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Christmas At Home: Finding Christmas

1b0f119bca5919243ea4a70ccdb8c3d1I really haven’t been in the Christmas mood this year. All the evil, hate and violence going on in the world has taken center stage– at least that’s all that is being spewed through the media. It has made me sad, angry and frustrated. What is wrong with people? It has made it really, really hard to find the Christmas spirit.

I’m so sick of Donald Trump… a hypocritical Congress that lies to the American people outright… and an uprising of action, based completely on fear of what might be versus what is. This is a dark moment in our history. Bah humbug!

So this morning I happened to come across the video of Jordan Smith, the recent winner of The Voice,  and his version of Mary Did You Know trending in social media.

 

It’s good. Really good. Just not as good as Donny Osmond’s 1999 version.

 

 

I like Donny’s version best, not as much for his technique as for his passion and sincerity. It touches me. I think his rendition is a better fit for the true meaning of the song.

This led me to keep searching through my Christmas music. Actually, aside from the repetitive playlist on the FM station in my car… I haven’t listened to much Christmas music this year. And, I just hadn’t found my Christmas moment.

There’s always a single moment or two that defines Christmas for me each year. It’s usually something quiet and simple… and it’s not usually a moment I share. Mostly, because it’s a feeling, it’s personal– and that’s often just too hard to describe.

Anyway, this search through my playlist brought me to My Grown Up Christmas List one of my favorites of all time. In spite of my fondness for the song, I hadn’t listened to it this year.

So I clicked play on Kelly Clarkson’s version of the song… and there it was. My moment. Unexpected. Simple. Pure. A rush of emotion summing up all that I’d been feeling– melting my anger and frustration and giving way to hope. My Christmas moment.

 

 

This song says it all. We claim to be a civilized society. At this time of year, if at no other, I would hope people would search their hearts and find what is truly important.

Peace. Hope. Love. Giving. Sharing.

And perhaps most important of all– living without fear.

Merry Christmas.

Tragedy and a Deserted Island

Southeast Asia Travel -11/14 – Day Sixteen: We woke up early to the news of the Paris attacks, as they were in progress; and we were instantly glued to the TV. Outside our balcony door, we could see our ship was cruising closer to the peaceful, sparsely populated island of Tioman, Malaysia… our destination for the day.

In the marketing materials for the cruise, Playbill touted (what other sources have as well) that Tioman was the island used to represent Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific but this isn’t true. Those scenes were actually filmed in Hawaii. Nevertheless, this beautiful island was here waiting for us.

The island of Tioman, Malaysia.

The island of Tioman, Malaysia.

The chaos playing out in Paris was diametrically opposed to the serenity before me. It just wasn’t right.

We broke away from the TV and headed to breakfast. Only a few people had started straggling in. Of course we wondered if anyone else knew what was going on in France. Our ship is French—did the crew know yet?

We checked the news again after we ate, and then decided to catch the first tender, figuring it was only going to get more crowded if we waited for a later one. We got down to the deck only to find out it had temporarily been postponed. After an hour, the temporary delay had become a questionable, permanent decision. No Tioman.

A captivating little lagoon on Tioman. Used my zoom lens, shot from our ship. It was as close as we'd get.

A captivating little lagoon on Tioman. Used my zoom lens, shot from our ship. It was as close as we’d get.

The story of what actually happened will probably always be a mystery. We were told that the resort we were supposed to visit (and use their beach)– suddenly went bankrupt overnight. This was odd as we were also told that as of the night before they were excited we were coming. I should also note that the population of Tioman (in 2008) is estimated at 432. So to believe this story, you’d have to believe that a small beach resort, knowing a ship was bringing over two hundred customers for the day– suddenly decided to close shop and not even wait an extra day, collecting whatever income it could. It makes no sense.

Add to this, there were two other resorts visible from our ship and no one could be reached at either of them. From our viewpoint, the coast was completely deserted.  A rumor started on our boat, early on, that initially I didn’t give much credence. A few people were suggesting that because of the Paris attacks and because our ship was French; the islanders were afraid to let us come ashore. Later I had no choice but to believe it, especially after seeing movement on shore as soon as our ship started drifting further away. A few small fishing boats also started to appear. It was curious to say the least.

At noon, the crew organized a brief gathering on the rear deck to remember the people of France and lowered the French flag to half-mast. Yes, all over the world- even on a small ship floating in the South Pacific– people were touched and solidarity ruled over despair.

It was announced that at 2 PM the Broadway performers were rallying together to put on a variety show to entertain the ship. This thrown-together event turned out to provide some pretty exciting moments. All the performers (except Liz Callaway whose concert was scheduled for tonight) performed; giving us a wonderful show. For many of us, it was probably a better way to spend the afternoon than basking in the sun anyway.

All the performers, giving their all, in the afternoon's surprise variety show.

All the performers, giving their all, in the afternoon’s surprise variety show.

This was our last night on the ship; tomorrow we’d dock in Singapore.

The incredible Liz Callaway.

The incredible Liz Callaway.

Liz Callaway’s show was moved up to an hour before dinner. She pulled out all the stops and gave us a terrific show. I was especially thrilled because her final song was, The Story Goes On, from the musical Baby. Particularly poignant for many reasons. Liz is another of the many Broadway performers that gives her whole heart when she sings. It was a perfect last concert among so many great performances we received.

Following the concert, we had the introduction of the ship’s crew and our final toast to the end of a great cruise. Michael and I just happened to be sitting in front of Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody, so we got to clink our glasses of champagne with them.

I regret not getting to say goodbye to a lot of people after dinner. I really wasn’t thinking about the unlikelihood of seeing many of them in the morning. We were smart enough to get most of the email addresses exchanged early though, so we’d be able to stay in touch.

We spent the last couple of hours before bed packing and dealing with the reception desk. The cruise has gone way too fast and I’m just thankful for all the wonderful memories. Luckily, we have a full day in Singapore tomorrow before we start the long journey home.

Seasick & Show Happy

Southeast Asia Travel -11/13 – Day Fifteen: Breakfast… show… lunch… show… show… dinner… show. That was today’s schedule.

Christine Ebersole preparing to sing "Around the World".

Christine Ebersole preparing to sing “Around the World”.

I was really excited about the first event of the day—Seth Rudetsky interviewing Christine Ebersole and Rachel York about their roles in the musical, Grey Gardens. Christine won a Tony Award in 2007 for her dual roles of Edith and Edie Beale. We were fortunate to see her performance on Broadway. Rachael York just finished playing the same role(s) this summer starring opposite Betty Buckley. The highlight of this session was Christine Ebersole singing Around the World from the show.

 

Christine Ebersole, Seth Rudetsky & Rachel York discuss Grey Gardens.

Christine Ebersole, Seth Rudetsky & Rachel York discuss Grey Gardens.

 

Here’s a YouTube clip from the Broadway production:

 

 

Pat Birch is probably not a name familiar to a lot of people though her work is everywhere. A dancer/choreographer/director with credits a mile long, she has definitely left her mark in many forms of media and entertainment. Film, theatre, TV, music videos… she’s done it all.

Pat entertained us with stories from her career, hosted by John Fahey, in the afternoon.

Patricia Birch with Tommy Tune at the Opening Dinner.

Patricia Birch with Tommy Tune at the Opening Dinner.

Patricia Birch started as a dancer and quickly segued in choreography. She played the role of Anybodys in the 1960 revival of West Side Story. Among her many credits she was responsible for choreographing stage and film productions of Grease, Candide, A Little Night Music, Parade and her work was regularly seen on Electric Company, 6 seasons of Saturday Night Live, and the film, The First Wives Club. That’s just a sample. Pat is a friendly, gifted and fascinating artist.

The Playbill Cocktail Hour became The Newlywed Game today. Better stated: The Broadway Newlywed Game. All the questions had some Broadway connection. Three couples married less than a year participated: One older couple, one young gay couple, and one couple I’d guess to be in their late 30’s. The game itself was fun but it was the banter between the hosts that made it the best. Married couple, Jennifer Cody and Hunter Foster were hysterical—much of the time, not trying to be! From making the instructions more confusing than reading the U.S. Tax Code to Jennifer’s constant quick wit—it was a ball.

I have to say I was feeling a little seasick today. At least the constant, slight rocking back and forth wasn’t helping how I was feeling. To say that I was grumpy at dinner was an understatement. Feeling the way I did, the extremely slow service started to make me crazy. Dinner took an hour and 50 minutes to get through—with big breaks between courses. I wanted to pull my hair out. We barely had time to run back to the room before the evening’s show.

Rachel York

Rachel York

Rachel York has a powerhouse voice that doesn’t quit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer do so many big power numbers in one set before– each using the full range of her voice. She loves doing impressions. She gave us Julie Andrew, Liza Minnelli. Cher, Celine and a whole lot more. One example, Rachel sang I Will Always Love You, starting with Whitney, switching to Dolly, throwing in a few others and ending with Whitney’s big ending.

 

Rachel York accompanied by Seth Rudetsky.

Rachel York accompanied by Seth Rudetsky.

 

With all the performers there has been a great variety in content and style of performances… Not to mention the contrasts of the different personalities. In spite of the changes in the originally announced list of performers, Playbill has done an excellent job of entertaining us with a wide range of Broadway talent.

Broadway Moms & A Broadway Beauty

Southeast Asia Travel -11/11 – Day Thirteen: We had a much-needed day at sea today. Very few people were up and about during breakfast after yesterday’s whirlwind day in Bangkok. Michael and I tried to catch catnaps in between the scheduled events.

I forgot to mention before that due to a previously scheduled engagement, Norm Lewis left the cruise yesterday in Bangkok while Kerry Butler and Rachel York joined the cruise there.

At 11 AM, the second and last autograph session was held. We got our posters signed and chatted a bit; then enjoyed watching the stars interact with the guests. Today featured Hunter Foster, Jennifer Cody, Kerry Butler and Rachel York.

Talking about being Broadway Moms.

Talking about being Broadway Moms.

Mid-afternoon, John Fahey hosted a talk called, Being a Broadway Mom with Kerry Butler, Liz Callaway and Christine Ebersole. Towards the end Rachel York was brought in to the conversation. It was interesting to hear how they try to balance family with career and fun hearing how Broadway casts so warmly welcome the children into their show families. There were many touching moments as these moms expressed their love (and a few regrets) for their children.

Hunter Foster joined Kerry Butler for a number during her concert.

Hunter Foster joined Kerry Butler for a number during her concert.

Kerry Butler and Seth Rudetsky opened the concert tonight with Suddenly from Xanadu. It was the first time I’d heard Seth sing that way – he’s really got a nice voice. Usually when he sings, it’s in his Seth-schtick voice. If you’ve listened to him, you’ll know what I mean.

Together they basically did part of a recent concert they performed at 54 Below. Seth interviewed Kerry and she sang up a storm. One of her songs, A Change In Me, was not in Beauty and the Beast when she was Belle on Broadway. It was added later for Toni Braxton. It was a great concert and many wonderful stories were shared.

 

Kerry Butler

Kerry Butler

Beach & Banter

Drift wood on Koh Kood.

Drift wood on Koh Kood.

Southeast Asia Travel Day Eleven: Beach & BBQ day today in Koh Kood, Thailand. It was just what you’d expect of a fairly secluded beach on a tropical island– loads of palm trees and lush foliage. There was a huge sandy clearing with tables and chairs for eating and many beach chairs for sunning, down by the water. The crew from the ship hauled all the food and supplies out early before the rest of were tendered to the island dock. We stayed a couple hours- ate and walked the shoreline; then went back to the ship.

 

Our ship, Le Soleal from the beach.

Our ship, Le Soleal from the beach.

 

The beach lagoon at Koh Kood, Thailand.

The beach lagoon at Koh Kood, Thailand.

Looking out to sea from the island of Koh Kood.

Looking out to sea from the island of Koh Kood.

Lindsay Mendez at the autograph signing.

Lindsay Mendez at the autograph signing.

 

The first of two mingle and autograph sessions were held before dinner. Tommy Tune designed the poster for this year’s cruise. About half of the performers did the signing today: Tommy Tune, Christine Ebersole, Norm Lewis, Lindsay Mendez, Seth Rudetsky and Liz Callaway. It was a good chance to talk with them without feeling like you were imposing on their vacation time. On a day-to-day basis, some were more friendly and accessible than others; and we often found an opportunity to chat in passing.

 

Christine Ebersole and Seth Rudetsky (with daughter Juli) signing autographs.

Christine Ebersole and Seth Rudetsky (with daughter Juli) signing autographs.

Hunter Foster & Jennifer Cody chat about their careers and relationship during their evening performance.

Hunter Foster & Jennifer Cody chat about their careers and relationship during their evening performance.

After dinner, Broadway couple- Hunter Foster and his wife Jennifer Cody performed. They did more of a ‘chat and sing’ style performance, hosted by Seth Rudetsky. This was the perfect format for them. Especially, since most of us were less familiar with Jennifer Cody, by name… but most had probably seen her in at least one show if not more. From the shows that were mentioned, I figured Michael and I had seen her at least three or four times in different Broadway shows. We last saw Hunter on closing night in The Bridges of Madison County. They both gave impressive performances together and alone. It was also fun to listen to their witty banter and learn more about their careers and the two of them as a couple.

 

Hunter Foster singing, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.

Hunter Foster singing, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.

 

The always bubbly, Jennifer Cody.

The always bubbly, Jennifer Cody.

Where’s the Art in Elgin?

Art-ShowI’ve lived in Elgin for over 15 years and have a working history with Elgin arts organizations that goes back over 23 years. I can attest that not much has changed in a quarter of a century. Groups and artists come and go, leaving what has always been a small, typical community arts base. Pretty much what you’d expect to find in most communities this size, anywhere in America.

Imagine my amusement while watching a broadcast of a city council meeting, as a speaker made a statement to the council that went something like this:

Elgin has the best, vibrant, world-class arts community outside of Chicago and possible New York. Everyone knows our reputation.

I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.

I laughed out loud.

I don’t want to belittle the talent and creativity or the blood, sweat and tears of Elgin artists. I just want to draw attention to some of the misperceptions of what the arts community really is, in relation to other communities. It’s wonderful to be proud of your community– and it’s a totally different thing to be completely unrealistic.

I’d say Naperville has an up and coming arts scene… Oak Park’s art scene is pretty impressive…. but Elgin?

Maybe there’s just something I’m missing here.

Where is the ART in Elgin?

If I live here and I don’t know about it– That’s a problem. If I look for it and still can’t find it– That’s a bigger problem.

Visibility I looked at the city calendar. If I go by what’s listed, there isn’t much happening in Elgin for the next six months.

Calendar Check:

Elgin Art Showcase Calendar & Special Events– Lists no art related events for at least the first six months of 2015. This calendar is an offshoot of the main city calendar. There is a link on the Art Showcase main page to upcoming performances which only includes a prayer breakfast in January.

City of Elgin Calendar– Includes Holidays, Board and Committee Meetings and ‘all’ city- wide events; Aside from the Winter Blues Bash at Hemmens this weekend, the calendar only lists Elgin Symphony Orchestra performances on it’s calendar. Coincidentally, the ESO owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans on top of ongoing city backed financial support.

The Hemmens calendar and Art Showcase calendar are (perhaps unfortunately), a subset of the city calendar.

Downtown Neighborhood Association – No events are listed on the DNA calendar for the first six months of 2015 except : (pre-populated) First Friday Improv at Hemmens (listed every month). Their website shows past events but is not promoting any upcoming events in 2015.

With no luck finding art on the city sponsored sites and as someone that doesn’t subscribe to a printed newspaper any more (Does anyone?) –I turned to the only other place I knew to look…

Art-is-Life-Life-is-Art-Philosophy-Photography-Art-by-PLATUXGoogle Anyone? Google searches aren’t terribly revealing either. I searched live entertainment in Elgin and live entertainment in Elgin, IL and only a few bar bands popped up. I did learn that several Elgin eating establishments offer occasional musical entertainment. Art in Elgin, IL brings up a couple links to gallery/performance spaces but mostly martial arts studio links. Top searches for Fine arts in elgin il bring up Westminster Christian School first, the Art Center at Elgin Community College (ECC), Larkin High School, and lots of links to groups in St. Charles and Naperville.

A search for music in Elgin IL lists mostly repeated bar links, music lessons and finally, halfway down the second page the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. Searching for theatre in Elgin IL ( and theater) is a little more successful: Elgin Theatre Company, Children’s Theatre of ElginJanus Theatre (site not updated since June 2014), ECC, Side Street Studio Arts, and the Marcus Cinema movie theater come up before many links to other communities outside of Elgin.

Now here’s probably the most important: I searched art in Chicago suburbs, art in Chicago Northwest suburbs, theatre (theater) in Chicago suburbs, music in Chicago suburbs, dance in Chicago suburbs, things to do in Chicago northwest suburbs…. going 5 pages deep on each search, only one Elgin-related link came up and only in one of the searches.

This is distressing because Elgin needs to bring in people from other communities for economical success.

Facebook or Twitter? I follow a number of organizations, city pages and Twitter feeds and the use of social media by Elgin arts groups is pretty unsuccessful. Of those that use it, none seem to be aggressively targeting audiences, if at all.

Appearance is Everything. I searched for and checked out the websites of a number of Elgin groups and most of the websites are pretty unappealing.Some aren’t even up to date. Many look like no effort was put into them and do a poor job of marketing their art.

The best looking website belongs to Side Street Studio Arts. It’s visual, informative and features an up to date listing of events.

There are a ton of events listed on the Art Center at Elgin Community College link– but it still takes some navigating to find, the pages are not visually appealing. The descriptions of the events are minimal and not very enticing as well.

Snail Mail? We get a periodic newsletter, from the City of Elgin, sent to all residents. They do a good job of publicizing their seasonal festivals in it– but not other arts events. We also get a postcard publicizing upcoming events from one group. That’s about it for snail mail.

City Representation? The Elgin Cultural Arts Commission exists primarily as an advisory committee. They accept applications for artist and organizational grants and make their recommendations.

One of their purposes states:

Provide a vehicle for publicizing all arts related events of various organizations as well as community, state or national events related to the arts, and provide a strong public relations program for communicating the commission’s goals and their impact on community life.

In my research, I cannot find any evidence that they are having any success in this very important area. I can’t even find a list of arts organizations in Elgin. Shouldn’t that be a priority?

According to their last publicly available meeting minutes, from last November (2014); they are looking at creating a stand alone website, separate from the city’s where they could provide more information and links. This would definitely be beneficial. Especially if it gave them control over content.

Art.So WHAT’S the SOLUTION? First, I don’t mean to sound like I’m solely blaming the city for the lack of visibility. BUT– This is a symptom of a major problem in Elgin. The downtown area is dead. Yes, new businesses have opened… and many have also quickly closed. Not enough is being done to revitalize the downtown area. Token efforts are made like the River Walk redevelopment and the huge financial investment the city made in the Elgin Artspace Lofts — but without any big picture, comprehensive plan– stand alone efforts are not going to bring back a prosperous downtown.

One park, business, or space is not a community. The city should really look at building a niche market and focus on nurturing businesses and spaces with open public access. Investing in one thing without a comprehensive plan for the community is not going to make a difference.

I state this, because the arts community, if visible, can have a huge economic impact on the city. There are a few restaurants in the downtown area but all don’t keep regular hours. At five o’clock, most of downtown– shuts down. It leaves a dark, seemingly unsafe neighborhood.

If someone comes to an event downtown, they might also eat in a restaurant. They might shop in a store. These places have to exist, first. Second, people need to know they exist. Third, patrons need to feel safe in the neighborhood. Without all three of these conditions, the downtown will continue to flounder.

I don’t mean to limit the focus on downtown. It’s just that it’s supposed to be the hub of activity. There are arts opportunities all over the city– at least so I’m told. I might know for sure if I could find them.

I just looked at a Courier News article, online titled, Five Things To Do Around Elgin Jan. 16-22 and not one them listed, is in Elgin.

So tell me–

WHERE IS THE ART?

 

My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Stage to Screen

With the recent release of the film version of Into the Woods, I thought it might be fun to share my top three favorite film versions of musicals that originated on the stage.

A number of adapted musicals have enjoyed big box office success and some are quite good; both for their stand alone entertainment value and in their homage to their source material. My Fair Lady and Grease are two good examples.

For me, there are three that stand above the rest for a variety of reasons. In two of the three cases, I think the film adaptations are actually better than the original stage versions.

marquee number - 3Dreamgirls (2006) Directed by Bill Condon and adapted from the Tony Award-winning original 1981 Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Dreamgirls was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning two Oscars: Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson.

Suggested by the rise of The Supremes, Dreamgirls is an exuberant tribute to the sights and sounds of the 50’s & 60’s.

Dreamgirls (2006)

Dreamgirls (2006)

I find the film version superior to the stage production because of the visual, on location advantages and smoother scene/time transitions. The screenplay (by Condon) stays true to the original.

 

4500-number2Chicago (2002) Directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods). Screenplay by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). Based on the 1975 Bob Fosse, Kander & Ebb musical, whose stripped-down 1996 revival, far exceeded the success of the original. Still running on Broadway after 18 years.

Chicago (2002)

Chicago (2002)

I’m not a fan of the stage version. I find it drab and dull. On screen though, Chicago is an exciting, vibrant song and dance masterpiece. By far, the best example of a film adaptation being much better than the original.

 

Fire Letters A-ZWest Side Story (1961) Based on the classic 1957 stage musical, the film is a true representation of the original stage material and by far, my favorite movie musical of all time.

West Side Story is a contemporary re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet love story, told against the backdrop of the gang-controlled streets of New York.

Ground breaking in so many ways with some of the best choreography ever created, West Side Story is perfection.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (1961)

The result was honored with a record 10 Academy Awards– the most of any other movie musical and the fourth biggest winner, overall in Oscar history.

I’ve loved West Side Story since I was a kid. When I finally saw it live on stage for the first time, I was completely blown away. It’s one of the few works that I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other. The film and stage versions are equally brilliant.

I’m always shocked when someone says they’ve never seen West Side Story. If you’ve honestly never seen it. Put it on the top of your list now.