Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Provincetown Playhouse in Peril

Another piece of American Theatre History is being threatened by the wrecking ball. The ever-expanding NYU is planning to raze the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street. The playhouse has played host to the New York premieres of much of Eugene O'Neill's work as well as the plays of Edward Albee, Edna St. Vincent Millay and others. Andrew Berman, president of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, had this to say, "This is a world famous historic site that is critical to the development of alternative theatre in America. To demolish it is sacrilege." I agree, but then, I'm partial.

NYU says the expansion is still in the planning phase and that the theatre's demolition is not a done deal while at the same time trying to justify the demolition arguing that after the its 1940s renovation, the Playhouse's exterior bears little resemblance to the original 1918 structure. (Which is true as you can see from the photos.) They similarly rationalized away the demolition of one of Edgar Allen Poe's former residences a few years ago arguing that he didn't live there for very long. Whatever. Someone get this building landmarked and fast!

The original 1918 facade of the Provincetown Playhouse as it looked around 1936.
The exterior as it looks today.

Labels: ,

Idol Chat 2008 (Part 8)

It took a lot to muster some enthusiasm for the remaining contestants, especially after watching Carly Smithson do the post-Idol talk show circuit this week. Few of the singers left have the vocal chops Carly has and fewer still are as exciting a performer as she is. That said, I wasn't exactly thrilled to hear they were each going to sing two songs. Two Neil Diamond songs. Truth be told, I waited till the show was over and watched it on DVR fast forwarding through all the inane comments and interviews right to the performances. Here are my picks from best to worst.

David Archuletta--"Sweet Caroline" and "America" There is joy in his performances. You could tell he loved singing "Sweet Caroline" and it showed on his face and in the vocals. One note of criticism though: he riffed on the melody too soon. Rule of thumb, only riff after you've sung it straight once. We know the song, we like it, we want to hear the version we know. "America" could certainly have worked against him. It's overdone and reminds me of so much cruise ship work. That said, he took it and ran with it. His vocals were spot on and he gave it an original spin. It was an exciting performance. Very good.

Syesha--"Hello Again" and "Thank the Lord for the Night Time" Like any good student of Musical Theatre Syesha chose a ballad and an up-tempo. They both showed her off nicely. She is a beautiful singer. Unlike most of the other performers, she seems to grow every week. Also, she is not afraid to show some vulnerability and doesn't feel the need to hide behind a musical instrument. She did well with the second song, too, but I felt it was just a little bit safe. (I couldn't help imagining some one like Fantasia tearing up the stage with that song.) But even her safe performance beats the pants off some of the other singers.

David Cook. "I'm Alive" and "All I Really Need is You" David had an advantage in that vocally his style is not unlike Neil Diamond's. That said, I wasn't crazy about the first song. It was fine, just okay. By the second song he was back to the David that has gotten him this far in the competition. He completely rocked it. And as is always the case when David is at his best, he found his own voice with this performance--even if that voice is a bit shouted at times.

Brooke White--"I'm a Believer" LAME. Brooke turns in another amateur performance. And if there was ever a song not to be stuck behind a guitar it's this one. A missed opportunity and her inability to recognize that shows that her instincts as a performer are poor. "I am, I said" This was the best performance Brooke has turned in in weeks. She was wise to personalize the song. She seemed vulnerable, invested. But still, her vocals are only so good.

Jason Castro--"Forever in Blue Jeans", "September Morn" This kid is so out of his element at this point in the competition it's kind of sad. He doesn't seem invested at all, indeed, he seems to be pleading with the audience to cut him from the show. Boring, milquetoast, uninspired--for both songs.

Who Should Go: Jason. Please put this kid out of his misery.
UPDATE: Finally some justice--Brooke goes home. But how, how, how does Jason make it another week without being in the bottom two??? Never underestimate the power of the tween voting bloc I guess.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Habla Inglese?

Let me start this post with a disclaimer: I am not a language snob. I do not insist that people speak English whenever I am within earshot, nor do I consider anyone who speaks with an accent unable to speak English. (This is one of my pet peeves. Just because someone speaks with an accent does not mean they don't speak English!) My family are recent enough immigrants that I remember many of them speaking with an accent. When someone complains that immigrants don't learn the language fast enough, I often ask them if their own ancestors got off the boat speaking fluent English. Unless they are of English or Irish descent, this is very rarely the case. (Although, in the case of my own Italian grandmother, she did, in fact, speak fluent English before she ever came to America, having been schooled in Scotland.) But I digress...

There is one instance, however, where not speaking English really does rub me the wrong way. That is when people in public service positions (cashiers, fast food workers, etc) speak to each other in a language other than English, say, oh, i don't know....Spanish, for example. And even that is not so bad as when they speak to Spanish speaking customers in Spanish in front of me. It's not as if these workers or the customers are not perfectly bilingual, flipping easily back in to English to wait on me. It just seems rude. And, in the case of representing a national chain, not right. Does this ever happen to you? Does it bother you? Or am I turning into Lou Dobbs?


Pretty Baby

Well, this didn't take long. The squeaky clean image of Disney's Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Hannah Montana, has been tarnished, not by the Star or the Enquirer, but by Vanity Fair and all-star celebrity photographer Annie Lebovitz. This is not to say that Cyrus' "people" are without fault here. What kind of interest did they think Vanity Fair was going to take in the superstar of the 'tween set? Further, what kind of photographs did they expect Annie Lebovitz, a photographer known for her provocative style, to snap of the Disney darling?

The images, which you can see a bit of above, may appear innocuous to some but stand in stark contrast to the image Cyrus and her team have taken great pains to cultivate. They include a "nude" of Cyrus wrapped in a satin sheet and, what is perhaps an even more disturbing image, one which shows Cyrus and her father, Billy Ray, in a suggestive clinch. Whether it was the Vanity Fair/Lebovitz people who took advantage of a 15 year-old girl, or it was Cyrus' management looking to find the next demographic for her fan-base at any cost, one thing is clear: a lot of people are getting rich over the exploitation of a little girl. She did not make the decision to take these photographs herself, indeed, she is not even old enough to sign the release on these photos. A 15 year-old is simply not equipped emotionally or intellectually to handle this level of fame and scandal. Move over Lindsay, watch for this one to crash and burn.

UPDATE: In an ironic twist, it is 15 year-old Miley Cyrus herself, not Vanity Fair, Annie Lebovitz, Disney, Cyrus' management team nor her father, who is issuing an apology to her fans for the racy photos. Can you imagine allowing this kid to take the fall this by herself? Nice.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Have a Nice Day!

Yesterday the NYPD revealed with much fanfare something called Operation TORCH. It is supposed to act as a deterrent for would-be terrorists and involves teams of riot police armed with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs who will be situated in various subway stations throughout the city. What a welcome sight for a sleepy morning commuter on his way to work.

The team (or teams) will be deployed to different subway stations every day. So, you may see them one day and gone the next. But I'm not sure their presence would make me feel any safer. In fact, it might make me feel less safe, as if the reason I'm seeing them is because an attack is imminent. I'm all for protecting the subway system, but there has to be a less in-your-face way to do it.

Besides that, the fact of the matter is that if someone is bound and determined to bomb the subway system they are going to do it, Operation TORCH or no. With the teams in different stations everyday, don't they think a would-be terrorist would find out where they are on the given day of a planned attack and just enter the system at another station? Then all they have to do is ride into Times Square and pull the trigger, light the fuse, pull the pin, or whatever one does to set off a bomb. I suppose I shouldn't complain about this new means of security--maybe it will deter attacks. Who knows? But I can't help seeing it as just another depressing sign of the times in which we live.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Idol Chat (Part 7)

Okay, I'm sorry this is so late. I've been insanely busy at work today and I had to seriously edit down the epic rant I wrote last night on this week's episode. It essentially turned out to be a critical analysis of the entire Lloyd Weber oeuvre. Anyway, fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night. Here's the post:

Oh, the pretension! This week on American Idol the contestants were forced to sing the songs of Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber. LORD. They introduced her lordship with such fanfare on the show I fully expected him to enter wearing an ermine trimmed cape! From the very beginning of the show Ryan et al were going on and on about how this would be the toughest week ever in the history of American Idol as if they contestants were suddenly asked to perform Wagnerian song cycles or something. Yes, it was a tough week, but only because most of Weber’s music is so pedestrian it’s hard to pull of an interesting or fresh performance of it.

Oh. You might have noticed I have some strong opinions on the work of his lordship. STRONG. Not that he hasn’t created a couple of interesting, even relevant shows (Evita, Superstar), but let’s just say if you’re a fan, you might just want to stop reading now. It’s a long one anyway. I have a lot to say. A LOT.

On with the top and bottom 3—or the final 6 in this case.

Top Three
Carly Smithson
. “Jesus Christ Superstar” This was a toss up for me for first place between Carly and Syesha. I gave it to Carly though because there seemed to be more at stake for her this week following a couple weeks in a row of uncharacteristic lackluster performances. But last night she came back stronger than ever--a clear standout of the evening. She can thank his Lordship for some excellent advice that got her out of her slump. ( Imagine if she had sung that other piece of drivel she chose? Good heavens!) The best benefit she got was choosing a song from a period of Weber’s work when he was writing from a place of true passion rather than commercialism. It’s an exciting song and Carly gave exciting, fresh performance. I thought she was great. GREAT.

Syesha “One Rock and Roll Too Many” Well! It seems Miss Syesha has finally found her niche. She seemed much more suited to this genre than pop. Also, she went for a decidedly musical theatre approach to the song and made no apologies for it. It was a risk in a way, but it paid off. She delivered the song with all the glamour and sass of a real Broadway star. The judges seemed to respect that and in fact rewarded her for excelling in a style of music she is clearly passionate about. Following their comments, there was a look of satisfaction and relief on Syesha's face as if to say “Oh, good. It’s okay to be me” which I found sweet and touching. Syesha had proved to be an adept singer all along, but only recently has she begun to shine.

David Archuletta “Think of Me” His lordship was astonished that a boy would choose to sing this song. Why? The lyric is pretty general and non-specific—it’s not exactly “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (Although come to think of it, David would be pretty cute in that number, too.) His lordship pretends the lyric wasn’t purposefully left vague in the hopes that this banal little ditty would get recorded to death by singers of all types making him millions of dollars. David sang the song beautifully. He actually gave it some meat. But you know how Randy is always saying this kid could sing the phone book and make it sound good? This song is pretty close. He comes in third last night because you can only put so much lipstick on a pig.

Bottom Three
David Cook “Music of the Night” An uninspired song choice. Why didn’t someone steer this kid toward Judas in Superstar? He would have kicked ass. Instead he gave a bland performance of a bland song. Not good, not bad, neither passionate nor vulnerable. Just there. We can thank David’s song choice for giving us perhaps one of the most awkward moments in television history, however. Maybe David gave such a wooden performance because he was trying to resist the urge to vomit after having the lizard-like Lloyd Weber come on to him in his vocal coaching-- an incident that will undoubtedly scar him for life. That has to be one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on tv. Seriously.

Jason Castro “Memory” This doesn’t even deserve comment. This kid is so stupid it’s not even cute or funny anymore. “I didn’t know a cat was singing it.” Need I say more? Anyone who doesn’t know that singing “Memory” ANYWHERE sets you up to be a laughing stock is clearly a dullard of the highest order. It’s akin to singing “Feelings” on the Gong Show for crying out loud! This is the reason Jason bothers me so much as a performer, he’s pleasant enough, but there’s no spark of intelligence or creativity in him. He’s always got dull-eyed vacant expression. There’s nothing going on upstairs and that’s not interesting to watch.

Brook White “You Must Love Me” She chose a third rate song for the movie version of “Evita”. That was her first mistake which ultimately lead her to her second mistake, forgetting the lyric. Here’s what happened: it’s a bad song. There’s a reason people forget lyrics—usually it’s because they don’t work. Any playwright, for example, knows that if an actor trips up on the same line all the time, there’s probably something wrong with the line. And Paula is right! YOU MUST NOT START AND STOP! First rule of show business: The show must go on. Hello? This girl is an amateur. Her vocals are extremely mediocre. She can’t play the piano worth a damn. She hasn’t grown at all during the competition giving the same high school talent show level performance week after week. This is all she’s got folks. She’s not your American Idol.

Boy, do I sound cranky today or what? But it felt good to get all that out. Whew! I guess I owe his lordship (and his fans) a really nice Musical Moments post after this, huh. The next one--I promise!


UPDATE:  Okay, this is the point in the season where I vow never to watch American Idol again.   This is when the fan base for each singer is so strong it doesn't matter how good or bad the performances are (Jason?  BROOKE?). The two best performances by far, Syesha and Carly, ended up in the bottom two.  The only good thing about this is that we got to watch both of them again  because there is no freakin' way I could have sat through that excruciating version of "Memory" again.  Sadly, the unbelievably talented Carly Smithson goes home this week while Mr. "I-didn't-know-a-cat-was-singin'-it" and Miss Start-and-Stop-Amateur-Hour live to see another week.  Where is the justice?  It better be David and David in the final two or I swear I'm never watching American Idol again.  And I meant it this time!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I'm a Bad Person

It's Earth Day. And I drove to work today. In Manhattan. Across town. At rush hour.

I know what you must be thinking. I'm not proud of this. But it was either that or be slapped with a costly parking ticket due to a delayed entrance into the delicate dance that is alternate side of the street parking in Manhattan. And since my bank account seemed in more immediate danger than the environment at the critical moment I was forced to make a choice, I chose to drive. Yes, to drive. On Earth Day.

Gentle readers of the blogosphere, forgive me!


Monday, April 21, 2008

City Snapshot: Barber Shop Quartet

A few years ago when I worked out of town a lot I had occasion to visit much of small town America. While this sounds quaint, and sometimes was, very often it was depressing: Main Street after Main Street lined with vacant store fronts, the businesses all moving out to strip malls by the highway or vanished completely due to corporate super-stores. Yet there always seemed to be a handful straggling mom & pops that remained–the local barber shop often among them. To me the survival of the barbershop is hope that as a society we still crave a kind of familiarity, service and sense of community that cannot be found on the Internet or be recreated by Wal-Mart. Barbershops have become a cultural icon preserving a unique a form male bonding in which men actually talk to each other. We trade stories, seek advice, give opinions, brag, lie, or just listen.

I still get my hair cut at a real barbershop, although I wasn’t always keen on them. As a kid my father used to take me to a shop in our town where all of the barbers were Italian and had names that rhymed and ended in "o": Lino, Dino, Nino and Lee. (Lee didn’t rhyme but he was the shop owner and the best looking of the lot.) When I was very young, I didn’t mind going so much because it meant a piece of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum at the end. But as I got a little older, the hairdos of the 70s did not lend themselves to barbershop stylings and I often felt out of place in this shop with its car publications and girly magazines, where my father chatted away to the barbers in Italian, where the accents I struggled to understand reminded me of everything foreign and strange about me. By time I was about 8 or 10 I put up a real fight when it was time to get my hair cut. Eventually my mother agreed to let me go to one of those then new "unisex" hair salons. And so these traditional father/son outings ended for me.

After I moved to Christopher Street in the early ‘90s, strapped for money, I gave barber shops another chance. I found one in the neighborhood and eventually my own regular barber, Richard, who still cuts my hair to this day. What I found there was the sense of community that caused men to literally harmonize with each other 100 years ago. Like I said, the conversations are quite different than my father’s barber shop (although those were in Italian, so how do I know?) Instead of sports, women and cars, at my barber shop it’s Black Party, Broadway theatre and who we’ve checked out in the locker room at the gym. I always joke that I’ve been with Richard longer than any boyfriend, and indeed, he knows intimate details of all my relationships, and I his. He’s acted as my therapist, confessor, and gossip girl. I always get kiss hello, a good laugh, a sympathetic ear and leave feeling and looking great. All this for $15 a cut.

Below are some shots of barber shops around Manhattan where they seem to thrive. Perhaps this is because even in the big city we still need some small town familiarity.

(Above) Mr. Joseph's on Greenwich Avenue between Christopher and 10th with a facade untouched for probably 40+ years.

Sammy's on Amsterdam at 106 Street. Note the Spanish signage catering to the Morningside Heights neighborhood.
Chelsea Gardens on West 23 Street, one of the storefronts in the notoriously gay, art deco garden apartment complex of the same name.
Reamir on Columbus at 74th Street caters to a yuppy crowd. Note the crystal chandeliers inside.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Real Deal

Ever since it began a couple of years ago I've gotten a kick out of Ocean Spray's ad campaign featuring two cranberry farmers in hip waders in the middle of a cranberry bog. You know the one I mean? The ads are always warm, funny and clever--and how adorable is the younger guy? But I've often been distracted while watching wondering if those commercias are shot in a real cranberry bog or some kind of Hollywood simulation. Well, for the record, it's real.

Here's one of the ads I'm talking about just in case you've missed them:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Idol Chat 2008 (Part 6)

This week the contestants on American Idol tried their hand at Mariah Carey songs. At first I was excited that Mariah would be acting as this week's mentor, but she didn't really deliver the way I hoped she would. First, there was that false "who-am-I-to-judge-just-ignore-what-I-say" modesty thing. Give me a break. That kind of feined humility is not attractive. Mariah, you're an accomplished singer/songwriter. You can certainly teach these kids a thing or two. Unfortunately, she didn't really impress me with her coaching notes either, with the exception of some advice on a alternate musical choices. She didn't seem to be all that invested in helping the singers out.

Anyway, here's my top and bottom three:

Top Three
David Archuletta: "When You Believe" Phrasing issues--don't' breath in the middle of a sentence! He took Mariah's advice and went for some falsetto notes but seemed afraid of what might come out of his mouth. Otherwise, the kid has a glorious voice. He delivered yet again what we've come to expect from David: Strong, consistent vocals and an honest interpretation. I want to start seeing more sides of him though. How about an up-tempo?
Syesha: Outside of a couple of pitch issues, I thought she sounded great on "Vanishing". She looked gorgeous and not only sang technically very well, but for the first time she started to show some star quality. She clearly resonated and connected with the song. It showed.
David Cook: "Always Be My Baby" He was his smarmy affected self again this week and the arrangement of the song was dark and odd. But he's a good vocalist. He's interesting to listen to, even if he did shout a bit in the middle.

Bottom Three
Jason Castro: "I Don't Want to Cry" I've said this before: Jason seems to leave his performances up to chance. He gets out on stage looking like he has no idea what he's going to do or what is going to come out of his mouth. This time chance was in his favor. He did a decent job, but compared to the other singers left in the competition, he's a vocal lightweight. He just can't compare.
Kristy Lee Cook: "Forever" OUCH, some of those bottom notes were painful. But when she hit the refrain she wasn't bad. She looked gorgeous in that non-threatening way 13 year old girls aspire to look. And that's probably who is keeping her in the competition.
Brook White: "Hero" This was painful. Brooke should stop playing the piano. She's BAD at it. She is consistently distracted by the keyboard and her connection with the song and the audience suffers because of it. It's starting to feel like everything she does is the same old same old. Nothing new or interesting here. And some bad notes to boot.

Who Should Go: Well, any of my bottom three could go and I'd be fine with it. But frankly, this week I think Brooke deserves to go. Another sleepy, sub-par performance.

UPDATE:  Well, it's goodbye to Kristy Lee Cook.  While I think she's been in the competition on borrowed time these last few weeks, I did not think this was her worst performance.  In fact, she has shown improvement week after week as opposed to some of the  other singers who seem stuck in a rut.  But I can't say I'm sorry to see her go.  She seems like a nice kid though--pretty, too.


Musical Moments: Carousel

I'm long overdue for a Musical Moments post so in honor of the opening of the much heralded and critically acclaimed revival of South Pacific last week, I've decided to focus on another of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classics: Carousel. This is probably my favorite score of all the R & H shows (The Carousel Waltz is perhaps one of the best orchestral pieces ever written for the musical stage and "If I loved You" is considered by many a near perfect song.) But as with most of Rodgers and Hammerstein, people either love it or they hate it. (Frankly, I think this is because people have seen too many bad productions of these shows, for when they're done well, they are wonderful.) Carousel gets a pretty bad rap for the wife-beating that goes on in the story and particularly for the line when Louise asks her mother, Julie, if it's possible for a man to hit you and not feel it at all, Julie replies "yes". But this in no way promotes spousal abuse. It is simply an accurate portrayal the of psyche of a battered woman, indeed, Louise is in danger of repeating the cycle of dysfunction as we learn in the ballet when she is seduced by a carnival barker similar to her father.

During a visit to one of the grad schools I was accepted at, there was discussion about the importance of doing classic musicals as part of a well-rounded theatre education. While one teacher argued that the R&H shows have been done to death and should be left alone for a while to gain some perspective, another argued that most students age 18 to 22 hadn't been exposed to these classics yet and that there is room for new, modern-day interpretations of the shows. He used the '94 Broadway revival of Carousel as an example of how fresh, new and even avant garde these shows can be conceptualized. He also correctly noted that Rodgers & Hammerstein are the basis for modern musical theatre; that without Oscar Hammerstein there would be no Stephen Sondheim. (Sondheim was protege to Oscar Hammerstein.) I've included a clip from that production of the "You'll Never Walk Alone" scene performed on the Tony awards. You will also note the color-blind casting done in the production: both Cousin Nettie and Carrie Pipperidge, for example, were played by black actresses. Enjoy the clip.

Labels: ,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Grow Up!

File this one under "get a life." During construction of the new Yankees Stadium, a Red Sox-loving construction worker on the job reportedly planted a Sox jersey under two feet of concrete as a practical joke and possibly to spur Yankee fears of a Boston "curse". Construction workers, most of whom are Yankee fans, spent five hours on Saturday digging up the offending jersey at the request of Yankees brass.

The Yankees are considering filing criminal charges against the construction worker because "he had bad motives and was trying to do a really bad thing." Criminal charges! For something that's imaginary! Gimme a break. Why don't you go tell his mommy while you're at it. The only thing criminal here is spending five hours on a Saturday at union wages digging up brand new concrete. Maybe they can get the pope to exorcise the spot during his upcoming visit to Yankees Stadium next week. Grow up, boys!

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Broadway Baby

I'm about a week late in reporting this, but Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson, currently appearing in Xanadu, gave an interview to Advodate magazine which appeared in last week's issue in which he discusses being openly gay and how he balances that with the demands of being an actor and celebrity. He says he assumed certain career risks when he came out publicly in a matter-of-fact way to a New York Times reporter shortly after the opening of All Shook Up, in which he played the Elvis character. The article adderesses the concerns of many gay actors who fear being pidgeon holed by their sexuality. Here's one of my favorite quotes:

“I’m in uncharted territory because based on what I look like, I get cast as the guy who gets the girl. But I have a sense that the tide is changing, and I have no problem being the trailblazer. I don’t know how or when it’s going to manifest itself, but I think being my authentic self is going to have its rewards.”

He also tells a sweet story of a gay teenage fan who requested a picture of Cheyenne to hold while he came out to his family. The photo gave the boy courage. Did I have to choose a photograph of Cheyenne with no pants on to show what a great gay role model he is? No. But hey, I'm a guy

I had the pleasure of meeting Cheyenne after a performance of Thoroughly Modern Millie in which he played a small role and covered the lead. He happens to be an old personal friend of my friend Laura who made the introduction. He was gracious, warm and down to earth. Just a regular guy with a good head on his shoulders.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Idol Chat 2008 (Part 5)

My American Idol post is late this week because I wasn't able to watch the show Tuesday night. I finally caught it on DVR last night, fast forwarded through all of Ryan Seacrest's inane remarks and just got right to the songs. The theme this week is Inspirational songs to tie in with the big Idol gives back brouhaha. It's actually a really good theme because the songs have some meat to them and test a singer's performance mettle. Okay. On with my top and bottom three picks for this week:

David Archuletta-- "Angels" This is the first time we've seen David get behind the piano to sing. This always presents a challenge for a performer because there is literally a thousand pound obstacle in the way of his connection with the audience. David, however, has so much stage presence he seemed to shine from the piano bench despite his diminutive size. The vocal was effortless and the run he did at the end was absolute perfection; every note seemed to float in perfect cadence. This kid is unbelievably talented.
Michael Johns--"Dream On" I don't understand the judges' lukewarm reception of this song. Randy complained of pitch problems, but I really didn't hear any. Granted he was the first singer of the night and I was still getting settled with my note pad and snacks when he started singing, but usually an off-pitch note will stick out like a sore thumb to me, so if there were pitch issues, they were insignificant. He was also criticized for song choice, Simon saying that the rock style didn't suit him. What? Since when is Michael Johns not one of this year's rocker boys? Isn't this the kid who got on the show by singing Bohemian Rhapsody? I thought he sang it great. He seemed confident and comfortable on stage and the falsetto notes at the end were fabulous! He took a risk going for them and it paid off. I thought he was great.
Syesha--"I believe" I had trouble coming up with a number three this week. There were a bunch of performers who sort of fell in the middle range. I chose Syesha because technically she sang this song very well. She has a very pretty voice and sounded great on this throughout. The problem with Syesha is her song choices. Choosing a Fantasia song was not smart, just like last week when she invited comparisons to Whitney Houston. Part of talent is choosing the right song. My complaint with Syesha is the same every week; she sings well, but she's not a star. There's just something lacking in her presence.

Kristy Lee Cook "Anyway" Even though this was a good performance for Kristy, again, her pitch is terrible which is why she's in my bottom three again. BUT, she chooses the right song week after week and as I said, that's part of talent, so she does have some. There was a lyric in the song she sang though that sort of summed up Kristy's performance for me "Tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang." Yeah. That's pretty much it.
Jason Castro "Over the Rainbow" Jason's long hair and ukelele evoked images of Tiny Tim for me. I was waiting for him to start singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips, but he sang Over the Rainbow instead. He chose a very distinct overplayed arrangement by a singer with a very distinct voice, one that due to its richness and character makes the song work. But Jason has no richness or character to his voice or anything else. He barely has an intellect. This was another low-ball, derivative performance. I'm convinced he has no desire to win this thing.
David Cook "Innocent" Ick! Ick! Ick! I hated this song. It was weird. The vocals were bizarre and disjointed. He was so pretentious and smug I felt like throwing up. This guy takes himself too damn seriously. One of the worst of the night by far.

WHO SHOULD GO: Jason Castro. He's just not in the same league as the other singers. Even Kristy Lee manages to choose good songs, but Jason seems checked out of this competition and so he should go. Bub-bye.
UPDATE: Whoa! Total upset! Michael Johns goes home. Way too prematurely if you ask me. But then I think his appeal is an older market, not the one that is voting right now which explains why Jason Castro is still around and not even in the bottom three tonight.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Well, I'm Glad!

At last Mayor Mike Bloomberg's pet project of congestion pricing has received a final fatal blow from Albany. For those of you who do not live in the New York City metro area, we here in Gotham have had to endure a year of Bloomberg style propaganda promoting his last attempt to leave a legacy on the city--that of congestion pricing. The bill was so unpopular it never even made it to the State Assembly floor for a vote. From the beginning critics have accurately argued that congestion pricing to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street amounts to a tax on the working class. The first setback the plan faced was last year when it was decided that drivers from New Jersey who already pay $8 (the same price proposed for congestion pricing) to cross the Hudson River at bridges and tunnels would be exempt from paying the fee once inside the city.

The Bloomberg administration has tried to spin the congestion pricing plan as a "green" solution to the city's traffic problems claiming that the additional commuting cost would result in less cars on the road and more people using mass transit. But anyone who thinks that in a city where it costs $6 to $8 to cross almost any of the bridges and tunnels, in addition to local NY Thruway tolls, Parkway and Turnpike tolls, gas prices averaging almost $4 a gallon, daily parking spaces in midtown ranging $40 to $60 a day and parking tickets in Manhattan ranging from $65 to $125 that an additional $8 would keep anyone from driving into the city has clearly just fallen off the turnip truck from Idaho. The only thing green about this plan was the $350 million that the city would have received in federal funds if the plan had been put into effect, money that would not necessarily go to improving New York's already overburdened public transit system and did not even address the issues in neighboring commuter states of New Jersey and Connecticut.

This is New York. No one drives here for the fun of it. But things have to happen here. Important things. Life and death things. International things. World economic things. These things will happen at any cost--especially if it's only $8. Companies would figure it in to the cost of doing business. The only people who would feel the sting of congestion pricing are the true working class--the truck drivers for example, who would have been charged $21 for coming into the city. The taxi drivers whose daily operating costs would sky-rocket. And all of those fees would result in increased prices on goods and services for those not commuting, but actually living in Manhattan--guys like me.

As for going green New York is ahead of most American cities with strict emissions laws in place, all city buses now running on hybrid power, an electric subway system (which we've always had) and a plan to make all taxis hybrid cars in the next few years. We New Yorkers use mass transit in greater numbers than any other American city--just ask anyone who has the misfortune of living on the 4,5,6 line. Certainly more can be done to decrease the city's carbon footprint and we need to look into that and fast--but this isn't it.

It's true that New York has a serious congestion problem. But how about this: Why let Good Morning America or MTV block off Times Square at rush hour for some stupid pop-tune promotion? Why allow a movie studio to hijack the city for an entire week staging publicity stunts causing traffic and tie-ups for the opening of the Spiderman movie? Why allow a ticker tape parade in the Financial district on the day of a presidential primary? And if those things must happen why not charge the multi-billion dollar corporations behind those events exorbitant fees to do so rather than passing the buck on to the poor working slobs? Just asking.

UPDATE: Mike Bloomberg is now railing in the press against Speaker Sheldon Silver who put the kibosh on the Congestion Pricing vote. The down side of this is that the city has lost all that federal funding--but then Bloomberg should have come up with a better plan rather than this extremely flawed one. By the way--Sheldon Silver is also the one who saved us from a West Side stadium to attract an Olympic bid. Funny how Mayor Mike wasn't worried about traffic congestion back then.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Decision '08

You probably think this is going to be another political post but it's not. Instead it's about my future and the road it will take. In case you didn't get it from the last post, I've made a decision about where to go to grad school. I'll be in Washington DC in September for a one-year, intensive, total immersion approach to classical acting and Shakespeare. By the end of July next year I'll have my MFA in Acting.

I'm grateful such a fast-track program exists since most MFA programs take three years to complete. And this program is designed specifically for actors who have some professional experience or are already in the business and don't have the luxury of taking 3 years off, so it's a perfect fit. Besides that, the concentration is in classical acting which is what I was looking for from the very beginning. When I first heard about this program a little over a year ago, I pictured myself there though I thought it was a long shot. But here we are--and so it will be. Whew. It's a wonderful feeling to be sure of at least one thing in one's life.

Stay tuned for Manhattan Chowder--the Grad School Edition this September.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Onboard the Acela

Jotted in a notebook on board the Acela train from New York to Washington, Tuesday morning, April 1:

The Acela train from New York to Washington is a wonder: 2 hours and 35 minutes from the heart of the big apple to Union Station in DC. I left before dawn for an investigative trip to the city that will be my home for a year come August.

The train is sleek, fast and quiet--at least inside anyway. As the dawn breaks over gritty, industrial New Jersey, a mix of apprehension and excitement. We whiz by houses along the way and I wonder if my trip is waking them up the way it is me. I can't rest.

Labels: ,

Idol Chat 2008 (Part 4)

We've waited years for this and at long last Dolly Parton acted as mentor to the American Idol kids. While she was a little too good-hearted to offer any real criticism, she brought to the table her considerable catalogue of songs from which the contestants could sing. Across the board they all did well this week--even the ones who are usually lousy--so for a change I was hard pressed to pick a bottom three rather than a top three. But I managed:

Carly Smithson--"Here You Come Again" This girl has such beautiful tone to her voice and proved this week that she's not just a rocker chick. She is a wonderful, sensitive ballad singer as well. The arrangement was great and made me forget all about the Dolly Parton version. She's is a smart competitor choosing songs that show off different sides of her considerable versatality week after week.
David Archuletta--"Smokey Mountain Memories" I said it before and I'll say it again--this kid has the voice of an angel! The first three notes out of his mouth put other singers whole performances to shame. He was wonderful. He's just got "it".
David Cook--"Little Sparrow" I'm chagrinned to include Mr. Smarmy among the top three for the third week in a row. He is not without talent. His song choices are smart, the arrangements unique and he consistently turns in a good performance. The same was true this week. He's good. I guess he's growing on me. It helps that he got a haircut and finally got rid of the Liza Minnelli spit curls.

Ramiele--"Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" I didn't have a problem with the vocal on this so much as I did with her uncomfortable performance. She lacks the polish on stage that should come with a sound as mature as hers. She had no idea what to do with this song. She was trying to look cool or something but singing a full-out, down-home country song so she just looked lost. Commit to the style!
Brooke White--"Joline" I expected a lot from this but was disappointed. Brooke has a lovely presence on stage and a nice voice but not much else. She should stop trying to play an instrument while she sings. She's not a good enough musician--it seems to get in the way every week. I wanted to hear this in a higher key, it sat in an unspectacular place in her voice and she didn't seem to connect with the lyric much at all.
Syesha--"I Will Always Love You" Syesha committed a cardinal sin of American Idol: She sang a Whitney song. Bad move. She looked great and honestly the performance wasn't bad at all, but she was inviting comparisons to Whitney Houston with this and frankly she can't compete. She is very pretty, sings well and looks good on camera, but there's no star quality here.

Based on last night's performances, Ramiele should go. It's only a matter of time anyway. But I wouldn't mind seeing Kristy Lee or Jason Castro get the boot either. They were both decent this week tho.

UPDATE Well, I got two out of the bottom three. Maybe I gave Kristy more credit than she deserved. As I predicted--Ramiele goes home.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Maybe Reagan Wasn't So Bad After All

From the Reagan Diaries, entry dated May 17, 1986

"A moment I've been dreading.  George brought his ne'er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job.  Not the political one who lives in Florida; the one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless.  This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job.  Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something.  That looks like easy work."

The Reagan Diaries were recently edited by author Doug Brinkley and published by Harper Collins.

Labels: ,