Category Archives: Misc.

Ah, The Arts! Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade

If someone had told me there was going to be an art exhibit about hats and paintings of women wearing hats, I would’ve said, “Now I see why Trump wants to end arts funding.”

But it sounded good to The Wife, and so it was that Saturday morning the Family RRoy made our way to Forest Park to catch the opening weekend of “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Mother Nature, cruel mistress that she is, decided it wasn’t enough punishment that I had to go to the art museum, she also turned Saturday into a beautiful Spring day…in February. And you know what that means — every stinking idiot in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area is going to converge on Forest Park for the day. It didn’t matter that we weren’t going to the zoo. No, all that mattered was there wasn’t going to be any parking anywhere and driving it in would be a nightmare.

So, I let The Wife drive. She was the one wanting to go after all.

Traffic wasn’t too bad until we got to Art Hill. We foolishly pulled into the nearest free lot thinking maybe there would be one spot open. Of course we got trapped as people waited for other people to leave and blocked the way around. Eventually we escaped and said, “screw it,” and went to the art museum’s parking lot. It’s only $5 for members, and $5 for parking beats the 5 years it takes off my life every time I have to sit in traffic in Forest Park.

Our usual strategy for art exhibitions is Laurie goes in first and Andrew and I bum around until she’s finished (roughly 1 hour, depending on the size of the exhibit) and then I go in while she waits with Andrew (roughly 15 minutes, depending on how crowded it is and how quickly I can get around people). We arrived at 12:20 and there was a French class Laurie wanted to attend at 1 p.m. I doubted her ability to get through the exhibit in 40 minutes, but she seemed to think she could, so she went to the exhibit hall and Andrew and I walked in circles around the outdoor statue garden for a half-hour. It was a nice day for it.

We got back to the exhibit hall close to 1 and L was just leaving the exhibit. “Did you see all you wanted to see?” I asked incredulously. “Yes,” she replied. “Did you enjoy it?” I queried. “Yes,” she replied.

Laurie went to the French class and Andrew and I had a leisurely visit in the restroom. Andrew likes to take his time in the restroom. I usually rush him out when we’re in public but since we had nowhere else to go I indulged him. Fifteen minutes later we went and found some big, comfy chairs and waited for French class to be over.

A half-hour later Laurie emerged from class. She suggested I go through the art show while she and Andrew went to the garage and got our picnic lunch and set it up out on the lawn. That seemed about right. In the time it would take them to do that I should easily walk through the Hats and Paintings of People Wearing Hats exhibit.

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“D, I & the PMT” features 60 paintings and a number of elaborate hats dating back to the Impressionist era of artist Edgar Degas. Apparently Degas was fascinated by high-fashion hats and the women who made them — my guess is he was more interested in the women who made them, but I could be wrong. I don’t know anything about Degas.

There were some pretty funky-looking hats, I will say. Hats with birds on them, hats with giant flowers and etc. The paintings were predominantly portraits of women in hats by Degas and other masters of the era like Manet, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. There was also a small section of men’s hats — basic black bowlers and top hats — and some paintings of men in hats.

I have to say this was not one of my favorite art shows. Nothing really stood out to me. But it was OK and I made it through in record time and got to the picnic spot before they had eaten all the food.
“Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” runs through May 7 at the Saint Louis Art Museum. http://www.slam.org/

On Stage: Something Rotten!

Whether you love or hate William Shakespeare (there’s one of each in my family) and whether you love or hate musical theater, you’ll find something to applaud in “Something Rotten!” The Renaissance-era comedy is playing through Feb. 19 at the Fox Theatre.

Written by John O’Farrel and Karey Kirkpatrick  with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick,  “Something Rotten” opened on Broadway in 2015. This high-energy spoof of musicals and The Bard is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long time.

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Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo © Jeremy Daniel

The story takes place in 1595 London with the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” setting the stage. Everything’s new and exciting at this time in world history and at the center of attention is famed playwright William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). The Bard is pretty much the Elvis of the era.

Not everyone loves Shakespeare – particularly struggling playwright Nick Bottom (Rob McClure). Nick had kicked Will out of his acting troupe years ago and advised him to take up writing. Now, the excitable Nick and his timid brother/writing partner Nigel (Josh Grisetti) aren’t having any luck coming up with a successful show. In fact, their patron has given them one day to come up with a winning idea or they’re going to be booted from the theater.

In desperation, Nick goes looking for a soothsayer. He finds Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), nephew of the famous seer. Nick pays for one good idea and Thomas has a doozy: musical comedy.

At first Nick scoffs at the idea that audiences would watch a show in which people spontaneously burst into song and dance in the course of telling a story. But Thomas and the chorus win him over in the show-stopping number “A Musical.”

Nick takes this idea to Nigel and their theater troupe. They decide to make a go of it but there’s another problem — what is this musical going to be about?  Eventually Nick returns to Thomas for help, asking him to look into the future and find Shakespeare’s greatest work so that he can steal it. Thomas’ vision gets scrambled in translation and Nick eventually ends up with egg on his face.

There’s a lot more going on, including an obligatory love story (the weakest link in the show), but the rest it’s best you discover on your own. “Something Rotten” features a number of hilarious, often exhilarating, musical numbers, such as “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top,” and “Hard to Be the Bard.” There’s even a lovely inspiration number, “To Thine Own Self.”

“Something Rotten” references dozens of musicals and Shakespeare plays in wicked, rapid-fire succession — good luck trying to catch them all.

The cast is terrific, especially McClure as the manic Nick Bottom, Hammond as the not-so-all-seeing Nostradamus and Pascal as the charming, conceited Bard. The show also boasts colorful costumes and a fine set design.

But what makes “Something Rotten!” something deliciously entertaining are its smart songs, clever story and talented cast.

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The cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo © Jeremy Daniel

“Something Rotten!” runs through Feb. 19 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

Gone: Maggie Roche

Money is not the problem
you have enough of that
now you must close your office
put on your coat and hat
put on your coat and hat

Now is the hour of quitting
twilight paints the town
Old industrial skyline
how does the sun go down?
how does the sun go down

You can go south in winter
be what you are a goose
you can live near the ocean
your clothes can fit you loose

Even as you are leaning
into that glass of wine
you and beloved business
have come to the end of a line
come to the end of a line

All of the gates are open
all of the charges dropped
talks are terminated
payments have been stopped
payments have been stopped

You can move north in summer
you can be in the breeze
you don’t need to notify
any secretaries

Old industrial skyline
drawing away from you
you are the one that’s moving
you are the fool that flew
you are the fool that flew

You can go south in winter
be what you are a goose
honk all the moon out the ocean
your clothes can fit you loose

Do I wanna be a dog?mi0003516016
any diddlin’ male would do
if I was a damned old dog
I wouldn’t be fussy for you

Do I wanna be a housebroken dog
eat better than an Indian
I don’t wanna be a damned old dog
I just wanna lick your chin again

I thought that I could convince you
I thought that I could get through
chew out a hole in the fence you
barked up between me and you

Limpin’ around in the moonlight
coverin’ up what I did
words decompose all around me
nuisances I committed

Do I wanna be a dog
cut the heat out of me
if I was a damned old dog
I wouldn’t have to goddamn human be

She came on the stage
in a dress like the sky
she had painted a sunset
around her eyes
and all of the people
were charmed and surprised
at how pretty and high and shy she was
pretty and high and shy

She at the window
and the prince upon the bed
they were for an hour
before he said
if she had no place else
she was welcome to stay
but she’d better get back
and she thanked him the same
leavin’ him pretty and high and dry
pretty and high and dry

The prince was confused
so he asked the magician
the magician arrived
at the answer profound
if she takes off her dress
the sky will fall down
cause she’s pretty and high and a lie
pretty and high and a lie

I work at the circus
and I sleep with the clown
when I took off my dress
the sky fell down
if the sky falls down
then we play on the ground
cause I’m pretty and high and only partly a lie
pretty and high and only partly a lie
pretty and high and only partly a lie

One in Louisiana
one who travels around
one of ’em mainly stays in heart-throb town

I am not their main concern
they are lonely too
I am just an arrow passing through

When they look into my eyes
I know what to do
I make sure the words I say are true

When they send me off at dawn
pay the driver my fare
they know I am goin’ down somewhere

O the married men
the married men
never would have had a good time again
if it wasn’t for the married men

One says he’ll come after me
another one’ll drop me a line
one says all o’ my agony is in my mind

They know what is wrong with me
none of ’em wants my hand
soloin’ in my traveling wedding band

O the married men
the married men
makes me feel like a girl again
to run with the married men

One of ’ems got a little boy
other one he’s got two
one of ’ems wife is one week overdue

I know these girls they don’t like me
but I am just like them
pickin’ a crazy apple off a stem

Givin’ it to the married men
the married men
all o’ that time in hell to spend
for kissin’ the married men

If you go down to Hammond
you’ll never come back
In my opinion you’re
on the wrong track
We’ll always love you but
that’s not the point

If you go with that fella
forget about us
As far as I’m concerned
that would be just
throwing yourself away
not even trying
Come on you’re lying to me

Well I went down to Hammond
I did as I pleased
I ain’t the only one
who’s got this disease

Why don’t you face the fact
you old upstart
We fall apart

You’d be okay if you’d
just stay in school
Don’t be a fool

Do your eyes have an answer
to this song of mine
They say we meet again
on down the line
Where is on down the line
how far away?
Tell me I’m okay

If you go down to Hammond
you’ll never come back

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.

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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/

 

 

 

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.

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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

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1. The Revenant

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2. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

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3. Deadpool

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4. The Who Hits 50 (plus 1)

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5. Daredevil Season 2

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6. The Jungle Book

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7. Captain America: Civil War

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8. Shalamar the Clown

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9. La Boheme

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10. The Monkees: Good Times!

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11. Hell or High Water

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12. Paul McCartney in concert

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13. LawyerCon: Denver

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14. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

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15. Luke Cage

Fun Home

16. Fun Home

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17. Occupy Avengers

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18. Black Mirror

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19. Dr. Strange

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20. Fun with Family

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21. Fun with Friends