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Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Price Fame?

I wrote on A Petrified Fountain of Thought today about the brilliantly funny and poignant BBC/HBO series Extras created by (and starring) Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais (fast becoming one of my favorite actors to watch on screen). Over two series and a Christmas Special we are taken on the hilarious ride of movie extra Andy Millman (Gervais) as he rises from obscurity to fame to infamy to - well, I won't give it away.
I had heard about the 2005-2007 series, but I had not watched it until a friend loaned me the entire series on DVD. I fear I may have to buy a new copy for my friend as the laser on my machine may be boring a hole in the DVD of the Christmas Special at just about the point of the scene that I am going to include here.
For context, Andy - in a desperate attempt to regain some of his lost fame - has joined the cast of the Big Brother reality TV show and reaches an . . . epiphany.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Doctor of Broadway

With a revival/revision of one of my favorite musicals, Promises, Promises now running on Broadway, I thought it would be fun to share with you this new article in the New Yorker about one of the show's architects, Neil "Doc" Simon. Simon, one of Broadway's most popular playwrights, adapted Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's screenplay of The Apartment, to which Burt Bacharach and Hal David contributed a memorable score, including the much-loved "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
The new cast features Sean Hayes and the incomparable Kristin Chenoweth, and really makes me wish I lived just a little closer to the Great White Way. Well, at least the internet makes it possible to get a somewhat closer look at the production.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Breaking News on the Death of Theatre

I was reading an article today on the editorial page of the Register Guard about how the expansion of technology both in transportation and in entertainment media are leading to the demise of live theatre - particularly outside of the larger cities.
What's most interesting about the article to me is the date: December 16, 1937.
Here's a link to the article if you're interested.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kevin Brown is Alive and Well and Living in Boston

Well, Malden, technically.
Many Denver theatre folk know Kevin pretty well, and audiences will remember him from his many performances in the area with Boulder Dinner Theatre, Town Hall Arts Center, Magic Moments, Carousel Dinner Theater and more. Kevin now lives in the Boston area, and he's in the middle of rehearsals for the cabaret classic Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris with the Burlington Players opening May 7th.
Here's a brief write-up in one of the local papers.
I figured that some of my local readers would be interested in knowing what good ol' Kev was up to these days, and - for anyone reading in the Boston area - I just want to say that, in addition to being one of my best friends, Kevin Brown is also one wikkid frickin' pissa of a performer, if you get my meaning.
Sounds like it's going to be a great show, so see it if you can.
I've been going through my files for a recent picture of Kevin for those of you in Denver who haven't seen him in so long you've forgotten what he looks like. This one is from a few years back:

Well, it made me laugh.

Knock 'em dead, Kevin.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Something to Ponder

"Theatre is expensive to go to. I certainly felt when I was growing up that theatre wasn't for us. Theatre still has that stigma to it. A lot of people feel intimidated and underrepresented in theatre." - Christopher Eccleston
Oh, sorry, did you think I was only going to post quotations that make us all feel warm and fuzzy about theatre?
First, "Welcome to the party, pal!" and, second, the future of this art form depends upon a continuous examination of both its past and its present. Those "intimidated and underrepresented" that the 9th Doctor is talking about there? Those people are not our audience . . . but they could be.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Safe Palate

In the little town where I grew up there was a little restaurant called El Amigo. All of the locals, bilingual or not, referred to it knowingly incorrectly as "The El Amigo." I pointed that out to my dad one time, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "That's just what everybody calls it."
It's still there, and if you're ever in Ignacio, Colorado, I highly recommend that you drop in for some great Mexican Food. (I think it's now called Julie's El Amigo. I don't know who Julie is, or why it didn't become El Amigo de Julia. It's been a long time since I've been back.)
Anyway, often when I went into The El Amigo with my family or friends for lunch or dinner, there was an old rancher sitting down to eat. I don't remember his name, so I'll call him "Red," because he looked like the sort of fellow who would be called Red, suggesting that his white hair had at one point been crimson, his leathery cheeks had at another time been rosy from life rather than from drink and the sun, and that his limping gait had once been the strut of a rooster.
When Red came in, he simply walked over to a table and sat down. He was brought a glass of water, followed quickly by a cup of coffee, into which he would surreptitiously add something from a small metal flask. He was never handed a menu, and after a few minutes he would be brought his meal, which he would eat quickly out of habit, then pore over the thin newspaper or whisper off-color flirtations to the waitresses before eventually standing up with some difficulty, hobbling out to his pickup truck, and driving back out to the mesa.
One day I asked one of the waitresses why they never gave him a menu.
"He comes in every day, and he only ever orders the same thing: the Diamond Special," she answered.
"Always?" I asked.
"Always," she shrugged.
"He never tries anything else? Ever?"
My dad said that sometimes old farmers get a bit set in their ways.
"Isn't it kind of sad that he only eats the same thing every day?" I asked my Dad later on one of our long drives down to Aztec, New Mexico.
"Maybe," my dad replied, "but he always knows he's going to like what he gets."
"I wouldn't like it anymore after about the twentieth time in a row I had it."
"Maybe not," my dad smiled. Then he turned up the radio because he heard the words "Marty Robbins" spoken amid the native speech on the all-Navajo station that played what my dad called "the good country music," and I sat back quietly to the strains of "Down in the west Texas, town of El Paso. . ."

Over the last few days as I have been reading the recent "ho-hum" season announcements on John Moore's Running Lines Blog, I was reminded of old Red and his Diamond Special.
I was reminded, because I have begun to wonder if artistic directors and producers in this town think that they are picking shows for audiences full of tired, sad old cowpokes whose adventurous spirit left them decades ago. I wonder, too, if some of the audiences don't feed into that stereotype by continuing to go spend their money on only the most familiar of shows - even if they've recently seen the same production elsewhere recently.
I have been critical - on this blog and elsewhere - of publicly-funded theatres that insist upon pandering to the least-adventurous members of the Denver theatre audience, and I don't intend to stop that anytime soon. Certainly one of the worst things about the glut of theatre companies in this region (aside from an increase in mediocre productions) is this: when a company does decide to do something audacious, they often struggle to pull the audience away from one of the more familiar productions around town - no matter how amateurishly produced.
We could get into a whole chicken-or-the-egg debate here about who is most responsible for some of the more blasé offerings season after season, but the truth is that everyone's at fault: both the companies that choose repetitive and imitative seasons, and the audiences who flock to only (and fill the coffers of only) the most familar, mass-produced, homages rather than reinterpretations of the same dozen or so shows.
Unlike old Red, however, both parties here have it within themselves to change, and - as my past appeals to the production side of the problem appear to have thus far fallen upon deaf ears - I make my entreaty to the audience.
Let one of the productions of Sound of Music or one of the Tuna-somethings or Escanaba-somethings go by this time. (I assure you that there will be another one along before you know it.) Deliberately pick something that you've not heard of (or heard little of) before. (Read the description or review, naturally, we don't want you to pick something off the menu to which you're "allergic.") Go see that. Yes it will be a different experience than you had the last seven times you saw Grease (this year), but that is the point, isn't it? Art is supposed to be adventurous! Appreciators of art should be equally adventurous or else they aren't really appreciators, are they?
We could have a big menu here or a very small one. It all depends upon what people decide to order.
Hmm. Is anybody else hungry for enchiladas?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I have recently been enjoying the 1970's BBC series The Good Life (later re-broadcast in the U.S. under the title Good Neighbors.) In fact I just finished watching the fourth series, including the Christmas special and command performance before the Queen. (I just earned a new slacker merit badge.)
For those of you who are not familiar with the show, the premise is this: On his fortieth birthday, Tom Good (Richard Briers) decides to exit the corporate rat race and focus on becoming totally self-sufficient. He and his plucky wife Barbara (played by the adorable Felicity Kendal) dig up their backyard to plant vegetables and begin keeping livestock - much to the consternation of their good friends and next door neighbors played by Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington. Over the course of the series, Tom and Barbara grow their own food (with a bit of surplus to sell for things like water rates and tractor petrol), make their own clothes and even generate their own electricity - all to great comic effect. (You should really see it. It's all available for streaming on Netflix.)
Funny, then that - just hours after watching the final episode - I should come across this project on the Theatre Communications Group website about an equally plucky theatre company that also looked to the agricultural industry for a new way of life.
Borrowing an idea from Community Supported Agricultural organizations, in which an advance investment is made in return for crops at harvest, patrons are able to financially support the cultivation of a new play in Stolen Chair Theatre Company's season, complete with periodic previews and progress reports (in the form of elbow-rubbing social events.)
While nowhere near the level of self-sufficiency that Tom and Barbara Good could boast, it is certainly an intriguing idea and a new way of thinking about community involvement. It certainly offers something more to patrons than just their name on the back page of a program from yet another all-too-familiar production.

Friday, April 2, 2010

My Last Sondheim Post (for at least a week or so)

This blog has been a bit Sondheim-heavy for the last couple of weeks, but I am a fan, and so many others are as well, aren't they?
Not the least of whom is the impressive Michael Ball, who worked with Mr. Sondheim on Passion - one of his lesser-known masterpieces.
Ball wrote a blog/essay recently for The Guardian about that experience and about his impressions of the musical master.
I thought fans of Sondheim (and Ball) might enjoy reading it.