Idle is the primary creative Python force behind this outing, and I've always felt that he was the "Zeppo" of the group. (Or the Dan Aykroyd.) I'm reserving full judgement until I can see the actual show live, but I'm a bit disappointed with the album.

Cold Spring Harbor - Billy Joel
First album from the "Piano Man" before he released the song that earned him that moniker. I've heard mixed reviews on this, but I really kind of liked it. It's a bit messy at times, but that kid (he was 21 or 22 at the time, I think) could play the heck out of a piano. I also felt that there was a certain McCartney-esque quality to the vocals. This is a good one for the die-hard Billy Joel fans, but people who only know him for "Uptown " and "We Didn't Start the Fire" may not care for it. I liked it. (This is the album with "She's Got A Way.")

Brooke Shields in Wonderful Town - 2004 Broadway Revival Cast
After the critically-acclaimed Donna Murphy left the cast, she was replaced by Brooke Shields in the role of Ruth. Though a cast album of the show had already been released with Ms. Murphy, the producers decided to release a second cast album with former model Shields. I must say that I looked at this album with the same scrutiny that the clerk at 7-11 looks at a 20 dollar bill I hand him. Or a five. Or a nickel. (Why don't people trust me?)
After all, Donna Murphy had played Fosca in Passion, and Brooke Shields had played, um, Brenda Starr?
However, I was pleasantly surprised. Brooke holds her own, and this lesser-known musical is a real gem. With music by Leonard Bernstein (who appears to be having the time of his life), and lyrics by Comden and Green, this show is smart, funny, and really swings. I'm surprised that this show isn't produced more often, frankly, because it really swings, and Ruth is a great role for a beautiful, brassy, belter. (Are you listening Janelle Christie?) An added bonus is a couple of uncovered studio tracks of Comden and Green performing numbers from the show. Adolph Green passed away in 2002, and Betty Comden left us just last month. Hearing the two perform together is a real treat. I really liked this album.

Give them a listen if you get a chance.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Yep, I'm that guy.

You know that friend you have who always seems to find some way of making a scene or embarrassing you when you're out in public? You all have one, you know you do. Well, last night as I was looking at a room full of puzzled faces, and my friend was trying to figure out how to discreetly crawl under her chair, I hit upon a realization: I'm that guy.
You see, I was at a show last night. (It's closing as I'm writing this, so I won't bother telling you what it was. That would make me a tease.) At intermission, someone from the box office came out to give something to one of the patrons, and called out his name, but no one answered.
"Randy Baker? Is there a Randy Baker here? I'm looking for a Randy Baker! Does anyone know a Randy Baker? I'm trying to find a Randy Baker!"
I let this go on for about twenty seconds (remarkable restraint for me) when finally I could contain myself no longer.
I sat up in my seat and said," Would you settle for a horny sous chef?"
Yeah, I'm a menace.

Thanks for the feedback on the new blog, gang. I'm noticing that a lot of you are electing to e-mail me directly (those of you who have my e-mail) rather than chiming in on the comments section here. I don't know if that's because you don't want to publicly endorse my site (Hey, I don't blame you. Guilt by association and all that.), or if it's because you're required to register with in order to leave comments, and would rather not. Well, the registration requirement is a default setting that I have the option to change, so I'll go ahead and do that now.
Enjoy yourself, support local theatre, and, if Randy Baker is reading this: Dude, my bad.

Friday, December 15, 2006

So do I get the part?

I recently had an audition experience that I thought would be worth sharing simply for entertainment value.
Preferring to direct, it's been a while since I've been to an audition on the other side of the table. Recently, however, I heard that Littleton Town Hall Arts Center was holding auditions for one of my favorite musicals, 1776. I decided that I would dust off the old vocal chords and give it a shot. I went to a vocal coach, hired out a rehearsal session with an accompanist, picked out a favorite monologue, and basically "got my act together" for the audition.
On the day of auditions, I was feeling pretty confident. My voice was in pretty good shape, song and monologue were memorized thoroughly, and I was relaxed.
When my name was called, I strode confidently into the audition room, introduced myself, went over my music with the lovely and talented Amanda Farnsworth (music director for the show and accompanist for the audition), walked to the little yellow "X" that marked the audition spot, and turned around to face the auditing table.
Now, on that 70's TV show, "Wonder Woman," when Lynda Carter turned around a half-dozen or so times she would turn into a butt-kicking Amazon Princess. Evidently, I should have kept turning, because my half-turn transformed me into a blithering idiot.
I really think that I felt the room shift, and for a moment, I didn't know where I was. The director said, "Give me just a moment" as he scribbled something down.
I said, "Take your time," because I honestly couldn't figure out how I'd gotten into this room. After a moment, I became very aware of the fact that the very pretty girl at the piano was looking at me. I smiled. She smiled back. Then I realized that everyone was looking at me. I smiled, and the director said, "Whenever you're ready."
Ready? Ready for what? Why do they keep looking at me? That girl at the piano is really cute. Piano? Music? Sing! Sing, you idiot! You're in an audition!
Amanda nodded at me. I nodded back. Then she started to play. Oh nuts! What's my song? What's my song?
Miraculously, I remembered the first word of the song just as it came time to sing it. And when I say sing, I do so because I cannot accurately describe the sound that actually came out of my mouth on that first note. It is a sound that I recall hearing only once before in my childhood on a Mutual of Omaha wildlife special. I don't recall what creature made the terrible sound, but I do recall that Marlon Perkins looked scared, very scared. By the second note, my voice had become almost human again, and I proceeded, mildly shaken, into the rest of the song. I was almost to full vocal power by about the tenth bar, and I thought, we may pull this one out yet, when inexplicably, the next word of the song disappeared from my brain. I stopped, and, for some reason, grabbed my throat. (Did I think that I had swallowed the word?)
At that moment, I remembered a quote from Winston Churchill: "When you're going through hell, keep going."
I backed up a couple of bars and got a "running start" at the missing word, thinking, it's in my brain somewhere. It'll find it's way out.
Nope. I stopped again. Evidently, the word had been frightened away by the horrible screeching animal that had appeared at the beginning of the song.
(The word, by the way, was exception'ly. Not exceptionally. Exception'ly. Frackin' Lerner and Lowe.)
I backed up again and took another run at it. When I got to the offending (and absent) word, I mumbled like it was a secret (it certainly was to me) and finished the song. Then, partly as a release and partly just because the whole thing had been so comical, I started to laugh. Amanda then started to laugh. Then the rest of the panel started to laugh. Whether the correct preposition was with or at, I may never know, but it gave me a second to regroup.
Then I began my monologue: one of my favorite pieces by Oscar Wilde.
I got about five seconds in when suddenly, the missing word -- exception'ly -- jumped back into my head like a wayward croquet ball. Relieved as I was at finally remembering the word, I became painfully aware of the fact that, with its re-entry, it had knocked the rest of my monologue right out of my head.
Now what?
Well, knowing the basic theme and story of the monologue, as well as Oscar Wilde's fondness for alliteration, I decided to fake my way through until the monologue came back to me. I don't think it ever did. I started out alright, but as I became increasingly aware of the fact that the monologue was seemingly gone for good, both my concentration and my British accent deteriorated. The panel was then subjected to an oddly-gesticulated amalgamation of Long John Silver in an Irish Spring commercial. As I forged through, unable to understand my own ramblings over the loud hum of Oscar Wilde spinning in his grave at 400 rpms, I thought I heard the voice of Winston Churchill saying to me, "Dude! Let it go!"
I somehow managed to find a stopping point in my tirade/audition, and then smiled and left the room. (I don't know if I stopped to open the door or just kept walking.) Not my best work.
Luckily, the folks at Town Hall are fond of me, and even offered to write in the part of a shrieking, sheep-herding pirate, just for me. I graciously declined as I felt that it would diminish the integrity of the show.
Now, I've had bad auditions before (though never this bad), but I am pleased that I was able to find the humor in this one. Laughing at this experience has proven a far more effective way of dealing with a bad audition than my usual coping strategy. (Sitting alone in the dark listening to Laura Branigan albums.)

By the way, Town Hall Arts Center has a great family show running right now: Cinderella. Look for stand-out Melissa Benoist in the title role. This kid's going places.

Take care, support local theatre, and never give up. Never. Never. Never.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What's it all about?

Some months ago, I saw a really terrific show (Bat Boy: The Musical) by a small theatre company (Boulder Broadway Company), and I felt that the size of the audience was unequal to the strength and quality of the show. Most of the major newspapers in the area won't review a show unless it runs at least three weeks (and often not even if it does), and the smaller papers don't have the distribution to get the word out. Having produced a show or two myself, I know that by the time you've paid for costumes, sets, the facility (big moolah), and the royalties (really big moolah), there is basically no money left in the budget to pay for advertising and promotion. Now, most actors worth their salt are devoted enough to their craft that they'll put on a show for an audience of three and put their whole hearts into it. I just think that they shouldn't have to do so, when there are plenty of people in the Denver area that love to see a good show. And this was definitely a good show, so I went home after the performance and sent an e-mail out to as many people as I could, saying "See this show!"
My hope is that this blog will continue to get the word out about quality Denver-area theatre that may not be getting the press that it deserves.
I want to be clear about something, though. I'm not doing this to write negative reviews. If I don't like a show that I see, I just won't mention it here. The point is to support quality local theatre, not to show how well I can skewer a bad production. (For that, you'll have to catch me at a party after two or more peanut butter bars.)
My plan is to limit this blog to recommendations only. And, to include those of you outside the Denver area, I will also share recommendations about music I'm listening to, books I've read, and movies I've seen. And from time to time I may share a funny story or experience that I think might interest you.
That's my intention here, but it's also my intention to stay flexible, so let's just see how this goes.
Oh, and here's a game that my friend Billie Jo is addicted to at the moment. Turn up the sound, it's funny. (I'm not big on video games, but I've watched it.) I think it's called just "Penguin," but I call it Launch of the Penguins.

And so it begins . . .

Welcome to my blog -- derived from the words "web log" for you more curious types. (Relax, I'm one of you. Make yourself at home.)
The genesis of this blog is a more or less weekly e-mail that I sent out to friends in the Denver, Colorado theatre community about shows that I had seen and would recommend, and other theatre-related information. And when I say "friends," I mean: "people who did not block my e-mails."
After a few months of receiving my e-mails, one of the the recipients (victims, injured parties, whatever) suggested to me at a party that I should start a blog. Naturally, I said, "Well, same to you, buddy!" Then he explained to me what a blog actually was, and I apologized for hitting him with a salmon puff.
Now, at first, I couldn't imagine that there were that many people who were actually reading my e-mails, so I thought a blog seemed a bit presumptuous. (Even for me.)
Around the same time, however, I started to have people come up to me at theatre events and such and say, "So, you're Brady Darnell," and they weren't following it immediately with, "Somebody call security!"
So, I sent out a query e-mail to my list about starting a blog, and the response was a resounding, "Yes!" contrasted with only one, "Seriously! I will get a restraining order!"

So, let the blogging begin! (Am I the only one who thinks that sounded dirty?)