Interview with “A Christmas Story” star Zack Ward

Ever since his debut as Scut Farkus in “A Christmas Story” over three decades ago, Zack Ward has steadily carved out a career both in front of and behind the camera.  But there is a lot more to Cleveland Street’s best known bully.

Zack and co-star Scott Schwartz will be appearing in Omaha this Friday, November 10, where they will host a charity screening of “A Christmas Story.” I had the opportunity to speak with Zack this week and he shared his thoughts about the film and his career.

Mike Smith:  Why do you think, more than 30 years after its release, “A Christmas Story” is still so popular?

Zack Ward:  I’ve been asked that question many times over the years and I’ve been able to give the answer a lot of thought.  It has something to do with the combination of many things.  The writing.  The story is the same story structure of Homer’s “The Iliad.”  A young boy goes on a mythical adventure.  He fights all of these different demons.  And he does this to finally earn the respect of his father.  That’s what the B.B. gun is about.  It’s not that it’s a toy.  It could have been anything.  If you remember what happens at the very end of the film, when the father says to Ralphie, “What’s that behind the tree?”  The mom doesn’t even know what’s there.  And he finds the B.B. gun and the mom is upset.  But he tells her that he had one when he was that age.  What the whole statement of the B.B. gun is is a coming of age.  It’s the father’s acceptance of the son being responsible and becoming a man.  Transitioning from being a child.  And getting that respect from the parents that you adore means everything.  It doesn’t matter what the toy is.  What matters is what it represents.

MS:  That is the greatest answer to that question that I’ve ever gotten.

ZW:  (laughs)  Thank you.  I’ve had many years to ponder this.  The other thing is the direction.  If you look at the film again, and I’m sure you will now, you’ll notice that it is shot from the child’s view.  Bob Clark had the camera lowered so that the camera was always shooting from Ralphie’s point of view.  That never happens.  Usually adults are looking down on children.  In this situation, it’s always from the child’s perspective.  At a certain point, Bob Clark had them remove the floor from part of the set to ensure they could get the camera dolly low enough in order to have the right perspective.  He fought for that tooth and nail.  Also, the film is multi-generational.  It’s what they call in the industry “co-viewership.”  It’s like “Modern Family.”  You can watch “Modern Family” if you’re a grandpa, if you’re a mom, if you’re a dad, if you’re a teenager or if you’re a kid.  And “A Christmas Story” captivates all of those life moments.  You can see it as a child.  Understand it as a parent.  And reflect on it as an adult, thinking about your own childhood.  I’ve been amazed to watch 70-year old men with their 50-year old sons and 25-year old grandsons and 5-year old great-great grandsons walk up to me because they all want to meet the kid from “A Christmas Story.”  And they’re all surprised it’s me because they actually think it was shot in the 1940s.  That’s the thing that’s incredible.  How multi-generational it is.  How inclusive it is.  There’s no CGI.  There’s no special effects.  It’s just a great story that connects with people.

MS:  Do you have a favorite memory from the shoot?

ZW:  Yes I do.  My favorite memory from the shoot was when I came to the set one day.  We were shooting in Cleveland and there was no snow.  It was the middle of winter and all of the lawns were dark brown.  Cleveland at that time was not a city you really wanted to be in.  It was going through a very severe economic crisis.

MS:  I was born in Cleveland so I know what you’re talking about.

ZW:  So you know.  We were not allowed to go outside of the hotel after 6:00 pm for good reason.  It was a scary place at night.  We walked down to the set, to the house which is now a museum, and we turned the corner.  And every other street is just brown grass and ugly lawns.  But in the middle of the street is a house covered in snow.  With a big tree in the yard full of icicles glistening in the sun.  And it was all man-made.  That for me was a “wow” moment.  It took my breath away and still today I remember that feeling…that anything is possible.

MS:  You have worked steadily since “A Christmas Story,” which is very rare for someone whose career started when they were a child.  What’s your secret?

ZW:  (laughs)  I think it’s because I’ve got this face that people look at and want to punch!  It’s not my fault.  I’m a sweetheart of a guy.  I just happen to have slanty eyes and red hair.  And I really think people want to punch me in the face.  Definitely it’s helped.  (laughs)

MS:  You’ve written and directed in the past.  Do you see yourself doing more of that in the future?

ZW:  I’m actually in the process of doing that now.  I’m writing a series called “Fracture” and we go into pre-production in December.  It’s a series I co-created with a friend of mine and I’m the single writer on it.  I won’t be directing this one but I will be executive-producing and writing.  But I do love directing.  I’m actually getting ready to direct a commercial being shot in Akron, Ohio in about a week.  I love working on both sides of the camera.  The one job I hate is producing.  It sucks!  It’s such a horrible job.  Everybody blames you for everything and nobody thanks you for anything.  No matter what you pay them!

MS:  Anything else coming up soon?

ZW:  Yes.  Onscreen I have a T.V. show called “Swedish Dicks,” as in detectives.  The old, 1940s style term.  He’s a flatfoot.  I appear with Peter Stormare and a little fella named Keanu Reeves.  I tell you, I don’t know but I think he’s got a career ahead of him.  I’m also working on something I’m very excited about outside the entertainment environment.  It’s called “All Sports Market” and it is the world’s first stock market for sports team.  We’ve been working on it for the past 15 years and we’ve had a data model up for the last 3.  The whole concept is that you can buy shares in your favorite sports team.  And you can sell or trade them like you would stocks.  It’s something that goes back to the Roman times, when at the Coliseum people would place their bets.  And the sport always suffers because someone always takes a dive.  Even if there is a suspicion of collusion towards throwing the game, gambling sours sports.  It poisons it like a cancer.  This takes that element out of the game.  And it allows parents to bond with their children over their favorite sports teams.  Do you have any children?

MS:  One

ZW:  How old is he?

MS:  33

ZW:  If you said to your 10-year son, “hey buddy, let’s talk about market fluctuation and dividends and stock prices because you need to learn how to be an investor so you won’t be homeless when you’re 33,” I can pretty much guarantee you that he would fall asleep or start crying.  But if you find out his favorite team, you can tell him that together you’re going to buy 10 shares in his favorite team and you can watch what happens over the season.  It’s something you can do together.  And by the end of the season you’re son or daughter is now financially literate.  They know how to make investments.  Because you took the moment and educated them on something important while to them they were just talking with dad about their favorite team.

You can learn more by going to www.AllSportsMarket.com.  And if you sign up you get $2500.00 of play currency, what we call “learning capital.”  The whole thing now is a learning market.

MS:  Last question.  You run into Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) in an alley.  Who wins the fight this time?

ZW:  (laughs)  Is there any doubt in your mind that Scut Farkus took a dive?  Another point against sports gambling.  You KNEW I took a dive.  I was bought out.  I went down harder than a sack of potatoes.  I’ve got a couple of black belts and was in “Black Belt” magazine so I think I’d do well.  On the flip side, Peter did produce “Iron Man” so he’s probably got more bodyguards!

 

 

 

Blu-ray Review “Office Christmas Party”

Actors: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Jennifer Aniston
Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Paramount
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Run Time: 105 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 star
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

“Office Christmas Party” packs some serious talent including Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Jennifer Aniston. Kate McKinnon steals the show again like with this year’s “Ghostbusters”. The movie is rude, crude and in your face! Jokes filled through making this raunchy comedy a well rounded experience. Even though Christmas is nine months away, this film can be watched anytime and delivers some fun anti-holiday cheer.

Official Premise: When an overbearing CEO (Jennifer Aniston) decides to close her hard-partying brother’s failing branch, he (T.J. Miller) and his fired up co-workers (Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon) decide to throw an epic office party to land a big shot client and save everyone’s jobs. Fueled by booze and bad decisions, things quickly spiral out-of-control in one of the craziest nights of their lives.

There are two versions of the film availlable to check out. There is the Unrated version of the film as well as the Theatrical. I watched the Unrated and enjoyed it thoroughly. More runchy jokes throughout. Honestly both are great but if you are looking to take a gamble, and taking a break from playing online casino, then I would go with the Unrated cut as a good bet. It is a guaranteed win for sure!

“Office Christmas Party” comes with a combo pack including a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD copy. The special features are solid and worth checking out. There is a fun commentary track from the directors Josh Gordon & Will Speck. The provide some fun stories from the production. “Throwing an Office Christmas Party” is a fun behind-the-scenes look into the film. Lastly there are some more Outtakes and Deleted & Extended Scenes included.

Wicked Cool Toys Wins Christmas With Amazing New Products!

Wicked Cool Toys has quickly become the winner of the holiday season in 2016. They have put out some of the best products for kids of all ages. One of the hottest items of 2016 is the brand new, Cabbage Patch Kids Baby So Real! This is one of the most coolest gifts that you can give to your kids. Check out all the amazing features below, they never had toys like this when I was a kid!

“New for Fall 2016 and for the first time ever, CPK Baby So Real allows you to enjoy one of the most magical and interactive experiences in the history of the baby doll category. These life-like babies combine traditional play patterns with groundbreaking technology. Baby So Real’s interactive sweet baby sounds and random reactions are designed to surprise and delight. With your touch, Baby So Real comes to life with beautifully animated LCD eyes that open, close and look around. Loaded with realistic features that encourage interactive nurturing play, Baby So Real has sensors for peek-a-boo and tickle play, feeding from a special bottle, burping, diaper changing, and rocking to sleep. If your baby should develop a fever, you can calm those red cheeks by administering TLC from a magical spoon. Just like the original Cabbage Patch Kids, Baby So Real is soft and cuddly with removable clothes.

And for advanced play, Baby So Real has its own free app that allows your phone or tablet to simulate a baby monitor. The online mode allows you to see the virtual nursery where you can play with your baby, feed, diaper burp and administer TLC. You can also play games, watch video clips and earn baby points for additional virtual accessories and new features. Baby So Real comes with a fully removable outfit and diaper, a special interactive bottle and medicine spoon, birth certificate and adoption papers and a free baby monitor style app for additional virtual play. Ages 3+”

If the CPK Baby was for the girls, then the next gift is sure to please the boys in the world. Remember how I just said above that I never had toys like this when I was a kid? Well, with the new Xtreme Cycle Moto-Cam, I will say those words again! This is not just your average remote control motorcycle. This is suped up for the 21st century and comes stocked with a “wicked cool” camera, so the kids can have run with their toy and then also record what it sees, which is just the awesomeist idea! Check out the features below:

“Now kids can kick it up a notch with Xtreme Cycle Moto-Cam which features an awesome built-in helmet camera! With Extreme Cycle Moto-Cam, young cyclists can capture flips, tricks and sharp turns just like they do in extreme cycling! The patented gyroscopic stabilization system is made up of a flywheel mounted in the rear, as well as an all four bar linkage steering system. This system allows for ramp jumping, driving on various terrains, and even recovering from crashes. The cycle is specially designed to always right itself after it falls so it has non-stop action and has front and rear shock system to absorb bumps and rocky terrain. The remote control not only steers the cycle but it also allows cycle enthusiasts to start and stop the video at any time – even in mid-jump!

Moto-Cam has 640×480 VGA resolutions and allows kids to record video at 30 frames per second and store 60 minutes of video. The set includes the cycle with Moto-Cam, a remote control, 12” USB cable to download and share video online or watch on TV, stunt ramp and a removable 4GB SD card. 9V rechargeable and 2 AA batteries included! Ages 8+”

Win Free Passes to Florida Screenings of “Office Christmas Party”

Calling Florida moviegoers, below please find the codes for the screenings of “Office Christmas Party”. If you want to see this film before ANYONE else! Hurry fast and grab tickets below and spread the word to your friends as well! They will go VERY fast! Enjoy and be sure to leave comments below after the film!

Miami- Tuesday, December 6 AMC SUNSET PLACE 7:30PM
Orlando- Wednesday, December 7 REGAL WATERFORD LAKES 7:30PM
Tampa- Tuesday, December 6 AMC WESTSHORE 7:30PM
West Palm Beach- Tuesday, December 6 CINEMARK BOYNTON BEACH 7:30PM

Orlando- http://www.gofobo.com/OCPMMOrl
Tampa- http://www.gofobo.com/OCPMMTam
WPB- http://www.gofobo.com/OCPMMWPB
Miami- http://www.gofobo.com/OCPMMMIA

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is in theaters December 9, 2016!

In OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, when the CEO (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close her hard-partying brother’s branch, he (T.J. Miller) and his Chief Technical Officer (Jason Bateman) must rally their co-workers and host an epic office Christmas party in an effort to impress a potential client and close a sale that will save their jobs. The latest comedy from directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (BLADES OF GLORY) co-stars Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Jamie Chung, and Courtney B. Vance in the funniest movie of the holiday season.

#OfficeXmasParty

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OfficeChristmasParty
Twitter: https://twitter.com/officexmasparty 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/officexmasparty
Official Website: http://www.officechristmasparty.com

Christmas at Gaylord Palms wins the holidays with ICE! featuring “A Charlie Brown Christmas”!

Every Christmas season one of the staple events that we must attend is always Christmas at Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, FL. This has been one of my favorite attractions during the holidays since I moved to Florida back in 2010. This year ICE! is featuring “A Charlie Brown Christmas” presented by Pepsi. Let me just say that I have been coming to ICE! for years now and THIS IS THE BEST YEAR EVER! Wow, I cannot say enough good things about this Christmas at Gaylord Palms in general this year. All I can say is that everyone NEEDS to take a trip this year and not to miss this wonderful attraction.

If you have never heard of ICE! Well, then you are missing out. The story of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is showcase through several rooms of interactive ice sculptures and displays. Get ready for this…there are two million pounds of ice that were hand-carved to create these iconic scenes with the Peanuts gang. And I saved the best part for last this all takes place inside a frosty 9-degree environment! That’s right 9-degrees, so make sure to dress VERY warm cause it is a bit chilly to say the least!

Christmas at Gaylord Palms doesn’t just consist of ICE! though. They also have an amazing light show called “A Christmas Wish”, which is an amazing all-new six-minute light show. It features narration, classic holiday music and dazzling visual effects topped with an outstanding 60-foot LED-lit Christmas tree in the center of above Emerald Plaza. This is free to everyone visiting the resort, so it is must see for sure. Also in the Emerald Plaza there is a stage show “Cirque Dreams Unwrapped”, which is a breathtaking performance with some amazingly talented performers. My daughters mouth was literally to the ground in awe this entire performance. Also not to be missed!

Some new offerings include Mrs. Claus’ Christmas Traditions and Santa’s Snow Throw. I have to just say that Mrs. Claus’ Christmas Traditions was probably a highlight of the whole Christmas at Gaylord Palms. It is a half-hour interactive show where guests can get to spend some time with Mrs Claus as she reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas” along with a very funny silly Elf at her side. If that isn’t enough you are also treated with fresh warm chocolate chip cookies and a some cold milk. I didn’t get a chance to try out Santa’s Snow Throw but it also looked like a lot of fun. You can toss real snowballs at a variety of targets in this carnival-style game.

One of my daughters favorite attractions is getting to visit the Build-A-Bear Workshop. This year we had the pleasure to make a Poppy bear from the new movie “Trolls”. Alpine Rush Snow Tubing has always been a favorite as well. They changed the queuing process a little this year that made it a little harder to ride over and over due to queue backing up but we still took at least 5 trips up and down this year. To top off the night, my daughter was able to meet the Peanuts gang as well in person as Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy were there to meet the guests and take pictures!

So like I said this year is the year to spend the holidays at Christmas at Gaylord Palms. I have no idea how they are planning on topping this for next year but I honestly cannot wait to find out what they have planned! Merry Christmas and enjoy the holidays this year…and don’t forget to make a trip to Gaylord Palms!

5 Things to Do in Las Vegas this Christmas and How to Make the Most of it

Las Vegas is a mesmerizing place to visit all year round, but when you add the wonders of Christmas into the mix, it becomes truly magical. The sheer size and razzmatazz of the city can be a little overwhelming, so you have to prepare yourself. If it’s your first time visiting the desert city, then be sure to check out this handy survival guide, so you don’t burn yourself out before you’ve had chance to properly explore.

Mystic Falls

Situated inside Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall, Mystic Falls indoor park is transformed into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. The wonderland is free to enter and open 24 hours a day, so guests are welcome at any time to enjoy the stunning scenery, the hourly Christmas laser shows and take in the spectacular giant Christmas tree. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

The Cosmopolitan Ice Rink

On the fourth floor of the Cosmopolitan hotel, there is a vast swimming pool, where guests lounge around to soak in the sun and dip into when the heat gets too much. However, when the sunshine disappears for the winter, the swimming pool is turned into an incredible ice rink. Visitors are free to enter hotel grounds to use the rink, enjoy some of the seasonal refreshments and take in the spectacular views of the Las Vegas strip, whilst trying their hardest not to fall over. For more information visit: www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com

The Bellagio Fountains

If you want something simple and romantic, then wander down to the Bellagio and watch their fantastic Christmas fountain display. The Bellagio is arguably the most famous and impressive hotel in Las Vegas, but their fountains are just as world renowned as the hotel itself. Choreographed to all your favorite seasonal classics, stand back and watch, as the fountains dance along to the music.

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is one of the most celebrated ballets ever created and during the winter months, it settles down for a long run in Las Vegas. The stunning Reynolds Hall inside the Smiths Centre hosts the Nevada Ballet Theatre group, their performance of The Nutcracker is as traditional and spectacular as you will find anywhere in the world. So make sure you bring your smartest clothes with you, or find a good tuxedo-rental company in the vicinity. For more information visit: www.thesmithcenter.com

Cactus Garden and Chocolate Factory

 Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a cactus, right? It’s probably not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Christmas, but when half a million sparkling lights are draped over the Cactus Gardens at Ethel M’s in Henderson, Nevada, you will feel like you’ve just walked into Santa’s grotto. Make sure you have plenty of room in your pockets when you visit the chocolate factory, as you will be leaving with your pockets filled with Ethel M’s delicious Christmassy creations. Oh, and if you are around at the right time, you might bump into Santa Claus himself.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Cirque Dreams Unwrapped and the Elf on the Shelf Set to Wow Guests at the Annual Christmas at Gaylord Palms Celebration

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, CIRQUE DREAMS UNWRAPPED AND   THE ELF ON THE SHELF® SET TO WOW GUESTS AT THE ANNUAL CHRISTMAS AT GAYLORD PALMS CELEBRATION

KISSIMMEE, Fla.  – (July 15, 2015) – ‘Twas the summer before Christmas and all throughout the 4.5 glass-enclosed atrium, everyone was stirring with anticipation over the 2015 Christmas at Gaylord Palms season.  With ICE! in the tent, snow tubing in the hall and 2-million lights strung with care, everyone wondered – could there be more to this holiday affair? But of course…

Don a kerchief and get to the Gaylord Palms Resort to experience the astonishment of everyone’s favorite poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in nearly 2 million pounds of hand-carved vibrant ice sculptures. This year’s ICE! presented by Pepsi attraction will also feature four slippery ice slides, live carving stations inside of the Artisans in Action Frostbite Factory and back by popular demand, On the Blocks, the exclusive adult-only ICE! bar.

Christmas at Gaylord Palms includes myriad offerings for every age. Guests can experience the adrenaline of Alpine Rush Snow Tubing – an 18’ 8-lane giant snow hill created with 1.5 million pounds of real Florida snow.

Not a thrill seeker? How about an elf seeker? The all new The Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt ignites the inner sleuth and takes guests on a journey throughout the holiday-clad hotel. Participants will follow clues and scan the hotel to spot the 10 scout elves who have landed at Gaylord Palms. By solving puzzles and finding all of the elves, guests will reveal the elves’ names so they can report back to Santa. All families that complete the scavenger hunt will win a special prize.

Once you have found the last scout elf, make your way over to the Emerald Bay Stage for the world premiere of the all-new Cirque Dreams Unwrapped. Guests will be dazzled by an array of seasonal characters brought to life in a dreamscape of imaginative costumes and creativity, while stunning feats of showmanship are unwrapped, performed on stage and in the air, leaving audiences on the edge of their seats.   Broadway director and Cirque Dreams founder Neil Goldberg is bringing the famed entertainment brand to Orlando for the first time in the company’s 22 years with this exclusive show. The entire family can enjoy this uniquely inspired 25-minute Christmas dream presented with the Broadway style and inventive theatrics for which Cirque Dreams is renowned.

The season’s hottest couple, Mr. and Mrs. Claus will also be a part of the festivities. Photos with Santa will take place in Santa’s Workshop located in Alpine Village and Mrs. Claus will be a part of the all-new Brunch with Mrs. Claus at the award-winning Villa de Flora.

Alpine Village, the holiday attraction hub, will also feature the Gingerbread Decorating Corner presented by PEEPS ®, Snowy’s Snack Shack and holiday shopping galore.

If that’s not enough, wander through the atrium’s lush gardens (over 500,000 plants) sprinkled with poinsettias, grand holiday displays, the famous 54-foot-tall majestic Christmas tree and more than 2 million twinkling lights.

In addition to the holiday happenings, hotel guests can enjoy fish and alligator feedings, relax at Relâche Spa with themed-seasonal treatments, plunge into Cypress Springs Family Fun Water Park and indulge in holiday dining at our eight delectable restaurants. Whether you enjoy a filet, fresh seafood, pasta or a burger – we guarantee there is something to whet your appetite.

Christmas at Gaylord Palms is open daily from November 24, 2015 – January 3, 2016, including holidays. Packages are on sale today. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to ChristmasatGaylordPalms.com.

Gaylord Palms Resort is located five minutes from the gates of Walt Disney World at 6000 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee, FL 34746.

Be sure to “Like” Gaylord Palms on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the most up-to-date information and special deals and promotions!

 

About Gaylord Hotels®

Gaylord Hotels® is a collection of hotels and upscale resorts that affords endless opportunities for leisure travelers and conventioneers. The brand’s hallmark—“everything in one place”—provides guests with diverse dining options, quality spa and fitness center services, top-notch entertainment, on-site shopping and endless activities. Gaylord Hotels is a pioneer in the hotel and convention industry with properties in the nation’s most desirable destinations. Gaylord Hotels include Gaylord Opryland® in Nashville, Tenn.; Gaylord Palms® in Kissimmee, Fla., near Orlando; Gaylord Texan® on Lake Grapevine, Texas; Gaylord National® on the Potomac River in National Harbor, Md.; and The Inn at Opryland® in Nashville, Tenn. For more information, visit www.GaylordHotels.com.

Marriott International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR) is a leading lodging company based in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, with more than 4,000 properties in 78 countries and territories and reported revenues of nearly $13 billion in fiscal year 2013. The company operates and franchises hotels and licenses vacation ownership resorts under 18 brands. For more information or reservations, please visit our web site at  www.Marriott.com, and for the latest company news, visit www.MarriottNewsCenter.com.

 

About Cirque Dreams

Over 50 million people have experienced a Cirque Dreams show in theatres, casinos, theme parks, cruise lines, and on Broadway.  Now in its 22nd Year, Cirque Dreams shows have garnered the praise of critics around the country from USA Today, Associated Press and the New York Times to CNN, Today Show and Fox & Friends.  Producer and Director Neil Goldberg has been declared “One of today’s leading theatrical impresarios” by The LA Times and “Uniquely ingenious” by the New York Daily News. The Cirque Dreams franchise is a globally recognized entertainment brand including, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, Cirque Dreams Rocks, Cirque Dreams Holidaze and Cirque Dreams & Dinner onboard Norwegian Cruise Line.

For more information, visit www.cirqueproductions.com.

The Elf on the Shelf ® and © (2015) CCA and B, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“The Dukes of Hazard” star Tom Wopat talks about his new Christmas album with John Schneider

It’s been a “Dukes” kind of year here at Media Mikes. Earlier this summer I spoke to John Schneider about his feature film directorial debut, the tongue-in-cheek horror film “Smothered.” This week I got to speak with the other Duke boy, Tom Wopat, who recently teamed with Schneider for an album of Christmas music entitled “Home for Christmas.” Being familiar with Mr. Wopat’s work in musical theater, as well as on country radio, I was well aware of his pipes. When we chatted before the interview he was as proud as a new parent. Rolling Stone magazine recently named “Home for Christmas” one of the ten-best holiday albums released this year and the album DEBUTED in the top 10 on Billboard’s Traditional Jazz chart. It didn’t climb to #10…it opened there! In fact, as I write this the album is “sold out” on Amazon.com Don’t fret, though. They’ll make more!

Mr. Wopat recently took some time out to talk to me about the album, further collaborations with John Schneider and his musical future. You can read my interview with John Schneider HERE

Mike Smith: How did this project come about with you and John?
Tom Wopat: We’ve always enjoyed singing together and in the past 20 years or so we’ve done a few shows. We’ve talked a lot about recording together. I had started producing as well and this just made sense. We cut a couple of songs together last December and then we finished the rest this past August.

MS: Both you and John have been very successful in the theater and in country music. Was there a reason you decided to do a Christmas album?
TW: Well, for one thing it’s kind of a perennial. You’d like to think that it will sell for a while. Another part is that we can go out and do a series of concerts every year with that material so it just made sense to do that.

MS: You’ve done a few shows already this year haven’t you?
TW: We did several. We did a show in New York, then we did a show for about 500 people in John’s barn in Louisiana and we just did one in Atlanta.

MS: It’s obvious that you and John have a great rapport. I listened to you both this past week when you were hosting on Sirius Radio. Is there anything else you two want to collaborate on in the future?
TW: We’ve talked about doing a movie. John has a lot of projects he’s developing…he’s putting together a movie studio in Louisiana…so hopefully he’ll give me a call one of these days and I’ll go down there and do something with him. And I’ve got some ideas for future albums. We finance them ourselves so hopefully this one will do well so we can finance others.

MS: I actually spoke with John this summer to promote his horror film “Smothered.” If Catherine Bach sings I’ll be able to talk to all of the Duke cousins!
TW: (laughing) There you go!

MS: What do you have coming up? Are you going back on stage soon?
TW: Those things just come along suddenly…I very rarely get much lead time on that. The only thing I can plan on is some upcoming dates with my band. We’ll be on Long Island in April and in Indiana in August. But I’m sure between next Thanksgiving and Christmas we’ll have ten or fifteen appearances planned. I’m also getting ready to do another solo record and there’s talk of myself, two women and a little jazz group going out on tour and performing the music of Woody Allen films…pretty much some great standards.

MS: Really? That would be right in your wheelhouse.
TW: Yeah, that would be a good one.

Grammy Winner, Michael W. Smith talks about new album “The Spirit of Christmas”

Photographer: Cameron Powell

A few weeks ago I got a weird text. It said “do you want to do an interview next week?” When I replied “with?” I got back “you. Michael Smith.” I was excited. Someone wanted to interview ME! Actually I was told that I would be the interviewer and the subject would be Christian singer Michael W. Smith. I was even more excited!

A winner of (3) Grammy awards, as well as (40) Dove awards, Michael W. Smith has enjoyed success not only on the Gospel/Contemporary chart but in the mainstream as well. This month he has released his fourth album devoted to Christmas, entitled “The Spirit of Christmas.” The album, on which Smith duets with such singers as Vince Gill, Michael McDonald and Bono, consists of both long time favorites (“Silent Night,” “What Child is This”) and new originals.

As he readied to embark on a short tour to support the album Smith kindly took some time out to speak with Media Mikes.

Mike Smith: This is your fourth Christmas-themed album. What is it about the music that makes you want to revisit it?
Michael W. Smith: You know this is the music I grew up with. All the way back to when my sister and I used to pull out the Christmas LPs and play them for four months straight! When I hear those songs they just take me back to my childhood. Especially the first part of this record, for sure.

MS: This album consists of duets. There are a few performers on it that your fans might surely expect, like Vince Gill and Amy Grant. But then you’ve also got Bono and Michael McDonald. How were you able to get them on board?
MWS: Well first let me tell you that I’m still pinching myself that it happened, you know? We had these people picked out from day one…before we even recorded one song. We had the whole record sequenced. We had a plan and we had a wish list of who we wanted to invite. And everybody said yes. I’ve known Michael for about 10 years and I’ve known Bono for 12 years. These guys get asked to do stuff all the time, so the thought that they said “yes” is still pretty miraculous to me and I’m very, very grateful.

MS: Is there anyone out there that you’d like to sing with that you haven’t so far? Do you have a wish list?
MWS: I grew up being a huge Barbra Streisand fan, you know. I’ve always loved her voice…I’ve loved her movies…”Funny Girl,” “Funny Lady.” Recently she’s kept a low profile though I know she has a new album out. (NOTE: Ironically, Barbra Streisand’s latest album, “Partners,” is also a duets album). I would love to record with her.

MS: Do you have a favorite song on this new record?
MWS: Oh, man…that’s so hard to pick. I mean, if I had to pick…gosh, it’s hard to pick! Wow. “Almost There,” which is an original song that I did with Amy (Grant). There’s something really special about it. I love…I think it’s one of my favorite songs that I have written….”All is Well,” that Carrie (Underwood) does. And the one song that I get choked up on is “Peace,” which is the one I do with Michael McDonald. And Michael actually co-wrote that song, so I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he wanted to jump in and be a part of it.

MS: When you’re writing songs, do you sit down and write about a certain theme, like Christmas? Or do you later go back and realize that a certain song is right for the project you’re doing at the time?
MWS: Definitely the latter, because I never know what I’m going to write. Obviously if I’m working on a Christmas record I’m going to be a little more intentional. I’m going to be thinking about textures…how a bell sound will go with a piano sound…something that might inspire me to be a bit festive. A bit “holiday-ish,” you know? On “Almost There” I knew I wanted it to be a little haunting. I mean when you’re on that 12 hour drive to the beach how many times do you ask mom and dad “oh my gosh, are we almost there?” My friend, Wes King, came up with the idea which was why not imagine Mary riding on that donkey. She’s pregnant and she can’t find any place and she’s wondering how long it’s going to take…you wonder if she ever said to Joseph, “are we almost there?” And that was the premise for the lyric.

MS: Are you going to tour at all to support the album?
MWS: Oh yeah! The Christmas tour started the Saturday night after Thanksgiving and we’ll be doing about fifteen shows around the country.

MS: What else do you have coming up?
MWS: I know it sounds a bit insane but I actually released three records this year. I did an exclusive record for Cracker Barrel called “Hymns.” That came out early in the year. Then the pop/worship record, “Sovereign,” came out in May. And now, of course, the “Christmas” album has just been released so it’s been a pretty busy year. After the “Christmas” tour we’re going to tour with “Sovereign” all over…South Africa…Asia…Europe. That will all happen in 2015.

MICHAEL W. SMITH’s Upcoming Tour Dates

December 18, 2014 Spokane, Washington
December 19, 2014 Portland, Oregon
December 20, 2014 Seattle, Washington
December 21, 2014 Abbottsford, British Columbia
January 11, 2015 Nashville, Tennessee

For more information go to www.michaelwsmith.com

Win a DVD of “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas: The Movie” [ENDED]

To celebrate the release of “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas: The Movie”, we are happy to be giving a DVD of the film. If you want to win this great prizes, please leave us a comment below or send us an email with your favorite Tyler Perry film. This giveaway will remain open until December 19th at Noon, Eastern Time. This is open to our readers in US and Canada only. One entry per person, per household. All other entries will be considered invalid. Media Mikes will randomly select winners. Winners will be alerted via email.

Madea gets coaxed into helping a friend pay her daughter a surprise visit in the country for Christmas, but the biggest surprise is what they’ll find when they arrive. As the small, rural town prepares for its annual Christmas carnival, new secrets are revealed and old relationships are tested while Madea dishes her own unique brand of Christmas spirit to all.

Written for the screen, produced and directed by Tyler Perry, who also stars as Madea, the hilarious holiday extravaganza also features Kathy Najimy (HBO’s “Veep,” TV’s “King of the Hill”), Chad Michael Murray (TV’s “One Tree Hill,” TV’s “Chosen”), Anna Maria Horsford (Friday After Next, Our Family Wedding), Tika Sumpter (Ride Along, Get on Up), Eric Lively (Deep Winter, The Butterfly Effect 2), JR Lemon (TV’s “The Night Shift”), Alicia Witt (TV’s “Justified,” Two Weeks Notice), Lisa Whelchel (TV’s “The Facts of Life,” TV’s For Better or For Worse) and Larry the Cable Guy (Cars, Cars 2, Delta Farce).

Theatre Review “A Christmas Story, The Musical” Orlando Repertory Theatre

A Christmas Story: The Musical
November 10 – December 28, 2014
Orlando Repertory Theatre
1001 East Princeton Street
Orlando, FL

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

You know those flyers that you get in the mail and just throw away cause they are usually garage? I think I will be taking a closer look at them now. I received one a few days again and it was holiday themed, my favorite holiday, so I decided to give it a look. In there I found an advertisement for the Orlando Repertory Theatre (The REP) presenting a production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” based on the story by Jean Shepherd with book by Joseph Robinette, and words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. I have seen this production before and have been dying to see it again since. Now I had the chance!

Official Premise: A Christmas Story, The Musical is the classic account of Ralphie Parker’s hilariously desperate quest to ensure that the most perfect of gifts ends up under his tree this Christmas – a Red Ryder® Carbine-Action BB Gun! All the cherished moments are here – the Old Man’s leg lamp, the tongue-on-a-flagpole, the bunny suit, the Santa slide, and all of Ralphie’s extravagant daydreams! Enjoy the perennial favorite in a new way with this Tony-nominated Best Musical.

Turning a classic movie like “A Christmas Story” into a musical was definitely a definitely task I am sure. The songs are good. I have to admit though. I have the soundtrack but it has never been a must-listen for me. “Counting Down to Christmas” is a catchy one. “What A Mother Does” is sweet and had the wife sniffing a little bit. “A Major Award” is definitely a real hoot.  The cast for this production was also good. Highlights for me were Clifford Lyons as Jean Shepherd, Candace Neal as Mrs. Shields, and my favorite Sage Starkey as The Old Man. At first I thought that Sage was too young to play the Old Man, to be honest, but once he stepped on stage, I knew he was going to nail it. Gavin would have been proud!

I thought the production itself was very well done. It really represented “A Christmas Story” very well. It also felt very festive. I have seen many plays in my time and they could have gotten away with much less here. They really had great sets and really get design for this one. I also love the range of these actors. The dialogue and songs were perfectly balanced throughout the theater. I was seeing in Row I, if I remember correct, closer to the top of the theater, centered, and we really enjoyed the entire presentation of the play. I have seen shows at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center and sat 10 rows from stage and couldn’t hear them as well as this theatre.

Prior to this, I have never visited the Orlando Repertory Theatre. Following this, this theatre is going to be in my spotlight. From the moment the wife and I stepped into this theatre, we both just looked at each other and said “Wow!” I loved the vibe of the theatre and I love how intimate it felt. I also appreciate that in addition to productions, The REP conducts community engagement initiatives and the REP Youth Academy provides classes and workshops for children, along with professional development opportunities to classroom teachers. I will be returning to this theatre in the very near future. And if you are looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit, you have your answer right here!

A Christmas Story, The Musical runs Saturdays and Sundays from November 10 – December 28, 2014 at 2pm and 5:30pm. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for students, seniors (55+), and members of the military with valid ID, and $12 for the youth (ages 3 to 17). All performances of A Christmas Story, The Musical take place at the Orlando Repertory Theatre at 1001 East Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803. Tickets may be purchased online, over the phone, or at the Box Office. Please visit www.orlandorep.com or call 407-896-7365 for more information. Don’t miss it or you might shoot your eye out!

Product Feature “Disney Frozen Olaf Inflatable Outdoor Christmas Figure”

Since the unbelievable success of Disney’s “Frozen” last year people have been in craze for any thing from this film. With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s that time to decorate the house and I was thinking to myself, “Hey, I want a giant inflatable Olaf in the front of my house!”. Well, leave it Gemmy to deliver us exactly that. Gemmy is the company who makes most of these amazing inflatable figures that end up on many of our front lawns. They have everything from “Star Wars” to ” Disney” and everything in between.

The Olaf inflatable figure figure stands at 3.5 feet tall and looks amazing when all blown up and standing tall. It inflates very quickly and with no issue at all. It uses energy efficient LED lights to conserve energy. I know it maybe been too late for this year but Gemmy should get on the wagon with Anna and Elsa inflatables as well. I would love to have a Frozen collection to celebrate the holidays. If you are a big fan of the Disney animated film, I would highly recommend this product and if you are a smart shopper you should be able to find it for below $40 bucks, which is a real steal for sure!

Vinyl Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra “The Christmas Attic”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
“The Christmas Attic””
Distributor: Audio Fidelity
Produced by Paul O’Neil
Co-Produced by Robert Kinkel
Mastered: Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Recently, when I see a release from Audio Fidelity, I just know that it is going to be amazing, especially with a LP set. I recently reviewing the 2-LP set for the 1982 soundtrack for “TRON” and it was amazing! With the holiday season just around the corner, I am in the Christmas mood and their latest release is Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s classic album “The Christmas Attic”. This was originally released in 1998 and is the second installment of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Trilogy. This album contains a mix of vocal and instrumental songs including the well-known track “Christmas Canon”. It has also become a must listen to in our family during this time of the year.

This is the first time that “The Christmas Attic” has ever been being made available on vinyl. I have been leaving to these tracks for over 15 years and they have never sounded better. The remastered record is packaged in a seasonal gatefold jacket that includes a colorful 12-page booklet filled with the tale of The Christmas Attic as well as the lyrics to all the songs. This LP is also timed perfectly with the fact Trans-Siberian Orchestra will be touring during the 2014 and 2015 holiday season with “The Christmas Attic” show once again. All fans (with vinyl players) need to buy this record. Warm up next to your loved ones by the Christmas tree (yes, mine is already up) and enjoy this wonderful release.

Disc One
SIDE ONE
1 The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve
2 Boughs Of Holly
3 The World That She Sees
4 The World That He Sees
5 Midnight Christmas Eve

SIDE TWO
1 The March Of The Kings/Hark The Herald Angel
2 The Three Kings And I (What Really Happened)
3 Christmas Canon
4 Joy/Angels We Have Heard On High

Disc Two
SIDE ONE
1 Find Our Way Home
2 Appalachian Snowfall
3 The Music Box
4 The Snow Came Down

SIDE TWO
1 Christmas In The Air
2 Dream Child (A Christmas Dream)
3 An Angel’s Share
4 Music Box Blues

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Jimmy Carter talks about new album “Talkin’ Christmas!” and the band’s 70th Anniversary

Jimmy Carter is one of The Blind Boys of Alabama, the five-time Grammy Award winning gospel group. This year marks the band’s 70th Anniversary together and Jimmy is a founding member and has been there since the beginning. The band has collaborated with musicians like Ben Harper, Tom Waits and has performed for numerous Presidents over the year. Jimmy took out some time to chat wiht Media Mikes about their new album “Talkin’ Christmas!” and about the band’s 70th anniversary.

Mike Gencarelli: “Talkin’ Christmas!” is your second Christmas album after 2003’s “Go Tell it On the Mountain”; how did this come about and teaming up with Taj Mahal?
Jimmy Carter: Taj Mahal has been fans of The Blind Boys for a long time and we have been a fan of his as well. When we approached him, he was ready and eager to do it! Then we all got together went into the studio and did our thing [laughs].

MG: I listen to a lot of Christmas albums and if you are lucky an artist includes one new song in their album. You guys have given us seven brand-new holiday songs – six of which you written yourselves with this new album; what made you decide to that this route?
JC: That’s right. It is mostly all original stuff on this album. We all got together and wrote some great songs. I think that is what makes it a good album. The first Christmas that we did was mostly traditional songs but this one we wanted the material to be new. I hope it goes over good. We are trying to remind people what Christmas really is about. Christmas had gotten very commercial, so we are trying to put Christ back into Christmas.

MG: Since this is a holiday themed album, I am curious when was it recorded?
JC: We recorded this one in March, if I remember correctly. With the songs that we had it put us in the Christmas mood. So it wasn’t hard at all to record after the holidays and ended up being quite fun.

MG: 2014 is your 70th anniversary of The Blind Boys of Alabama, what is it like to be performing together all these years?
JC: It still feels good. Every year you get a little older but when you still enjoy and love what you do it keeps you going. Everyone is still in pretty good shape, so I foresee us being around for at least a little bit longer [laughs].

MG: If you were asked to pick the first highlight that comes to your head over the many years together, what would that be?
JC: A few come up actually. We had the privilege to singing to three Presidents. Even got to meet former President Jimmy Carter twice [laughs]. That was really cool. Then we got our first Grammy in 2002 and that was an amazing moment. Those are the two that come up the top of my head right now.

MG: You have teamed up with songwriters such as Ben Harper, Eric Clapton and Prince in the past; any more team ups planned next?
JC: I especially enjoyed working with Ben Harper. He is a great writer, a great singer and a great musician. He brought a lot to the table man. I really enjoyed working with him. I think Ben wants to do something else with us. We have to sit down and talk about it but I think he is ready…so we will see.

MG: Any tour dates planned for this album this Fall?
JC: Yes! We are going to start our Christmas tour on November 28th. We are starting that Friday night in Fredrick, MD and we will end up December 23rd in San Diego, CA.

Book Reviews “ArtFolds: Christmas Memories”

Age Range: 8 and up
Grade Level: 2 and up
Series: ArtFolds Color Editions (Book 3)
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Reader’s Digest
Release Date: September 30, 2014

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Before receiving this I was not sure what to expect from an ArtFolds book but this is definitely more can just a book. “ArtFolds: Christmas Memories” includes instructions that show you how to fold each page to transform this book into a very amazing colorful Christmas Tree sculpture. Seriously! You fold the book and it ends up being a beautiful piece of art. The only downfall is that this is a one-timer. Once you complete the fold, it is art and cannot be redone. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for the next edition of this series.

Official Premise: An ArtFolds book is a hardcover book that is transformed into a unique paper sculpture merely by folding pages, based on our exclusive, patent-pending instructions. The process is fun and easy and takes surprisingly little time, making it as appropriate for children as it is for adults. Color Editions feature a lovely palette of shades that make a vibrant and eye-catching work of art. Each Color Edition includes some fun and compelling reading that matches its art theme. In “ArtFolds: Christmas Memories”, readers can enjoy classic quotations, poems and lyrics that capture the magic of Christmas.