Dare to Compare Not Always the Best Choice

I recently heard from a good friend of mine. Over the past ten years, his career has blossomed. He has the job he always wanted, with very little compromise.

Meanwhile, I have not been so lucky. In 2008 I was diagnosed with mental illness and it was deemed that because of the extreme nature of my disability I would no longer be able to work a full-time position.

You see, I have good days and bad days. On the good days, I have flashes of the old me wherein I can accomplish things very few others have the talent, intelligence, or drive to succeed at. On the bad days, I am in a corner crying for hours on end or talking to imaginary people. Or worse. Traditional workplaces don’t really tolerate these kinds of challenges.

I am happy that my friend has succeeded in life. I truly am. But in comparison, some would say that in the eyes of the world I am a failure. And that depressed me.

I took this quandary of emotions with me to my therapist appointment. In her observation, it seems that my self-esteem isn’t what it once was. I am no longer the cocky SOB who once was on the cusp of greatness.

My therapist offered up the notion that despite my disabilities, I have accomplished a lot. And, perhaps those accomplishments are just as meaningful as those of my successful friend because of the very fact that I have done them despite fighting multiple debilitating disabilities.

Since my diagnosis in 2008, I have tried not to let life pass me by.

As a writer, I have had two books published since 2008: Blood Lust (a Hollywood vampire novel) and Unbecoming Travolta (a memoir). Including my 2002 Amazon Top 10 Recommended My Fractured Life novel, that makes three books published in total. Further, my screenplays have been finalists in several prestigious screenwriting competitions.

As a singer and songwriter, I have released my third album in 2019 – Man on Fire.

As an actor, I have shot several films and starred in a number of highly touted stage productions that earned me two Best Actor nominations in the annual Broadway World Theatrical Awards.

As a communicator, I host a popular weekly radio show focused on the entertainment industry.

And, as a theatrical creator I have founded and grown It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley.

When I look at those accomplishments on paper, I see where my therapist is coming from. There’s a lot of meat on those bones. But there’s a difference between how the logical mind and the emotional mind process things.

A part of me will always be the child that was told he was fat, ugly, stupid, and untalented. A part of me will always mourn being abandoned by my father at the age when a boy needs one the most.  A part of me will always carry a dark scar on my soul from being molested – once by a family friend and twice by strangers.

Those traumas aren’t conducive to developing a good self-esteem. So, my natural inclination is always going to be to see myself as unworthy of greatness. With that kind of predisposed mindset, I will always struggle to give myself credit for my accomplishments.

My friend who has his dream job is a great person. He is smart, creative, loyal, and moral. I applaud his success, as I know he would mine had the shoe been on the other foot.

But maybe, I’m not the disappointment that my subconscious says I am.  Maybe some of the things I’ve been able to do despite my challenges are impressive in their own right. Maybe, at least, I get points for trying.

Comparing yourself to others is not always the best thing to do. Instead, focus on your positives. That’s a good lesson to learn. I think I’m going to have to study that lesson a little more.

I can’t change the fact that I am disabled. My mind doesn’t work the way that others’ minds do. But I can continue to strive to be the best that I can be – not the best in comparison to others, but the best in comparison to myself.

And who knows? Maybe I can even be an inspiration to other disabled people – people with challenges like mine, or even greater than mine. There is no reason a disabled person can’t be a role model.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

 

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The Legend of Jerry Lee Lewis

I recently saw an amazing stage production of Million Dollar Quartet, which gives a fictionalized account of the night Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all jammed together at Sun Records in 1956.

The gentleman playing Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat Zegree, was awe-inspiring in his performance…absolutely breath taking.

This prompted me to want to revisit the 1989 film Great Balls of Fire! for a more in-depth look at the life of “The Killer”.

The film stars Dennis Quaid as Lewis and Winona Rider as his 13-year old cousin/bride Myra Gail Brown.

I now realize why I haven’t been tempted to revisit the movie since seeing it in the theater in 1989. It is truly awful.

The film is based on the biography of Myra Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis’ child bride. However, she has denounced the film for being historically inaccurate. In her book, Myra paints Jerry Lee as a dangerous man who has had two of his seven wives die in unusual circumstances. In the film he is more like a harmless comic book character.

Director Jim McBride admitted he never intended to offer an authentic view of Jerry Lee Lewis, preferring instead to employ Jerry Lee as a consultant on the film and creating a white washed romantic comedy.

Rider actually does do a great job as Myra. In fact, most of the actors turn in fine performances. However, it is Quaid the ruins the movie.

Let me be clear, I am a Dennis Quaid fan. So, it pains me to criticize his performance. But there is just no way around the fact that his cartoonish over acting ruins the film.

This portrayal might have worked if the rest of the cast also played their characters as cartoons. But with Quaid the only one chewing the scenery, the stark contrast in acting approaches is obvious.

I would love to see a movie about Jerry Lee Lewis that sticks closer to the facts of his troublesome life. I hope that when a producer eventually decides to make a new and accurate movie about The Killer, they won’t make the mistake of just doing a remake of Great Balls of Fire.

Lewis was a great musician in his time, but he was no hero when it comes to how he treated other.

I invite you to listen to some of Lewis’ early recordings like Whole Lotta Shaking Going On, Great Balls of Fire, and High School Confidential. But when it comes to the Dennis Quaid movie, you can do without.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Fox Creates Something New with RENT Live

When FOX aired Grease Live in 2016, I was offended that it was a scene-for-scene imitation of the 1978 John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. The Broadway show is a different animal than the film, and I was hoping that Grease Live would forge new ground by capturing the elements left out of 1978 film that make the Broadway show so good.

Fast forward to 2019 and FOX airs RENT Live. We already had the 2005 Christopher Columbus film featuring most of the original Broadway cast. We also had RENT – Filmed Live on Broadway, providing a true reflection of the magic of the stage version.

The anticipation for what version of Rent we would be seeing on FOX built right up until the program aired.

RENT Live is its own animal. It didn’t mimic the stage show. It didn’t mimic the theatrical movie. It was an entity all by itself and that I applaud and will highly recommend grabbing the DVD or Blu-ray when it comes out.

The story is loosely based on the opera La Boheme. It focuses on a group of young starving artists who exist as squatters, while many are trying to find out how to live with AIDs.

Among the fresh aspects of the television event is the remarkable set. The set is what amounts to a whole city block for New York’s Alphabet City. There are multiple building and sidewalks. It is an entire RENT city.

That’s when I realized I would be remiss if I was to compare RENT Live to any of the other versions. Interestingly enough the director for RENT Live was Michael Grief, the man who directed the original Broadway production. His co-director Alex Rudzinski played a pivotal part in both Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert and Grease Live

Jordan Fisher is an interesting choice to play Mark – the would-be journalist who documents the story of his closest friends living with HIV. The role is scripted as a bookish Jewish young man. Jordan Fisher is black. Despite the fact that I have never personally met a black Jew, they certainly do exist, so I didn’t let that aspect of the casting hold me up from liking Fisher.

Fisher does an excellent job in the role. He has a personable personality, and a fine singing voice. Most impressive with his delivery is that he sang the role as written. Many of the other cast spent too much time doing unneeded riffs in their delivery.

My only complaint about Fisher is his age. Fisher appears to be in his late teens or early twenties. By contrast, his best friend and roommate Roger (played by Brennin Hunt) looks to be in his mid-thirties, and his ex-girlfriend Maureen (played by Vanessa Hudgens) also appears to be in her thirties.

Hunt’s Roger is a brooding rebel would-be rock star. Hunt is a good singer and a great guitar player, but I thought his take on the character was too one dimensional – either angry or angrier. Not much in else.

As Tom Collins, a quirky adjunct college professor who offers teaching such as Actual Reality, Brandon Victor Dixon does a stellar job. The real test for this role is the delivery of the reprise of I’ll Cover You, and Dixon passes that test with nary a dry eye in the audience.

The villain of the story is Benjamin Coffin III. He lived with Roger and Mark in poverty, but when he got lucky and married into wealth, he becomes a clear Republican obsessed with money and uncaring about people. R&B singer Mario is very effective in the role.

Also crossing platforms from the world of R&B music to the Rent stage is Tinashe, who fills the role of Mimi Marquez a young exotic dancer who becomes Roger’s girlfriend.

The only really bad casting was that of Valentina as Angel Dumott Schunard. Despite being a drag queen herself as documented on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Valentina is too old for the role, and sang it miserably. The only excuse for singing that bad in a show with a budget as big as Rent Live would be if it turned out the singer had laryngitis….and even then you’d wonder why they didn’t send in the understudy.

The supporting role of street performer and protest stager Maureen is Rent Live’s big-name celebrity – Vanessa Hudgens. The role is an unforgiving one, as it must deliver the song Over the Moon. Jonathan Larson was a great composer, but not every song is going to be great. There were a great number of songs in the original workshop performances that did not make it into the final version to premier on Broadway. I think if Larson had not died before Rent made it to Broadway, this would be the one song that probably would have been rewritten or replaced.

So how does Hudgens fair? She did the best she could with the role. Her take was to be sinfully playful and oblivious to her own short comings. It’s not the choice many actresses have made in the past with the role, but it works for Hudgens. She is always a joy to see perform. I think she is simply fantastic.

As Maureen’s girlfriend Joanne, Kiersey Clemons is every bit the role. As Joanne, she isn’t as attractive as some others so she gets insanely jealous when she sees Maureen flirting with more beautiful girls. Yet in terms of determination and intelligence, Joanne is the smartest of the bunch. Clemons portrays these subtleties of the character brilliantly.

Overall, I really enjoyed the live television event.

Heck, they even found a way to slip Keala Settle into the ensemble – a true treat! I fell in love with Settle’s powerful and expressive voice when I first saw her in the movie The Greatest Showman.

The way the creative staff and cast accomplished creating something new makes seeing RENT Live worth it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I give RENT Live a 7.75.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

Top 10 Hair Metal Bands

You have Heavy Metal, you have Thrash Metal, you have Speed Metal, you have Death Metal….but out of all the types of metal music there are, were, and will be, Hair Metal holds a place near and dear in my heart.

Hair Metal requires just as much musical talent as any music style, but add to that the importance of good looks (usually requiring lots of hair spray) and a flamboyant onstage routine that oozes sexuality.

 

10) Mötley Crüe is one of the most well-known hair metal bands. Founded by bassist Nikki Sixx in 1981, the band consists of Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee, lead singer Vince Neil, and lead guitarist Mick Mars. One of the famed hair metal bands to come out of the Los Angeles club scene of the 1980s, the band has sold over 100 million records worldwide. Their records include Shout at the Devil; Theatre of Pain; Girls, Girls, Girls; and Dr. Feelgood. Aside from their radio friendly music, the band was well known for their insatiable thirst for alcohol and drugs – however the band has since found sobriety. The band performed for the last time at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on December 31, 2015, stating it will never tour again. However, the band is currently back together recording music for the biopic Dirt about the band’s years on the Sunset Strip.

9) White Lion was formed in New York in 1983 by Danish vocalist Mike Tramp. Tramp was the quintessential hair metal front man with good looks and an endless tenor voice. Surrounding Tramp were lead guitarist Vito Bratta, drummer Greg D’Angelo, and bassist James LoMenzo. Musically White Lion was one of the most gifted on the hair metal circuit, scoring hits with Wait and When the Children Cry, but aside from Tramp, their looks were subpar which hurt them in this era of music videos being the primary selling tool to young girls who made up most of their target audience.

8) Skid Row was formed in 1986 in New Jersey and released their self-titled first album in 1989. The band at that time consisted of bassist Rachel Bolan, guitarists Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill, drummer Rob Affuso, and vocalist Sebastian Bach. Although Bach has proven to be one of the biggest assholes in rock, in terms of sheer vocal talent there will probably never be another as gifted as him. Skid Row scored hits with 18 and Life and I Remember You. Bach has since left the band and they have continued with different singers over the years. There are no plans for Bach to reunite with the band.

7) Van Halen is another very well-known hair metal bands. Named for lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen and drummer Alex Van Halen, the band added vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony in 1974. The band initially played dates in Pasadena and Hollywood where they were discovered by Gene Simmons of Kiss fame. Simmons produced a demo of Van Halen, but couldn’t get album or management interest for the band. In 1977 the band impressed Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Brothers Records and they were signed to a recording contract. Roth, long known for his ego, departed the band in 1985. Some accounts indicate Roth was fired, others propose Roth left the band to concentrate on his solo career. Sammy Hagar replaced Roth in the band from 1986-1996. With Hagar in the band, Van Halen scored number one hits, something that eluded the band under Roth’s days as front man. Gary Cherone of Extreme replaced Hagar in 1996 and stayed with the band until parting ways amicably in 1999. Hagar returned to the band in 2003 and stayed in the lineup though 2005. Roth rejoined the group in 2007 and has remained with the band through present day. Bassist Anthony was ceremonially replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang Van Halen without explanation in 2006.

6) Joker is a Chicago-based hair metal band with a sound that can best be described as Journey meets Warrant. Joker release their debut album on indie label Red Light Records in 1989. The band’s lineup consisted of Tony Ingala on vocals, Joey Miroballi and Nick Sikich on guitar, Brian Smolar on bass, and Matt Stone on drums. The band recorded a sophomore album, Cool Deal, that was to be distributed by BMG Music on the Zoo Entertainment label in 1992. The album was produced by Gary Loizzo (REO Speedwagon, Styx). Unfortunately for the band, BMG and Zoo opted not to release the album due to feelings that the hair metal era was coming to a close. The band reformed in 2017 as Pavement Entertainment decided to finally release the Cool Deal album. It is one of my favorite albums in the genre.

5) Warrant formed in Hollywood in 1984. Featuring a lineup of guitarist Erik Turner, vocalist Adam Shore, drummer Max Asher, guitarist Josh Lewis, and bassist Jerry Dixon. After lead vocalist Jani Lane , guitarist Joey Allen, drummer Steven Sweet joined the band in 1986, they landed their first recording contact with Columbia Records in 1988. Their debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich featured such hits as Heaven, Sometimes She Cries, and Down Boys. To support the album, Warrant toured with such bands as Poison and Mötley Crüe, The band released their sophomore album, Cherry Pie in 1990. The album featured such songs as Cherry Pie, Blind Faith, and I Saw Red. A 1992 release, Dog Eat Dog, received critical acclaim but only moderate sales. In 1994 Lane left the band to start a solo career and Columbia dropped the band from its roster. After reuniting with the band for several years, Lane quit the band again in 2004. Lane died of acute alcohol poisoning in 2011. Robert Mason has been the vocalist of the band since 2008.

4) Dan Reed Network is a lessor known hair metal band hailing from the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR). Mixing funk with metal, the band released a six track EP, Breathless, that attracted major label interest leading to a recording contract with Mercury Records.  The band’s lineup included Reed on guitar and vocals, Brion James on guitar, Melvin Brannon II on bass, Dan Pred on drums, and Blake Sakamoto on keybords. Landing a four-star review from Rolling Stone Magazine, the band opened for such bands as Bon Jovi and The Rolling Stones. Subsequent albums include Slam and The Heat. While the band achieved great success in Europe, poor marketing in the U.S. prevented the band from gaining fame and success in the states. The band reunited in 2016 to release the album Fight Another Day, with Rob Daiker replacing Sakamoto on keys.

3) Guns n’ Roses was formed in Hollywood in 1985 and was signed to Geffen Records in 1986. The lineup featured vocalist Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler. Their albums include Appetite for Destruction, G N R Lies, Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, and The Spaghetti Incident. Eventually all members except for Rose departed the band – some fired, some quit. Rose leaked word that Guns n’ Roses would be releasing a new album entitled Chinese Democracy  in 1994. However, the album (featuring only Rose of the original lineup) wasn’t completed until 2008 and was critically panned. Slash and McKagan rejoined the band in 2015 for the Not in this Lifetime tour. GNR’s hits include Welcome to the Jungle, It’s So Easy, Paradise City, My Michelle, Sweet Child of Mine, Patience, Used to Love Her, Civil War, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, and Get in the Ring.

2) Poison may not have the musical chops of some of the other popular Hair Metal bands on the list, but they embody everything that attracted teenage girls to scream allegiance and buy over 45 million albums worldwide. In many circles they are The band was formed in 1983 in Mechanisburg, Pennsylvania under then name Paris. The lineup consisted of lead vocalist Bret Michaels, guitarist Matt Smith, bassist Bobby Dall, and drummer Rikki Rockett. To further their careers, the band relocated to Los Angeles and changed their name to Poison. In 1986, guitarist Smith returned home to PA and was replaced by C.C. DeVille. The band was signed to Enigma Records and released the breakthrough album Look What the Cat Dragged In in that same year. The album spawned the hits Talk Dirty to Me, I Want Action, and I Won’t Forget You and became the highest selling album on the Enigma label. Their follow up album Open Up and Say Ahh peaked at Number 2 on the American music charts. The album included the Number 1 single Every Rose Has Its Thorn 1990 saw the release of Poison’s third album, Flesh & Blood. The multi-platinum album spawned several hits including Unskinny Bop and Something to Believe In. Clashing personalities led to the dismissal of DeVille from the band in 1993, replaced by Richie Kotzen. Kotzen didn’t last long. When it was discovered he was having an affair with Rockett’s fiancé, Kotzen was fired and replaced by Blues Saraceno. DeVille was then brought back into the band in 1996. Although new music has slowed, they continue to sell out concert tours.  They are one of the all time greatest party bands.

1) Bon Jovi has been making hit records since 1983 to the present. The original lineup consisted of singer Jon Bon Jovi, keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, guitarist Phil X, and bassist Hugh McDonald. After scoring a hit with the single Runaway, the band went through some lineup changes consisting of Richie Sambora on lead guitar and Alec John Such on bass. The band enjoyed huge success with the 1986 release Slippery When Wet which included the hit singles You Give Love a Bad Name, Living on a Prayer, and Wanted Dead or Alive. The album spent eight weeks at Number 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 Chart. New Jersey in 1988 proved another hit album for the band including such singles as Bad Medicine, I’ll Be There for You, Born to Be My Baby,  and Lay Your Hands on Me. Subsequent albums include Keep the Faith, These Days, Crush, Bounce, Have a Nice Day, Lost Highway, The Circle, What About Now, Burning Bridges, and This House is Not For Sale. Hugh McDonald returned to the bass for the band in 1994. Phil X formally replaced Sambora on lead guitar in 2016 after Sambora left the group. Year after year, decade after decade Bon Jovi has supplied a stead stream of hits including cross-genre hit Who Says You Can’t Go Home which peaked at Number 1 on the Country Charts. Every album has shown growth and adaptation to new music trends. Ironically they earn the top slot of the Top Ten Hair Metal Bands by not staying in the Hair Metal genre, but by constantly keeping their sound relevant.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

 

Joker is Back on the Scene – and I Couldn’t be Happier!

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a truly great band named JOKER dominated the Chicago music scene. Their self-titled album on Red Light Records was a smash full of hooks. Even better was their next album Cool Deal. However, because of issues between Red Light Records and distributer Zoo Entertainment/BMG it was only released in Japan.

Because of music industry connections, I had a copy of Cool Deal and it is just as good if not better than any album by POISON, JOURNEY, or WARRANT.  But without the mainstream release of Cool Deal, Joker fell by the wayside and they disbanded.

Fast forward 20 years. I just found out that Joker has reformed with all the original members. The band features charismatic front man Tony Ingala, dynamic guitarists Joey Miroballi and Nick Sikich, brilliantly talented bass player Brian Smolar, and heavy hitting drummer Mike Stone.

And, through their new label Pavement Entertainment, Joker’s Cool Deal album is finally getting the U.S. release it has long deserved.

You can order the album and find out about upcoming shows through the band’s new website www.JokerChicago.com. You can also follow the band on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JokerBandChicago/.

Joker is a band that could have been just as big as Poison, Warrant, or Motley Crue. Their songs are laden with hooks. Many songs feature four or five-part harmonies. They had the talent and the looks to hit the big time. Politics just got in the way.

It’s good to see the guys back together. I can’t wait to catch a live show. I’m sure they will be just as powerful and engaging as they were 20 years ago.

Do yourself a favor. If you can catch a show – go for it. You won’t be disappointed. And, pick up the album Cool Deal while you’re at it. It’s good stuff.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Top 10 Movie Musicals of All Time

Top 10 Lists are all the rage, and I’m not one to be left out of the epicenter of trends. So, I’ve put together my list of the Top 10 Movie Musicals of All Time. Some of them are classics, some are modern masterpieces, and some you might not even have heard of. As a career star of musical theater and the host of a popular weekly radio show on movie, television, and film musicals, I have some degree of “expertise” in musicals – but a knowledge of the genre doesn’t necessarily mean my taste is “right”. My hope is that if this list does anything, it makes you think about and share with the world your own favorites.

 

10) The Sound of Music – is a 1965 American movie musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical of the same name. It was produced and directed by Robert Wise. Based on the true story of the Von Trapp family, the film follows a young Austrian Woman who is studying to be a nun. She is sent to be the governess of seven children of a widower retired naval officer. The would-be-nun and the officer fall in love and together engineer an escape from the Nazis for them and their children. It won the Academy Award for both Best Picture and Best Director.

9) Purple Rain – is a 1984 American rock movie musical starring rock star Prince as “the Kid” – a semi-autobiographical role about his start in music in the Minneapolis club scene.  The film was written and directed by Albert Manoli and featured appearances by Appolonia and Morris Day.  It won an Academy Award for Best Score.

8) The King & I – is a 1951 movie musical based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical of the same name. It stars Yul Brynner – on of my personal heroes. An English woman and her young son go to Bangkok where she has been hired to teach English to the children of the King of Siam. Although the King and Anna clash in personalities, they both learn from each other and learn to respect one another. Brynner won an Academy Award for his performance.

7) Wizard of Oz – is a 1939 American musical fantasy film that stars Judy Garland as a girl swept up in a tornado and transported toe the magical world of Oz. It features the talents of Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, and Margaret Hamilton. It won Academy Awards for Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow and Best Original Score. Garland also earned an honorary Academy Award for her work as a screen juvenile.

6) Little Shop of Horrors – is a 1986 film directed by Muppets legend Frank Oz that combines horror, music, and comedy. Featuring the talents of Rick Moranis, the incomparable Ellen Green, and Levi Stubbs as the voice of a man-eating plant from outer space set to take over the earth. The movie is based on the stage musical, which was itself based on a black and white Roger Corman horror film.

5) Singin’ in the Rain – is a 1952 musical directed, choreographed, and starring Gene Kelly – one of my all time favorite movie musical icons. The film also stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, and features a command comical performance by Jean Hagen who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. The story is a light-hearted take on the 1920’s move from silent movies to talkies and features amazing dance and song numbers.

4) Jesus Christ Superstar – was immortalized in two amazing film adaptations. While I love the 1073 film starring Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson, it is the 2000 straight to video film starring Glenn Carter as Jesus that lands at number four on my list of all time best movie musicals. JCS is based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera of the same name – one of the greatest musicals ever. The sung-through movie musical depicts the last days of Christ against a futuristic post-apocalyptic background.

3) Grease – premiered in movie theaters in 1976. Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Grease the film replaced many of my favorite numbers from the stage production with songs that work just as good in the film. The film is different than the stage product, but it is iconic in its own right thanks to amazing performances by my idol John Travolta and his co-stars Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, and Jeff Conaway. The story follows the good girl falling for the bad boy theme that always invites a charming love story.

2) The Five Heartbeats – is a 1991 musical film from director and writer Robert Townsend, co-written by Keenen Ivory Wayans. Townsend stars alongside Michael Wright (in an amazing performance), Leon, Harry J. Lennix, and Tico Wells. The story follow the musical journey of a Motown-like five man vocal group over three decades. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s that good.

1) West Side Story – is a 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical that changed musical theater forever. The story was conceived by Jerome Robbins who also choreographed and co-directed the film with Robert Wise. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris. Chakiris and Moreno both won Academy Awards for their performances. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10 including Best Picture. It is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet set against the backdrop of New York and racial tensions between Caucasians and Puerto Ricans.  It features music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Peace. Love. Trust

Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert – Good, but not Legendary

NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert starring John Legend that aired on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018 was a good production.

John Legend in the title role was effective. Was he the best performer to take on the role? No. But he was good.

What hurt Legend most was his lack of high range. He opted to not do the signature high parts of several songs, which detracted from the overall production. Still, he did do a good job with the elements of the songs that he felt comfortably fit his vocal range

The title role in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Time Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is a difficult one. There are two film versions available. A 1973 version starred Ted Neeley as Jesus. A 2001 straight- to-video film starred Glenn Carter as Christ.

Including the 2018 live concert staging, Neeley provides the best vocal interpretation of Jesus. However, overall, I prefer Carter’s interpretation of the Son of God. A lot of this has to do with the ingenuity of directors Gale Edwards and Nick Morris of casting a blond haired, clean shaven Christ and set him in a post-apocalyptic setting.

In the most recent incarnation of JCS, Brandon Victor Dixon struck a powerful figure as Juda – physically intimidating, which I think played in his favor. My only complaint about Dixon is that his voice is beautiful – like liquid crystal. The beauty of his voice made him less effective than the raspy quality of Carl Anderson of the 1973 film. Not only was Anderson’s film performance definitive of the role of Judas, I also got the chance to see him costar with Neeley in a national theatrical tour which cemented him in my mind as the quintessential Judas.

The true standout performance of the 2018 live concert was Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate. His performance was flawless and head and shoulders above any previous actors to play the role on stage or film.

Rock God Alice Cooper made an interesting and amusing King Herod. At times he seemed uneasy in the role and seemed to struggle remembering the lyrics to his one signature song (King Herod’s Song). By the end of the song, though, he seemed to find his lyrical footing and had some enjoyable interactions with the audience.

As Mary Magdalene, Sara Berellis was well cast. She showed off an impressive voice augmented by acting a full range of emotions. Like Daniels as Pontius Pilate, Berellis turned in the best interpretation of her role to date.

Like the 2001 film, the 2018 live concert set the action of the musical against a futuristic world – more punk than its apocalyptic predecessor.

The ensemble was good, in not overly impressive. And the rock orchestra was spot on perfect.

Overall, the live concert version of JCS was enjoyable. My favorite interpretation of Webber & Rice’s work? No. But worth watching.

Peace. Love. Trust.