Friday, June 29, 2012

My 2012-2013 Theatre Season

Well, yesterday I accepted what I have to assume will be my last show in the 2012-2013 theatre season. I mean, I guess I could squeeze something else in during April/May/June, but I also always like to leave time for a little family vacation in the Spring. Even at that, things will be falling hard upon each other from here until the last curtain falls in March. I'll probably just need a break.

September 28th to November 4th, 2012
City Lit Theatre

by Mary Shelly
adapted by Bo List
Directed by Terry McCabe

Frankenstein, an instant best seller and an important ancestor of both the terror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation, genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.

As I've made more than clear, I'll be playing the Creature. I won't go on about it again.

January 5th to February 10th, 2013
a co-production of Stage Left Theatre and BoHo Theatre

by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Vance Smith
associate Director: Peter Robel

In this classic play that inspired the musical My Fair Lady, dialect expert Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can teach Cockney flower-girl Eliza Doolittle to pass as a “proper lady.” Stage Left teams with fellow Theater Wit Resident Company Boho Theatre to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first production of this timeless story.

I've been cast as Alfred Doolittle. I feel some sense of pride in the fact the I brought this show to Stage left. It's exciting to see it go up.

February 22nd to March 31st, 2013
City Lit Theatre

by Grace Metalious
World Premiere Adaptation by Paul Edwards
Directed by Paul Edwards

When Grace Metalious' debut novel about the dark underside of a small, respectable New England town was published in 1956, it quickly soared to the top of the bestseller lists with 60,000 copies sold within the first 10 days of its release. A landmark in twentieth-century American popular culture, Peyton Place spawned a successful feature film and a long-running television series - the first prime-time soap opera. 

I've been cast as Tom Makris...and I think it may provide one of my favorite lines I've ever gotten to say on stage. I laughed out loud when I read it..

I'm really happy about a number of things here. The most important thing, is that all of these roles are, very, very different. Not only emotionally, but the physical looks are gonna be miles apart. It's a great arc for my year of work.

We have the lyrical brutality of Frankenstein's Monster, which scares the crap out of me, because I, truly, don't know if I can pull it off. That alone makes it tremendously exciting for me. It's such an opportunity to show different facets of myself. Innocence, loneliness, betrayal, and love. It's a great part, and Bo List has managed to keep much of what I loved about the novel. Top that off, the brief make-up discussions I've been party to have been exciting in how extreme my look might end up being. So cool.

Then, the knowing hucksterism of Doolittle, and a chance to say a lot of things about class in society that I feel may be more on-the-nose than we'd like it to be. Plus, it's a hellishly funny part. A nice explosion outward from what, I think, will be a very internal performance as the Creature.

Ending with what I can only describe as my shot to play Don Draper. We go back internal, and a chance to be "Mr. Ruggedly Handsome." To indulge that sort of uber-masculinity that the 50's and 60's wallowed in. Plus, the pure sexuality of the whole story is gonna be great fun after two relatively sexless show, and it gets me that line I was talking about. I'm gonna need to order a whole case of Aqua-Velva.

I'm also happy to be back at City Lit, who's shown such faith and trust in me, and my work. Going all the way back to Puddin'head Wilson, through Dashiell Hamlet, and The Copperhead, they've bet on me a lot, and I'm happy to be part of this season, as they prepare for their move to Evanston. You can subscribe to CityLit's 2012-2013 season here (Call or print and mail the form).

I'll also be appearing in a Stage Left mainstage production for the first time as an actual member of the Ensemble, my first time since The Day of Knowledge way back in 2009. You can subscribe to Stage Left's 2012-2013 season here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


So here it is, the first new Rush album in five years, and their first concept album, ever. It's true! Rush has never released a full album with a unifying concept. Their conceptual projects previously would, at most, consist of one side of an album, as with the classic 2112. I have to admit I was thrilled to hear that the boys had decided to undertake a more long-form project again.

We got a taste of what might be in store quite early, with the release of the first two tracks of this record, Caravan and BU2B as a "single" in 2010, to promote the "Time Machine" tour. I loved those tracks, they we heavy and classic, as well as giving an intriguing glimpse of the themes that would ultimately drive the Clockwork Angels storyline.

Now, I have to admit, I was a little surprised that the album doesn't play more unified. It would be very easy to listen to Clockwork Angels and  just think it was another Rush album, a collection of songs, blissfully unaware of the underlying storyline. Some may be disappointed by that, but, ultimately, I find it a strength. It allows you to sink into each track, and the elements each conveys of the overall storyline.

The storyline itself is nothing overtly complicated. Typical hero's journey stuff. A farm boy moves out into a steampunk world, controlled by a figure called the watchmaker. He works with a traveling carnival and faces insidious pirates, etc, etc. It's rich, compelling stuff if you wish to dig into the album, and not just enjoy the songs as excellent rock music. If you really want to get into it, the novelization, by Kevin J. Anderson, will be available in September (just in time for the tour!).

I have to admit, while some fans are calling Clockwork Angels Rush's best work since their 70's/80's heyday, I'm not completely on board with that. For my money, they've never made a bad album. I could pick my favorite Rush record (Permanent Waves. No, wait! Signals.), but I couldn't pick their best record. I simply think these guys have somehow stayed true to themselves for all these years and continued to write and record songs that always sound fresh, alive, and exactly how Rush should sound in that moment. It's an impressive feat.

There are lots of killer tracks here, but the run from Track 5 to Track 9 is truly amazing. All five of those numbers, Carnies, Halo Effect, Seven Cities of Gold, The Wreckers and Headlong Flight, are classic Rush, heavy, technical and ultra-melodic and catchy. The whole album is great really, but that stretch, in particular, just kicks my ass.

The playing, as to be expected, is impeccable. Bassist/Vocalist Geddy Lee's voice can't quite get to the sort of upper-register notes that used to be commonplace for him, but the guy's sixty. He deserves the right to not destroy his throat, when a lower note works just as well. Plus, I can't hit those note, so what can I say? Guitarist Alex Lifeson is truly on fire on several tracks, with the opening riff of Carnies being particularly awesome. Drummer/Lyricist Neil Peart...well, he's the greatest living rock drummer.

What's interesting is the urgency that seems imbedded into the whole affair. It makes me wonder if there isn't some sense, in fact I know there is, the band has made it clear in interviews, that they can't keep going forever. Peart has said that the band's planned 2 years from now, in terms of activities, and then...we'll see.

I hope they keep going forever, because no other band in the world has proved to be so consistently connected to both themselves and their audience. The time will come when they have to hang up the instruments, as it does for everyone. On that day, the world will be a poorer place.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stuck in My Head 6.27.12

One of my favorite versions:

Blinded By the Light
By Bruce Springsteen

Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat
In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat
With a boulder on my shoulder, feelin' kinda older, I tripped the merry-go-round
With this very unpleasing sneezing and wheezing, the calliope crashed to the ground
Some all-hot half-shot was headin' for the hot spot, snappin' his fingers, clappin' his hands
And some fleshpot mascot was tied into a lover's knot with a whatnot in her hand
And now young Scott with a slingshot finally found a tender spot and throws his lover in the sand
And some bloodshot forget-me-not whispers, "Daddy's within earshot, save the buckshot, turn up the band"

And she was blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night
Blinded by the light
She got down but she never got tight, but she'll make it alright

Some brimstone baritone anti-cyclone rolling stone preacher from the East
He says, "Dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in its funny bone, that's where they expect it least"
And some new-mown chaperone was standin' in the corner all alone, watchin' the young girls dance
And some fresh-sown moonstone was messin' with his frozen zone to remind him of the feeling of romance

Yeah, he was blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night
Blinded by the light
He got down but he never got tight, but he's gonna make it tonight

Some silicone sister with her manager's mister told me I got what it takes
She said, "I'll turn you on, sonny, to something strong if you play that song with the funky break"
And Go-Cart Mozart was checkin' out the weather chart to see if it was safe to go outside
And little Early-Pearly came by in her curly-wurly and asked me if I needed a ride
Oh, some hazard from Harvard was skunked on beer, playin' backyard bombardier
Yes, and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent some dude with a calling card, he said, "Do what you like, but don't do it here"
Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground and asked him which was the way back home
He said, "Take a right at the light, keep goin' straight until night, and then, boy, you're on your own"
And now in Zanzibar, a shootin' star was ridin' in a side car, hummin' a lunar tune
Yes, and the avatar said, "Blow the bar but first remove the cookie jar, we're gonna teach those boys to laugh too soon"
And some kidnapped handicap was complainin' that he caught the clap from some mousetrap he bought last night
Well, I unsnapped his skull cap and between his ears I saw a gap but figured he'd be all right

He was just blinded by the light
Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night
Blinded by the light
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh, but Mama, that's where the fun is
I was blinded
I was blinded
I was blinded

Monday, June 25, 2012

This Weekend's Movies: ROCK OF AGES and BRAVE

Rock of Ages

I am a child of the hair metal generation. I don't claim that the music was "important," in a blanket sense, although some of it absolutely was, but I do think it was well-played and well produced. I also claim, for the most part, the movement was as aware of it's place in the realm of entertainment as, say Katy Perry is. What I continue to find endearing about acts like Def Leppard or Motley Crue is that they understood that, ultimately, their job was to give listeners and concertgoers a good time.

Part of my resistance to the grunge thing, and, frankly, I enjoy much of the music of that era far less than the aquanetted 80's, was they they just took themselves so damn seriously. Some bands moved beyond it, but I don't think Pearl Jam (who I really like) would still be around and popular if they continued acting like what they were doing was SO. DAMN. IMPORTANT.

It's not. Be it Pour Some Sugar On Me or Smells Like Teen Spirit, it's all 3 minute pop songwriting. It's dumb, any way you slice it.

Now, on the good side, Rock Of Ages embraces that sense of fun. On the bad side, outside of Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, there's really not much else worth seeing here. It's a truly awful, awful movie. The painful thing is you can see something worthwhile in there.

Adam Shankman's idea of The Sunset Strip in 1987 seems to have emerged wholly from watching people play Guitar Hero. His main qualifications for making this film are about having worked on musicals. Rock Of Ages didn't need a musical director, it needed somebody who understood what was happening in LA at the time. It needed Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Part 2: The Metal Years, Wayne's World), or even Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Fast Times at Ridgemont High). It didn't need somebody who'd cast Diego Boneta, who's voice is far, far, far too legit to sing anything in this movie (his take of Twisted Sister's I Wanna Rock is beyond cringe-worthy), and who's version of "looking rock and roll" is a less-threatening Jonas Brother.

The only saving grace here is in the supporting cast. Cruise really is kind of amazing, a truly off-the-wall turn, and a testament of taking an actor and training them to sing what's needed. He knew he was singing rock, so that's what he did, and if you think his Pour Some Sugar On Me sounds a bit like an overly studio creation...well, I just think you need to re-listen to the original, which is the same thing.


I'm sort of befuddled by the critical reaction to this film. It's been sort of the "yeah it's good....but..." Which is really not fair to the film. Personally, I found this film in the upper ranks of PIXAR releases. I liked it MUCH better than Finding Nemo, but it doesn't touch my beloved The Incredibles.

The film does stray further into the Disney "standard" fairy-tale mode than any other PIXAR film has. There were some choices made about the Queen, and her performance, in the second half of the film that I think might've been more powerful if played far more realistic. That, however, is a matter of taste. The film is magical and exquisitely made. You can't say it's "bad," it's ridiculous to even hedge in that direction.

PIXAR is almost review-proof now. You're going to see this, child, adult, whatever. We all have built up such a tremendous well of belief in what PIXAR does that you simply have to see what they've done this time.

It think it's wonderful. I was in tears during the final moments. It's so good I don't even want to give any of it away, so excuse the briefness of the review.

I can't ask for anything more.

And the short before the film is wonderful, too.

The Son of Kickstarter Blog - I Still Don't Get It

So, I saw that Amanda Palmer raised $1,192,793, via kickstarter, to record her new album Theater is Evil. I am not an Amanda Palmer, or Dresden Dolls, fan, but I have no negative feelings about her, at all, either. I am a rather large fan of her husband, Neil Gaiman. I don't intend this blog to be an attack on Ms. Palmer, and I certainly don't begrudge her the right to make a living.

Still...The quote in the linked article kinda killed me.

"...even with $1 million in anticipated pledges, she would still end up with less than $100,000. Her expenses include Kickstarter’s 5 percent cut; $250,000 in recording costs; touring and promotional expenses; and hundreds of thousands to design, manufacture and ship the various deluxe packages she offered fans. The payments are not donations but rather advance sales, and she is responsible for paying taxes on any income."

I get that she's treating the Kickstarter drive as "pre-sales," and that everyone who donated will, ultimately, get a copy of the album, digitally or otherwise, so it doesn't feel like overt double-dipping (Like a lot of other Kickstarter projects I've seen).  I also feel pretty secure that Ms. Palmer is a committed professional, and will actually complete the album. This money won't fly off into the ether, which is often a very real concern when I look at Kickstarter projects.

My qualms and reactions here are more about the IDEA of what's going on, rather than Amanda Palmer's specific case. I'll be using specific examples from this project to illuminate what I feel is a rather exploitative system. So, when the Palmer brigade descends on me, let's remember that.

Ms. Palmer was part of a pretty, if not wildly, successful music act. What we have here is an already established artist, who can, I would guess (I admit, I don't really know) absorb more financial risk than any of her fanbase ("less than $100,000" may not seem like a lot to her, and I am NOT judging that, I think it's great that she's successful, but to's somewhere in the range of 2+ years of salary), asking for that fanbase to, essentially, pay for the creation of a profit-seeking work of art.

As you might have guess by now, I am not, personally, comfortable with the for-profit arts world moving into a fundraising model. Non-profit theatre, or other performance, the installation of a public work of art, these are projects that can feel right for public fundraising, and crowdfunding.

The point is, Ms. Palmer has access a lot of resources that most "independent artists" do not. When I go out and ask for people to visit Stage Left's 30 for 30 campaign, that's about getting our work on stage and keeping the company alive, nothing beyond that. I, and no one in our organization, gets to keep the extra. I find it personally unsettling that Kickstarter is her choice for funding of this project, when I'm sure other options were available. At the very least, shouldering a fair amount of interest on the money that she'll be using over the next few months on the project. Maybe it wouldn't have been as grandly produced with "hundreds of thousands to design, manufacture and ship the various deluxe packages she offered fans," but isn't the music the central point, anyway?

At the end of the day, the basic truth is that Amanda Palmer is making Theater is Evil in order to make money. That's not an inherently bad thing, and I reject anyone who tries to frame it as such. Money buys things like creative freedom and time to do things right. As my many rants about digital piracy should make clear, I have absolutely ZERO problem with artists being able to expect compensation for their work, or to not expect it, if they so choose. Kickstarter is, however, asking your fans to invest in your work, which I really think, especially at Ms. Palmer's level, is part and parcel of the independent artist's job. Or, to find investors...People who, yes, would expect a financial return on their investment.

I know that all of the fans who pledged to her project did so because they felt they were supporting their favorite artist. A noble and understandable act, and Palmer is using this process to solidify a relationship with those fans. A sense of ownership of the ultimate album. I get that, but I can't help but see beyond it. Popular music albums (and as arty as she is, Palmer fits into that description) are not a play, where when the final curtain goes down, so does any income. Or a statue, where the art is there for public consumption on a daily basis, with no thought of "profit." No, an album lives on, and generates income (though much less that it used to, for certain) long after the initial fan feeding frenzy. At this point, it looks like Ms. Palmer is already in the black, and that will all be gravy for her.

That feels...wrong, to me. This isn't a bunch of kids wanting to send a Patrick Stewart action figure to the outer edge of the atmosphere on a lark. Something where you throw in five bucks because they're smart kids, and they've come up with a amusing stunt you'd like to see. That's crowdfunding at it's finest, IMHO.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


I think it's time to come to a rather harsh truth. For a long time, we've come to a point where we recognize that whenever we walk into a Tim Burton movie, we cannot expect a coherent story. We can expect a hodge-podge of whimsical imagery tied to loose framework that can, somewhat laughably, be called a script.

What Prometheus made me realize is that Ridley Scott, when left to his own devices, is essentially the non-whimsical version of Tim Burton. You always have a sense that Burton knows that what he's making is hogwash, and an excuse for his imagination to run wild. Scott, sadly, seems to really believe that he makes important films.

I make this observation not to discount either filmmaker, because they've both made films that I consider absolute classics. I make it because it's really the only way to enjoy Prometheus. Sit back, and let the imagery play on your eyeballs, and enjoy it as a visual spectacle. Because, on that level, it's pretty astonishing.

Try to forget that the characters seem to only exist to make increasingly terrible choices. Try to forget the Alien connection, because it will only frustrate you. Most importantly, try to forget the sense early in the movie that BIG questions are going to be posed, and grappled with, because that will only throw into stark relief how commercial concerns overwhelmed the proceedings.

That's my basic, spoiler-free review. The film is beautiful, the 3-D works extremely well, and the whole thing is rather confusing and underwhelming, with the exception of Michael Fassbender's performance.

From this point on...a SPOILER WARNING will apply.

This is an Alien prequel. It shouldn't be, but it is. The grafting on of Alien material is so weak and half-assed that you realize, at some point, somebody told Scott the only way he'd get his budget was to connect the film to Alien. Apparently, the planet/moon in Prometheus is NOT LV-426, yet during the course of the film we see an Engineer craft crash in the same way as the identical craft was found abandoned in Alien. we hear Dr. Shaw record an emergency message that corresponds to what we understand Ash to have intercepted in Alien. So, when I'm told it's NOT LV-426, I get more than a little pissed off.

Why? Because it's so utterly half-assed. It's so clear that, at some point, it was supposed to be LV-426, but then somebody thought maybe that was too on the nose, or wouldn't give Ridley the freedom to change a few things, or whatever. Instead of going back and making some pertinent script changes, we just change a readout on a screen. I find it kind of insulting, in a "oh the audience won't care about logic" way.

The whole damn movie is like that. A series of horrible things happen, mainly because the cannon-fodder characters (truly, I couldn't tell you any secondary character's name) just act like utter idiots from the instant they set foot on this planet, without an iota of connective tissue to make them add up to something whole.

I've read online defenses of this film that say, "Alien left you with questions, too." Well, sure it did, where did the Xenomorph come from? How did it get to LV-426? What was that Space Jockey thing? The difference from Prometheus is, Alien never left you with questions about how and why things were happening. The life cycle of Alien's Xenomorph was brutally clear, and it was killing the crew for food, survival (I won't get into the infamous deleted scene regarding the genesis of the eggs, because Aliens pretty much upended that as far as "cannon" goes). The questions Alien raised were all ancillary to the immediate story being told.

It also didn't rely on characters doing stupid things in order to keep the plot moving. When Kane investigated the egg in Alien, I got it. Curiosity from a guy who'd been, for the most part, unfazed by what they'd seen. In Prometheus, we have two utterly terrified characters, and we get multiple examples of their terror, trying to pet a totally unknown alien lifeform.

Prometheus leaves gaps that are needed to understand why things are happening. Why are the Engineers so violent toward humans? These are not animals, even high-functioning animals, like the Alien series' Xenomorphs, they are a highly evolved, technologically advanced race. They must want something, and instead of giving us even a glimmer of an answer to that, we, essentially, get "come back for Prometheus 2!" This choice is utterly crippling for the film, because it makes the Engineers boring. Here are evolved, thinking creatures, and they come off as less interesting than the function-on-instinct creature of Alien.

The worst thing, actually, about Prometheus is that all of this effort, all the early scenes that hint at massive ideas and challenging concepts, gets upended so that we can, essentially, have a rehash of Alien with less interesting aliens. Even if we just get visual about it, nothing in this film matches the sleek, sensual, terrifying beast that H.R. Geiger created. Nothing even close. OK, maybe the penis-snake things, but those are about as close as anything here gets to that level of visual creativity. Seriously, Prometheus reminded me of nothing so much as one of those cut-rate Alien knock-offs that Roger Corman pumped out after Scott's film was released. Star-Beast, or some such thing.

Performance wise...Michael Fassbender wins, hands down. His Lawrence of Arabia-obsessed android David is a really winning creation. He's also the only member of the cast who seems to have thought about the bizarre decisions the script was asking his character to make, and sat down to figure out how to justify them.

Noomi Rapace is just an utter non-starter, as far as screen presence.  I don't get it, at all. Of course, I also have not seen the Swedish Girl With a Dragon Tattoo films.

Charlize Theron looks great, of course, but she seems stuck playing a subplot that was cut from the film. It's so clear that she's playing Vickers in an inhuman manner, you have to think there was someplace, somewhere in the script that questioned if she was an android, as well. Nowhere in the finished film, and that leaves Theron, and her character, high and dry.

The film IS worth seeing, for the visuals alone. Scott is now in the club, with James Cameron and Martin Scorcese, of filmmakers who learned how to make 3-D work before shooting in 3-D. The film is much brighter than I expected, but it allows the 3-D to work correctly. the design is as exquisite as you expect from Ridley Scott, even if I would've liked to see more Geiger call outs. It's a stunning film, no doubt.

Just don't get me started on the endings...either one of them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Apocalyptic Love - Slash

Slash is an "old-school" guitarist. He's firmly entrenched in that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset about rock and roll. There's nothing overly complex or revelatory about what he does, but he does it better than almost anybody making records right now.

It's easy to see the schism that happened between Axl Rose and Slash, just by looking at the output generated with the projects they fully control. Rose produces Chinese Democracy, which basically thrives on just how much can be crammed into a single song. Sounds layered over and over, effects, processing. Whereas Slash, beit with Slash's Snakepit, Velvet revolver, or his "solo" projects, aims straight ahead.

Apocalyptic Love is exactly in this category. Slash has assembled a really crack band (credited as Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators on the cover), and having a set team helps this album top the first Slash solo album of a couple years ago. It's a collection of songs that are more solid than not, and, in Kennedy, I think Slash has found his best creative partner since Axl Rose.

In truth, I feel like Apocalyptic Love is almost a better showcase for Kennedy than Slash himself. Myles takes the reins as a true frontman here. It's to Slash's credit that he seems content, even if his name is at the top of the totem pole, to be the guitarist, and get down to business.

Which isn't to say it was love at first listen with this album. I have to admit, I was a little worried as I listened through the first two tracks Apocalyptic Love and One Last Thrill. Why not being offensively bad, or even poor, they weren't the kind of "grabber" tracks you'd usually want to lead off an album. They passed pleasantly without much impact.

However, once the third song, Standing in the Sun, kicked in with a rumbling guitar and bass riff, I perked up. This song starts a very strong group of four tracks, continuing with the first single You're a Lie, and into No More Heroes and Halo. The last two songs, in particular, worked for me. Halo features a rapid-fire vocal from Kennedy that is just stellar.

We Will Roam and Anastasia are not as strong, but they lead into Not For Me, a truly epic addiction track. The whole band are at their best here, with Slash bringing the type of tasteful, blues-based, emotional guitar work for which he's known, and that fits perfectly with the vocal. Bad Rain, which follows, may be my favorite track.

It's simply a rock-solid rock and roll album, with very little filler. I'll even encourage you to make sure to get the two bonus tracks, including Carolina, which is a talk-box tour-de-force for Slash, and funky as hell. It's so damn good you'll wonder why it's a bonus track, and not on the album. proper.

Very much recommended if you're a fan, or just looking for a good, old fashioned rock record.

Favorite Tracks
  • Standing in the Sun
  • You're a Lie
  • No More Heroes
  • Halo
  • Not For Me
  • Bad Rain
  • Carolina (Bonus Track)