Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hedwig storms onto" East Bra"

                                 "I was born on the other side
                                  of a town ripped in two
                                   I made it over the great divide
                                      now I'm coming for you"

Neil Patrick Harris explodes back onto Broadway, or as Hedwig proclaimed on this night " East Bra", in the opening number " Tear Me Down" and she never lets up for an emotional and celebratory 85 minutes of one of the best rock operas ever written.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch takes back this wicked little town by searing this inspiring cult phenomenon into the collective consciousness of a new and broader audience, while remaining true to it's origins and die hard fans and not sugar coating a thing. This new revival, with  book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, of the off Broadway production is now front and center with a 21st century Hedwig, who has never gone out of style, reincarnated in an electrifying performance by Mr. Harris.
                                         After the first Saturday 10:00 PM show.

This work with its universal themes of searching for self, traumatic suffering, survival, love, and rebirth , weaves these complex emotional motifs with some of the most original rock music to hit the great White Way. Music that draws off the raw power of early punk and classic 1970's glam rock and for good measure throws in a beautiful ballad that would make Phil Collins envious.When one considers Hedwig's dual past, first there is the original off-Broadway show and second the cult classic film, starring and directed by the incomparable John Cameron Mitchell. So why tamper with perfection? Well folks this show was always destined to reach Broadway and its messages  are needed more now than ever.

I won't give too much away but as it has  already reported Neil's Hedwig is ready to interact with the audience spontaneously and with biting sarcasm. I highly recommend that you do not walk in late for the 10:00 PM performance as you will come under the full scorn of Hedwig's eye as she calls you out in her sultry German accent " How can anyone be late to a 10 o'clock show?"

The stage direction by Michael Mayer is in your face and raw but equally intimate and insightful. To this reviewer what propels this show to greatness is the lighting by Kevin Adams, which embraces the best of both worlds. Allowing your eyes to indulge in the spectacle and hues of live performance rock as well as the emotional nuances of a dramatic musical.
                                          The Hurt Locker Musical?

Hedwig's partners in crime are  Yitzhak, the multi-talented and glorious Lena Hall, and her band the Angry Inch. Featuring guitarist and musical director Justin Craig, bassist, guitars, keyboards Matt Duncan,  guitarist Tim Mislock, and drummer Peter Yanowitz who are all exceptional and understated in their stage presence.This band lets the music speak their dialogue and not their wild hair. 

Foremost this show is about the music and this sextet soars and rocks as they perform a re-worked glam rock version of " Sugar Daddy" to a ripping orgasmic version of " Exquisite Corpse". If you are a  rock fan you will be  very pleased as the music is load and clear...oh what a great sound system will do. This ensemble also provides luscious rich harmonies which are showcased in the reprise of " Wicked Little Town".

If you are a traditional Broadway fan you might subscribe to that old belief that " the music should never be louder than the voices"...well prepared yourself for a "Tommyesqe" journey and rock out with the rest of the audience and leave your inhibitions at the door.

Neil brings all of his professional tools and gifts to this memorable performance. From his torch light rendition of " Wicked Little Town"   to a moving interpretation of " The Origin of Love" Mr. Harris has moved the goal posts considerably.

Lena Hall is her Romeo, or better yet her Yitzhak, and brings street cred to mainstream audiences with a complicated and endearing transgender character. Ms. Hall especially shines on " The Long Grift" which painfully documents Hedwig's world as it starts to come apart, but just as quickly Neil's serenades us with a deeply moving and confessional " Hedwig's Lament". Despair quickly disintegrates into  one more release of rage as Hedwig moves closing to become whole again and finding her/his true self as the mind bending " Exquisite Corpse" has Hedwig leaving it all on the stage.

Audiences may have trouble  following  Hedwig's final transformation as  it may have been necessary to give more details to how we got there but working in one act may have made that a challenge.

The rapturous " Midnight Radio" will leave you beaming from ear to ear and celebrating with Hedwig and Yitzhak as you have just witnessed the best thing happening on Broadway at this moment.

I will note that Neil's Hedwig is buff, very buff, in this role. The physicality that the role demands possibly could not have afforded anything less but to to this reviewers eyes JCM's Hedwig was gorgeous and more feminine.

Neil's Hedwig is harden and almost too masculine at times and a magnified exaggeration that would almost suggest a bad drag queen...which we all know Hedwig would never be. Regardless the end destination for both Hedwig's is the same and as equally moving. 
                                 "Breathe feel love
                                       Give free
                                  Know in your soul
                                  Like your blood knows the way
                                  From your heart to your brain
                                  Knows that you're whole"
                                           Lena Hall working that line.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Studio 59~ A cultural renaissance yearning to be discovered

It is always wonderful when you come about to something new and refreshing. That discovery is even more rewarding when it becomes a moving cultural and musical experience. Much gratitude goes out to a brief mention in the weekend section of The Registrar Citizen, which I came upon just by chance at work, I discovered a new and wonderful oasis that had gone unnoticed to me and my partner, and I am sure for many others for far too long...Studio 59.
Nestled on a quaint unassuming street in Torrington your host, creative director, and proprietor Timothy Alexandre Wallace will warmly greet you as your climb the steps of this  Victorian era former church.
On this snowy February night I attended with my sweetie to celebrate Valentine's Day  and to enjoy  Mr. Wallace perform the program Rachmaninoff the Romantic.
Stepping inside this spectacular space you are  greeted with an abundance of Victorian inspired charm with warm inviting winged back chairs, shelves of antique books that range from the Greek classics, to the great English poets to New Age  books on Atlantis. There is a mishmash of beautiful throw rugs, numerous candelabras,two roaming cats, luscious plants, eclectic medieval inspired wall hangings and Tiffany and Art Deco lamps galore.
You are also entering Mr. Wallace's personal home as well as his performing space and the details of his decorating nearly cover every inch of this inviting space, one which you could spend hours investigating and being delighted at with what you discover. At the center piece of this grand room is his majestic Steinway piano. I have to add his kitchen was a delight as well and he served his guests on this night a variety of sweets and a wonderful tea punch.
Mr. Wallace is as equally a generous host as he is a virtuous on the piano. He is also a passionate resource of endless insights into the music that he loves and performs. He began this magical night by humbly introducing the program and sharing the historical significance of the great Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. (1873-1943) His demeanor is both sincere and self-effacing, he is also a teacher of music and that quality shines through in his approach to relating the music to the audience. Mr. Wallace is also passionate and laughs frequently as he was brutally honest about the challenges of playing any of this master works.
I am far from an expert on classic  music but I do know great music and playing and right out of the gate Mr. Wallace plunged in with joyful abandonment and precision into Preludes, Op. 23 (composed 1901-03).
The second piece of the night No. 4, D major: Andante cantabile was stunningly beautiful as it was transforming as you hung on every sweet note.
Another thrilling highlight of this evening was Mr. Wallace breath taking set ending explorations of Etudes Tableaux, Op. 33 ( composed 1911)  both No. 7, G minor: Moderato which was haunting and No. 9 C Sharp minor: Grave which was exquisite in its reach and mastery. 

A short intermission ensued and that gave us pause and the chance to wander around the space and mingle in the kitchen. The evening closed with the final set as we were treated to more of the soul moving Russian Romantic master.

I have to say the most  moving piece came near the end of the set as Mr. Wallace blew us away with his reading of Etudes Tableeaux, Op. 39 No.5, Eminor: Appassionato. In this piece you see hear a transition in Rachmaninoff's composing as he clearly introduces  the influences of music from America, hints of ragtime interposed with an almost Bernstein- Copeland twist are a  refection of the changes occurring at the dawn of the 20th century.

For the final piece Mr. Wallace played possibly Rachmaninoff's most familiar piece Rhaspsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 18th Variation. But first he treated us to playing Paganini's original theme to give us the scope of and depth of Rachmaninoff's interpretation. The piece was elegant as it was simple.

For the encore Mr. Wallace treated us to a piece of improvisational classical music, a personal passion of his and quite rare these days. He later explained to me that it has  sadly become a forgotten piece of classical music history as both Brahms and Mozart were quite  renowned for this type of spontaneous playing.

Mr. Wallace prefaced, this never performed piece, by  sharing that after playing the works of Rachmaninoff his influence would spill over into this composition.
It surely did and it was a joyous and moving composition that danced between the past and present, joy and longing, greetings and goodbyes, and left all of us smiling and reflecting on the beauty of creation as well as the fleeting quality of life as sadly this piece would be never be performed or heard of ever again.

Bravo! Mr. Wallace.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014~ The Year Of "Who Do We Have More In Common With?"

I am not one to predict how the future will unfold but I am a  believer in how our intent in the present moment can influence and create outcomes...positive or negative as we all move forward into 2014.

So looking back, from the American perspective, on 2013 it was a year of manufactured distractions, gridlock, and standing by your principles in American politics.

I prefer not having to regurgitate the pathetic statistics of the performance, or rather lack of any performance, by the members of Congress this past year but if we all exhibited even just one week of the type behavior in our own professions, it would be  quite clear that the majority of us would have been fired from our jobs.

As a member of Congress with this type of performance you still receive a base salary of $174,000 a year, weeks of vacations time, a work week that is barely four days a week,  excellent health care benefits for you and your family, and a pension after five years of service at age 62.

So what would motivate you to do any more or work any harder for your constituents?

An election? Hardly. The way the 2014 mid-term elections may play out is any one's guess. What I do foresee are two things.
First continued manufactured crisis' to distract the American public from the real issues of Main street.

Secondly the  continued influx of the obscene amounts of money that will flood into local and national elections races by Super Pacs and other special interests.

The greatest and most appalling fact is the America public gives both houses of Congress a  big pass on either of these two points.

There is no public outrage or accountability directed to the members of Congress to address these excesses.

On one side you hear the battle cry " We need to take our county back!" First you have to ask from whom? I say this because when the majority of money fueling this narrative is from billionaire capitalists, you have to wonder is it their own special interest they have at heart or the interests of the working class people of America?

If you look at the economic data it is the latter.

On the other side you don't really have one clear message but the underlying theme is we are going to hell in a hand basket at the excesses of the cultural wars, corporate greed, and special interests in America.

From a polling perspective it is still a 50/50 split on these two views.

The more we stay divided the more things stay the same.

Americans do need jump in the driver's seat and begin steering the car but who are  you going to trust with the keys?

Your neighbors? Or some patriotic sounding Super Pac running endless TV commercials? Or a self-promoting politician?

I think 2014 needs to be the year of "Who do we have more in common with?" The wealthy special interests? Or our own neighbors, co-workers, and strangers we wait in line with at the grocery store?

Sadly over the last  few decades we have lost a sense of community and civic pride as we have been pushed into a partisan driven illusion of days past and greatness lost.

Things are different today in many ways and if you want to live in a romanticized Norman Rockwell painting... well the 21st century is clearly not for you.

People are yearning for what will be this generation's calling. It is clearly not war or terrorism but it needs to be something closer to home and right on our own streets. A good quality of life, a well paying jobs with  benefits, and good quality schools for all of our kids.

That is not so complicated or even hard to achieve but if you are stuck inside the beltway it is a million miles away and unsolvable.

People clearly " don't trust the government" anymore and that may be  a sad necessity of the times but why would you trust a Super Pac or a corporation even more? Both have proven to have, and continue to, abuse and manipulate the public trust and the harsh reality is when it comes to corporatism and Super Pacs there are very few if any check and balances to their power and influences.

Do you ever wonder why not one Wall Street executive has not been convicted of a crime  connected to one of the greatest economic collapses that occurred back in 2008-09?

There are numerous reasons why and sadly they start in both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government and thanks to the Citizens United ruling the Judaical branch can be included in this as well.

The majority of people in America believe in equal and fair treatment for all but that is not the case anymore.

If you would just take the time to talk to a neighbor or a stranger at the grocery store you will begin to see this. The simple fact is that the majority of Americans are all in the same boat, but it may be pride,foolishness, or ignorance that we just don't allow ourselves to accept this fact.

Acknowledging this fact that you are just like everyone else is not a sign of weakness or failure it is what makes this country great. It also makes us part of something bigger than ourselves and includes us in a place, our country, were we  can all  freely be who we want to be.

This fact should empower us not divide us.

So steeping into 2014 later tonight think about all those strangers around you...they are the future or our country. A future that needs to be fairer and works for the common good of all. A future that will need all of us working together toward a more perfect Union.

Remember these are the people who you have more in common with, so reach out your hand and introduce yourself and lets begin manifesting that future we all dream about right now.

Happy New Year everyone.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

   ― Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, December 28, 2013

NRPS~ Bridge Street Live~ December 27th, 2013

A full house greeted the New Riders on a crisp December  night in cozy Collinsville, Connecticut.

The first set was excellent as the set was rich in upbeat twang but also featured many of the tracks off the band's landmark first album.
Dave Nelson and company launched into a rolling " Where I Come From" which set the mood nicely. They next  jumped into a sweet version of " I Don't Know You". It was clear that Buddy Cage, who is battling Multiple Myeloma, was in fine  form and his solos were very sweet, prolific, and beautiful through out the set.
The band continued on grooving with tracks off their first album by offering fine renditions of  " Last Lonely Eagle" and " Whatcha' Gonna Do"  both which featured rich harmonies and that still very relevant plea for environmental awareness. The  band might find it  cool that numerous bald eagles do winter on this stretch of the Farmington River these days.

Dave then pulled out an  old classic " Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie" made popular back in the early 1980's by the Grateful Dead. The Riders next launched into a joyous an rambunctious reading of " Henry". Bassist Ronnie Pengue  nailed it and the entire band pushed it along a barrel neck speed as Henry raced down below the border. Once again Cage soared on this one as his solos were vivid and joyous. This continued on with a newer song " Joy Is in The Journey" which featured drummer Johnny Markowski's vocals and some fine picking by Dave.
They also played some wonderful covers. Guitarist Michael Falzarano made sure that Bob Dylan received proper credit for penning " Lo & Behold" which the audience loved. One of the best songs of the night "Contract" which was all you could ask in a tune, a great groove and a compelling story.
Buddy was in his element on this one too.
They closed out the first set with a majestic " Louisiana Lady" once again featuring rich harmonies and that story telling that only the NRPS can do. The icing was put on the cake with that old Stones' classic " Dead Flowers."
Set II  took off with a barn burning reading of the Hunter/Nelson tune " Barracuda Moon" with Dave really stepping out on it. Buddy played some wild stuff as well. This set featured more vocal  driven tunes such as " Lockinvar", which was drummer's Johnny Markowski's best song of the night, and others that featured great harmonies and slower melodies.  Songs like Suite at the Mission symbolized this.
 Dave reluctantly played " Panama Red" but did share his hilarious efforts at learning the song backwards, since he played the song way too often for his likings.

The  night ended with a fan offering a cool gift to the band, a blanket with Pig Pen's image woven into it.

Dave shared the story, on the search for an after party, from nearly five decades ago of how Pig Pen was bestowed his name. They played a sing -a-long version of " Ripple" for the encore in his honor.

If you would like to make a contribution to help assist Buddy Cage in defraying his recent medical expenses, his  good friend and fellow musical spirit Pete Sears has created the Filaments Project. It features  bracelets made from strings from a Washburn guitar that Pete owns. All profits from the sale of the bracelets will help Buddy.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Syria: Obama's Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

This coming Tuesday night President Obama takes his flawed and risky foreign policy argument for a military response against Syria, for their use of chemical weapons against civilians, to the American people.

It  is clearly becoming the biggest political risk he has ever taken after five years in office and could set the stage for even more dysfunctional strife and complete inaction with Congress in the last 39 days of this current session if his Tuesday night sales pitch fails with the American people.

After more than a week of vague classified references and high ranking politicians, of both parties, warning of an eminent threat to our  national security, all the rhetoric eerily similar to the lead up to the Iraq war. It is clear where the people stand;the over whelming who have contacted their elected officials by email, fax, phone, and at town meetings, the American people want nothing to do with striking Syria and honestly seem to be much more cognitive of the unknown risks that could result from an unprovoked attack against Syria.

Americans are not unsympathetic to the plight of the Syrian people nor are they not shocked by the horror of more than 100,000 lives killed in this bloody civil war. It the simple realization that this war  has spun completely out of control and the despot Bashar al-Saad is set on destroying his own country to stay in power and every willing jihadist is now or soon will be fighting in Syria to try to defeat him.

With that reality why would the United States ever want to jump into this awful civil war?

Now Obama's red line has turned into the world's red line and after leaving the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg Friday with his tail between his legs, it is clear the world is not in the mood for drawing any red lines either in Syria.

The biggest flaw in this dangerous contemplation is we have not even been presented the evidence by the Obama Administration yet and this as the world awaits the results of the U.N. chemical inspectors.

A rush in judgment could results in another decade of armed conflict for our country in the Middle East.

On Washington Week Friday Susan Davis of USA Today shared that AIPAC is ready to pound the halls of Congress next to win votes in the House for a military strike against Syria,

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said it would cost " tens of millions" to support a military strike. This will surely jump to the hundreds of millions after Senator McCain's change in the language in the  Senate Foreign Relation Committee Resolution on Syria which states Whereas the objectives of the United States use of military force in connection with this authorization are to respond to the use, and deter and degrade the potential future use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government;"

The key words are "degrade" and " weapons of mass destruction"  which leaves the door wide open for a longer and more costly armed conflict. Just to put things in perspective it cost $40 million a week to keep the aircraft carrier U.S.S Nimitz in the Perisan Gulf with out firing one missile.

So for Obama is this a humanitarian or moral calling?

Or is it simply just another excuse to prolong and embed our country in the never ending war which only benefits the tentacles of the terrorist industrial complex?

Tuesday night you be the judge.
Photo courtesy of

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blue Jasmine: Watered down Woody

Woody Allen's return to Manhattan is  not the city it was thirty five years ago. Gone are the thick skinned native New Yorkers who openly complain bitterly and with sarcastic irony their love/ hate relationship with the city that never sleeps. Also gone are the neurotic self absorbed intellectuals trying to make sense, any sense of it all.

New York was the city that once promised the keys to a new life as Sinatra once proclaimed "" If I can make it there..I'll make it anywhere" Fast forward to today to bear witness to a gentler and safer city, one where even Brooklyn has fallen into the fold. A gentrified play land for the uber wealthy, who's latest cultural achievement is the cronut and who openly wheel and deal on Wall Street in the generic office towers manning the machines that make  hundreds of micro trades per seconds. All in the name of profit.

With a  story  line that pulls right off the heels of the Bernie Madoff Ponzie scheme, one that pilfered $18 billion off thousands of duped investors, who sadly at times fought over one another to get into Madoff's elite action.
The film begins with what I do believe is Woody's first foray into CGI, as a artificial looking jet liner streams west above dreamy white puffy sun soaked clouds with  our protagonist Jasmine Blue aboard.

What is the greatest short coming of this film begins right off as Jasmine, the compelling Cate Blanchette, painfully demonstrates that she is the worst airline  passenger that never stops talking and to boot she is a drinker too. This scene is  funny but also reveals the greatest weakness of the film, we do not talk to each other anymore...we only talk at each other. For Woody Allen fans this is a fate worse than death.
Photo courtesy of Indiewire
Jasmine is heading to the other wickedest city in the world... San Francisco, another city that is not what it once was; to crash with here estranged sister Ginger, played affectionately by Sally Hawkins. Jasmine's life has been turned inside out and upside down after her husband Hal, the miscast Alex Baldwin, illegal business dealings finally catch up with him, which result in the lifestyle of this excessively rich couple coming to an abrupt and crashing halt as the government takes everything and sends Hal up the river.

 Once at Ginger's cramped apartment Jasmine has her first "social" outing. One that is part blind date and  rude awakening of  how the other 99% live. As Jasmine continues to pound down one Stolie martinis after another she is berated with question by Ginger's  fiance Chili, played old school by Bobby Cannavale, who presses her on how  she will now "make it" without her millions.  It is here the delusions that mirror the archetypal Blanch DuBois begin to show them self. Jasmine barely emotionally survives this prodding from Chili, but once again the dialogue which could have occurred never occurs. Chili basically talks at Jasmine and there is nothing clever or revealing that comes out of this exchange. Jasmine was more than capable to go toe to toe with Chili but instead she just surrenders in her martini glass.Should we pity Jasmine or hate her? The one good thing that comes of this is Jasmine get a  job tip from her would be blind date. 

In a series of flash backs Allen  sets the story in motion as we  see Jasmine and Hall blossom in their life together as theirs becomes a magical and disconnected one from  most people's reality. Allen does not make serious commentary about this it is only part of Jasmine story until Ginger and her former husband Augie, played convincingly by Andrew Dice Clay, come to New York to visit. It is in this scene that you see the disdain and blatant self absorption that both Jasmine and Hal display as they are the world's most selfish hosts.

Just by chance in the limo provided by the "generous" Hal to secretly give Jasmine the day off to playing  host for Ginger and Augie's Manhattan tourist adventure, Ginger witness' infidelities by Hal outside a restaurant with another woman. She sadly does not tell Jasmine this fact but does confide in a drunk Augie who agrees she should do the right thing.

Tragically that does not occur and the next day while in the Hamptons Augie commits his recent lottery winning to Hal's winning investment strategy.

For all who are  touched and seduced by Hal and Jasmine's life only bitter heartbreak will follow.

Cate Blanchette carries this movie but  sadly she carries it alone. It is an Oscar worthy performance by her  a portrayal that will have you gradually becoming more emphatic to her delusions, whether real or constructed, and hoping that some semblance of normalcy will await her. Tragically that is not to be. 
Unfilled dreams are often the a hallmark of a Woody film and there is plenty of misery to go around in this one. The only justice in the film is a cruel twist of fate as Augie delivers the crushing and appropriate blow to a broad sided Jasmine.

Watching this film you are left feeling incomplete. Not by the fall of the once  vibrant and sophisticated Jasmine or even by the heartbroken and lost Jasmine but by the complete lack of any compelling, quick witted and biting Woody dialogue between characters. That is what is sorely missing in this film. The dialogue that opens,expands, and challenges emotions as well as the story arch of the characters involved who need to intellectually fence with each other, regardless of what level they may be on, to claim there own ground. Too many of the players performance's are squander to the point of being cliche. Sadly Ginger role is most evident of this as she never comes into her own or holds Jasmine accountable for her role in her fate and unhappiness.

Is it a sign of the times? A painful fact that we just don't have the  time, or the patients, anymore to expect movie makers to write characters beyond the obvious? When it comes to Woody Allen movies we do expect  that and more.

Woody's love affair with the New York skyline is sadly over too as their are no panoramic full screen views of this changed city. Is that deliberate? Is this city no longer a place of bewilderment? Maybe. Well at least we got a couple good shots of the Golden Gate.
                                         Photos courtesy of World's Best Places

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A great read on a cool crisp Saturday morning.

Regardless if you are a Progressive, Conservative, Socialist, Libertarian, or Tea Party person. This recent speech from Noam Chomsky, which he presented in Bonn, Germany, is exceptional.
For many of us  folks who are concerned about a wide variety of political, economic, social and environmental issues. This piece will help to stimulate a  deeper understanding of the world we live in, the role of historical events presented in a different light, and the urgent need to deal with our problems in ways that contradict our accepted known beliefs .
If you prefer for a deeper intellectual, but also quite honest, escape from the 24/7 rhetoric of the moment...
dive in.
If you would like to hear Professor Chomsky speak sometime like his  Facebook page or visits his web site.
Here is the link to the speech.