Sunday, March 30, 2008

This year, both seals and humans die

Canada's mass killing of baby seals has been interrupted by a deadly boat accident; details here.

The annual barbaric slaughter of seals is a cruel and unethical practice that produces a product nobody needs. Information is here on how to protest the annual seal killings.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Ella" is on-stage at the Rep

My freelance review:
Arguably the finest female jazz singer of all time, Ella Fitzgerald comes alive again in Ella, the season closer for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The time is July 1966 and the place is a simple concert stage in Nice, France, where Ella is rehearsing for an upcoming concert to be recorded for her posterity. At the urging of her manager and friend Norman Granz, the private Ella, at age 49, relunctantly laces her performance with "patter" about her life. Ella begins to reminisce, uncovering a past her public never knew.

Actress Tina Fabrique plays Ella with a lot of gusto, charm and beauty. Her voice is quite beautiful, too, as she reenacts over twenty of Ella's classic songs.

The entire play is acted out on the same concert stage, with Fabrique on-stage throughout. Act 1 offers a stressed Ella in rehearsal recounting her first big break at the Apollo Theatre at age 17, as well as subsequent details in her career and personal life, such as her challenges in raising her son. The entire Act 2 is Ella's big show -- including more songs and patter.

We get to know a lot about Ella Fitzgerald from this play. Her life was not overly dramatic, especially compared to so many of the big stars of today. Fabrique's Ella comments, "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't sleep around. All I do is sing the songs."

Still, she had her share of ups and downs, including the death of her sister and the estrangement of her son.  Surprisingly, though, I didn't feel as strong of an emotional connection as I suspect there could have been had elements of Ella's patter been arranged differently.

The most memorable parts of Ella are the songs, with music ranging from the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to Duke Ellington, Sonny Curtis and Johnny Mercer. Stand-out songs include "The Nearness of You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and "Blue Skies."

Ella plays through April 13 at the Rep.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Snowing on Easter!!

Here in St. Louis, it's snowing on Easter morning. Wet, very heavy snow flurries... Happy Easter to all!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

An early Easter

This year's Easter (on March 23) is quite early! Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is always March 20), so the earliest Easter ever can be is March 22.

Some interesting trivia about March 23: The last time Easter was on this date was in 1913 (95 years ago), and the next time Easter will be on this date is in 2228 (220 years from now).

And about March 22: The last time Easter was on this date was in 1818 (190 years ago), and the next time Easter will be on this date is in 2285 (277 years from now).

What all of this means: Looking back, none of us alive today has seen an Easter earlier than this year's; only those of us 95 or older have seen an Easter as early. And after this year, none of us alive today will see an Easter as early.

Special thanks to my sister-in-law Carolyn for sharing this interesting trivia!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring!

I took this close-up of a star magnolia tree flower while on a dog walk on Mar. 24, 2007.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Rabbit Hole" is a deeply moving, great play

My freelance review:
When he was a student at the Juilliard School, David Lindsay-Abaire was taught by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman that to write a great play, write about the thing that scares you the most in the world. A few years later, as a first-time father, Lindsay-Abaire identified the thing that would scare him the most in the world -- to lose a child.

In 2007, Lindsay-Abaire would become a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright for Rabbit Hole, a production of which closes the 30th season of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' Studio Theatre series.

And what a powerful, moving play it is! As the play opens, we discover a family life that's been torn apart by an unimaginable tragedy, the accidental death of Becca and Howie Corbett's four-year-old son. The couple is in grief and are drifting dangerously apart from one another and from the identities by which they have always defined themselves.

Their extended family includes Becca's younger sister Izzy, the wild child in local bars who strives to be the center of attention, while their mother Nat -- herself having coped with the loss of a grown son -- has a bit too much wine and bluntly shares her opinions, solicited or not.

This journey through grief and healing is bittersweet, rich and surprisingly funny at times, with most of the welcomed humor courtesy of the family eccentricities.

And the actors all do a great job, too. They come across as lovingly dysfunctional as any other family! Kudos to Victoria Adams-Zischke and Timothy McCracken as the parents, Ashley West as Izzy and Carolyn Swift as Nat.

A fifth cast member, Adam King, is a junior at Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts and delivers a stunning, touching performance as Jason, the young man who was driving the car that hit and killed the Corbett's son.

The intimate nature of the 125-seat Studio Theatre works quite well for this intimate production. Solid directing comes from Jane Page in her debut at the Rep. Robert Mark Morgan's scenic design is creative, visually appealing and highly effective.

The Rep's Studio Theatre scored three great wins this season. Joining Rabbit Hole was The Clean House and The Vertical Hour. Next season's Studio Theatre plays have yet to be announced, but if this season's productions are any indication of what to expect, we will not be disappointed.

Rabbit Hole plays through Mar. 30.

"Miss Pettigrew" is a grand farce

My freelance review:
The first great comedy of 2008 has arrived in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the new film starring Academy Award winner Frances McDormand (Fargo).

Set in 1939 London, Miss Pettigrew is a grand farce from start to finish, with just enough sentiment thrown in for balance.

McDormand plays the title character, a middle-aged governess who is once again unfairly dismissed from her latest job -- and given up by the employment agency. Before leaving the employment agency, though, she happens to overhear of the need for a "social secretary" and -- despite not being qualified -- she goes directly to the penthouse apartment to interview for the position. A dizzying -- and hilarious -- sequence of events immediately transpire, and she has the position!

It's not easy being a social secretary, though. And especially given the social life of actress/singer Delysia Lafosse (an uproarious performance by Amy Adams). Delysia's greatest challenge is balancing her love lives -- all three of them!

One man in Delysia's orbit, an intimidating nightclub owner, offers her a terrific, ornate flat to live in. Another, an impressionable junior impresario, promises her a lead role in his new musical. And the other, a devoted musician, wants to marry her. Perhaps Miss Pettigrew will help her sort things out, especially with advice such as "choices just have to be made or you will miss out." And perhaps Miss Pettigrew will take some of her own advice along the way.

So it's not tough to see where the story ends up going. But Miss Pettigrew is all about the journey, not the destination. And for the most part, the journey is quickly-paced and very funny, a throwback to the stylish screwball comedies of the thirties and forties.

Miss Pettigrew is a lot of fun and is great entertainment.

Friday, March 14, 2008


One of my favorite dog photos... Scooter and Brandy saying hello to one another, from Feb. 6, 2003.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

So long, Whiskey

My friends Brian and Natalie lost their wonderful dog Whiskey last week. My sympathies to them. I recall going along with Brian, many years ago, when he met Whiskey as a puppy. Whiskey would have a very happy life.