On Stage: The Lion King

Disney’s “The Lion King” has returned to St. Louis for a 19-day run at the Fox Theatre. If you’re a lover of spectacle, puppetry, African music, animals and fart jokes, get your tickets now.

Based on the 1994 animated film of the same name, “The Lion King” was brought to Broadway in 1997.  It went on to win more than 70 global theatrical awards, including the Tony for Best Musical. It has been seen by more than 90 million people over the last 20 years and has brought in a whole lotta money — “The Lion King’s” worldwide gross is more than that of any one movie, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history.

Written by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the stage version is beefed up with African-influenced music by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Hans Zimmer and Julie Taymor. Taymor, who served as director, costume designer and co-designer (along with Michael Curry) of the show’s masks and puppets, is credited with cracking the seemingly impossible task of bringing a cartoon animal movie to life on stage.

unspecified

Buyui Zama as Rafiki in “The Lion King” North American Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus 

We all know the story, right? Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) is king of the African Pridelands and Scar (Mark Campbell) is his deadbeat brother. Scar would like to be king but Mufasa and new son Simba (Devin Graves and Jordan Williams as a child; Dashaun Young as an adult) stand in the way — unless he’s willing to commit regicide — which he is.

After his father’s death, Simba runs away and is befriended by the meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and warthog Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). He later encounters old friend/future flame Nala (Nia  Holloway), who informs him that his homeland has become a mess since Scar and his hyena buddies took over. Now, with encouragement from the somewhat crazy monkey Rafiki (usually Buyui Zama but played by Mukelisiwe Goba at Thursday’s opening night), Simba must confront his past and face his future.

“The Lion King” is filled with outrageous, colorful costumes as well as bold, colorful set designs and a talented cast of actors, singers, dancers and puppeteers. The songs, including modern Disney classics “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” is greatly enhanced by the addition of African music and rhythms.

“The Lion King”runs through May 7 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

Happy Birthday Dear Carrie (and me)

bday winery3 (2)

Carrie Trent entered this world one day and many years after I was born. Everybody loves Carrie and so usually the gang gets together to celebrate the anniversary of her birth. I piggyback my celebration alongside it. Carrie doesn’t seem to mind – that’s one of the reasons she’s so lovable.

(Now before you start with “there goes Roy, being all self-depreciating and shit,” do I have to remind you that the last time my wife threw a birthday party for me only 3 people showed up and we wound up eating leftover barbecue for a week? I’m pretty sure I bring it up, like, every year.)

Trent wanted to go to a winery this year so Melfy suggested Noboleis Winery in Augusta. We had never been there before but a quick Internet search revealed it met our two main qualifications for being an acceptable winery. 1) It sold wine. 2) You could bring your own food. As a bonus, Noboleis was 3 miles closer to home than Balducci’s, which was our previous winery of choice.

After almost being run off the road by motorcycle thugs, we made it to Noboleis around 11:30 a.m. It was a gloriously beautiful day, which is a wonder given that it’s been raining almost every day for a month. We were greeted by the Finley clan and Stevie, who had already set up tables.

The sun was out, so I had on my Thule hat. Tim’s eyes light up.

“Where’d you get that hat? I was looking at buying my bike rack from them.”

“Hitch mount or roof?”

“Hitch mount.”

“1-and-a-half inch or 2 inch?”

“2 inch.”

“Platform style or hanging?”

“Platform.”

“Thule or Yakima?”

“I went with Swagman.”

“Nice.”

Then he tells me he needs a kayak carrier and we go through that discussion and I realize that for the first time in my life I’m having a conversation with a man that’s not about nerd stuff. What has happened to me?

17951969_10155408896019728_6736042279323204853_nAt that point the guest of honor arrives with her parents and we all settle in for a lovely day of drinking and eating and chatting. In addition to wine the business also offers pizza and other food. We ordered a couple of tasty pies and ate and drank our fill.

Noboleis quickly became our new favorite winery. Sorry Balducci’s, your pizza is better but Nobo is less crowded, has a lovelier view, is 3 miles closer and they don’t check your coolers at the door. Which is not to say that we brought in our own water and soda – which is against the rules – but we could have if we’d known they don’t check your coolers at the door. Which is not to say we’ll do that next time, and why is it so wrong to bring our own water and soda anyway? It’s not like we didn’t spend a small fortune on wine and pizza that day.

bday winery2They also have a nice photo op spot, so we took advantage of that. My camera phone isn’t that great but Stevie had a real camera so it all worked out. Did I mention the weather was glorious? And the place wasn’t nearly as crowded as I thought it would be. I think going to wineries is more of a fall thing that a spring thing. Maybe. Or maybe everyone was at the zoo. Good.

By 5 p.m. things were winding down. The Brashares had already left for an Easter Egg hunt. Cindy B, who had promised us a crate of White Castle burgers, texted to say she was unable to make it. I was sad, but too full of pizza to be too upset (aside from the fact that I was really upset about not seeing Cindy — of course). Andrew was starting to get antsy so we figured it was time to head back to St. Charles. After considerable hugging we bid everyone farewell and declared the outing an unqualified success.

17952738_10104942837306370_1555800814943895021_n (2)

Happy Birthday, birthday buddy.

 

A (not so) Brief History of Lunch

With Special Guest Appearance by Leah, Flat Amy, and Vivian

17757524_3313212471528_773828033165837078_n (2)

Growing up we didn’t eat lunch on the Roy farm. There was dinner and there was supper (We weren’t big breakfast people). In college I got into an argument with Rob Smith because he kept insisting the evening meal was “dinner” and the afternoon meal was “lunch.” There was no Internet to settle the argument in those days, so we eventually agreed to disagree. But to be honest, I always thought a little less of Rob after that because, seriously, the man didn’t know what his meals were called.

Time marches on and now it turns out Rob’s view won out. These days the only time you’ll hear about suppertime is if you’re attending a high school production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Thanks to its status as the afternoon meal, lunch usually coincides with work. At the newspaper, lunch was a pretty loose affair. You went when you wanted and you stayed out as long as you wanted. No one was keeping track or cared. As long as you met deadline and kept the presses running on time, nothing else mattered. Those were the glory days.

At my next job lunch was not a temporary escape valve. You could take as long as you wanted for lunch, but you had to spend it with the person(s) you were supporting. And that often meant supporting them in eating their lunch. Lunch at the center began promptly at 11:30 (earlier if you had the bowling group).

Eating lunch with a room full of developmentally disabled adults is not a pretty sight. I remember one day, early on, I was sitting at a table trying to eat and surveying the scene around me. Annie looked over, smiled and said, “You get used to it.”

At my current gig you can take lunch whenever and for however long you want, but you have to clock out on your computer when you leave and clock back in when you return. So if you spend an hour for lunch, you’re going to need to make up that hour later. As a result, I don’t take lunch hours. My life makes it too time prohibitive.

Have I ever mentioned that I have a son with autism? Maybe once or twice. Anyway, one of the downsides of the condition is you never get rid of them and someone always needs to be there to watch them. All you empty nesters out there who whine when your child goes off to college and leaves you all alone for a couple of months — I hate you.

My son attends an adult day program that begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3:15 p.m. Those hours are not entirely helpful to working parents. And there is no before- or after-program programming (if you’re an entrepreneur who’s looking for something to do, I suggest you open one). As a result, we hire someone to watch Andrew in the mornings before program and briefly in the afternoons. I get up at 6:30 a.m., get to work at 7:30 a.m. and leave work at 3:30 a.m. Laura takes care of him in the morning, I take the afternoon shift.

In order to take a lunch hour I would need to get up at 5:30 a.m.

In my world there is no 5:30 a.m.

So when Vivian and Leah invited me to join them for lunch on Tuesday, I politely declined. Then while driving to work that morning I realized I had forgotten to get my sandwich out of the refrigerator. This meant all I had to eat was a bag of chips and a cookie. I concluded that this was fate — or my subconscious – telling me I should take a break from work and get out of the office for a bit.

17879825_10155049460050856_7855565578594085043_oLeah wanted Mexican and Vivian suggested El Maguey and I’m a fan of their No. 4 lunch special so as soon as the staff meeting was over we headed out the door. Amy was on vacation so we took Flat Amy along in her place.

We’re driving along and some truck blows past us and straight through a red light. We catch up with them at the next red light. Leah wants to confront the driver but I argue that just because his truck isn’t riddled with bullet holes does not mean we should antagonize him. After all, he’s already shown his contempt for traffic laws and all we have to protect ourselves is a rock. Viv helps Flat Amy wave at the driver, who no doubt cannot wait for the light to turn green.

17523604_3313212631532_442457887586085936_nLunch was relaxing, tasty and uneventful — aside from the lady who was being loud and rude to her grandchildren. Leah wanted to intervene but I pointed out that we didn’t even have our rock with us and maybe she should stop wanting to be so confrontational.

When we returned to the office I discovered that I would now need to make up 1 hour and 3 minutes. As luck would have it, Andrew and Laura were off Friday so I could make up the time then. I still spent the rest of the week complaining to Leah about how she had upset my schedule. She wasn’t the least bit sorry.

Neither was I, to be honest.

 

At The Movies: The Fate Of The Furious

If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave out an award for Most Outrageous Stunts in a Movie, “The Fate of the Furious” would surely be a contender.

And if the Academy gave out an award for Most Testosterone Tossed About in a Movie, “The Fate of the Furious” would surely be a contender.

And if the Academy gave out an award for Most Absurd Moments in a Movie Whose Plot Makes No Sense, “The Fate of the Furious” would surely be a contender.

But they don’t give out awards for that kind of foolishness, so F8 will just have to settle for tons of money at the box office.

571500608_contest_mobile_image_190116_1490300376Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto, central figure of what started out as a simple action movie starring fast cars and has morphed into an exercise in excess of blowing stuff up, smashing stuff up, shooting stuff up, punching stuff out, and male braggadocio writ large.

But hey, at its core, it’s all about family.

Newlyweds Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are vacationing in Cuba when Dom is approached by a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) whom we will later learn is a criminal mastermind who goes by the handle of Cipher. Cipher shows Dom a video and next thing we know he’s betraying his team, stealing EMPs and nuclear launch codes, and helping to hijack a Russian nuclear submarine.

Under orders from Secret Agent Man Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), Letty and teammates Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are forced to join forces with DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Petty’s right hand man Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood), and “F7” villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to bring in Dom.

Of course, there’s going to be 100 metric tons of carnage before that will happen.

If you’ve seen the trailers you know what to expect — cars falling from the sky, Hobbs manhandling a torpedo, the gang being chased by a submarine — in short, another day in the life for the “Fast and Furious” crew. In fact, the movie is basically the trailer stretched out for two-and-a-half hours.

If you like that sort of thing — and let’s be honest, a lot of people do — then “F8” should not disappoint. The great Helen Mirren joins the cast this time out. It’s a brief appearance and she doesn’t get to drive fast or blow anything up, but then there’s always “F9” for that.

The story — if you can make sense of it — ties in to previous films, but since I don’t remember what happened in a “Fast and Furious” movie a week after I’ve seen it, I couldn’t tell you how it all lines up.

 

Hey Hey, It’s The Comic-Con

Wizard World Comic-Con rolled into St. Louis over the weekend. After studying the guest list and panels I decided Sunday would best suit my purposes. So yesterday morning I got up, put on my Hawkeye cosplay (Matt Fraction/David Aja version – easiest cosplay ever), and made my way downtown — waving to The Wife as she began mowing the lawn. (I have back problems. Really.)

I wanted to catch 4 panels which meant I wouldn’t have a lot of time for booth browsing, so I wanted to get there at the opening bell. All was going well until I got downtown and suddenly traffic stopped. I looked down the road and noticed one of the streets had flashing red lights. Ah, well, that will slow things down for a bit but not much. But I quickly noticed that traffic wasn’t moving at all. What’s going on. I look again, and I notice people in lime green T-shirts running down the road.

Oh no. There’s some f-ing 10K run or something going on, isn’t there? God I hate runners. Well, mostly I hate running, but now I also hate runners. How long is this going to go on? And it’s not like I can go around it because I don’t know where the run begins or ends and I really need to get on the other side of that street. As the minutes ticked away my already high blood pressure was working to see just how high it could get.

Never before have I wanted to shoot people in the kneecaps like I did those runners. Why are you doing this on a city street? I don’t care if it’s Sunday morning, get the hell off the roads. I’ve been to these charity walks before but they always take place in a park or some other off-the-main-drag location. Stupid St. Louis.

comiccon1Thirty minutes later I get past the blockade. I arrive at the convention center much later than planned. Julie gives me my pass and I take a moment to vent, then I make my way to the main hall. I’m greeted by HULK, which is nice.

I now have about 30 minutes before my first panel. Not a lot of time, but I quickly notice that there aren’t as many booths as in the past. I make my way through most of it before heading to room 141 for The Monkees q-and-a session.

You may be wondering what The Monkees have to do with comic books. I’m not sure, I imagine back in the ’60s at the height of Monkeemania they probably had their own comic book. The truth is, these comic-cons are comic book in name only. They’re basically nerd culture conventions. In fact, it would be more honest to just call them Nerd-Con.

Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork (Mike Nesmith was, as usual, absent) took seats at their table about 10 minutes late (Panels sometimes start late at these things but they always end at the appointed time). It was an entertaining and informative 35-minute session.

(Note to people who ask questions at Comic-Cons: It’s Not About You. Just ask your question and sit down. This is not your moment to have a personal conversation with the celebrity. When Peter is constantly responding to everyone with “that’s not a question,” maybe you should get the hint.)

I had 15 minutes before the Charisma Carpenter panel (and I figured if The Monkees are 10 minutes later, Cordelia will be at least 15) so I went for a quick trek through the booths. I returned at 12:01 to find Charisma was already seated and asking everyone not to record the session. Wow. Props to Cordy for being on time. Turned out Ms. Carpenter is much friendlier, funnier and charming than the character she played on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

It’s 12:45 and my next panel is at 2 so I’ve got time to grab a quick bite and browse. I walk down the street to a sandwich shop, but it’s packed, so I go next door to Crazy Bowls and Wraps where there’s no line but it still takes 20 minutes for them to bring me my buffalo chicken wrap. By the time I return to the hall I’ve got roughly 30 minutes. And then I run into someone.

“John?”

“Ronnie. What are you doing here?”

“We brought Emma. She wanted to come.”

Emma is the daughter of my wife’s best friend Christine. Christine and Laurie are the last people you would ever expect to see at a Comic-Con. So now I have to find Christine so I can prove to myself that this really happened and get photographic evidence to prove it to Laurie.

So much for checking out the merchandise.

comiccon2Surprisingly we found them without too much trouble. Emma was dressed in Harry Potter garb, holding a snake. It wasn’t a comic book snake. It was just a snake. I don’t know what this has to do with Comic-Con either. But then, I noticed Ballpark Village had a booth at Comic-Con so apparently there are no rules.

“Ron!”

“Christine!”

“Is Laurie here?”

“What planet are you on?”

We had a nice chat but soon it was time for my next panel — Kevin Conroy, voice of The Batman in many, many cartoons. He has a hearty laugh and a lovely singing voice. I took it in for about a half-hour but then had to skip across the hall for the Marvel Saga panel. Former Marvel editor/writer Danny Fingeroth ripped through the entire history of Marvel in 45 minutes. There was a slide show so that was an added bonus. He made a valiant attempt at covering things but honestly, if you’re going to put so much emphasis on the movies you should write down beforehand who the actors are. Unless the goal was to turn that into an ongoing audience participation bit.

I walked out at 3:15 as Danny was wrapping up. The show closed at 4 so I wanted to make one last dash through the exhibit hall and see if anything caught my eye. The things I really liked were too expensive and the rest weren’t worth adding to the clutter in my basement. I left with a free Wonder Woman mini movie poster from my buddies at Allied.

I pulled into the garage at the same time as The Wife and Son.

“How was Comic-Con?”

“You’ll never believe who I saw at Comic-Con.”

“Who?”

I pull out my phone and hand it to her.

“It’s Emma! What’s she holding? Is that — EEEKKKK!!!”

And that was the highlight of Wizard World St. Louis Comic-Con 2017.

 

 

 

My Life Update: On Snoring And Digital Comics

When last we chatted I was going through a couple of major life changes. One, I had decided it was time to stop keeping everyone around me awake at night by dealing with my snoring problem, and more importantly, I had made the switch to digital comics and had left behind my weekly trip to the comic book store. Let’s see how things have changed in just two short months.

Luke, I’m Your Father

So, having passed (or failed, depending on how you look at it) my sleep apnea test, the next step was hooking me up with a CPAP (Crap Personal Asphyxiation Program) machine. I call the lady and she says I can come in and have a training session or they will send one out with an instructional DVD. Of course they’re not open on weekends and I don’t want to shuffle around my work schedule anymore so I tell them to FedEx it to me.

A few days later a box arrives on my doorstep. Inside is a machine, a carrying case, several instruction booklets, several forms, tubing, filters, more tubing, more filters, and a DVD. I start looking through an instruction book and am quickly overwhelmed.

Something they don’t tell you in the beginning is that a CPAP machine has many parts that require constant care and maintenance. I’m too lazy to shave every morning and they want me to daily wash and rinse and clean out the tubing and the mask and the filters and the humidifier tray (which only takes distilled water, naturally). And I’m supposed to wash my hands like a surgeon before handling this stuff. Going to bed, which used to be just  brush-teeth-undress-crawl-into-bed, has now become an ordeal.

What the hell? Why is all this necessary?

“Because if you don’t keep the equipment clean bacteria could build up and get blown up your nose and into your brain and kill you.”

Oh, well that’s so much better than snoring. I’m so grateful. I won’t be worrying about that now for the rest of my life.

I check in with the 3 people I know who use these monstrosities and they all give me different answers as to how seriously I should take upkeep and maintenance — based mainly on how long they’ve been using it. None of them have died of brain bacteria yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

I put in the DVD. It starts out with a couple recreating their experience with sleep apnea. I don’t give a shit, just tell me how to hook up the machine. Next, a lecture on what sleep apnea is. I don’t give a shit, just tell me how to hook up the machine. Next, a segment on your body and how it reacts to sleep and the causes of FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST TELL ME HOW TO HOOK UP MY MACHINE….

Finally we get to the instructions. “Not all machines are alike so you may need to consult with your instruction manual for more details.” The machine in the video was nothing like mine.

The next day I’m calling the Apria people, setting up a meeting, and reworking my work schedule.

000_0379The 45-minute one-on-one goes well and I go home confident I can make it work. That night I wash everything up, plug everything in, affix plastic tubes up my nose, lie down on my back, and wait for the sweet release of sleep. I was told that a CPAP machine ranges from a setting of 4 which is the lowest to 20 which is the highest. According to my sleep study, mine needed to be set at 18. For those with math anxiety, that’s just 2 short of the maximum rate that they can blow air up your nose.

Is it comfortable? Oh, God, no. Do you get used to it? I hope to God some day, but that day hasn’t come yet. Do you sleep through the night? For the most part. I’m usually wake up around 5 or 6 and can’t stand having this thing on my face anymore so I rip it off and lay there for a bit then get up. Sleeping in on weekends is a thing of the past.

So, are there any advantages? Well, I don’t feel tired all the time. I don’t fall asleep on the couch when I sit still for 10 minutes. I haven’t fallen asleep during a movie screening in weeks — and if I can stay awake through “Going In Style,” then things have definitely changed. My blood pressure is down, my back pain has decreased significantly, I seem to have more energy, I don’t wake up in the night and toss and turn. I don’t get up to use the bathroom multiple times a night. I’m blogging more. I guess those are advantages. Of course, if I die from bacteria I’m not sure if it will have been worth it.

Oh, there’s one other thing that comes from this: My wife is very, very, very, very, very, very happy.

So I’ll stick with it.

Welcome Back To The Comic Book Shop, Jimmy Dean

Those of you who pay attention will recall that back in January Marvel Comics ended their practice of including a code for a digital copy of any of their comic books that you bought. I was not happy, as this meant I would now have to choose between buying digital or physical comics. I went with digital, because they’re easier to read and store, but this meant my weekly trip to the comic book shop was no more.

I was devastated. None of you seemed to care.

marvel-digital-code-350x217Well, in what must be the quickest business turnaround since the death of New Coke, Marvel has announced that they are bringing back free digital copies when you buy their comics.

The program starts back up in May (just in time for Free Comic Book Day). This means there will now be an odd 3 month gap in my comic book collection for future archaeologists to puzzle over.

So now I can go back to the comic shop every Wednesday and browse and buy and not talk to the shop owner and pick up any freebies lying around.  I will have to buy new bookshelves — hey, maybe from IKEA! — and let them stack up in my basement until the day I die at which point my poor wife will look around and cry out, “What am I going to do with all these damn comic books?!”

And I’ll look up from where I’m spending eternity and say “That’s what you get for making me go to bed every night with that face-hugging, air-blowing mask on my face.”

 

 

 

 

 

At The Movies: Going In Style

It’s hard to believe you could make a bad film with a talented trio of actors like Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and to be fair, “Going in Style” isn’t really that bad. It’s just lackluster, predictable, mildly amusing and manipulative.

But if you don’t mind those things, hey, enjoy the show.

Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are three longtime friends and co-workers who have just lost their pensions due to a company buyout. Each man has their own personal drama and losing their pension money does not help matters.

poster-largeJoe — inspired by a bank robbery he witnessed a few days earlier — suggests to his buddies that they pull a heist. Joe is about to lose his home to the bank and Willie has medical problems. Albert, whose biggest problem is being pursued by an amorous shop clerk (Ann Margaret), is least interested in breaking the law. But eventually he comes around, otherwise there’d be no movie.

The trio hook up with Jesus (John Ortiz), a man with a shady past who teaches them the bank robbery tricks of the trade. It all plays out like you’d expect, unless you’re expecting “Dog Day Afternoon.”

Directed by Zach Braff, “Going in Style” is harmless and toothless. The movie goes after all your emotional buttons — laugh at Milton’s (Christopher Lloyd) silly antics, feel sad over Willie and Joe’s struggles, be outraged at the unfairness of the banks and big companies who disrespect the working man — but it feels like they’re trying to hard. Except for the comedy bits, where they’re not trying hard enough.

“Going in Style” is a remake of a 1979 film starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. I haven’t seen the orignal but reading about it, it sounds like a much more interesting film. You might be better off renting that one now and waiting for this one to come out on home video.