Tag Archives: Gene Kelly

If You Can Make It There


Dozens of wonderful movies have been made about making it in New York City. Heroes and heroines flock to the big city seeking understanding and/or excitement. Often they hail from small towns with nothing more than a suitcase and a dream. They emerge from buses and trains into a bustling mysterious brightly lit metropolis. They pound the pavement for a room and a job, knocking on countless slamming doors (a la Gene Kelly; Gotta Dance! Gotta Dance!) They find a room, perhaps even an efficiency or worldly roommate. They get a job and make it all work. They won’t quit ’til they’re a star!

Movies about the big adventure that is NYC aren’t really made anymore. NYC appears quite frequently in film but less as a place to conquer, and more as a posh playground. They still come from small towns and less glittery cities. But the heroes and heroines of today are more likely to find shelter in a 2,000 square foot loft than a room in a boarding house. Young women don’t share an “interview dress” but news of sample sales. And it’s been a few decades since a call girl found it entertaining to window shop at Tiffany. The scrappiness is gone. The roughing it and hard knock pursuit of a brand new start of it is a thing of the past; and for good reason.

You’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate boarding house in NYC. There are efficiency apartments still holding on, but they’re most decidedly not for out-of-towners. If there are buildings which house nothing but theatrical agents, even Gene Kelly wouldn’t be allowed past security. It’s a different city than it was 80, 70, or even 20 years ago. It is a town less about cab drivers answering back in language far from pure, than it is about gentility. Searching for grittiness can become a scavenger hunt. There is a gloss to the city that doesn’t sleep. Our heroines of yesteryear would not know what to make of bicycle paths, pedestrian malls, man-made beaches and midtown pop-up swimming pools (that are nothing more than oversized dumpsters). For the out-of-towner arriving to make their fame and fortune, these sights might be comforting and not the least surprising. Their perceptions of NYC, gleaned from television & film will be confirmed; it is a luxury cruise ship! The food is copious, the entertainment splashy and every need is easily fulfilled.

Of course there is still a grittiness to be found in the city, and there are still wonderfully diverse foods and entertainment. But it gets harder and harder to live an urban life beyond the homogenization. With each passing year the city becomes more a place for tourists and less for residents. People come from all over the world to see the prescribed sights. The intensity of the city and its lights might be exotic but the ads, retail and amenities are very familiar. A person could come to NYC; complete their tourist attraction checklist while eating, drinking and sleeping in very familiar places. But what of that young man or woman arriving with three bucks, two bags, one me? How do they find their way in a town priced at tourist levels, no longer as welcoming to the young yearning to be free? What does it mean to a city, and a world capital to no longer be the incubator of extraordinary young talent? The world will always welcome bankers and engineers, but what of artists?

NYC will never (willingly) go back to its hardscrabble ways. The tourism dollars are simply too good to turn down. But it is possible to recapture the opportunities and promise of the big city. Dotted throughout the island are examples of how. There is (at least) one subsidized residence for actors. There are small-business incubators supported by the city. There is even health insurance for freelancers. Gathering these meager resources and augmenting them to support artists and innovators would be a great legacy for a mayor. City sponsored art projects, theatres, and music would open the door for those Ruby Keelers and Gene Kellys and who knows whom else. The only way to ensure true diversity is to actively support success. It’s really up to you New York, New York.

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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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Summerfall Winterspring

There is nothing quite so refreshing as a change of season.  The changing temperature marks the passage of time, but not in a dismal birthday candle way.  We gaze upon the first snowfall, or turning leaf with renewed wonder and thoughts of a world larger than our own daily reality.  Those fortunate to live in a four-season clime, experience the joy that comes from a transitioning season.  For just as you basked in the “first day of spring” or the first whiff of burning leaves, after three months, you’re quite tired of it all.

Adults don’t experience newness on a regular basis.  We don’t have a new teacher every year, or learn a new subject every quarter.  Unless we work in a very volatile field there is some sense of familiarity in what we do, day in and day out.  We don’t exactly become gerbils on wheels (unless we choose to of course.)  Our lives are rich and we pursue new ideas, adventures and activities.  But our very existence is not dictated by growth and change.  We are not given new responsibilities and allowed to do new and exiting things with each passing year (ex. crossing the street alone, going to the mall with friends, etc.)  We (hopefully) don’t grow out of our wardrobe every year and get the chance to reinvent our look.  Never again will we (organically) change from being a boy/girl to a man/woman.  We are what we are.

For some this stasis is more unsettling than for others.  No doubt you’ve witnessed men and women who seem to grab new personae and experiences with a certain franticness.  (This tends to occur during the time we refer to as middle-age.)  At some point they usually grow tired and accept that life might not be best approached with a checklist.  Lifetime lists might make for good bestseller fodder (or films starring men of a certain age) but they are no more of template for life than being an Avenger or a Grumpy Old Man.

Everyone finds his or her own path to meaning and beauty.  For some it is the path itself that guides their life.  For others it is the appreciation of beauty (natural and/or person-made) that is the meaning of life.  There are many that have neither luxury of course, and life for them is something to endure.  But for all of us, no matter our personal quest, we share this world.  There is something so utterly satisfying about a shared quiet smile with a stranger when the first robin is spotted.  Some of the best conversations between strangers happen in a rainstorm.  We grouse, we drip, we force ourselves to be happy for the flowers and water tables, if we’re lucky someone in the huddled cluster makes a Gene Kelly reference, and we all go on our way.  To the lives for which we construct meaning.

Along will come the sun and dry out all the rain, and we will be off to beaches, mountains, lakes, and dreadful blockbuster movies played in mercifully freezing theaters.  We will experience the indescribable joy of a shower after a day of sand and sticky seawater.  We will dine or drink out of doors and declare; “we should do this more often.”  The smell of suntan lotion or the sound of the ice cream truck will remind us of earlier times.  Perhaps happier, perhaps not.  But we will be reminded and that is good.  Thinking, if only for a moment, of the past, makes us more present.  We acknowledge that we’re still here and the game is still on.  That is what the seasons do as well.  That crocus forcing its fragile little head out of the frosty ground is in essence saying “I’m still here.”  Isn’t that everything?

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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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Finding My Corner Of The Sky

Last night, for the third consecutive year, I visited with Betty Buckley at Feinsteins  The year’s show, billed as “Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway” is a collection of Ms. Buckley favorite show tunes (from film and stage) sung by male characters.  She opens, aptly, with ‘Tonight’, and goes on to explain her discovery of Riff (Russ Tamblyn) at the impressionable age of 14.  Having also experienced West Side Story at the age of 14, I can attest to the imprint it leaves.  Add to that the discovery of both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (as Ms Buckley and I both did) and well, can real life really ever compare?

It did last night.

Whether it is her chosen repertoire, or her Feinstein alumni status, Ms. Buckley has never seemed more at home.  Radiant in a silk shantung jacket, flowing silk pants, and leopard pumps devilishly peeking out from time to time, Ms Buckley communicates accessibility.  As a Broadway leading lady, with few if any equals, this Texas gal exudes a warmth and approachability that defies any (rightfully earned) diva-ship.  Also counter to diva-hood, is that Ms. Buckley, for all her Tony winning, has the soul of a folk singer.  She is a singer (and actress) adept at navigating all range of human emotion.  Her natural velvety voice can ache (reminding me of Jane Olivor) and then easily soar to heights of joy, making all the necessary stops along the way.  I wonder which comes first?  A delicate actress with a powerful core, or the singer?  I suspect that there is no separating the two in Betty Buckley.  She is so unique, that if your first exposure to a song is delivered by Ms. Buckley, it never really sounds “right” sung by anyone else (e.g., Meadowlark, Memory, score of Sunset Boulevard, etc.)

I have maintained that so many of the best songs written have been done so for male characters.  So it is no coincidence that I simply loved last night’s song list.  ‘I Won’t Dance,’ ‘Younger Than Springtime,’ ‘Something’s Coming,’ ‘Corner of the Sky,’ ‘More I Cannot Wish You,’ and an exquisite medley from ‘Sweeney Todd’ were just some of the selections.  Her smooth, strong and subtle voice, paired with her utter ease on stage, created the most intimate experience.  Making strong eye contact with the audience, she created a space that was more ‘living room’ than ‘cabaret.’  Which, truly is the mark of great cabaret.  I was also struck by her very enjoyable sense of humor.  I found myself thinking (please don’t hate me Ms. Buckley): “Wow, she would really be a great Miss Hannigan.”

This personal, moving, absolutely fabulous show will be playing for the month of October.  It truly is not to be missed.

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


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