Monday, January 30, 2017

Close, But No Cigar for De Niro's "Comedian"


De Niro Attempts The Funny in “The Comedian”

By Skip Sheffield

Robert De Niro can do just about anything. He is the main attraction and the main character of “The Comedian.”
De Niro plays Jackie Burke, an over-the-hill insult comic along the lines of Don Rickles. Jackie is trying to get his mojo back, but he is reduced to playing retirement homes, whose clients only want him to play his character of Eddie, which gained him fame on television. Jackie Burke is sick of playing Eddie. He is so sick he attacks an audience member who heckles him. Jackie is rewarded with 30 days in the Nassau County, NY jail.
When he is released Jackie has to do community service at a soup kitchen. There he meets a fellow ex-con Harmony (Leslie Mann), who is young enough to be his daughter, if not granddaughter. To the credit of Mann and De Niro, they make this unlikely relationship somehow feasible. Call it an old man’s dream.
The biggest problem with “The Comedian” is it is not very funny. Danny DeVito does yeoman service as Jackie’s younger brother, and Pattie Lupone as his nagging wife. Another thing that does not ring true is that neither De Niro, DeVito nor Lupone are Jewish as per their characters. If I were Jewish I might take offense. Harvey Keitel as Harmony’s sleazy Florida real estate dad I believe.
There are some fun cameos from Cloris Leachman as a terminally elderly performer and Billy Crystal, Charles Grodin, Gilbert Gottfried and Brett Mann playing themselves.

Robert De Niro put heart and soul into this project, misdirected by Taylor Hackford (“A Officer and a Gentleman”). De Niro gets points for trying, but t’ain’t funny McGee. De Niro was much better as the pathetic comic Rupert Pupkin back in 1982 in "The King Of Comedy."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Love Dogs? This One's For You


For The Love Of Dog

By Skip Sheffield

What is “A Dog’s Purpose?”
The short answer is unconditional love. Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom used W. Bruce Cameron’s screenplay of his 2010 novel to mount a tribute to canines and their human friends.
There is not just one dog in the story. It starts with a Red Retriever who escapes from a dog pound, and is rescued by a woman named Hannah (Britt Robertson). Hannah has a brother named Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) who becomes very attached to the dog he names Bailey.
Dogs don’t live as long as humans. In time Bailey segues into different times and breeds as Buddy, Tino and Ellie. Josh Gad provides the various dog voices. The one constant is Ethan, who grows up to be Dennis Quaid. Hannah becomes Peggy Lipton, in a welcome return to the silver screen.
“A Dog’s Purpose” is aimed squarely at dog lovers. Ironically the movie has been protested by PETA because of a scene in which one of the dogs, a German Shepherd, jumps into a raging river.
My father hated dogs; therefore we never had one of our own. It was not until I was married with children that a dog came into my life. I consider myself better for the experience.

“A Dog’s Purpose” is sentimental, corny and clichéd, but it is filled with love. A dog’s purpose is to “Be Here Now.” That is good advice to humans of any age.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A "Titanic" Musical Based on Disaster


A Night to Remember “Titanic”

By Skip Sheffield

A musical based on one of the worst maritime disasters of all time?
Yes, such is “Titanic: The Musical,” running through Feb. 5 in the Amaturo Theatre of Broward Center.
Slow Burn Theatre artistic director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater likes to mount shows you don’t see everywhere. “Titanic” certainly fits that description. Like the luxury passenger ship for which it is named, “Titanic” is unlikely to become a staple of summer stock or community theater. For one thing the cast is huge, with a cast of 20; some of them doubling parts. The musical score is complicated, with songs providing exposition of a many-faceted story of various social classes. The music is not hit-worthy. No “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” or “Some Enchanted Evening” here. Instead we have “How Did They Build The Titanic,” “The Largest Object,” “I Must Get on that Ship” and “Wake Up, Wake Up.” There are some nice love songs with “I Give You My Hand,” with Caroline (Alexa Baray) and Charles (Justen Fox-Hall) and “I Have Danced” with Alice (Leah Marie Sessa) and Edgar (James A. Skibar), but most are just serviceable. The closest thing to an anthem is “In Every Age,” which opens and makes a grand finale.
With so many characters, it is hard to focus on individuals. Ismay (Andrew Rodriguez-Triana) is the clear villain as the White Star executive who insisted the Captain (David Hyman) push the R.M.S. Titanic to its limits while taking a time-saving but riskier course to the north. If there is a hero, it’s young Barrett (Landon Summers), who remains stiff upper lip along with Andrews (Matthew Korinko), who go down with the ship. A special notice should go to first-class passengers Ida and Isador Strauss (Ann Marie Olson and Troy J. Stanley), who sing the most moving ballad of all, “Still.”
“Titanic” is a mixed bag. Slow Burn is admirable for attempting such an ambitious project, but unless you are a Titanic fanatic (and there are many), it can be a long slow journey to disaster. Many people loved the 1997 James Cameron movie “Titanic,” which focused on two lovers played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. My favorite remains “A Night To Remember;” a black-and-white 1958 British movie I saw as a boy. I’ll never forget the sight of the band continuing to play as the ship went down. The musicians, as well as the Captain, the bellboys and most of third class went down with the ship. Now that was drama.
Tickets are $47-$60. Call 800-745-3000 or 954-462-0222 or go to

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bill Boggs Live in Boca Raton


Bill Boggs Live at Boca Black Box Theater Jan. 25

By Skip Sheffield

Attention New Yorkers: Bill Boggs, who was part of your life from 1975 to 1987 on “Midday Live” on WNEW Channel 5, will be appearing for one night only at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the Boca Black Box Theater, 8221 W. Glades Road, Boca Raton.
“Talk Show Confidential” is the name of the show. Boggs dishes the goods on the hundreds; nay thousands of celebrities he has interviewed live on television.
“I’m doing this show for fun,” said Boggs with his lady friend Jean Rothschild, who is part of the show. “I’m thinking this might be good for the condo communities down here.”
A native of Philadelphia, Boggs got his start in radio at the end of the “golden era.” His first TV talk show was “Southern Exposure” in 1972, High Point, North Carolina. Boggs discovered he had an affinity for connecting with people, great and small. The greats include Frank Sinatra Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Bowie, Martha Stewart, the Pope and Philippe Petit, the morning after he walked a tight rope between the World Trade Center towers.
“It’s almost a one-man play,” Boggs explains. “I deal with the crazy things that happened in my career.”
Boggs, who is an officer of the famed Friars Club in New York City, has a small part in the Robert De Niro movie “The Comedians” coming out Feb. 3.
“I’ve been in several movies just being myself,” he says. “De Niro plays an insult comic. I have only a couple of lines, but they are important. Cloris Leachman plays a woman who has a heart attack, and I am a first responder.”
Tickets for the Bill Boggs appearance are $30 and $40. Call 561-483-9036 or go to

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Faithful "West Side Story" at Wick Theatre


A Faithful Re-Staging Of “West Side Story” at The Wick Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

There’s a place for us… somewhere a place for us.
That place is The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. The show is the American Musical Theater classic, “West Side Story.”
Many years in the making, “West Side Story” finally made its Broadway debut in 1961. It was an inspired collaboration among playwright Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein and young lyricist Stephen Sondheim in his Broadway debut. The simple idea was adapting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to then-contemporary New York City at a peak in gang warfare. Pulling it all together was legendary director Hal Prince, with help from choreographer Jerome Robbins. The show has proved to be an evergreen perennial in revivals through the years all over the world.
Wick Theatre has pulled out the stops in the casting of WSS, with a cast of 29 shoehorned onto its stage. Playing the Romeo and Juliet lead roles of Tony and Maria are Thaddeus Pearson and Mary Joanna Grisso.
Though she looks like an ingénue, Grisso is a seasoned professional with more than 550 performances of the role of Maria alone. Grisso is the tiniest Maria I have ever seen. I’m guessing she couldn’t be more than 5-foot tall. Pearson on the other hand is a strapping lad of 6-3 or 6-4. The physical contrast of the characters underscores Maria’s vulnerability; caught between forces over which she has no control.
On the other hand is Maria’s older sister Anita, played with fire and sass by Sydney Mei Ruf-Wong. Ruf-Wong is a wonderful dancer, and she brings out the joyous sensuality of Anita.
Dance is of paramount importance to WSS. The sight of all these kids flying through the air is a spectacular sight.
WSS is a romance, but it is also a tragedy. Like the original Romeo and Juliet, the warring factions draw blood and deaths result. In this case it’s the Caucasian American Jets trying to hold on to their turf against the newcomer Puerto Rican immigrant Sharks. The Sharks’ boss guy is fiery Bernardo, older brother of Maria, played with smoldering passion by Pasqualino Beltempo. Tony is supposed to alpha dog of the rival jets, but his bravado has been cooled by a steady job at Doc’s (Howard Elfman) soda shop. Once he spies Maria at a dance, everything else (literally) falls away. The heavy lifting falls to Riff (Jeff Smith), who wants to whip the Sharks once and for all. Adults trying to maintain the peace are Officer Krumpke (Michael Cartwright) and Lt. Shrank (Cliff Burgess), who is not exactly neutral.
The futility of petty violence, cruel words and war is every bit as valid today as it was 400 years ago. Will we ever learn? So far, no.
WSS is best played as a period piece. An updated version several years ago was less successful. With Wick Theatre’s show, co-directed and choreographed by Charles South and Ryan VanDerBoom, you get the Real McCoy; a faithful re-staging of the 1961 original. Once again The Wick gives us something to make us proud of being in Boca Raton.
Tickets are $75 and $80. Call 561-995-2333 or go to

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ben Affleck a Tough Guy with Soft Heart in Live By Night


Wild Old Florida in “Live By Night”

By Skip Sheffield

Welcome to the Ben Affleck show. Ben Affleck directs, stars and adapted Dennis Lahane’s novel “Live By Night” for the screen.
Affleck is Joe Coughlin, a good Irish boy gone bad in 1920s Boston. Joe is the youngest son of esteemed Boston police Chief Thomas Coughlin, played by Brendan Gleeson.
Something snapped in Joe when he was “fighting Huns” in 1917 in World War I.
“I will never take orders again,” Joe says in voiceover. “I came out an outlaw.”
Joe may be an outlaw in the lawless Boston of 1927, but he is a dapper one. He is one of the lieutenants of Irish-American mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). Joe plays with fire by launching an affair with Albert White’s townie girlfriend, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller).
You play with fire and you get burned. It comes as no surprise Albert White learns Joe has cuckolded him. White’s goons beat Joe within an inch of his life. Then after a botched bank job and a wild car chase with three cops killed, Joe is wounded, arrested, and thanks to his dad’s influence given a lenient three-year stretch in prison, which ironically saves him from White’s goons. When he is released he decides to go to the other side by signing up with rival Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). Maso likes Joe, and decides to send him on a mission to Tampa, Florida to straighten out the bootlegging business.
So begins a chapter two for Joe and the viewer. It’s fun to see an imagined view of Florida, and director Affleck makes the most of it. Joe gains an ally and sidekick, Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) and a beautiful new Cuban girlfriend, Graciela (Zoe Saldana). Graciela and her brother Estenban Suarez (singing star Miguel) smuggle Cuban rum into Florida. Soon Joe becomes the rum king of Ybor City with the implicit permission of Police Chief Figgis (Chris Cooper). He stands up to despicable KKK leader RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher). Things come unraveled when the chief’s lovely daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning) goes off to Hollywood to become a star and becomes a junkie and prostitute instead. As so often happens in these cases, when Loretta goes through rehabilitation she emerges a crusader against sin, booze and godlessness.

Prohibition to the dismay of its promoters caused the exact opposite of its desired effect. It made bootlegging and criminal activity flourish. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Florida, which was wide open to all manner of illicit activity. All things come to an end. The end of Prohibition came when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933. There is a spectacular gun battle near the end of “Live By Night,” and then the story tapers down to a melancholy end. While this is by no means a masterwork, it is good to look at, and it is of particular interest to students of Florida history. File it under noble effort.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Phoebe Legere: a Woman Burning With Talent


Multi-Talented Phoebe Legere at Arts Garage Jan. 14

By Skip Sheffield

Phoebe Legere is a woman of many talents. She plays seven instruments, including classical piano. She sings with an impressive range in a variety of styles. She is a published Juilliard-trained composer. She is an accomplished poet, filmmaker and painter. She is very funny, and sexy too. Phoebe Legere performs her “Heart of Love” tour at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14 at Arts Garage. 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach. She also performs Jan. 12 at Luna Star Café, 775 N. 125th Street, Miami.
Phoebe is no stranger to South Florida. She regularly visits here to perform and to engage in her latest passion: golf.
“I have been to South Florida many, many times,” she said by telephone from New York City. “I make my living playing piano. It is usually at private clubs and restaurants. I know thousands of songs. It will be nice to put on a real show at Arts Garage.”
In addition to her musical show, Phoebe will be mounting a show of her original art, which will be available for sale to benefit her Foundation for New American Art (4NAA), which brings art and music to underserved children in low-income communities. Phoebe will be arriving in style in her “Visionary Van,” in which she is driving across the country. Phoebe had recorded 15 albums of music since making her debut on Epic Records in 1986 at age 16. She has never achieved mass popularity, but she was nominated for a 2001 Pulitzer Prize in music.
“I’m looking forward to doing a real show with my own songs and paintings,” she declares. “Men don’t like to see strong women painters or musicians. My show will be quite different from what I play in country clubs. I won’t sugar coat. I’ve drawn a fine line in the sand.”
Tickets are $30-$45. Call 561-450-6357 or go to For more information go to

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Find Inspiration in "Hidden Figures"


Need Inspiration? Look to “Hidden Figures”

By Skip Sheffield

“Hidden Figures” is a play on words. The three main characters are math geniuses hidden away in the Langley, Virginia headquarters of NASA in the year 1961. They are the hidden figures behind the technical breakthrough that enabled John Glenn (Glen Powell) to become the first American astronaut to orbit the globe.
The screenplay, co-written by director Theodore Malfi (“St. Vincent”) is based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, who dramatized a true story.
There is another reason the figures remained hidden. They were African American women in a Virginia that was still under strict segregation.
The women are Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). We see the women as little girls, amazing their teachers and fellow students with their prowess with abstract figures and complicated mathematical equations. Then we see them as grown women, going to another day’s work at NASA when their car breaks down. A cop comes by prepared to hassle them, but when he learns who they work for, he provides a police escort.
The women are forced to endure indignities at NASA, including separate restrooms and separate dining room. The colored restrooms were in a separate building some distance away. When Katherine Johnson’s supervisor, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) asked about her mysterious absences from the work place, she explained the restroom situation.
Al Harrison had a reputation as a tyrant, but he bristled at the injustices black employees were forced to suffer. On the spot he ordered the desegregation of all NASA facilities, despite the fact the order was breaking Virginia law.

There are many more indignities and injustices the women endured, but they prevailed and succeeded despite all obstacles, not the least of which was being working moms. Stay until the end of the film and you’ll see the real-life “Hidden Figures.” It is truly inspiring.

Scorsese Takes a Different Road to "Silence"


“Silence” a Dramatic Departure for Martin Scorsese

By Skip Sheffield

“Silence” is like nothing Martin Scorsese has made before. Writer-director Scorsese, a master poet of the mean streets of New York, tackles an epic historical drama, set in 17th century Japan. Scorsese, with co-writer Jay Cocks (“Gangs of New York”), adopted Shusaku Endo’s novel of faith, suffering and sacrifice.
Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play Portuguese Catholic missionaries Rodrigues and Garrpe in the year 1633. The Japanese had been brutally persecuting, torturing and executing Christians. The Japanese are our friends now, but we forget the brutality and cruelty they are capable of. Remember Pearl Harbor?
Despite dire warnings, Rodrigues and Garrpe are smuggled into Japan under cover of fog and darkness. In addition to providing support and comfort to the remaining Christians, who have been driven into hiding, the priests are also in search of their onetime mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has disappeared. With raggedy Kichijiro (Yosuko Kubozuka) as their guide, the men seek out Christians hiding in caves, woods and abandoned buildings. Eventually word gets back to the Inquisitor (Israel Ogata), a onetime Samurai turned merciless despot. It will not turn out well.

The scenery in “Silence” is stunning, but it is contrasted with images of horror and brutality. It is an ultimate test of faith for the priests, mirroring the suffering and humiliation of Jesus prior to his crucifixion. This is by far Andrew Garfield’s most challenging role to date, and he gives it his all. There are two key twists in a film almost three hours long. It may rattle staunch Christians. The sad truth of the matter is that Christians are still being persecuted and even dying for their faith, but in other parts of the world. Twenty-five years in development, “Silence” is a bittersweet memoir of Scorsese’s Catholic upbringing.