Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve Goes Green! Kind of...

To mark the 100th anniversary of the famous ball drop on New Year's Eve this year and in keeping with the times, the glittery ball in Times Square will go green. That's right! More than 9,500 energy efficient LED bulbs created by Philips will be used to light the ball. They will be twice as bright as the combination of incandescent and halogen bulbs used last year and will use about as much electricity as 10 toasters. Held against the 672 Waterford crystals that cover the ball's surface, the new LED lights are capable of creating more than 16 million colors--although most of them will probably be blue.

Any good the new LED lights will do the environment will surely be cancelled out by the more than 2,000 pounds of paper confetti that will be dumped into the crowd below along with hundreds of balloons that will drift out to sea, pollute the ocean and cause choking hazards for dolphins. Oh well. I guess it's a start. Happy New Year, everyone!


Friday, December 28, 2007

In Memoriam: Michael Kidd

With all the holiday activity I’m a little late in reporting this, but legendary Broadway and Hollywood choreographer Michael Kidd died this week. (Pictured above, left, on set with Gene Kelly) A native of Brooklyn, Kidd got his start at the American School of Ballet and went on to become a principle ballet dancer. He eventually crossed over to Broadway where he became one of the best choreographers in the business winning five Tony Awards. His credits read like a chapter out of Musical Theatre history with Guys & Dolls, Finian’s Rainbow, Can Can, Li’l Abner and Wildcat among them.

Kidd was equally in demand in Hollywood at MGM studios during its golden age of musicals in the 1950s. There he choreographed for the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charise among others. He credited his signature athletic style to movements that came from real life and fit the characters for whom he was choreographing. Perhaps the best example of this is the Barn Raising sequence in the 1954 classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers--one of the best dance sequences ever to be put on film. With the task of choreographing a ballet for lumberjacks, Kidd included such actions as ax wielding and log rolling into the number forever dispelling the myth that dancing is for sissies.

Michael Kidd died of cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92. Click below to watch the Barn Raising sequence from Seven Brides.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The After Christmas Sale at Sak's

My friend Peter, former window dresser, costume designer and devoted gay son, loves to act as his mother's personal stylist. Today he thought he'd take advantage of the after Christmas sale at Sak's Fifth Avenue. After selecting several gowns to take home for her perusal and carrying them around the store, a very PC sales lady asked him "Would you like a dressing room?" to which Peter replied in disgust "I beg your pardon! Do look like a 12?"

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Musical Moments: Promises, Promises

In honor of Christmas I'm posting the "Turkey Lurkey Time" number from Promises, Promises. The show opened just before Christmas in 1968 with the star studded creative team of book writer Neil Simon, songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David, director/choreographer Michael Bennett, producer David Merrick and even featured Broadway royalty Jerry Orbach and Donna McKechnie. Despite all of this star-power, Promises, Promises is but a lackluster star in the musical theatre firmament. Still, it has some moments worth watching again. "Turkey Lurkey Time" is one of them.

Now, don't get me wrong--the song is awful. It makes no sense and it's easy to see why it never became a Christmas standard, say, the way "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame did. Besides the schizophrenic melody, try to decipher the lyrics and you come up with a rather bizarre Christmas sentiment. Take for example the lyric "It's Lucy Goosey time, her time is running out and we all know when." What??? As in her time is running out on Christmas when we kill her and eat her? Yeah, let's sing and dance about that.

To the modern sensibility the number is high camp. Michael Bennett's choreography is such a relic of the '60s it almost seems like a parody of itself and yet it's brilliant at the same time. The Christmas sentiment Bennett captures here is that of sheer joy and that's what still stands up today. Was there ever a more feel-good number on Broadway? That said, this Christmas I wish you joy with "Turkey Lurkey Time".

I chose this Ed Sullivan clip of replacement cast members because the video quality is better than the one from the 1968 Tony awards. But if you want to watch Donna McKechnie do the number, click here.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blue Christmas

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center this year is blue.  Very, very blue.  It doesn't show that well in this photo, but there seems to be more blue lights on the tree than any other color.  Not only are they blue, they are an intense electric blue.  The tree supposedly went "green" this year with energy efficient bulbs powered by solar panels or something.  That's all well and good--but why is it so blue?

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Monday, December 17, 2007

My $14 Tree

I love Christmas. But this is the first tree I’ve had in 5 years. I’ve found ways to rationalize away not having one year after year. For a few years I was either traveling or working out of town for Christmas. Scott usually spends the holidays with his family in Illinois and I’m always at my folks’ in Jersey for Christmas. Besides that, my apartment is small and the behemoth old artificial tree I inherited from my parents is really too big for the space. Real trees are a hassle to drag up the two flights of stairs to my apartment and even worse to lug back down. Plus the old-fashioned radiator heat in apartments like mine are not exactly kind to live trees. But Scott will be spending Christmas Eve with me this year so I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d put up a Christmas tree this year.

While on a shopping trip to New Jersey this weekend, Scott and I hit Target--one of our guilty pleasures. I figured I’d check out what kind of fake trees they have for sale. It was a veritable forest. Blue Spruce, pre-lit, Frazier furs–you name it, they had it. But investing a couple hundred bucks for a really nice one just didn’t seem right even though another shopper there informed us that if we amortize over a few years it’s way cheaper than buying a real one every year. He had a point. Still, that kind of extra do-re-mi at the holidays is hard to justify. Then I saw this little tree--a 6-foot Randolph Pine. It was nice and narrow for my little apartment and even though it would be dwarfed by the 11 foot ceilings, I figured I’d set it on a milk crate or something. On sale for $13.99 it was the cheapest of the lot and looked it, too. But as Charlie Brown thought of his little tree, all it needed was some love. So that was that. Off we went with our $14 tree.

An evening of unpacking ornaments and strolling down memory lane produced the results you see above. I went to bed happy and satisfied that it would indeed be a Merry Christmas this year.

Then this morning I turned on NPR and heard an interview with some expert who went on and on about how artificial Christmas trees from China would kill us all. Mine, of course, was made in China, hence its rock-bottom price. These trees are made from PVC plastic which release harmful chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects. They are dangerous to factory workers and consumers alike. What’s more, these trees will outlast us all either in a landfill or even incinerated they release their toxins back into the environment. Add to that the petroleum used to ship these trees from China and you have the very cause of global warming itself–my $14 Christmas tree.

Oh well, I guess it’s a locally, organically grown tree for me next year. Happy Holidays everyone.


Friday, December 14, 2007

A Jewish Hat Trick

Consider this the third in a trilogy of Jewish themed posts from me. I'm not actually Jewish, but growing up as I did in Northern New Jersey with many Jewish friends, living as I do on Manhattan's Upper West Side and having a decent knowledge of a few choice Yiddish words, I often say I'm Jewish by Association. I was invited to a belated Hanukkah celebration this weekend that I am unable to attend, so in honor of my Jewish friends I thought I'd post this video. It's a scream with a kick-ass vocal by Motown legend Darlene Love. You may remember it from SNL a couple of years ago--but it holds up. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

877 JOE-4-OIL

Among the holiday sales and Christmas specials being advertised on television these days is a new sign of the season hitting the airwaves: CITGO’s Low Cost Heating Oil program. The commercials feature spokesman Joe Kennedy flashing his family’s famous million-dollar smile all over the screen as he tells the stories of the program's needy recipients. Kennedy started a non-profit organization 28 years ago to help families meet the high cost of heating oil. The program has drawn much criticism in recent years since the oil is donated at a 40% discount from Venezuelan owned CITGO. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as you know, is a controversial figure (and one of the Barbara Walters' Most Fascinating People of 2007!) He is known for his extreme socialist views and admiration of Fidel Castro, his stronghold on state industries and for quite famously referring to George Bush as "the devil" in a UN address last year.

Many believe the motivation behind Venezuela’s generosity is to make the United States look bad for not being able to take care of its "invisible poor" as Kennedy refers to them in the ads and to portray Chavez as a "good guy". In defense of these accusations Kennedy stated in an interview last year that in the 27 years he has been heading the program not a single OPEC nation or US Oil Company has ever offered heating oil at any discount whatsoever, let alone at 40%, despite his repeated requests. Whatever the motivation, the recipients of the much needed heating oil don’t seem to care.

Needy individuals and familes can call 877-JOE-4-OIL for more information. Click here to see one of the CITGO Joe-4-Oil commercials that aired last year.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

City Snapshot: Xtreme Dreidel '07

For this week's city snapshot, more Hanukkah fun: Xtreme Dreidel '07! What is that, you ask? Dreidels as nunchucks or something? Well, not exactly. After doing a little research online, apparently Xtreme Dreidel involves spinning dreidels all at the same time--upside down. Yes, that's right--upside down! It can degenerate into something of a free-for-all with dreidels spinning out of control all over the room. Sounds like some madcap fun.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ham for Hanukkah

Oy, Vey! Talk about a faux pas! It seems well-known New York grocer, Balducci's, has some unorthodox ideas about how to celebrate Hanukkah. A shopper spotted the sign "Delicious for Chanukah--Boneless Spiral Ham" and couldn't resist taking a picture of the bone-headed blunder (right), no doubt committed by some clueless goyishe meat clerk. The story has been making the rounds in the New York papers and local television stations.

Non-plussed by the mistake, most Jews interviewed for the story seem to be taking it in stride getting a good laugh out of it rather than being offended. Balducci's issued an apology via their website and said they would be re-training their employees. Yeah--that'd be good.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Read Any Good Books Lately?

These are two books I haven’t read “lately” but rather, within the last six months or so. They have some similarities in that both books deal with themes of families redefined and both writers use a distinctly comic tone to tell their sometimes tragic stories.

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster is a funny, often touching account of Nathan Glass, a retired insurance salesman, divorced from his wife and estranged from his daughter, who moves to Brooklyn “to die.” While there decides to pen “The Book of Human Folly,” which contains every colossally stupid blunder he has ever committed in his life. But in his new environs he meets an unlikely cast of characters who become his new family: a long-lost, underachieving nephew, a flamboyant used-book salesman, an HIV positive Jamaican drag queen, a hard-boiled Italian widow and a silent little girl who shows up on his doorstep unannounced.

Perhaps as penance for his own “human folly” he helps each one of these characters with their own struggles and quests. The plot twists, turns and intertwines, leading from Brooklyn to Vermont to “Carolina, Carolina.” Auster explores the concept of sanctuary in literature with allusions to Thoreau, Whitman and Hawthorne but with a distinctly urban tone reminiscent of Damon Runyon. Told in the first person, Nathan’s delicious New York accent practically leaps off the page. I read this book about six months ago, but the characters continue to haunt.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir by Dave Eggers and begins with an account of the author’s parents dying of cancer within six months of each other. They leave behind four children ranging in age from 10 years to early 20s. The author himself is a college student at the time. Left with only each other, the siblings begin to redefine their family, assuming parental roles to their younger brother, selling off all the family possessions and moving west to Berkley, CA.

I began loving this book with its tongue-in-cheek tone, self-deprecating humor and false bravado. But Eggers would have been well served by a good editor. He falls into the trap of the self-indulgent memoirist with a too-long, two person scene in the middle of the book in which he recounts in maudlin detail everything we just read. This scene is set as a casting interview for MTV’s The Real World. Following this, the book trails off into seemingly unrelated anecdotes of the struggling young writer’s attempt to create a fledgling magazine and his coming of age as an adult. This overwritten work seems to diminish the potentially“heartbreaking” story the author is trying to tell. Nevertheless, it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

So how about you? Read any good books lately?

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tis the season! In New York that means the season for camera straps, fanny packs and baby buggies. Tourist season! While New Yorkers are happy for the buzzing economy, it comes with a price: we must endure Cadillac sized double strollers, foreigners grinning goofily for cameras in the middle of Times Square and being stopped by map-toting mid-westerners asking for directions. (Here's a hint--the streets are numbered.) The photo above is the Times Square Toys 'R' Us packed with holiday shoppers. Don't they have Toys 'R' Us in Iowa you ask? Well, perhaps, but not with a Ferris wheel, a 12 foot animatronic dinosaur and a six foot Leggo Statue of Liberty. Okay, we do it with style in New York. That's why I live here.

I found myself in the middle of this holiday madness because I have a nephew with a December 1st birthday and there are no hoops Uncle Michael won't jump through to make sure he has a happy birthday. So, yesterday, before the stores opened, Scott and I planned our strategy.

I will admit Scott was the brains of the operation. He suggested I visit the Toys 'R' Us website before diving head first into the madding crowds. I did so and came up with a first, second and third gift choice. We then took the express train to Times Square. Well versed with the subway system, we chose the exit closest to the store for minimal crowd-weaving in Times Square. I was a bit taken aback by the wall of humanity we were met with once inside the revolving doors of the store.

"This is a %*@&-ing nightmare!" I blurted out in spite of myself.
"Watch it! There are kids here," Scott reminded me.
"Hives! Hives! I'm breaking out in hives!" I exclaimed.
"Focus! Second floor!"

I was grateful for the fact that for a 41-year-old Scott has an unnatural affinity for toy stores and works only two blocks away and therefore had an intimate working knowledge of the Toys 'R' Us floor plan. We made a bee-line for the escalator dodging Bugaboos and screaming children the entire way.

Once on the second floor Scott had a general idea of where to find my first choice gift: the GeoTrax Rope and Ride Ranch. (Insert obvious gay joke here.) After asking the exact location, we found the treasured item and even found time to snap the above photo.

Rather than use the check-out on the main level, we chose the less frequented register next to the rest rooms. (A line longer than the ladies loo at a matinee of Chicago!) With receipt in hand, we retraced our steps to the escalator, this time having to resort to alternate routes to allow for over-fed pre-teen boys gawking at the Jurassic Park dinosaur. Once down the escalator, poised with the gift in front of me as a battering ram, I led the way to the side exit. Once in the sunshine and fresh air of Times Square (well--as fresh as it can be in Times Square) we breathed a sigh of relief. Victory was ours!

All in all it was worth it. Nate loved his gift and had a very happy birthday.

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