June 30, 2015

The Theatre Part II

Simon Callow in his one man show The Mystery of Charles Dickens written by Peter Ackroyd.

When it comes to my favorites, I usually hedge my bets. In movies I often cite my big 3 of English Patient, Casablanca, and Doctor Zhivago. In novels, War and Peace is front and center but often feel compelled to also mention Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad or Moby-Dick. But in Theatre, there is one night that stands above all others and I've spent many a magical night in a darkened theatre gazing upon a footlit stage.
That play was a one-man show starring the sensational Simon Callow in The Mystery of Charles Dickens written by the brilliant Peter Ackroyd. I still get chills remembering that magnificent performance.

The prolific writer Peter Ackroyd. I recently finished his splendid Shakespeare bio.

As I often say, the externalities can have a huge impact from both the performer's and audience's perspective. This was in December 2001 not long after the 9-11 ordeal. Simon Callow arrived in town already well known to theatre goers for his many interesting movie performances with the local press hyping the superlative reviews from his London performances. December in Chicago has it's own magic and the venue was our wonderful Chicago Shakespeare Theatre which was then only 2 years old and a perfect space for such a performance.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier
I attended with an old friend, Lynn, who will travel for special performances as she made a special trip to Washington DC to see Cate Blanchett in A Streetcar Named Desire. I am sometimes wary of going to cultural events with her because she can be a chatterbox but she was splendid company that evening....and she did buy the tickets....and I picked up dinner and drinks post performance as we were both still riding that transcendent wave Simon Callow's performance had created.

Lynn and I still consider Callow's Mystery of Charles Dickens performance the greatest we have ever seen and still talk about it every Christmas.

Do you have a night of Theatre that stands above all others?

June 29, 2015

The Theatre Part I

The Westport Country Playhouse where Uncle L began his career in Theatre while in junior high school.

My children's book series is getting close to launch as the illustrator has only to add colouration to the completed sketches and then we're off!

A couple of sketched pages now undergoing colouration. We hope to have Book 1 out by mid-September.

As I have mentioned previously, our book series will have a philanthropic component part of whose mission will be to support The Arts and in particular, Theatre, which has been fighting an uphill battle.

Don't Go Gentle cast
Norm Woodel (Judge Lawrence Driver), Benjamin Sprunger (Ben), Andrew Muwonge (Rasheed), Echaka Agba (Tanya) and Robyn Coffin (Amelia) in the Haven Theatre Company's "Don’t Go Gentle."
(Dean La Prairie photo from The Chicago Tribune)

Saturday night I attended a fine production of Don't Go Gentle. It bothered me that a Saturday night production wasn't sold out. Chicago has a fine international reputation as a Theatre Town yet far too often I attend excellent productions with empty seats. The Den will be doing something about this and I feel especially compelled to do so on account of my Uncle L's wonderful legacy in the field of Dramatic Arts.

Uncle L has a thunderous laugh and tells a story better than anybody I've ever heard.

My Uncle L had a very fine career in Theatre, Television (winning two Emmys), and Movies having been President of American Playhouse until it had to close due to lack of funding.  They brought high quality theatrical productions to Public Television and relied on public funding and foundation grants as a non-profit entity.  Back then, it carried a lot of prestige for actors to be in an American Playhouse production and Uncle L had a reputation for being very persuasive at convincing big name movie stars to work for scale.

From left: Auntie J, Uncle L, Uncle S (behind), Grandfather 'Pete', FRL, and Mum with Pete holding 'Bambi'.
August 1961.
 A tale Uncle L tells to perfection was as the long suffering uncoordinated youngest brother
of accomplished athletes and son to a Nixon Republican who remarked his Theatre pursuits were for 'sissies'.
Vindication came one day during the mid 1970s in Los Angeles when Pete, in town on business, was taking his youngest son to lunch. Uncle L said he was bringing a 'friend'. That 'friend' turned out to be Faye Dunaway whose career was then at its apex.

After American Playhouse had to close, Uncle L went to Hollywood and became President of Fox Searchlight Pictures. His tenure at Fox Searchlight was a successful one culminating in Best Picture Oscar nominee The Full Monty. Uncle L had by then tired of life in Hollywood where he never felt he fit in and longed to return to the East Coast so convinced the higher ups at Fox to let him leave Fox Searchlight and produce The Full Monty as a musical on Broadway. It was a critical and commercial success and would have been spectacularly so had it not been for the box office phenomenon The Producers starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane that swept all the Tonys and box office sizzle that year leaving everything else in its wake.

Guess Who Uncle L's Bringing to Lunch. This is the little gal Uncle L surprised his father Pete with. In an instant,
Uncle L went from the black sheep to Family Star as the boys at the Club and on the Metro North Bar Car got to hear
about Pete getting fresh with 'Bonnie'.

Uncle L is retired now after several years of lecturing at Yale but still in excellent health and living a quiet life in beautiful Northwestern Connecticut.

Post performance cocktail at The Red Lion.

I'll be hatching a plan to lure him out of genteel seclusion.

June 21, 2015

This Woman's Work

Kate Bush is a great Artist who has received far too little recognition in the United States. She never chased fame or courted controversy for the sake of publicity and while her list of accomplishments hasn't included chart topping hits, the test of time continues to rule in her favor.

There is a superb BBC doco on KB available on youtube that originally aired last year that you'll be richly rewarded for watching.

The Hounds of Love album is in my top 5.

This woman's work is among the greatest artistic output of my lifetime.

June 12, 2015

Another Birthday Greeting!

Here is the birthday girl, Bebe, back in the day.
Happy Birthday Bebe!!!

This is the biggest week of the year at The Den. Our Co-Conspirator, Bebe, currently
on sabbatical on the beaches of Cape Cod and buccolic Woodcock Pocket., is hopefully enjoying a festive day with her two beautiful daughters, Sugar Wimsey, Dustin, and Mr. Bebe aka ''Hedge'.

Happy Birthday Bebe from the High Plains!

June 08, 2015

Birthday Greetings!

I had my Mess Hall Sargeant bake something special for the occasion but Mugsy's understudy nearly
 jumped the gun.

I'm on my National Guard Annual Training on the Great Plains and was in the middle of an intense border skirmish (Claire, I'll not bore you with more of GSL's feats of derring do) when a cease fire was called in order to pay tribute to The Den's Muse.

Mugsy goes into a frenzy of tail-wagging yelps whenever The Muse's name is said aloud!

Our mascot, Mugsy, with his bark, signaled charged glasses held aloft face Northeast towards the 55th Parallel to honor The Muse.

June 01, 2015

The New Va-Va-VOOM

The Ingenue

Am in the process of scarfing down a quick lunch and while browsing through the news wire; leaned forward while squinting to see who this little hottie is.....scratch that; I didn't say hottie!!!! Nearly lost my lunch. Startled is all...not disapproving but Annie Liebowitz, I predict, will be getting a call from the Jessica Rabbit illustrator asking how she did it...

Va-Va-Voom circa 1988