Film Reeview: “Potato Dreams of America”

 

 

 

  • POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA
  • Starring:  Dan Lauria, Sara Barbieri and Tyler Bocock
  • Directed by:  Wes Hurley
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 37 mins
  • Darkstar Pictures

 

Potato (Hersh Powers) is a little Soviet-era boy in love with American movies.  He enjoys these films so much that, when his mother Lena (Barbieri) is being beaten by one of her boyfriends, he forms his hands into a viewfinder and watches the incident unfold as if it was on the big screen.  An odd boy, Potato accepts his mother’s current, abusive boyfriend because he has a color television…much nicer then their old black and white model.  Still, he has very few friends.  Unless, that is, you count Jesus Christ (Jonathan Bennett), who drops by often.  It is a very oppressive society that portrays anything different as evil.  Among the presumed evils – homosexuality.  Potato is taught that everyone in the West is a homosexual.  Except Freddie Mercury, who is much too talented.    Wanting to be free of the chains of their country, Potato and his mother are overjoyed when she is chosen by a man in America as a mail order bride.  Soon things will be different in the glorious USA.  Right?

 

 

An unusual film, based on the life of writer/director Hurley (who was born in Russia), “Potato Dreams of America” is almost two different films.  Where the Russian act is very bleak visually, it is filled with some great humor.  Yet when the setting moves to America, things begin to get quite serious.  It’s also unusual in that the main characters are portrayed by different actors during the second act.  Potato is now played by Tyler Bocock while Lena is now portrayed by Marya Sea Kaminski.  All four actors embrace their characters, as does Dan Lauria, the American husband with secrets of his own.

 

 

Hurley’s script is quite funny, especially in the first act, where Potato and Lena do their best to tolerate those who are intolerable among them.  And while the film is not rated, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the second act deals with some very adult subject matter, so be advised.  That being said, “Potato Dreams of America” is a charming film that deserves an audience.

Film Review: “Beautiful Blue Eyes”

 

 

  • BEAUTIFUL BLUE EYES
  • Starring:  Roy Scheider, Scott Cohen and Alexander Newton
  • Directed by:  Joshua Newton
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 30 mins
  • MovieFarm

 

When Roy Scheider passed away on February 10, 2008 he was in the process of completing a film he was working on called “Iron Cross.”  Though the film played some festivals, it was never released.  Earlier this year it was announced that the film, now titled “Beautiful Blue Eyes,” (a title suggested to the producers by Scheider) would finally hit theatres, opening this past weekend. 

 

Joseph (Alexander Newton) is a young man living in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Even though he is Jewish, he has a non-Jewish girlfriend, who he often visits at night.  One morning, after a night with his lover, Joseph returns to his home to find his family being taken away.  He goes with them but, when the opportunity arises, runs off, the sound of his family being executed behind him ringing in his ears.

 

  1. Nuremburg, Germany. Joseph (Scheider) has traveled all the way from New York City in hopes of making amends with his son, Ronnie (Cohen) he hasn’t seen in years.  Recently retired from the NYPD – Scheider excelled at playing cops – he visits the apartment building his son and family live in, where he meets his daughter-in-law, Anna (Calita Rainford) and his young grandson.  When Joseph and his son decide to go out, they pass an elderly man on the stairs.  Joseph is stunned as he is sure the man on the stairs (Berger) was a monster from his past.

 

Where to start?   I know when Scheider passed it was announced that there was still some of “Iron Cross” that needed to be filmed.  I’m not sure if that was ever done, or to what effect those scenes may have had on the finished film.  The film wants to be a thriller but is so jumbled in images and plot points that it is, sadly, sometimes hard to understand.  We have no idea what kind of cop Joseph was.  We get an occasional flash-back to his witnessing atrocities in Poland, only to have a quick cut to what appears to be a similar situation in New York.  But we don’t know if this means that Joseph was a brutal cop or just that occasionally something at work would trigger a memory.

 

Another thing that I really found odd was the entire reason that Joseph and Ronnie were estranged.  Joseph wanted Ronnie to follow in his footsteps as a cop, and Ronnie decided to move to Germany.  However, he is currently an actor PLAYING a cop on a television program so when he decides to help Joseph investigate his neighbor, he is fully trained in the art of surveillance and investigating.  I am a big fan of “NYPD BLUE,” but if I really need a cop, I’m not calling Dennis Franz.

 

Also confusing is the film’s use of subtitles.  Sometimes when the characters are speaking German, their dialogue is accompanied by subtitles.  But sometimes, it isn’t.  And it seems like there is another actor doing some of Scheider’s dialogue, especially in voice overs.  Again, I’m aware that the film as planned was never finished, and I’ve read that “Beautiful Blue Eyes” is approximately 30-minutes shorter then the version of “Iron Cross” that was shown.  Those edits may have helped to continuity of the story and made the film less puzzling.

 

Still, this film gives Scheider’s fans an opportunity to see him on the big screen one more time.  His performance is strong, a testament to the man who once told me that his most important role is the one he is currently working on.  His final performance was no exception.

 

Concert Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips

 

 

  • “Weird Al ” Yankovic w/Emo Philips
  • Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts/Kansas City, MO
  • September 2, 2022

 

Roger Daltrey.  Tina Turner.  Robert Plant.  Freddie Mercury.

 

These amazing people possess some of the greatest and most powerful voices in the history of Rock and Roll.  To that list I humbly add Mr. Alfred Matthew Yankovic.  That’s right…”Weird Al.”

 

In a show that, except for the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” included only original songs – there was a brief medley of some of his more popular parody songs towards the end – Yankovic gave a show that I would put up against any concert I have ever seen.  After opening the show with “Fun Zone,” Yankovic reminded the audience that this was going to be a show that some fans have complained about, because he was doing the “funny” stuff.  He noted that “the name of the tour should have tipped you off.”  And he was right, as the show was billed as “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.”  Not a lot of leeway there.  And while I secretly hoped he’d break out his new “Hamilton” medley, I went home utterly amazed at what I’d just witnessed.

 

True fans of Yankovic are, of course, familiar with his parody hits, but also enjoy his original tunes as well.  On this night, he interspersed several of his more popular originals – “One More Minute,” “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” and “The Night Santa Went Crazy” with an array of great tunes, some done much differently then their album versions.  “Dare to Be Stupid” was done like a 60s lounge song, while “Craigslist” could have easily been included on an album by the Doors.  He really let his rock chops loose when he introduced a song he claimed he’d written for the band Rage Against the Machine.  Apparently, the band didn’t record it, so he did.  The song, “I’ll Sue Ya,” brought the audience to its feet with its growling vocals and kick ass music.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the musicians accompanying Yankovic on stage were amazing, showing the skill, and tightness, of a band that had been together for over four decades!

 

Opening the show was comedian Emo Philips, whose comedy I was introduced to late at night while listening to Dr. Demento with my friends.  I always enjoyed his style of comedy and it was a true treat to have the opportunity to see him in person.  Speaking of Dr. Demento, early next week (September 14th) will mark the 42nd Anniversary of when I heard “Weird” Al live on Dr. Demento’s radio show introducing his first big parody song, “Another One Rides the Bus.”  Wow!  I should write a book titled “Everything I Need to Know About Life I Learned from Dr. Demento!”

 

 

“Weird” Al’s “The Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” continues through the end of October.  Many shows are sold out, but if you’re thinking about going – and after reading this review,  why the hell aren’t you? – click HERE

 

SET LIST:  Fun Zone, Close But No Cigar, Melanie, Bob, One More Minute, Dare to Be Stupid,  Dog Eat Dog, Velvet Elvis, Craigslist, You Don’t Love Me Anymore, I’ll Sue Ya, Franks 2000” TV, Don’t Download This Song, The Night Santa Went Crazy, Skipper Dan, Good Old Days, Albuquerque.  ENCORE:  Psycho Killer, UNPLUGGED MEDLEY – Amish Paradise/Smells Like Nirvana/White & Nerdy/Word Crimes/Yoda.

 

Concert Review: The HAPPY TOGETHER Tour

 

 

  • HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR
  • Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 21, 2022

 

Part two of my wonderful musical weekend!

 

What if I told you that you could see the Cowsills, the Vogues, the Buckinghams, the Association, Gary Puckett and the Turtles all in one night?  No, really!  They are all together on the most recent HAPPY TOGETHER tour, which made a stop in Kansas City this past weekend.

 

For those who may not know this, the Cowsills was a group made up of a mother and her musical children.  Sound familiar?  That’s right.  The Cowsills were the inspiration for television’s “Partridge Family.”  On this night, brothers Bob and Paul, along with sister Susan, opened the show with a set of the most popular songs.  They even threw in the theme to television’s “Love, American Style,” which I had no idea they’d done. 

 

The Vogues took the stage and opened with their classic “Five O’ Clock World.”  The group was in fine voice, with amazing harmonies.  The Buckinghams were represented by original members Nick Fortuna and lead singer Carl Giammarese, who was celebrating his 75th Birthday this evening.

 

Next up was the Association, who sounded as good on this evening as they did in their heyday.  Songs like “Cherish” and “Never My Love” filled the Kauffman Center, with the crowd signing along.  Next up was the amazing Gary Puckett.  I had seen him in 1986 when he opened for the Monkees.  He didn’t disappoint then, and he didn’t disappoint on this evening.  With his distinct voice, songs like “Young Girl” and “This Girl is a Woman Now” rolled over the audience.  Mr. Puckett noted that Carl Giammarese was 75 but that Susan Cowsill was 63.  He also noted that he had them both beat as he will be turning 80 later this year!

 

Closing out the night was the Turtles, whose hit “Happy Together” gives the tour its name.  A big bonus, for me anyway, was that Ron Dante was the lead singer.  Dante, who turns 77(!) today also was the lead vocalist on the biggest selling song of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar.”  Which means that I can legitimately tell people that I saw the Archies in concert!

 

The night ended with everyone one stage in a mini-medley of some of the night’s best moments.

 

The HAPPY TOGETHER tour continues through the year.  You can find tickets for it HERE.

 

SONG LIST:  Cowsills:  The Rain, the Park and Other Things, We Can Fly, Indian Lake, Love, American Style, Hair.  The Vogues:  Five O’Clock World, My Special Angel, Turn Around Look at Me, You’re the One.  The Buckinghams:  Don’t You Care, “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song), Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Susan, Kind of a Drag.  The Association:  Windy, Never My Love, Cherish, Along Comes Mary.  Gary Puckett:  Lady Willpower, Over You, This Girl is a Woman Now, Woman, Woman, Young Girl.  The Turtles:  She’d Rather Be With Me, You Baby, It Ain’t Me Babe, You Showed Me, Sugar, Sugar, Eleanor, Happy Together.

Concert Review: Boz Scaggs, Robert Cray Band, Jeff Leblanc

 

  • BOZ SCAGGS/ROBERT CRAY BAND/JEFF LEBLANC
  • Kauffman Center – Kansas City, Missouri
  • August 19, 2022

 

What an amazing weekend of music I just concluded.  Keep an eye out for my piece on the HAPPY TOGETHER show – this one is all about the night I got to listen to one of my all-time favorites and discovered a new one.

 

I had certainly heard of the Robert Cray Band, and was familiar with their biggest song, “Smoking Gun,” and I had known for years that Mr. Cray was the guitarist for Otis Day and the Knights in “Animal House.”  But I’d had no idea that he was a master of the guitar, with an amazing band to match him lick for lick.  I will mention here that my wife is a big fan and has told me for years that I didn’t know what I was missing.  She was right.  With Mr. Cray changing guitars for almost every song played, the music lept from his fingers and filled the sold-out Kauffman Center.  His band kept pace, with bass player Richard Cousins supplying the beat while changing instruments almost as much as Mr. Cray did.  The set ended with a bluesy rendition of Chuck Berry’s (You Never Can Tell) C’est La Vie.

 

After a short break it was time for headliner Boz Scaggs and his band to take the stage.  I’m old enough to remember when hits like “Ledo Shuffle,” “Lowdown” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” – a great song to have on the turntable when you were “entertaining” a lady friend – were first released.  I played Mr. Scaggs’ “Silk Degrees” album constantly as a teenager and it was quite a joy to hear those songs – and others – performed live.   I just realized I may have confused our younger readers by using both words “turntable” and “album.”  Still the best way to listen to music.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your parents.

 

Besides the hits, Mr. Scaggs also played a selection of songs from his latest album, “Let it Roll.”  The mixture of old and new was well received by the audience, as was the rousing “Ledo Shuffle” sing-along.

 

The evening began with a short set from singer/songwriter Jeff Leblanc, who easily engaged the audience with his stories, including a folksy rendition of Al Green’s (or, if you’re my son’s age – Tina Tuner’s) “Let’s Stay Together,” which he introduced as a song he had to learn for a wedding.  A budding talent who I’m sure we will all hear more about sooner than later.

 

For upcoming shows, please click HERE.  

Kansas City Theater Review: “Sister Act”

 

  • SISTER ACT
  • STARLIGHT THEATER – KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
  • AUGUST 16, 2022                

 

Over the past couple decades there have been a number of Broadway musicals that have been based on popular films.  “Hairspray,” “The Producers,”  “Beetlejuice,” “Rocky,” and “Young Frankenstein” are just a small fraction of the shows that have hit the Great White Way – with new productions of “The Nutty Professor” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” currently previewing in smaller cities.  Some have gone on to Great success, while others have faded away.  One of the better ones has just arrived in Kansas City.

 

Based on the very popular 1992 film that starred Whoopi Goldberg, “Sister Act” is the story of lounge singer Delor1s Van Cartier (an excellent Tamyra Gray), auditioning to perform in a club owned by her gangster boyfriend, Curtis (Benjamin H. Moore) on Christmas Eve 1977.  However, despite her obvious talent, she is told she is “not ready” to play the club yet.  This does not phase Deloris, whose dream is to be a star.  She knows she has the talent and the desire.  She just needs the opportunity.  When Deloris accidentally walks in on Curtis and his henchmen immediately after they have killed someone, she runs to the police, who decide that the best thing to do is to hide Deloris where no one would think to look for her.

 

Smartly written, with a great score by multiple Oscar-winner Alan Menken and Grammy award winner Glenn Slater, “Sister Act” is a combination of laughs and music.  Ms. Gray brings a belter’s voice and a Catskill veteran’s comic timing to the role of Deloris and genuinely makes it her own.  Other outstanding turns by Mr. Moore, Anne Tolpegin (Mother Superior) and Susana Cordon (Sister Mary Robert) are accompanied by a supporting cast that keeps the show moving swiftly. 

 

If there was one drawback to the evening, it was one that had nothing to do with the performances.  In each city, local “celebrities” appear on stage in the silent role of the Pope and on opening night we were treated to Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas in all of his Papal glory.  Unfortunately, due to some local political issues, some idiots in front of the stage felt the need to stage a protest, causing security to escort them out and taking the fun out of the closing number. 

 

That aside, I highly recommend you catch “Sister Act” when it comes to your town.  It is, dare I say, a divine evening at the theater.

 

“Sister Act” runs through Sunday, August 21 at Starlight Theater in Kansas City. 

Film Review: “The Day the Music Died – the Story of Don McLean’s AMERICAN PIE”

 

 

  • THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED – THE STORY OF DON McLEAN’S “AMERICAN PIE”
  • Starring:  Don McLean, Garth Brooks and “Weird” Al Yankovic
  • Directed by:  Mark Moorman
  • Rated:  Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Paramount +

 

It’s one of the most popular and recognized songs in the world.  An 8-minute epic about the end of rock of roll, chronicling February 3, 1959.  The day the music died.  That song?  Don McLean’s masterpiece, “American Pie.” 

 

I’ve been in bars all over the world, from the good old USA to Europe, and I’ve never heard this song played without everyone in the place singing along.  The chorus is infective and the verses memorable.  But what was the impetus for the song?  And why is it even more popular today then the day it was released over 50 years ago?

 

“The Day the Music Died” gives an amazing insight into the mind of a songwriter so gifted that he was the inspiration for Roberta Flack’s Grammy Award winning song “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”  As a sidenote, I should mention that the tale of how that song came to be is worthy of a documentary film of its own.  Like many singer/songwriters of the late 1960s, McLean would spend  hours putting pen to paper, trying to put his thoughts to music.  A chance remembering of his time as a paperboy kindled a spark that has yet to be extinguished.  As the verses poured out of his mind, it only took McLean an hour to write the heart of the song, going back – as many songwriters do – to fine tune the verses until they sounded perfect.

 

 

Not only does the film take an inside look at the composition of the song, but also gives a glance back, and a nod to, a simpler time in rock and roll.  The three young musicians whose death registered so strongly with McLean – J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens and McLean’s musical idol, the great Buddy Holly – get their due here, climaxed by McLean’s meeting with Valens’ sister, Connie, whose heartfelt thanks to McLean for helping to immortalize her brother is genuine and moving.

 

I was 11-years old when “American Pie” was released, and I can still remember the local Chicago radio station playing it over and over.  I also remember one Sunday edition of the Chicago “Tribune” that included an in-depth look at the song, line by line, in an attempt to decipher the meaning behind the words.  Who was the Jester?  Was he talking about Vladmir Lenin or John Lennon?  And what exactly was a dirge?  Who knew, but they were being sung in the dark.

 

As I mentioned above, the song was over 8-minutes long (8:42 to be exact) and it was originally released as a two-sided single.  Though radio stations initially played just one side of the 45 rpm disc, listener requests caused them to play the entire song.  If you don’t count streaming sales (sorry Taylor Swift – anyone can download a song from a computer – in my day you had to leave the house and buy the record), “American Pie” remains the longest running song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  

 

 

As an added bonus, McLean explains the song’s title.  In the past 50-years I’ve heard all kinds of stories, among them that the plane that crashed, killing Holly and the others, was called “American Pie.”  Incorrect.  To my knowledge, the plane had no name.  In early 1995, famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack was promoting an upcoming appearance in Baltimore and taking listener’s calls.  I got in and asked him if he knew where the song got its title.  He said he did and would reveal the truth at his appearance.  Sadly he passed away before he could – if I’d had my way – whisper it in my ear.  Now I know.  I’d tell you, but then you’d be missing out on one hell of a story!

Film Review: “Bullet Train”

 

  • BULLET TRAIN
  • Starring:  Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron-Taylor Johnson
  • Directed by:  David Leitch
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 6 mins
  • Columbia Pictures

 

A train rushing through Japan at speeds in excess of 200 mph.  A mysterious briefcase.  Characters with colorful names like “the Wolf,”

“Lemon” and “the Hornet.”  Put them all together and you get a rapid-fire, action packed adventure.

 

Moving at a pace almost faster than the title implies, “Bullet Train” is a mashup of genre’s that can best be described as Guy Ritchie meets “Kill Bill.”

 

The plot revolves around the much desired briefcase and the people who are sent to protect it versus the people who are sent to steal it.  Pitt is one of the thieves, a man with a lot of talent when it comes to killing, but also a lot of issues.  He is in close contact with his handler, Maria (no spoiler here, sorry), whose soothing voice and sound advice keeps him in a mellow mindset. 

 

The other main characters are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and his “brother,” Tangerine (an un-recognizable Aaron-Taylor Johnson.  Yes, the guy who played Kick Ass and John Lennon).  They spend the majority of their trip dealing with all of the issues that come with trying to protect your boss’ son – and when your boss is known as “White Death” you need to be on your “A” game – and keeping a who’s who of baddies from taking your prized briefcase.

 

The action is pretty much non-stop, with occasional moments of laugh-out-loud humor.  Whether it’s a brutal fight to the death in a designated “QUIET” car – loud noises quickly draw a “shush” from

an elderly passenger – or having to shoot your way around and oversized Anime’ character, the situations are preposterously absurd but amazing to watch unfold.

 

The cast seems to be having fun with their characters, only going over the top when the situation calls for it.  Otherwise things are handled with a deadly seriousness that should be afforded anyone dealing with someone known as “White Death.”

 

The film is beautifully photographed and the musical score helps set whatever mood is needed at any particular time.  This is definitely the“Train” to catch this weekend.    

Interview with “The Propaganda Poet,” Bear Wolf

 

 

Bear Wolf is many things.  A teacher.  A musician.  A writer.  And, most importantly – to me anyway – my brother.  He has spent the summer on the road, sharing his talents and promoting his new book of poetry -.   He joined me recently during a stop outside of Philadelphia.

 

Michael Smith:  Tell us a little bit about your tour.

 

Bear Wolf:  So I have many performing personas and I’m out on the road right now supporting a book and CD of my poetry.  I go by “Propaganda Poet” for my poetry.  The tour started out in New York City at the Nuyoricans Poets Café where I was part of an event called “Two Venues, One Mic.”  It’s really a great idea where two different poetry venues simultaneously have two curated open mics.  Each venue has their ZOOM hooked as well so when one venue is featuring live readings the other venue is watching on the big screen.  It goes back and forth.  This edition was with a venue in Japan.  We were simultaneously doing poetry with a venue in Japan.  They’ve done Paris.  They’ve done London.  The next one they’re working on is in Italy.  Because of having a lot of my stuff on line over the past couple years I’ve been able to share my work with people from all over the country.  Putting this tour together was pretty easy since I already knew a lot of the people involved.  I’ve done a few shows in New Jersey as well and now I’m on my way to the AWP Writer’s Conference in Philadelphia to perform with another group of poets that I’ve met on line.  Then it’s on to a couple of Busboys and Poets spots in Baltimore and Washington D.C., which is a chain of venues that are being revitalized now that everything is opening up again.

MS:  What is the name of your latest book?

 BW:  My book is called “2020 D/Vision.”  It’s my response to the pandemic.  Not just the COVID pandemic but all of the other pandemics we’re dealing with like racism and systematic oppression and the American Dream that is not fully attainable for everyone because we don’t all start from the same spot.  For the past two years Mother Earth has essentially sent us to our room.  While I was there I contemplated and wrote a couple of books.  “2020 D/Vision” is available on Amazon.

 

MS:  So what exactly goes on at a poetry recital?  In my mind I’m picturing the movies of the 60s that had the hip poet up on stage snapping his fingers and addressing the audience.  Or Mike Myers in “So I Married an Axe Murderer.”  What does it entail?  Do you just go up on stage?  Do you have music in the background to set the mood?

 BW:   The sweet thing about open mics is that you really never know what’s going to happen.  It’s pure creativity across the board.  The one I did last night in New York City had comedians, musicians, poets…it’s actually very much like you’re picturing; the old beat poets of the 60s and 70s in Soho and San Francisco.  This art has just carried on.  Artists who are not recognized on a large scale can still go up there and do their thing.  And it’s really supportive.  Even the on-line open mic community is very supportive. 

 MS:  What are the crowds like?  Pretty packed?

BW:  Their very well attended.  People are really hungry to get out of the house now.  They really contribute to the atmosphere.  And it’s a wide spectrum of poetry.  You get social justice poetry…erotic poetry.  It’s really one of the best and broad cultural things you can experience. 

 

MS:  Does your CD feature you reading your poetry?  Music to read your poetry by?

 

BW:  It’s both.  It’s called “Haiku, Tanka & Senryu, Oh My!”  A friend of mine, C.K. Shmallowell, composed some great electric dance music, but with a jam-band feel to it.  He gave me the audio tracks and I re-mixed them and put the poetry on top of them. 

 

MS:  What’s next?

 

BW:  This is my second tour this year.  Earlier I did a tour of the South.  And I just completed a CD of covers and mash-ups where I mixed my poetry in as well.  It’s my first attempt at doing everything.  Drums, guitars, vocals.  The whole nine-yards.  It’s going to be available on Soundcloud.  I just finished my next book called “Word Tornadoes.”  That manuscript is under review.  My ultimate point with all of this is to get to a point where this is all I do.  I can put together workshops and lessons and basically be a freelance teacher.    I want to get the message out that poetry is alive and well and thriving.   

 

TO PURCHASE A COPY OF“Haiku, Tanka & Senryu, Oh My!”   CLICK HERE

TO PURCHASE A COPY OF “2020 D/VISION” CLICK HERE

Interview with Broadway Across America Midwest President Leslie Broecker

When I asked to speak with Leslie Broecker I was told we’d get along as she was a fellow “theater nerd.”  What an understatement.  The President of Broadway Across America Midwest, Ms. Broecker lives and breathes theater.  When we spoke she had just spent a whirlwind week in New York City, seeing EIGHT Broadway shows in seven days.  Thank goodness for matinee’s. 

 

Michael Smith:  First off, please tell our readers what you do, how long you’ve been doing it and how I can apply for your job when you decide to retire?

Leslie Broecker: (laughs)  Absolutely you can!    I’ve been here 35-years.  I started in the marketing department but I’ve loved theater my whole life.   Really my passion has been in radio and television production, especially radio.  And so I worked with the local Broadway series in Louisville (Kentucky) on some of their radio buys.  That’s how the local company hired me as their marketing director.  The company became so successful that it grew into Cincinnati, and then Columbus and Indianapolis.  Ultimately our partner, which was Pace Theatrical Group, purchased our company and that is how Kansas City became part of my responsibilities as well.

 

MS:  How do you go about choosing what shows go to which city?  Is it just a national tour of certain shows or do you pick specific shows for specific cities?

 

LB:  The tours are tailor made for each city.  It’s a jigsaw puzzle of what shows are available, what dates are available in the theaters and then trying to marry those.  We are very reliant on our neighbors and friends that present in other cities in order to make routing reasonable and responsible.  We need to have decent jump cities that are not too far apart.  We’re all tied together.  Most of our shows close on Sunday night.  Then they have to break down, move and be ready to go by curtain time on Tuesday.  It’s all very calculated.  That’s the unsexy part of it.  The other way we choose shows is that we survey our subscribers and single-ticket buyers and group clients and see what’s on their list.  What do they want to see?  We not only survey about shows that are current and will go out on the road, but also about shows that are in development so we can have a voice in what is created for the future three or four or five years down the road.

 

MS:  I was in the film marketing and promotions business for 20-years and had to deal with not only first run theatres but second run and discount houses.  If a show is currently on Broadway, is there a time limit before it can tour?

 

LB:  That’s a great question.  There’s not.  But I think the comparable analysis might be that when a show goes on the road, they first thing they want to do is play in markets that can sustain it for a long period of time.  So many shows that come off Broadway will go and sit in Chicago or Boston or L.A. or even the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.)  Then they begin to look at the next markets.  Where can they play a few weeks instead of several months?  That includes cities like Cincinnati, Ft. Lauderdale, Denver.  Markets that can support the shows for two weeks.  And where Kansas City fits in is where most cities are, a one-week grouping.   The way you stand in the pecking order is that shows want to play where they will be successful.  People love theater in Kansas City, and we can do many week’s of shows.  Kansa City usually lands on the first or second year of a tour going out, which is really great.  Other cities, like Indianapolis, are on the third or fourth year of a tour.  Kansas City is way up there for getting in line for the best shows as fast as they come out. 

 

MS:  When Ellen (McDonald, my local rep) and I spoke about this interview she said you were kind of a theatre nerd.  You are so much more so I have a couple questions.  What was the first show you saw?

 

LB:  “Hello, Dolly.”

 

MS:  With Carol Channing?

 

LB:  No, that was a local production.  My first Broadway show was “Barnum,” with a then unknown Glenn Close and Jim Dale.  How about you?

 

MS:  My first show, that I wasn’t a part of, was “A Chorus Line,” which I saw here in Kansas City with a then unknown Bebe Neuwirth as Cassie. 

 

LB:  You just gave me goosebumps.

 

MS:  My first Broadway show was “42nd Street,” with Jerry Orbach.

 

LB:  That was a pretty good starting point, definitely. 

 

MS:  What is your favorite show, if you can have one?

 

LB:  That’s like having to pick between your children.  I will say that the first show I worked on was “Hello, Dolly” and that made such an imprint.  I was able to present “Hello, Dolly” eight or ten times with Carol Channing and we became friends.  That’s my favorite show.  The book is incredible, the music…there’s not a bad number.  Well, maybe “Ribbons Down Your Back” is a little slow (now THAT’S a theatre nerd!) but the show is awesome.  And then to be friends with Carol….we spent many times together beyond “Dolly.”  I brought her in a couple of times to do some fund raisers and things in the second half of her life, which was amazing. 

 

MS:  I’m guessing the answer is “no,” but is there a show you’ve wanted to see but never have?

 

LB:  Hmmmmm….no I can’t think of one.    Oh wait!  There’s a show by Kander and Ebb called “70, Girls, 70.”  I’ve seen a lot of community productions but I’d love to cast it on Broadway.  (NOTE:  “70, Girls, 70” premiered on Broadway in 1971 and ran for 35 performances.  It was revived in London in 1991, where it played for several months.  However, there has never been a Broadway revival.  Until now?

 

MS:  In the last 10-years, there have been countless musicals based on popular films.  Why do you think that is?

 

LB:  I think it’s similar to films being based on books.  There’s a following.  Producing on Broadway is incredibly risky and I think the foundation of a successful film gives a safe jumping off point.  I wish there could be 20 new musicals and 20 new plays a year, but creativity comes in little spurts.  If you’re lucky you’re blessed with a Sondheim, who could spit out a lot of those.  But it’s tough to come up with that success.  I’m no wiz on why that is but my guess would be that it’s a little bit safer ground.  I mean a show like “Hadestown,” the Tony Award winning musical, is hugely popular on Broadway but not many people know about it outside New York.  It may take a couple of years on the road for people to really discover how great a show it is.

 

MS:  Finally, any hints at what may be coming our way next season?

 

LB:  We’re actually just starting on next season.  We will be hopeful and looking for shows like “Frozen” or “Moulin Rouge.”  This year’s Tony Awards will help decide what shows are recognized and could do a tour.  One show I’d really like to do there is “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

 

MS:  With Richard Thomas?

 

LB:  Yes.  You know, there’s a cool casting twist in the show.  I can’t remember her name, but the little girl who played Scout in the film….

 

MS:  Mary Badham

 

LS:  …there you go.  She’s in this production.  She’s the nasty, racist neighbor…

 

MS:  Miss Dubose?

 

LB:  …yes.  You’re good.

 

MS:  It’s my favorite novel ever.

 

LB:  I’m working hard to get that as well.  The pipeline is full.

 

MS:  Great to hear.  Maybe you’ll bring “ROCKY” to town.

 

LB:  Yeahhhhh, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

 

MS:  I guess I’ll wait for the local dinner theater production.

 

LB:  (laughs)  Perhaps. 

Film Review: “DC League of Super-Pets”

 

  • DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS
  • Starring the voices of:  Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Keanu Reeves
  • Directed by:  Jared Stern and Sam Levine
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
  • Warner Bros.

 

It’s a story we all know.  As the Planet Krypton reaches it’s last moment, Jor-El puts his infant son in a ship, hoping to send the boy to safety.  As the ship prepares to take off, a puppy hops into the ship and joins the boy on his amazing journey.  OK, the puppy part you may not have known.  Until now.

 

It’s another day in Metropolis.  Krypto (Johnson) wants to go for a walk.  However, when your master is Superman (John Krasinski), it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Further complicating things for the Super-Dog is Supes on-going relationship with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde).  Still, compared to what’s going on at the local animal shelter, things aren’t too bad.

 

Well-acted, with a very clever script, “Super-Pets” is a fun adventure with an important message, but one that doesn’t hit you over the head.  In the aforementioned animal shelter, we are introduced to a group of pets longing to be loved.  They are led by Ace (Hart) a hound who keeps his fellow animals feeling positive by promising them that, should any of Ace’s escape plans work, he will take them all to “the farm,” a place where all animals are loved.  Among his pals are PB the Pig (Vanessa Bryer), Chip, an unusually odd squirrel (Diego Luna) and Merton (Natasha Lyonne), an older, and very nearsighted, turtle.   Their lives change when Krypto is brought to their shelter.

 

 

I loved the vocal performances of the cast.  In the past two decades, animated movies are no longer looked at as “just a gig” by actors.  The actors here give strong, layered performances, which lend themselves to the story being told. 

 

The script is full of DC in-jokes, many of them involving Batman (an excellent Reeves),  Whether he is justifying label of “superhero” – he actually has no super powers – or worrying if a toy in his image is actually licensed, the Dark Knight is a hoot.  Other Justice League members show up as well, and you almost hope that the next Justice Leage movie is animated with the same vocal talents.

 

In the end, it’s a story about believing In yourself, and your friends.  Or, in this case, your Super-Friends. 

 

 

Film Review: NOPE

 

  • NOPE
  • Starring:  Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Keith David
  • Directed by:  Jordan Peele
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 11 mins
  • Universal    

 

There was a time when, if I thought about Jordan Peele, I always thought of Raffi Benitez, the overzealous baseball player who, whenever the opportunity would arise, would smack his teammates on their posteriors while exclaiming “Slap Ass!”  Then he made “Get Out,” an amazing film that earned Peele an Academy Award for his script.  His sophomore film, “Us,” was nothing short of, as I described it, “a new horror masterpiece.”  Needless to say, I was more than excited to see his latest film, “NOPE.”

 

A rancher (David) and his son, OJ – short for Otis Junior (Kaluuya) – are chatting outside a coral when they begin being pelted by objects falling from the sky.  The rancher is knocked off his horse.  What are these mysterious objects?  What’s the story with that weird cloud that’s hovering overhead?  And where did they come from?

 

A white-knuckled adventure into what may really be “out there,” NOPE is a film that has so many things going on you may want to see it multiple times.  As I left my screening, I overheard several people commenting on what they had just watched, or at least thought they had just watched, but not in an “I’m confused” way.  There are so many pieces to the puzzle that is NOPE that a second viewing may be needed to fully get the scope of the plot.

 

Besides OJ and his father, we meet his sister, Emerald (Palmer), a one-time child star – with a tragic past – who now fronts a Wild West show (Steven Yeun), and a couple of filmmakers looking to film the ultimate experience.  Oh, and horses.  Lots of horses.  As Robert Shaw often said in “The Sting”…”ya follow?”

As in his previous films, Peele has assembled an amazing cast, led by his “Get Out” leading man, and Oscar winner, Kaluuya.  He is supported strongly by Palmer and Yeun, whose own stories intertwine with OJ’s.  Peele’s script is full of twists and turns, and the cast maneuver their way through them smoothly.

 

With everything going on the film could appear to drag but, thanks to Peele’s steady direction, the story flows, meshing the past and present day smoothly.  The story is enhanced by a musical score that at times reminds you of “The Magnificent Seven” at one point only to meld into a true suspense score moments later. 

 

Jordan Peele is no longer Raffi Benitez to me.  Now when I hear his name I think about the cinema’s new master of suspense.  If I met him, I’d shake his hand…and “Slap Ass!” 

Remembering James Caan

 

 

I am crushed to learn of the passing of actor James Caan.  Not because he was a great actor (he was), but because he leaves us without the recognition from his industry he so greatly deserved.  Mr. Caan passed away today at the age of 82.

 

My first recollection of seeing James Caan on screen is of watching the television film “Brian’s Song.”  The story of terminally ill Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo (Caan) and his friendship with teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), the 1971 film would be the start of what became an amazing decade for the actor.  The next year he starred as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” earning him his first -and, criminally – only Academy Award nomination.  The role made him a star!  Caan used to joke that Sonny Corleone made such an impact on people that, for two years in a row, he (Caan) was named Italian American of the year, even though he was Jewish.

 

Among his other great performances in that decade:  “The Killer Elite,” “Rollerball,” “Cinderella Liberty” and “Harry and Walter Go to New York,” a musical comedy that showed Caan was more than a tough guy.    Films like “Funny Lady,” “Chapter Two,”“Kiss Me Goodbye” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” showed a gentler side with a good sense of humor to boot.  He still excelled in dramatic roles, of course, among them “Gardens of Stone,” “Alien Nation” and “The Program.”

 

But there are two performances I want to highlight, both of which should have earned Caan Oscar nominations.  The first is “Misery.”  As an author who is taken in and nursed back to health by and overzealous fan after an auto accident, Caan matches Kathy Bates, who won the Oscar that year for Best Actress, stride for stride.  The second is “For the Boys,” a period musical that teamed Caan up with Bette Midler.  As song and dance man Eddie Sparks, Caan takes the character from 35 to 85, living his life with no apologies, even when those apologies may have made that life better.  Midler earned an Oscar nomination for her work but, again, Caan’s performance was ignored.

 

I’ll close this with a few lines from Eddie Sparks’ signature tune:

 

When my life is through
And the angels ask me to recall
The thrill of them all,
Then i will tell them i remember,
Tell them i remember you.

 

Rest in Peace, sir.  I’ll always remember you.

Film Review: “THOR: Love and Thunder”

 

  • THOR:  LOVE AND THUNDER
  • Starring:  Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale
  • Directed by:  Taika Waititi
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 59 mins
  • Walt Disney Pictures

 

I love me some Taika Waititi!  The Oscar-winning filmmaker has a perfect touch when balancing drama and humor.  And that touch is on full display in “THOR: Love and Thunder.”

 

A man (an unrecognizable Bale) wanders in the desert, trying his best to protect his young daughter from the elements.  He comes across a beautiful, lush paradise only to realize that the god he has worshipped has no use for him.  Realizing he has been forsaken, he declares, “All gods must die!”

 

“THOR: Love and Thunder” reintroduces the audience to the “THOR” saga via the fine performers in the local theater in New Asgard.  We learn of his adventures as well as his heartaches, most notably Doctor Jane Foster (Portman), the one true love of Thor’s life.  As word of the “god butcher” spreads, Thor enlists King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to help end the slaughter.  And, thanks to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir – I finally know who to pronounce it – Jane joins them.  My comic book loving friends are going to hate me but, for lack of a better name, the hammer turns Jane into Lady Thor/She Thor (tho I believe she is just Thor in the comics).  The return of Mjölnir makes Thor (original Thor) happy., but it also causes some friction between Thor and his axe, Stormbreaker, one of the great comic touches in a very dramatic film.

 

As with all of the films in the MCU, the cast here is pitch-perfect.  Hemsworth and Portman have great chemistry, making their romance quite believable.  Christian Bale is tragic as a man whose faith – and life – has been shattered by the gods.  Supporting performances by Thompson, director Waititi and Russell Crowe are just as solid.  The visual effects are, of course, top notch, and the soundtrack cranks up the rock and roll!

 

A powerful and emotional rollercoaster, “THOR: Love and Thunder” is a must see this summer!

Film Review: “Minions: the Rise of Gru”

 

  • MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU
  • Staring the voices of:  Steve Carell, Alan Arkin and Julie Andrews
  • Directed by:  Kyle Balda, Brad, Ableson and Jonathan del Val
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 27 mns
  • Universal

 

Ah, the Minions.  Since their debut in “Despicable Me,” they have brought joy to moviegoers all over the world.  They have also multiplied in my inflatable Christmas yard display each year.  But where did they come from?  And how did Gru become such a bad guy – albeit one with a big heart?

 

If you’ve wanted to be an evil genius since you were a boy, who do you admire?  In the case of Gru (Carell), it’s a highly publicized group of villains so popular they have their own toy line.  Of course you have to be evil…correction…EVIL, to even get an invitation to join and Gru, accompanied by Minions Bob, Stuart, Kevin and Otto, will stop at nothing to be recognized.   The prank I personally enjoyed most was setting off a stink bomb during a sold out showing of “Jaws,” causing the theatre to empty and leaving our quintet their choice of seats and refreshments.  When a vacancy opens up on the Villain Squad, Gru feels he’s a shoe-in to fill the seat.  But not all evil is judged the same.

A fun treat for the whole family, “Minions: the Rise of Gru” is another in a string of successful and well made animated films starring these Twinkie-looking oddities and their hook-nosed leader.  It’s great to hear Carell back as Gru, and the film lets us in on how he met some of his closest associates, including Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).The main Minions are a joy to watch…like a yellow version of the Three Stooges.  If the film has one drawback, it may be that it’s too busy, an unusual feeling from a film that’s under 90 minutes long.

 

Still, the animation is top notch and reason enough to see this film.