Your Next Musical #3—Dogfight

Having done two Broadway favorites, I thought I’d do a change of pace and go to the world of Off-Broadway.  If you’re wondering what the difference is, it’s based on seating capacity.  A Broadway theater must have 500 or more seats, while an Off-Broadway house must have between 100 and 499.   As a result Off-Broadway shows tend to be more intimate, and since there’s less financial risk, they’re often more experimental as well, leading to atypical productions that wouldn’t be seen on the Main Stem, such as the next musical in this series, Dogfight.

dogfight

Authors: Book by Peter Duchan, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  Based on the 1991 film of the same name.

History: Opened Off-Broadway in 2012, to rave reviews, and won two Lucille Lortel Awards (for Off-Broadway productions), including Outstanding Musical.

Synopsis: On a bus bound for San Francisco in 1967, Eddie Birdlace, a U.S. marine just back from Vietnam flashes back to the last time he went there—November 1963, just before the JFK assassination.  He and his fellow marines, including Bernstein and Boland, who with Birdlace call each other “The Three Bees,” are about to be shipped off the next day and decide to have a wild night on the town, including a “dogfight”—a ritual where each marine puts $50 in the pot, which goes to whoever brings the ugliest date.  Birdlace invites Rose, an awkward and chubby waitress, who is thrilled to have her first date.  Meanwhile Boland defies the rules of the dogfight by hiring Marcy, a prostitute with missing teeth.  When Birdlace and Rose arrive he has second thoughts but Rose thinks he’s embarrassed to be seen with her, leaving him no choice but to go ahead.  Eventually Rose finds out from Marcy about the dogfight, and walks out on Birdlace, ashamed for having believed him.

As the marines continue their debauchery Bernstein coerces a prostitute into serving him after she’s decided to call it a night.  Birdlace leaves in disgust and heads back to Rose, apologizing and offering to take her out to dinner.  Though hurt, she agrees.  As they get to know each other better Rose decides not to let others define her by her appearance, and the two of them spend the night at her place.

When Birdlace gets ready to leave the next morning she gives him her address.  When he confronts Boland about cheating in the dogfight, Boland demands his silence in return for keeping mum about Birdlace’s date with Rose.  Birdlace succumbs to peer pressure and tears up Rose’s address.  In Vietnam Birdlace sees Boland and Bernstein killed in action.  Back in the present, Birdlace, broken and receiving no hero’s welcome, finds Rose and succumbs to his feelings, accepting her compassion.

Cast Size: At least seven men and four women.

My Personal Take: Dogfight is at once unsettling and heartfelt, displaying macho insensitivity as well as genuine warmth.  It was smart to start by showing Birdlace after he’d returned from Vietnam, so we’d empathize with him instead of being expected right off the bat to root for a much of macho meatheads.  Yet we see this appalling behavior as a product of their conditioning—they dehumanize women like they’ve been trained to dehumanize the enemy.  Not that this excuses them, of course, as their behavior is not celebrated in the least.  But even though the marines are, to put it mildly, jerks, we feel for them knowing that they don’t know the danger they’ll face in Vietnam, just like when Rose decides on a dress without knowing what she’s in for.  The whole story is about the loss of innocence, which is why most of the action takes place on November 21, 1963—the day before John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Yet we are ultimately not demoralized, but moved by Rose’s kindness, which triumphs after Birdlace no longer has his buddies nor confidence to support him.

The period-appropriate folk-rock score helps, matching the mood as well as Rose’s folk interests and aspirations, and has some truly beautiful moments, especially during “Give Way” and “Before It’s Over.”  Overall, this is a show with deep emotional impact that will stay with the audience for a while, and just like Rose, is characterized by inner beauty.

Put On This Musical If: You’re in a college theatre program looking for a leading part for a plus-sized actress.

Things to Consider: This is a good choice for colleges, especially in this age where toxic masculinity is finally getting called out.  Yet with all the harsh language (which leads to a funny moment in the restaurant scene), this is not appropriate for children, nor is it meant for those who prefer to see members of the armed forces depicted as heroes.  The actress playing Rose should be somewhat overweight (not mandatory but when the other marines call her a “blimp” and she describes herself as “a lonely, pathetic, ugly fat girl” it wouldn’t make sense ) and comfortable enough with her body to change clothes onstage.  Plus she should be able to play guitar at a beginner level.  You’ll also have to come up with a dental prosthetic to make Marcy appear toothless.

Though the show’s second Lucille Lortel award was for best choreography, the dancing is only minimal.  You’ won’t need more than slow dancing and marching.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: None.

Licensing Rights: Music Theatre International.

Next time, I’ll be looking at a 1990s Broadway hit that deals with homosexuality and AIDS.

Sorry, it’s not Rent.  It’s Falsettos.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Your Next Musical #2—Grease

Remember the 1950s?  The poodle skirts, sock hops, hula hoops and drive-in theaters?  Also the Red Scare, racial tension, Korean War and crooked quiz shows?  But we’re not getting into those things.  We’re getting into a 1950s musical, well actually a 1970s musical set in the 1950s.  It’s Grease.

grease poster

Authors: Book and score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

History: Originally a play with music, produced as at Chicago’s Kingston Mines Theatre in 1971, it caught the attention of producers Kenneth Waissman and Maxine Fox, who offered to stage if the authors turned it into a musical.  So they did, and Grease moved to Broadway (technically at the Eden Theatre, located outside the Theatre district but large enough to qualify as a Broadway house) in 1972 where it would receive fair reviews and seven Tony nominations including Best musical but no wins.  Afterward it moved uptown and found its audience, going on to run a then-record 3,388 performances.  Broadway revivals in 1994 and 2007 were also popular (the former more so), but neither won any Tonys.

Synopsis: Rydell High School, the 1950s.  Danny Zuko, the leader of a greaser gang known as the Burger Palace Boys (they became the T-birds in the film), had a summer romance with sweet Sandy Dumbrowski, who is the new girl at Rydell.  She is surprised to see him at Rydell, as he claimed he was attending a private school, and Danny denies knowing her in front of his friends.  The greaser girls, the Pink Ladies, led by Rizzo, invite Sandy over for a sleepover where unlike them, she doesn’t take to smoking, drinking and ear piercing.  When Danny sees Sandy again, he tries to make it up to her, eventually agreeing to try out for the track team.  That night he and the greasers are celebrating Pink Lady Frenchy’s decision to drop out of high school and go to beauty school when Sandy shows up.  He continues to deny having been with her but Rizzo spills the beans and ridicules Sandy, who then dumps him.

Danny, having made the track team, starts declining his friends’ antisocial activities.  Meanwhile Frenchy, having dropped out of beauty school, is unsure what to do with her life.  Danny takes Sandy to the movies, where he gives her his ring, but she gives it back when he puts the moves on her.  Sandy later attends a party where Rizzo has a pregnancy scare.  Sandy offers support but Rizzo refuses, leaving Sandy alone.  Danny quits the track team and goes back to his old ways.  It’s Sandy who changes, adopting a greaser look and attitude.  She and Danny reconcile, Frenchy (who helped with Sandy’s makeover) gets a new job demonstrating makeup, Rizzo’s not pregnant, and the crowd goes off together happily.

Cast Size: Nine male (eight if you double Johnny Casino and Teen Angel), eight female.

My Personal Take: Those who’ve seen Grease tend to view it either as nostalgic fluff or as a hilarious swipe at 1950s values.  I go for the latter, with the way it depicts teens cussing, smoking and doing other things they did in real life but not in Hollywood.  If you have seen the movies of the era where the good girl reforms the bad boy, you would appreciate it all the more.  That said, Grease still has its flaws, especially with the plot.  Many songs don’t advance the story, which tends to stall at parts.  Still, for a parody (Rydell High was named for 1950s teen idol Bobby Rydell) there are genuine moments of adolescent emotion, such as Rizzo’s eleven o’clock number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” where she shows herself to be more than just the “bad girl” (in fact, she’s pretty much the only really fleshed-out character in the entire story).  And the score overall is very catchy and fun, even the songs that didn’t make it into the film.

But then there’s that ending.  Parents, teachers and feminists have shown disapproval at the female lead tramping herself up for a guy who’s not all that nice to her.   The stage direction is: “SANDY enters, now a greaser’s dream girl.  A wild new hair style, black leather motorcycle jacket, skin tight slacks, gold hoop earrings.  Yet she looks prettier and more alive than she ever has.”  So depending on where you’re from Sandy is either liberating herself, or just succumbing to peer pressure.  Though neither a parent nor a teacher nor even female, I would have to say that yes, Sandy is yielding to negative influences, and perhaps it would have helped if there were some scenes that indicated her desire to break free of her restrictions (as in the 2016 Fox TV production), but it does work with the show.  Overall, it’s a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for role models.

Put On This Musical If: You have a cast of young people who need an outlet for their rebelliousness.

Things to Consider: Those who have only seen the film would be surprised that the musical doesn’t have the same songs (including that horribly anachronistic theme song for the film—really, why use a disco song for a film set in the 1950s?) so audiences expecting “Hopelessly Devoted to You” or “You’re the One That I Want” might be disappointed.  Plus you might be shocked how raunchy the original musical is (granted the film’s R-rated, but still it’s a bit toned down).  Over the years, Grease has been increasingly sanitized and patterned after the film, but it really doesn’t deserve its reputation as family fare.  I remember hearing the “Grease Megamix” from the film at a family resort, where children danced to the lines as “You are supreme/ The chicks’ll cream/ For Greased Lightnin'” and “With new pistons, plugs, and shocks,/ I can get off my rocks./Ya know that I ain’t braggin’,/ She’s a real pussy wagon./ Greased Lightnin’!”  If this bothers you, perhaps you should stick to the school version or find another show to do.

As for Sandy’s transformation, be sure to direct it so that she’s really pleased with her new persona and enjoying herself instead of just doing this to please Danny.  Hopefully this will make it more palatable.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: Aside from the full version, there’s a school edition that cuts out the swear words, sex and substance abuse, as well as the pregnancy subplot.

Licensing Rights: Samuel French in the US for the original and school versions, Theatrical Rights Worldwide outside the US, Canada and Scandinavia for both versions.

Next week, I’ll go to an Off-Broadway show for a change, it’s Dogfight.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

Tagged , ,

Your Next Musical #1—West Side Story

If someone wanted to do a musical based on Romeo and Juliet, replacing the feuding families with teenage street gangs of different ethnicities, having the gangs dance ballet and leaving in the violence and unhappy ending, you’d think it would never be a hit.

Well there was such a musical, and it was deemed a classic, if only after the film adaptation came out.  And here it is, West Side Story.

wss-poster

Authors: Book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (in his first Broadway credit).  As said before, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

History: Choreographer Jerome Robbins originally conceived the project as East Side Story, centered around a clash between Catholics and Jews on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and worked on the first draft with Laurents and Bernstein.  But Laurents felt the Catholic-Jewish conflict was old hat (having been done before in Abie’s Irish Rose), and the project lay dormant until the mid-1950s, when reports of Hispanic gang violence inspired him Bernstein to change the gangs to white and Puerto Rican.  The resulting show was considered  ran 732 performances, received six Tony nominations, including Best Musical, and won two Tonys for choreography and set design, as the more conventional The Music Man took home Best Musical.  It was the 1961 film adaptation, which won ten Oscars, including Best Picture, that made the musical a mainstay.  There have been Broadway revivals in 1980 and 2009, the last of which had some lyrics and dialogue translated into Spanish by Lin-Manuel Miranda and ran the longest.

Synopsis: Manhattan’s West Side in the 1950s, where two teenage street gangs, the white US-born Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks fight over the territory.  Riff, the leader of the Jets, decides to have a war council with Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, at the neighborhood dance at the gym.  Riff calls upon his friend Tony, who co-founded the Jets but left, wanting more from life, to join him at the dance.  Tony reluctantly agrees, anticipating that what he’s after will come that night.  Also coming to the dance is Bernardo’s sister Maria, who was brought to the States as an arranged marriage for Bernardo’s friend Chino.

At the dance, Tony and Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo, meet and fall in love at first sight, which causes more friction between the gangs.  At the war council Riff challenges Bernardo to a rumble the following night but Tony convinces them both to agree on a “fair fight”—fists only.  The next day as Tony and Maria pledge themselves to each other she tells him to stop the rumble.  When Tony arrives Bernardo provokes him, leading to a knife fight between the gang leaders.  Tony tries to intervene, but only causes Bernardo to accidentally stab Riff.  Tony responds by stabbing Bernardo.

When Maria finds out she is crushed, but she remains in love with Tony.  He tells her to meet him at the drugstore where he works so they can run away together.  When Maria’s friend Anita (who was Bernardo’s girlfriend) finds out she rails at her but is moved by Maria’s love for Tony and agrees to inform him that Chino is looking for him with a gun.  Anita arrives at the drugstore where the Jets are waiting.  After they sexually harass her she tells them that Chino has killed Maria.  When Tony gets the news he looks for Chino he finds Maria alive, but Chino shoots him dead.  As both gangs gather around, Maria, pointing Chino’s gun at them, tells them off for their hatred, however she cannot bring herself to fire the gun.  Both gangs carry off Tony’s body together.

Cast Size: Flexible, though aside from Tony, Maria, Riff, Bernardo, Anita and Chino you’ll need at least nine Jets, six Jet girls (one of whom is a tomboy), eight Sharks, six Shark girls, and four adults, for a cast of thirty-nine.

My Personal Take: I chose this first because I consider it my favorite musical of all time.  It has the right ingredients—an outstanding score in which every number is a standard, a book that deals with teen rebellion and prejudice is a way seldom done before, and choreography that moves the story instead of just being there for the sake of dancing.

It’s interesting how Maria becomes the unwitting agent of doom—if she hadn’t persuaded Tony to stop the rumble it would have remained a fist fight and probably resolved the feud instead of escalating.  A common theme, like in Romeo and Juliet, is the idea of who is to blame for the teens’ behavior.  However, while the original play attributes the tragic events to fate, West Side Story focuses on society in general, particularly during the song “Gee, Officer Krupke,” in which the Jets ridicule the adults for attributing juvenile delinquency to causes such as poor upbringing and mental illness.  But ultimately the story doesn’t excuse the gangs for their behavior, nor does it pardon Tony for killing Bernardo.

You have to give Sondheim credit for his lyrics, even though he has been hard on himself for lines such as “it’s alarming how charming I feel,” which he feels would be too clever a use of English for a recent Puerto Rican transplant.  But since when has too clever been a problem?

My only nitpick is the order of the songs.  While the humor does lighten such a dark story, it’s a bit unsettling to open the second act with “I Feel Pretty,” right after two teens have died.  And “Gee, Officer Krupke” seems a bit inappropriate given the tension (Sondheim noticed this and had the order changed for the film version, moving “I Feel Pretty” before the rumble and switching “Gee, Officer Krupke” with “Cool”).  Still, West Side Story is a masterpiece, that I will enjoy to my last dyin’ day.

Put On This Musical If: You have a cast of white and Hispanic young adults who really know how to dance.

Things to Consider: Lin-Manuel Miranda called this musical the Hispanic community’s “greatest blessing and our greatest curse.”  Indeed while it does provide roles for Hispanics, it’s not exactly the most positive representation to show them as violent gang members.  Not that it isn’t realistic, but it might be an issue for you.

Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: Aside from the full version, there’s a school edition for high schoolers.

Licensing Rights: Music Theatre International.  The full version is available here, the school edition is available here.

Next week, I’ll look at another hit musical about adolescent rebellion in the 1950s, only this one’s a bit more lighthearted.  You must have guessed it, it’s Grease.

Feel free to comment below.  The full list can be found here, and on this page they are broken down by category.

Tagged , , , , ,

Your Next Musical #0

Happy new year!  Hope you had a wonderful holiday season!

I have this perfectly good blog, and it’s been gathering e-dust for a while.  So one of my resolutions for 2019 is to put up a blog post each week.  Luckily I thought about something to put on it.

As those who know me can attest, I love musical theatre.  I grew up listening to cast albums such as Guys and DollsSweet CharityAnything Goes, City of Angels, West Side Story and On the Town.  And only a few years ago when I started making a buck did I begin going to Broadway shows regularly.  One book that caught my attention was Peter Filichia’s Let’s Put On a Musical, of which I have purchased both editions.  It’s a good guide to choosing a musical to perform based on various criteria (vocal ability, dancing ability, age/sex of the cast, budget), however the updated edition came out over a decade ago and since then there have been a lot of great musicals that have been made available for licensing.  I emailed Filichia and asked if he would do another edition, but he said he wasn’t planning on it.  However he did permit me to do my own blog in which I expand the idea of choosing a musical.  I have also looked at Denny Martin Flinn’s Little Musicals for Little Theatres, which focuses on small-scale musicals, mostly of the Off-Broadway kind, and got some more ideas for musicals to cover.

And so I introduce:

YOUR NEXT MUSICAL

Every Friday morning I will present a different musical that’s available for professional and amateur licensing and list the following:

  • Authors: Who wrote the book and score, as well as any source material since most musicals are adaptations.
  • History: When it first appeared, how well it was received, the awards it received, etc.
  • Synopsis: The story (spoilers abound).
  • Cast Size: How many men and women are needed.
  • My Personal Take: Everyone has their opinion, and since this is my blog I’ll offer mine.
  • Put On This Musical If: The ideal conditions for which this musical is recommended.
  • Things to Consider: The advantages, challenges and suggestions for each particular musical.
  • Different Versions/Sequels and Prequels: Musicals often have more than one edition, and some even have sequels so they’ll be included with the first one.
  • Licensing Rights: A link to the page where you can apply.

Hopefully this will help you decide which musical your company, community theatre or drama club to do.  Between both editions of Let’s Put On a Musical! Filichia gave twenty-five different categories for musicals.  I thought this was a good way to break down musicals, and this site agrees, however I decided to expand the list to thirty-two:

  • Golden Age Classic Musicals (it’s hard to beat an old favorite)
  • Post-Golden Age Favorite Musicals (for those who want a newer surefire hit)
  • Musicals with a Strong Leading Role (that showcase the star)
  • Musicals with Strong Vocal Demands (for casts with exceptional vocal ability)
  • Musicals That Feature Choreography (heavy on the dancing if your cast is up to it)
  • Musicals with Little Choreography (if your cast isn’t too big on dancing)
  • Musicals for Large Casts (if you have a lot of actors you wish to cast, these have sizable roles for twenty or more actors)
  • Musicals for Small Casts (if you have a small set of actors, these can be done with a cast of ten or fewer)
  • Musicals with Predominantly Male Casts (if most of your actors are male)
  • Musicals with Predominantly Female Casts (if most of your actors are female, which tends to be more common)
  • Musicals for Children (suitable for elementary and middle schools)
  • Musicals for Teenagers (many musicals are good for high schools but these are best suited for teenagers)
  • Musicals for Young Adults (for those in their twenties and early thirties)
  • Musicals for Middle-Aged Performers (for those in their late thirties and forties)
  • Musicals for Older Performers (for those fifty and above)
  • Musicals Out for Laughs (because who doesn’t want a funny musical?)
  • Musicals That Feature Costumes (if you have a good costume designer these give a chance to show off their work)
  • Musicals That Can Be Done on a Small Budget (chances are spending is a concern for your group, so here are musicals that don’t require a big budget)
  • Cult Musicals That Haven’t Yet Found Their Audience (if you don’t want to do something that’s overdone, these are a bit more obscure but still have enough fans to remember them)
  • Musicals for Actor/Musicians (if you have actors who play instruments, as well as musicians who want to act, these are for them)
  • Musicals for Sophisticated Audiences (if you and your audience can handle something edgy or intellectually challenging)
  • Horror Musicals (perfect for Halloween, or if you’re just in the mood for something scary)
  • Musicals for the Holiday Season (musicals are often staged around Christmastime, why not take advantage with seasonal fare?)
  • Musicals for Ethnic/Minority Casts (you can use colorblind casting, however these musicals already have parts for actors of color)
  • Pop/Rock Musicals (for casts that are more comfortable singing rock and roll than traditional theatre music)
  • Country/Western Musicals (if your cast or community prefers country music)
  • Musicals with Jewish Appeal (since Jews have shaped musical theatre they make up a significant portion of theatregoers, so why not pick a musical meant for them?)
  • Musicals with LGBTQ Appeal (because gays have shaped musical theatre as well, they’re also a presence in the audience, so why not do a musical with them in mind?)
  • Musicals with Geek/Nerd Appeal (there’s much overlap between those who love musical theatre and those who are into sci-fi/fantasy/cult entertainment, so how about a musical that’s geared toward both groups?)
  • Musicals for Serious Fans of Musicals (if your group is truly serious about musical theatre)
  • Musicals with More Than One Leading Role (if you have more than one star performer)
  • Musicals Simply Out For Fun (this could be said for any musical but here I’ll list those that don’t really fit into the other categories)

Of course musicals tend to fit into more than one of these categories, so I will list them accordingly.  Hopefully you can find a musical based on which of these guidelines apply to you.  For example, if you have a racially diverse cast of young adults whose vocal abilities lie mainly in popular music and you want to do something queer-positive, you might choose Rent.  Or if you have a small budget and a cast of mostly women of various ages, you could go with A…My Name Is Alice.  Or if you want do a college production that’s “edgy” and doesn’t require much dancing you might be inclined toward Bat Boy.  Of course there are other possible musicals in each case, so keep an eye out.

So come back every Friday morning for another show.  Maybe it will be Your Next Musical.

But what about My First Musical?  With hundreds from which to choose, where do I begin?

I know, I’ll pick a classic that’s one of my all-time favorites.  And so the first in this series will be…West Side Story.

Tagged ,

Things I Do Like #3

So now there’s an even balance between pet peeves and things I like.

Before I start, when Christmas is over, there’s New Year’s Eve to which to look forward.  But what to do in between?  Apart from throwing out the wrapping paper, eating leftovers and, of course, starting paying the bills.  Well there is Boxing day in British Commonwealth countries, and lest you get the wrong impression it has nothing to do with pugilism.  One story is that originated in the UK as a day off for servants, where their masters would give them presents.  Another is that it came from the tradition of giving boxes of food and other necessities to the poor.  But like so many Yanks, I don’t celebrate this particular holiday.  Instead, I will delve into a certain awards show that airs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve…

Things I Like #3: The Kennedy Center Honors

For every year since 1978, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has hosted a gala where the Honors are awarded to five living individuals (sometimes a duo or group if they worked together) who have made outstanding lifelong contributions to the performing arts, which encompasses music, theatre, dance, opera, film and television.  The honorees are chosen by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, based on excellence (however that’s defined), from nominations by the public (you can recommend honorees here) and an Artists Committee consisting of performing artists and including past honorees.  Yes, it’s an unclear process.  The year’s recipients are invited to a luncheon at the Kennedy Center on the first Saturday in December, followed by a dinner at the State Department, a White House reception the next day, followed by the gala performance and concluding with a formal supper.  The gala performance, held in the Kennedy Center opera house, consists of tributes to the five Honorees, usually consisting of a filmed biography and performances, and is televised on CBS the last week of December, making it one of the few awards shows that is not broadcast live.  Also the recipients don’t appear on stage, they just sit in a box beside the POTUS (assuming the POTUS shows up, unlike a certain White House occupant who was absent these past two years).  So you don’t have to make any speeches, which is good because it’s just frustrating to work all night on a speech and not get a chance to say it.  And I suppose it’s a big deal to have a US president praise you in a speech, but if I were the recipient at an award, I’d prefer not to sit in the nosebleed section.

This year they honored Cher, Philip Glass, Reba McEntire and Wayne Shorter.  I only predicted the first of those but I didn’t expect them to break from tradition by only honoring four recipients, and giving a special award to the co-creators of Hamilton: An American Musical.  It’s one thing to honor Hamilton, but considering that the slot it occupied could have gone to many deserving individuals I had doubts.  Hasn’t Hamilton gotten enough awards already?  I have not seen it, though I do hope it lives up to the hype.  Last time I checked it’s sold out for the next few months, and the cheap seats are around $200.  When I go see it, it had better be that good.

Anyway, I was pleased with this year’s ceremony.  The performances were mostly great, especially Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “Fancy” and Cyndi Lauper singing “If I Could Turn Back Time.”  The only one I wasn’t crazy about about was actually Broadway-related.  It was Kristin Chenoweth’s performance of “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” and was quite underwhelming.  Kristin needs to reinvent herself instead of perpetually relying on cuteness.  Other than that the performers were spot-on, and I enjoyed the bits from Hamilton where, also breaking with tradition, recipients Alex Lacaimore and Lin-Manuel Miranda performed excerpts from the show on stage.  I don’t object to seeing the honorees perform, overall giving Hamilton’s co-creators a special award was an interesting change of pace, I just hope they don’t do this too often or else it would defeat the purpose of a lifetime achievement award.

I don’t agree with all of the Honorees, particularly Oprah Winfrey in 2010 (there’s a difference between a TV personality and a performing artist) and David Letterman in 2012 (I liked him when I was younger, but now I find his style to be less comedy than public harassment).  I suppose they’ve earned it, considering the other awards they’ve gotten (a Peabody and a Mark Twain Prize for Letterman, a Cecil B. DeMille award for Oprah).  Either that or they’re overrated.  I guess I’m just divided on whether or not television should be considered an area of the performing arts, since it’s usually seen as lowbrow.  Not that there aren’t worthy TV personalities, such as Norman Lear (whom I’ve recommended), or Lucille Ball.  But overall it seems the KCH has focused less on the performing arts than mass entertainment.  Consider the first group on Honorees in 1978–opera star Marian Anderson, song and dance man Fred Astaire, choreographer George Balanchine, theatre composer Richard Rodgers and pianist Arthur Rubinstein.  The next year also had a distinguished set–composer Aaron Copland, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, actor Henry Fonda, modern dance icon Martha Graham and playwright Tennessee Williams.  The year after that had maestro Leonard Bernstein, song and dance man James Cagney, dance legend Agnes de Mille, actress Lynn Fontanne and opera great Leontyne Price.  There was more of a focus on the type of arts for which the Kennedy Center was created.  But in recent years only one of the five honorees comes from what is considered the fine arts–namely dance, opera and classical music.  Occasionally there’ll be a jazz artist or Broadway personality, but mostly the Honorees come from pop music and film.  You’ve heard of #oscarssowhite, how about #kennedycenterhonorssolowbrow?

Speaking of being so white, let’s see how the KCH fares for diversity.  As of now, out of 217 Honorees forty-eight are African-Americans, seven are Hispanic, three are of Asian descent (Yo-Yo Ma, Zubin Mehta and Seiji Ozawa) and one is Native American (Maria Tallchief).  Only in two years (1982 and 1985) have all the Honorees been white.  Also there have been twenty-three LGBTQ honorees.  I still don’t know how many people with disabilities have received the KCH (I can name at least four–Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Itzhak Perlman and Leon Fleisher), but it’s something to consider.

A lot of people have their own ideas on who should receive the Honors, in fact I’ve read more than one argument that Howard Stern should be an Honoree (I don’t agree of course, maybe I’m elitist but I don’t consider shock radio an art form).  When it comes to predicting who should receive the KCH (as I do too much), there are three things to consider:

  1. There has to be at least one honoree out of five whose main field is dance, opera or classical music.  We can’t have five pop stars or five movie/TV stars.
  2. There are only five slots per year, so not everyone can make the cut.  I can name many deserving members of the performing arts who did not receive the honor in their lifetime, such as Rudolf Nureyev, Bob Fosse, Orson Welles, Ethel Merman, Miles Davis or Frank Zappa.  So as much as you enjoy a particular performer, that doesn’t automatically mean that that person will or should receive the KCH, even if they do have a long career and a string of awards.
  3. You should have at least one person of color in your list.  The Honors prides itself on diversity and besides, including those of different backgrounds is the right thing to do.

Here is my list of twenty-five people/groups who should receive the Honors, and soon:

  • Dick Van Dyke: He’s 93 years old, it’s about time he got the honor.  He’s distinguished himself in theatre, film and TV, and has been performing for over seven decades.
  • Betty White: Another longtime TV veteran, who’s turning 97 next month, it’s time she receive some recognition.
  • Burt Bacharach: One of the all-time great composers in popular music, who has written dozens if not hundreds of standards.  He’ll be 91 next year, just pointing it out.
  • Tommy Tune: A true Broadway legend, who has been acting, singing, dancing, directing and choreographing for over five decades.
  • Joan Baez: There has been a push to include more Hispanic honorees, why not the First Lady of Folk Music?
  • Joni Mitchell: And while we’re on the subject, how about another great pioneering woman in popular music?
  • Eric Clapton: Maybe he’s not God, but he’s still one of the all-time great rock guitarists, and the only person to have been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times.
  • Arturo Sandoval: A truly accomplished trumpet player who has excelled with jazz, Latin jazz and classical music.
  • Berry Gordy, Jr.: You’ve honored Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson, why not the actual founder of Motown Records?
  • Whoopi Goldberg: Not that she’s wanting for awards, having won an EGOT, but still she’s one of the most insightful and sincere actress/comedians around.
  • Cynthia Gregory: A former prima ballerina who continues to choreograph and coach to this day.
  • Spike Lee: One of the most distinctive voices in film, he illuminated the African-American experience and brought it to the mainstream.
  • Jane Fonda: She redefined the role of women in Hollywood, plus it would be interesting to see the daughter of a former Honoree receive the Honors herself.
  • Renee Fleming: It’s been five years since they honored someone in opera.  Fleming has done it all, performing all around the world with one of the most distinguished voices of all time.
  • Frederica Von Stade: Another opera legend, she has performed at the KCH numerous times and continues to sing to this day.
  • David Mamet: They haven’t honored a playwright since Edward Albee in 1996 (unless you count Ossie Davis in 2004), and as a dramatist myself I’m concerned.  Mamet is one of the most influential living playwrights, known for his distinctive style of dialogue.
  • Charley Pride: One of the few African-Americans to achieve mainstream success in country music and cross over into pop.
  • The Rolling Stones: Some consider them the greatest rock group ever, so why haven’t they been honored yet?
  • Shirley Caesar: One of the most influential gospel singers of all time, who has been performing for over six decades.
  • Liza Minelli: A truly iconic and distinguished performer in Broadway and cabaret.
  • Bette Midler: Another great actress/singer, she has distinguished herself in film, music and comedy.
  • Johnny Mathis: One of the all-time greats of traditional pop, and he’s become synonymous with the holiday season.
  • Michael Tilson Thomas: A renowned conductor whose work with the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony has made him one of the biggest names in classical music.
  • Pinchas Zukerman: An acclaimed violinist, conductor and mentor to young musicians.
  • Michael Caine: One of the most professional and versatile actors in the history of film.

And in the future I’d like to see Savion Glover, Cyndi Lauper and Queen Latifah get included.  Of course when I started my KCH predictions last year, like this year I only got one for five (Norman Lear), so I’m not sure if they’ll choose my picks.  Still, I’m looking forward to next year’s Kennedy Center Honors, as I always do.  Whomever they pick, I’m sure we can expect some impressive tributes.  But please consider my choices, I’m sure there are others who agree.

Thirteen Days to 2019

Can you believe that 2018 is coming to an end? Right now I’m closer to the 2020s than I was to the 2000s when I started this blog.  How time flies.  But 2019 will be the year I finally get my writing fully staged.  Of course I’ve said that before, and year after year it hasn’t come true, but my hopes are somewhat justified this year, as I’m in a theatre company that focuses on providing performing opportunities for actors with developmental disabilities, and they are considering my play, based on my experience with Asperger’s Syndrome.

This decade I’ve experienced two of the most difficult years of my life, perhaps the two most difficult.  One was 2012, where I experienced a great deal of social rejection, with those I tried to impress deciding they didn’t want me around, and the fact that my best friend at the time knew them made me feel even more left out.  Also I had started graduate school, which proved too overwhelming for me, and I found myself unable to handle the courseload I had taken.  At the end of the year, my family went to Charlotte visit my maternal grandmother for Christmas.  The day after we arrived, she had a stroke and had to be taken to the hospital.  She lost all brain activity and, in accordance with her living will, had to be taken off of the machines, succumbing a few days later.  We stayed in town for the funeral, and a few days after that to receive visitors.  As an urbanite I was uneasy staying in the suburbs for more than a week (the neighborhood has a pool, but it doesn’t do much good in winter) and, I’m sorry to say, I was more concerned about my social standing and fighting suburban monotony than the loss of my grandmother.

Another difficult year was 2016.  There comes a time in a young adult’s life when you realize you’re not going to live forever, and you have to ask what you’re doing with your life.  For me, 2016 was that year.  I had a severe anxiety spike in the fall, preceded by a year of failing to find much work aside from odd jobs, being offered a job only to have it cancelled a few days before I was supposed to start, and a date where I went to Long Island to see her only to spend a long time in the car looking for an activity or a vegan restaurant and have her decide at the end that we didn’t have chemistry.  I couldn’t stop thinking about death and the end of the universe, plus the guilt from having not accomplished enough with my life (I regretted all the time I had spent watching reruns and playing video games), and it didn’t help that just a few days after the spike, my paternal grandfather had a fall and was hospitalized.  My father expected him to recover, but unfortunately this was not to be.  My maternal grandmother told me that depression was “like being in a hole–it’s easier to stay out than it is to climb out once you fall in.”  But “staying out of the hole” was easier said than done (and I don’t like when people speak in expressions).  My stress impacted me physically, as indicated by stomach pains that led me to an emergency room (I went there because my regular hospital didn’t take my insurance), and several visits to a clinic in the neighborhood (where I had to arrive early only to wait hours before being seen) before I was able to find a better doctor my insurance covered.  The stomach problems went away, but the stress, well, it took a lot longer to dissipate.

Note that in both of those years I lost a grandparent, and that was not my greatest source for the year.  Of course I miss both of them.  You don’t expect them to be around forever, and yet you’re never ready to say goodbye to them.  Yet I was so wrapped up in my own concerns that I couldn’t really mourn them at the time.

If anything came out of those years, it’s that in 2012 I began taking steps to improve my social interaction by attending social skills classes and seeking counseling.  And in 2016 I became more aware of the passing of time and started to take direction of my life goals.  I hope that 2019 will be a good year for me.  I have one living grandparent left (my maternal grandfather died when I was nine) and she’s turning ninety next year, so I’m looking forward to that.  I don’t know if I’ll achieve as much as I want and I’m sure this year, like all others before, will have its share of troubles.  All I can do is hope for the best and remind myself that I’ll be all right.

Looking back on my previous posts

Considering that I started this blog seven years ago, and haven’t really added to it for years, I see how time has changed my perspective, not to mention getting counseling.  I guess the people who felt uncomfortable around me had reason to believe I was stalking them, even though I didn’t mean to.  I can accept that I made them feel unsafe, intentionally or not, and they have reasons to not want me around.  Still I had always hoped that they would give me another chance.

As I looked at my drafts I was reminded of one incident about which I had meant to post but didn’t.  Back in 2012 a fellow Mensan had noticed my inabilities to interact socially and offered to guide me on how to get along better. I agreed, figuring it couldn’t hurt. It went well until the second meeting, in which I brought up a very disturbing personal experience to which she could not relate, and she sided with those who had wronged me, claiming she acted the way she did because she “sees the good in other people” and that I was “beating up those who aren’t around to defend themselves,” like I was some sort of bully picking on an innocent person.  She figured I wanted her to defend them, because I kept telling her how these people had cheated me and she said I was “pushing her button.”  While I see her line of thought, did she really think I would appreciate her excusing someone who defrauded me?  I was only trying to get her to recognize what had actually happened to me, and she kept denying my own experience.  I thought she had cared about me, but in her messages to me she said I didn’t meet her high standards of friendship.  She went on and on as if I had no reason to be mad at her, as if she hadn’t done anything wrong (she said she should have stopped the conversation but I continued to “push her button,” as if she hadn’t acted on her own free will).  She said she wanted to help because she likes being a white knight, and I sensed that she saw me as little more than an Aspie she could pride herself on helping.

I decided to stop meeting with her, explaining why it wasn’t working out.  She continued to send me long messages even after I had asked her to stop, carrying on as if she were some martyr who could do no wrong.  A mutual friend of ours in Mensa said I should have been more patient with her (he also believes that the people who scammed me weren’t doing anything wrong) and I needed to learn to let things side, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  I told her I understood she was trying to help but I didn’t want to be her damsel in distress.  She sent another multi-page reply, which boiled down to “sorry you’re hurt but it’s your fault” and blocked all contact with me.  I felt like she had slapped me in the face and ran off, and to this day I am still displeased with her.  She hasn’t been in town for years and yet I still have a bone to pick with her.  It’s just painful to be denied satisfaction, and feeling like I am somehow culpable for the outcome.

I felt it didn’t seem right that I should have to understand everyone else, why I have to be more patient, when others didn’t seem to be offering the same to me.  It reminded me of the bullying I experienced in school, when I was told I was “letting them get your goat” and “drawing negative attention to yourself,” as if it were my problem others weren’t treating me right.  And today, when I have trouble dealing with others I feel like I’m supposed to take the other person’s perspective when they don’t take mine, and its their point of view that is given precedence.

I only posted this because I felt like I had to get it off of my chest.  It’s not easy for those on the autism spectrum to empathize with others, and it’s even harder when the other doesn’t empathize with you.  But when I look back on how I have been treated by others I have to ask, who is the one who lacks empathy?