Green Book Film is Oscar Worthy Entertainment

My son and I attended an opening weekend showing of the film Green Book. My thirteen-year-old was far and away the youngest person in the crowd, but that’s not surprising given that he has very mature taste for his age. However, what was surprising is that I, a man in my 40s, was the second youngest person in the theater.

Yes the theater was packed to the gills with seniors. And if the quality of the movie is telling of anything, it is that seniors can pick a darn good movie.

My son and I agree that Green Book will be represented in several categories at the Academy Awards. It is a very moving, very entertaining, and very important movie.

The true story film stars Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali and Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen.

Ali plays jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley in the 1960s story. Shirley, a highly dignified Black musicians who lives in an elaborate apartment over Carnegie Hall, is set to embark on a tour through the Deep South. The South was still heavily segregated at this point in history and Dr. Shirley must hire a driver with the street smarts to get him through the dicey pitfalls they will be navigating.

That driver turns out to be Tony Vallelonga, played by Mortensen, an Italian-American bouncer who needs temporary work while the club he works at goes through renovations.

The title of the film, Green Book, comes from a manual that Tony is given by Dr. Shirley’s record label as the they begin their journey. The book is a guide of what establishments serve colored people in each Southern state. Dr. Shirley advises Tony that they will often be staying at different hotels on the tour – the Doc at colored motels and Tony at a white’s only inns.

The existence of such a book and even the need for it is surprising to Tony. As the story unfolds, the deeper south the travelers go, the more and more Tony is astonished at the inequity of races. Doc, a wealthy, educated, famous entertainer can’t even eat at the white’s only establishments he is hired to play at.

Over the course of their journey together, Tony and Dr. Shirley learn about the hidden struggles and stereotypes they each face. And, become better people from that learned understanding.

If Mortensen gets nominated in the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award he will win. If he is nominated in the Best Leading Actor category, he has a shot. Mortensen put on 50 pounds for the role and is very convincing in his role as an Italian-American, despite actually being Danish-American. In my opinion, he is a very underrated actor.

Ali is radiant in his role as piano virtuoso Dr. Don Shirley. As fabulous as he is, I don’t expect an Oscar for Ali, who became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award last year. But he might score a nomination. That is not a dig at Ali’s performance, which is incredible, it just didn’t strike me as an Oscar lock.

I have been a fan of Ali since his performance in the television series The 4400. I always feared that his long unusual name would get in the way of fame for the talented actor, but name be damned he has achieved the highest honors in his field. It’s good to see a truly talented guy be recognized for his skills.

On a scale of one to ten, I give Green Book a solid 9.25. It is a remarkable movie. It features great performances by Mortensen and Ali and shines a light on race relations. Sadly, even today, we face racism at every turn. There has been progress, but not nearly enough.

But, I digress. The subject here is the film Green Book, and my teenage son and I both agree it will be a contender for Best Picture. The best part is, you don’t have to be a senior to enjoy it.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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Creed 2 – Elements of a Champ

The first three Rocky movies were incredible. After that they became enjoyable but not favorites. Too much formula and not enough new territory.

The first Creed movie in 2015, gave birth to a new era of the film series. In that movie, Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son decides to pursue a career in boxing and recruits Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him.

Creed was a really good movie and audiences have been craving a follow up. Well, Creed 2 has arrived, and it is worth seeing.

In this film, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has catapulted to fame and success in the boxing world since the original film.

For those not familiar with Rocky history, in Rocky IV, Former heavy weight boxing champion Apollo Creed is killed in the ring by Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). It then becomes the theme of Rocky needing to avenge his friend’s death by facing off in the ring with Drago in Russia.

Drago is back in Creed 2, and he brings his son Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) with him. Ivan has trained his son Viktor his whole life to be an unstoppable monster in the ring.  A promoter sees the dollar signs around the idea of a son versus son grudge match in the ring, Adonis versus Viktor.

What entails is rather formula at this point in the Rocky series. There is not a lot of originality to the film, but it’s a feel good one just the same.

The biggest flaw in Creed 2 is how Jordan plays the character. Rocky was always a likable hero. In Creed 2, Adonis is a bit of a dick. Yes, it gives him room to change as a part of the storyline. However, it makes it hard to root for him.

The supporting performances by Stallone and Lundgren are very enjoyable. It’s always fun to see an actor return to a role after many years away. The last time these two actors faced off in these roles was in 1985.

Tessa Thompson turns in an endearing performance as Adonis’ love interest, and Phylicia Rashad is a near perfect in her role as Apollo’s widow and Adonis’ adoptive mother.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Creed 2 earns a respectable 7.

Peace. Love. Trust.

The Influence of a Smurf

I don’t know about you, but when I was a little kid one of my favorite things to do was watch the Saturday Morning Cartoons. I’m giving away my age by saying this but remember this was back when there were only a handful of television stations. We didn’t have cartoon specialty channels like you have today with cable, streaming, dish, and on-demand options.

Back then you couldn’t just decide “hey, I want to watch some cartoons” and have that wish come true. So, we kids would wait all week for the joys of Saturday Morning Cartoons. We would binge watch such “quality” cartoons as Alvin and the Chipmunks, Dennis the Menace, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, Muppet Babies, The Scooby and Scrappy Show, Richie Rich, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

One of my favorite shows to watch on Saturday mornings was The Smurfs. Even those of you who weren’t alive and kicking in the 1980s are probably still familiar with The Smurfs thanks to the Neil Patrick Harris/ Hank Azaria live action film in 2011 and its sequel in 2013.

But for those of you who were stranded on Gilligan’s Island without access to films and television, I’ll give you a brief rundown on smurfology.

The Smurfs are tiny little humanoids with blue skin, standing no taller than 3 inches in height in the cartoons and 7.5 inches high in the films. Their entire wardrobe for male Smurfs is comprised of white pants and white hats. Smurfette, the lone female Smurf, is the only Smurf with her chest covered – wearing a white dress.

The Smurfs live in a village of mushroom houses hidden in the forest. A human wizard named Gargamel is obsessed with the Smurfs. Every episode of the cartoon series involved Gargamel and his cat Azrael hunt for the little blue creatures in hopes of cooking and eating them.

Each of the Smurfs had their own stereotyped personality. Brainy Smurf is the smartest in the village, Clumsy Smurf is uncoordinated and prone to accidents, Grouchy Smurf is always angry…the list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

Not only did I watch The Smurfs every Saturday morning, like many of my friends, I also collected the little action figures marketed at toy stores. I had quite the collection, and even made a stop action animated movie using them in 5th grade.

Recently my mother found some of my old Smurf figures while packing up her home to move, and she sent them to me. When I opened the package my mother had sent, I almost hit the floor. There staring up at me was the answer to a question I’d be plagued with for years.

You see, I got my first tattoo when I was 21. It consists of a heart and dagger. I’d envisioned that tattoo design for as long as I could remember. I realized that the dagger came from admiration for the tattoo of one of my favorite wrestlers – Shawn Michaels. Where the heart came from, I never had an answer for. That is until I opened my mother’s package.

Hefty Smurf – the hero strongman of the clan – was always my favorite. His figurine was included in the package my mother sent. Pulling him out of the box I saw the heart tattoo on his shoulder, and it finally clicked. My childhood love of Hefty Smurf had inspired my tattoo!

I had no idea that The Smurfs had that kind of deep inspiration for me. Talk about an odd inspiration. But hey, we don’t choose who or what sparks a fire in us. We just have to honor that admiration and go with it. (Just for the record not all of my idols are Smurfs and wrestlers. Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Paul Newman are just a few of my other idols.)

I have a few other tattoos – and they each had their own inspirations. While I may or may not get any more tattoos, if I do I doubt it will be Smurf-inspired. I think most people can agree one Smurf tattoo is enough.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Powerful Voices Make “Little Women” a Must See

Little Women began as a coming of age novel by Louisa May Alcott based on the author’s own family’s loves and losses during the Civil War. In the book, the March sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy deal with life alone with their mother while their father is away serving as a chaplain in the army. The title Little Women is drawn from the Dickensian meaning in which the story represents where childhood and womanhood overlap.

The book was originally published 150 years ago and has remained popular to this day, never having gone out of print.

A stage musical adaptation premiered on Broadway in 2005. Now TownSquare Players has brought that musical to life on the Woodstock Opera House stage.

The character of Jo is based on Alcott herself – a young woman who desires to become a professional writer. Meg, the oldest daughter, manages the house while the girls’ mother is away. Beth is quiet, gentle, and sweet. Amy is the youngest of the sisters and is obsessed with keeping the appearance of being a proper young lady.

In the TownSquare Players production, Jessica Dawson plays the central character of Jo. Dawson has been a staple of local theater for years, but typically in supporting roles. Here, given the chance to carry the show, she provides a simply amazing performance. As a singer, Dawson’s voice is extraordinarily powerful yet beautiful. As an actress, Dawson commands the stage with seasoned expertise. It is a performance not to be missed.

The mother of the March clan, referred to as Marmee – a derivative of “mommy” – is played with command and exquisiteness by Tania Joy. Like Dawson, Joy can fill the theater with the emotion and dominance in her voice.

Emily Joelle Robles plays eldest sister Meg, and does so with grace and aplomb. Ariella Simandl as Beth is soft and quiet and gentle – the sister that no one can help but love. In the role of Amy, the youngest of the brood, Larisa Bell is simply magnificent – going from a precocious self-centered child, to a mature woman of the world. All of the sister have fine singing voices. Rounding out the women in the cast is Christi Nicholson as the sisters’ wealthy Aunt March who makes the most of her time on stage.

Even though Little Women is not a “dance” show, choreographer Maggie McCord does a great job keeping the action and movement interesting. Music Director Rosemarie Liotine-Aiello has sculpted both the onstage singers and pit orchestra into things of beauty. Director Roger Zawacki deserves ample credit for casting and staging a magnificent musical that brings the classic book to life in a believable and entertaining fashion.

Of course the cast is not limited to little women. Men play a vital part of the story in supporting roles. Ethan Sherman is in fine form as Laurie, a close friend and honorary member of the March family. Alex Fayer provides an effectively subdued interpretation of Professor Bhaer, confidant to Jo when she moves to New York to try to sell her stories. John Barnett is the epitome of the classic leading man as Mr. John Brooke. Chris Griffin embodies the bitter old man neighbor to the March sisters, Mr. Laurence.

Special praise also goes out to costume designer Teagan Anderson who created many of the costumes from scratch. Kudos to producers Kathryn McCord and Sieglinde Savas, and Assistant Director/Stage Manager Thomas Neumann for their contributions to the creation of this brilliant piece of entertainment.

All in all, TownSquare Players’ Little Women – The Musical is a definite hit and the standing ovation the cast received on opening night is well deserved.

Little Women – The Musical plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 18 at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren Street on the Historic Woodstock Square). Standard seating is affordably priced at $18-$25. Student and Senior discounts are available. For ticket information call the Woodstock Opera House box office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.

One Singular Sensation –Emotionally Charged ‘A Chorus Line’ Entertains and Captivates at Metropolis

A Chorus Line has been a staple of the theater community since it’s Broadway premier in 1975. The production centers on seventeen aspiring and veteran dancers competing for one of eight spots in the chorus line of a Broadway show.

Featuring music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, A Chorus Line is now playing at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

The Metropolis production of A Chorus Line totally captivates the audience with the emotionally charged desires of each performer battling for a spot on the line, as well digging into the psyches of each dancer – their demons, their aspirations, and their humanity.

Of the seventeen dancers vying for a job, there is not a weak link in the bunch. All are breathtakingly good singers, dancers, and actors.

Daniel Hurst, as Mike, stands out in his number “I Can Do That” early in the show in which he tells how he became a dancer thanks to his sister not wanting to go to her dance classes, so he went in her place. Hurst is one of the strongest dancers on the line.

“At the Ballet” is the most impressive number vocally, thanks to the talents of Kara Schoenhofer as Sheila, Sara Haverty as Bebe, and Laura Sportiello as Maggie. The emotional song tells of unhappy childhoods leading to dance as an outlet.

Also standing out in the show is the song “Nothing,” sung brilliantly by Jessica Miret as Diana Morales. In the song, the character reflects on a bully of an acting teacher in her youth.

A Chorus Line is not without its comedic moments. Mollyanne Nunn, as Val, has the audience in stitches with her number “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” in which she touts the benefits of plastic surgery. To her credit Nunn uses posture and body language throughout the show to reinforce her character – even when she’s not talking.

While the Metropolis production of A Chorus Line features stellar songs and amazing dances thanks to music director Kenneth McMullen and choreographer Christie Kerr; director Robin M. Hughes ensures that the monologues by each performer are equally compelling. We truly get to know each character.

Luke Halpern in the role of Paul masterfully captivates the audience with his dialog about sexual abuse he faced as a child, and the tragic way his parents found out he was gay.

Keeping the show moving is the job of Zach, the director that the characters are trying to impress to land a role on Broadway. Zach is well played by Brian Kulaga.

Also deserving mention is Casiena Raether as Cassie – a one-time rising star now so in need of a job, she is willing to accept a role in the chorus. Of course the question is, can Cassie tone down heir flair and be a member of a balanced line?

Rounding out the incredibly talented ensemble are Jordan Beyeler (Kristine), Chi-Jou Cheng (Connie), Lars Ebsworth (Butch), Sabrina Edwards (Judy), Madelyne Forrester (Tricia), Hannah Griffith (Vicki), Dan Hamman (Al), Joseph Kuchey (Greg), Ivory Leonard IV (Richie), Ben F. Locke (Mark), Connor McGarry (Tom), Joshua A. Peterson (Frank), Nick Schrier (Larry), Lance Spencer (Bobby), Thomas E. Squires (Roy), Kaleb Van Rijswijck (Don), and Amanda Zgonina (Lois).

Metropolis is committed to bringing first class entertainment to the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Located in the heart of Arlington Heights at 111 West Campbell Street, Metropolis is conveniently reached by car or Metra. There is free on-street and garage parking.

A Chorus Line plays Thursdays, Fridays, Saturday, and Sundays through November 3. Evening performances are Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 PM, matinees are Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 PM.

For tickets contact the Metropolis Box Office at (847) 577-2121 or visit www.MetropoisArts.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.

West Side Story 2019 – Will the Spielberg Remake Measure Up?

I make no secret of the fact that West Side Story is my favorite musical. In fact, I’ve performed on stage in over 20 different productions of the musical.

A retelling of the Romeo & Juliet story conceived by William Shakespeare, West Side Story depicts racial charged teen gang violence in the 1950s on New York’s upper west side. In the story Tony and Riff are blood brothers who start the primarily white Jets gang. Bernardo heads up the Sharks – a rival gang made up of all Puerto Rican teens.

In a chance meeting Tony falls for Bernardo’s younger sister Maria. He doesn’t realize she is Puerto Rican, and she doesn’t realize he is not. Their forbidden love affair sparks an already charged race war between the Jets and Sharks.

Back in there early 1990s when I was still young enough to play a teenager, there was a rumor that Steven Spielberg was going to direct a movie re-make of West Side Story. I was sure I would be in the running to play one of the leads – Tony, Riff, or Bernardo. I had successfully played all three characters on stage to rave reviews and figured I would be a natural fit for the film remake.

Ultimately it turned out to be just a rumor, and I continued in my stage career playing teenage gang members who could sing and dance.

Finally in 2018, there was an official announcement that Steven Spielberg would indeed be producing a remake of the film and was embarking on a nationwide hunt for talent.

Of course, I can no longer believably play a teenager. Maybe I could still get away with it on stage, but definitely not on film. Maybe, I figure, I could now play one of the adults in the Spielberg film. I’ll be sure to have my agent submit me for Lt. Shrank – the hardnosed cop dead set on curbing the gang violence.

Recently the first casting of the film was announced: Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, The Fault in Our Stars) has been signed to play the male lead Tony in the 2019 Spielberg film. I’ll be interested to see how he does.

I love the original movie version of West Side Story that starred Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Rita Moreno as Anita, and George Chakiris as Bernardo. The film was directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Robbins conceived the Broadway musical with Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents. A young Stephen Sondheim provided the lyrics. Robbins also choreographed the piece.

My one problem with the movie, and with most stage productions I have seen, is that Tony is played as a wishy washy whimp – not the tough as nails gang leader that is depicted in the script.

The truth is, I never wanted to play the role of Tony – that is, not until I saw a production starring Greg Kohout as Tony, directed by Diana Martinez. Finally, an actor was playing the role the way it needed to be played to make the violence make sense. I immediately fell in love with the character of Tony and played the role countless times – always with a characterization inspired by Kohout and Martinez.

It is my sincere hope that Spielberg and Elgort embark on this type of characterization for the new movie. At 6’3 Elgort has the size to be an intimidating gang leader, now it all depends on how the director decides he should play the role.

The original 1961 West Side Story was a near perfect film. It won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Spielberg and company will be hard pressed to top the original, but as a fan of the musical I most certainly hope the 2019 version will be just as good.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

Exercise Your Right to Vote

It is a scary time in United States politics.

We have a President who the majority of voters did not support.

We have a newly appointed Supreme Court Justice who the majority of citizens did not support.

We have a tax bill that only benefits the upper 1% of Americans, and not the majority of tax payers.

We have trade wars that the majority of citizens do not support and have done irreparable harm to American businesses and farmers alike.

We have a Senate that does not represent the interests of the majority of voters, but rather caters to the whims of the Russian puppet serving in the highest office.

Our government is in crisis. A small minority of elitists are running this country pandering to the interests of big business and evangelicals, not the interests of the majority of U.S. citizens.

These are facts. They are irrefutable.

Remember this is how the Nazi Party took over Germany.

Hitler’s Nazis were not in the majority. They were a minority….a very vocal minority, but a minority just the same.

They took power by attacking the free press, attacking minorities, and preaching hate disguised as nationalism.

Donald Trump behaves the same way. He spews hatred, attacks the free press, and blames all of America’s perceived problems on minorities and immigrants. He calls Nazi’s “good people” and endorses racists and rapists while openly making fun of disabled people, sexual assault victims, war heroes, families of fallen soldiers, and minorities.

There is a system of checks and balances that is supposed to keep a minority from taking over government.

We have the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. This is to ensure that no one branch of government can act without recourse.

The problem is, our Senate and House of Representatives are not standing up to a corrupt President. In fact, voting against the interests of the people to gain favor with this corrupt President. And, what we have just seen is the lifetime appointment of a rapist and liar to the Supreme Court.

So what can we do?

The answer is that we need to vote in the November 6 elections. Everyone needs to exercise your right to vote. The stakes are to high not to.

Take the power away from the con artists and corrupt politicians using office to line their own pockets and perpetuate their own racial and religious biases that don’t represent the interests of the people of the United States of America.

“Make America Great Again” is a nice slogan. But in the hands of people who use such words to run a con game on the American people, they are nothing more than an empty promise, as meaningless as the Made in China MAGA hats Trump hawks for personal profit.

I applaud celebrities like Taylor Swift who have come forward to encourage people to vote with a conscience.

Let’s take back our government. Let’s stand up for woman’s rights to govern their own bodies. Let’s stand up for investing in public education. Let’s stand up for affordable healthcare. Let’s stand up for LGBTQ rights. Let’s stand up for racial equality.

Vote like your life depends on it, because it is the life of our country itself that is in the throws of a hostile takeover.

We need to rescue America. We can do it together. Vote.

Peace. Love. Trust.