Lucky Me

As Doris Day just passed away at the age of 97, I figured watching some of her films would be a good memorial. My library displayed their DVDs with Day and I chose Lucky Day at random.

In Lucky Me, Day plays Candy Williams an aspiring singer and dancer who’s very superstitious and won’t walk by a black cat or step on a crack. Any superstition you’ve heard of in America, she won’t test. Williams is part of a struggling troupe of performers led by Phil Silvers, who’s perfect for his part. Candy gets duped by a well-meaning composer and romantic comedy ensues.

Though Lucky Me isn’t Day’s finest film and there are no great classic songs I recognized, the film entertains. It’s a cheerful story which showcases Day’s optimistic style. It’s sure to make you smile. The supporting cast includes Nancy Walker, who I remember from the sitcom Rhoda. Walker’s dancing skill was a nice surprise and Silver was a wonderful father figure in this tale of old showbiz.

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Guys & Dolls

Last weekend I got to see Northwestern University’s production of Guys & Dolls. Though I knew the name and some of the big numbers like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “A Bushel ‘n’ a Peck,” I hadn’t seen the show and wasn’t clear on the storyline. First performed in 1950, Guys & Dolls is set in New York City and follows a bunch of gamblers who cross paths with some Salvation Army types. Gangster Nathan Detroit, who’s been engaged to his sweetheart Adelaide for 14 years, needs to find a site for his floating crap game, but as the cops are on to him, he’s got no takers. The Biltmore Garage is possible, but the manager wants a hefty deposit for his troubles.

Nathan is sure he can convince gambler Sky Masterson to bet that Sky can take Save-A-Soul Sergeant Sarah Brown to Cuba. That’s a sure thing as A) Sky will bet on anything and B) Sarah is far to holy to agree to a date.

What follows is a lot of toe-tapping music, unlikely romance, and the antics of small time criminals.

The Northwestern performers all had great voice and sure steps. When I saw all the steep steps on the stage, I was amazed that no one took a tumble. How the girls in their heels managed, I’ll never know. Certainly they have more grace than I do.

The casting was excellent, with one exception. I applaud them for color blind casting and having the two lead women be African American. The numbers where some men were cast as chorus girls was funny. The one thing that I found a distraction was that Sky Masterson was played by a woman. It wasn’t that they made Sky and Sarah a same sex couple, It was that they expected the audience to buy into a very feminine woman with classic long blonde hair and feminine make up, to be considered a 1940s man. My friend and I both had trouble buying that choice. I’d have done some color blind casting for Sky.

The play is a lot of fun, but hasn’t aged all that well. It’s clear that for the women, their life goal is to be a stay at home wife. Though Adelaide works as a showgirl and Sarah is a missionary, their goal is to marry and stop working. Also, it’s clear that the norm for women is to find a man and then go to work changing him for the benefit of society. Now we realize that it’s better to find someone whose character you like as is since changing someone is a difficult if not impossible job.

Nonetheless, I recommend if you’re anywhere near Evanston, IL from now till March 3, check out Guys & Dolls.

Gold Diggers of 1933


“We’re in the Money” is just one of the memorable tunes in Gold Diggers of 1933 is a romantic comedy about some dancers whose show gets nixed because the producer couldn’t pay his bills. Next they’re seen shivering in their beds unwilling to get up as it’s easier to starve in bed.

Soon the producer comes to their apartment and hears their talented piano playing neighbor. He convinces Brad, the piano player to write some songs for his new show which will be a smash, if he can just get the funds. Brad, who’s sweet on one of the dancers, turns out to be a rich boy and he finances the show. When the male lead falls sick, Brad must go on and his true identity is revealed, which leads to family interference in his love life. In response to his brother’s meddling the other dancers pretend to be money grubbers to teach him a lesson.

It’s a light-hearted romp, that entertains, unless you judge past eras for their gender stereotypes. The most surprising part of the film was the closing number, “Remember My Forgotten Man” a tribute to the men who served in WWI and whose lives were ruined as a result.

Jesus Christ Superstar

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I had such high hopes for the Lyric Opera’s Jesus Christ Superstar. I was too young to see the show when it first came out. I’m pretty sure I never saw the 1973 movie either though I knew a couple of the songs. The Lyric has high standards so I didn’t feel I had to lower expectations. On Wednesday two performers were interviewed on Chicago Tonight, our local PBS news program and that whetted my appetite for a good show. However, I recommend you save your money. The song above is the best part of the show.

The show started off fine showing a bunch of Jesus’ devotees singing and dancing. Clearly Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were offering a modernized telling of the end of the gospels. But when Jesus took the stage, he seemed rather lackluster. He wore cool clothes and had a hip hairstyle, but under that he was bland. He clearly enjoyed the fame, which isn’t what Jesus was about. Yet the title clues us into that’s the creators’ theme.

The show itself only had two songs I remembered liking and that didn’t change after seeing this production. Many of the songs were just loud and it was hard to make out the lyrics. I agreed with the two women behind me in line for the loo during intermission that the acting was weak. The emphasis was on singing and dancing with just no characterization. In Act Two the dancing was a let down because the choreography was so similar to Act One.

There’s a lot of odd choices in this production. For example, in one number the dancers all hold crosses, but this is happening well before Jesus was condemned to die on the cross. There’s no reason anyone would use a cross as a symbol of Jesus before he’s called in front of Pilate.

The Israel of this production has a hint of dystopia as the citizens all wear drab grays and gender is not marked much in dress or personal style. I was confused in Act II about who was the person in a golden bird costume. It wasn’t till he disrobed to let out his inner hedonist that I guessed it was Herod.

From the Chicago Tonight interview, I learned that this production uses 90 pounds of glitter. (They use a lot of glitter, but it could be 90 pounds worth by the end of the run.) The first time they use it, the shimmer and glow makes sense. Mary Magdalene, who most agree wasn’t the same woman who poured oil over Jesus when he was at a dinner, empties a jar of what is oil over Jesus and it was cool that glitter was used. Later when Jesus is being beaten the men beating him whip him with handfuls of glitter. That was just odd — too much of a good thing.

Spoilers follow.

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A Taste of Things to Come

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The musical A Taste of Things to Come is a clever, fun musical that entertains, however, it’s not for everyone. Set in the 1950s and 60s, A Taste of Things to Come is about four female friends who meet each Wednesday to cook and converse. They share their dreams and struggles while trying to win the Betty Crocker cooking contests. In the first act three of the women are married and one’s single. The single woman’s adventurous and modern, while the others are more conservative though they all are curious about social changes, which may upturn the order of this era. The play pokes fun at Dr. Spock’s advice and old fashioned feminine roles.

Act Two is set in the late 60s. Three of the women have embraced the fashion and freedoms the era offers, while Dolly, who’s a mother of six, clings to the old ways. Now three of the women have careers and are quite independent. At first the group is tentative as they haven’t gathered for ten years due to a falling out at the end of Act One.

A Taste of Things to Come is an entertaining trip down memory lane. The cast is dynamic and all sing well. The main drawback is that I don’t see the show appealing to people who didn’t live through the 60s or who doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of these decades. There are too many cultural references and the pacing is brisk so you don’t have time to find out what the characters are talking about.

The songs were upbeat, but not memorable. I enjoyed them while I watched, but I doubt anyone would have to get the CD. This is not a criticism, but I doubt any men would find the show that interesting. There’s no attempt to appeal to them. There are no male characters or no themes centered on how men were affected by these eras. All that’s fine. A Taste of Things to Come serves up an entertaining, light show, which is often what we crave.

Company

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 1.31.43 PMI had no idea when I went to Northwestern’s production of Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, that the story was famous. I actually thought that the musical would be about corporate America. I wasn’t adverse to different subject matter though.

The performers were remarkable, which is usually the case at Northwestern. They got the songs pitch perfect and every step of each dance was on the money.

However, the story itself seemed dated. I couldn’t put my finger on which decade the story was from, but I guessed the 80’s. (I was just off by a decade it was the 70s). Company is about Bobby, a man, who’s just turned 35 and he’s still single, while all his friends are married. These couples are devoted to Bobby and inviting him to their homes seems to be the peak of their social lives. I couldn’t get over how much they cared about Bobby and how much they worried that he was still single. At a certain point, I’d expect people to move on. It wasn’t like Bobby had cancer or a family tragedy that meant people should focus on him so much.

Bobby wasn’t an especially interesting person. He didn’t have an interesting job. In fact we didn’t know what work he did. He wasn’t hilariously funny, or especially generous or active. He had no special expertise. He was just a guy. He had three girls whom he dated, but he didn’t have a particular interest in one. He didn’t criticize these women, but he was lukewarm about them, just as he was lukewarm about every other facet of life.

The friends follow what I call the “Little Women” characterization model. Each person has their own talent, problem or outlook that defines them. One woman’s neurotically afraid of getting married to her live in boyfriend. That boyfriend is very patient. One woman controls her husband’s drinking and does judo. That husband has been caught driving drunk. We don’t know much of anything about these stereotypical characters. I suppose that’s the case with musicals and often opera, little or no character complexity or change, but great music.

I have a hard time with plays or books where the hero is indecisive start to finish, where he or she is wishy washy or noncommittal. I realize that’s a very modern attitude, but I don’t need to spend two hours putting my life on hold and watching someone who’s a wet noodle.

The ending was particularly disappointing. It’s hard to fathom how this play won seven Tony Awards, except that it came out in the 1970s and then it might have been innovative. Now, even with updates like cell phone use, it’s ho hum. Marriage, while on the decrease, is still a big part of life and debates on its merits are nothing new.

So I can’t recommend this show, which plays through Nov. 19th.

Anchor’s Away

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If you want some light entertainment, Anchor’s Away with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra is a good choice. Anchors Away is the story of two navy officers who’ve earned a weekend pass for their bravery. Kelly, suave and urbane, boasts of his girl Lola, while Sinatra’s more inexperienced and wants some coaching from Kelly, whose plans for meeting up with Lola are soon sidelined when the two officers are roped in by the local police who need help getting a little boy back home. Since the boy who’s around 6 is in awe of the navy, these two sailors who pass by are just the role models to help.

Once they take the boy home, they find his guardian, a young aunt is out. They stick around to reprimand her. Of course, she turns out to be a beautiful young woman who aspires to be a famous singers. Before you know it, Kelly has assured her that his friend’s pal, a famous conductor will give her an audition. Of course, this is a lie. As usual in the genre misunderstandings and outrageous attempts to prevent the truth from coming out ensue. All along the way are catchy tunes and fantastic dancing including a number where Kelly dances with Jerry from Tom & Jerry fame.

While the film was from a gone by era and had no lasting message, the music and dancing stayed with me, unlike that of La La Land. A musical needs to win me over with its music. It’s fundamental.