Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Yo, Yo Rocky is Back


Rocky is Back as a Trainer

By Skip Sheffield

Yo Rocky! Good to have you back in Philly and movie theaters everywhere.
“Creed” is a continuation of the rags-to-riches Rocky Balboa boxing fable, but this seventh in a series begun in 1976 is the first one not written by Sylvester Stallone and not having him boxing in the ring.
This is a good thing, because Stallone is now 69 years old, and it would a bit of a stretch seeing him still fighting as a professional boxer. Instead he is a coach, not unlike Burgess Meredith in the first “Rocky” picture. His protégé is Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), son of the late Rocky nemesis-turned-friend Apollo Creed.
Director and writer Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”) has brought the Rocky Balboa saga into a new generation. Michael Jordan, who was in “Fruitvale Station,” is one good-looking actor, and he does some convincing boxing moves, made all  the more effective by the amazing makeup that makes him appear beat-up after battling brutish British boxer “Pretty Ricky” Conlan (Tony Bellew).
Rocky Balboa has retired from the ring in order to run Adrian’s restaurant, named after his beloved late wife. Rocky is easy enough to find, but it takes some convincing by Adonis to get him back in the game as a trainer.
Adonis has a love interest of his own in the form of nightclub singer Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who happens to be coping with a hearing loss.

I am no fan of boxing. To me it’s like watching a car wreck unfold before my eyes. I do like underdog stories though, and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is a classic American underdog story. So “Creed” delivers the goods, though there is nothing new here. It could have been called “Rocky VII,” but that would not be accurate. This movie shows Stallone accepting the inevitable. No matter what great shape he is in, he is a senior citizen, and Stallone plays him with pride and dignity.

The Dinosaur King


A Dinosaur King

By Skip Sheffield

Picture “The Lion King” taking place in the Dinosaur Age and you get the gist of “The Good Dinosaur.”
This is a sweet computer-animated fable about bravery from Disney Pixar Studios, directed by Peter Sohn (“Monsters University,” “The Incredibles”) with screenplay by Meg LeFaure, who gave us the lovely “Inside Out.”
The story begins 65 million years ago, with an asteroid barreling toward Earth. Instead of striking Earth, which in theory exterminated the dinosaurs, the asteroid sails past Earth and life goes on. We move a few million years later to meet a family of Apatosaurus. Poppa (voice of Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) await the hatching of three eggs. Young Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla) hatches first out of the smallest egg. Next comes Young Buck (Ryan Teeple) a rambunctious male. Finally out of the largest egg hatches the tiniest Apatosaurus, named Arlo (Jack McGraw as a juvenile, Raymond Ochoa as an adolescent).
Arlo is the smallest, weakest and most fearful of the three siblings. In this prehistoric fantasy, dinosaurs till the soil, plant corn and store it in a silo from marauding “critters.”
Poppa is convinced Arlo has the right stuff, so he takes him on a mission to teach him courage. As in “Lion King” the father figure perishes, in this cause during a flood, leaving the son alone, lost and afraid.
So begins a picaresque journey in which Arlo meets all manner of prehistoric creatures, some cute and cuddly, some funny, and some terrifying. The “critter” who had been raiding Arlo’s family farm is a humanoid who thinks he’s a wolf. Originally an adversary, Spot, as Arlo calls him, becomes his best friend and helps him find his way back home.
The animation is so sharp and beautiful it is hard to tell if some of the backdrop scenery isn’t real. The various creatures are voiced by an A-list cast that includes deep-voiced Sam Elliott as the alpha T-Rex Buck; Jack Bright as the mostly howling voice of Spot, Steve Zahn as Thunderclap and John Ratzenberger as Earl.

The optimistic message of “The Good Dinosaur” is that even a runty, puny individual can rise up and find his courage. I can agree with that. I was the “runt of the litter” in my family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Newsies" Delivers at Broward Center


Read All About “Newsies” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Newspapers are fading as an American institution, but the memories linger.
Disney’s “Newsies,” running through Nov. 29 at Broward Center for the Arts, is set during newspapers’ peak of popularity in 1899. It started as a movie in 1992 and was turned into an acclaimed Broadway musical in 2012.
The Broadway Across America show playing Fort Lauderdale is a song and dance spectacular with one of the most spectacular sets I’ve even seen at Broward Center. The set is a kind of giant three-story Erector set, with three components that revolve.
The story of “Newsies” by Harvey Fierstein is its least important component. Fierstein adapted the 1992 movie for the stage, with additional music by Alan Menkin and Jack Feldman. It was inspired by the real-life newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City. Newspaper hawkers rebelled when powerful publisher Joseph Pulitzer raised the price of a bundle of 100 newspapers from 50 cents to 60 cents.
I totally related to this premise because I was a newsboy myself as a 12-year-old. Those pennies add up.
Playing the lead role of alpha newsboy Jack Kelly is Miami native Joey Barreiro. Playing the beta newsboy role of crippled orphan Crutchie is Zachary Sayle. Ambitious, crusading reporter Katherine Plumber is played by adorable Morgan Keene. The black hat role of Joseph Pulitzer is played by Steve Blanchard.
We think of Pulitzer as a good guy now because of the prize that is named after him, but when he was alive he was a ruthless, domineering boss. In this fable Jack Kelly stands up to Pulitzer and ultimately wins his respect.
But as I stated, the story is the least important part of this show. What is important is the incredible athletic dances performed by the news boys. These guys defy gravity and physical limitations. If you have ever been a dancer yourself (I have), you will be impressed.
So for a good time, check out “Newsies” in its limited time in Fort Lauderdale. I think it will be worth your while.
Tickets are $30-$100. Call TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.

Martin Barre Plays Jethro Tull at Arts Garage


Grammy Award-winning Guitarist Martin Barre Plays Arts Garage

By Skip Sheffield

Martin Barre is “Thick as a Brick” and proud of it. The former Jethro Tull lead guitarist brings his own group to the Arts Garage, 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.
Barre’s signature guitar playing was as much a part of Jethro Tull’s sound as was Ian Anderson’s vocals and flute playing. Coincidentally Barre plays flute, and began his career as a professional sax player in England.
“Yes, I worked for a couple years as a saxophonist, and I also play flute, mandolin and bouzouki,” he said by telephone from England. “I am quite familiar with Florida and Delray Beach. It should be quite an original evening. It will be a 50-50 split between the Jethro Tull catalog and my songs.”
Prior to coming to Delray Beach, Barre and his group will be performing on a classic rock cruise to the Bahamas, headlined by fellow British platinum rockers Yes.
“We are playing just one show on the cruise,” Barre reveals. “I wish we were playing more.”
Barre’s current group consists of Barre, Dan Crisp on vocals acoustic guitar and bouzouki, George Lindsay on drums and Alan Thomson on bass.
Martin Barre performed for 43 years with Jethro Tull. The group stopped touring in 2012 and called it quits in 2014.
“There was never an official recognition of an end” says Barre. “I am happy where I am, doing my solo tour. Ian Anderson has his solo tour. It’s always an open book. The sheer weight of the Jethro Tull catalog is enough for a lifetime. I’ll never play as well as I want to, but I will always keep trying.”
The Martin Barre concert is sold-out, but there could be some returns or no-shows. Call 561-450-6357 or go to www.artsgarage.org.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Meet Morgan Keene

Morgan Keene and Joey Barreiro

“Newsies” at Broward Center Nov. 17-29

By Skip Sheffield

Extra, extra, read all about it. “Newsies” opens Tuesday, Nov. 17 and continues through Sunday, Nov. 29 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This is the first time the 2012 Tony award-winning Broadway hit has played in Broward County, though it did play Miami’s Arsht Center a year ago.
Inspired by the real-life New York Newsboy Strike of 1899, “Newsies” was first a 1992 Disney musical movie. The stage version has a book by Harvey Fierstein and music by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman. The Fort Lauderdale engagement features Joey Barrelo as alpha newsboy Jack Kelly and Morgan Keene as crusading reporter (and love interest) Katherine Plumber and Steve Blanchard as newspaper titan Joseph Pulitzer.
Morgan Keene has been in the female lead role of Katherine just six months, but it fulfills a life ambition.
“I didn’t know much about the musical and I didn’t even see the movie, but I was fortunate to have a long time to rehearse,” said Keene by telephone.  “Joey is fantastic to work with. He is beautiful and he has a beautiful voice. We had the opportunity to bond during rehearsal.”
Katherine Keene’s Cinderella story began when she was in sixth grade in Atlanta, where she played both the title character and the Candy Man in a school production of “Willy Wonka.” When her family moved to Spokane, Washington, Keene joined a community theater group and began to see musical theater as a career.
“I was hooked,” she admits. “I had no clue I could do musical theater as a career. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
In regional theater Keene has performed in “Next To Normal,” “Grease,” “happy days,” “Annie” and “The Sound of Music.” She is eager to make her Fort Lauderdale debut.
“I have a lot of family in Florida, so I have visited,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ve been to Fort Lauderdale. I’m just happy to be part of such a great show.”
Shows are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $35. Call 800-745-3000 or go to www.browardcenter.org.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Tough Musical Called "Dogfight"

Alexander Zenoz and Hannah Benitez

A Tough “Dogfight”; Actually a Love Story

By Skip Sheffield

“Dogfight” is not an easy show to like. The Slow Burn Theatre production runs through Nov. 29 in the Abdo Room of Broward Center for the Arts.
The very premise of the story by Peter Duchan is not pleasant. A group of U.S. Marines are letting off steam on an evening in 1963 before they are shipped off to Vietnam. They decide to play a little game. The men dare each other to find the ugliest woman he can find. After paying a $50 entrance fee, contestants are asked to take out that ugly woman. She will then be judged on her ugliness by the other men. The man with the ugliest woman wins the pot.
 Slow Burn has made a name for itself by presenting new and challenging material. “Dogfight” is both, but it is hard to embrace this tale of misogynist cruelty.
However, the heart of this show is a romance between one of the Marines and the “ugly” girl he chooses,
Actress and singer Hannah Benitez is not ugly at all. In fact her character of Rose Fenny is quite lovely, with a beautiful voice to match.
The Marine Eddie Birdlace (Alexander Zenoz) likewise has a lovely voice and a winning way, and thereby lies the saving grace of “Dogfight.”
The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is unremarkable. There is no “Some Enchanted Evening” in the lot. The songs describe and advance the action, but they are immediately forgettable.
The supporting cast of players under the direction and choreography of Patrick Fitzwater is quite excellent, with familiar Slow Burn names from their time in west Boca Raton. Mike Westrich plays the second banana alpha male, Bernstein. Rick Pena (who also designed the costumes), Christian Vandepas, Brian Varlea and Cameron Jordan are fellow Marines. The other “ugly girls” are Kaitlyn O’Neill, Alexa Baray and Sabrina Lynn Gore. No, not one of them is actually ugly.
I have mixed feelings about the United States Marines. I admire their bravery and physical fitness. On the other hand I endured the worst beating in my life by a Marine on leave from Vietnam. He called me a “long-head bastard” (I had long, curly blond hair) and proceeded to attack me with what seemed like an intent to kill. I was a physically unfit 4-F, so I never went to Vietnam.  I had many friends who did, and it seems none of them survived unscathed.
Tickets are $45. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sons of Monsters


Hostvon Wachter and Niklas Frank

A “Nazi Legacy” Condemned And Denied

By Skip Sheffield

What happens to the children of monstrous mass murderers?
That is the question asked by the documentary “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.”
Directed by David Evans (“The Robber Bride”), “Fathers” was written by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, who appears onscreen as the interviewer of Niklas Frank and Host von Wachter. Both are sons of high-ranking Nazi officials in eastern Europe. The men could not be more different. Frank denounced his father, who was Governor of Poland, 30 years previously and wrote the book “In The Shadow of the Reich.” Horst von Wachter, whose father did his dirty work in the Ukraine, remembers his father as loving and optimistic and his childhood being loving and pleasant. Not only does Horst refuse to denounce his father, he cannot bring himself to admit any wrongdoing on his part.
As the trio visits Poland and the Ukraine and they see the mute evidence of Nazi destruction, Sands becomes increasingly frustrated at Horst's denials. At a public debate in London Sands grills Horst to no avail.

“Fathers” proves that some people do not learn from mistakes of the past. The Holocaust cannot be forgotten, even if some people try to deny it.