Saturday, December 11, 2010


Maybe the fairy tales and cartoons have it right. Once the lights are out, all the inanimate objects we assume to be soulless come to life. Maybe all that is made of matter must have its own internal energy that holds it together—and that energy is active and alive when we’re not looking, or else it’s too tiny for us to observe. In any event, it is amazing how little we clumsy, cumbersome humans actually control. (Perhaps our dogs only let us think we control them out of love. Cats, on the other hand, always remind us who is boss.)

There is always garbage that deliberately misses the can and papers that refuse to land where you put them, computers that refuse sleep mode (but then again, we know they have brains), and clothing that gets hooked on doorknobs, railings and even nails in desperate attempts to stay behind. There are pens and keys that roll off desks into shoulder bags and briefcases below who act as their getaway cars. How often have you seen something wrap around another item, say a paper clip or something equally twisted, and you know you couldn't have caused that to happen consciously if you tried in a million years?

But for those of a certain age—those of us requiring pharmaceuticals for daily maintenance—there is “the pill chase.”

Pills, growing more costly by the day. must be taken at regularly prescribed times, providing microscopic effects barely discernible but perhaps vital to our survival. One could argue that these pills have the power to cloud our minds and judgment as easily as they may be designed to clarify it or to thin our blood. If they don’t want to be taken, they have the power to make us forget.

And then sometimes, there is The Great Escape, the day that tablets once carefully counted by pharmacists now decide to make a run for it from the plastic tower that holds them captive. A child-proof cap is (finally) removed by folks who are way past childhood. And once you are momentarily distracted, by a phone, a clock, a remembrance of something you must put on your to-do list once you can find it . . . out the pills leap, as if spring-loaded, rolling in multitudinous directions like cattle escaping their pen. Their intrinsic value, combined with their actual cost and their legally-prescribed dosages, make you, the poor dumb human, scramble, as you try to coax back each little escapee. Fears and anxieties of germs and dirt, not to mention house-keeping guilt, add to the conundrum as these missiles enter into unchartered territories of the kitchen floor. And will you actually swallow this pill that is now tainted by its freedom? Thank god there’s dryness, maybe nothing will stick to it, being as you can’t clean it off after all . . . . oh, please, God, let the five-second rule be true and not something we just made up to salve our neurotic souls . . . And even when retrieved, they may not all go docilely back into their light Lucite corrals. Placed back on the counter as one goes to retrieve more, they resume motion, rolling into heretofore undiscovered puddles on the counter or off the edge to the safety of the cranny between the stove and the cabinet, cracks between counters and appliances that under other circumstances and definitions would be deemed contiguous, side-by-side—damn the uneven kitchen floor! And unlike food, which has already submitted to slaughter and is now defeated, these pills cannot be rinsed off once in contact with other surfaces. So you wistfully, carefully wipe them off with a dry paper towel, hoping against hope that you are not pressing dirt and germs into their surfaces, and that you are in fact wiping off anything microscopic that will introduced cholera or e-coli into your system, attempting pathetically to restore them to their “virginal” status. Pathetically, you then count them, trying to figure out how many are unaccounted for in an important manner, all the while knowing you really aren’t sure, despite the start date on the label, just how many should still be remaining. Then you re-incarcerate the detainees into their plastic chamber, all the while wondering if they’re contaminating each other or else plotting their next daring escape attempt.

Your prison break adventure completed, you attempt to resume your day, operating on the clearly fictitious assumption that you are in charge of your own life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


With the passing of Fred Ebb in 2004, one might have assumed that the canon of Kander and Ebb had come to its logical completion, a remarkable trove of treasures that includes such heavy-hitting masterpieces as CABARET and CHICAGO, as well as ZORBA, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN among many others. John Kander’s thrilling, pulse-pounding show music was always a seamless match with Ebb’s witty, acerbic, sometimes achingly beautiful lyrics. When combined with the very human and often challenging themes they chose for their musicals, the effect was usually dynamic and even dynamite, surely earning them a secure place in musical theater history. Some of us are particular champions of their scores for THE HAPPY TIME and STEEL PIER, while others no doubt promote the likes of THE RINK or THE ACT or 70, GIRLS, 70. (All fans got a little bit of satisfaction from their hit Off-Broadway sampler, AND THE WORLD GOES ROUND.) Their film, television and special events material has yielded numerous numbers to the pop culture songbook, including “My Coloring Book,” and “How Lucky Can You Get”-- while “New York, New York” seared its way into the public consciousness and became the de facto theme song for one of the world’s best loved cities in 1985. One doesn’t think of Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, or Bob Fosse without the material of Kander and Ebb. Digging a bit deeper, the career of Barbra Streisand has significant chapters involving their creations, and even Sinatra covered their tunes. So there would certainly be no shame if 2004 marked the end of the story.

But it didn’t. In fact, their output for the balance of this decade has been rather astonishing (with most of the projects, of course, in the pipeline prior to Ebb’s death), providing more high profile projects than most writing teams create in a whole career. CURTAINS, a loving tribute to show business tales, backstage legends, and whodunits, was a moderate hit, providing a range of terrific comic specialty numbers and touching torch songs, as well as providing David Hyde Pierce a Tony-winning turn as theater-loving police detective. ALL ABOUT US, their adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, has had several regional tryouts with the hope that fine tuning will eventually lead to a fully-working production, and their musical version of Durrenmatt’s THE VISIT has seen productions in Chicago and D.C., giving Chita Rivera yet another amazing role. Ebb’s voice has continued both in the lyrics and in the conceptions of these shows. For the work that remained to be done, long-time partner Kander fleshed out the finishing touches as if he were channeling his collaborator of 40-plus years.

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS shows that their sense of drama--the power of injustice, and how the media and the system feed on hype for their own sake--is still clearly in full force. Based on the true story of nine young black men falsely accused of raping two Alabama white women in 1931, it is a case that ultimately gave root to the American Civil Rights movement. Audaciously staged as a minstrel show, this new musical is a fascinating and absorbing evening of theater, especially in an era when we have our first black President of the United States—and certain politicians can still get away with thinly-veiled racial sneers, referring to the leader of our nation as a “loud tribesman.” As you watch the various politicians maneuver things to their own advantage—in the musical, that is—you are aware of the timeliness of the piece, and just how far we have (and haven’t) come in the intervening years. While the minstrel show is a symbol of all that was racist and patronizing, it is also a uniquely American entertainment form, and an amazing display of music, comedy and dance. Even now, while we cringe, we are still entertained in spite of ourselves, and it is in these chilling moments--when we are both discomfited and delighted--that THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is at its best.

Susan Stroman, whose shows include THE PRODUCERS and CONTACT, has kept the proceedings brisk and clean, never overly sentimental, and her choreography capitalizes on the energy of the minstrel show format, in the process tapping the electricity of her extraordinary cast. Kander & Ebb’s score certainly ranks with their best, showing great range both in pastiche numbers and in songs that form transcendent statements of longing understood by men and women of all colors. David Thompson’s book is effective, but is also so carefully interwoven with the music that it’s hard to know where his work stops and the musical team’s work begins. The cast (most of who appeared in the Off-Broadway production at the Vineyard and in the revised working of the show at the Guthrie in Minneapolis) is uniformly strong and gifted. Joshua Henry, replacing Off-Broadway’s acclaimed Brandon Victor Dixon, makes a strong anchor for the production with his portrayal of Haywood Patterson, an initially illiterate man who spent over twenty years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, eventually dying in prison of cancer but not before he writing his own autobiography, Scottsboro Boy. His singing and his dramatic presence are forceful without ever being forced; in Patterson, he creates a soulful being that we track throughout the evening. Most of the cast have numerous roles in the show within a show, with Christian Dante White and James T. Lane turning in particularly memorable performances as the two white women falsely accusing the young men of rape in order to protect their own reputations. But all nine of the black actors playing “the boys” are remarkable, and each has their own shining moment. The one female in the cast, Sharon Washington, provides a special sense of the outside world—and the women who wait for their young men who are never coming come. In keeping with the minstrel show tradition, there is an emcee of sorts, the Interlocutor, who directs the proceedings with the aid of his comic sidekicks, Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, played by the amazing Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon respectively in breath-taking displays of bravura characterization and rapid costume changes. Asked to portray some of the most outrageous and shocking characters of the evening, neither shies away from doing what must be done, earning our admiration while simultaneously offending the hell out of us. And we are so lucky that John Cullum is still with us, the Southern Gentlemen’s Gentlemen, to play the role of the Interlocutor. One of the most dependable and stalwart Broadway actors of the past five decades, his seemingly effortless performance is pitch-perfect, a dubious moral center for both the madness of the minstrel show and the sad case of the railroaded young men. And hats off to Beowulf Boritt, Toni-Leslie James and Ken Billington for the superb selective details applied to the set, costumes and lighting respectively, always facilitating but never weighing down the show’s powerful forward surge.

I don’t expect the Tea Party will be booking theater parties for this one, and when the show eventually gets a national tour, the South may not roll out its best hospitality. This may well be one of those shows that garner awards and critical praise but that audiences avoid in favor of shows they feel will be more “entertaining” or light-hearted. Some folks prefer being amused over being slightly, if intentionally, disturbed. But for those true theatergoers who like their drama with bitters and a twist, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS proves a most satisfying evening of theater. If this ends up being the last of the Kander and Ebb scores to reach the Great White Way—irony intended!—it truly will mark a valedictory exit.

Opens Sunday, Oct. 31st at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th Street, btwn B’way & 6th Ave. For more information, visit

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Yes, it's campaign time again. Did it ever leave? It seems like campaigners on both sides of the fence lingered on like hungover party guests, unwilling to leave or cede that the "party's over, it's time to call it a day." (Thanks, Comden and Green.) I suppose if you loiter around from one campaign's finish until the next one's start, the "party" never really ends.

The latest screaming point--surprise! surprise!--is once again health care reform. Democrats are pointing to the accomplishments in health care as the cornerstone of their first two years in power, while Republicans are denying any gains in overall benefits to the public and are pushing for a total rollback/repeal if they are restored to their "rightful places."

Just another day in the U.S.A.

Don't the Republicans promising repeal realize that shouting "rewind" without presenting REALISTIC alternate plans arrogantly reveals the issue as one of power? Or that it reveals them to be favoring big business interests over the interests of those they are sworn to represent? And are they cynically counting on the fact that the voters won't do their own thinking, research, reading? (Are they right?)

Once again, it seems demonizing opposition is the sole objective of both parties--versus truly
presenting and exploring valid alternatives, which most folks would be open to hearing. If the Democrats and the Republicans agree on one thing, it's silencing the moderates within their own parties! Discussion and discourse seems to be the last thing they want, and certainly without any better ideas to provide than their current nebulous policies and planks, they don't want to highlight their own lack of answers. It is laziness, combined with cynicism, hate-speech and the very worst kind of rabble-rousing.

It is funny that some of the very people who, say, favor Creationism over Evolution, nonetheless seem to support might is right and the spoils going to the most powerful. We, as a country, are nothing if not ironic.

One plank of John McCain's campaign two years ago (a classic of the Republican health agenda) would allow insurance purchases across state lines for services not covered in a home state. This is apparently one of the few ideas being revived and touted in the Republican's lovely new 5th Grade-level picture book being used as a marketing tool. (Does a picture of the Statue of Liberty or a bald eagle really solve not having enough money to pay for my prescriptions?)

However, the Republicans continually sweep under the rug the reality--that providing said availability doesn't guarantee a lower price. In fact, when any company becomes one of the sole providers of a particular coverage or service or product, the price goes up! It's a basic law of supply-and-demand economics. A similar ploy was made when the Bush administration changed prescription plans for seniors. It's one thing to open the field of opportunities, but if companies have unfettered, unregulated options as to WHAT they choose to offer (based no doubt on what makes them the most money), they won't offer those products that aren't highly profitable to them, regardless of public need--and therefore the drugs most needed will be sold by a handful of companies at the HIGHEST price possible. Once again, the general public is victimized, especially those on fixed incomes. (Free market economies are wonderful--unless your personal buying power gives you no freedom whatsoever.) And if the Republicans did get their way and re-reform the system, while you might be able to PURCHASE said coverage across state lines, that doesn't mean that the medical institutions and practitioners in your home state would have to accept that coverage (which would cost them more in administrative fees and red tape). So once again, the fat cats would win and John Q. Public is left helpless to protect his family.

Another consideration: the parts of the reform bill that have just gone into effect--protecting the public from discrimination for preexisting conditions (especially for children) and allowing families to protect their children longer in this particular (read jobless) high-cost economy, are at the very core of what ANY civilized government should do for its constituency. (Why come together as a group if there is no overall advantage for everyone?) And now that these changes have been enacted, they can't legally be canceled retroactively (unless fraud is proven). So the promises for a total rollback are rhetoric at best.

It is a classic question of who is being served here--the individual American or Corporate America? Time and time again, it has been shown that there IS no trickle down effect of any significance from big industry and big money. The occasional public relations gift of a Gates or a Facebook mini-mogul, while welcome, is merely a drop in the bucket and does not result in more jobs or economic growth. The relative failures of the stimulus plan thus far, according to all indicators, have happened not because profits weren't up but because the tycoons have decided to hoard those profits versus re-investing them into jobs and increased production, thereby short-circuiting the recovery. It is behavior that is obstructionist and, basically, selfish. (A little regulation might have required them to do this kind of reinvestment in exchange for the bailouts and gifts--but no, no, no, we don't want THAT either.)

Once again, the Republicans are pandering to the big corporate interests, in this case the pharmaceutical and medical insurance industries, who helpfully bankroll candidate campaigns but somehow fail to offer aid to average Americans (who are their customers). But then again, the Tea Party, who wants to "take it back for the people," to "return to the way things were"--take a really GOOD look at at their funding sources! It is not the grass roots organization it professes to be. (Nor is it necessarily the true Republican party.)

This is not to say that the Democrats didn't realize setting this week as the time for some of the new health care reforms to kick into effect was advantageous to their cause. The timing, as the campaigns are heating up, is enormously theatrical and surely a political ploy. And the overall lack of transparency as to what is happening in health care and when policies takes effect is appalling--and even more so when such manipulation is used for political gain.

As always, this is not solely an issue of party line or conservatives or liberals being right. But it feels like "Mom" and "Dad" are fighting, with the "kids" being left out--and ultimately suffering the consequences. People only fear true and open discourse either when they think they may find themselves to be wrong or when they are apathetic and would rather delegate then take a stand themselves, later on joining joining a bandwagon of angry protest without having taken on an iota of personal responsibility. Are we as a people incapable of self-critique? Are we as Americans truly unable to come together for the best interests of all? Does protecting basic American rights only mean protection of the its most powerful citizens? Finally, when did intelligent discourse become such a distasteful, "bad" thing?

(Apologies for technical difficulties with edits on this post--wrong buttons pressed, passions over-flowing in the moment, etc. Hopefully it is now reading "respectably." )

Thursday, September 16, 2010


They don't want us to notice.

But have you noticed that the folks who are attacking Obama for being disappointing are actually the same exact folks who fought against his getting in in the first place? Responding vehemently to any idea of his, irregardless of what it was, as wrong and worthy of Hitler?

Like they were ever really open or listening? Like they've changed their minds? Like THEY are disappointed?

They like to create the illusion that people are turning against the President--they foment disenchantment--but they are actually the same opponents he always had!

And they are the same people who keep shouting "We must go back to the way we were, the people we are."

But . . . weren't they the folks who got us into this financial mess anyway?

Many Tea Party folks want to go back to "the way they were" circa 2000--not 1776, when the forefathers wanted to take care of ALL Americans, guaranteeing free speech, freedom of religion, and a welcome to all who wanted a better life. Who, indeed, is more the true American?

Worst of all, these are the people who speak "American values" and yet treat the office of the Presidency and the man who holds it with disrespect unprecedented in American politics.

Are we cured of a decade's worth of policies that sent us into wars, gave tax benefits to the wealthiest few, saw health care costs spiral out of control, and gave the oil companies and the pharmaceutical companies carte blanche? No. Are we recovered from years of unregulated bank activities and unsecured mortgages? Educational systems devastated by massive cuts to arts, physical education and culture? No.

And were we promised these would be cured in less than two years by the incoming President? NO. NEVER. In fact, over and over again he told us that these were not quick cure situations. (No "mission accomplished" stunts going on here.)

And were any attempts to resolve these situations welcomed by the party who lost their majority, putting the good the country before party politics? No.

Interestingly, articles in The Times and The New Yorker continually point out that the folks who are funding the Tea Party movement, the Coalition for America, the Glenn Becks and the Sarah Palins are the very same folk who stand to lose from the policies designed to protect the common man versus the tycoon. Their backing comes from the very folks who thrived while the system was brought to its knees. The Tea Party movement claims to be the party of the little people, but check out their demographics--do you see an America of many races, creeds, economic strata? This is America? Well, maybe it's THEIR America, but there's no sense of US.

Most of all, DO YOU HEAR ANY NEW IDEAS? I continually point out that what I really would welcome is discussion, a sincere sharing of possible solutions. I'm not content with how things are at present, nor do I feel all my concerns are addressed by this administration. I would so welcome good ideas from both sides of the fence. THAT would be constructive. But personal invective is used as a smokescreen. Whoever shouts loudly enough wins . . . right?

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Yes, we live in a lethal, violent age. But have you noticed the exponential increase going on in "skinning"?

Initially, it was done for protection, supposedly for the betterment of the species. But now, it's out of hand!

Everywhere you look, someone is selling "skins"--iPod skins, blackberry skins, laptop skins, cellphone skins! You begin to realize it's as bad as when exotic hunting went wild in the late 19th century (until endangered species laws took hold). Why, I just passed a table on the street with cellphone skins just lying there, so many that they were practically giving them away, they'd created so many! And the skins being traded on the Internet run into the hundreds of thousands--daily! Soon, they'll be just for decoration--like zebra rugs or wall-mounted antlers!

Please, people! These mini electronic devices were born as our friends, for the betterment of society. They mean us no harm. True, if allowed to grow at their current rate, they will overrun the population--people will stop actual live communication as they retreat into an electronic, "virtual" world, obsessed with the latest tweet, text message, or (gulp!) blog. Teens and even fully-grown adults will become so addicted that they cannot put their text devices down for two seconds to give their full attention to those in the room! (Thumb injuries will skyrocket, as will surgeries to repair them--not too mention increased eye damage and "crow's feet" from all the squinting!) But to skin these creatures makes no sense at all and is just plain cruel! The number of silicone particles destroyed alone could feel an entire nation of computer chips!

Have a heart people--stop the thoughtless skinning of defenseless electronic devices! (What, they're not thoughtless? You mean they're using me . . . RIGHT NOW? . . . Quickly, I must alert the

Saturday, August 28, 2010


It always strikes me as ironic that the flag wavers who want to return the country to its "glory days" seem to ignore the very tenets the country was founded upon--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, creating a haven for those fleeing oppression, everyone getting a fair chance. These are the very reasons the forefathers built America. The tea party wants less government, yet complains there's no oversight. They want their own rights protected--but not the rights of others. They talk of Christian values, family values, yet their platform denies help to those less fortunate. They want their stocks, their homes, their jobs and bonuses protected, but see no value in laws or efforts to protect the rights of all--apparently, there is only so much to go around and they want what they deem their share, even if it means that others go without. We are slipping to 12th in the world in terms of college graduation rates, yet this nation cuts back on education constantly: on cultural education, on languages, arts and music--and then they wonder why we're doing so poorly in our test scores! The Tea Party wants to repeal the health care bill when we are the only "civilized" country that does not think it's a government's duty, a society's duty, to take care of all citizens in need. They support the profiling laws of Arizona and are trying to repeal a law fundamental to our founding--that those who are born in America no matter what the circumstances are Americans. Glenn Beck trumpets religious values, yet pushes a selfish and self-centered agenda. Socialism is used as a fear-mongering tactic, while Capitalism is pushed as a God-given right--even though the greed of the past decade that flourished through capitalistic indulgence has brought our economy to wrack and ruin. Any system has its imperfections, to be sure, but somehow, Beck and Palin seem to demonize anything that doesn't give them personal free rein, usually at the expense of others. Co-opting religious and high-road rhetoric is the name of their game. (They even feel entitled to trample on Martin Luther King's historic day for their own political gain.) But in the end, it is scoundrel time.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Being boring has never been popular, to be sure. Brevity is the sole of wit.

Lately, however, it seems that the number of words is of more concern than the quality of the words, the richness of thought. There is no patience for a real exchange of ideas. Being short-spoken is valued over accurately or flavorfully getting a point across. No one has time to talk something through, and intelligent, respectful difference of opinion is dismissed as a waste of time. It seems far more important to find out about Heidi’s divorce from Spencer than to discuss education, drilling for natural gas and oil, healthcare, the economy, art. (Why talk in person at all when we can text each other?)

Surely, there has always been a need to streamline. But the tendency to go for the shortest answer can be short-sided, and worse, lacking in imagination. Don’t ask people to explain themselves. Don’t ask people to read. Don’t ask people to be creative, and for God’s sake DON’T challenge them to do something they think they don’t want to do, even if they don’t know what it is. The resistance to stretching one’s imagination has become the American anathema. We have forgotten how to listen.

Celebrity was never intended to be an art form unto itself and is different than pop culture. PEOPLE magazine, though diverting, should never replace great literature in our society. This is not an unfair swipe at PEOPLE—it was never intended as art. It is mental potato chips, pop corn, a snack for the brain—but it is no substitution for a truly great and nutritious “meal.” Right now, our cultural and educational systems are fostering mental anorexia.

The problem is most prominent in our classrooms. Instead of bringing our youth into adult discussions, we seem to be content reducing our concerns to the lowest common denominator. Attempts to get kids to stretch their minds (taking more patience and time) are discouraged, and if kids whine, fearful of not meeting the task and therefore refusing to do it, we capitulate immediately and stop the activity. We calm them down to stop their whining—which I guess makes it easier for the adults. More time is spent on “classroom management,” finding ways to keep students controlled, docile—usually at the expense of igniting their imaginations, creativity and energy. Certainly, disruption and harmful behavior should be nipped in the bud, and rudeness should never be tolerated. But recognizing where the excitement and noise comes from is essential. It is crucial that children develop the ability to articulate their ideas, their emotions, and their dreams. And for educators, recognizing when the fear of being laughed at is causing a kid to manipulate them into expulsion from the classroom is a skill that must be developed. Kids will say “I’m bored” at the drop of a hat, if they think it will get them out of something they are resisting, especially expressing themselves. If we only let kids explore that which they choose to know, we do them a disservice, for they simply don’t know what they don’t know. They will be managed, perhaps, but they will not be creative individuals.

And national test scores will continue to decline. Those boring old teachers, who used to make us read, write in detail, explain and explore our thoughts? How come American education scores were higher and success stories more prevalent in their generation? It seems the more modern curriculum is streamlined by our latest educational gurus, the worse our education crisis deepens and the more vapid our culture grows. It’s time to start listening again, perhaps most importantly, to what is NOT being said.