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Author Archives: brendatobias

About brendatobias

Taking to heart the adage that silence = complicity & hoping that a spoonful of humor delivers the message in a most delightful way. www.HereSheIsBoys.com

The Last Ship – Review

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Lately it seems that before you can even pull a room temperature pint, there’s another “working class” British musical rolling into town. Small industrial towns (having seen better days) apparently are where hardscrabble dancers and designers are born. Perhaps Broadway has become the yin to television’s posh yang of Downton Abbey and Selfridges. No one would blame you for taking one and only one look at the press releases for Sting’s The Last Ship. Enough already! But I assure you, you would regret that decision. The Last Ship is how you remember (false memory or not) musicals to be. It is moving and soaring, with dance and music that serves the story.

It is a recognizable story, one perhaps with its roots in earlier theatre – edgy son, disappointed father, abandoned love and child, redemption. There is nothing particular unusual or revelatory about the book (John Logan and Brian Yorkey) it’s simply solid and moving. It is the firm foundation for what is ostensibly a light opera. A small town has lost its only industry (ship building,) out of work and hope the men have a chance to build one last ship together. But of course it is the love story buried in the welding and winching that will break your heart. The music and lyrics (Sting) are rich, understandable and at times quite stirring. The orchestration (Rob Mathes) fills the theatre and at times transforms what very well could be considered pub music into a score. While the direction (Joe Mantello) of this large cast is superb, it is the choreography (Steven Hoggett) that brings The Last Ship to an entirely new level.

The movements are natural yet entirely rhythmic throughout the production. Set changes become dance, and the dances are so deceptively simple they are just life. Many in the large chorus are hefty blokes and to watch them move is a delight. The movement/dance suits the characters and the story and seems to be continuously in play. When the characters dance it is merely an extension of their expression. This naturalism is how they sing as well.

Nobody bursts into a number in The Last Ship. All the singing comes organically from dialogue. The character Jackie White (Jimmy Nail) actually talk/sings (a la Rex Harrison) his way through solos until joined by a chorus. It is a very effective use of his rich baritone and his role as the foreman. Gideon, the wayward son is played by two actors, the younger (Collin Kelly-Soredelet) also playing the son of Meg (Rachel Tucker.) Sound confusing? It’s not. The elder Gideon (Michael Esper) is a strong presence and it’s always clear who is who. The women are splendid but this really is a men’s show. One man practically steals it in the role of Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate.) It’s a delicious role and storyline and Mr. Applegate is just delightful.

The set (David Zin) is stark, clever, effective and serves the actors and the story. There is also some very clever lighting (Christopher Akerlind) that works as additional set. If there is any flaw at all in this production it is one song that doesn’t quite belong. I believe it’s a recycled Top 40 (of Sting’s) and I leave it to you to discover it. To find it is tantamount to finding a tiny crack in a masterpiece; it makes you appreciate the mastery even more.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Theatre

 

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On The Town (Broadway) – Review

On The Town

A town’s a lonely town, when you pass through and there is no one waiting there for you, then it’s a lonely town.

A surefire (at least temporary) cure for that loneliness is to head over to the Lyric Theatre for the most recent (nearly perfect) revival of On The Town. Leonard Bernstein’s moving and joyful score (conducted by John Miller) and Jerome Robbins’ inspired dance would be enough to lift one’s spirit and believe that New York is in fact a helluva town. But the execution of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s Book & Lyrics are what make this production soar. Much attention is paid to the dance and that’s the way it should be. On The Town is first and foremost a dance show (originating from by Mr. Robbins’ ballet, Fancy Free.)

Director John Rando understands and allows the dance and general movement to tell much of the story. He choreographs additional movement having the actors move through the house several times (to varying effect.) This device works best during Lonely Town as Ensemble members sing plaintively to the house. This might not work with every cast but this Ensemble is flawless and inspiring. There seems to be nothing they can’t do. Much of the principals are equally up to the task. Tony Yazbeck is a poignant Gabey, and I wished for more stage time for him. His sailor brothers, Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip) and Clyde Alves (Ozzie) are no less wonderful but saddled with much more distraction than Gabey. The purest moments happen when Gabey is on stage.

That purity (otherwise known as relying on the brilliance of the material) is widely in place. The orchestra (Yes, and actual in-house orchestra!) is stupendous and spot on. The sets are clean (Beowulf Boritt) yet evocative and only add to the experience. Much of the casting generates the same effect. Megan Fairchild (Ivy) is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and makes her acting debut  with On The Town. She holds her own up there and is a brilliant dancer. It’s never quite clear what the attraction is between she and Gabey however. Alysha Umphress is a very entertaining Hildy, and while my heart still belongs to Leslie Kritzer (in the NY City Center Encores! 2008 production) Ms. Umphress was very good. Elizabeth Stanley plays Claire, who is obsessed with the primitive man, or any man for that matter. She has a lot of personality but might not be best suited to the role. Not a dancer and by nature a booming singer, her performance was a bit too burlesque for that of Claire (originated by Betty Comden.) The characterization made for very little difference between Hildy and Claire. Mention must be made of Philip Boykin who opened the show with I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet. He enlivened and deepened every character he played and was an absolute joy to behold. The audience’s favorite however was Jackie Hoffman. Playing the Little Old Lady, Maude P. Dilly and others; she is on stage an awful lot. This role was played by Andrea Martin in the 2008 Encores! production. Ms. Martin was funny and lovely and pitch perfect. I longed for her. Ms. Hoffman’s portrayal (of everyone) was cartoonish and the audience loved it. But nothing, not even the thickest slice of ham can spoil this New York specialty. Yes the costumes (Jess Goldstein) were more suited to the Guys & Dolls gangsters and gals. The addition of overt sexuality and discomforting homosexual stereotypes was distracting and in very bad taste. And yes it was a bit odd to have the show stopped to sing Happy Birthday to & discuss the career aspirations of (presumably) a child of one of the (THIRTY) producers. But the truth of the matter is that three hours flew by and there was never a dull moment. And sitting with all those wonderful people in the dark, soaking in one of the great American Musical was the panacea for a lonely town.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Homecoming

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Thanksgiving is the most unique of American days. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in the home and centered entirely upon food and family. And it is the latter that can become a wee bit problematic. Any venture that is steeped in expectation and sentimentality has an increased probability of going off the rails. When we add forced congeniality things can get messy indeed. People, related by blood or the law, who may not see or have any contact (perhaps by choice) throughout the year are sequestered in overheated, crowded, booze filled homes with carving knives. Even when there is no extended family, things may get testy. One of the frequently overlooked potential land mines is that of the returning college student.

Thanksgiving is often the first time a college student is coming home since the start of the semester. Parents and younger siblings most likely have been anticipating the return of the prodigal son or daughter. Parents and siblings have fantasized or actually planned outings and activities, hoping to make up for lost time. Even the parent who has been in constant communication with the college student may have his or her heart set on “really connecting” come the Thanksgiving holiday. And who knows it may go splendidly and put every sentimental holiday commercial to shame (Peter you’re home!) But for everyone else it might be helpful to keep the following in mind:

• College can be exhausting. Whether your student is working hard or playing hard, they most likely are pooped. Spending 24 hours, 7 days a week with thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people is hardly relaxing. Excessive sleeping should be expected (and you should establish that it is not happening at school and possibly an indication of something amiss.)

• A cranky or petulant student is perfectly normal as well. Remember they’ve spent the last 3 months (and your money) discovering that they now know everything. Do not be surprised if your cherub challenges Uncle Dave at the dinner table. Don’t shirk from challenging him/her right back either.

• Your student might also show signs of regression: fighting with younger siblings or being a thoughtless slob. This too is normal. Living amongst so many people and wearing an “I’m keeping up I know what’s going on” persona is taxing. Knowing they don’t have to be grown-up or fake being grown-up all the time is important. However they can let their guard down and clear their own plate at the same time.

• Having reasonable expectations of your student’s time is fine, but not if you spring it on them. If you expect them to spend the entire day (and night) of the holiday at home and socializing, do let them know ahead of time. What of the student who is bringing someone home? If you have expectations (which you are entitled to have) about sleeping arrangements or meal contributions, express them ahead of time. Nothing breeds disappointment more than silent expectations.

As with any event (particularly one involving family) the best approach is one of gratitude. Eliminating glossy images of perfection is prudent. Focusing on the gift of time and connectivity produces far more joy. Before you know it that student arriving on your doorstep with dirty laundry, a tinge of arrogance and little indication of appreciation will be hosting you at their own Thanksgiving. You will sit at their table as they tell their own family the stories of Thanksgiving’s past. And that is why we give thanks.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Childhood, Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Candid (Granny) Camera

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As leaving small children in the care of others has grown in popularity so has the awareness that not all carers are caring. Depending on one’s social circles, it’s not unusual to hear a weekly childcare horror story. Whether the babysitting arrangement is posh or subsidized seems not to matter. Little ones watched in their own home by uniform clad nannies, babies clustered in a neighbor’s living room, or those in daycare centers are equally vulnerable. This reality is not meant to strike fear. There is a fine line between believing in the boogeyman and having some common sense. Quite simply vulnerable people are often vulnerable.

Many parents have addressed their concerns strategically; using hidden cameras or surprise visits. This might seem hovering to some but it most often is not. A small child by definition does not have sophisticated communication skills. A baby is completely helpless. Caring for small children is not easy and can be incredibly frustrating. When doing so is an actual job there is little emotional attachment to pull the carer through the darkness. This doesn’t excuse mistreatment; it only helps to explain it. It can happen, and every parent everywhere knows this. What we don’t often consider is what can happen to our parents if they too are dependent on care.

Elderly people are just as, if not even more susceptible to mistreatment. Often an adult child is arranging the care from a distance, relying upon agencies or institutions to do the right thing. Nursing homes are staffed with the same extreme variations of competency seen in hospitals. Supervision of aides is no more reliable than in any other business sector. People don’t necessarily go into the low-paying and often messy work of health aide due to some sort of calling. It’s a job. Some people are good at it and some people are not. It can be terribly overwhelming to arrange care for a parent. The mixture of relief and guilt of situating a parent can be all consuming. It often is only when there are signs of mistreatment that the concept even occurs to anyone.

Often, like small children, the parent is not a reliable narrator. The parent might not know that possessions are missing or meals have been missed. A person with memory loss may not be able to recall mistreatment. Some bruises or marks may in fact be the result of a combative parent and not abuse. Add to that muddle the fact that the parent might only receive occasional visits from family members, and how is anyone to know what’s really going on? Granny cams. Installing hidden cameras (on live feed to an adult child’s computer) in a parent’s home will tell most of the story. Having every care facility (including senior daycare) outfitted with surveillance will change things dramatically. Those institutions should post signs everywhere informing employees, residents and visitors that; “You Are Being Watched.” Is it an invasion of privacy? Of course. So is having a bevy of doctors and interns gaze upon one’s privates for the benefit of learning. (It’s interesting which invasions of privacy we notice and which we don’t.) The signage will not only deter some misdeeds it also will set a tone. An institution that puts the safety of its patients above all else will attract employees with a compatible ethos. The surveillance will have to be viewed of course, which is not inexpensive. But surely the diminished lawsuits will help to defray those costs.

It’s tempting to wring our hands and bemoan how things have changed for the worse. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Eldercare has risen in popularity because people live longer. Childcare has risen in popularity partly due to more employment opportunity for women. As things grow they often become less wieldy and need to be formalized. There’s nothing graceful or lovely about spying on people but there’s nothing so terribly genteel about burying our heads in the sand either.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Coffee, Tea or Pee?

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There are lots of monumental problems in the world, but for the moment let’s ignore them. Let’s instead focus on the latest unpleasantness to occur on airlines: dogs. It seems that while we’ve been losing legroom, meals, snacks, magazines, and dignity, pups have taken to the friendly skies. The rise of the cabin canine (versus the baggage hold hound) is due to the (relatively) new loophole of “emotional support” animal. If your dog (or pig, monkey, or cat) is designated as giving you emotional support he/she must be treated like an assistance animal. Passengers and crew are not pleased by this trend and for good reason.

Allergies to animals are far more prevalent than peanut allergies. Being trapped in the sealed can with a dog is the worst nightmare for many people. Uncontrollable itching, hives and difficulty breathing are now part of the trip for many. There is no limit on the size of the animal when its owner has a prescription. It is conceivable that Marmaduke would be sprawled on top of the passenger next to you (riding for free!) These animals pose a threat to trained service animals. Unlike a Seeing Eye dog, an emotional support animal’s only qualification is that the owner likes having him/her around. Seeing Eye dogs can be trapped in a small space with butt smelling, barking, peeing and perhaps biting dogs. An airplane can quickly and unexpectedly become a place from which people need to flee. It’s horrifying to consider what would happen in an emergency with a pet and a trained assistant dog on board.

There is no doubt that people feel better with their animals. There are people with robust mental health who benefit greatly from the demands and love of an animal. There are also very few people who aabsolutely must travel on an airplane; save for the crew who it must be said are legally entitled to carry a dog on the beverage cart. If we are a bit too timid to impose restrictions upon where people may bring their comfort pets perhaps we could at least take the issue a little more seriously.

Currently all one needs is a letter from a health care professional and WHAM, the entire terrain changes. With one letter, from someone who may or may not be treating me for an actual disorder, I can force my landlord to allow Fido in, I can walk into any bar, restaurant or hospital with Fluffy and I can sit next to you at the opera with my potbelly pig. None of these animals have been screened, trained or licensed. The first step is to legitimize the “prescription” writing process. More than one mental health provider must sign-off and at least one of them must be treating the patient. Having your cousin the dermatologist sign the form should not be sufficient. Comfort animals must be certified to obtain the same privileges as assistance animals. They need to have a clean bill of health, be trained in how to act around people and other animals and be certified.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who legitimately needs to be holding their pet at all times would actually balk (or should we say; bark) at such guidelines.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Travel, Well-Being

 

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