Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Grab Bag of Films

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A Full Christmas Movie Bag

By Skip Sheffield

We have quite a mixed movie gift bag this Christmas Day. We previously reviewed “American Hustle” (good dirty fun) and we have another financial skullduggery black comedy, “The Wolf of Wall Street” opening Dec. 25, as well as the high-minded “Mandela;" the light and funny “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and continuing in theaters, the lovely, moving “Philomena.”
First, “Philomena,” starring the impeccable Dame Judi Dench as the real-life Irish woman, Philomena Lee.
As a virgin teenaged girl, Philomena had a one-night fling with a handsome young man. In due time she discovered she was pregnant. As a good Catholic girl she went to confession. She found no compassion.
“You are the cause of this!,” the priest yells. “Your indecency!”
As was standard operating procedure in early 1950s Ireland, unwed Catholic girls were sent to a convent to bear their children. Philomena had a difficult breech birth. Her problems were blamed on her sin. Nevertheless Philomena gave birth to a healthy baby boy, but she was forced to sign away her parental rights at his birth. She was allowed to see Anthony, as she named him, only one hour a day. The rest of the time she had to work in the convent’s commercial laundry.
Nevertheless Philomena bonded with little Anthony until one day when he was around 3 the boy was taken away screaming to live with adoptive parents.
Fifty years later a journalist named Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) was fired from his post as a Labour Government advisor, and he was casting about as to what to do next. At a party Martin met a woman named Mary (Mare Winningham) who him told the story of Philomena and how she had been searching for her lost son for 50 years. She implored Martin to write about it.
Sixsmith was no fan of human interest stories, but he began to research, and the more he learned the more incensed he became. Sixsmith met Philomena and the end result was the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee.”
Star Steve Coogan helped translate a much longer story to the screen and noted British director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) was hired to direct.
Some painful truths and outrageous injustices are revealed and conveyed with compelling sincerity by Judi Dench, who is truly one of the best actresses in the world, and Coogan, who embodies righteous indignation. Regardless of your religious or political beliefs, “Philomena” will likely move you.


An Off-Color “Wolf”

On the other side of the coin is “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which marks the return of Martin Scorsese to the mean streets of Manhattan.
“Wolf” is inspired by a memoir by New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, played by one of Scorsese’s favorite actors, Leonardo DiCaprio. The screenplay is by Terence Winter, who knows his way around gangsters with “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Sopranos.”
Jordan Belfort might have been a registered stockbroker, but at heart he was a gangster who ruthlessly swindled gullible investors with his high-flying Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm, lived like a king in the early 1990s on his ill-gotten gains, and gloating about all the suckers he fleeced. DiCaprio’s good looks and natural charm help make the character palatable and sometimes funny, but never admirable.
The real Jordan Belfort has admitted he had as his model the fictional Gordon Gekko, who declared “Greed is good!” in 1987’s “Wall Street.” Belfort wasn’t content just with greed and wealth, he wanted to numb his senses with drugs and alcohol and satiate his body with promiscuous sex.
Scorsese insisted he wanted a hard R rating, and he got it. There is a certain shock value to seeing Jonah Hill playing Belfort’s schlumpy partner-in-crime, Donnie Azoff. It comes as no surprise the reckless Belfort was eventually busted and quickly ratted his friends to reduce his sentence. Why it takes three hours to arrive at this forgone conclusion makes no sense. This is a misfire, suitable only for those looking for cheap thrills.


The Compleat “Mandela”

Turning the coin once again we find “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom,” starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, the controversial, courageous, and upon his Dec. 5, 2013 death, much-celebrated father of racially-unified South Africa.
The timing couldn’t have been better for “Mandela," which was released less than a week before Mandela died at age 95.
"Mandela" is based on his own 1994 autobiography. The project began when producer Anant Singh began interviewing Mandela while he was still in prison. The screenplay was completed 16 years later by William Nicholson and the two-and-a-quarter hour movie is directed by Justin Chadwick.
Mandela is without a doubt a heroic character, but he was no angel. The movie chronicles his tribal beginnings, his law school education, his failed first marriage, his clashes with the law as he deliberately provoked the apartheid white supremist government; his courtship with his second, activist wife Winnie (Naomie Harris); his painful 27-year prison sentence and his ultimate freedom and vindication as the first freely-elected President of South Africa.
“Love comes more naturally to the human heart,’ Mandela declares at film's end. I am inclined to believe that is how he endured and prevailed. This film is a respectful yet entertaining tribute to a larger-than-life hero.



“Walter Mitty” as Action Hero

On the distinctly light side we have “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
This is the second feature film adaptation of James Thurber’s (very) short story, which first appeared in the New Yorker in 1939. The 1947 film starred Danny Kaye as meek, henpecked dreamer Walter Mitty.
This version is directed by and stars Ben Stiller, whose Walter has morphed into an action hero in the guise of a daydreaming Manhattan staff writer in the final days of Life magazine.
The swashbuckling photojournalist Sean O’Connell has sent Walter a 35 mm negative that globe-trotting Sean feels captures the “quintessence” of Life magazine, and is perfect for the final cover. The problem is the final edition is looming, and Walter can’t find the negative.
Walter has fallen hard for fellow employee Cheryl Melhoff (Kristin Wiig) with whom he confides and who looms large in his imaginary (or are they real?) adventures as Walter races around the globe in search of elusive Sean.
Walter’s nasty boss is played by Adam Scott, who plays snotty jerk so well. His mom is played in a warmly welcome cameo by Shirley MacLaine.
Patton Oswalt is amusing as the recurring character of Todd, a solicitous eHarmony customer service representative. We won’t tell you who plays Sean, but he is well-cast in his tiny role as a fearless perfectionist visionary.
“Walter Mitty’ is slight but visually entertaining and fun.


Friday, December 20, 2013

A Zany, Madcap "American Hustle"

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A Funny, Dirty “American Hustle”

By Skip Sheffield

Americans love to hate high-finance hustlers.
This holiday season we have not one but too comic crime caper films about financial flim-flammery.
The first is aptly titled “American Hustle.” The original title was even blunter.
The slick hustler of the title is the self-styled con man Irving Rosenfeld, played by a scarcely recognizable Christian Bale. Bale put on 50 pounds of bloat and had his head shaved for a hilariously elaborate balding comb-over and wig combo, which we see Irv meticulously create at the film’s beginning. This sets the tone for more silly and outrageous scenes to follow.
Created by writer-director David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, Irving Rosenfeld was based on a real-life character, who with his faux British, posh partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), merrily swindled investors in what led to the government Abscam operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unluckily for Irving, a dogged, ambitious FBI agent named Richie DiMaso got on the scent of their loan company schemes and concocted a sting that caught Irving and Sydney red-handed. Even more unluckily for Irving is his marriage to the volatile, jealous Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). Adams and Lawrence are costumed in revealing, flashy 1970s outfits that make them look like hookers. Perhaps that is the point.
DiMaso is played by Bradley Cooper in a ridiculous tightly-curled perm evocative of 1970s excess. Richie is the kind of unorthodox law enforcement man (he is fond of cocaine) who is almost as shady as the crooks he chases.
Under Richie’s thumb, Irving and Sydney are forced to con Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a sleazy but not really evil Mayor of rampantly corrupt Camden, New Jersey. To ensnare Polito, Richie coerces his Mexican FBI colleague (Michael Pena) to pose as a wealthy Arab Sheik who has enough money to stake a casino all by himself. From there it gets even more complicated and far-fetched as greedy politicians implicate themselves in the Arab scam. The ultimate prize is elusive Miami mob boss Victor Tellegio, played in one short scene by a man who does menace so well, Robert De Niro.
In short everyone is dirty in “American Hustle.” Some are just dirtier than others. If you consider this film a camp left-handed salute to Martin Scorsese, you may enjoy it as good dirty fun. Up next is Scorsese himself directing “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

 


A Bittersweet Look at the Folkie Era

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A Folkie Era Remembered “Inside Llewyn Davis”

By Skip Sheffield

As a musician I appreciated the darkly comic plausibility of “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Llewwyn was a Greenwich folk singer who never was but could have been.
As a film fan I dug the bizarre black humor of Joel and Ethan Coen, who had the good sense to hire noted songwriter and record producer T Bone Burnett, who produced the Coen brothers best-selling soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” to produce an eclectic sound track that could have been made by any number of early 1960s folk singers. The character of Llewyn Davis most resembles an under-appreciated Greenwich Village fixture, Dave Van Ronk.
Van Ronk had a loyal following, but it was never enough to make him a star. The fictitious character of Llewyn Davis, played in a breakout performance by Oscar Isaac, has the additional handicap of a stubborn, elitist, perfectionist attitude. Think of Bob Dylan in a really bad mood.
We meet Llewyn Davis in 1961 at the Village’s famed Gaslight Café, which was the launching pad of such folk artists as the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and yes, Bob Dylan. Davis had played the Gaslight so many times he was taken for granted by the audience and the club owner. Davis barely scrapes by, sleeping on couches of tolerant friends.
The most tolerant of these friends is Prof. Mitch Gorfein (Ethan Phillips) and his wife Lillian (Robin Bartlett), who is also a sometimes folk singer.
The Gorfeins have a curious orange cat that will figure in comically in Llewyn’s misadventures and also serves to underscore Llewyn’s selfishness and irresponsibility.
The action of the story takes place in a single week in which Llewyn gets a recording session for a goofy novelty song called “Please Mr. Kennedy.” The sheer ludicrousness of the song and its lame refrain are a comic highlight as performed by Isaac, Justin Timberlake, and a deep-voiced guy named Al Cody (Adam Driver).
The bulk of the action takes place on a road trip to Chicago with a vain jazz player named Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his valet, Johnny 5 (Garrett Hedlund). Llewyn hopes to get a contract from big deal producer Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham).
In a nod to the dark side of the jazz scene, Turner is a junkie and he nearly overdoses in a rest room. Johnny 5 takes it all in stride. It has happened many times before.
There is other darkness. Llewyn’s former girlfriend Jean Berkey (Carey Mulligan), also a folk singer, is pregnant and seeks an expensive and risky alternative to giving birth.
Oscar Isaac seems to have come out of nowhere to do his star turn, singing, playing and acting with great conviction as the conflicted, frustrated artist. Isaac was born in Guatemala of a Cuban father and raised in Miami. He is a product of the Juilliard School in New York and at age 33 he faces a bright future- unlike the character he plays.
I am old enough to remember the tail end of the folk era, which had its venues here in South Florida. It was an idealistic, earnest, passionate time just before the Vietnam War really began heating up to screw up everything. The Coen Brothers have beautifully captured this more naïve time. It comes as no surprise “Inside Llewyn Davis” won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

 


The Dark Side of "Mary Poppins"

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Walt Disney and the Real Mary Poppins

By Skip Sheffield

Who ever knew the sunny, upbeat musical “Mary Poppins” had such dark, painful origins?
Walt Disney knew, and so do his successors. “Saving Mr. Banks” is the entertaining, educational and yes, uplifting tale of Disney’s struggles to convince author P.L. Travers to allow a screen adaptation of her precious work, “Mary Poppins.”
A lesser man than Walt Disney would have said “forget it” after 20 years of fruitless negotiations. But Disney was a determined man who harbored buried troubles of his own, and he was just as stubborn as the reclusive author.
It’s been a banner year for Tom Hanks, who shone as the valiant “Captain Phillips” and now convincingly fills the shoes of the legendary animator and entrepreneur Walt Disney.
Tom Hanks looks nothing like the seemingly genial founder of Disneyland. Hanks did grow a mustache and cut and slicked his hair in 1950s fashion, but his focus is more on the indomitable inner spirit of Disney, who promised his daughters he would develop a movie version of their favorite book, “Mary Poppins,” by P.L. Travers if it was the last thing he ever did.
Prickly P.L. Travers, who was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Queensland, Australia, is played by brilliant British actress Emma Thompson.
The film, directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”), is set in 1961 with regular flashbacks to Travers’ Australian Outback childhood. It was not an easy childhood. Her father, Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell), was an alcoholic dreamer and failed banker. Nevertheless little Helen loved her father unconditionally. She honored him with her pen name, and he would turn up in unexpected ways in “Mary Poppins,” which was her only commercial success.
“Mary Poppins” is in essence a tribute to P.L. Travers’ luckless, ill-fated father. This film, adapted for the screen by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, explains why Travers was so protective of her fictitious governess. Emma Thompson, who will likely be nominated for an Oscar, brings out the character’s stubborn pride and contrary nature without making us hate her.
“Saving Mr. Banks” is leavened with much humor by an ace supporting cast that includes Paul Giamatti as Ralph, Travers’ Los Angeles chauffeur; Bradley Whitford as Don Da Gradi, co-writer of the 1964 film; B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as composers and lyricists of the score; Kathy Baker as a trusted Disney studio executive and Melanie Paxon as Disney’s loyal secretary, Dolly.
This film may sanitize and whitewash grittier parts of the real story but in the tradition of Disney family entertainment it is a light, loving tribute to Uncle Walt and his most challenging film project.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You Bet "We Will Rock You"

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Yes, “We Will Rock You”

By Skip Sheffield

Does “We Will Rock You” fulfill its boast?
Yes indeed, absolutely! This high-energy tribute to British rock group Queen is rocking the Ziff Ballet Opera House of Miami’s Arsht Center through Dec. 15 in a way it has never quite been rocked before.
“We Will Rock You’ is a joyous tribute to the power of live rock ‘n’ roll music, using the extensive catalogue of Queen as framework.
Originally conceived as a jukebox musical by founding Queen members Brian May (guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums), WWRY as we will shorten it was given a book by British novelist, comedian and director Ben Elton.
The futuristic, fascistic story is set in 2302 in a world where live music and musical instruments have been banned. The masses are entertained by programmed, computer-generated musical sounds broadcast by the all-powerful Global/Soft Corporation. A group of rebellious young, known as Bohemians, sense there is something more than the unimaginative “Radio Ga Ga” that fills the airwaves and Internet.
A guy who calls himself Buddy Holly (the amazingly deep-voiced Ryan Knowles) is convinced there is a seeker who will come along and wake everyone up to “The power of rock!”
That would be a young man who calls himself Galileo Figaro (Brian Justin Crum), who bumps into a kindred soul he calls Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis) in a song called “I want to Break Free.”
Those who know and love Queen know the names Galileo Figaro and Scaramouche are in the lyrics of Queen’s mock-operatic mini-masterpiece, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The characters are cast for stage charisma and vocal power. Brian Justin Crum has and impressive vocal range and rock-star good lucks. Ruby Lewis is a tiny, pretty woman with a voice all out of proportion to her diminutive size. If there is a star in this show, she is it. Hearing her duet on “Somebody to Love” is simply thrilling.
In a melodrama you must have villains. WWRY has Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith), with spiffy gray Global/Soft uniform, platinum helmet-hair and face that looks like it was sculpted from plastic.
Khasoggi’s female counterpart is the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold), who is an amalgam of all the Disney evil female monarchs.
There is a chorus of imaginatively rag-tag killer chorus of singing and dancing Bohemians, backed by a massively powerful onstage nine-piece electric band perched on a scaffold high above the stage. The band has two drummers; one on either side; two keyboards, and two guitarists (Tristan Avakian and Bob Wegner) playing Brian May’s signature harmonic leads to perfection. The principal shredder comes down onstage on two dramatic occasions, and the entire band joins the cast at curtain call, which as a musician I appreciate.
It is no joke that ushers offer free earplugs who any who want them. This show is loud, but more important it is joyous and a fitting tribute to the genius of Queen singer-songwriter Freddie Mercury and his enormously gifted band mates.
Tickets start at $26. Call 800-745-3000 or 305-949-6722 or go to www.arshtcenter.org.

Monday, December 9, 2013

We Wish You a Crummy Christmas

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“The Lyons” a Dysfunctional Family for the Ages

By Skip Sheffield

So you think you are from a dysfunctional family? Go see “The Lyons” presented by the Women’s Theatre Project through Dec. 22 at the Willow Theatre of Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton, and you may feel better about your own situation.
“The Lyons,” written by Nicky Silver, puts the “diss” in dysfunctional.
Father Ben Lyons (Kevin Reilly) is on his deathbed, dying from cancer. Ben is not filled with gratitude for a long, fulfilling life. His attitude is summed up by the “F word” he uses constantly.
Mom Rita Lyons (Jessica K. Peterson) is not much better. In fact she is worse: the archetypical overbearing, suffocating, selfish and unfeeling Jewish mother. Jessica K. Peterson’s bleakly hilarious rendition of the ultimate bad mom is the best thing about this show. We won’t spoil any surprises, because Rita regularly surprises us. Just when you think she couldn’t possibly be more callous and cruel, she tops herself.
Then there are the “kids.” Son Curtis (Matthew Korinko) is a writer of short stories that no one wants to read. He is an insecure gay guy with a boyfriend named Peter, but Peter is far from ideal. We find out how far in Act Two, which is almost like a different mini-play.
Daughter Lisa (Jacqueline Lagy) has more common problems. Her former husband was physically abusive, yet she continues to return for more. Lisa is a recovering alcoholic, but soon to backslide. Dad blames Lisa’s alcoholism on her lousy choice of a partner. Lisa points out they met at an A.A. meeting. It’s a funny line. Ha-ha.
The laughs are bitter and far between.
A tart-tongued nurse (Carolyn Johnson) gets in some good zingers in Act Two. For all his foul-mouthed negativity, dad is a crusty cuss who speaks his mind regardless of consequences, prompting shock-value kind of gasps and chuckles. Clay Cartland brings some melodramatic kick to Act Two as an actor trying to be a real estate agent.
“The Lyons” was a 2012 Broadway debut for playwright Nicky Silver, who specializes in caustic wit. It’s the kind of play some New Yorkers love, and since we have our share of transplanted New Yorkers, it may well find an audience at Willow Theatre. Just be forewarned this is not “I Remember Mama” or “Father Knows Best.” This is family functioning as warfare.
Tickets are $25. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 561-347-3948 or go to www.thewomenstheatreproject.com.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Radio City Comes to West Palm Beach

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The Rockettes Spread Holiday Cheer

By Skip Sheffield

Need cheering up?
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes is a sure thing to bring out the wide-eyed, happy child in a person of any age.
The “Christmas Spectacular” is in residence for the first time through Dec. 8 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
Kravis Center is ideally-suited to house this massive, high-tech, multi-media show, with its huge stage, lofty fly space and wide aisles.
For those who have seen the Radio City Christmas Spectacular before there is a sense of continuity, for many of the 12 scenes with set and costume changes have been seen in years before. This show is custom-made for West Palm Beach, with local references made in the introduction of the fabulous dancing Rockettes in reindeer headgear hauling Santa Claus and his sleigh across the stage. Radio City singers are introduced in Scene 2 wishing us a Merry Christmas. The familiar “Twelve Days of Christmas” are done up Rockette-style with 160 tapping toes of the precision Rockette dancers.
Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is served up especially for children, with giant, over-stuffed dancing animals and a tiny dancing ballerina named Clara (Kate Gardinier alternating with Jessica Snider)
A personal favorite is the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, culminating in a choreographed collapse finale.
New York at Christmas” is done in spectacular fashion, with a nearly full-size red double-decker bus that rotates 360 while projections of downtown Manhattan offer the illusion of motion.
A traditional second act part of the show is the religious story of the birth of Jesus, quoting scripture in a “Living Nativity,” reminding Christians of the reason for the season.
A brief history of Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes tells of the spectacular debut in 1933 to the low point in 1978 when the theater almost closed. What a loss that would have been for all Americans.
Happily Radio City Music Hall was renovated in 1999 and the Rockettes are alive and well in New York City and West Palm Beach, offering an upbeat alternative to our daily diet of bad news.
Tickets are $51.50-$143.50. Call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Not-so-Sweet "Dolce Vita"

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Galatea Ranzi and Toni Servillo

Not So Sweet Life of “Great Beauty”

What is the flip side of “La Dolce Vita?”
A short answer is “The Great Beauty,” which is Italy’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards.
Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardella, a jaded journalist with one hit novel to his credit. The film, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, begins with a quotation from Celine’s “Journey Into the Night.”
This sets the somber tone in an otherwise exquisitely beautiful Rome in which Jep reflects on his largely wasted, womanizing, partying, superficial life upon his 65th birthday.
In this sumptuous, beautifully-photographed elegy (cinematography by Luca Bigazzi), we see a parade of Felliniesque characters from Jep’s childhood and Catholic upbringing to his swinging, libertine heyday as a star journalist to his current reflective state after the death of an old girlfriend.
Rome has never looked more beautiful than in this fantasy, in which Jep’s designer apartment is just across the street from the Coliseum. The women are beautiful in various stages of dress and undress and the men are philosophical and fatalistic.
“I was looking for the great beauty but I never found it,” Jep says at the end of the film. I beg to differ. All he had to do was open his eyes to the glory of Rome.


Book of Mormon Debuts at Broward Center

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A Rollicking “Book of Mormon” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Who knew Mormons were such fun?
Evidently Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez saw the inherent comic potential in America’s unique Church of the Latter Day Saints sect.
“The Book of Mormon” is onstage through Dec. 22 at Broward Center for the Arts. It is hilarious, irreverent, audacious, and one of the most entertaining Broadway shows of all time. This national touring company is absolutely first-rate.
Just about everyone has encountered those polite, clean-cut, usually Caucasian young men who knock at doors and try to entice whoever will listen to the wonders of the Book of Mormon.
Even the most devout Mormon will have to admit their religion is different. For one thing, they believe a resurrected Jesus Christ came to America in the 19th century and paid a personal visit to one Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Before that, in 1827 an angel named Moroni allegedly appeared to Smith with golden plates inscribed by ancient prophets who lived in the Americas from 2200 B.C. to 421 A.D.
There is a lot more to Mormonism than this, but Parker and Stone, creators of “South Park” and Lopez, writer-composer of “Avenue Q,” saw the gag potential in the unorthodox beliefs of Mormons as well as their penchant for spreading their gospel through “Elders,” who are actually young men from teen age to early 20s. The setup is two mismatched naïve elders who much to their surprise, are dispatched to Uganda in darkest Africa rather than stateside duty.
On the surface Elder Kevin Price (Mark Evans) is the ideal Mormon: good-looking, tall and self-assured. His partner Elder Arnold Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill, remember his name from “Happy Days”) is the opposite: short, chubby, and functionally illiterate to the minutiae of the Mormon faith. On the plus side Arnold has a quite a creative imagination.
The lads launch the show with the catchy ditty “Hello,” joined by other young Mormons already in Uganda.
Upon their arrival, the lads are robbed of their possessions by soldiers of a character we can’t name in a family newspaper, but is inspired by the real, bloodthirsty man known as General Butt Naked.
After their introduction to a bemused chief Mafala Hatimbi (Stanley Wayne Mathis), the boys are treated to a litany of woes: poverty, famine, AIDS and the cruel practice of female circumcision.
How can a funny musical be constructed around such serious subjects, you may wonder. The answer is the attitude of the natives, expressed in the fatalistic song “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” whose translation cannot be printed verbatim. Suffice it to say the natives are a tough, feisty lot who have a strong, black sense of humor.
Principal among the Africans is the chief’s daughter, Princess Nabulungi, played by the radiant, irresistible Samantha Marie Ware.
A side plot of sorts is provided by the ever-smiling Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), who fights “unnatural” sexual tendencies. Henson does double duty as the Angel Moroni.
There are many more fun things about the show: guys in drag playing the female parts, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” with precision choreography and hook-laden songs played with gusto by a small pit orchestra. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along with the Mormon theme song, “We Are Africa!”

Tickets are $44.50-$154.50 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or going to www.browardcenter.org.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"The Book of Mormon" in Fort lauderdale

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“Book of Mormon” at Broward Center

Area theater lovers are in for a treat with the South Florida debut of the smash Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon,” opening Tuesday, Nov. 26 and running through Dec. 22.
“The Book of Mormon” was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park,” and Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q.”
"Mormon" is the story of two naïve Mormon “elders,” or missionaries, who are sent to war-torn Uganda to convert the “heathens,” with decidedly mixed results.
While “Mormon” is a satire about all organized religion, it is not blasphemous. In fact it is embraced by some of the very Mormons it pokes fun at.
“It is really a sweet story,” insists Grey Henson, who plays Elder McKinley, the unofficial group leader of Mormons in Uganda with a special secret of his own. “It’s a lot about growing up through the lens of Mormonism.”
Henson was cast straight out of Carnegie-Mellon University because he is “so white.”
“We are all pleasant young white boys,” explains the Macon, Georgia native. “Many Mormons have come to the show, and some have remarked on how accurate it is. I have a nice little role. It’s a really cool job.”
Tickets are $44.50-$154.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.



Vince Vaughn an American "Delivery Man"

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Vince Vaughn Fans Should Like “Delivery Man”

If you are a big fan of Vince Vaughn you will no doubt enjoy “The Delivery Man.” Otherwise there is no reason to see such a recent remake of the fine French-Canadian comedy “Starbuck,” which came out in 2011.
Original writer-director Ken Scott and original playwright Martin Petit have simply moved the story from Montreal to New York City and translated the script into English.
Vince Vaughn is David, an amiable slacker who coasts along as the delivery man of the title for his father’s butcher shop. David has an adorable girlfriend named Emma (Cobie Smulders) but he has not committed to marriage. David’s life is about to go topsy-turvy because of something he did 20 years ago. David was a regular donor of sperm to a fertility clinic. A class action suit has revealed an unknown male’s sperm fathered 533 children anonymously. The lawsuit was filed by 142 of these descendents.
Against the advice of his best friend Brett (Chris Pratt), David begins investigating his offspring. It is a diverse group indeed.

Like “Starbuck” “The Delivery Man” is meant to be an alternative tribute to love and family in the truest sense. Vaughn delivers as a grown child-man who finally learns to accept responsibility for his actions and act like a man. If you have seen “Starbuck” though, there is no need to re-visit.

The Holocaust From a Literary Angle

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“The Book Thief” a Tribute to Literacy and Life

By Skip Sheffield

It may sound like an oxymoron, but “The Book Thief” is one of the sunniest, most upbeat stories about the Holocaust ever.
“The Book Thief” is based on a best-selling novel by Australian Marcus Zusak and adapted by British director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”). "Book Thief" is not really “about” the Holocaust; it is just set at that time. It is more about the human spirit and the love and quest for knowledge.
The character of Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) represents that quest. Liesel is a Jewish girl whose parents are wise enough in 1938 to see the impending threat of Nazi oppression. Her father flees and her mother puts Liesel up for adoption to a sympathetic German family.
The father Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) fought for Germany in World War I but he is no fan of Hitler or the Nazis.
The mother Rosa (Emily Watson) is crabby and bitter and fearful that harboring a Jewish girl could put the family in danger. Rosa helps support the family by doing laundry for wealthier people.
Rosa’s fears are further heightened when Hans takes in a young fugitive Jewish man Max (Ben Schnetzer), whose father was a friend and fellow soldier who saved Hans’ life.
Liesel is fortunate that her fair hair and light complexion makes her look more like the Nazi “Aryan ideal.”
Liesel’s best friend is Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) a fair-haired German boy who wants nothing to do with the Hitler Youth. In fact Rudy idolizes Olympic star Jesse Owens, an African-American who infuriated the Nazis in 1936.
Rudy has quite a crush on Liesel and campaigns to at least kiss her. Max is more a platonic friend. It is Max who helps Liesel learn to read and kindles a love of books in her. Also contributing to Liesel’s literacy is the Mayor’s wife Ilsa (Barbara Auer), who has an extensive library and also is none too fond of the Nazis.
Liesel is played by Sophie Nelisse, a young gymnast from Quebec who was nominated for a Genie Award, the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar, for her role in “Monsieur Lazhar.” Sophie delivers a wonderfully naturalistic performance. She is a gifted actress who is one to watch.
Sophie and her mother and writer-director Brian Percival visited the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton for a question-and-answer session and meet-and-greet.
“The Book Thief” is a wonderful story for any of faith and intellectual curiosity. I suspect we will be hearing more about it at Oscar time.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas in Vermont in Boca Raton

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Christmas in Vermont Via Boca Raton


By Skip Sheffield

No need to dream of a white Christmas. You’ll find one live and onstage at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton through Dec. 25.

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is a stage version of the beloved 1954 film, created on its 50th anniversary in 2004.“White Christmas” is an absurdly dated pre-feminist conventional romance – which is why its presentation with precision accuracy as a period piece by director Stacey Stephens is important.

For those not familiar with the film, “White Christmas” begins on the battlefield in Europe, 1944. It’s Christmas Eve and an American battalion is trying to make the best of a bad situation as bombs drop.  Bob Wallace (James Cichewicz) and Phil Davis (Cannon Starnes) are best comrades-in-arms, under the command of crusty General Henry Waverly (Alan Gerstel). In addition to being good soldiers, Bob and Phil are accomplished song and dance men.

The story flashes forward 10 years to 1954. Bob and Phil are readying for a big show in Miami Beach. Those plans are short circuited when the talented sisters act of Betty (Kelly Shook) and Judy Hayes (Julie Kleiner) use womanly wiles to sidetrack the guys to Vermont.

Bob is sweet on Judy and Phil has fallen for Betty, so resistance is futile. They board a train at Grand Central Station and disembark in Vermont, only to face an immediate crisis -- being booked for a ski lodge Christmas show, but the area has an unseasonal heat wave and no snow in sight.

Inn manager Martha Watson (Missy McArdle) is frantic. She has been hiding bills from the Inn’s owner. With no snow the whole kit and caboodle could go down.

In a coincidence that happens only in stage musicals, the Inn’s owner is the very same Gen. Waverly (Alan Gerstel), now retired, but that could change. There are some romantic intrigues that involve a misunderstanding and a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, but that’s not important. What’s important is the singing, dancing and timeless Irving Berlin tunes.

James Cichewicz and Cannon Starnes are of leading-man quality both in voice and on foot. Kelly Shook and Julie Kleiner are simply adorable, and Kleiner gets bonus points for her bold dance moves, going out into the audience to tap atop a low wall that divides the theater.

Alan Gerstel brings great compassion and red-white-and-blue patriotism to his otherwise humble general. The show-stopper is “Megaphone Martha” Watson (Miss McArdle), who channels Ethel Merman and gets away with it on “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” She really means it.

For the younger audience there is precocious Susan Waverly (Bianca Matthews), who is 14 going on 21.

The costumes are fabulous. Music is recorded and the cast was still fine-tuning the vocal and dance coordination.  Still, it’s virtually impossible to walk away from this show and not have your spirits lifted. “Happy Holiday” and “Blue Skies” indeed.
Tickets are $58. Call 561-995-2333 or visitwww.thewick.org.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Darkness in "Sunlight Jr."

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“Sunlight Jr.” a Dark Portrait of Florida Life


By Skip Sheffield

The best thing I can say about “Sunlight Jr.” is that it makes me really glad I do not live in the Greater Tampa Bay area.
“Sunlight Jr.,” written and directed by Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby”), paints Tampa/Clearwater at its worst; a barren land of strip malls, tawdry motels, trailer parks and trailer trash. It is playing locally at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon play a low-rent, low-educated couple, Melissa and Richie, who live in one of those tawdry motels near a strip mall that has the 24-hour convenience store of the title.
Melissa is a cashier at Sunlight Jr. Her boss is a sexist pig who cruelly orders her on the graveyard shift, making her hard life even more miserable.
Richie is an embittered paraplegic due to a construction accident. His only subsistence is a small disability check, doled out reluctantly by social workers who suspect he is just a lazy bum.
When Melissa announces she is pregnant, Richie only momentarily expresses alarm, and then claims he is happy. The two are obviously in love and really have the hots for each other, so why not get married?
Well, Melissa is being stalked by a creepy ex-boyfriend (Norman Reedus) who deals drugs and harasses her. If that weren’t bad enough, Melissa gets fired from her crappy job. If you think there is a silver lining to this story you would be wrong.

It is admirable that Laurie Collyer feels such empathy with the poor, downtrodden, disadvantaged and self-destructive members of society, but their sad tale of woe is not very interesting, let alone uplifting.

Amazing Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club"

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Matthew McConaughey’s Amazing “Dallas Buyers Club”


By Skip Sheffield

Matthew McConaughey will be giving Robert Redford a run for his money in the 2014 Oscar sweepstakes. McConaughey’s gripping performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” will also provide strong competition for Tom Hanks and Chiwetel Ijiofor in the Best Actor category.
If that weren’t enough to boast a film’s merit, co-star Jared Leto is a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a story of a real man: rodeo rough neck and electrician Ron Woodroof. Woodroof was profiled near his death in 1992 by Bill Mintaglio of the Dallas Morning News. In order to play the skeletal role, McConaughey went on a crash diet to lose almost 50 pounds. Jared Leto lost around 30 pounds from an already slim frame to play a flamboyant gay transvestite known as Rayon.
The story, adapted for the screen by Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten, begins in July, 1985. After Woodroof is injured in an electrical accident, he awakens in a hospital to grim news. He is HIV Positive, announces impassive Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare). Woodroof does not take the news well. Worse, he is told he has only about 30 days to live.
In 1985 AIDS was becoming known as the “Gay Plague.” Not only was Ron Woodroof not homosexual, he was fiercely homophobic, dismissing gay men as “faggots” and “Tinker Belle.” It was not understood at that time that women can carry the HIV virus.
Once he got over his initial anger and disbelief, Woodroof set about proving medical science wrong. He bribed an orderly into providing him with AZT, an experimental drug being used against the AIDS virus. In doses too strong AZT is a deadly poison, Woodroof later learned from a renegade, discredited Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) in a makeshift Mexican clinic.
With the help of the revolutionary, unproven potions of Dr. Vass and the moral support of sympathetic Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), the improvised team developed a regimen effective enough to sell to other victims through the Buyers Club of the title.
For this desperate role McConaughey leaves his handsome-hunk, leading-man image behind. He has never invested himself as fully in a character as he does in this redneck, racist, sexist, dishonest stereotype who finds his humanity through his own suffering and the suffering of others.
Musician (“30 Seconds to Mars”) turned actor Jared Leto proves he has the dramatic power to both make you laugh and pull at your heartstrings as the fragile, doomed Rayon.
“Dallas Buyers Club” French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee proves his mettle as well in leading this extraordinary motion picture. You may never feel the same about Texas again.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Redford Ramps Up His Reputation

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Spoiler Alert: “All is Lost.”

That’s all you need to know about Robert Redford’s one man-against-the-sea struggle.

Star Robert Redford is heard uttering those words in a voiceover prologue to writer-director J.C. Chandor’s drama of survival. Chandor made his impressive debut in 2011 with the Wall Street melodrama Margin Call.
Nonetheless, and with any actor other than Redford at the helm of this escape from peril, All Is Lost might not interest us at all.

But it is Robert Redford -- an American film icon at age 77 -- who pointedly and proudly displays his wrinkles and blemishes, putting himself through the proverbial ringer as the unnamed solo sailor of a 39-foot sailboat, out somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the Somali Straits.

Why the character would undertake such a perilous journey at any age (let alone 77) is never explained, nor is there any background as to his family, friends or previous life. He is just there, and just as inexplicably his boat rams a large metal container of sneakers, followed by much water pouring in from the resulting gash.

The water makes quick work of the vessel’s electronics, but luckily our man seems to have memorized the Boy Scout manual. With no power and no means of communication, Redford improvises with an old-fashioned sextant, charts and celestial reckoning. Our man also had the foresight to carry fiberglass cloth and resin to make a temporary repair. He even improvises a desalinization process and gets a fish strike on a hand-line, prompting temporary joy.

But wait – a huge storm imperils him further.  The boat again takes on water and our man is reduced to floating helplessly in an inflatable life raft, drifting tantalizingly close to huge container ships in the shipping lanes.

Robert Redford has never won a Best Actor Academy Award . Clearly this is his best shot -- with scowls, grimaces, ah-ha moments and expressions of defeat and despair conveying the range of his hopes, fears and frustrations mutely but powerfully.

“All is Lost” got a standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It remains to be seen if the American public will appreciate this existential Kabuki theater as well – but I think Redford deserves an Oscar nomination at the very least.


Longing for Love at the Arts Garage

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Looking for Love in Delray Beach

By Skip Sheffield

It’s right there in the title “The Longing and the Short of It,” running through Nov. 24 at the Arts garage, 180 N.E. First St., Delray Beach.
Canadian composer/playwright Daniel Mate loves wordplay. He also knows pursuit is the essence of romantic love; not necessarily the consummation.
“The Longing” is not a full musical, nor is it a musical revue. Mate calls it a song cycle, and that it is; a collection of 24 original songs on the topic of love and the lack or loss of it in the 21st century.
This song cycle, guest directed by Max Friedman, though mainly centered on the pursuit of love, friendship and acceptance, also touches on the peculiarities and fragmentation of 21st century society and relationships. In this way it reminded me a bit of the landmark British satirical TV comedy series, “That Was the Week That Was,” although less political. There is no plot and there are no named characters. The cast of three men and three women are types loosely represent the age decade of the character: 20s, 30s and 50s. The stage is set in “The Long Run,” which is the first song and is reprised at the finale. The sentiments are familiar: “Twenty was a breeze;” “Thirty was a blast;” “Fifty’s pretty real.” These are snapshots of larger experience.
The younger women are played by Alix Paige and Liz Lark Brown while award-winning local favorite Elizabeth Dimon is the more mature character.
The men are Noah Zachary, Henry Gainza and John Herrera, a Tony-nominated Broadway veteran.
Mate finds humor in the serious subject of intervention without dismissing the very real problem. Likewise he fins physical farce in a young man’s ardent, oversexed approach to a female.
Sometimes it’s a simple as “You make my brain work right” or as ironic as “I Don’t Think of You” (It’s All Good).
The cleverness of Mate’s lyrics keeps the listener engaged while the interaction of the characters, all in fine voice, alleviates the need for a plot.
Mate’s music is similarly catchy, complex and clever and the four-piece onstage band of Paul Reekie (piano) Bob Bunin (guitar), Dave Wilkinson (bass) and Steve Salo (drums) smoothly accepts the challenge of the shifting styles, pitches and cadences.
No doubt you will have a favorite among the two dozen songs. I thought “Before I go” is a particularly poignant breakup song. “On My Wall” is pointed commentary on the superficiality of online “relationships.” If you’ve ever tried to write a song, you will relate to “If I Wrote a Song.” I find solace in the modest aspiration of “Something Like Okay.”
“The Longing” has been in development for three years. It is still a work in progress, but it is definitely something like OK.

Shows are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30-$45. Call 561-450-6357 or go to www.artsgarage.org.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's About Love

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“About Time” About Love

By Skip Sheffield

“About Time” is about love, actually. “Love, Actually” was a big hit for writer-director Richard Curtis in 2003. Now he is back a decade later exploring the fleeting, frustrating, elusive qualities of romantic love.
The gimmicky hook on this one is the fantasy of time-travel. In this case the gift of time travel comes automatically at age 21 to men of the Lake family of Cornwall.
“About Time” opens at the twenty-first birthday party of Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), an awkward, freckle-faced ginger-haired English lad who aspires to be a lawyer. Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) takes him aside and tells him a big family secret. If you want to go back in time and correct some wrong you may have committed, all you have to do is go in a dark place, clench your fists and Presto! You can return to any previous moment in your life. You can’t change world history, but you can alter something you have already experienced.
Tim has been fruitlessly pursuing Charlotte (Margot Robbie) the gorgeous goddess girlfriend of his troubled sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson). As Ray Charles sang in “You Don’t Know Me,” “Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by.”
Tim goes to London sadder and no wiser at the end of summer to begin his law practice in earnest.
At a chance meeting at a night club, Tim is introduced to Mary (winsome, versatile Canadian actress Rachel McAdams), a young woman almost as shy and insecure as he is. Tim is literally bumbling around in the dark, as that is the gimmicky theme of the club. When he tries to go back and make a better impression, he goes too far and misses his connection with Mary, who has no clue as to who he is. There are certain rules that go with time-travel. Tim learns them by default.
Domhnall is the son of the great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson. You could say he is a chip off the old block, with perfect comic instincts and a regular guy appeal that is impossible to dislike. The supporting cast is equally adept, with Tom Hollander as the sardonic playwright who takes Tim under his wing and Vanessa Kirby as Mary’s tart best friend, Joanna. Bill Nighy, who has been in several of Curtis’s films, creates his most moving character to date.
The chemistry between Gleeson and McAdams is just perfect. This movie may recall those giddy moments of your first love. It did for me.


Hate Banks? You'll Love "Capital"

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Crooks Conspire in “Capital”

 By Skip Sheffield

Hate banks and the white-collar crooks who run them?
“Capital” is a French film by legendary Greek-born director Costa-Gavras (“Missing,” “Z”) that will confirm your worst suspicions.
When the CEO of the French bank Phenix collapses and dies on a golf course, an ambitious underling named Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh) is tapped as his successor.
Tourneuil thinks he is in charge, but he is just a pawn in the treacherous power games that ensue with the hostile takeover attempt from an American hedge fund led by ruthless, pitiless Dittmar Rigule (Gabriel Byrne). It doesn’t help that Tourneuil can’t help falling for exotic supermodel Nassim Liya Kebede.
“Capital” is Robin Hood in reverse. Bankers “rob from the poor to give to the rich.” As one of the characters notes, “They’re grown-up children.” This is fiction that is all too close to the truth.


AARP on the Loose in Las Vegas

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Top-Drawer Talent Gets Silly in Las Vegas

By Skip Sheffield

Old Guys Have Fun Too

On a much lighter note we have “Last Vegas,” which is a silly situation comedy for the Social Security set, directed by Jon Turteltaub (“National Treasure”).
In light of his current marital woes, this could be seen as art imitating life for Michael Douglas, 69, now separated from his beautiful, much younger wife Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Douglas plays Billy, an aging confirmed bachelor who is the last of his Brooklyn gang to attempt a commitment to marriage. Impulsively at his Malibu mansion, Billy proposes to his girlfriend, who is less than half his age. This prompts his childhood friends to throw a last bachelor party in Las Vegas. This takes some doing, as Paddy (Robert De Niro, 70) has hardly left is New York apartment since his wife died.
Archie (Morgan Freeman, 76) lives as a virtual prisoner with his protective son in New Jersey.
Sam (Kevin Kline, baby of the group at 66) has retired, moved to Florida with his wife and is bored out of his skull.
The best I can say of “Las Vegas” is that it is funnier than I thought it would be. These guys are old pros after all, and though screenwriter Dan Fogelman’s script is creaky with old-age clichés, the actors seem to be enjoying themselves. The best thing about the film is Mary Steenburgen as Diana, a retired accountant who has decided to reinvent herself as a night club singer. Steenburgen, 60, is a wonderful advertisement for a woman aging gracefully- and she’s a darn good singer too.


"12 Years a Slave" Powerful, Disturbing

Chiwetel Ejifor, Steve McQueen

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By Skip Sheffield

There are several worthy new film releases this Friday. Standing head and shoulders above the rest is “12 Years a Slave.”
Be advised “12 Years” is not light entertainment. It is perhaps the most realistic depiction ever of slavery in the USA. Slavery is never a pretty sight or sound.
Interestingly, the two main forces of “12 Years,” director Steve McQueen and star Chiwetel Ejiofor, are from the United Kingdom.
“12 Years a Slave” is a true story based on the account of his abduction and enslavement by African-American man Solomon Northup, published in 1853. The screenplay is by another African-American, John Ridley, who wrote the stirring tale of Tuskegee airmen for “Red Tails.”
Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free-born American man living in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841 with his wife Margaret (Quvenzhane Wallis) and two children. One evening in Washington, D. C. Northrup was approached by two men with a proposition to earn quick, big money touring with a circus show. The men plied Northrup with wine until he was quite drunk. When he woke up in the morning he found himself in chains and manacles. He was forced aboard a sailing ship bound for Louisiana manned by slavers, where he was sold to the highest bidder by Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti).
The high bidder was William Ford (British actor Benedict Cumberbatch), a Baptist minister who was relatively benign as slave owners go. Unfortunately Northrup ran afoul of  Ford’s cruel, racist foreman John Tibeats (Paul Dano), who forced Northrup’s sale to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a disreputable, sadistic slave-driver if there ever was one. Epps’ wife Mary (Sarah Paulsen) was not much better, and she was particularly cruel to her husband’s favorite slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). Patsey is the anguished face of total submission and humiliation, raped regularly by Epps and ordered whipped until lacerated and bleeding by Mary.

There will be many instances when you will want to avert your eyes, and perhaps that is the point, painfully, powerfully driven home. Slavery was ugly and horrific and it was a tragedy it lasted as long as it did in the alleged “Land of the Free.” It is an interesting coincidence that Brad Pitt, who played a sleazy operator in the lousy film “The Counselor” plays the good guy, Canadian abolitionist Samuel Bass in this film. Michael Fassbender, who was also in “The Counselor” and two previous Steve McQueen films “Hunger” and “Shame,” pulls out all the stops in portraying one of most reprehensible villains ever seen on film. “12 Years a Slave” is strong yet still necessary medicine to remind us what tore our country apart a century and a half ago.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Laugh, Don't Despair at the D Word

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Don’t Cry; Do “D Word- A Musical”

By Skip Sheffield


“D Word- A Musical,” which has opened at the Rinker Theatre of Kravis Center in West Palm Beach for a run through Nov. 10, is not really a musical, but a musical revue of catchy songs on the themes of being “Ditched, Dumped, Divorced and Dating.”
Orlando’s Jeanie Linders, who created the wildly successful “Menopause: The Musical” franchise, has crafted a similar comic approach to the very real hurt of a marriage breakup. Linders calls it, quite accurately, “a party show.”
Linders and director/choreographer Mayme Paul have cast four women representing distinct types representing women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
“D Word” has been honed with previous runs in Orlando and Las Vegas. This experience shows in the precise vocal performances of four solo-quality voices performing in perfect harmony to recorded tracks a set of 14 mostly familiar songs about the flip side of romantic bliss. Unlike “Menopause,” which had parody lyrics to popular songs, the songs have their original lyrics. What is new is biographical information and dialogue from the characters.
The setting is a 6-minute speed-dating event. Erica (Angie McKnight) hasn’t gotten lucky in 14 years. DeeDee (Maddie Castro) is in the dumps after the breakup of her 20-year marriage. Kate (Laura Wright) feels her biological clock ticking. She just wants a “sperm donor.” Jen (Sarah Hester Ross) is trying to rise above the humiliation of losing her fiancé of six years to another guy.
The mood is set with the Gloria Gaynor anthem, “I Will Survive.”
After the one-off original “Single Ladies” we go back to the 1950s doo-wop of Lieber & Stoller’s “Fools Fall in Love” and even farther back to “Just a Gigolo.” Greatest hits such as The Miracles’ “Shop Around,” “The Way of Love” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” (What Doesn’t Kill You) get new renditions as the ladies drink, talk, cry a little, fight a little and reconcile.
Although this is an ensemble, you will probably have a favorite chanteuse. It seems unfair to single anyone out, but DeeDee Castro is the comic sparkplug as “Your Booty Parlor Babe,” who glories in her first date in years with “Hot Stuff” and bounds into the audience with “Before He Cheats.”
Less than a musical; more than a revue, “D Word” is pure fun in 90 minutes without an intermission.
Tickets start at $39. Call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.


"The Counselor" a Major Misfire

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Whatever Happened to Ridley Scott?


By Skip Sheffield

Whatever happened to the Ridley Scott who scared the dickens out of us with “Alien” in 1979; who dazzled us with “Blade Runner” in 1982 and who confused us, but still maintained our interest in “Prometheus” in 2012?
That noted British directed is nowhere to be found in “The Counselor;” a misbegotten mystery-thriller if there ever was one.
The same could be asked of Michael Fassbender, who roused our emotions in Inglourious Basterds” in 2009 and shocked and provoked us in “Shame’ in 2012.
And most ingloriously, whatever happened to the sweet Cameron Diaz we all fell for in the irresistible “There’s Something About Mary” in 1998?
Granted, Diaz has one indelible screen moment in “The Counselor” that will go down in cinematic infamy. It involves a Ferrari owned by another wasted talent, Javier Bardem (with more bizaare hair), the windshield of said Ferrari, and a spread-eagled actress acting slutty but looking silly.
We could go on and on. When did Brad Pitt stop being a hunk? When was Penelope Cruz de-sensualized?
Perhaps the biggest question is how can a script by Cormac McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Road”) be so bad and banal?
“The Counselor” of the title is played by German actor Michael Fassbender. He is never given a proper name; just Counselor.
The Counselor goes into hock to buy a huge diamond for his fiancée Laura (Penelope Cruz). He can’t be a very smart lawyer, because he thinks he can make some quick, dirty money dealing with drug baron Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his treacherous girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz).
It’s a bad idea that keeps getting worse and worse. The setting is El Paso, Texas, which is a hotbed of drug cartels and illegal immigration. Do we need to be told again how bad drug cartels are? How they have no regard for truth, decency or human life? How their main motivating factor is greed?
Evidently the Counselor must need remedial training in this obvious lesson. It is neither entertaining, uplifting nor educational to endure this brutal, sadistic exercise. I did so you don’t have to.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Running for the Shelter of Mama's Little Helper

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“Next To Normal” Nothing Like Ordinary

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre’s “Next To Normal” is an extraordinary production of an extraordinarily dramatic musical show. You can find out how extraordinary weekends through Nov. 2 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theatre.
It takes a lot of nerve to take on the challenge of a Pulitzer Prize-winning modern musical about mental illness. In its fifth season Slow Burn has plenty of nerve, courage, chutzpa- call it what you will. Without first-rate, heartfelt performances backed by precision live musical accompaniment, enhanced by dynamic lighting (Lance Blank), appropriate suburban costumes (Rick Pena) and a serviceable, evocative set (Sean McClelland), “Next To Normal’ could easily be a train wreck. This train stays on the track and arrives on time after two and a half hours of sometimes gut-wrenching emotion, often leavened by dark, sardonic humor.
Patrick Fitzwater is the engineer or director of this hot-burning train and Manny Schwartzman is the musical director, or in old railway terms, the fireman.
The combustible fuel is a cast of six wildly talented singer-actors of various ages, sizes and attitude.
Brian Yorkey’s book is a parable about the incomprehensible sorrow of bi-polar disorders and the detrimental effects on all who try to comprehend and coexist. The story is propelled by Tom Kitt’s musical score in a variety of styles, from rock to schmaltz and waltz, wistful ballads and stand-up-and-be counted anthems.
Diana (Sharyn Peoples) is a forty-something mom who was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder 16 years ago; not too long after giving birth to a daughter Natalie (Anne Chamberlain), now 16 and quite resentful.
Slow Burn co-artistic director Matthew Korinko is Diana’s infinitely patient, frustrated husband, Dan Goodman. Jason Edelstein is Henry, a 17-year-old who has a serious crush on Natalie.
The song “Just Another Day” is the setup for another chaotic day in the profoundly dysfunctional Goodman household. It’s 3:30 a.m. and mom is up, sleepless. A son sneaks in late and is scolded. Natalie is up at 5:30 getting ready for school. Dad is getting ready for another day at work, which is often interrupted. The chorus is completed by a young man with an angel’s voice who we learn later is the son named Gabe (Bruno Vida).
In the course of the first act we will see mom undergo various treatments with her doctors (both played by Clay Cartland). Strange as it may seen, delusions can be funny when mom imagines her shrink is a rock star.
That’s probably enough plot for now. Anyone who has been touched by bipolar disorders will be familiar with all the painful outcomes, including the most drastic.
All of this high drama is sung beautifully in duets, trios, quartets and sextexts in razor-sharp harmonies. This is not Rodgers & Hammerstein and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” It is music that makes you think about what may be unthinkable. If you can take it, you will be rewarded. You may even see the light.
Tickets are $40 adults, $35 senior citizens and $25 students. Call 866-811-4111 or go to www.slowburntheatre.org.