Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Smart Girls with Good Books

Hi everyone,

I fell out of the habit of writing book reviews here, but I've been reading. Here are some great books by some lovely ladies.

Carry This Book by Abbi Jacobson
Abbi Jacobson, from the great Comedy Central show Broad City, came to Sixth and I Synagogue to discuss Carry This Book in 2016. This fun book makes me happy! Each page or two shows illustrations of the personal travel bag contents of a famous person or character, including Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Oprah Winfrey, David Bowie, Indiana Jones, and Batman. Abbi included her own travel bag and – during the interview by Mike Perry, who illustrated all of the vibrant Broad City titles – talked about how she loved packing her book bag for elementary school. Mike asked the audience to raise their hands if they felt the same way, and most people did: "This defines the audience tonight," he said, "just how everyone raised their hands!"

This book is full of illustrations that are hand drawn using Prismacolor markers. (They were drawn on 18" x 24" paper to ensure the details showed up when reduced down to book size.) I loved seeing the strokes of these markers and that the author pointed out in the book itself areas where she almost made a mistake or ran out of ink. Since my cat illustrations are also hand drawn with Prismacolor markers (and include plenty of mistakes), I felt for the first time that maybe my art could be more broadly appreciated. Our mutual love/hate relationship with Prismacolor markers connects us too: Mike Perry noted, "They're a little too expensive and they always run out sooner than you think they should." And, Abbi Jacobson agreed, saying that Prismacolor markers are not her favorite markers, but they are the best markers: "I should be a spokeswoman for Prisma markers, but they haven't called me yet."

My Love Story by Tina Turner
Dad and I surprised Mom once by taking her to a concert in Cleveland. She didn't know who we were going to see, but when she came on stage, Mom exclaimed, "Oh! Tina!" I bought Tina Turner's latest memoir, My Love Story, for my mom, but I read it before I gave it to her.

Growing up in the '80s, I knew Tina Turner best from her performance in the 1985 film Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and her recent hits, including "Private Dancer" and "What's Love Got To Do With It." Also, I saw What's Love Got To Do With It, the 1993 film that chronicled her rise in the music business and her abusive relationship with Ike Turner.

My Love Story delves into how she survived that and so many other hurdles throughout her life, including a stroke, a kidney transplant, and the recent death of her son. Still, she climbed to the top of her profession and welcomed new adventures with a sunny, hopeful attitude. She found real love with German music executive Erwin Bach and a sense of home in Switzerland, where she still lives today. Tina Turner is a true living legend who sought and found her well-deserved happy ending.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I bought Amy Poehler's memoir, Yes Please, a few years ago for my sister. I borrowed it after getting hooked over the summer on Amy's latest TV show, Making It – a fun competition to discover master crafters. Before that, of course, I knew Amy Poehler from Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation, and any collaborations she does with Tina Fey.

Amy Poehler is funny, and she's smart. I loved that this book showcases both through quiet reflection and wisecracks. At times serious and hilarious, Yes Please is a memoir that covers Amy's early work on the comedy circuit, her star-making years on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation, and her new beginning, raising two boys following her divorce from fellow comedian Will Arnett. This entertaining book recalls memorable moment – including ones we all saw on TV or film – and offers words of wisdom from a smart girl trying to navigate life in the best way, just like the rest of us. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama
My friend let me borrow Becoming by Michelle Obama earlier this year. I loved reading about Michelle Obama's upbringing that revealed how she became the inspiring leader she is today. Day dreaming during the bus ride to school while watching high-powered lawyers in their business suits enter a towering skyscraper in Chicago led her to study law at Princeton and Harvard. She made it to that skyscraper's fancy office only to realize she no longer wanted to be a lawyer.

But it was there that she met Barack Obama, an intern who changed her life, and the rest is history. Michelle quit being a lawyer and shifted into community organizing and beyond. What I loved most about this book is how down to earth and approachable Michelle Obama comes across on every page. She's just a girl with big dreams and boundless support from her parents, who instilled in her that education is the key to her success.

As a politician's wife, she kept the family's priorities straight and life as normal as possible while being supportive of her husband's ambitious vision for the future. The road to the White House was a learning experience, in which every moment was scrutinized in public. In the White House, her experiences as a mother informed her initiative, Let's Move!, which tackles childhood obesity. Reading this book reminded me how everything the Obamas did during their time in the White House supported inclusion and diversity that better reflected this country's citizens and ideals.

All the while, Michelle Obama has held herself with grace under the brightest of spotlights, traveling the world and leading by example. Now, she has reinvented herself again as a best-selling author. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Happy reading,

Monday, June 03, 2019

2018 in Review: From Movies to Musical Theatre

Hi everyone,

In 2018, I had good intentions to write my reviews in a timely manner. I started off by writing about two trips to the theatre in early January to see An American in Paris and Meteor Shower.  Then, I got sidetracked by job hunting, job getting, and yet more job hunting – so much for my plans. Here I am a year and a half later to tell you about my other trips to the theatre in 2018, to see musical versions of some of my favorite films, WaitressDave, and Beetlejuice.

Waitress at National Theatre (May 16)
Last April when my dad visited, we ended up in the Hill Center after walking through Eastern Market. This community center offers cooking and art classes, performances, and so much more; we went there to see the art galleries, populated by local artists. While we were there, I tossed my name into a raffle for two free tickets to see Waitress, the musical, at National Theatre...and I won!

I loved this musical! Based faithful on the 2007 film and directed by Diane Paulus, this show added wonderful songs by Sara Bareilles and fun dances (choreographed by Lorin Latarro). With a new book by Jessie Nelson, the story follows Jenna (Desi Oakley), a talented piemaker who works at a local cafe and dreams of winning an upcoming pie contest so that she can use the prize money to escape her bad marriage and start a new life. When she discovers that she's pregnant, her plan becomes even more urgent.

As the movie does so well, this show explores the serious topics that come with complicated relationships while keeping it funny, bright, and touching. The cast, including fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn (Charity Angel Dawson and Lenna Klingaman), created quirky, memorable characters, who kept us laughing. A particular standout was Jeremy Morse, who played Ogie, Dawn's persistent suitor, whose performance was reminiscent of Ray Bolger's physical comedy.

Go see Waitress, the musical, on Broadway or on tour. It leaves you with a good feeling and a craving for pie.

Dave at Arena Stage (July 24)
I questioned whether I'd like to see Dave, the musical, since I remember Kevin Kline so clearly as Dave in the 1993 film. I got over this unfair reason not to see something new, and enjoyed this interpretation, written by Thomas Meehan and Neil Benjamin and directed by Tina Landau.

The story is faithful adaptation of the film; it's about a guy, Dave (Drew Gehling), who impersonates the president for fun on the weekends. He does such a good job that the White House staff enlists him to fill in for the president on various occasions. However, as soon as he's brought in, the president has a medical crisis, and Dave has to fill in while the staff figure out what to do. Eventually, Dave figures out that not all of the staff members have the country's best interest at heart, so he starts making his own decisions. Don't worry, it all works out in the end.

Arena Stage put on this pre-Broadway run. I think I would have enjoyed it more if normal things were happening in the White House right now. I couldn't help but feel that elephant in the room the whole time, but I still liked the show. The writers made smart updates, changing Dave's job from temp agency manager to history teacher so that he knew how the government worked already and adding some social media elements and influence to the story. Classic moments from the film were incorporated into the show, but it became its own fun presentation, with funny songs, creative choreography, and great performances – my favorites being by Bryohna Marie Parham and Josh Breckenridge as White House staffers in charge of PR and security, respectively.

I don't see that Dave is on Broadway now, and I'm not sure what that means. Maybe someone in the White House is tinkering with it.

Beetlejuice at National Theatre (October 31)
I don't think Tim Burton was involved with this musical production of his classic 1988 film, Beetlejuice. I also worried that I'd miss seeing Michael Keaton in the title role. Still, when this world-premiere musical arrived at National Theatre ahead of its Broadway run, I was eager to see how director Alex Timbers converted Tim Burton's vision for the stage, and I was happily surprised. While the foundation of this show is the 1989 film, it has a new book by writers Scott Brown and Anthony King with twists in the storyline that makes it its own beast.

Like the movie, the main characters, loving couple Barbara and Adam (Kerri Butler and Rob Mcclure) accidentally die and haunt their home as new tenants move in. The new family's teenage daughter Lydia (Sophia Ann Caruso), who shares a kinship with the undead, is the only one who can see them and the degenerate demon, Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman), whom they'd contacted for help with navigating the afterlife. The new twist here is that Lydia, who never feels like she fits in on Earth with her dad and stepmother, tries to follow them into the afterlife to find her deceased mother.

While this all sounds heavy, it's not. Don't worry, this otherworldly adventure brings father and daughter closer together, and Beetlejuice is as over the top as ever. This show is raunchier than the original story, and I'm not sure I agree with that change: it's not as kid-friendly as the beloved film, but all the adults in the audience roared with laughter so consistently and loudly that my friend and I both commented on it afterward. (Maybe there was something in the air for this Halloween performance.)

I appreciated that this show built something new, different, and exciting out of something so familiar to fans. Everyone screamed when Lydia exclaimed the classic line, "I myself am strange and unusual," and when some of Tim Burton's memorable afterlife puppets showed up. But with catchy songs by Eddie Perfect, fun dances by Connor Gallagher, and impressive puppets of their own, this version of Beetlejuice is a fresh take.

Check out Beetlejuice on Broadway now. It's up for eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Watch the Tonys at 8 p.m. on CBS on June 9th to see if it wins!