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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Landing the Bad Boy: A Review of ‘I Alone Can Fix It’


The year 2020 will be remembered for three major events: the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd that sparked protests and unrest, and the general election.

Globally the pandemic was and continues to be an insidious health crisis resulting in millions of lives lost. In addition, the U.S. confronted once again the quest for racial justice with a demand for reform in how the police interact with people of color. And the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, the election itself and the tumultuous aftermath placed the United States at the precipice of losing its democratic traditions and democracy itself.

At the heart of these events, President Donald Trump played a key and massive role in how the country would respond to the first two crises and how he literally created the third one.  All were dangerous.

In their book, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, Pulitzer Prize winning reporters from the Washington Post Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker present a chilling and at times horrifying account of how President Trump mishandled, exacerbated or created these crises. The title is derived from a statement President-elect Trump gave at the Republican National Convention in 2016 whereby he told his faithful that nobody knows the system better than he does, and, therefore, “I alone can fix it.”

In their previous best seller in 2020, the authors used another well-known Trump phrase, “A Very Stable Genius” as their title. Should they pen additional books about this presidency, there is a plethora of Trump phrases to draw from.

Speaking of lifting phrases, I used the title of this review from a chapter title “Landing the Bad Boy” later in the book.  Referring to the drama, frayed nerves and mounting fears leading up to the 2021 inauguration and the determination to have a peaceful transition of power, one senior official was quoted in the book as saying, “We’ve got an aircraft, our landing gear is stuck, we’ve got one engine, and we’re out of fuel. We’ve got to land this bad boy.”

Keeping to a chronological format, Ms. Leonnig and Mr. Rucker present the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Trump administration as it courses through its fourth year beginning with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic through the inauguration of Joe Biden.

While many of us have witnessed Trump’s behavior and character flaws in real time through his tweets, press briefings, appearances on Fox News and other platforms and have read previous accounts of his presidency and personality in other books, I Alone Can Fix It offers a chronicle that stems not from a single person or a few persons but dozens of eyewitnesses to history being made before their very eyes (and ears).

The authors gleaned from hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 sources including those at the highest levels of the Trump administration. Various sources spoke on the record while others spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity as the authors note, “to share private accounts of moments that profoundly challenged or shook them, to protect future careers, or to fend off retaliation from Trump or his allies.” Some of the information stemmed from the authors' own reporting for the Washington Post as well as that of other journalists.

And as Pulitzer Prize journalists do as a matter of routine, they fact-checked and verified the accounts from their sources. There are scores of referenced notes to back up the accounts. In other words, what is portrayed in I Alone Can Fix It is extremely credible. The authors do not offer their own opinions; they present these accounts often from people with direct knowledge of the situation.

Throughout the book, Trump’s well-documented personality defects are exposed, again not by the authors themselves but by the subjects of their interviews. His ever-frequent demonstrations of victimhood, grievance, oversized ego, narcissism, inability to tell the truth, lack of empathy and revenge supplement the narrative. Trump’s transactional nature is his state of nature. He saw the COVID crisis as more of a threat to his re-election than the public health crisis it truly is. Everything, and I mean everything, was seen through the lens of his political fortunes.

The book highlights Trump’s interactions with his underlings and advisors, such as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley. He had strained relationships with Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Alex Azar among others on the pandemic front. They didn’t buy into Trump’s happy talk about the virus magically disappearing. However, the book contains praise for Trump on pushing for the accelerated manufacturing of a vaccine while there were scathing condemnations on everything else related to the president’s handling of the pandemic.

Trump’s relationship with AG William Barr was solid until Barr refused to relent on Trump’s demands to send federal troops to respond to Black Lives Matter protesters. And it worsened when Barr would not pressure certain states to review the results of their elections. Despite a fawning, disgraceful ass-kiss of a resignation letter to Trump, Barr was on the outs.

The same could be said for the four years of servitude and sychophancy by Vice President Mike Pence. His refusal to reject the certification of the Electoral College tallies led to a chilly end to their relationship. During the siege on January 6, Trump never inquired about the safety of Pence after he attacked him on Twitter during the insurrection.

The dynamics between Milley and Trump were almost a core part of the book. Milley was determined to not permit the military to be deployed to quell civil unrest and was adamant about not allowing the military to be involved in the electoral process. This back and forth between the two and the thought processes between Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other trusted individuals were among the most revealing episodes contained the book.

Milley feared that Trump would use the military to stage a coup. “They may try, but they’re not going to fucking succeed. You can’t do this without the military. You can’t do this without the CIA and the FBI. We’re the guys with the guns,” he said.

They were also concerned Trump would try to launch a war against Iran in his final days. 

The portions of I Alone Can Fix It relating to the election are particularly poignant. The drama unfolding on election night is described in vivid detail. Trump’s refusal to accept the results, promulgating “the big lie” that the election was stolen, and his futile battles in dozens of courts led by the hapless Rudy Giuliani held your attention.

And the authors’ account of the harrowing experience of the January 6 insurrection and that critical period between that assault on our Capitol and the inauguration is loaded with palpable tension and hand-trembling fear. Even though we all witnessed it and will continue to see what transpired, the book effectively conveys the horrors of the event, the incitement of the riot based on that big lie, and how close democracy in the U.SA was in peril.

 I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year is an extraordinary work for the ages. History will find that this book accurately chronicled this last nerve-wracking year of this nerve-wracking Trump presidency. 

It's a fast read and a must read.

_____

I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year; Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker; published by Penguin Press; 2021; 527 pages plus reference notes and index; hardcover - ISBN: 9780593298947; ebook – ISBN: 9780593298954; international edition – ISBN: 9780593300626

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Dancing Feet Abound in Beth Tfiloh’s ‘42nd Street’

Matthew Trulli and the cast of '42nd Street' Photo by Diane M. Smith
You can always count on Artistic Directors Diane M. Smith and Evan Margolis finding a challenging musical for the annual Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre summer production. In the classic musical 42nd Street under the meticulous direction of Ms. Smith, BTCT met that challenge and then some. An energetic and talented cast from the Baltimore area performed at a high level and produced thunderous ovations from the audience throughout.

With music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin and a book penned by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, 42nd Street captured a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1980. The Broadway revival in 2001 also won the Tony for Best Musical, and for good measure the London production netted the Olivier Award for Best Musical in 1984.

Based on the 1932 novel by Bradford Ropes and the ensuing 1933 film adaptation, 42nd Street tells the feel-good story of a young tap dancing performer from Allentown, Peggy Sawyer and her journey that began as a nobody to a becoming a star. She had to endure several obstacles enroute, not the least of which was impressing a demanding Broadway director Julian Marsh as he struggled to mount a musical called “Pretty Lady” during the Depression.

It was Peggy’s involvement in this show that launched her to stardom following a freak mishap to the show’s diva, Dorothy Brock. Despite much self-doubt and lack of confidence, her talent took over and Peggy seized upon the fortuitous opportunity.

BTCT, now in its 13 year, is adroit in mounting musicals that contain other plays or musicals within.  Man of La Mancha and Pippin come to mind. The backstage musical 42nd Street is no exception.

Well-known songs, such as “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” the iconic “Lullaby of Broadway” and the title song “42nd Street” are nostalgic to us oldsters, but the BTCT company performed so admirably that I am certain the younger audience members appreciated these classics as well.

From the opening number “Auditions”, I knew I was in for a treat. The tap dancing throughout the show sounds impressive and looks impressive as the able hoofers are clearly in sync and on point. All members of the company participate at some juncture  in which the numbers vary with slower methodical dances in some as well as high-tempo ones in others.

There are so many amazing dance selections that the choreography responsibilities were split between two talented individuals. Rachel Miller handled “Auditions,” “Go Into Your Dance,” “We’re in the Money,” “42nd Street” and “Act I Finale.”  James Hunnicutt choreographed “Young and Healthy,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “Dames,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Montage” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” They did a splendid job in leading the cast through their paces.

The main performers are superb, and the rest of the cast back them up proficiently. As the lead tenor Billy Lawlor in “Pretty Lady,” Matthew Trulli is a standout.  A triple threat with his acting skills, dance moves and singing voice, Mr. Trulli shines. This isn’t surprising given his extensive list of credits. But what is surprising is that he has all this experience under his belt, in key roles no less, though he is a young adult.

Mr. Trulli has a smooth tenor voice that is evident in the duet “Young and Healthy” and group numbers “Dames,” “I Know Now,” and “We’re in the Money” among others.

Hanna Elliott as Peggy Sawyer plays her role well as the enthusiastic, talented but nervous chorus girl who auditioned and secured a role in “Pretty Lady” mainly through her dancing skills. She displays her melodic soprano vocals in “Young and Healthy,” a duet with Mr. Trulli who was trying to woo her early on and “About a Quarter to Nine,” another duet with Cheryl Campo playing the diva Dorothy Brock.

As Dorothy Brock, Cheryl Campo has the primary comic role in the show. Though Dorothy Brock’s best days as a performer are behind her, she remains a star through reputation if not talent. Despite her lack of dancing ability, which is crucial in “Pretty Lady,” she was signed to the lead role principally because one of her two boyfriends, Abner Dillon (David Zisow), is a financial backer of the project.

Ms. Campo's acting skills and comedic timing are top-notch.  An accomplished performer and director in local theatre, she is on target portraying the diva Dorothy Brock. She commendably demonstrates sufficient restraint so that she does not go too far over the top in the role. But she is funny!

Ms. Campo can also sing well, and that is demonstrated in the group number “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” the duet with Mr. Zizso in “I Know Now” and the aforementioned duet with Ms. Elliott, “About a Quarter to Nine.”

Then there is Brian Singer who plays the harsh and impatient director Julian Marsh. This role was played by the late Jerry Ohrbach when 42nd Street opened on Broadway. Mr. Singer, also demonstrating strong acting abilities that he accumulated through years of experience on stage, radio and television, is the thread that stitches the plot together. He delivers his lines in a clear, resonant voice to manifest his demanding nature and harsh demeanor. Yet, he exposes a soft side on occasion, which is endearing.

And as his name might suggest, he can sing, too. He starts off “Lullaby of Broadway” deliberately and with emotion as the rest of the Company joins in and builds to what is a blockbuster number. He also effectively wraps up the show with “Act Two Finale.”

Other notable members of the cast include Matthew Byrd, Ryann Reich, Eitan Murinson, Rachel Miller, Emily Signor, Carly Dagilis,  Ava Correlli, Ryan Holmes, Sharon Byrd, Emily Machovec, Julia Egan, Maytal Fleisher, Beau Smith, Taylor Fruhling, Quinn Holmes, Ryan Holmes, Rachel Murinson, Abby Ostrow and Tejal Schwartz.

A round of applause goes to Costume Design and Coordinator Lizzie Jaspan for decking the cast out in a wide array of colorful period costumes.

Set Designers Diane M. Smith and Evan Margolis oversaw imaginative scenery that was highlighted by a large screen reflecting the projection of scenes and images that adds depth to the stage. In addition, various scaffolds, platforms, turntable sets and a variety of props and set pieces provide additional quality to the production. Laura Miller and Dassi Cohen contributed to this effort, which made for good visuals.

Overall, from a technical standpoint, the production was solid including the Lighting Design by Tyrell Stanley on the day the show was reviewed, but there was some unevenness in the audio in spots, which hopefully will be addressed by the next performance.

BTCT’s 42nd Street is an ambitious undertaking especially for community theatre considering the size of the cast and the skill sets needed to pull it off. With the capable Diane M. Smith at the helm, the talented cast and crew did so with aplomb. With only two performances left, you should hurry to get tickets to see this wonderful production.

Running time. Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

42nd Street plays August 3 and 4 at the H. Morton Rosen Arts Center located at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, 3300 Old Court Rd., Pikesville, MD 21208. Tickets can be purchased by calling 410-413-2436 or visiting the box office.