Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Review/Rebuttal for Cabaret

A REVIEW OF Kentucky Conservatory Theatre's Production of CABARET!

Monday night I saw a really remarkable production of Cabaret! and I spent the next day thinking and reveling about it… and then puzzling and scowling over a misguided pan of it by the Herald-Leader’s contributing theater critic Tedrin Blair Lindsey.

I’ve seen Cabaret before, on stage and screen. It’s a masterpiece — a charming, gender-bending, song-and-dance-filled, poignant, shocking, provocative, horrifying masterpiece. Moreover — seeing Kentucky Conservatory Theatre’s production premiere is precisely what reminded me of these things because despite what Mr. Lindsey claims, the cast, crew, dancers and musicians absolutely owned it.

Which is why I’m left scratching my head over Tedrin Blair Lindsey’s misguided review of the show, which I think was the same show I saw, but I took away none — zero — of his complaints, digs or claims. In fact, I was absolutely captivated by the production, and the rest of the room seemed pretty captivated, too. We’re all entitled to our opinions, so … “Put down the knitting, the book and the broom,” here’s an audience member review to at least provide an alternate perspective to Mr. Lindsey’s sour take on it.

I’m not going to beef (too much) directly with the reviewer, and instead let me tell you why it was not “flawed,” as he said, but rather: GREAT.

First things first: I don’t know the producer. I don’t know the choreographer. I know one person in the cast. I might say I have no stake in this, but I DO — in the sense that I treasure Lexington as a creative community and as the chosen home for many gifted individuals and organizations. So, with that out of the way: What I saw on opening night was a triumph of space, movement, technology, voice — in short, it was great theater, which is exactly what I plunked down $35 to see. And community theater at that.

Because of KCT’s production, I’ve been thinking about Cabaret all day, both as a play (a “musical” if you must), a choreography (most famously in the movie version by Bob Fosse, which Mr. Lindsey seems kind of inappropriately concerned with, considering that KCT is neither making a movie nor trying to recreate one) and a repertory piece that towers high in the American stage canon. The reason I was thinking about Cabaret all day, not surprisingly is because Kentucky Conservatory Theatre (and their creative partners Blackbird Dance Theatre, let’s certainly not forget) did such an astounding job of presenting the dazzling, lacerating shards and facets contained in Cabaret, from first laugh to final stupefied silence … or tears, in many eyes, mine included.

As far as I’m concerned, talking about Cabaret as a venerable work of American theater and talking about the KCT’s production of it are the same thing, because that’s how much KCT got it and that’s how much they passed it on to the audience, at least at my table. And I didn’t see any less rapt faces when I looked around the room throughout the evening. It was riveting. It was funny, provocative, and exhilarating, and then it was sad, tragic and finally horrifying. It was all these things together because it was Cabaret, through and through.

Mr. Lindsey suggested that “Director Wesley Nelson and choreographer Jenny Fitzpatrick … have boldly re-imagined this familiar show.” That’s a brutal, backhanded compliment in a deeply demeaning review, and I couldn’t disagree more. This isn’t Broadway, and it’s not Bob Fosse’s movie. It’s Cabaret, the play, which takes place in a nightclub. Which we, the audience, are in. Having dinner, in fact (a tasty German-themed meal, kudos on that, too, to the Grand Reserve wait staff). So, “re-imagined?” Bah. The staging of Cabaret is simple and obvious. A play that revolves around a nightclub that is staged … in a nightclub. And Nelson and Fitzpatrick staged their production brilliantly but in a completely “familiar” way. Kudos for economy and creativity to them both.

I don’t think Cabaret is easy to pull off but I think that KCT succeeds not just adequately but astoundingly, and that’s where I must take enormous issue with Mr. Lindsey and his claim of it being “deeply flawed.”

It’s gender bending and it’s tawdry and it’s so much fun. Ms. Fitzpatrick’s turn as Sally Bowles displayed the famous character as maybe the original “hot mess,” (as the kids are wont to say, almost 50 years later). It’s about human connection and that is plainly seen by the performances turned in by Rick Wayman and Jesse V. Coffey as Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider, as their September romance moves from sweet and strangely innocent to star-crossed and doomed. Coffey’s rendition of “What Would You Do?” had me crying in my gin. How could anybody not see that as great? This is why I keep saying “misguided.”

And misguided in the extreme is Mr. Lindsey’s beef with the gender of the Emcee. How could somebody presuming to critique (community) theatre not understand that the emcee of Cabaret can be a male or a female — that the very murkiness of gender is what makes the emcee the soul and conscience of the story? To be distracted because Robbie Morgan (who slays in the role, btw) isn’t Joel Gray is inexplicably shortsighted. To claim that Morgan wasn’t captivating makes me wonder if we saw the same show.

To become hung up on the dialects of Germans and Brits … why? I can’t think of anything less significant to the core of Cabaret. What a waste of time to point that out. It was certainly nothing I noticed. It's like saying Bob Dylan is a bad singer.

Why not talk, instead about the commendable job that KCT’s Cabaret so incredibly tickled and jiggled (fondled, even) the audience into accepting that we’re all just people — people trying to be happy and to live with the madness of the world. And then once that’s accomplished in act one, the second act comes along to stomp and burn it all down. And why do I think this? Because, again, KCT did such a spectacular job of helping my brain and heart along to see this dichotomy, the charm, the horror. By choosing to stage Cabaret. By brilliantly transforming a party rental hall into a seedy dark-cornered nightclub.

To dis KCT’s production of Cabaret is to not really understand Cabaret, I think. Because KCT knocked it out of the park, from the first jaunty horn riff to the final stage door (the stark antithesis of the one in The Sound of Music). I was delighted by the evening that KCT made for me last night. And that’s why I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

If you’re looking to laugh and love life — and very possibly cry, I can’t recommend Kentucky Conservatory Theater’s production of Cabaret highly enough. As the Emcee says — “In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful!” (At least, in the first act)

My final note to Mr. Lindsey: Take it easy on community theater. This isn’t New York, but maybe you’d like to review Broadway shows with the kind of sharp pen you used to lacerate Cabaret. If so, I wish you luck getting that gig. You’ll likely be at the end of a long line, possibly filled with more observant — and kinder — critics than yourself.

Until you land that big city gig, I’d ask that you keep scale in proportion please, sir. These are people with day jobs and a passion — people who work hard to support that passion; and we get to share it for a precious couple of hours. They may not always be great at it, but, from the table where I sat, the cast and crew of Kentucky Conservatory Theater’s Cabaret also happened to be pretty damned GREAT at it. Maybe you were seated behind a column. I can find no other explanation for your misguided words.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Oh My Mighty Strawberry Head





The closest thing I've ever had to a viral video hit. Over 1100 views on Facebook and counting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Birthday pumpkins

Pick your favorite punkin! I vote Libby Lee. Good times on my birthday with My girls. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dixie Belle

Dixie Belle near High Bridge, Kentucky River. Lucy's birthday cruise. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grassroots Radio Conference

A wonderful trip to Ames, Iowa with these fine friends, as we rev up our new baby WLXL Lexington Community Radio. Look out Lex! Low-Power FM is coming!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

For James Freeman, in memoriam.

Libby Lee and Freeman consider one another.
July 2013.
We called him Freeman, never actually knowing that his name was “James.” Freeman was such a perfect name for a great and jovial guy. It suited him just fine.

Freeman may be the first person that I have my daughter, Libby Lee, to thank for knowing. He sat across the street, a jovial sentinel, usually positioned in a plastic lawn chair to the right of the front door.

He was one of the first people that Libby Lee became fond of (even though she would feign shyness if we actually walked across the street to say 'hi').

She knew Freeman from his laugh and his smile. From across the street would come that rich baritone: “Libby Lee!” followed by a laugh that was part Santa Claus, but all Freeman. More melodic than Santa, completely benign and expecting nothing. When Freeman rang out with “Libby Lee!” it was an acknowledgement to our 2 year old daughter; no action was required – like passing on the street with a friendly greeting. Whenever Freeman called out “Libby Lee!” it reminded me of an Owensboro restaurateur from my childhood named Gabe Fiorella, whose legacy was greeting diners on Sunday at the door, shaking hands and saying “Hi neighbor! It’s a wonderful world!”

That was Freeman to my daughter — to my whole family. But it was my daughter who really introduced us to him, before she could even talk.

One special day, when not being shy.
July 2013
It was his gold tooth that won her over. Before she could form words, we’d sit across the street on our side porch — in a house that Freeman himself had spent many hours in during his younger days, I learned — and Libby Lee would point across the street, towards the Black’s porch, looking impishly at me, making cooing noises … and pointing at her mouth. I laughed so hard when I realized that she was telling me about Freeman’s gold front tooth.

Libby Lee was always keeping track of Freeman, began recognizing his always spotless, shiny black Chrysler 500 as a two-year old. Every day, she would look for him. She would ask with some of her earliest words: “Where Freeman?” Libby Lee’s fondness for Freeman grew OUR fondness for him, to the point where I would regularly impersonate him, on a daily basis, bellowing out my best, most friendly “Libby Lee! Ho-ho-ho-ho!” which always made her smile and giggle.

And of course we would come and visit, not often enough, I now see in retrospect. Libby Lee would ask to cross the street to see that gold-toothed man with the giant, loving smile and laugh. That man who offered “knuckles” and “fives” — usually while she clung tenaciously to my hip and buried her face in my neck (all the while on the verge of giggling). When her face would peak out, there would be a giant smile across it. 

And it was a smile for one very special guy named FreemanWe will so miss you, James. Thanks for the love you shared with our family.

In Memoriam for James Freeman
A Wake and Service is Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 10am
at New Day Community Church. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Gallon of Scofflaw

When faced with a thirsty crowd, I've often turned to Jeffrey Morganthaler's amazing A Gallon of Margaritas by the Gallon recipe online. It's also inspired me to bust out some other gallon recipes, but I find that, every time, I have to sit with a pencil and scribble and — you know — do math.

This post is an attempt to alleviate that, at least for one of my favorite drinks: The Scofflaw.

For a single cocktail, my recipe is this:

  • 1 oz. of bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 0.5 oz. of sweet vermouth
  • 0.5 oz. of dry vermouth
  • 0.5 oz. of lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz. of homemade grenadine (again, I love Morganthaler's recipe and I'm lazy so I use POM)
  • dash of orange bitters
So what happens when you do the math? It's just basic math, but I'm tired of losing the scrap of paper that I do it on, so here it is. For a gallon of scofflaws, we have to get a basic volume for one drink, right?

128 oz = a gallon
one cocktail = 3 oz. or 4 oz.

So, wait — how much is a single cocktail? There's two ways to approach this. If you simply add up the ounces, you get 3, but really if you mix and shake a cocktail, you get an additional very important component of melted ice water. Whether or not you account for this depends on your dispensing method. If you're going to serve fancy, then include the water, and chill the fuck out of the mixed gallon, and then dole out in 4 oz. servings, in chilled cocktail glasses. Voila!

But what if you're slaking the thirst of a party crowd with plastic cups out of a gallon plastic jug? Like on a party bus? Or at a pool party? Here's my philosophy: Still add the water component but do NOT chill it, because your friendly booze hounds will be drinking it over ice in giant portions (owing simply to the size of party cups). So try to help people not get too hammered but still have them enjoy a classic cocktail by adding the discrete amount of added water, is what I do. They'll love it and may have you to thank for less of a headache the next morning.

So — We're rolling with: one cocktail = 4 oz.

So here's the math:

128 oz. / 4 = 32 drinks per gallon

Thus, the quantities for a gallon of scofflaws:
  • 32 oz. of bourbon or rye
  • 16 oz. each of sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and homemade grenadine. (gotta be homemade!)
  • 32 dashes of orange bitters (use your own judgement!)
  • Top off with 32 oz. of clean filtered water (or nearly, if you're mixing in a gallon jug).
I'd do it in this order, or at least, I'd add the water last, since it may come in slightly under measurement. Mine often does, I don't now if that's a heavy hand on my part or what, but better to short the gallon of cocktails on water than on one of the flavor ingredients, right?

Then, don't refrigerate it, and let your party people glug-glug it into their Solo cups over ice and get a little less hammered than they would if you mixed the batch in the 3:1 ratio. 

And celebrate the deliciousness!

On Estrangement.

Letter to my brother, attempting to process a dream about our estranged dad, who neither of us (or any of his blood relatives) have seen or talked to for maybe 20 years.

Hi Chris:

I want you to know that I'm sorry for the delay in your request for action items and timelines on the Julie Project. It is, once again, right at the top of my priority list, behind the care of a 2 year old and the insane entanglements of that, even when others are caring for her.

I've had a rough couple of days. This morning I had very emotional dream. I was at some kind of roadside restaurant and I needed to travel far but wasn't sure how I was going to do it. Some kind of road trip. 

Dad walked in. 

He was happy and he said to me, with a smile: "I'm here with my dad!" I was going to get a lift from him, and I was walking behind him out to the parking lot, wondering aloud to him, saying "I guess I need to get to Indianapolis, to the bus station," thinking (hoping) he could drop me there. 

Then I was overcome with emotion. I hugged him from the side and sobbed "It's good to see you, Dad. I've missed you so much."

I don't have them often, but these kinds of dreams take a heavy toll on me, because while I'm not really much more than a "secular humanist," occasionally I have dreams that seem powerfully symbolic to me of Death. This was one of them. He said: "I'm here with my Dad." And that really just rocked me. 

And also — following him. I woke up and realized the security of following a parent, the reassuring automatic faith that they know where they're going — and that therefore, you know where YOU'RE going. You don't have to know; you know that THEY know. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's a feeling for me of deep unshakeable security. Even if it's imagined, which it is. 

You can just follow. 

And in the dream, I felt that, walking behind my dad, and I realized that I do miss him — or at least: I feel the loss of him, the absence of him — in a way that … I'll never really probably ever understand. I miss A dad — my dad — even though Bill has been a great one for me, and for us.

And the prospect, for me, of him dying — or receiving some kind of message (real or imagined) that he has died triggers something deep in me. I guess I still think he's alive, until I have dreams like this. I had one about maybe 10 years ago, but this one was more rattling.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014