On Stage: An American In Paris

That was fabulous! That was the best show we’ll see all year! The music! the dancing! It was all so wonderful! 

Sorry. That was me channeling my wife there for a minute.

And while I may not share her unbridled enthusiasm, and while I think it’s too early to declare the best show of the year (there’s still that “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel coming out), I can say that “An American in Paris” — now playing at the Fox Theatre — is an impressive spectacle of musical theater.

It’s subtitled “A New Musical” despite the music being classic tunes written by George and Ira Gershwin and the story lifted from the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Sixty-five years later the show was retooled for the stage with music by the Gershwins and book by Craig Lucas.

aaip%20tour%201362

Sara Esty and Garen Scribner in An American in Paris. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Second World War has just ended and American soldier and artist Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) misses the boat back to the states so he can spend some time in France with his paints. He’s befriended by a composer — fellow former American soldier Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson) — who offers him a place to stay. Adam is working with Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), the son of wealthy French industrialist who secretly wants to be a song-and-dance man. The three men quickly become friends.

In the course of the story all three men fall in love with the same woman — ballerina Lise Dassin (Sara Esty). She was taken in by Henri’s family during the war and he plans to marry her. Adam has been hired to write a ballet for her. Jerry had a chance encounter with her on the street and won’t leave her alone. None of the men are aware that they’re pursing the same woman — until near the end, of course.

“An American in Paris” is about as perfect as musical theater gets. It boasts a number of classic songs you’ll be tempted to sing along to (but please don’t, it’s rude), including “I Got Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” It features graceful, thrilling dance numbers with unforgettable music like the title number. It stars a cast of gifted singers and dancers. The costumes are lovely.

That should be enough to sell it, but I was exceptionally impressed by the show’s set design. The production uses animation, video and traditional moving sets to provide an amazing sweep of scene changes. It’s not often that I mention that a musical won a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design, but this show really deserves it.

So yeah, “An American in Paris” is pretty fabulous. Check it out. It may be the best show you see this year.

“An American in Paris” runs through January 29 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

 

 

At The Movies: Silence

I can’t say that “Silence” is an entertaining film, but it’s certainly an emotionally charged and thought-provoking one.

A long-simmering pet project of director Martin Scorsese, “Silence” is based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo. Set in the 1600s, the film opens with Jesuit priest Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) watching a half-dozen Christians being tortured to death in Nagasaki, Japan. Father Ferreira has come to the land of the rising sun to spread the gospel of the son of God. The authorities will stop at nothing to make sure Christianity doesn’t take root in Japan.

Back home in Portugal, word reaches Jesuit priest Alessandro Valignano (Ciaran Hinds) that Ferreira committed apostasy while in Japan and has not been seen since. Two of Ferreira’s students, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) can’t believe their mentor would renounce the faith, so they decide to travel to Japan to seek the truth.

silence

Assisting them on this dangerous mission is Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a broken-down, alcoholic young man who was the best guide they could come up with. Kichijiro plays a recurring role in the film, always seeking forgiveness for his sins — of which he commits many in the course of the story.

The trio arrive in a small village where there is an underground community of Christians. The authorities show up soon after, taking three of the villagers prisoner in hopes this will convince the others to give up the priests. When that doesn’t move the peasants, the prisoners are slowly, and publicly, tortured to death.

Not wanting any more innocent blood on their hands, the priests separate and continue their search for Ferreira. From here the story focuses on Father Rodrigues, who is quickly captured and imprisoned. The bulk of this 2-hour, 40-minute film centers around the attempts to break Rodrigues.

The preferred method of breaking a priest is to torture and murder his fellow Christians. In between these unspeakable acts of violence, Rodrigues debates religion and how it relates to Japan with his interpreter (Tadanobu Asano) and the Japanese Inquisitor (Issey Ogata).

It’s one thing to be a martyr with your own life but to let others die in your stead? How many people should be killed before Rodrigues renounces his faith? And will he? Should he be trying to spread the Christian faith in Japan in the first place?

“Silence” offers no easy answers. It’s a brutal yet compelling film. The acting is powerful and the cinematography is first-rate. It’s a long film, especially since so much of it is taken up by suffering and torture. I don’t know if “Silence” provides enlightenment but it certainly gives you a lot to think about.

 

 

At The Movies: Hidden Figures

It’s always nice when the first movie you see for the year is a good one. Especially when it’s a really good one.

“Hidden Figures” is the heartwarming, compelling, true story of three African-American women who played important roles in the early days of NASA and the U.S. space program.

hidden-figures-posterThe central figure is Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematical genius who works for NASA as a research mathematician, or “human computer,” double-checking the calculations of the white, male engineers. Her two best friends are Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), who runs the division where Katherine works but is denied the title, respect, and pay of being promoted to supervisor; and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), another “computer.”

As the space race between the U.S. and Russia heats up, Katherine is pulled out of the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center and across campus to work directly at NASA’s Space Task Group. The department is headed by the no-nonsense Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Chief engineer in the department is Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). No one is terribly excited to see Katherine walk through the door.

Meanwhile, Mary’s mentor suggests she go back to school and get an engineering degree — something unheard of for a black woman in 1961. Even her husband has his doubts, but Mary decides to take the challenge — even if it means going to court to gain access to an all-white school.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Dorothy is dealing with an unhelpful supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) who continues to be a roadblock to her advancement. Dorothy quickly realizes that her entire department will soon be out of a job once those new IBM computers are put to work, unless she gets ahead of the curve and figures out how to run them.

Back at the Space Task Group, Katherine is dealing with the dual challenges of conquering space flight and overcoming segregation. There are no facilities in her new office for colored folk, so Katherine must make long treks daily to use the restroom, among other indignities.

Eventually Katherine’s brilliance can no longer be hidden and not only is she double-checking other’s calculations but she’s calculating flight trajectories. Much to the dismay of Paul.

Directed by Theodore Melfi and based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures” is a captivating, important story that has remained largely untold until now. It’s not all NASA all the time, the film also delves into the characters’ personal lives.

All the performances in this large ensemble are excellent and the movie captures the look and feel of that bygone era. It’s a fine film and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

 

 

The Real “Show-Me” Avenger

Yesterday we discussed Marvel’s questionable (this is me being polite) decision to declare The Whizzer — a 1940s superhero who’d spent maybe 10 minutes with The Avengers — as the official Avenger of Missouri.

Today I will make my case for the real Avenger of Missouri. I give you: Clinton Francis Barton, aka Hawkeye, aka Goliath, aka Ronin, aka Hawkguy.

u-s-avengers_vol_1_1_missouri_variant

Oh God, not another Hawkeye post. You really need to give your obsession with this fictional character a rest, Roy. 

Hear me out. One of the reasons for my longtime love for Clint Barton was the knowledge that he was from my home state and not some New York elitist like all the others.

OK. You say he’s from Missouri. State your Case.

hawkmo1Gladly, your honor.

EXHIBIT A: AVENGERS 51, 1968.

Goliath (Hank Pym) is being electrocuted by a machine called the vibrotron. Hawkeye tries to pull it off of him and is thrown back against the wall. His response:

“That thing’s… got the kick …of a Missouri Mule!”

Now granted, that’s not birth certificate solid evidence, but why would anyone not from Missouri use a term like “the kick of a Missouri mule?” The more common expression is “that thing kicks like a mule.” Only Harry Truman would’ve thrown the word Missouri in there. It’s certainly not something someone from Iowa would say.

hawkmo2But for solid proof, I give you EXHIBIT B: Avengers 63, 1969. 

Hank Pym has abandoned the Goliath identity for a new one, that of Yellowjacket. He’s trying to impress his teammates with his new powers but Hawkeye’s not having any of it.

“Mebbe so…but I’m still from Missouri, Insect-Man! Are you sure you didn’t switch identities just so’s you could sport a new suit?”

Now, c’mon. What more proof do you need? He comes out and says he’s from Missouri and even alludes to the state motto. Again, why would someone from Iowa claim to be from Missouri?

And finally, EXHIBIT C: Avengers 79, 1970.

hawkmo3By this time Clint has taken over Hank’s old gig as Goliath. In this panel he’s punching Power Man, who was just boasting about how he was going to clean Goliath’s clock. Clint’s response:

“Go ahead, tough guy! I’m from Missouri! Show Me!!”

Now not only is he bragging about his home state but he’s explicitly bringing up the state motto. How many people from Iowa would even know the Missouri state motto? Does Iowa even have a state motto?

I rest my case.

That’s a pretty solid case. Do any other Avengers talk about their home state as much as Hawkeye did in the Silver Age?

Nope. It’s pretty safe to say that Hawkeye is the only Avenger who spent that much time bragging about his home state. Thor talks about Asgard a lot, but that’s not a state.

I wonder why that is.

Well, I suspect the answer lies with the writer of The Avengers at the time. Roy Thomas grew up in Jackson, Missouri, and in the mid-60s moved to New York City to break into the comics business. He became Stan Lee’s number two, writing every book Stan couldn’t write anymore which eventually became almost all of them. He eventually became Stan’s successor as editor-in-chief at Marvel. During this time he did a long, memorable run on The Avengers and turned Hawkeye into a fellow Missourian.

So where did it all go wrong?

official_handbook_of_the_marvel_universe_vol_2_5I’m not 100 percent certain, but all signs and my exhaustive investigative journalism skills point to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. First published in 1982, the handbook was a 15-issue series that tried to compile all the stats and origin stories and whatnot for every character and organization in the Marvel Universe. Since these stories and stats change frequently, the handbooks were usually out of date by the time they were published.

It was here that some writer who hadn’t bother to do his homework, backed up by an editor who hadn’t done his job, listed Hawkeye’s birthplace as Waverly, Iowa. Why? I have no idea.

Well, I suspect it’s because Iowa is known as “the Hawkeye state” and the University of Iowa calls its sports teams “the Hawkeyes.” I’m sure Mark Gruenwald or somebody thought they were being too clever by having Hawkeye come from the Hawkeye state.

Too bad they couldn’t be bothered to read the comics to get the facts straight.

 

 

 

 

Marvel Takes A Whiz On Missouri

In comic shops tomorrow is the first issue of USAvengers, Marvel’s latest attempt at milking dry their most popular franchise. The premise this go-round is a government-sanctioned Avengers team made up of second-and-third stringers like Red Hulk, Squirrel Girl and Pod. It should last about as long as its predecessor, New Avengers, which I believe ran 12 issues.

To build up excitement for the new book — and inflate sales figures — Marvel is releasing the first issue with a whopping 52 different covers, one for every state in the union as well as Puerto Rico and Canada. It’s a cute idea, I suppose, but the main problem is that 92 percent of all Marvel superheroes live in New York and hardly any live in any of the other 49 states, not to mention Puerto Rico and Canada.

Still, a gimmick is a gimmick, so some poor editor at Marvel got the job of divvying up 52 superheroes for this silly stunt. Some make sense — Thor actually works as the Avenger of Oklahoma because for a time he moved Asgard to Oklahoma. Everyone knows Cannonball is from Kentucky, and yes it makes sense for Luke Cage to be the Avenger of New York even though we all know it should really be Spider-Man. I have no idea how Russian spy Black Widow became the Avenger of Connecticut.

Naturally I was curious as to who Marvel would pick for the Avenger of Missouri. I, of course, know who the Avenger of Missouri should be —  but would Marvel get it right?

u-s-avengers_vol_1_1_missouri_variantOf course not. I give you — the Avenger of Missouri — Robert Frank, aka The Whizzer. That’s right, there’s a superhero called The Whizzer and he’s all ours. If you think the name is stupid, wait until you hear his origin story. Little Bob Frank was bitten by a cobra while in Africa with his father. Dad saves Bobby by injecting him with mongoose blood, which not only neutralizes the cobra venom but somehow gives him the power of super speed (and you thought it was the power of super urination). Since the name “The Flash” was already taken, Bob took on the second-best possible name for a super speedster — The Whizzer.

No, this is not a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation. The Whizzer actually pre-dates the Marvel Universe. He was created in 1941, back when Marvel was known as Timely Comics. So important and significant to the Golden Age of Comics was the Whizzer that no one knows who wrote his first adventure (it was drawn by Al Avison). He ran around for a bit in the ’40s then disappeared like many Golden Age heroes when the ’50s rolled in.

The Whizzer briefly resurfaced in 1974 in The Avengers, mistakenly believing he’s the father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (Imagine Pietro’s relief that he did not get stuck with the name Whizzer Junior). Bob teamed up with Earth’s Mightiest a few times but was never really a member in any meaningful sense. He eventually died of a heart attack and hasn’t been seen since. Which, given the resurrection rate of most superheroes, tells you all you need to know about how beloved is The Whiz.

Bob Frank supposedly is from St. Louis, hence the Missouri connection. I have never read any of the original Whizzer comics from the ’40s, so I don’t know if this was truly the case in the comics or if it’s something someone made up later.

Frankly it doesn’t matter. While The Whizzer might be an appropriate representative for St. Louis, the rest of the state deserves better. And we have better, but Marvel is withholding the truth from you.

But the truth shall be revealed. Tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

The 21 Most Entertaining Things Of 2016

revenant-leo

1. The Revenant

e%20Four%20Friends

2. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

deadpool-movie-poster-20161

3. Deadpool

jointogether01

4. The Who Hits 50 (plus 1)

12525571_1720957711473798_4489177249886597130_o

5. Daredevil Season 2

junglebooktriptychgallery

6. The Jungle Book

Zutcdmy

7. Captain America: Civil War

otsl_shalimar_the_clown600

8. Shalamar the Clown

la-boheme-325px

9. La Boheme

the-monkees-good-times-cover-art-final-1200x1200

10. The Monkees: Good Times!

hell-or-high-water-poster

11. Hell or High Water

paul1

12. Paul McCartney in concert

denverdino1

13. LawyerCon: Denver

gglam%20tour%2011

14. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

luke-cage-cropped

15. Luke Cage

Fun Home

16. Fun Home

occupy_avengers_1_cover-jpg-square-true_size-252

17. Occupy Avengers

black-mirror-season-3-poster.png

18. Black Mirror

cf5nqhcxiae59i9-jpg-large

19. Dr. Strange

FullSizeRender (2)

20. Fun with Family

echdx

21. Fun with Friends

It’s The MOD, MOD, MOD, MOD’S World

Several years ago, in the early days of The Executive Committee, one of my underlings (I think it was Trent) referred to me as — and I quote — a “Mean Old Dictator.”

Now a lesser man would’ve had his feelings hurt. A lesser man would’ve responded with a series of blistering tweets — had twitter existed back then. A lesser man would’ve pouted. A lesser man would’ve struck out a horrible vengeance on the person who wronged him so.

But I am not that man. Instead I chose to own the title. Maybe even revel in it. And so I became the Mean Ol’ Dictator — or MOD — of The Executive Committee.

Now if you’ve been following this blog for a while you know that one of my favorite Christmas traditions is the Executive Committee Holiday Dinner. And if you’ve been around for a while you also know that one of the greatest challenges of setting up the ECHD is figuring out where we’re going to eat.

Well a few months back I’m driving through town and I notice a new restaurant is opening: MOD Pizza. I immediately went home and called an emergency meeting.

“Which one of you sold my naming rights to a pizza chain?”

Silence.

Now a lesser man would’ve been upset by this blatant act of identity theft. A lesser man would’ve brought in the lawyers and sued for copyright infringement or trademark violations.

But I am not that man. Instead, I said, “let’s have this year’s holiday dinner at MOD Pizza!” Everyone agreed. Maybe I’ll get a free pizza out of the deal once the owners find out who I am.

And so it was that Wednesday night shortly before 7 p.m. I arrived at MOD Pizza. I decided to get there first (I knew being a few minutes early would ensure that I would be first) to scope out the place as I’d never been there before and try to figure out seating arrangements. If you’ve been around a while you know that the second greatest challenge of setting up the ECHD is attendance. There are currently 12 members of the EC. Try getting 12 people to show up at the same place at the same time — especially over the holidays. Some years we do pretty good. One year it was me, Trent and Fagan.

First to arrive was our newest member, Cindy B. I don’t know why we waited so long to put Cindy in the group — nobody, and I mean nobody, loves this crazy band of Former Journal Employees like Cindy. Everyone else showed up in fairly decent time. And I do mean everyone. Well, almost everyone. Spaulding (Motto: If I want to spend time with you, I’ll make time) was as usual a no-show, and once again Pokin didn’t make it in from Springfield. To be fair, Springfield is a 4-hour drive, but then Fagan lives in North Carolina and he’s never missed.

echd2016-1

There was one, and only one, long table in the room. There were 3 people sitting in it when I showed up. I started to hover and they left just as my crew started arriving in full. I guess it’s a good thing they’re always late. With spouses and children in tow we had no trouble filling the table.

MOD Pizza has a rather interesting thing going. It’s like a Subway, but for pizza. They specialize in small, personal pizzas so you don’t have to deal with the hassles of sharing. They throw all the ingredients on the shell as you call them out, then you pay and wait for your pie to come out of the oven. Pretty efficient operation.They play music from the MOD era (See: The Who: Quadrophenia) which I greatly enjoyed.

The rest of the evening went like pretty much every ECHD since the dawn of time. There was much talking and laughing and eating and drinking. I received a lovely set of  tin letters that spelled out my name featuring different Marvel and DC superheroes from Melfy and a “Grow Your Own Dinosaur” kit from Erica. I can’t wait to grow my own dinosaur but I figure I’d better put it off until at least Spring. Not enough room in the house to keep him.

MOD Pizza closes promptly at 9 p.m. We left around 9:30. They were very gracious about it. To our faces, anyway.

echd2016_5

 

 

 

.