Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Legally Blonde:" It's Fun in the First Degree

Elle Woods (Sarah Ledtke) confides her woes to Paulette (Anna Blair).  News-Progress photos by Keith Stewart.

Gay or just exotic?
I still can’t crack the code
Yet, his accent is hypnotic
But his shoes are pointy toed

Gay or European?
So many shades of gray
But if he turns out straight
I’m free at eight on Saturday.
  “There, Right, There.” from “Legally Blonde”

By Dan Hagen
Willowy and witty, pretty and poised, Sarah Ledtke never makes a false step as the star of the Little Theatre’s final show of its 2014 summer season, “Legally Blonde.”
As Elle Woods, Malibu boy-chaser turned Harvard Law ace, she brings the same qualities of likability, whimsy and stage presence to the role as Reese Witherspoon did in the original hit film, although not at all in the same way.
Ledtke’s confident gestures easily arrest the audience’s attention. With empathy, without preaching, Ledtke sells the show’s ever-relevant message — that you don’t have to be limited by other people’s low estimation of your worth. It’s a pleasure to watch a professional performer who has such command of her craft.
Director Therese Kincade did an equally professional job of casting this musical, and all her principals find a comfortable fit in their roles. She’s got Mike Danovich, the season’s most reliably solid player, as Warner, the preppy boyfriend who thinks he’s too good for Elle. She has energetic Tiffany Sparks as Brooke Wyndham, the exercise queen on trial for murdering her elderly hubby. Anna Blair is the gaudy but good-hearted salon owner Paulette, balancing show-stopping clown against endearing underdog.
Andy LeBon, who was so good as Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” brings his ringing note of authority to bear on the John Houseman-like role of the arrogant and brilliant Harvard criminal law professor Callahan.
Will Skrip as Emmett Forrest
And Will Skrip is diffident and winning as Emmett Forrest, the teaching assistant who appreciates Elle for her genuine potential. Skrip’s and Ledtke’s romantic relationship is a believable slow burn over the course of the show, and satisfying when it finally ignites. Nice to see a musical that takes the trouble to make us believe that boy has a reason to meet girl.
A really enjoyable show — and this one is — always has gems scattered even among the minor roles. For example, there’s Brady Miller (Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors”). When choreographer Amber Mak needs some particularly spectacular bit of stuff done, Miller is always there spinning across the stage to do it. Haley Jane Schafer, Megan E. Farley and Emily Rhein are the vapidly vivacious sorority sisters who form a “Greek chorus” in Elle’s head (get it?). Duncan Barrett Brown brings an earnest charm and stage presence to the role of Kyle, the well-defined UPS man who pitty-pats Paulette’s pulse.
The music, by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, is witty and peppy and drives the plot of the show, rather than impeding it. That keeps the show’s pace briskly satisfying, and the eye-catching costumes by Jana Henry and splashy lighting by Mark Hueske also work toward a unified effect.
Lebon takes command in the crowd-pleasing number about lawyers, “Blood in the Water.” Ledtke, Blair, Brown and the Greek chorus celebrate the innocent eroticism of the “Bend and Snap.” The song “There, Right, There,” in which Elle must figure out if a witness is gay in order to discredit his testimony, is simply hilarious, and was probably the most popular number the night I saw the show. And the song “Take It Like a Man,” in which Ledtke takes Skrip to a men’s clothing store and their love unfolds like a pricey shirt, is delightful. One particularly witty touch is the perfume demonstrators. They wander about the store and punctuate the drama with heavily symbolic Calvin Klein fragrances like “Love” and “Subtext.”
And what do I smell here? A hit.
Incidental intelligence: Legally Blonde, a show with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach, is based on the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the 2001 film of the same name. It runs through Aug. 10 at the Little Theatre.
This production has scenic design by Noel Rennerfeldt, sound design by Jason Seigel, stage management by Jeremy J. Phillips and musical direction by Kevin Long.
The cast includes Emma Taylor, Hanah Rose Nardone, Marty Harbaugh, Josh Houghton, David Barkley, Andy Frank, iko Pagsisihan, Colleen Johnson and Jack the Dog (as “Bruiser”).
For tickets, call The Little Theatre On The Square Box Office at 217-728-7375.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hal Holbrook: Ever the Twain

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain
Just finished Hal Holbrook’s “Harold: The Boy Who Would Become Mark Twain.” His chancy childhood — a vanished mother, a mentally unstable father, a coquettish grandmother and a devoted oak of a grandfather — fed those identity questions from which great performances can be born.
His life was soap operatic when he was on a live TV soap opera, “The Brighter Day,” guiltily indulging in an affair with his onscreen paramour to warm himself against the existential chill that had settled over his marriage. His life was adventurous when he countered professional and personal obstacles with self-imposed challenges, like the solo climb up Mount Shasta that came close to killing him. Even the exhaustive list of the play dates he crisscrossed a two-lane nation to play suggest the nervous tedium that tests the bravery and endurance of the working actor. And then there’s the climax, revivifying Mark Twain — the process of discovering ever-deeper insights inside the humorist-sage, the terror of creating and carrying a solo show, the eye-blinking, hide-the-tears amazement when the reviews from the New York critics turn out to be a tidal wave of raves.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gunfight at the Okra in the Produce Aisle

A woman was arrested in July 2014 after she pulled out a gun when asked to slow down in a Rutherford County, Tenn., Walmart parking lot, according to WGNS News.
The woman said it was all right for her to threaten to shoot people because she has a carry permit.
That same week, an Alabama man “accidentally” shot his girlfriend while holding a baby and jumping on a trampoline, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputies reported a “running gun battle” between the occupants of a minivan and a Nissan on I-43, a 12-year-old San Antonio boy got shot by a gun kids were playing with, a Georgia GOP congressional candidate announced that he wants Americans to fight the U.S. government with bazookas, a man tried to bring a gun into the U.S. Capitol, a Minnesota man gunned down a 17-year-old girl who had asked him to stop trespassing on his riding mower in her yard, a Texas man shot himself while hitching up his pants in a convenience store, a Tennessee woman slapped and threatened to shoot a Kroger clerk whom she called a n****r, and an “open carry” armed man frightened shoppers away from a Missouri Walmart.
“You don’t want your kids around that,” said shopper George Rolf. “There’s a lot of people out shopping, especially in a place like this.” But in Kansas City, Missouri, the open carry of firearms is legal, because Ammosexual America is insane.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On a Hill with Hal Holbrook

"Summer Cemetery" by Meg West
Hal Holbrook in "Our Town," 1977

“It was like that cemetery in the play ‘Our Town,’ ‘on a hilltop, a windy hilltop.’ It was quiet up there, with the tender foliage of spring all around us and the sky above our heads a long way off, and this was the only time I saw Grandfather cry.
“As he stood at his father’s grave, the tears rolled down his face while the silent agony of his life clutched at him. It was then that I saw that life was not going to be a spring day. There was suffering ahead. It did not require that any words be spoken for me to see the face of what life had in store. I saw it in the anguish of Grandfather’s tears.
“When I look at pictures of me as a little boy I see a happy child with an impish look. It surprises me. Where did it come from? How could I have lived through the deprivation of having no mother and father, never knowing why they left, and then being sent away among strangers and the beatings at that school, and still look happy in those pictures?”
“A while ago, my wife and I were watching some Hollywood toy person, fresh off drugs, pouring his heart out on television about being an abused child. I said, ‘My god, it just hit me. I was an abused child!’
“’Yes, you were,’ said my wife.
“’I never thought of it before.’
“’You were too busy surviving,’ she said.
“Was it the image of my grandfather that kept me going? A survivor himself. Or was it the little acts of kindness that saved me. When the piano teacher put her arms around me and held me close (after a beating by the school headmaster) — those moments? I saw the face of kindness and perhaps that gave me hope.”
Source: “Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain,” a memoir by Hal Holbrook

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Dream Blows In On The East Wind

This series of eight children's books appeared from 1934 to 1988, illustrated by Mary Shepard

I have, at long last, been reading P.L. Travers’ tales of Mary Poppins.
The stories proceed with an oddly appealing dream logic, somewhat similar to the SF novels of A.E. Van Vogt or the Fantomas novels by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain.
Impossible occurrences are continually mixed in with mundane ones, and some characters are always incapable of noticing them. The nanny Mary Poppins herself is refreshingly curt and sometimes unreasonable. She is inexplicable, a dreamlike fait accompli.
I can see how the stories, with their Cat-in-the-Hat flavor of safely hidden anarchy, would appeal to children. They’re better than the movie, which subjected the character to the inevitable Disney blandification process.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rockford RIP

The late James Coburn and the late James Garner in Paddy Chayefsky's "The Americanization of Emily."

He was an authentic person among phonies, an authentic talent among empty celebrities, a quietly courageous and humorously self-deprecating man, a man who played heroes and, although he would have denied it, actually was one.
It occurs to me that one thing I have never heard is someone say something bad about James Garner.

The Modern Media Miasma of Misinformation

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, like the other right-awing talking heads, is accustomed to peddling bullshit propaganda. He's just not accustomed to getting called on it.
If Mika Brzezinski had not INSISTED on correcting Scarborough with the facts, Scarborough would have gotten away with rewriting history yet again, pushing the mass audience a little deeper into the corporate media miasma of misinformation.
And this is the “liberal” corporate news media channel, remember? The one that peddles lies to kiss Reagan's ancient ass.