On Stage: A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline

Growing up I didn’t listen to much Patsy Cline. My parents were more into Johnny Cash and Roger Miller. So I spent a lot of time listening to Johnny Cash and Roger Miller.

My father-in-law spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins. Which meant my wife spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline and Marty Robbins.

So Laurie was much more excited about going to see “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” than I was, but I was familiar enough with her music to assume that it would probably be a good show.

Sometimes assumptions are correct.

 

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Julie Johnson as Patsy Cline in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline,” now playing at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Photo courtesy of Mark Bell Presents

Julie Johnson gives a stellar performance as the country music legend. Backed by a solid four-piece band (Jerry Matheny on electric guitar, Rocky Gribble on acoustic guitar and banjo, John Kerry Huckaba on bass and bass guitar, and D Garrett Roper on drums), Johnson sings and yodels her way through many of Cline’s big hits.

Steve Barcus ties the narrative together as a radio disc jockey hosting a musical tribute to Cline. Barcus plays seven other roles in the course of the show and also serves as the band’s pianist.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Patsy Cline began her musical career as a teenager, first singing on a local radio show and then in bars and talent shows. She had her first hit with “Walking After Midnight” in 1957 and went on to find success on both the country and pop charts. She died in a plane crash at age 30.

“A Closer Walk” covers all the high points of Cline’s musical career — from radio to nightclubs to the Grand Ole Opry to Las Vegas to Carnegie Hall. It deals with her personal struggles as well. All while performing songs that have become pop music standards — like “I Fall To Pieces,” “She’s Got You” and “Crazy.”

But this isn’t strictly a concert show. Barcus and the band keep things lively with olde tyme comedy bits and classic commercial jingles.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” is a terrific show. The music is great, the musicians are great, the leads are great and the comedy’s a bit corny — but that’s keeping in the spirit of the times. The Playhouse is also a fine venue for such a program — small and intimate.

“A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” runs through May 6 at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. www.playhouseatwestport.com/

 

 

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At The Movies: Rampage

I’ve seen a lot of stupid movies in my day, and while “Rampage” may not be the stupidest, it is certainly a contender for that crown.

Of course, being a stupid movie isn’t necessarily bad. This is, after all, a movie based on a video game starring Dwayne Johnson and a trio of giant, mutated animals. If you came into this expecting “Citizen Kane” you were bound to be disappointed. “Rampage” pretty much delivers exactly what it promises in the trailers: big, over-the-top monster madness.

But boy, it sure is stupid.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primate expert who works with gorillas at a California zoo. His best friend is an albino gorilla named George (Jason Liles). Davis isn’t much of a people person.

He’s also former Special Forces, because most good primatologists are. His time in the military will serve him well if he ever has to fly a helicopter, fire heavy artillery, survive a fiery plane crash, and kick ass while nursing a bullet wound to the gut.

All things primatologists deal with on a regular basis.rampage-thumb-430xauto-70737

Meanwhile high above us, an evil corporation is conducting biological experiments in a space station. One of the test subjects escapes and tears havoc through the station, causing it to explode. Everything burns up on reentry except three canisters containing some weird mutagenic gas. One canister lands in the Everglades, where it infects a crocodile; one lands in Wyoming and mutates a wolf; while the third winds up in George’s habitat.

George begins to grow at a rapid rate (For some reason, all George does is grow — the other victims turn into monsters that are barely recognizable as a wolf or a crocodile). Naturally the government becomes involved, in the form of special agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Russell actually turns out to be more of a help than a hindrance — the only unexpected twist in the whole movie.

Now here’s where things get really stupid. Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her idiot brother Brett (Jake Lacy) run the evil corporation that caused all this trouble. Claire wants to recoup some of her investment so she sets off a beacon that will lure the creatures to their corporate office in the heart of Chicago. How she figures that bringing three rampaging monsters into a heavily populated area will get her in good with the authorities is anyone’s guess.

“Rampage” certainly delivers on its title. Once things get rolling it is pretty much nonstop mayhem and destruction with the occasional time out for a humorous moment or a feeble attempt at character development. If you are in the mood to turn off your brain for a couple of hours and watch monsters tear up a city before tearing into each other, then this is the movie for you.

On Stage: Hamilton

I was into “Hamilton” when “Hamilton” wasn’t cool.

Well, that’s not exactly true. My niece was really into it early on though. She was obsessed with some rap musical about Alexander Hamilton and my reaction was, “That can’t possibly be entertaining,” and “Which president was he anyway?”

Turned out I was wrong (not the first time) and Anna Jane was ahead of the curve. Soon “Hamilton” was all over the place. It was the biggest thing to hit Broadway since, well, the last big thing to hit Broadway. And now it’s arrived in St. Louis for a three-week run at the Fox Theatre.

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                     The Hamilton National Tour is on stage through April 22 at the Fox Theatre.                              Photo (c) Joan Marcus

For those of you not familiar with the biggest thing on Broadway, it is the brainchild of playwright/actor/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda was inspired to write the musical after reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton by author Ron Chernow. The show opened in 2015 and went on to win 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It is insanely popular, as evidenced last night by the huge crowd trying to get through the front doors at the Fox. My apologies to anyone I may have trampled on the way in.

Alexander Hamilton, you may recall from high school American History class, was one of the nation’s founding fathers. He served as George Washington’s right-hand man and was the first Secretary of the Treasury. He never became president but he did get his picture on the 10 dollar bill.

What makes “Hamilton” unique is it reveals this historical drama through a modern lens, mixing up hip-hop, pop and traditional show tunes with an ethnically diverse cast. It’s high-energy music and rapid-fire lyrics keep the audience enthusiastic and challenged to keep up.

It also covers a great deal of story — from the American Revolution to the early days of nation building. Boring political disputes are turned into engaging rap battles. The show also deals with Hamilton’s complex and sometimes tragic home life. And there’s dueling. And King George stops in for a hilarious couple of songs.

The incredibly talented cast includes Austin Scott as Hamilton; Nicholas Christopher as his rival Aaron Burr; Julia K. Harriman as wife Eliza; Sabrina Sloan as Angelica, the other Schuyler sister; Carvens Lissaint as George Washington; Chris De’Sean Lee as Thomas Jefferson and LaFayette; and Peter Matthew Smith as King George.

They are all terrific, as is the show. Good luck getting tickets if you don’t have them. You will want to be in the room where it happens.

“Hamilton” runs through April 22 at the Fox Theatre. www.fabulousfox.com

   

 

 

 

At The Movies: Ready Player One

I think I’m getting too old for this.

In my youth I probably would have loved “Ready Player One.” All the shiny special effects and pop culture references and over-the-top action sequences…so what if the plot is paper thin and the characters are even less substantial? It’s got the Iron Giant fighting Mechagodzilla!

But I’m old now, getting older every day. And all that shiny special effects is just so much sensory overload and I’m tired of characters I don’t care about and I’ve seen variations of a thousand times going through the motions of a familiar story that has no depth.

Still, seeing a T-Rex and King Kong smashing up racing cars was pretty darn cool.

Still, I wish I’d gone to see “Isle of Dogs” instead.

ready-player-oneDirected by Steven Spielberg and based on a novel by Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” is set in the pretty dystopian world of 2045. To escape the unbearable harshness of reality, people spend most of their time in a virtual world known as the OASIS.

The game was created by James Halliday (Mark Rylance), an eccentric sort who, before his death, hid three keys somewhere in the OASIS. Whoever finds these keys will claim ownership of the virtual world and all the treasure that goes with it.

Among those searching for the keys is young Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), the central player in our story. Years pass with no success until Wade finally cracks the secret to surviving Round 1 and grabs the first key. He’s joined in his search by new love interest Samantha (Olivia Cooke) and his friends (fully approved by The Diversity Council): Aech (Lena Waithe), Sho (Philip Zhao) and Dalto (Win Morisaki).

There has to be a villain to the piece, of course, and for this tale it is as Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the CEO of Innovative Online Industries. Nolan wants IOI to control the OASIS and has an army of drones and considerable resources at his command.

But since when has a slimy corporate weasel with limitless power been able to stand up to a plucky teenager and his pals?

“Ready Player One” is the latest in the never-ending string of movies that are big on spectacle and light on everything else. It is pretty impressive spectacle at times, and sure it’s fun to see so many icons of pop culture pop up all over the place. But the story is bland and lacking in creativity and the cast is made up of stock characters. And at 2 hours, 20 minutes, it’s about 30 minutes too long.

I suspect you will love this movie more if you are really into videogame culture, but I haven’t owned a gaming system since the Sega Genesis, so I’m clearly out of touch there.

 

 

 

Someone’s In The Kitchen With Laura – Tearing It Apart

So about 6 months ago I was sitting on the couch watching something (I need to come up with a new way to start these bits) when The Wife comes to me and says,

“We need a new kitchen.”

“What?! Is the kitchen on fire?!”

“No, it’s just out of date.”

“What do you mean? It’s the same kitchen we’ve had since the house was built 20-plus years ago.”

“Exactly. It’s all so 1995.”

“So, what are we talking about doing?”

“Well, we need new countertops, a back splash..”

“What’s a back splash?”

000_0107“Don’t interrupt — new cabinets, a new dishwasher, new oven, new sink, new faucets, new garbage disposal, new floor … and if we’re redoing the floor in the kitchen we need to redo the floor in the hallway and the laundry room. And if we’re putting new countertops in the kitchen we’ll need to replace the one on the wet bar. And let’s get rid of that big mirror over the wet bar. Replace it with a shelf.”

“Why don’t we just buy a new house?”

“Don’t be silly.”

“So, what am I going to have to do in all of this?”

“Not a thing.”

“Well then, let’s get started.”

Phase One

Step one in any successful home improvement project is research. Laurie spent weeks looking at stuff online, visiting Home Depot and Lowes, talking to everyone she knows, in order to find the right kind of countertop and flooring, among other things. She occasionally consulted me but I was annoyingly noncommittal. As is my way.

Then she had to find the right person to do this work. The first guy passed the initial phone interview, but failed the in-home interview. The second guy had lots of great ideas but a quick check of his credentials revealed a lot of unhappy customers.  Then it turned out her hairdresser knew a guy and that was that.

Phase Two

Remember how I wasn’t going to have to do anything? Well, before you can tear up floor and cabinets to put in new ones, you have to move everything out of the kitchen, hallway and laundry room. The weekend before work began we packed up all the coffee cups (we have quite a collection), glasses, silverware, pots, pans, water bottles (we have quite a collection), everything in the pantry, the large china cabinet in the hallway, etc. etc. etc.

kitchen4And moved most of it into the living room.

It was quite a mess. And do you know who can’t stand mess? Hint: It’s not me or Andrew.

Yes, Laurie had the hardest time adjusting to the early weeks of the project. As long as we had our spaces on the couch,  Andrew and I would survive. And if we could operate the TV with the remote, what difference did it make if we couldn’t get near it? But poor Laurie couldn’t stand the clutter. Especially not being able to clean things.

Phase Three 

kitchen5The actual tearing up and rebuilding of things took roughly three weeks. It was a long three weeks of eating out and cooking from an electric skillet. I was a little surprised that we were doing this in the dead of winter — I kept expecting an ice storm or blizzard to put a halt to things and leave us in limbo for months, but everything kept to schedule. The new dish washer was nice and quiet.

The last major appliance to deal with was the refrigerator. Laurie took the morning off from work to be there for its arrival. The plan was to put the old, still working fridge, in the garage.  When the movers arrived they quickly suspected there was a problem. After measuring things, it was determined the new fridge was too large. It’s not that Laurie had mis-measured (she would never do that), but rather the water line for the ice machine had been moved which cut down on the available space. So the nice movers put our old refrigerator back in place and we put getting a new one on the list for another day.

  Phase Four

All that was left to deal with was the wet bar. Removing the giant mirror revealed white paint where there should have been blue. The guy who did the remodel was not a painter, so we had to find someone else to finish the job. Laurie found some guy online who would paint, repair some minor dings from earlier, and hang a shelf. That’s correct — I really cannot do a goddamn thing.

kitchen2 (2)Laurie was unsuccessful finding a shelf at the usual places, so I suggested we make the trek downtown to Ikea. It was her first trip there, and, as feared, she loved it. We quickly found the perfect shelf but that doesn’t mean we left quickly thereafter. I foolishly suggested we get 2 shelves just to be sure. Got home and realized we didn’t need 2 shelves, which meant another trip to Ikea. Just as well, because it turned out they didn’t include screws with the shelf brackets. Who doesn’t include hardware? We returned the second shelf and bought a case of screws — we were assured the right ones were in the box. Of course, we only needed 6 screws and there were like 50 in this set, but at least we’d be prepared for the future.

Turned out the guy who did the work brought his own screws.

And so it was that at 8:30 p.m. Monday night our 3-month home improvement project was finally finished. Time to sit back and soak in the glory of a job finally, and well, done.

After heaping loads of praise on the contractor for his work, Laurie says,

“Jim, could you come look in the bathroom. I want to talk to you about something…”

kitchen1 (2)

 

On Stage: The Color Purple

The empowerment of women is a hot topic in today’s world, and “The Color Purple” brings the subject to life in meaningful, heartfelt fashion.

Based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, “The Color Purple” was made into a film in 1985. A musical version arrived on Broadway in 2005 with book by Marsha Norman and  and music and lyrics by Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell and Allee Willis.

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Carla R. Stewart, Adrianna Hicks and the North American Tour cast of “The Color Purple.”    Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017

Set in rural Georgia in the early 1900s, “The Color Purple” tells the story of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), who while just a teenager has already had 1 child with 1 on the way — both courtesy of her father (J.D. Webster). Celie never sees the children as they are immediately taken away to parts unknown as soon as they are born.

Celie’s only friend is her sister Nettie (N’Jameh Camara), but they are soon separated when Celie is given away to Mister (Gavin Gregory) for his bride. Mister would rather have Nettie, but Pa sweetens the deal with Celie by throwing in a cow.

Mister treats Celie more like a slave than a wife, complete with beatings to keep her in line. Mister’s son Harpo (J. Daughtry) hooks up with the independently-minded Sofia (Carrie Compere), who will not be treated in a similar fashion.

The final major player in this drama is Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart), a jazz singer and former lover of Mister. When she comes back to town for a visit, her stay with Mister and Celie has major repercussions in all their lives.

“The Color Purple” is a powerful tale told without compromise. The first act is almost relentlessly bleak but things do turn around for Celie in the second half. The set design is sparse but effective. The actors offer compelling performances and have tremendous voices, even if the songs aren’t that memorable — with a few exceptions such as Sofia’s defiant “Hell No!” and Shug’s sexy “Push da Button.”

“The Color Purple” runs through April 1 at the Fox Theatre. www.fabulousfox.com

At The Movies: Tomb Raider

Way back in 2001 Angelina Jolie brought video game adventurer Lara Croft to life with the release of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Jolie made two “Tomb Raider” movies before everyone involved lost interest. They were decent, but not particularly impressive or engaging, action-adventure films.

Seventeen years later, Alicia Vikander steps into the role for a fresh start and a new adventure. The latest “Tomb Raider” is a decent, but not particularly impressive or engaging, action-adventure flick.

Lara is the daughter of wealthy Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared some years ago and now Lara must find and rescue him. Wait. Didn’t I review this movie last week?

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Richard went missing while searching for the tomb of Himiko, an ancient queen with strange mystical powers. Richard wanted to find the tomb before the evil Trinity organization does because if it gets to the corpse first they will do something evil with it — because that’s what evil organizations do.

Lara unearths a clue to her father’s whereabouts and, with help from ship captain Lu Rein (Daniel Wu), tracks him down to a deserted island. She and Lu are immediately captured by an expedition party sent by Trinity and led by  Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins).

There’s a lot of running and chasing in this movie. It starts off with a bike chase, followed by Lara being chased around by a trio of young punks, then being chased through the jungle by Trinity agents. She spends a lot more time running than tomb raiding, but I guess “Lara Croft: Runner” wouldn’t be quite as big a draw.

I can’t say this new “Tomb Raider” is better or worse than the original. There is some beautiful scenery, your standard traps-in-the-tomb excitement, some decent action — but that was also true of the first one. Vikander is the real draw here as she has great screen presence. But then, so did Jolie.

“Tomb Raider” is a very by-the-numbers adventure movie with a twist at the end that makes no sense to me. It’s clearly set up as the start of a franchise but we’ll see how long “Lara Croft 2.0” will carry on.