Thursday, February 25, 2021

A TIME FOR ALL SEASONS

With assurances from the master medical expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, I am happy to report that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy have all been vaccinated against the COVID virus, so children can be comforted. Would that there would be additional confirmations for schools getting back to regular sessions rather than virtual, theater openings, movie screenings, restaurants indoor numbers, hospitals without COVID wards, not to mention hugs, and family and friend get togethers as well as celebrations for birthdays, baby births, bar mitzvahs, baptisms, weddings, graduations and the inevitable funerals. We have come a long way, baby, and the end of the tunnel is around the next bend. We need to be patient and keep washing our hands and our masks. Netflix will continue to be our best friend as we binge watch “Bridgerton”, “Private Practice” and “The Queen's Gambit.” Pairing the TV shows with ice cream or wine is still highly recommended. Have you learned to play the guitar or tap dance or do water color painting? Have no fear, there is still time to master these arts or learn to can your own tomato sauce or start writing a blog. After all, we have been gifted with time galore. Don’t waste yours. Read the comedies of Shakespeare, not the tragedies as they may strike too close to home. And you’re already washing your hands like Lady Macbeth any way. Now is the time for all good women and men to be passionate about a cause, cherish our freedoms and glory in the gratitude of just being alive. Hallelujah!

Monday, February 8, 2021

"BECOMING DR. RUTH” A FASCINATING JOURNEY

At the height of four foot, seven inches, Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a petite powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm. She is forthright and honest, especially if you have a question of a sexual nature. Her fascinating life adventure began when her parents and grandmother put her on the train, the Kindertransport, at the age of ten from her home in Germany and sent her to Switzerland to save her from the Nazis. She never saw her family again. Now at the age of ninety-two, her story is being told at Music Theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk and you are invited to this intimate one woman show until February 21, either in person or by streaming. Dr. Ruth Westheimer has packed a lot of living in her more than nine decades on earth. At the orphanage in Switzerland, Ruth helped with the younger children, protecting them and calming them. Through the many dark years that followed, she held on to her grandmother's philosophy: "Always be happy and cheerful. You are loved." Mark St. Germain has penned a delightful and intense look into the life of this astonishing woman. She is brought to vibrant and enchanting life in the hands of actress Amy Griffin. She embodies Dr Ruth in dedication, body and spirit, with actions and voice, as she relates her intriguing tale with anecdotes, photos and mementos. After residing for thirty-six years in the same New York City apartment, with views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge, she is moving. Her third husband Fred has died and she knows change is good. As she packs her books, pictures and collections of dollhouses and turtles, she reminisces about her past, from losing her family, settling in France, Palestine and later in America. Can you imagine this diminutive lady as a sniper in the Haganah? Her size was actually a bonus in this spy work as a scout. You will learn that this woman who worked diligently to earn her doctorate, loved Shirley Temple, encouraged Governor Bill Clinton to run for the presidency and would have been happy to be a kindergarten teacher. Kevin Connors directs this rare portrait of a remarkable journey as Karola Ruth Siegel at the helm steering her way to her destiny as Dr. Ruth, on a homey set designed by Lindsay Fuori. For tickets ($39-70), call Music Theatre of CT at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Pod discounts are available for 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 ticket purchases. Live stream the play, 90 minutes in length without an intermission for $28. Two lessons that Dr. Ruth learned through the collections she has saved over the years: her dollhouses are safe havens for her dolls because she didn't have any control over her life growing up and her turtles that are symbolic that it has to take a risk and stick its neck out if its wants to move forward. She feels she has an obligation to live long and large and to make the world a better place. That she certainly does.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Tragedy to Resilience

If tragedy truly defines us, then the year 2020 is a whole Noah Webster dictionary. We have been tested, quarantined, socially distanced and masked. We have been challenged to change our attitudes, perspectives and every day activities. How easy it would be to get discouraged and anxious and even depressed. How much better it would be to change our focus and concentrate on the things that have improved our outlook. How grateful we should be for the thousands of health care professionals who have so courageously stood tall at the front lines. It’s also time to salute the teachers and parents who now find themselves with the awesome task of creatively assuming new roles with math equations and writing memoirs. Truck drivers are now keeping our economy flowing by delivering packages and presents while mail people bring letters to our doors. Grubhub leaves pizza and pasta on our porches while businesses are adjusting their hours to leave us equipped with the necessities. Zoom meetings are now a virtual fixture in our lives, and Netflix and television are now streaming movies and lectures and novel entertainment galore. You can tour Van Gogh’s museum, take a trip to Israel or Italy, take a train ride anywhere in the world , all while seated safely on your sofa. And if you were smart enough to invest in the stock of Quilted Northern, Angel Soft and Charmin’, you wiped up your finances quite well. Factories also changed their facilities to produce masks and ventilators to aid the cause, and donated food to feed the hungry, while many people concentrated on kindnesses to family, friends and neighbors like picking up groceries for seniors or sharing pots of chicken noodle soup. As we speak, lines are forming to get the COVID vaccine and protect our world. Thanks to a new concerned and involved administration. Together we have weathered the medical storm and found the spirit of reliance and resilience that will see us through today’s tunnel to a brighter tomorrow and a return to normalcy. Amen.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

VINCENT VAN GOGH: A PAINTER FOR THE AGES

The Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh only lived for thirty -seven years, and only painted for the last eleven years of that tortured life. Yet in that brief time he painted 1013 pictures, 868 of them oils and 145 watercolors, including 37 self- portraits. Since there is only one photograph of Vincent, his self-portraits are quite valuable. He couldn’t afford models and so he got a good mirror and practiced by painting himself. One of six children, he was like his father, a minister, strong and stubborn and unhappy while his mother was supportive and gave him a love of art. Vincent was often thought of as crazy, suicidal, a loner and a failure. He only sold one picture in his lifetime, that of a doctor, and would be amazed that his work now sells for millions. He had a number of jobs like teacher, minister and book seller but found no financial success. He took up painting at age 26 and could also be described as passionate, brilliant, innovative and visionary but he suffered from physical and mental challenges. His first painting was a watercolor of a coal mine done in pale yellows. His first still life was called Cabbages and Clogs, an oil, in 1881. When he painted his minister father, it was a still life of an open Bible and an old prayerbook in 1885. This dark, somber period included his Potato Eaters that same year and people found his work disturbing and irritating. Even his uncle called his work frightful. Vincent went to France from ages 32-34, moving to the center of the art world, near his brother Theo who owned an art gallery and often supported him financially and emotionally. While never marrying, he had a girl friend and began painting couples in the park and cafes, with light and bright colors of yellow, pink and blue. His pictures were small and medium in size because he couldn’t afford large canvases. His style and subject matter progressed as impressionist painters influenced him and encouraged him, like John Russell, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin. Restless and bored and not liking the cold, he moved to the south of France, for Paris was too intense for his laid -back view of the world. He lived in a total of 30 different places. The high point of his career was now in Provence and Arles where he was captivated by the countryside and produced such works as Starry Nights, Irises, The Captain, The Café and the farmland and countryside. He would go off early in the morning and paint outdoors ein plein air, often completing one painting a day. He only signed his favorite paintings, like Vase with 15 Sunflowers. In his boarding room in Arles, he often painted from his bedroom window since he was a loner and knew no one. As a prolific letter writer, he often included sketches of artwork. These letters, hundreds of them, have been complied into a work called Van Gogh’s Letters. Another unknown starving artist, Paul Gauguin, came to visit as a roommate but problems arose as Vincent was a morning person and Gauguin liked to stay up late partying. Gauguin eventually returned to Paris after they argued and Van Gogh cut off part of his ear. Always struggling with mental health issues, Van Gogh admitted himself to a mental hospital with heavy metal bars on the windows. In that year he painted from his bedroom, pictures like Almond Blossoms and Irises for his mother. Now, after the hospital, he moved back to Paris and painted in blues and greens, gardens and wheat fields. He transformed himself from traditionalist to modern, expressing melancholy and extreme loneliness. He settled in another boarding house in Auberge Ravoux, living upstairs from a restaurant where you can still eat today. Van Gogh went out one morning to paint and came home with a gun shot wound. Was he shot accidently or was it suicide? He died the next day. His brother Theo inherited his works but died six months later and they are buried side by side. Theo’s wife Jo inherited them and passed the paintings and his letters to her son who donated them to the Dutch Government for a museum in 1971. Vincent Van Gogh remarked “I see what no one else sees,” “A grain of madness is the best of art” and “Great artists are not peaceful souls.” He also said of his work “I want to make art that will touch people” and “I am rich because I have found my calling and devote myself to it heart and soul.” The world is richer for the visions he saw, his command of color and the passion and pain he portrayed in every one of his 1013 contributions straight from his tortured soul. VINCENT VAN GOGH: A PAINTER FOR THE AGES The Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh only lived for thirty -seven years, and only painted for the last eleven years of that tortured life. Yet in that brief time he painted 1013 pictures, 868 of them oils and 145 watercolors, including 37 self- portraits. Since there is only one photograph of Vincent, his self-portraits are quite valuable. He couldn’t afford models and so he got a good mirror and practiced by painting himself. One of six children, he was like his father, a minister, strong and stubborn and unhappy while his mother was supportive and gave him a love of art. Vincent was often thought of as crazy, suicidal, a loner and a failure. He only sold one picture in his lifetime, that of a doctor, and would be amazed that his work now sells for millions. He had a number of jobs like teacher, minister and book seller but found no financial success. He took up painting at age 26 and could also be described as passionate, brilliant, innovative and visionary but he suffered from physical and mental challenges. His first painting was a watercolor of a coal mine done in pale yellows. His first still life was called Cabbages and Clogs, an oil, in 1881. When he painted his minister father, it was a still life of an open Bible and an old prayerbook in 1885. This dark, somber period included his Potato Eaters that same year and people found his work disturbing and irritating. Even his uncle called his work frightful. Vincent went to France from ages 32-34, moving to the center of the art world, near his brother Theo who owned an art gallery and often supported him financially and emotionally. While never marrying, he had a girl friend and began painting couples in the park and cafes, with light and bright colors of yellow, pink and blue. His pictures were small and medium in size because he couldn’t afford large canvases. His style and subject matter progressed as impressionist painters influenced him and encouraged him, like John Russell, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin. Restless and bored and not liking the cold, he moved to the south of France, for Paris was too intense for his laid -back view of the world. He lived in a total of 30 different places. The high point of his career was now in Provence and Arles where he was captivated by the countryside and produced such works as Starry Nights, Irises, The Captain, The Café and the farmland and countryside. He would go off early in the morning and paint outdoors ein plein air, often completing one painting a day. He only signed his favorite paintings, like Vase with 15 Sunflowers. In his boarding room in Arles, he often painted from his bedroom window since he was a loner and knew no one. As a prolific letter writer, he often included sketches of artwork. These letters, hundreds of them, have been complied into a work called Van Gogh’s Letters. Another unknown starving artist, Paul Gauguin, came to visit as a roommate but problems arose as Vincent was a morning person and Gauguin liked to stay up late partying. Gauguin eventually returned to Paris after they argued and Van Gogh cut off part of his ear. Always struggling with mental health issues, Van Gogh admitted himself to a mental hospital with heavy metal bars on the windows. In that year he painted from his bedroom, pictures like Almond Blossoms and Irises for his mother. Now, after the hospital, he moved back to Paris and painted in blues and greens, gardens and wheat fields. He transformed himself from traditionalist to modern, expressing melancholy and extreme loneliness. He settled in another boarding house in Auberge Ravoux, living upstairs from a restaurant where you can still eat today. Van Gogh went out one morning to paint and came home with a gun shot wound. Was he shot accidently or was it suicide? He died the next day. His brother Theo inherited his works but died six months later and they are buried side by side. Theo’s wife Jo inherited them and passed the paintings and his letters to her son who donated them to the Dutch Government for a museum in 1971. Vincent Van Gogh remarked “I see what no one else sees,” “A grain of madness is the best of art” and “Great artists are not peaceful souls.” He also said of his work “I want to make art that will touch people” and “I am rich because I have found my calling and devote myself to it heart and soul.” The world is richer for the visions he saw, his command of color and the passion and pain he portrayed in every one of his 1013 contributions straight from his tortured soul.

Monday, January 11, 2021

JERRY HERMAN: A MUSICAL OPTIMIST CELEBRATES LOVE AND LIFE

Recently the Pasadena Playhouse in California presented a musical love letter to Jerry Herman that displayed the composer and lyricist as a man filled with joy, optimism, love and timelessness. Written and conceived by Andrew Einhorn, “You I Like” is a delightful tribute to a man who wrote such musical classics as “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” garnering two Tonys in the process. A quintet of singers, Andrea Ross, Ryan Vona, Lesli Margherita, Nicholas Christopher and Ashley Blanchet, offered such favorite confections as “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and the title tune “Hello, Dolly!” that when sung by Louis Armstrong bumped the Beatles off the Billboard 100 spot where they had resided for weeks. Herman’s songs had shine and sparkle and a “glitzy optimism” according to Einhorn, a massive body of work that made Herman a master of the show tune. The only child of a couple who took him frequently to Broadway to see theater, he was particularly attached to his mother Ruth, a cheerleader of his who died of cancer when he was only 21. He said in an interview that his mother “was glamorous like Mame and witty like Dolly.” Sadly she died before he had a hit on Broadway, but she did arrange for him to have a meeting with composer Frank Loesser when he was a teenager. Loesser encouraged him to continue his writing and advised him to write his songs as if he was building a train, with a locomotive in front, followed by a red caboose that held a little surprise. After that meeting, Herman changed courses and colleges, leaving architecture for show business. Herman’s philosophy was always to find happiness in even the smallest pleasures, a trait he learned early on from his mother. One day he came home from school to find her planning a party. When asked why a party, she replied “Because it’s today.” That may explain why the tune “It’s Today” is such a glorious hit in “Mame.” Jerry Herman was always trying to transport his listeners to warm places of welcome like in the song “Shalom” from his musical “Milk and Honey,” a play about the young and strong state of Israel, a homeland of greeting with a little hello and farewell in it. In writing it, he spent time visiting and talking with the people in the land, rather than take an organized tour. When asked, he claimed his favorite work was the musical about the silent movies, “Mack and Mabel,” with the tune “Movies More Movies.” He had the unique ability to create real and vital characters and could even identify with female roles, like Gooch in “Gooch’s Song” from “Mame.” Gooch sings how she lived, and lived so well, that she opened her window so wide, too wide, that she couldn’t close it again. Even though he was not a trained musician, he was influenced by Irving Berlin and wrote his own holiday song “We Need a Little Christmas” as a Jewish composer. His songs could capture humor and stretch it far for laughs like in “Boom Buddies” in “Mame” where two frienemies defend each other no matter how hard it is to recognize the naked truth or in “If He Walked into My Life Today” also from “Mame” which struggled sentimentally with how issues were handled in the past and what might be different today. Jerry Herman called his musicals “my children.” They had a timeless quality, especially his message songs like Time Heals Everything” from “Mack and Mabel” and “The Best of Times” and “I am who I am” from “La Cage Aux Folles.” In “La Cage” he focused on acceptance between male lovers, a situation that had not been tackled before. You can still get in on the fun and sing along. Go to PlayhouseLive.org. Support the non-profit theater and entertain the whole family for $24.99 until February 7, watching as many times as you’d like. His legacy is clearly that he wanted to explore the human condition and was wholly devoted to making people smile. As Andy Einhorn stated so eloquently. Jerry Herman was a man who “loved to live and lived to love” and we are all the better for that devotion.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

HARTFORD THEATERS OFFER TRIPLE HOLIDAY GIFTS

HARTFORD THEATERS OFFER TRIPLE HOLIDAY GIFTS For another dash of holiday humor, look no further than “Christmas on the Rocks” courtesy of TheaterWorks Hartford for an encore performance, streaming until Thursday, December 31. Imagine some of your favorite childhood characters have come back to life, as adults, and are heading for a local bar on Christmas Eve. Ted Lange of “Love Boat” fame is their friendly bartender, ready and eager to hear their tales of woe and how they are faring in this cold, hard world. Come meet Ralphie Parker who did indeed get his eye shot out by his bb gun, in his gun safety class of all places. The trauma continues with a peek back to George Bailey’s daughter Zuzu who has developed an unusual fear of bells and the angels who can get their wings. It’s also time to meet the most misfit of elves, Hermie, who doesn’t like Rudolph, hates making toys for Santa and really wants to be a dentist. Be careful because Karen, the girl who created Frosty the Snowman, walks into the bar, anxious to escape the police because she has turned Frosty into a pail of frozen water with her trusty hair dryer. The cynical Tiny Tim enters cursing Christmas as a lie and a horrible one at that, no longer grateful to Scrooge for saving his life. Get your toe shoes on as the heroine of “The Nutcracker,” Clara, pirouettes in, cursing the day she married her suave cracker of nuts. Could her husband be cheating on her? Finally end on a sweet note as that perpetual loser Charlie Brown once again meets the love of his life, the little red-haired girl, and proves there is hope for the future. Stay tuned for a special quarantine edition at the end. Conceived and directed by Rob Ruggiero, the show features Randy Harrison, Jenn Harris, Matthew Wilkas and Harry Bouvy in addition to Ted Lange. Go to twhartford.org to sign up today. Another holiday treat from TWH is a jazzy evening with Ella Fitzgerald, thanks to the singing sensation Tina Fabrique, with “A Very Ella Christmas.” Curl up on the living room sofa, in front of your fireplace, for a warm and cozy concert with such favorites as “Jingle Bells,” “Let It Snow,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” among others. Go to twhartford.org to sign up for streaming tonight only. West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park offers an unusual and emotional visit of music “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” by Peter Rothstein, where German and English soldiers declared a temporary cease fire on the holiday. While the fever of war encourages eager, young lads to enlist, the reality of war soon intrudes its ugly reality. With no idea of what they are facing, both sides lay down their arms for a brief moment of compassion in a war that claimed nine million killed. Their voices raised in song are truly memorable. Go to playhouseonpark.org for details until Sunday, January 3. Bring some special joy into this holiday season with the amazing magic of streaming theater until we are able to attend in person once again.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

MERRY CHRISTMAS DARLING

Now that we are literally home for the holidays, we must work a little harder to make the season holly, jolly and bright. Goodspeed Musicals is making that mission one sprig of mistletoe easier by offering a wonderful holiday concert to stream until Sunday, December 27 with “Merry Christmas Darling” when Heidi Kettenring Sings Karen Carpenter. The joy of live performance can be yours as the music and life of Karen Carpenter are celebrated in this two hour event that ends with an interview with Heidi Kettenring where she reveals many intimate stories about her life. Elton John called Ms. Carpenter “one of the greatest voices of our lifetime” while Paul McCartney recognized her as “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.” She was born in New Haven, Connecticut and followed her older brother Richard’s passion for music. Originally she was a drummer, and a wonderful one at that, until her singing voice was discovered. Heidi Kettenring recreates her memorable voice with her unforgettable songs and then wraps them like a present in delightful anecdotes and stories about Karen’s life and how they both share many similarities. Kettenring takes the audience on a musical journey singing such tines as “Top of the World,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “A Song for You,” “Sing," ”For All We Know,” ”We’ve Only Just Begun” and “It’s Goin' Take Some Time,” to name but a few. In between we learn about her career, the men she dated like Tony Danza, Steve Martin, Mark Harmon and Alan Osmond, her best friends Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick and Olivia Newton-John, her one brief marriage, her health issues and early death as well as a selection of holiday tunes to gladden the season, like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Little Altar Boy.” Chuck Larkin is her musical director and pianist, with her band and musical accompanists as well. With her prolific background as a singer and actress, Heidi Kettenring brings a warmth and sincerity to her performance that makes Karen Carpenter real and substantial, a legendary singer who lives once again in our hearts and minds. She takes us over the rainbow with recollections and we are free to singalong in the privacy of our own living rooms to all the songs we love so well. Sweet intimate details tie the two women together, like Karen started playing the drums to get out of gym class while Heidi used choir practice to escape the same dreaded physical activities. To secure this Christmas Valentine to Karen Carpenter, for $35, go to goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668. As we bid a final farewell to the year 2020, reward yourself with a visit with this pair of “Superstars” and ask yourself “Do You Hear What I Hear?” A bit of musical heaven.