EJ's take on entertainment and travel plus a few pointers in a fairly smart-for-old-person way

Friday, December 6

The Sound of Music Live! with No Safety Net

Carrie Underwood as Maria seemed most at ease on stage 
when singing with the children.
Poo-poo to the haughty New York self-proclaimed theater purists.  Throw in the Polly-Pissy-Pants peeps condemning the production before the first line was delivered. Toss in all the whiners objecting to the cast.  It's time to get over yourselves and admit The Sound of Music Live! offered a refreshing break from the same old, same old TV junk. I say kudos to NBC for claiming the lead in returning to the intensity of live theater for a television audience.


Potential Chaos with No Safety Net

Like most live productions parts of the play delighted viewers while a few scenes caused some puzzled looks.  From the opening I was more than a little concerned about the cheesy set.  The background of fake aspen trees in the fake aspen forest caused flashbacks to building sets for high school productions. Nervously glancing around my living room, I almost expected a door to stick shut or a chandelier to crash to the floor. Once I got over the feeble outdoor set, I focused on the show.  Later,  I was relieved at the quality of the two other sets. The details of the grand open staircase seemed exquisite compared to the puny greenery of the mountainside.

The Carrie Underwood Non-controversy

In director's circles the timeless argument over actors versus singers persists.  Once upon a time I think I said something like, I'd rather have a talented actress who can sing a little than a great singer who can't act.  Another teacher usually responded with, No, that is a disasterIt's better to have an awesome singer without much acting experience. You can teach a singer to act but some actors will never be decent singers.  I'm gonna betray myself on the theory of preferring a seasoned actor over a good singer. Carrie Underwood  proved singing is more crucial than acting in this big number musical.  Considering the number of songs she performed, the difficulty of the numbers and the confidence needed to pull it off on a live stage, Underwood's moxie made some of the critics stop licking their chops.

What Do You Want from Her?  


Before Underwood was ever tapped for the role by producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, doubters lined up whispering their typical classless snark.  She only won a TV show; Big deal, she's not a real singer; the judges thought she was cuteit's not fair and other jealous drivel.  If Hollywood haters can't admit Underwood's pipes hit the mark, they need to find real jobs.  Her debut in musical theater was Audra McDonald, Carrie Underwood's vocals helped create the innocent character of Maria.  Playing the innocent hard-working governess fit into her natural disposition making the lyrics believable.  As far as acting is concerned, Underwood stood out during the scenes with the children. Her movements and dialogue transformed from stiff to second nature in all the numbers interacting with the von Trapp children.            
stunning. As a singer. Surrounded by vetted musical theater pros and the likes of the super talented


Was the Captain Hunky Enough?

Here's the deal. Carrie Underwood is a singer. She never professed otherwise. Meron said he was impressed with her ability to learn quickly.  She worked well with the cast and seemed a natural fit. The biggest problem-yes I said it,  the biggest problem with Underwood's inexperience on stage was believability. No way  did any sparks fly between her and Stephen Moyer, the captain.  With all of the time Moyer has invested on television and theater stages, he made little or no effort to create any chemistry. Come to think of it, no electricity between his fiancĂ©e Laura Benanti's character, Frau Schraeder ever flickered.  I'll pick Moyer as the battery in need of a charge.  Both relationships for the good Captain von Trapp fell flat.  Even the aggressive kiss Moyer stuck on Underwood's lips appeared to be forced and fake. He was okay as the anal-turned-loving father but not so much as the hunk two hot women wanted.

Go with the Flow of the Show

This show is a two-time viewing. The first time through the story too many distractions disrupt the flow.  Commercial interruptions.  The nature of the commercials.  Snack break.  Different scenes and songs contrasting the play and the movie.  Some of the flow of the story slowed down during unfamiliar scenes.  Beer break.  Bathroom break.

Against the nature of my typical critical self,  I must say I was quite delighted with the production.  I still want to flash a neon sign explaining the differences between  acting in a movie and preforming live theater.  And the differences between the original script and a movie adaptation.
 
It is possible today's expect-to-be-instantly-entertained audience can't grasp the idea of no remote or a rewind button.  Thank you.  That bonus helped the magical sense of the story unfold live in an almost embarrassing sense of intimacy.  Hopefully, enough viewers will push for more live productions like The Sound of Music Live! It's a perfect opportunity to have what's called quality family viewing time.


Sunday, December 1

To blog or not to blog?

Don't call it a comeback

A few years ago I made an effort to do a blog. I'd estimate the effort lasted a few months. Lucky for all of you, it seems to be making a comeback of sorts. Slow. But, starting to move a bit. Quite fitting due to one of my many nicknames appointed by my daughter. Turtle. That's the nickname, not my daughter.
In other words, the place is a bit of a mess. If you enter be prepared to find totally unrelated posts on extremely different topics. Think of it as the Potpourri category on Jeopardy! Someday I could start blogs on education, entertainment, sports, politics and/or personal stuff to make it easier for some readers not to wander into unexpected offensive territory. I could. Not sure if I ever will. But, it is a thought.
The word 'attempt' is a little strong considering my lack of attention, motivation and/or disappearance of mojo. Yet, smart person that I am, I see many blatant problems with said blog. In other words yes, I know it is all over the place. Yes, I know I need to focus on a niche. Yes, I know I should post on a regular basis. Hence, the use of the word 'attempt'. Someday (when  making memories w/ my granddaughter or spending precious time visiting my daughter becomes less important) I will split content into separate blogs. Someday. Maybe. Depends on priorities.
Writing club friends and blog gurus warn of losing readers by not posting enough content in a timely matter. Guess what? I care more about my loved ones than the opinion of another writer. This is just one more time when a reminder of my philosophy seems appropriate.  (WARNING. Sarcasm. Defiance. Message to gossipers and trouble makers.) Be yourself. Make your own decisions. Those close to you support you and love you. The rest of them? F'em if they can't take a joke. 
Crude. Could be softer. But, that's not me. You get the idea. Life is too short to care about what others think. To try to change for another person or regret too much of the past. Gotta savor the present.
When I started the blog it seemed more of a need than a want. Leaving a career in teaching to become a free-lance writer required such efforts. Social media, publishing sites, writing groups, professional memberships and writing workshops would surely prove I made the right choice. More than three years later, I am still trying to convince myself.
Photos of fam including daughters Amy (top left), Andy (bottom left)
son Shawn (bottom right, granddaughter Anna, husband Mark.

Face painting. It is fun to be a dinosaur!
Leaving the restrictive environment of the workplace certainly afforded me the time to create special memories with my granddaughter, Anna. As Gaga PJ, I've become a VIP in her world. When Anna started talking she struggled to say grandma. It eventually came out sounding like 'gaga'. Then my title officially evolved into Gaga PJ. BTW if Lady Gaga ever tries to sue, she is the one in violation. It was MY name first!
Leaving the classroom also allowed me to stay with my daughter at Hope Lodge during chemo and radiation treatment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  She's the first to say all things happen for a reason. She's right. When I place the correctness of blogs or the conventions of writing into perspective, maybe organizing a blog doesn't make the upper level of my priorities. It's all about perspective.

It wasn't until after I posted this picture on multiple
sites that I noticed the bar. Is it wrong to have a
backdrop of alcohol for a five-year-old's art "studio"?












                                            

Thursday, November 28

The Sound of Music Live! Launches on NBC


 Underwood plays Maria in the live production
 of The  Sound of Music

Dec. 5 at 8 pm Eastern Time on NBC

Ignore Critics and Celebrate Theater

The popular classic movie, The Sound of Music, is about to venture into new territory. The 1965 movie is set to go live on television on NBC Dec. 5 at 8 PM.  While live theater on TV was common nearly half a century ago, advances in technology moved plays from the television stage to film. It's a whole new scene for viewers accustomed to watching TV and movies instead of spending a night at the theater. Besides the risky format, viewers will need to adjust to other changes compared to the classic film. One of the obvious changes are new cast members.

Browsing social media sites hints at a negative reaction to the new cast. While fans of the original cast question the roles of the newbies, their loyalty is misplaced.  Chalk it up to human nature. But, it's distracting from what should be a celebration of a live performance. Several tweets and posts reveal stubborn fans sending hate mail to cast members. These stuck-in-the-past critics need to keep an open mind.  Instead of judging the performance before it's aired, they should embrace the message in the classic story of The Sound of Music. No one can replace the original stars. That's not the goal. Those who are making it a competition should get over it. It's not.

The majority of the negative comments seem to be directed at singer Carrie Underwood who plays Maria. She is taking on the role made famous by the legendary Julie Andrews. But, small-minded critics seems to overlook the fact Andrews approves of the choice.  Giving Underwood her blessing in an interview with CBS, Andrews said, "Fifty years later, it's time somebody had another crack at it." Andrews also pointed to the many changes from the movie and the original script. 


Underwood as Maria with the von Trapp children.

Unfortunately, some critics are so close-minded they've already condemned the performances before they happen. Whether you are a fan of the original or a fan of Julie Andrews, at least watch the live version with an open mind.  Don't judge it as a failure before you even see the production. Of course, it won't be the same seeing others play familiar roles. Underwood is the first to admit she 'knows her place'.  "I know I'm not Julie. Nobody is and I would never pretend that I was," she commented. In other words, for those determined to criticize the play before they see it, either change your mind or change the channel.

The irony of hate tweets directed at Underwood is almost laughable. Carrie Underwood probably comes closer to the character of Maria than most singers/actresses. Growing up on a farm in a close Christian family in Oklahoma, she understands loyalty and hard work.Through her journey from clean-cut farm girl to word-famous singer she's remained humble.

Underwood may not have experience in musical theater but she is surrounded by some of the best. According to producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the Grammy winning singer has worked extra hard to make her stage debut a success. Meron is confident in her ability. He is delighted at the way veteran actor Stephen Moyer took on the role of Captain von Trapp. Christopher Plummer played the naval hero in the classic movie.

Besides the cast, other typical differences in a movie version  include a shorter time frame. Scenes are rewritten or cut entirely. The NBC version of The Sound of Music Live! is based on the play, not the movie. The story of family and faith guiding the von Trapps to safety is not simply resurfaced with a different cast. Along with other deviations in the story, viewers will notice changes in the music as well. Fans of the original should consider the live television version as a complement and not a replacement to the familiar story. 

Julie Andrews, photo courtesy NBC
 NBC is betting the audience is ready to appreciate the live presentation. With no retakes, a mistake in lines or missed lyrics can send an otherwise great production straight to the dumpster. While a disaster is possible, a huge investment of the network's money and the cast's time should guarantee a solid show. The greater risk falls on the viewer's ability to adapt to all the changes and the three-hour time frame.

In anticipation of this innovative event maybe we could all buck the tendency to focus on the negative and enjoy The Sound of Music Live! as a bonus to the popular movie. In the spirit of the holiday season maybe we could reflect on the blessings in our own lives in America compared to the danger faced by the von Trapp family to escape the Nazis.  Just for a few hours maybe we could soak up some joy, celebrate family and appreciate seeing a lavish production of  live musical theater right in our living rooms. Maybe.

Saturday, May 4

Taxation without Representation Results in F- Grade for Iowa Congressmen


I recently clicked on an e-mail from Congressman Bruce Braley,  Have you seen instances of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars in your community, but felt like no one was listening?

Well, yes Rep. Braley. Strange that you should ask. I was just thinking about all the wasted money and fraudulent actions of those who waste a huge amount of taxpayer's hard-earned money.
That would be your cronies All the Iowa politicians in Congress whose salaries, travel expenses, health care, retirement and other benefits suck big bucks right out of our pockets. We might as well shred it. IOW many Iowa Congressmen are NOT representing the views of Iowans. Yet, Iowans continue to pay taxes. I think I've heard of such a scheme.

The new and improved taxation without representation scheme

Dear Iowa Senators and Representatives: You are not doing your job. When we pay taxes and vote for you, then you are supposed to represent our views and vote accordingly. But that doesn't seem to be happening. So I am asking (in the words of Janet Jackson) What have you done for me lately?




The once honorable Sen. Charles Grassley
has changed his view to align w party
extremists. From background checks to
Violence Against Women, he's learned to
flip-flop with the best of them. Either he
thinks we are stupid, he is out of touch
with Iowans or he doesn't care. He will not
vote to represent the views of Iowans. His
loyalty stays with those with the money and
power to stuff his bank account. It's way
past retirement time for Chuck.

1. You showed your true colors by allowing flexibility for TSA cuts due to Sequester. Why? It helps YOU smooze around the country. It doesn't help me. Or those who can not afford to fly. Or most of your constituents. So, stop acting like you compromised or worked together for the greater good. It was for your own good. It was just another selfish act from selfish people.
2. You ignored overwhelming support for more comprehensive background checks for gun buyers. AKA selling out to the NRA. I guess you just can't resist the gun lobby and all the big bucks and benefits.    
3. Sen. Charles Grassley.  You insulted the intelligence of Iowans, patronized voters and looked like an idiot. You declared we shouldn't have a law for more comprehensive background checks. Why? Well, of course, it won't stop criminals for getting guns. Using that flawed logic there is no purpose for any law. We have all kinds of drug laws but people still make meth and deal. We  have immigration laws but people still cross the border illegally. I am not aware of ANY law followed by 100% of the population.
4.    Iowans pay taxes. Our taxes pay your salary, health insurance, retirement benefits and more.  Big bucks. In exchange, you are expected to do a job. You have not.  Instead you have obstructed government progress, refused to compromise, voted against your constituents views,  filibustered against bills you once favored. That is called Taxation without Representation.  As you recall, our forefathers experienced a similar problem.  Americans would not tolerate it then; we will not tolerate it now.

 For those who don't read well, here's a short list of your accomplishments.

    • Filibustered nearly any meaningful legislation (even those you once supported)
    • Obstructed government progress
    • Misrepresented those who pay your salary and benefits
    • Insulted taxpayer's intelligence
    • Failed to act in the best interest of the people resulting in infamous Sequester
    • Accepted taxpayer money w/o providing services
    • Voted against Violence against Women Act  (let's show racism against Native Americans, Grassley)
    • Acted as puppets for NRA in exchange for money
    • Prostituted yourselves to the highest bidder AKA NRA (alternate wording)
    • Politicized Marathon bombing (Grassley). (let's profile us some Muslims)
    • Allowed TSA flexibility over sequester cuts. This was the usual selfish act. You helped yourselves and those who can afford to fly often. Not me. Not the majority of your constituents. As usual your action aids those with money who already have power. How about repealing the entire infamous sequester?
As President Abraham Lincoln once observed, Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.  You got called out, sir. Your character (or lack thereof) is showing.
If you are not willing to do your job, then give our money back and go home. Really.


 
Sen. Grassley must be attempting to gain ground on Steve
King (left) AKA as an embarrassment to the state or
Iowa's Big Mouth, Wingnut, hypocrite who says he wants
smaller gov't  (translation: fewer regulations to allow people to live
their lives without gov't interference (translated that means let people
make money even if it is unethical, illegal and hurtful to others.)
Then he supports more gov't regulation to invade the private lives
(and bodies) of female voters by telling them when they can have
a family, who they can love and marry, what to believe, don't
need background check for guns but by God don't try to use
your right to vote until we check you out, immigrants are like
animals. . . IOW he's your garden variety type bigot.
In reality, he'd like to replace the Constitution with the Bible. And, he
wants to be the cult leader who makes the call on when to
drink the Kool-Aid that his wife will mix up for him in the
kitchen where she belongs.
Rep. Braley (right) forwarded the'tell me if any poor people got to eat too 
much' e-mail. He should know better. Innocent enough in concept. 
Consequences? Nope.






 


 










 





 









 





 













 
















 


 

Monday, March 18

Analyze This


Gotta love those egotistical sports analysts declaring 1 and 2 seeds in the final four of the 2013 NCAA tourney.  Many imply the lower seeds aren’t worthy of their time.  Some make it sound like the bottom half of the 64 teams should be erased—snuffed out like a Cub fan’s dream of a World Series.

You’d think even sportscasters are familiar with keywords like upset or sleeper team.  Plus, there’s the worn out words of anything can happen at tournament time.  Overused, but true.  If these experts showed a bit of wisdom, they wouldn’t focus all their precious expensive time pouring over data from the supposed Big Guns. They’d spend more time with Cinderella.
Fans representing every tourney team could present a list of reasons why their team is a potential winner.  A few seem so obvious you’d think even those swollen heads of sports analysts wouldn’t be able to block the glare.


Case 1

Take a close look at the10 seed in the West, the Iowa State Cyclones.  Yup, they lost to Kansas three times. Twice in overtime. Kansas won the second game via a blatantly incorrect foul call (causing the sportscaster to fly into a hissy fit rage) allowing Kansas to shoots free throws to tie the game.  Just in case you suspect I am bias, check out the replay in the film clip here Controversial no-call late in regulation derails Iowa State’s bid to upset Kansas or here Kansas Jayhawks – Elijah Johnson Rises Above Controversy.  Shoulda been a charge. Iowa State wins in regulation. Instead, in the last few seconds, a ref hands the game to the Jayhawks.
Hilton Colseum in Ames, IA is home to ISU.

Wait a minute.  So, why aren’t the 22-11 Cyclones taken seriously? If Kansas is a number 1 seed and Iowa State took them into overtime, you’d think they might get a quick look.  If you don’t like the Kansas overtime analogy, consider these reasons validating Iowa State as the sneaky sleeper.
  •   Iowa State ranks fourth in the country in scoring offense
  •  ISU beat three Big 12 teams consistently ranked throughout the season (Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Kansas St)
  •  Any of the top 6 Cyclones are excellent 3-pt shooters
  •  Iowa State has strong bench.  My favorite player, Tyrus McGee, is the sixth man


    •  Their coach is motivational, wise, personable, popular, classy, highly respected, knows the game as player and coach is dedicated to the team and community (and many more accolades).  The highly regarded Fred Hoiberg is known as The Mayor in hometown Ames. And, he’s got a great smile


    • This team is a team that plays as a team. In other words, it does not consist of a big-name star with four peons feeding him.  These Cyclones support each other. They concentrate on team goals instead of individual stars. (This is not an objective provable fact so just take my word on this one) 
    • I have family connections at ISU-son works there, daughter-in-law’s undergraduate degree from there.











    Case 2
    Check out the Jack Rabbits from South Dakota State University with a 25-9 record.  Winners of the Summit League’s conference tournament, they are going to the big dance as an atomatic bid for the second year in a row. As a 13 seed in the South bracket, the Jacks don’t grab a great deal of national media attention due to moving up to DI status less than 10 years ago, conference is not well known, and . . . well,  they're located in the state of SD with a total population less than the number of people living in Polk County Iowa. Regardless, Nate Wolters is making his mark on SD State and Jacks are making a mark in DI basketball. They claim some great stats. The Jacks are capable of pulling off a stunning upset-if they can stay composed in hostile territory.

    •  Standout Nate Wolters scores the country’s fourth highest  average points per outing charting 22.7 points per game
    • Jacks are 10th in the country in 3 pt shooting percentage with a .394
    •  They beat a ranked team, New Mexico, on their turf in Albuquerque
    •  Big underdogs, the Jacks have nothing to lose 
    • I was born and raised in SD. Still have fam there. A few are connected to the university
    So keep an eye on these two sleepers. Are there others? Sure. But it's 4 in the morning. I am tired and these are my favorites. At the moment I don't care so much about the others.

    If you need a copy of the 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket go to The Bracket.


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