Thursday, March 04, 2010

biblical proportion

If "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" were not already a famous Broadway show, you could have easily convinced me that it was written expressly for the Miracle Theater. The production and the venue are a perfect fit for one another. Melinda Doolittle, who finished behind only Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis on "American Idol," stars as the Narrator. Melinda's strong voice is put to good use, especially in her big solo number at the start of the second act. The rest of the cast is just as good. Justin Meyer plays Joseph.

The music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice was oddly familiar even though it was the first time I had ever seen the show. Several genres of popular music are referenced and parodied. The Pharaoh is an Elvis look-alike and the character of Potiphar had some dance moves just like the Hitler character in "The Producers." A cowboy dance number sounded like an Aaron Copland opus. A reggae tune sounded like it could have inspired the great Ashman & Menken when they were writing "The Little Mermaid" some twenty years after "Joseph" debuted.

My wife and I thought that some of the music sounded a lot like Webber & Rice's next rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar." After the show, Jim Hedrick and David Fee said that they hope to bring more stars to Pigeon Forge after Melinda Doolittle ends her run. They also want to bring more Broadway-type shows to the Miracle Theater. My wife immediately said that she would like to see her favorite Idol winner, David Cook, starring in "Jesus Christ Superstar."

The Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group hosted a performance and VIP reception for local business people tonight. Employees of several media outlets, myself included, were invited as well. I saw people I knew from my previous radio jobs and some people I have interviewed, including Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.

A former improv brother of mine, Justin Benoit, was there with a professional video camera in hand. He now works for Fee/Hedrick as a videographer. Before the show, he recorded me taking advantage of the free camel rides offered to the invited guests. At intermission, he shot footage of WBIR's Michele Silva and me saying what we thought of the show so far.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009


The actors in "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" at Dollywood are better than the material they have to work with. To be honest, the material isn't all that bad. The simple story revolves around a young girl who wishes that Santa will help her brother and sister travel home for Christmas. All the cast members have excellent singing voices, so the more music the better.

A corny subplot with some mice looking for cookies didn't work for me. The two lead mice imitated Abbott & Costello, including part of the famous "Who's On First?" routine. My other gripe was with a supporting cast member who played several parts including a mouse, a sailor and a neighbor of the main characters. He looked to be a better dancer than the others but I felt that he was trying to steal the spotlight by turning his er... flamboyance up to eleven.

My wife knows the family of gifted ten-year-old actress Amelia Bryant, who plays Grace Baxter in the show. Her acting is natural and her singing voice is strong. We sat with Amelia's parents and siblings at one of the three performances tonight. We were supposed to be there for the 5:00 p.m. show but ended up at the 7:00 show after we got stuck in traffic on Chapman Highway. Apparently the road was closed for the annual Seymour Christmas Parade. I'm kicking myself for not knowing about the parade. I could have either avoided it or volunteered to be in it.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

kick it

Something in the News Feed on Facebook intrigued me last week. One of my acquaintances posted a note titled "Memphis Bucket List" containing items such as "been to Graceland" and "met Justin Timberlake." There were also dozens of things that would only make sense to a Memphis resident. Technically, it is a meme for other Memphians to mark off their own accomplishments.

It got me started writing my own Knoxville Bucket List. It's not groundbreaking or anything, it's just for fun. All of the 25 items listed so far are things I've already done. I deliberately kept the focus on Knoxville, although it certainly would be worth writing an East Tennessee Bucket List too. Also, I have only listed things that could still be accomplished in the future. In other words, I left off "met Cas Walker," even though I think it would have been interesting to have met the man. I invite you to add to the list via the comments section and to help me think of the things I haven't done yet. If you want to turn it into a meme, copy and paste the list into your own blog or Facebook note and put an X next to the things you've done.

my Knoxville Bucket List
Okay, your turn!

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Monday, February 16, 2009

force of habit

In an effort to see at least some of the Oscar nominees before the awards ceremony, my wife and I watched "Doubt" this afternoon. The story takes place in 1964, before people became aware of the failings of an organization which is built on the forgiveness of sins but exists in a society that requires justice and demands vengeance.

The film is set at a fictional parish in the Bronx within walking distance of the Parkchester neighborhood where my mother grew up. Most impressive was Meryl Streep's perfect accent. She sounded exactly like my Aunt Marion, with maybe a dash of Aunt Grace thrown in. The parish school is run by the Sisters of Charity, an actual order which has put information about the movie on their website.

The first time Father Flynn did the sign of the cross during Mass, I absentmindedly crossed myself along with the onscreen congregation. In that scene, Sister Aloysius hits a disruptive child on the back of the head. I wanted to her to do the same thing to a disruptive audience member at the Regal Downtown West Cinema 8.

My wife said that they used the modern arrangement of "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" instead of the old-school version of the tune. Also, they had the priest deliver his sermons following a hymn instead of right after the gospel proclamation. Several scenes are so theatrical that you can't help but be reminded that the film was adapted from a stage play. There were also a couple of times when the camera is tilted on an angle, just like when a villain's lair was shown on the old "Batman" series.

I hope Viola Davis wins for Best Supporting Actress. There was one emotional scene that should clinch it for her. It's the one where her nose starts running. I may feel differently after I see "The Wrestler," but for now I'm pulling for Viola.

I came out of the theater whistling "Blame it on the Bossa Nova," which is featured during a small scene in the film. It reminded me of an interview I did with Emily Procter when I had a show on the Comedy World Radio Network. At the time, she had a part on "The West Wing." I was rather smitten with her Ainsley Hayes character because of a well-known bathrobe bossa nova scene. I tracked down a copy of the song, which wasn't quite as easy then as it is now, and played it for her during the interview.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

clap on

The promise of free cake brought a crowd to Gay Street this evening. The city closed off a block to accommodate all the people. The cake came from MagPies Cakes, which has sent a competitor to a Food Network Challenge in the past. A chewy white fondant covered two layers of chocolate cake. The best part was the chocolate stuff between the cake layers. The cake itself was a bit too dry, like most wedding cakes.

While we were all there, the Bijou Theatre board threw the switch to illuminate their new marquee and vertical blade sign. Fans can buy a bulb and get their name on a plaque in the theatre as part of the "Light Up the Bijou" campaign. Einstein Simplified bought two bulbs to commemorate our performance at the Bijou on Friday at 5:00 p.m.

To me, it looked like all three television stations sent their own cameras to the press event. WBIR's story is already online. State Senator Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam both read from proclamations honoring the Bijou's 100th anniversary. Burchett chose to fist bump everyone rather than shake hands while joking that he had originated the move. Haslam got a big laugh when he mentioned that throughout its history, the Bijou's building had housed movies, parked cars and ladies of the evening.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

news centennial

The Bijou Theatre opened on March 8, 1909 in downtown Knoxville. It escaped the wrecking ball about 35 years ago and was beautifully renovated in 2006. The Bijou 100 Year Jubilee will celebrate the venue with four days of performances at the end of January, including an appearance by your favorite improv group!

I attended the announcement of the Jubilee this afternoon. WBIR sent a crew and News Sentinel reporter Amy McRary was there asking questions. Mayor Bill Haslam, Ashley Capps and Larsen Jay all made some remarks, followed by Marshal Andy who sang a little bit. The Marshal will recreate the Saturday morning children's shows of old on January 31. He plans to screen The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals during the hour-long presentation. In between films, he will sing, do some rope tricks and teach the kids in the live audience to yodel.

Of course, the highlight for me is that Einstein Simplified will perform on the main stage at the Bijou. We will do a one-hour set on Friday, January 30 at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are only $5, despite what it currently says on the Jubilee site. I am psyched about being on the same stage where the Marx Brothers once did a live show.

If you've never come to our regular Tuesday night show at Patrick Sullivan's because it runs too late or because you have to work the next day or because you don't want to be seen coming out of a bar, here's your chance. No excuses!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

fertile crescent of imagination

Farragut High School was the scene of comical murder and mayhem this past weekend. My wife and I were invited to attend a performance of "Broadway Babylon" on Saturday night. We had gotten to know the school's drama teacher, Lea McMahan, when she used to come to see Einstein Simplified shows. Lea directed the play, which starred her talented students. She correctly thought that I would enjoy seeing the partially improvised production.

As the Farragut Press reported last week, I was asked to arrive in a limousine. What they didn't tell you is that my wife and I got into the limo in the loading dock area outside the backstage door. The car only drove us around the building. Students playing paparazzi photographed my wife and me as we got out of the limo and walked the red carpet into the high school.

Radio production whiz Gene Wooten did the sound for the production. He does an incredible job of hiding tiny microphones on the actors. They had flesh-colored mics on their foreheads, with the wire hidden in their hair or under their wig.

The play is an interactive murder mystery that the audience is encouraged to solve. The printed program had spaces to write down the clues uncovered throughout the night. They changed the ending at each performance to make a different character the murderer. The reviewer from the Farragut Press was there the same night as me. While they were changing the endings, I felt that they could have also changed a few outdated '80s references to Oliver North and Fawn Hall. However, the actors were great. Most of them were better than the cast of a college musical I saw recently.

I was surprised to find that they made me and another audience member suspects in the murder. We were brought up on stage and questioned as to our whereabouts during the crime. I said that I was in the fourth row, aisle seat when it happened. Later, the detective character suggested that I had reason to want the victim to be dead. I said, "I may have had motive but I didn't have opportunity." In addition to all the other fun, they had cake at intermission! Mmm... cake.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

change is just around the corner

During the heated political campaigns of my youth, I would ride my bicycle down to the local Republican and Democrat headquarters to get free campaign buttons for my collection. Amidst all the Nixon, McGovern, Ford and Carter pins that I stored in a huge maraschino cherry jar from Baskin-Robbins were my two of my favorite buttons: "Wally Ballou for Mayor" and "Wintergreen for President." Both are fictional candidates. Wally Ballou was a creation of radio greats Bob & Ray. John P. Wintergreen is the lead character in a musical by George & Ira Gershwin and George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind.

"Of Thee I Sing"
is about a presidential candidate who knew he was unelectable based on the issues and decided to run on emotion instead. His advisers choose a one-word platform that, "everybody's interested in and that doesn't matter a damn!" John P. Wintergreen was swept into office on a platform of "love." The satirical show features songs such as "Love Is Sweeping the Country" and "Who Cares?"

My wife and I took in a student performance of the Gershwin musical while visiting with family members over the weekend. I knew I had seen a televised production of the play back in the '70s but could not recall any of the plot points or songs. As I watched the students sing and dance, I kept trying to remember who played those same parts in the TV version. The president was easy. I could picture Carroll O'Connor's face on my Wintergreen campaign button. However his running mate, Alexander Throttlebottom, and his First Lady, Mary Turner, stumped me. The young lady we saw playing Mary had a beautiful, operatic singing voice.

Thankfully IMDB came to my rescue. Throttlebottom was played by Jack Gilford, who I mainly remember from some old Cracker Jack commercials. During the play I kept thinking that Wintergreen's wife was played by another television star, maybe even O'Connor's "All in the Family" costar Jean Stapleton. However her off-key singing as Edith Bunker made me think it had to be someone else. Still, I was quite surprised to find out that the lovely Mary Turner was played by the same woman dancing across my TV tonight, Cloris Leachman.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

all of the above

There are three possible reasons why I truly enjoyed Krisha Newport's performance in "Cactus Flower" at Theatre Knoxville Downtown. a) she's a friend of mine; b) she's remarkably talented; or c) she has the best part in the play. My wife and I were part of today's matinée audience.

Krisha plays the spinster nurse who just may bloom like the cactus on her desk. That same character was portrayed on Broadway by Lauren Bacall and in the movie by Ingrid Bergman. Those are some heavy-duty actresses. They try to trick you into thinking that the story is about a pretty young girl (Oscar winner Goldie Hawn in the movie, Brenda Vaccaro on Broadway) depressed over her affair with a dentist. In reality, the nurse is the linchpin on whom the whole plot turns.

I found a scene from the movie on YouTube. It seems a little sluggish compared to the play, which is a quick-witted farce. It has enough of a plot twist to keep you guessing how the romantic partnerships will work out. Krisha's character, Stephanie, could end up with the writer, the actor, the diplomat or the dentist. Her red wig put me in mind of another great comedic actress, Carol Burnett.

Pat and Morgan Fitch are in the cast as the rich patient and the struggling actor. In real life, they once invited me over to see their pet turtles. After another actress dropped out, Pat offered to play two parts. A different wig and costume transformed her into the actor's girlfriend. In a compliment to her technique, I didn't realize that the second character was also her until the curtain call.

"Cactus Flower" runs for two more weekends. The News Sentinel had a nice write up about the show the week before it opened. Theatre Knoxville is housed in a little space across the street from Regas Restaurant that I had overlooked until now. I'll be back for Krisha's next show.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

just a Broadway baby

The Tony Awards are a week from tonight. I thought they had already passed until I saw a listing for them in the "What to Watch" column in Entertainment Weekly.

In my entire life I've only seen two shows on Broadway and one of them shouldn't count. My high school prom date and I went to see a legitimate play called "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" It wasn't very funny and there was no sign of Colin Mochrie or Ryan Stiles. My first Broadway experience came when my parents gave me a pair of tickets to "Beatlemania" for my birthday. I had asked for the tickets because of the constant commercials on New York television. It's more of a concert than a play. Worse yet, I bought the original cast album.

At a recent family reunion, I met a precocious relative who has already seen about twenty-five shows on Broadway. He reads and and The New York Times for theater reviews. Oh yeah, he's only eleven years old. Nothing I could write here would do him justice. Instead please enjoy a nine minute podcast interview with him. Like me, you can listen to him in slack-jawed amazement.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

habit forming

In his homily this morning, Fr. Michael Woods quoted from Terry Mattingly's syndicated religion column, which was in yesterday's News Sentinel. It's not yet available online, but should turn up on Mattingly's site soon.

The headline of the column says it all: "Catholics, evangelicals see sins in different light." A survey by Ellison Research says that 100 percent of evangelical Protestants believe adultery is sinful but only 82 percent of Catholics agree. Similarly more evangelicals than Catholics believed racism (96% to 79%), premarital sex (92% to 47%), and abortion (94% to 74%) were sins. Naturally one must wonder which Catholics were polled. If you asked only the people I know, Catholics would have scored much higher.

The survey defined Catholics as someone who attends Mass at least once a month or more. Evangelicals were defined as Protestants who believed in statements such as "the Bible is the written word of God and is totally accurate in all that it teaches." I'm fine with the way the pollsters identified evangelicals but not so sure about the way they chose their Catholics.

Let's say that a survey respondent went to the minimum one Mass a month. That's 12 Masses and 40 misses per year or a 23% attendance record. A "passing grade" of 70% would require a churchgoer to show up at least 3 times a month. I think they would have gotten a more accurate idea of Catholic opinions if they had asked respondents to say whether or not they believed in Church doctrine like transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception, etc.

I once won a small prize for knowing my Catholicism. My wife and I were at a performance of "Late Nite Catechism" in Los Angeles. "Sister" asked if any of us knew the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. I told the class audience that we celebrate the conception of Mary, not Jesus, on December 8. The conception of Jesus is marked by the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. Both dates are nine months before the celebrations of the respective births. I got a little plastic statue of Mary. Thanks Sister!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

buy 'em before you can buy 'em

Not that you needed one but here's yet another reason to attend tonight's Einstein Simplified comedy improv show at Patrick Sullivan's in the Old City. Street team members from the Tennessee Theatre will be on hand to distribute invitations for you to buy pre-sale tickets to "An Evening with Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood." Their two man improv show was originally scheduled for October. The date has been changed to Sunday, December 2. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10:00 a.m, unless you have the pre-sale invitation password. The pre-sale tickets will be sold Thursday but only through the Tennessee Theatre website. If you can wait until Friday, you can save some money on service charges by buying your tickets in person at the box office. The show description on the Colin & Brad website gives a good reason to buy seats near the stage:
The show is all about audience participation. Everything in the show is based on audience suggestions and many audience members are brought up on stage to be part of the craziness. The entire evening is completely improvised, and best of all, the show is never the same twice.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

never too late to have beautiful skin

Thanks to Frank Strovel for pointing out that Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood are bringing their two man improv show to the Tennessee Theatre on Sunday, October 21. Colin was a regular and Brad was a frequent guest star on the great show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

I am curious how the cities were chosen for the Colin & Brad tour. Did they look for college towns? Or is there a chance that they picked Knoxville because our local improv group is usually at the top of the worldwide Improvisation Top 50?

Speaking of local improv, the footage of Einstein Simplified that I mentioned a week ago was supposed to be on TV at 11:30 tonight and subsequent Mondays. Some unexpected production delays kept it from airing last week. If the Victoria Principal infomercial that's on right now is any indication, there must have been more unforeseen delays. At least now I know whatever happened to Jules Asner.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

this old Wodehouse

Shawn Green hit a foul ball into the Dreamseats just before his walk-off home run Monday night. I had flipped over to ESPN in time to see the end of the game between the Mets and the Cardinals. Unfortunately, tonight's game didn't end as well.

The Dreamseats are luxurious leather recliners near the foul poles. A brief video on their website shows the seats in use and concludes with an address in Hauppauge. They may sell them from New York, but every Dreamseat is manufactured in Tennessee.

The reference to Hauppauge made me think of an old song from a musical that mentions several places we would pass on the way to Grandma's house. I thought that Hauppauge might have been one of the villages in the lyrics. But as it turns out, the song goes: "let's build a little bungalow in Quogue, in Yaphank or in Hicksville or Patchogue."

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

neat, sweet, petite

The dark chocolate bandwagon recently picked up some Snickers for the ride. Milky Way has had a great dark chocolate bar for a long time. I finally tried a Snickers Dark Mini at Sam's Club the other day. If I were a NASCAR fan, I might have already known about these.

It was pretty good but my favorite "mass market" dark chocolate is still M&Ms. Snickers, Milky Way, M&Ms and CocoaVia, the "healthy chocolate," are all made by the same company. When I first heard "The Addams Family" theme in the M&Ms Dark Chocolate commercial, I was very much amused.

Hearing the familiar music made me think about the upcoming Addams Family musical. Perhaps to avoid a situation similar to what happened when the TV version debuted the same year as "The Munsters," the Addams musical won't make it to Broadway until two years after the "Young Frankenstein" musical. Frederick, Igor, Inga and the rest hit the Great White Way this fall.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

animal adventures

Posters around Market Square promote several upcoming shows at the spectacular Tennessee Theatre. The one that caught my eye proudly announced "Jungle Jack Hanna." As you can see, it shows the famous zookeeper with an elephant.

What kind of stage show should Jack Hanna do? Song and dance? Scholarly lecture? Magic tricks? A circus act? Wouldn't it be false advertising if the elephant doesn't take the stage with him? Until today, I had no idea that Jack is originally from Knoxville. Maybe that's why he's coming to town on Monday night.

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