Category Archives: MM columns

When you’re ready … and they’re not

Sometimes, you just have to wing it …

That’s the position all of us here at Kitsap A&E found ourselves in earlier this week when we scheduled cover art for the release of the summer blockbuster movie “Jurassic World,” that would feed readers in to either a review or feature — or both — inside.

We knew it would be tight. The first press run for A&E is Tuesday, and our sources for the materials we needed were vague on whether we’d get anything in time.

We didn’t.

An hour before our off-the-floor deadline, we had no review. No preview. No puff piece, no making-of sidebar, or Chris Pratt feature, or Bryce Dallas Howard retrospective. No Interview with the Dinosaur.

We had a quick staff meeting, and the assignment finally fell to me: Phony something up.

I was, after all, the logical person for the job, for three reasons: 1. I have decades of experience knowing very little about subjects that I go ahead and write about anyway; 2. Having been a sportswriter in a past life, the instruction “20 inches in 20 minutes” leaves me completely nonplussed; and 3. … who am I kiddin’? I’m the only one here.

This link:

http://www.kitsapsun.com/entertainment/movies-the-dinos-are-back-and-of-course-theyre-hungry_89188087

will take you to what resulted, and what readers who get that first press run of A&E got this week. I offer it here as a curiosity, as an example of what we in the “go-with-what-you’ve got” line of work do on those occasions when we’ve got nuthin’.

In retrospect, maybe “Interview with the Dinosaur” might not have been such a bad idea …

— MM

What makes a band? A name, a voice, or a contract?

My two favorite old dinosaur-prog bands — Yes and Procol Harum — are playing together in August at the Snoqualmie Casino. It’s a show that’s interesting if only for the band dynamic of the two units — these days, Yes is a hot mess, the resurgent Procol a hot ticket.

Here’s a column about them that’s running in the April 13 edition of Kitsap A&E in the Flamethrower:

What makes a band?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering since the announcement of a concert this summer at the Snoqualmie Casino, featuring two prog-rock mainstays and two of my all-time favorite bands; Procol Harum opening for Yes.
Two bands with checkered histories, marked with flirtations with fame and clouded by low-grade controversy.
And both of them feature only one “original” member. Procol Harum is, and always has been, fronted by vocalist-pianist-melodist Gary Brooker, and Yes is piloted by co-founder and bassist Chris Squire.
Squire actually — and infamously, to anyone who’s keeping track — “owns” Yes, at least the legal right to use the name. You might remember (but you probably won’t) that in 1983, with the band apparently in ruins and ex-members strewn over two continents, Squire and drummer Alan White reconvened with original keyboardist Tony Kaye and South African guitarist-songwriter Trevor Rabin, originally under the moniker Cinema. The strong material whipped up by the resurgent band lured the other founding member, singer-songwriter Jon Anderson, back from self-imposed exile.
Anderson later left again and gathered an illustrious band of fellow Yes alums — guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and percussionist Bill Bruford — into an approximation of what many considered the “classic” Yes lineup, the one that produced standard-setting prog anthems like “Close to the Edge,” had a megahit with “Roundabout” and filled arenas around the world on frequent tours.
Only they couldn’t be called Yes. Squire, in Los Angeles with the spare-parts outfit that Anderson jokingly called, at various times, “Yes West” or “Yes Light,” owned the name. Squire’s bunch courted new fans with more pop-rock fare like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” while Anderson’s all-star entourage produced more album-oriented originals to go with their catologue of Yes staples. By the time the two groups merged for a tour and spliced together a CD of undistinguished new material (1991’s “Union”) you needed a score card to tell who was who.
Many various reconfigurations have followed, including a 2004 tour with Anderson, Squire, Wakeman, Howe and White — the “classic” lineup” — celebrating the band’s 35th anniversary. But then Anderson was stricken with respiratory ailments that forced him out again, and the tragicomedy began anew. Squire tired of waiting for the band’s distinctive voice to return, and finally hired a singer from a Yes tribute band, Canadian Benoit David, to take his place. Ironically, David later fell ill himself, and was replaced by another tribute singer, Jon Davidson, who’ll be on board for the Snoqualmie concert — unless some misfortune should befall him in the meantime, forcing Squire to go to the well yet again.
Through all the reality show-worthy melodrama (“Spinal Tap 2,” anyone?), some argue that, even with the other pieces of the “classic” lineup in place, it isn’t Yes unless it features Anderson’s singular castrato. Squire, apparently, says bollocks to that. Anderson, apparently healthy once again, has been touring in the U.S. and U.K. with Wakeman and has a rumored recording project in the works with Wakeman and Rabin. He has declared himself fit to reassume his Yes duties, but he and Squire have their own spins on why it hasn’t happened. Yes’ fans want their voice back, but Squire seems adamant to prove that the voice is no less replaceable than any of the band’s other components.
Conversely, it seems, any time Brooker’s considerable pipes and Keith Reid’s lyrics are involved, whatever combination of mates surround him can be labeled as “Procol Harum.” The band never has had anything like a “classic” lineup, and the pieces started to fall off after only three albums (when organist Matthew Fisher and bassist David Knights left after “A Salty Dog”). Current Harumembers Geoff Whitehorn (guitar) and Matt Pegg (bass) are actually the longest-tenured of anyone on their respective instruments. They, along with organist Josh Phillips and drummer Geoff Dunn, back the distinctive Brooker bellow in what might be the most potent incarnation of the band ever (and that’s saying something, remembering the power of the core group that included guitar diety Robin Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson back in the Seventies).
It isn’t certain if Brooker actually “owns” the name Procol Harum. And it isn’t important, since it certainly isn’t a name anyone else might ever be the slightest bit interested in using it. The turmoil in the Procol camp has come instead from Fisher’s suit several years ago over “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” claiming his stately organ part qualified him for co-writing credit with melodist Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid — and a chunk of the royalties.
Procol played at Snoqualmie in November of 2010, part of a brief U.S. tour that went over well enough to entice them back across the pond for a dozen dates, mostly on the East Coast, this summer. Their songs, their sound and their rock credibility are all intact.
As great as Squire, Howe, White and Downes might still be musically, without Anderson it might not be possible to say the same about Yes.

Our gadgets are smart, so we don’t have to be

Here’s a column that’s set to appear in the April 6 edition of The Flamethrower’s Kitsap A&E section:

Smart phones are making us stupid. It’s the ultimate irony.

It hit home yet again the other day when I was having a conversation with an acquaintance during a recent early-morning Bremertron-Seattle ferry ride. Or, more accurately, trying to have a conversation, since any time the back-and-forth called for anything from him (not his real gender, which has been changed to protect his identity), there was a pause while he consulted his smart phone. Before he could answer any question, make any comment or add to the dialogue in any meaningful way, he was obliged to whip up the appropriate application and check the information or instruction contained therein.

I casually mentioned that I was headed out to Issaquah. My companion responded with a finger in the air — a request for my indulgence — and a locked gaze onto the screen of his smart phone, from which he sent an inquiry off into cyberspace via his two lightning fast thumbs in blurred action over the instrument’s tiny keypad. After what seemed like only a few seconds, he informed me that the normal 14-minute drive to Bellevue was, on this occasion, going to take me 16 minutes.

I considered the nugget and shrugged. “So? It’s two minutes. And it’s not like there’s an alternate route.”

He seemed deeply hurt, and scuttled off for a muffin, never to return.

***

An illustration of just how attached we are to our gizmos is how much trouble folks have putting them down, even after they’re asked to. I often see people at stage plays — “the thea-tah,” as I like to pronounce it — who squeeze out every last second of whatever the crap it is they’re doing through the announcement asking them to silence, through the curtain, through the overture, often through the opening lines of dialogue — before they finally, grudgingly, shut their little doohickeys down.

I recently saw a show that was divided into a number of brief segments (instead of the traditional two acts with intermission). A couple rows in front of me were a family of four, all armed with their phones, which glowed with their own individual messages or games right up until the first monologue began. And then, between monologues — breaks of between 30 and 60 seconds, usually — on they came again.

It could, I suppose, have been worse: At least they all were plugged in to earbuds.

***

One of the enduring images I have recent years was one evening when I was walking through a near-deserted Kitsap Mall, and a quartet of teenage boys passed me going the other direction. They were elbow-to-elbow, and each of them were feverishly working their phones, churning out various text messages, seemingly taking no notice of each other, and definitely oblivious to everything else. If I hadn’t slid over towards the wall, they’d have mowed me down and threshed me like a shock of Kansas wheat. It wasn’t until they actually passed me that I realized they were texting … each other.

I grinned at first, thinking they were sending messages back and forth to each other about the girls they were seeing in the mall … until I remembered there were practically no people in the mall. Were they just more comfortable communicating that way? That couldn’t be.

Could it?

***

Our obsession with cell phones and other hand-held gadgets never resonated quite as strongly with me as during my most recent visit to Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on earth, you know, and it didn’t earn that designation for having crystal-clear WiFi (although it might well, now that I think of it).

On one sun-drenched mid-morning, a father and son walked haphazardly in front of us on our way through Frontierland, the youngster dancing around Dad and begging for a left turn that would take them to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Dad seemed oblivious, nose nearly touching the screen of his phone, thumbs blazing, trudging straight ahead. “There’s only a 15-minute wait for the Autopia, buddy.”

“But I don’t want to go on the Autopia! I can’t even reach the peddle!”

Dad stopped in his tracks and fixed the boy with a knowing, sympathetic, vaguely fatherly gaze, and then gestured toward the phone. “Fifteen minutes. Dude,” he said, and resumed both his trek toward Tomorrowland — offspring still bounding around him like a puppy, completely ignored — and his rapt pursuit of cyber knowledge.

I shook my head and asked my daughter what she wanted to do next, knowing full well what her answer would be with her favorite ride that close by.

“Thunder Mountain? The line’s pretty long,” I said.

She said she didn’t care, and we headed for the entrance. “Anyway,” she said, looking up at me, “I know two people who won’t be in front of us.”

Classic TV sitcoms you just know will end up as Broadway musicals

If the entertainment biz is nothing else, it certainly is adaptable.
More and more, you see characters and stories that began their lives in one medium being adapted to others. TV shows become movies; movies morph into TV shows. Stage plays, musical and otherwise, are re-imagined for the big and small screens — and more and more often, TV shows and movies are going the other direction, to the stage.
Mel Brooks probably gets more credit — or blame, depending on your disposition — than anyone else for that, taking his hit movies “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein” to Broadway, with blockbuster results. If it wasn’t for all the horses, and the blocking problems they present (if you know what I mean), you can bet we would’ve had a stage adaptation of “Blazing Saddles” by now.
The 5th Avenue Theatre’s just-announced 2012-13 season illustrates the continued traction of this trend. The second show on the slate is “The Addams Family,” based on characters and situations from the 1960s TV comedy (who were, in turn, adapted from Charles Addams’ comic strips). The third is “ELF — the Musical,” which springs from the 2003 fish-out-of-water holiday movie starring Will Ferrell.
And there’s no end in sight. I mean, there are plenty of old TV shows and movies that are ripe to be set to music and brought to the stage.
Which ones? Here are a few candidates:
Gilligan’s Island”: The series originated in 1964, ran forever, was ubiquitous in reruns, retools and even a movie, and we’re still not tired of the castaways. So a musical about Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and His Wife, the Movie Star, the Professor and Mary Ann … is a no-brainer. You could make a perfectly good show out of the episode when producer Harold Hecuba (played by Phil Silvers) washed ashore (people were always washing ashore on “Gilligan’s Island;” it helped keep the story lines fresh) and the castaways mounted their own musical to showcase the talents of starlet Ginger.
Big production numbers might include the opening “Three-Hour Tour,” the Gilligan-Skipper duet “Little Buddy,” the Millionaire’s lament “Money to Burn” and the full-cast showstopper “You’re Either a Ginger Guy or a Mary Ann Guy.”
(It’s worth mentioning that, moments after this column was posted on the Internet, I was informed that “Gilligan’s Island” has indeed morphed into a musical, cowritten by series creator Sherwood Schwartz. I’ve posted more info on my blog: http://pugetsoundblogs.com/kitsap-ae)
Get Smart”: The 1965 series about the exploits of Secret Agent 86 could get Brooks back onto the musical-theater map. The lampoon of the spy genre popularized by James Bond movies has action, romance (86’s awkward wooing of 99, the longing of Hymie for a robot partner, etc.), villains (remember Bernie Kopel’s Sigfried? Leonard Strong’s The Claw?) and potential hit songs galore: “Sorry About That, Chief,” “Would You Believe?”, “The Man Who Talks Into His Shoe,” “Cone of Silence” … Never mind the flop that was the 2008 movie version; this one’s got success written all over it … or, would you believe, over most of it? Part of it?
F Troop”: More can’t-fail stuff from the mid-’60s (1965 again). O’Rourke and Agarn are really just a Vaudeville comedy team, dropped into a post-Civil War cavalry outpost in the wild west and testing their ability to pull the wool over the eyes of their gullible commander, Capt. Parmenter (whose courtship with Wrangler Jane also provides a romantic component).
The relationship between the troopers and the neighboring Hekawi tribespeople will have to be updated, of course. It’ll be up to the songwriters to figure out how to replace “paleface and redskin both turn chicken” with some lyrical form of the more politically correct “Caucasian insurgents and indigenous Native Americans agree that discretion is the better part of valor.” The aforementioned romantic element makes “F Troop” an easier sell than other military comedies of the era, like “McHale’s Navy” and “Gomer Pyle” … although a subplot hinting at a relationship between Capt. Binghamton and his lackey, Carpenter, would bring a nice edge to things.
Laugh-In:” Dan Rowan and Dick Martin are both gone, but the comedy-variety show that made the stand-up comedy duo household names back in the late Sixties could be easily adapted for a modern-day revue, with its topical songs and rapid-fire gags delivered from the “Joke Wall,” or during “The Party.” Because of the catchphrases spawned during the show’s run, potential song titles are plentiful: “Sock It To Me!,” “You Bet Your Bippy,” “Look It Up in Your Funk and Wagnalls” and “Beautiful Downtown Burbank,” just to name a few. It would be — dare I say it — verrrry in-teresting.
M*A*S*H”: The long-running 1972 series about surgeons on the front line during the Korean War sprung from the popular film by Robert Altman, and its antiwar theme is just as relevant now as it was then. The high jinks around the 4077th would be perfect for musical comedy, with production numbers swirling out of the mess hall and onto the muddy streets. There could even be a number titled “Operating Theatre,” replete with high-kicking nurses and wisecracking doctors. And romance? The first song title that came into my mind was “Hot Lips and Who?”
There are plenty of others, of course, from “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Cheers” right through to the groundbreaking comedy of “All in the Family.” Imagine, if you will, the hilarious possibilities of “The Meathead Song,” or “Stifle Yourself, Edith.” Or what about “Married … With Children: The Musical?”
Of course, there are hundreds of shows that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea, for obvious reasons, to try to adapt. “Rosanne” is one that instantly springs to mind …
But the sitcom field is a fertile one for Broadway to till, and the TV-to-stage trend could easily continue on for decades. Now, let’s see: Who’s your choice to follow in the footsteps of Buddy Ebsen and Jim Varney for the coveted part of Jed Clampett in the Broadway blockbuster “The Beverly Hillbillies?”

 

This column ran in the March 9 print edition of Kitsap A&E and online at kitsapsun.com/entertainment