Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Republicans' Biggest Nightmare

Still reeling from consecutive losses in the contest for the White House, the Republicans are setting themselves up for a third consecutive defeat.  That dismal reality for the GOP has the face of Donald Trump all over it.  #hocopolitics

Donald Trump rails against 'political correctness'
Back in August when Trump-mania started to take hold, I opined how his candidacy would affect the rest of the race up until the first votes for the caucuses and primaries are cast in February 2016.   Few thought that Trump and his blustery showmanship will prevail and he would vanish like other flavors-of-the-month have done previously.   I said then and I will repeat: Trump is not going anywhere voluntarily unless he can get knocked off the pedestal he has stood since he first announced his candidacy. 
Political numbers guru Nate Silver noted that only 25 percent of the country identify as Republicans while Trump has garnered merely 25 percent of GOP voters (enough to currently top the leader board).  Silver’s inference is that Trump is not making sufficient inroads to worry Dems in the general election.  Should Trump be the nominee, he will muster far more than the 25 percent currently supporting him as most Republicans will galvanize behind him in the hope of defeating Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans are indeed worried, however, and with good reason.  This is due to the horrific possibility that Trump may end up being the party’s standard-bearer. 

The so-called base is fed up with the GOP that put forth John McCain whose inability to articulate a solution to an economic crisis without threatening to bomb a country and Mitt Romney whose opulence created a narrative that he is out of touch with ordinary Americans.  These nominees lost to an African-American with little Senate experience, who had alleged ties to some questionable figures and whose place of birth was constantly questioned.  And they did so twice.
Republicans, especially in the House and Senate, were so ticked at these outcomes that they would go way out of the way to derail as much of President Obama’s agenda.  Though many of these lame efforts, such as repealing the Affordable Care Act over 40 times and shutting down the federal government reflected the GOP’s petulance, Obama’s creativity and the use of executive orders—a tactic that had been employed by presidents of both parties in the past—enabled him to secure significant accomplishments for the country and his legacy.

Following Romney’s defeat, the Republican establishment performed an “autopsy” in an effort to end the two-cycle presidential defeats.  They surmised that for the Republican Party to regain control of the federal government, they will have to broaden their reach, recognize the changing demographics and expand their base outside the tea party crowd.
To do so would mean the party would have to woo African-Americans, Latinos and women and would, in the process, gain much needed independent voters who comprise the fastest growing bloc.  This would certainly serve the Republicans well in swing states.

Not so fast: Donald Trump is single-handedly undermining that effort in a big and loud way.  Starting off with his assault on Mexicans as rapists, his determination to build a “nice” wall at the Mexican government’s expense and deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants, he turned off Hispanics big time.  Trump’s misogynous verbal shots at Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly and his adolescent barb directed at Carly Fiorina’s face certainly didn’t help with women.
Trump’s call for surveillance of Syrian refugees and certain mosques and a national registry of Syrian refugees.  Adding to that was his blatant lie that he witnessed thousands of Muslims in Jersey City rejoicing at the attacks on 9/11. This anti-Muslim rhetoric likely failed to win over independents.

Then there was the recent incident  in Birmingham, Ala. in which a Black Lives Matter protester was roughed up and forcibly ejected from a Trump rally and the candidate going on record supporting such actions.  African-Americans thinking about joining the GOP now?  Highly unlikely.
With all these episodes and  likely more on the way, the GOP establishment is squirming big time.  Trump’s supporters who have kept him on top in the polls except for a brief love affair with Dr. Carson, consist of the angry folks who adore Trump’s bullying style.  

My guess is that most of his supporters prefer that the U.S. be a Christian country consisting solely of white, native-born, non-Hispanic, heterosexual, anti-refugee, gun-toting, pro-life but at the same time pro-death penalty, misogynistic, climate change deniers, and military hawks who either have not served in the armed forces or would oppose a draft to force their sons and daughters into combat. They intently hate Obama and deny his record of accomplishments.  Trump answers their bell.
The trouble is, the above profile could match most of the GOP contenders’ core supporters.  It explains, perhaps, that Trump’s rivals are loath to criticize him forcefully lest they be on the receiving end of his flame-throwing.  He won’t hesitate to unleash his venom.  Ask Ben Carson.

This approach is effective for primaries but suicidal for the general.  Democrats should use Trump’s bombast whether he is the ultimate nominee or not.  By Trump’s rivals’ relative silence in criticizing him (except for a recent Kasich commercial), Democratic strategists should use Trump’s words and paint the whole Republican Party with them.  Their silence equals acquiescence. 
Right now, Trump is the Republicans’ biggest nightmare and no one in the party knows how to deal with it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Guys and Dolls at Olney is a Good Bet

In Guys and Dolls there are a number of quaint references to slices of New York life from yesteryear: Klein’s, Saks, Wanamaker’s, the Roxy, the A&P, floating craps games, a casual day trip to Havana, and the list goes on.  The beauty of superior musicals, however, is that they are timeless in that they are as captivating and entertaining today as they were in say, 1950, when the original production opened on Broadway.  #hocoarts

Tobias Young leads company in "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."
Photo: Stan Barouh
The current iteration of Guys and Dolls that is now playing at the Olney Theatre Center restores the nostalgia of 1950 New York while delivering a bravura musical extravaganza under the impeccable direction of Jerry Whiddon, choreography by Michael J. Babbitt and the musical direction of Timothy Splain.  An exceptional, perfectly cast company and technical crew carry out the vision of these directors in a way that will render your hands raw from all the applause-worthy moments.
Contributing to this effort is the show’s superlative material.  With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls captured so many awards in both its original rollout and the subsequent revivals that there are too many to list. 

Needless to say, the music catalogue, which is outstanding and varied from top to bottom, plus the clever book, places Guys and Dolls in the same category of brilliance as the Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Jerry Herman musical classics.  As in the case of those shows, Guys and Dolls withstands the test of time.
The music is delightfully entwined in the zany plot involving gambler Nathan Detroit (Paul Binotto) who needs $1,000 for a venue to stage a crap game—“The Oldest Established Floating Crap Game”—with all the big-time gamblers in town, whom he cannot disappoint for the sake of his own reputation, and yes, safety.  He also has been avoiding marriage as he has been the fiancé of Miss Adelaide (Lauren Weinberg), a lovely blond nightclub singer, for 14 years and counting.

There is Sarah Brown (Jessica Lauren Ball) who is under pressure to save the souls of sinners in the mission she runs.  Any thoughts she may harbor of romance take a back seat to her mission. 
Nathan who is desperate to come up with the grand in which neither he nor his employees Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Tobias Young) and Benny Southstreet (Evan Casey) have or the credit to rent space at the Biltmore garage—a place selected to avoid the watchful eye of policeman Lt. Brannigan (Ron Heneghan) who is relentless in his quest to stop the gamblers.

As a last-ditch effort to raise the money, Nathan places a $1,000 bet with a more successful gambler Sky Masterson (Matt Faucher) that he will not be able to convince Sarah—so committed to saving souls at the sacrifice of her personal life—to go with him to Havana.  He accepts the bet, and she is lured to Havana based on Sky’s promise to deliver 12 sinners to her mission. The rest of the hilarious tale will be up to the audience to enjoy.

Paul Binotto as Nathan Detroit and Lauren Weinberg as Miss Adelaide
Photo: Stan Barouh
As pleasing and endearing the book is, it’s the music that makes the show a classic.  Songs like “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Guys and Dolls,” “If I Were a Bell,”  “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” are famous.  But all the numbers in Guys and Dolls are gems.
The Olney cast did these great songs justice with outstanding vocals throughout.  As Miss Adelaide, Lauren Weinberg performs “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Adelaide’s Lament” in the way Mr. Loesser had imagined.  The beautiful vocals of Jessica Lauren Ball who shined so brightly in Olney’s production of The Sound of Music when she garnered a Helen Hayes Award nomination are on display again as Sarah when she performs “If I Were a Bell” and in the bouncy duet with Ms. Weinberg in “Marry the Man Today.”  

Matt Faucher as Sky Masterson brings home the iconic number “Luck Be a Lady” with his strong bass-baritone voice.  He also delivers “My Time of Day” in style.
The poor schnook Nathan Detroit is played with spirit by Paul Binotto.  He skillfully executes all the comedic scenes in which he is featured and his performance in the duet with Ms. Weinberg “Sue Me” is spot on.

 Then there is Tobias Young as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.  Mr. Young demonstrates his comedic props in several scenes with well-timed lines, facial expressions and body language.  Vocally, he is off the charts.  He performs well in several numbers including “Fugue for Tinhorns,” “The Oldest Established,” and “Guys and Dolls” with other cast members.
However, his lead in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” represents the show-stopper that every great musical must have.  Mr. Young and the rest of the company sing the up-tempo number with gusto while the precise choreography is amazing. 

So spectacular was this number on the night this show was reviewed, that the raucous ovation was extended well beyond the norm. It was akin to a baseball player hitting a home run and the crowd’s cheers continue so long in quest of a curtain call from the batter.  This number was the production’s home run.
Choreography throughout the production is dazzling thanks to choreographer Michael J. Bobbitt.  As an example, the vigorous dancing in “Luck Be a Lady” soars.

The “Havana” number that is highlighted by a fight scene is simply sensational.  Executed to near perfection, the ensemble manages the high-energy dancing and fighting while they seamlessly clear the stage of the props and furniture at the scene’s end.  Ben Cunis is the fight choreographer for this amazing scene.  
Kudos goes to Ron Heneghan as Lt. Brannigan, the intrepid policeman, who maintains his Irish brogue as a throwback to New York’s Irish policemen.  On that point, all the actors consistently display New York accents without any slips.

Also, a nod goes to Richard Pelzman who convincingly plays Big Jule, the tall fear-invoking gangster from Chicago thirsty for the craps game.
The remainder of the company is proficient in their acting, dancing and vocals that add strong support to the leads.

Rosemary Pardee does a fine job is fitting the cast in 1950’s attire from suits for the guys and dresses for the dolls to missionary uniforms and costumes for assorted street characters.
Scenic Designer Dan Conway conveys an image of the New York City skyline with lights in the windows as the background while drop-down scenery above the stage is used to denote scene changes.

Sound Designer Jeffrey Dorfman who allows the audience to hear street traffic noises prior to the opening to set the mood and Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills do a fine job. 
The Olney production of Guys and Dolls is first-rate with all the pieces fitting together expertly.  A talented cast and crew under superb direction will result in one of the most memorable shows you will see.  You can bet on it.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes.
Guys and Dolls runs through December 27 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.    Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Solid 'Footloose' at Rockville Musical Theatre

Footloose, the four-time Tony Award-nominated 1996 musical that was adapted by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie from the mega-popular 1984 movie of the same name is on display at the Rockville Musical Center (RMC).  An energetic volunteer cast provides a couple of hours of nostalgic foot-stomping numbers embedded in a plot that tugs at your heart. 

Serena Dib and Derek Tatum in FOOTLOOSE  Photo: Dana Robinson
Heart, yes, but this musical, is mostly about the feet as in dancing, which is the show’s hallmark.  It becomes the focus of a bunch of teenagers who try to persuade the recalcitrant Reverend Shaw Moore (Paul Loebach) and other adults in the fictional rural town of Bomont to allow the kids to hold a dance despite the fact dancing had been previously banned by Moore. #hocoarts
Ren McCormack (Derek Tatum), a high school student who loves to dance in Chicago’s clubs heads off to Bomont with his mother after his father abandoned them and financial difficulties ensued.  They stay with his aunt and uncle as he attempts to adjust to his new life.
For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

An Irreverent 'Book of Mormon' at the Hippodrome

You know that once the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, Lucifer, Johnnie Cochran, and Genghis Kahn make their way into a musical, you better be ready for non-stop laughter.  The Book of Mormon, currently running at the Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour, is a spicy extravaganza with a heavy dose of salt that will please the palate in this hilarious irreverent spoof of religion that takes no detours in offending everyone.  #hocoarts

In fact, nobody is safe from the comical silliness that defines this show: Blacks, Christians, Mormons, Jews, all organized religion, Chinese, gays, women, true believers and others are all targets in a rather good-natured way that is not intended to be mean-spirited.  Nevertheless, such barbs along with body function descriptions are cringe-worthy in some instances, and if you have not seen The Book of Mormon before, be prepared. 

This should come as no surprise as the book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone are familiar with this brand of biting satire. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the animated series, South Park. Tony Award-winner Lopez is co-composer and lyricist of the long-running hit musical comedy, Avenue Q and the Oscar-winning Frozen#hocoarts
The Book of Mormon is brilliantly choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw (Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone) and is directed expertly by Nicholaw and Parker.  A winner of nine Tony Awards in 2011including Best Musical, The Book of Mormon burst on the theatre scene coincidentally at the time Mitt Romney—the only Mormon candidate to run for president—was gearing up for his 2012 run. 

The story centers on two young LDS missionaries who were sent to Uganda rather than the desired Orlando to share the Book of Mormon with villagers in a remote part of northern Uganda.  The challenge is complicated by the fact that only one of the missionaries, Elder Price, played strongly by David Larsen, actually read the book. The other, Elder Cunningham, played deliciously by Cody Jamison Strand, had not done so, and instead has a habit of “making things up” to fill in the blanks.
Moreover, the villagers had other things on their minds besides religion.  Poverty, famine, AIDS and a despotic warlord offer hopelessness to the good people of the village.  The ensuing efforts to get the villagers to buy in to the teachings of the Book of Mormon against all odds constitute the essence of the plotline.

Scott Pask’s superb set design provides the background for all the action.  His depiction of the Ugandan village complete with mud huts, and the seamless transformation to the scene from hell—literally—that served as the locale for the Mormon’s hell dream where all the aforementioned villains appeared, is simply spectacular.

Candace Quarrels as Nabulungi and Cody Jamision Strand as
Elder Cunningham
Adding to the flavor are Ann Roth’s exquisite costumes, Brian MacDevitt’s energetic and imaginative lighting design and Brian’s Ronan flawless sound design.
Under the musical direction of David Truskinoff and the solid work of the nine-member orchestra, the cast both individually and in lively tap dancing production numbers danced and sang wonderfully to the score and the clever lyrics.  Most of the high-tempo songs and ballads are excellent and the standouts include: “Hello,” “Two by Two,” “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” the side-splitting “Turn It Off,”  the rousing conclusion of Act I “Man Up,”  another hysterical number “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,”  “I Believe,” “I Am Africa,” “Joseph Smith American Moses,” and “Tomorrow Is a Latter Day.”

As Elder Price, the handsome Mr. Larsen shines as an actor and demonstrates his rich vocals throughout.  Price takes his mission seriously but later experiences self-doubt about the religion and his ability to succeed.  He is the straight man to the comical Elder Cunningham in which Mr. Strand delivers a tour de force reminiscent of Josh Gad in the original Broadway production. 

Elder Cunningham, who has a problem with telling the truth, attempts to teach the villagers about Mormonism.  But since he never read the book, he inserts various characters from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in his teachings. 
Rotund with a high-pitched voice, Cunningham is set up with most of the comedic lines and actions.  He eventually takes the mission seriously but all he seemingly wanted to do when he began is to find a friend—any friend—and wound up with Price who didn’t share that goal but put up with him until he couldn’t take it anymore.  Cunningham also uproariously demonstrates a new twist on what a Baptism ritual is. 

Besides acting, both Mr. Larsen and Mr. Strand can sing and dance and are paired up nicely in the duets “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” and “I Am Here for You” and perform quite capably in several production numbers.
Another superb performance is turned in by the lovely Candace Quarrells as Nabulungi, a young villager, who desires to go to Sal Tlay Ka Siti.  She sings the song with that title beautifully.

Other strong performances are delivered by David Aron Damane as the brutal General Butt [something] Naked and Daxton Bloomquist as Elder McKinley, a fellow who suppresses his attraction to men but can turn it off like a switch.
The remainder of the company are outstanding in their supporting roles as well as dance sequences and clearly have a lot of fun performing in this musical.

Great staging, great performances, great songs and great technical elements show why The Book of Mormon is so highly regarded, and the deafening standing ovation it received the night this performance was reviewed reflects that.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: the show contains profanity and is not suitable for children
The Book of Mormon runs through November 15 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or click here ticketmaster.com or click here for Hippodrome information. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

October's Oddities

It wasn’t enough that this past Halloween brought out the strangest, most creative and unique costumes ever. However, the entire month of October saw its share of odd events and scary people that would make the entire month Halloween-esque for all its nuttiness.
We had such unlikely events like a rogue blimp wreaking havoc along the Pennsylvania countryside. 

There was a wild inflatable pumpkin terrorizing residents in Arizona.
The Baltimore Ravens hadn’t won a home game through October (they won Sunday, though, to kick off November).  

Someone actually wrote a published letter to the Baltimore Sun bemoaning the large number of advertisements apparently oblivious to the fact that the media depends on advertising for revenue. 
After a devastating drought, Texas was pelted with flooding rains of biblical proportions.

And the stock market (Dow Jones index), which usually tanks in October, climbed a hefty 8.5 percent, the most in four years.
If these happenings weren’t sufficiently Halloween-ish in their strangeness, perhaps the GOP presidential debate broadcast on CNBC met that bar.  Setting the stage is the fact Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump are the frontrunners—a rightfully scary prospect considering how ignorant they are of government policy and mechanics.  Yet, that’s who the Republican voters prefer right now; it’s pretty Halloween-creepy.

But the greatest October oddity came from that very debate.  The rough and tough Republican candidates who boast they can “deal with” Russia, China and other potential or imagined adversaries as well as force the Mexican government to erect a wall along the border showed the chink in their collective armor, um façade. With all their bravado, they couldn’t cope with the line and manner of questioning put forth by the CNBC moderators. 
Led by the dreaded Sen. Ted Cruz, the candidates whined about those many “gotcha” questions. 

Heaven forbid they should be asked to comment on their record or things they have said and have done in the past.  Shame on the moderators for asking them to reconcile past conflicting statements made by the candidates! 

Accordingly, the “liberal media” have joined President Obama and Hillary Clinton as the ghoulish villains of October, playing to the party’s base.  Now these candidates want to scuttle the scheduled debate originally hosted by NBC and Telemundo in favor of more sympathetic and less probing panelists. 
We’ll see what turns up as the candidates are seeking relief and going over the heads of Reince Priebus, the RNC and the Republican “establishment” in search of softballs to hit out of the park.

The first question that should be asked by whoever moderates the next debate is, “How are you going to stand up to Vladimir Putin, if you can’t handle CNBC’s John Harwood?”