In Concert: Ann Wilson

So I’m sitting on the couch watching “One-Punch Man” when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Let’s go to the Ann Wilson concert.”

“Who? The name sounds familiar.”

“She’s the lead singer for Heart.”

“Oh. OK.”

Now you have probably figured out by now that when The Wife wants to do something — We Do It. I’m the kinda guy who likes doing stuff, and I don’t really care what, as long as it doesn’t involve running or risking my life (No dear, I won’t climb that mountain to see that lake; or ride that bobsled of death).

Plus, Laurie married me, and all that goes with that, so anything that can make her life a little brighter for a couple of hours, sign me up. Do you ever watch “The Big Bang Theory” and wonder “Why on earth did Penny marry Leonard?” So do I, but then I’m living proof that women sometimes do strange, inexplicable things.

Besides, I’m probably going to enjoy an Ann Wilson concert more than Shakespeare in the Park or the opera.

The concert was at River City Casino in Lemay, which is downtown St. Louis but off to the side. We had never been there before but it was near where Laurie goes to play bingo so I made her drive. Turned out it wasn’t a bad drive and we didn’t have to deal with downtown crap and the casino had a nice. large, free parking lot and we were able to get a spot at the front entrance.

Conveniently for the casino people, the Event Center was at the other end of the building, so you had to walk through the casino and restaurant row to get to it. I always feel dirty when I walk through a casino, I don’t know why. There was a Wonder Woman slot machine that I considered stopping at, but didn’t. I told Laurie that if we saw a Batman one or an Avengers one we were stopping, but there were none.

We found the venue but it was 40 minutes before showtime (we got there early since we didn’t know how long it would take to get there), so we made a stop at an Italian pastry kiosk for a tiramisu and a cafe mocha. Tasty.

The Event Center at River City Casino is a small-medium size joint where there’s really not a bad seat in the house. The rows go to Z, and the last 7 or 8 rows are on risers. I got us a couple of seats in row X and it worked out nicely. I was on the aisle for extra leg room and immediate extraction once it’s over; we were elevated so we didn’t have to stare at the back of someone’s head like the people on the floor; the venue was small enough that being in the back wasn’t a big issue; I don’t need to see Ann Wilson up close anyway; the seats were much cheaper; nobody in the risers is going to be standing up all night dancing and annoying the hell out of me.

The show was to start at 8 p.m. with no opening act. Good on you, Ann Wilson. “We’ll see how much of a diva Ann Wilson is by when she shows up,” I says. The show started a few minutes after 8. Good on you, Ann Wilson. She opened the show with a blistering version of “The Real Me,” track 2 from the classic Who album “Quadrophenia.”

Ohmigod, I love Ann Wilson.

annwilsonofhearttour2017poster (2)From there she ripped through a trio of Heart tunes (Barracuda, Crazy on You, What About Love) and that was pretty much it for the Heart catalogue, aside from a couple she slipped into Act II (but let’s be honest, “A Million Miles” is just an amped up reworking of the old folk standard, “500 Miles”).

It turns out that if you’re going to an Ann Wilson concert to hear Heart songs, you may leave disappointed. But if you’re going to hear an eclectic greatest hits show, Ann delivers. They’re just not Heart hits. In addition to a couple of her own songs, she and the band performed tunes made famous by Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Peter Gabriel, The Animals, The Black Crowes, Buffalo Springfield, Aretha Franklin and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Since I’m not a Heart fanatic, I had no problem with the song selection. Ann has an incredible voice and her 4-piece backing band was solid. I’d rather hear Ann sing “She Talks to Angels” than “Dog and Butterfly” anyway.

There was a large video screen behind them that showed odd images. Sometimes they were cool, some sometimes they made no sense, and some I could’ve done without.

She wrapped up the show (pre-encores) with an amazing 3-song punch of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Alone” and “Love, Reign O’er Me.” Imagine the audacity of someone thinking. I’m going to end my show with not 1, but 2, Who showstoppers — and I’m not Roger Daltrey. And yet she pulled it off flawlessly.

Ohmigod, I love Ann Wilson.




On Stage: Madame Butterfly

So I’m sitting on the couch watching the end of civilization as we know it, aka the Nightly News, when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess what time it is!”

“Time to move to Canada?”

“Maybe. But it’s also our first night of Opera Season! Go shave off that stubble, put on a shirt that doesn’t have superheroes on it, and let’s go have a great time.”

“I can do two of those things, but I can’t guarantee the third.”

And so it was that last night we once again made our way to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of Giacomo Puccini’s classic tale of love, betrayal and delusion — “Madame Butterfly.”

1475271314_eyomx_butterflyslide (2)

Written in 1904, the show feels both dated and yet contemporary. The latter part largely because it reminded me of “Miss Saigon,” which shouldn’t be surprising since “Saigon” rips off the story line almost completely.

Cio-Cio-San (Rena Harms), aka M. Butterfly, is a 15-year-old Japanese geisha from a once wealthy family whose future now rests in a marriage with American Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Michael Brandenburg). She’s ecstatic over the union, he’s excited that he’s going to get some underage sex before he goes off to sea – never to be seen again.

The American Consul (Christopher Magiera) warns Pinkerton that this is a bad idea, but the lieutenant doesn’t listen. Cio-Cio’s uncle (Dominik Belavy) throws a big stink at the wedding and her family disowns her. Finally alone, the couple sing for a bit and then go off to engage in coitus while everyone else goes out for intermission.

When we return, two years have passed and Cio-Cio is now penniless and living with her 2-year-old child (coincidence?) and her faithful servant Suzuki (Renee Rapier). Despite their dire circumstances, Cio-Cio is certain that her husband will return.

And he does return eventually. With his new American wife Kate (Anush Avetisyan).

As operas go, “Madame Butterfly” is pretty entertaining. There’s not a lot of story but there is a lot of singing and music. It’s very good music, and that’s the key — I think I even recognized some of the music, which always makes me feel a little less culturally illiterate.

The cast is very talented, as are the musicians. Nice costumes and the staging was clever, although at times the Japanese house set did obstruct one’s view, even with a rotating stage.

“Madame Butterfly” runs through June 24. 






At The Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Well, that was better than I was expecting. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. And I’m not saying it’s a great film, but it’s better than the last one, which admittedly isn’t saying much. I can’t imagine it being any worse than “Baywatch,” which is your alternative holiday weekend movie release.

I guess what I’m trying to say is “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is kinda fun, pretty silly, too long, and nicely brings the story back around to its original characters and ties things up in a nice bow. It even gives an origin story of sorts for its lead character. If it were the end of the series, it would be a nice way to go out. So lets all hope it bombs at the box office so they don’t ruin things by making another one.

potc_dmtnt_poster_by_jackiemonster12-db3wuivHenry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), young son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) — the star-crossed lovers of the original trilogy — is looking for a way to break the curse that keeps his father trapped aboard the Flying Dutchman. According to legend, the answer is the trident of Poseidon, mythical god of the sea.

The key to finding the trident lies, of course, with that rum-loving pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

Now this can’t be a simple team-up and find the trident story, that’s not enough plot for a PotC movie. So enter Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead sea captain who steers a massive ghost ship and has a grudge against Sparrow. He wants revenge for past wrongs and will destroy every vessel in the ocean to get at Jack.

Then there’s Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer (often mistaken for a witch) with a secret past who is also looking for the trident. And you can’t have a PotC movie without Jack’s rival, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who gets dragged into the story because Salazar is crippling his ships looking for Sparrow. And, of course, he wouldn’t mind having the trident for his own purposes.

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” shares all the pluses and minuses familiar to all the movies in the franchise. On the plus side, the special effects are impressive, the cast in engaging, and the action sequences are thrilling. On the minus side, the movie goes on too long, the action sequences go on way too long, the story is convoluted, and Jack just isn’t as charming as he used to be.

Still, it was good of them to bring back Will and  Elizabeth, even if only briefly, and resolve their story and wrap up others — at least until things get all upended for the next one.



On Stage: Rent

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since “Rent” first took the stage. But then, it’s hard to believe that the young people in last night’s audience weren’t even alive at the end of the millennium.

Two decades may have passed since Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical made its debut, but “Rent” doesn’t feel dated. The show is just as vibrant and emotionally charged — and the audience reaction is just as enthusiastic — as it has ever been.


The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, photo by Carol Rosegg, 2016

For those who weren’t alive or don’t remember the late 20th century, “Rent” is the tale of a group of starving artists struggling to survive in New York City during the latter half of the 1990s. All of the characters, in one way or another, are dealing with the impact of AIDS.

Central to the story are roommates Mark the filmmaker (Danny Harris Kornfeld) and Roger the musician (Kaleb Wells). They are broke but living rent-free in a loft in the East Village. When their former cohort and now landlord Benny (Christian Thompson) announces they need to pay up, the show takes off.

But “Rent” isn’t really a story about making monthly payments for your living arrangements. It’s about three bohemian couples: Collins (Aaron Harrington), the anarchist professor who hooks up with the flamboyant drag queen Angel (David Merino); Maureen (Katie LaMark), the diva performance artist and her latest love, the anal-retentive Joanne (Jasmine Easler); and Roger, who is fighting his feelings for the young dancer Mimi (Skyler Volpe). Mark’s major relationship is with his camera.

The musical was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s classic “La Boheme,”  and thanks to my opera-loving wife I have now seen both shows so can tell you that in a comparison/contrast situation — “Rent” is more entertaining. It has better music (I think “Rent” has one of the greatest scores in musical history), a meatier story, and let’s face it, you really can’t rock out to Puccini.

The 20th anniversary staging of the show playing this weekend at the Fox features a superb cast and excellent musicians. They’ve tinkered a little with some of the staging and set design but nothing dramatic.

It may not be a classic in the stature of “La Boheme,” but give it another 100 years.

 “Rent” runs through May 21 at the Fox Theatre.

At The Movies: Alien: Covenant

The good news is that “Alien: Covenant” isn’t the ambitious-but-muddled mess that its predecessor, “Prometheus,” was. It’s a tighter, much more straightforward, horror film.

The bad news is, well, it’s hard to be that scared by something you’ve seen played out six times now since 1979 (more if you count “Alien/Predator” movies). “Covenant” is basically a greatest hits of the “Alien” franchise. And just like any greatest hits album — you’ve heard it all before.

IMG_20170323_0950491The year is 2104 and a huge colony ship is bound for a distant planet. When the ship receives a very human transmission coming from an uncharted planet, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. After all, if this unknown world is habitable, they can shave nine years off their trip.

As you might imagine, there’s something ugly, violent and voracious on the planet’s surface. Also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the android who was last seen heading for the planet of the engineers at the end of “Prometheus.”

Director Ridley Scott is once again at the helm of this second in a series of prequels to his groundbreaking “Alien” film. While he shows that he still knows how to deliver a taut, horrifying tale, he first broke that ground almost 40 years ago and doesn’t seem to have anywhere new to go.

These last two films have had a few interesting ideas but they all get shoved aside for more face-hugging, chest-exploding gore. I’m much more interested in the giant albinos but they never get to do anything and the meeting between humans and their possible creators goes nowhere.

I mean, am I supposed to be on the edge of my seat when some idiot sticks his head over a freshly opened alien pod? Do you expect me to still be shocked when someone starts convulsing shortly after an alien encounter?

And even though the actors change, the roles remain the same. This time around Katherine Waterston gets to be the indomitable woman who isn’t in charge but takes charge and drives the narrative. Danny McBride plays the down-to-earth guy who gives the film its small bit of comic relief.

And in a dual role, Fassbender gets to play both the evil synthetic (formerly known as Ash) and the good one (formerly known as Bishop). Which one will win out? Well, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, and either way will you really be surprised?

“Alien: Covenant” is a better film than its predecessor and the later films in the original run, but it doesn’t have the freshness or spark of the original and James Cameron’s sequel. The special effects are impressive, the actors are solid and the action sequences are thrilling. It’s the same old, same old, but very expertly done.




Reggie And Me

The big news in entertainment this week (well, maybe not big news) was the recasting of the role of Reggie Mantle on the TV series Riverdale.

When I heard the news, my reaction was — “Reggie Mantle was on Riverdale?”

4954230-05I watched the first 4 episodes of the show and spotted Reggie, briefly, maybe twice. So I stopped watching.

For you see, before Hawkeye — before even Batman — there was Reggie.

As a kid I loved The Archies. My first lunchbox was an Archies lunchbox. I watched the cartoon every Saturday morning. I had one of their records. (Although to be honest, I hate “Sugar, Sugar ” — a song so bad The Monkees refused to record it.)

But it wasn’t because I loved Archie. Lord, no. He was far too goody-two-shoes. And what was the deal with those hashmarks on the sides of his face? And why did Betty and Veronica find him so attractive?

Reggie was so much cooler. And sarcastic. And frankly more handsome. Reggie was the bad boy, and given that Riverdale was 99 percent all-whitebread and all-good (true, Veronica had her moments), that made Reggie all the more unique and entertaining.

The best thing about the Reggie-Archie relationship was the fact that while they were rivals and often at odds, they were also friends. They would team up on things about as often as they would fight. They were even in the same band, for Pete’s sake.

But then I grew up and discovered superheroes and left The Archies behind. I keep up with what’s going on with the characters in the comics press and I pick up the Archie offering every year at Free Comic Book Day, but that’s the extent of my relationship with the gang these days.

Reggie2ZdarskyVarSo when I heard the CW was going to be airing a show called Riverdale I figured I would check it out for nostalgia’s sake. Alas, it was too millennial for my tastes. Jughead is some kind of lost soul, writer-type? Betty seems a little bit crazy? Archie is having sex with Miss Grundy? The only character who seemed normal was Veronica, and what are the odds of that?

Worst of all — no Reggie. It appeared he had been replaced in the Big 5 by Kevin Keller. I can’t say I’m surprised, this show is about as PC as it can get. Reggie did show up eventually and I think there was a scene where he punched Archie, but I blinked and missed it. When Cheryl Blossom is a more important character to the Archie mythos than Reggie Mantle, you know there’s something fundamentally wrong with what you’re doing.

It turned out that maybe the reason Reggie was getting such short shrift on the show was that the actor playing him was busy with other things and not always available. Maybe now that there’s a new actor in the role that will change. But then given how twisted all the characters have become on this show, that may not be a good thing.

My sister is still watching, so if she reports an uptick in Reggie activity next season maybe I’ll give it another chance.





At The Movies: King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

I can’t say I was all that excited about sitting through another retelling of the King Arthur story. I was never a big fan of Art to begin with and Monty Python made the only truly great movie on the subject and it was, you know, a farce.

But this version was going to be by Guy Ritchie, and he’s usually reliable, plus the only other option was an Amy Schumer movie, and I like her even less than King Arthur, so what can you do?

arthur111“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” opens with a fairly spectacular battle scene involving giant elephants. King Uther (Eric Bana) is at war with the evil magician Mordred, who is quickly put down thanks to the magic sword Excalibur. But there’s not much time for celebrating as the king is quickly betrayed and murdered by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law). Uther’s son escapes and grows up hard and smart on the mean streets of Londinium.

Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has a decent life in Londinium until King Vortigern’s men arrive to round up all the men Arthur’s age to see if any of them can pull a particular sword out of a stone. Yes, Excalibur once again got stuck in a rock after the former king’s death. Vortigern knows the true king’s heir is out there somewhere and wants to find him and deal with him.

Once the young man’s heritage is revealed, Arthur is forced to lead a revolution that he wants no part of. Among those helping him along the way are Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and an unnamed Merlin substitute (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

I rather enjoyed “King Arthur: Etc., etc. etc.” as I was watching it, although it did seem to run long even though it was your standard 2-hour film. But the more distance I put between it, the more dumb and common it seemed. There are elements of director Ritchie’s trademark flash and clever dialogue, but not enough. The cast is fine and the effects are impressive and there’s plenty of gorgeous scenery.

It’s an OK movie and fun in the moment, but it’s lacking something — magic, maybe?