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Friday, September 24, 2010

Dadadadum...Snap Snap.....Dadadadum..Snap Snap....

The critics pretty much slammed it, but I have to say that I found the Broadway show The Addams Family delightful. True, the songs are not very memorable, but it is a funny show and the performers are fantastic.

The opening song featuring the entire Addams Family, including long-dead members risen from the grave, sets the tone and introduces the wacky family. How Bebe Neuwirth is able to walk in the iconic skin-tight black dress is a physical miracle. Not to mention the front which is "cut down to Venezuela" to quote Gomez. (At least she gets some more movement in the second act when the belt at her knees is gone.)

Jackie Hoffmann plays Grandma with such gusto, she has many of the funniest lines. In the dinner scene, she ad libs a line that  had the cast cracking up laughing, with Neuwirth looking down into her lap and her shoulders shaking. Her best line is to young Pugsley when she says that drinking the potion "would make Mary Poppins look like Medea". When Pugsley says he doesn't understand her reference, she tells him to "put down the texting and READ A BOOK".  The audience howled and applauded wildly.

Adam Riegler is a charmer as Pugsley. He plots to break up his sister Wednesday's romance with her 'normal' fiance Luke. Kevin Chamberlain is delightfully devilish as Uncle Fester, who acts as a kind of narrator for the show.

Carolee Carmelo and Terrence Mann are wonderful as the Beinekes, the parents of Luke. Mann and Lane do a fun song and dance together, and Carmelo has a hilarious scene after she drinks the potion by mistake.

Lane and Neuwirth shine as the stars in this show, and their tango is delicious. Lane's comedic timing is shown to perfection when he says to Morticia as they are discussing whose grandma Grandma really is,
"MY mother? (pause...pause...pause) I thought she was YOUR mother!" Even though you can see the line coming from a mile away, Lane milks it for all it's worth.

The Addams Family appeals to adults and teens, and it's not just nostalgia for the 1960s TV show. The subplot of Morticia and Mrs. Beineke dealing with aging and marriage is touching, as is the relationship between Wednesday and her brother Pugsley.

The show is very funny, it's always great to see Neuwirth dance and sing (her dance with the ancestors is  wonderful) and Lane does what he does best- make us laugh. There are discount tickets available for the show at the TKTS booth and online at playbill.com and theatermania.com. It's worth your time and a discounted ticket to laugh for a few hours.

Meeting President Carter

I had the honor of meeting President Jimmy Carter at his book signing for White House Diary at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle store in NYC on September 20th.

It was a good crowd, and my line mates were an interesting group, we shared a lively conversation. (Which was good because we were together for over two hours.)

They are always well organized at Barnes & Noble, and this was no exception. I had heard from others who had been to one of his signings before that President Carter was a fast signer, and boy was he. You barely had time to say hello to him as he signed our books, and you were off. There was an area set up for photos which was nice, some people do not allow photos.

This book looks very intriguing; if you saw the 60 Minutes interview, you know what I'm talking about.

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Published by Shaye Areheart Books
Crown Publishing
Hardcover $23

The cover of the ARC of Susan Gregg Gilmore's The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is eye catching; the back of a young girl's head covered with a ring of daisies in the foreground, looking down a path bordered with colorful flowers at a southern style mansion (think Gone With the Wind's Tara) in the background. 

Born in 1951, Bezellia was named after her father's ancestor, a woman who fought off Indians who attacked their Nashville settlement. Young Bezellia wore her ancestor's moniker proudly, hoping to live up to the first Bezellia's name.

Bezellia's father was a wealthy and busy doctor, from a well respected Nashville family. Her mother was a woman from 'the wrong side of the tracks' who desperately desired to fit into Nashville society. She was an unhappy woman, of whom Bezellia said "Mother with a cup of coffee in her hand was not a particularly kind or attentive person and (that) Mother with a gin and tonic in her hand was simply mean and withdrawn."

Two household servants, Maizelle and Nathaniel, were loyal to the Grove family. Like another Southern novel, Kathryn Stockett's popular The Help, they were always available to provide the care and attention to Bezellia and her younger sister that they didn't get from their parents.

Bezellia's mother treated them badly, and Maizelle and Nathaniel usually took it without complaint (except when Maizelle would occasionally spit into her boss's cup of coffee), although since the book is written from Bezellia's point of view, perhaps that is how Bezellia saw it. Another recent novel, Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin, showed a more troubled and realistic relationship between the white employers and their black household employees.

Nathaniel's son Samuel comes to help his father one day, and sparks fly between Samuel and Bezellia. Nashville in the 1960s was not a place where a young white lady and a young black man could have an open relationship, and if Bezellia's mother or other townspeople found out, all hell would break loose.

The setting of the novel in the 1960s is key, as it addresses the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and the feminist movement through the eyes of young people. It was an exhilarating, frightening time for all, but especially for young adults looking for their place in the world.

What I though this novel addressed really well was the concept of how your youthful experiences follow you through to adulthood. As the story progresses, we see why Bezellia's mother, who is a very unsympathetic character, became the sad, lonely, bitter alcoholic she was.  She ends up being the most complex character in the novel.

It also addresses an age-old dilemma for young people; what do you owe your family and what do you owe yourself? Bezellia goes away to college, but when family issues press, she must decide what comes first: her responsibility to family or to herself. Many readers will be able to relate to that.

At various points in the novel newspaper articles about the Grove family are inserted. It gives the reader a perspective of the family from the town's point of view. The first page is Bezellia's birth notice and the final page is her death notice, but perhaps Gilmore will grace us with the two-thirds of Bezellia's life that isn't in the book. She is a character worthy of more exploration.

Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Patti LuPone at Barnes & Noble

Broadway legend Patti LuPone appeared at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle store in NYC on September 16th to promote Patti LuPone- A Memoir, written with Digby Diehl.

The overflow audience was treated to not only a frank discussion of the book with Tom Santopietro, but Ms. LuPone also sang four songs for the delighted group. She started at the beginning, as a four-year-old child performing on stage and realizing that is where she belonged.

She moved through her Juliard years, then her first Broadway show, The Robber Bridegroom, which although it ran for only 14 performances, LuPone received her first Tony nomination.  She sang a lovely rendition of Sleepy Man from the show.

LuPone described the difficulty of singing in Evita, losing her voice frequently and missing several performances. She said "every night, I was scared out of my mind" before her performance, and mentioned that the actress who portrayed Evita in the Australian production gave up music altogether after her run.

She spotted the incomparable Zoe Caldwell in the back of the room, and Ms. Caldwell received a well deserved standing ovation from all.

The discussion of LuPone's run in Anything Goes led to her singing Cole Porter's I Get a Kick (Out of You).  Anything Goes is such a happy, fun show, LuPone said "it should be on Broadway always".

Calling her concert performance with the New York Philharmonic in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd a "great experience from start to finish" she moved into a discussion of her most recent Broadway show, Gypsy.

But everyone perked their ears up when Sunset Boulevard was mentioned. LuPone laughingly said "I didn't tell half the story!" Saying "I'm gonna say stuff, f*#k, I don't care", she went on to say about the creator Andrew Lloyd Webber, "everyone knows Andrew is a screw loose, a strange dude".

She said that the London production was a "juggernaut of bad energy" and "everyone recognized all the signs, but went forward anyway." She decried "the underhanded method they used to get me to crumble so they wouldn't have to pay my New York salary."

(LuPone found out that she would not be the lead in the Broadway production as she was contracted to when she read it in a gossip column. She successfully sued the producers.)

The next song was Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey, a strong yet sweet version. After an audience member asked why she no longer sang I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables in her concerts, LuPone offered to sing it, but her accompanist did not have the sheet music. As if on cue, another audience member pulled the music out of her bag and it was in the right key for LuPone. She left everyone with tears in their eyes and I got goosebumps as she sang this moving song, now forever linked with Susan Boyle. Susan Boyle is good, but she's no Patti LuPone.

The evening was amazing, the chance to hear LuPone sing such iconic songs in such an intimate setting was worth waiting for three hours on the floor of Barnes & Noble. She was also very kind to each person who got a book signed, and I can't wait to read it.

Strangers at the Feast a fantastic novel


Friday, September 3, 2010

Todos Santos

Todos Santos by Deborah Clearman
Published by Black Lawrence Press
Trade Paperback $18

Good fiction can do two things very well: make the reader empathetic and take the reader places she wouldn't normally go.

Todos Santos by Deborah Clearman takes the reader along on a journey to Guatemala with her character, Catherine Barnes. Catherine is having marital problems (her professor husband cheats on her), and her teenage son Isaac flunked 8th grade.

She decides to take Isaac to Guatemala, and work on illustrating her next book by visiting the remote town of Todos Santos. Catherine leaves Isaac to work in her sister Zelda's shop while she goes into the interior of Guatemala with Oswaldo, her handsome guide.

Catherine grows close to the owners of the hotel, particularly Nicolasa, a young woman married to a German man, who longs to move to Europe. The town of Todos Santos is wary of outsiders, and many of the residents are whipped into a frenzy by a politician who warns them of Americans who have come to steal their children.

Isaac makes a friend of his own, Ben, a boy from New Jersey who is living with his American family in Guatemala. They make plans to go on an adventure for the weekend, and after tragedy strikes, Isaac is kidnapped.

The author succeeds in immersing the reader in the sights and sounds of  Guatemala. You can taste the delicious foods, feel the heat, and she brings alive the vibrant and colorful marketplace, the center of the town.

If you close your eyes, you feel like you are on the crowded bus that Isaac and Ben take on their trip. At every stop, as more people pushed to get on, you get a sense of claustrophobia. When the boys are caught out in a storm on a boat, you feel the rising terror that they feel.

Clearman does a wonderful job with her characterization of Isaac. She really gets into the head of a teen boy- the sulky, sullen attitude they have, mixed with a desire to be adventurous. I felt like I understood where he was coming from, maybe from having two sons of my own.

I didn't feel like I understood the character of Catherine as well. When her son was kidnapped, she seemed to spend more time trying to find romance with Oswaldo than working on getting her son back. I didn't get the sense of terror that a parent would have, learning that her son was missing in a foreign country. I had a difficult time empathizing with her.

I would have liked to known more about sister Zelda; it seemed to me that she has a more interesting story to tell.

I would recommend Todos Santos for anyone who likes to read about other cultures; Clearman clearly knows of what she writes, having visited there many times.  The reader gets to see a Guatemala that most visitors don't in this novel.

Rating 3 of 5
Thanks to Sarah at Little Bird Publicity for providing me with a review copy.