Entries from September 2006 ↓

Stage and Screen

A new, updated version of the hit stage musical The Wiz is now in previews at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, for an October 11 opening and a run through November 12. Directed by La Jolla Artistic Director and two-time Tony Award winner, Des McAnuff , there have been rumors for some time now that this production will wind up on Broadway as a revival, but thus far nothing specific has been announced.

When the play opened originally in 1975, it was an instant hit, picking up 7 Tony Awards, including Best Director and Costume Design honors for Geoffrey Holder, and playing 1,672 performances before closing in 1979. The original cast included Hinton Battle as the Scarecrow, Tiger Haynes as the Tinman, Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, Ted Ross as the Lion, Dee Dee Bridgewater as Glinda, André De Shields as The Wiz, Mabel King as Evillene and Clarice Taylor as Addaperle.

In mounting this new version, McAnuff has teamed up with original Wiz orchestrator Harold Wheeler, but taken a new approach to the story.

“Our production will reflect the shifts that have occurred in the dominant pop culture, in both music and theater, since The Wiz’s history-making Broadway debut in the 1970s,” McAnuff said. “This is modern Oz, with a modern look and modern sounds.”

Few household names make up the cast of the La Jolla production, except for perhaps one. David Alan Grier stars as The Wiz. Now should anyone assume his acting career started on “In Living Color,” Grier was a 1982 Tony nominee for his role as Jackie Robinson in The First and was in the original Dreamgirls as a replacement in the role of James Thunder Early. Nikki M. James (All Shook Up, Bernarda Alba) stars as Dorothy, Titus Burgess (Jersey Boys) as Lion, Rashad Naylor (Hairspray) as Scarecrow, Michael Benjamin Washington (Mamma Mia!, La Cage aux Follies) as Tinman, E. Faye Butler (Dinah Was) as Evillene, Heather Lee (Gypsy) as Addaperle, Orville Mendoza (Pacific Overtures) as Uncle Henry, and Valarie Pettiford (Fosse, West Side Story tour) as Aunt Em. Dancer Albert Blaise Cattafi playsToto.

Closer to home, I took in Thursday night’s performance of A Love Like Damien’s at the WOW Cafe Theatre, in the East Village. “Damien” is the story of a Black gay man whose life spirals out of control after he is rejected by his church. He is saved from total ruin following a visit from Ms. Sophie Divine, a spiritual presence personifying his own vision of God.

The play, written by Andrea E. Davis, a Masters of Divinity Student at Union Theological Seminary, incorporates drama, humor, song and dance in telling an all too realistic tale of bigotry in the name of organized religion and its impact on real people. While a tad predictable and simplistic in resolving major plot points, it was an entertaining evening by a cast of enthusiastic performers. The play closes October 1 and remaining shows are all sold out.

Fashion First Looks

On the small screen, my one and only reality tv diversion, Project Runway, is coming down to the wire and we’ve got the inside scoop on the final round action.

First this past week, the four remaining contestants, Michael, Jeffrey, Laura and Uli, were challenged to create an outfit that conveyed their artistic points of view, then choose three words to describe who they are as designers and show that through their work. The top three finishers would move on to present an entire line during the Olympus Fashion Week in New York, which concluded two weeks ago.

For some reason all of them seemed to struggle with finding designs that worked and it was reflected by the judges comments. Uli was the ultimate winner and received a spread in Elle magazine as her prize. She did a variation on her signature flora looks by eschewing her typical caftan for a mini-dress. It also didn’t hurt that she stole Michael’s favorite model Nazri to show it off.

Laura earned her way to Fashion Week with another plunging neckline number, embodying the elegant looks she embraces. It worked but the judges were worried she might come up with an entire line with that same basic look.

The designer we all love to hate, Jeffrey, tried to show that he could do something other than “design for rock stars”–a fact he pointed out in just about every episode–but the judges weren’t impressed by his tri-colored halter-top/cumberbund/tulip skirt ensemble. They thought it was dowdy and unsophisticated. Another deserving blow to his overblown ego.

But the designer we all love to love, Michael Knight, surprised everyone too, but not in a good way. Judges thought his outfit was too basic, lacked inspiration and didn’t live up to the three words he’d chosen, “Sexiness, Sensuality, and Sultry.”

With Michael and Jeffrey left sweating bullets on the runway, the judges surprised them both by selecting them both to continue on. There would be four presenting and competing in New York.

Now remember, I told you Fashion Week is history. The designers have already presented. While we don’t know who ultimately won, we can give you a look at what they showed the assembled fashion press. You decide who had the best collection then we’ll see what the judges had to say in a few weeks.

Michael Knight LINK
Jeffrey Sebelia LINK
Laura Bennett LINK
Ulrike Herzner LINK

Now for the down and dirty. We also now learn that new creations weren’t the only thing that came out of the show. A scandal may have eliminated one of the designers.

Jeffrey was accused of outsourcing the sewing for his final collection. His collection was considered “very ambitious” by Tim Gunn who visited him in California to check on his progress. Producers have done an extensive investigation and won’t reveal their findings ahead of the October 18 season finale.

Stay tuned!

And they played football too

I took a trip across the Hudson to Giants Stadium in New Jersey Saturday, to see the New York Urban League’s Whitney M. Young Classic, the annual college football game between two historically Black colleges.

I don’t know how many years this game has been a regular fall event in the New York area, but it has been at least since I was a kid (and that was ages ago). It used to be played at Yankee Stadium between Grambling State University and Morgan State University, but years ago other schools started getting involved. The location moved to Giants Stadium when George Steinbrenner stopped allowing football to be played on his baseball field while the Yankees were still in playoff contention.

This year, like last, Hampton University from Virginia faced the Morgan State squad out of Baltimore. I don’t know how many alumni the schools have in this area but there was a significant turnout, not all of who came to see the game. For the uninitiated, a Black college football game is really an excuse to tailgate in the parking lot before and after the game, and a chance to see a “battle of the bands.”

A friend of mine invited me to attend this event. The company he works for has a luxury box at the stadium, so we saw the game the way the high rollers do. But before the game we caught up with his family and their tailgate party out in the lot. By comparison, theirs was a very modest affair. Just a simple grill and some lounge chairs. Some of the other folks out in the parking lot were taking no prisoners.

Across from us were some folks with their entire setup under a large, screened-in canopy. In another direction was a guy with two large kettle shaped barbecue pits. Others had packed their supplies in U-haul trailers, pickups, SUV’s and RVs. And there were several places where guys had brought their dj equipment and set up large turntables and humongous speakers (you know Black folks). But the funniest sight, as we were driving around looking for his family, was of two brothas sitting in huge living room style recliners. Those little fold-up lounge chairs weren’t good enough apparently. Big-ass La-Z-Boy loungers. Lawd geezus!

Through most of the first half the stadium was barely full (it never filled up completely), but as it got closer to halftime, people started drifting in from the tailgate parties.

The battle of the bands was actually between three bands. Hampton, Morgan State and a local group of middle and high school students, the Brooklyn Steppers. Just as they did in the football game, Hampton appeared to be the winner, but the Brooklyn Steppers took second in my opinion, with Morgan State a polite third. They gave a pedestrian performance in this reviewer’s opinion.

After the game—Hampton won easily, 26-7—their band put on a show in the parking lot on the way from the stadium to their bus. It must be wonderful to be that young and full of energy because those kids worked their butts off all day, playing before the game, during the game, at halftime and then afterwards.

I’ve posted a few pictures here.

Why is this man smoking?

Because he’s celebrating.

That’s Carlos Delgado, first baseman for the New York Mets and he and his teammates won the National League East Division title Monday night, the first title in his 13 year major league career. A good cigar and a lot of champagne usually follows a victory.

“The Amazin’s” did it by blanking the Florida Marlins 4-0. Pitcher Steve Trachsel (15-7), their longest-tenured player, combined with relievers Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman and closer Billy Wagner on a four-hitter that allowed the team to claim the title at home, after road losses in Pittsburgh over the weekend. The Mets are the first major league team to clinch this year, running away with the division and finishing 14.5 games ahead of second place Philadelphia, 18.5 in front of the fourth place Atlanta Braves who were division winners last year.

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, Manager Willie Randolph will rest certain players and allow others to get some needed playing time, before the post season starts. The division title is the first of three hurdles they must overcome to win a World Series this year, and I like their chances. They have winning records against every other NL team this year, solid starting pitching, a deep bullpen, a powerful lineup, steady defense in the field, and a manager who knows how to win from his days as both a player and coach.

Understandably, here in New York, with the crosstown Yankees also on the verge of clinching the AL East, we’re dreaming of another Subway Series. That would undoubtedly bore the rest of the country, but frankly, nobody I know cares what the rest of the country thinks (LOL). Mets versus Yankees talk has been a hot topic around here, including a NY Times article and a follow-up letter to the editor by one of their most ardent fans.

As the baseball playoffs heat up, I’ll be devoting more space here to the Mets, following them as far as they advance.

And in football, how ‘bout those Giants!

D.O.A.P.

It is being called both a “thought-provoking, powerful drama” and “irresponsible” and “disturbing.” It is a film being talked about on both sides of the Atlantic, and at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it is the hot ticket.

Death of a President is the controversial mock documentary, produced by the British television network Channel 4, that uses a fictionalized account of the assassination of President George W. Bush as a platform for examining how the War on Terrorism has affected and divided the United States.

Taking a retrospective approach to telling the story of the investigation into the assassination, and using a combination of archival news footage, digital special effects—including the use of super-imposed images of Bush’s head on an actor’s body—and staged scenes, the film is being described by movie critics as a well-crafted, intelligent thriller that explores the issue of just how polarized America has grown since 9/11.

The scene in the photo above (click on it to enlarge) shows the digitally-generated President Bush being gunned down just hours after driving past an anti-war demonstration while doing a talk in Chicago. The two hour drama shows the media storm that develops as Muslims are fingered as the culprits before there is any evidence. Authorities focus on a Syrian-born man in the search for the culprit.

Not surprisingly, Death of a President has been the target of criticism by Bush supporters in this country and in England. Eric Staal of Republicans Abroad in London told the website This Is London, “We’ve seen from early in his presidency the extremes that the political Left are willing to go to vilify him. This takes this vilification to a new and disturbing level. It is an appalling way to treat the head of state of another country.” A White House spokesman said, “This does not dignify a comment.”

But a private screening for press and film industry reps at the Toronto International Film Festival ended with applause from the audience, who were able to look beyond the central theme to judge it on its cinematic merits. According to a report in the Toronto Globe & Mail, the consensus of the crowd was highly favorable, and the movie stayed on the lips of viewers as they talked it up during the rest of the festival.

The film, written and directed by Gabriel Range who previously created two docudramas for the BBC, will have a UK showing on satellite television in October, and just this week producers announced a US theatrical distribution deal with Newmarket Films, distributors of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. They hope for a November release, just in time for the fall elections.

So what do you think? Will you go to see this film if it plays in your city? Take this poll then come back and leave a comment.
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MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann took the occasion of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 to give perhaps the most candid and pointed criticism of President Bush’s handing of the War on Terrorism ever seen on television. In a more than 8 minute editorial, seen here, he faults Bush for squandering an opportunity to capitalize on the goodwill shown our nation in the aftermath of the attacks. It is must see tv.

As the Dust Settles

This is the first year that I have been able to deal with the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. A combination of time and a pre-occupation with other personal issues since then and currently, have given me either perspective on that event or forced me to divert my energy to more pressing needs. In any event I am ready to face the anniversary and all the media attention it will generate and then move beyond it.

On the first anniversary I was not in a stable frame of mind. I took my vacation in Toronto that year, not only wanting to leave New York City, but get out of the country altogether, although Canada being close by I was unable to fully escape the news coverage. A year after 9/11, I was still having nightmares. Now I am better, but I have by no means returned to being the person I was on September 10, 2001.

It strikes me that, like a pebble cast upon the water forming ripples that radiate outward, the impact of 9/11 really depends on how close to ground zero you were. With that comes varying degrees of physical and psychological after-effects, the full impact of which may not be fully known for years to come.

This past week, congressional leaders held hearings to get testimony from ground zero rescue workers and their families who are now suffering the physical effects of being exposed to airborne contaminants raised up by the dust and rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center. An alarming number have grown sick or have already died from various forms of upper respiratory diseases or cancers and are seeking compensation to deal with sky-high medical bills.

At the time of the attack rescue workers treated the scene much the way an earthquake is handled, looking for possible survivors first, worrying about their own personal safety second. Because there were two 110 story structures that had crumbled to the ground, this was an around the clock effort that took months. What people may not know or recall was that fires were smoldering underneath that rubble for about five months after the attack, burning toxic and hazardous materials that rescue workers were breathing in the whole time.

But it wasn’t just rescue workers exposed to these pollutants. The Environmental Protection Agency proclaimed the area around lower Manhattan safe for residents to return before it really was. I live almost 200 blocks north of ground zero and remember how thick the air was in my neighborhood on September 12 and for several weeks afterward. Dust clouds extended miles into the sky and blew all across the tri-state area. There is no telling how many of us have breathed in particles that will ultimately make us sick or eventually kill us. Future medical researchers may need to track where we were on and around that date and how we later died in order to get the full head count on the deaths caused by 9/11.

And then there are the psychological effects. The same rescue workers report high rates of stress and depression from spending days and weeks looking for survivors. I saw a news interview with one man who recounted the horror of finding a woman’s hand among the rubble and curled in the palm, the hand of a small child. He was indelibly scarred by that experience.

I am fortunate not to have known anyone personally who was lost in the terrorist attack because I am sure surviving family and friends have a perspective on this day that none of us can fully comprehend. But I did witness the collapse of the north tower with my own eyes from the corner of 26th Street and 6th Avenue. That horribly surreal image replayed like a tape recorder over and over in my mind every night for a year. I was among the millions of New Yorkers who walked home in confusion and fear that day, not knowing what was going on, cut off from phone service and communication with family. I remember vividly the gut-wrenching “Have You Seen…” flyers that went up on every blank wall in the city by those hoping in vain that their loved ones had survived the towers.

Like many New Yorkers I am changed in ways in which I am not even aware. I am more reclusive than I have ever been in my life. I suffer bouts of depression that take me lower than in the past and last longer. Are they the direct result of 9/11? I don’t know, but I can’t completely discount that possibility.

The on-going mess created in Iraq that had nothing to do with capturing those responsible, shows no signs of ending and creates another reason to detach and disengage. For the millions of people directly and indirectly impacted by 9/11, there is still no closure.

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The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has conducted the widest review of health problems related to 9/11, releasing its report last week. Seventy percent of the 10,000 Ground Zero workers the center tested between 2002 and 2004 reported respiratory problems while working at the site. Of those, 60 percent have had persistent respiratory problems.

The full report is available here as a PDF.

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Other Reflections on Sept. 11

Noctuary Five Years Later… Link
The Republic of T Gay Americans & 9/11 Link
Prometheus 6 (See several articles under “The Path from 9/11″) Link