May 2nd, 2011


We interrupt this blog for a moment of solemn thanks at the news of the long-overdue demise of Osama Bin Laden, terrorist leader and Public Enemy Number One.

I am not surprised that Bin Laden was not taken alive. I don't think he would have allowed himself to be put on display as an American prisoner. Frankly, that he was shot while resisting being apprehended solves a lot of issues, not least that of extradition from Pakistan, as well as the problem of where or when he could ever have been put on trial, let alone safely detained.

One supposes it's too much to expect that Al-Quaida, which has become used to operating in a decentralized manner of necessity, will suffer a general morale collapse and lapse into irrelevancy, but we can always hope.

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Falls Patio Players, "Annie"

On Friday night the 29th, we drove up to the North Junior High School auditorium in Monomonee Falls, for the Falls Patio Players' production of "Annie," the musical based on the now defunct "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip.

We went particularly because our friend,Lillian Sullivan, was in the chorus, but also because the show is rather special to us, as one of our first dates was to see a travelling production at the Madison Civic Center.

The Falls Patio Players are generally regarded as one of the top community theatre groups in the area, and this production showed why. There was an impressive array of good looking sets, mostly period appropriate costumes, and very good lighting and sound. "Annie" is not a big dancing show, but what dancing there was, was adequate to the purpose. I've always thought that one of the challenges for local groups putting on the show is the scene involving the dog, Sandy, and this showed why--"Riley",in the role of Sandy, slithered out of his collar on stage, but fortunately didn't do anything more awkward than run back and forth, the "back" part being inspired by the pocket full of doggie treats Madeline McNichols was supplied with. Extra props to her for handling the glitch with fair style and not getting rattled!(Frankly, I don't understand why a local director wouldn't just cut this scene. Yes, it can be cute, but doesn't advance the plot and Sandy disappears soon after--.)

The show had an excellent cast. Of course the role of Annie is critical, and 5ht grader Madeline McNichols was excellent. She has a fine voice but is not over-schooled, so she sounds like a "real" girl. She has good stage presence and handled all her scenes very well, although she could use a bit more movement when singing as she tends to stand rather stiffly. That is a minor criticism, however, for a very strong performance. Tom Horrigan filled the other vital role of Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Horrigan looked great, and acted and sung very well. Horrigan's voice was a bit lighter than I expected in this role (Warbucks tends to be done with the "booming" voice, especially when speaking) but I was very pleased with Horrigan, who made the billionaire less of a caricature and more of a vulnerable figure whose affection for Annie is quite believable.

Ceri Hartnett was also very entertaining as the gin-soaked harridan Miss Hannigan, and was well-supported by Jeff Anderson as her no-goodnik brother Rooster, and Allison Chicorel as his moll, Lily St. Regis.

There was one unfortunately weak portrayal in the show, and that was David A. Robins in the admittedly difficult role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Robins' FDR impression was weak at best, and absent much of the time. Given all the money laid out on sets and costumes, couldn't the Players have sprung for a toupee for Robins? The fact that he's partly bald and has the rest of his head near-shaved did not help his projection of character.

The Players presented very good sounding and well-drilled ensemble of children and of adults, and a nice orchestra that did not drown out the singers, all of which added to our considerable enjoyment.

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Dead Man's Carnival

Saturday night, April 30 (Walpurgisnacht, very appropriate--) we went to the Turner Hall Ballroom for "Dead Man's Carnival" a show combining live music and song, strip-tease in the classic Burlesque style, and what are billed as "carnival side-show acts". The show has a rather retro package and we were put on to it by our friends in the Steampunk community, so we decided to dress Steampunk-which made us two of six at the show, the others being our friends Chuck Tritt, Julieann Hunter, and Mary Prince, the sixth being a gentleman from Milwaukee whose name I didn't catch, but who had a very nifty stainless steel (yes!) top hat. We got lots of compliments on our outfits, and several strangers asked to have their pictures taken with the "Steampunk table." (Dead Man's Carnval had previously done a "Steampunk Victorian Ball" in 2010.)

As we settled in, juggler "Gypsy Geoff", who shares front man duties with "Sir Pinkerton", lead man for the band, "Sir Pinkerton and the Magnificents;" was warming up the crowd. Geoff performed a number of juggling routines during the show, and he is a very good and creative juggler indeed. The show was a "release party" for the band's first CD, and we got a good sample of their music during the performance, which has been described as "American Roots Traditions", taking references from ragtime, boogie-woogie and "old time jazz."

The Burlesque portions of the show were provided by Miss Vee Valentine, a member of the Brew City Bombshells Burlesque collective, who presented some classic routines, including a very elegant fan dance, a humorous "bubble dance", and a basic strip-tease, all of which were quite tasteful and not TOO risque, although getting down to pasties and g-string.

Carnival acts included juggling by Geoff and others, featuring a beautiful sequence on a darkened stage using lighted clubs and balls. There was a strong man act by "Titano" who did things such as driving nails with his bare hands, and a very clever acrobatic act by "Eli, the Human Coin," which involved spinning himself inside a six-foot diameter steel hoop. There was also a hand-balancing act, and hula-hoop act, but, since the show didn't provide any sort of program, I didn't catch the performer's names. "Sir Pinkerton" is one of the harder-working band front men, since, not only did he demonstrate the infamous "Blockhead" carnie act (which involves tapping an ice pick into one's nasal cavity with a hammer--), but also performed a male strip which went down to socks and a (strategically placed) hat.

Indeed, this was billed as an adults-only show, but the stripping was actually quite tame. The lyrics and routines for a couple of the songs raised my eyebrows a good bit more, notably "Sweet Young Boys," delivered by Sarai (sp?), celebrating the joys of sex with underage men, and one by The Magnificents' female keyboard player about addiction to "crystal meth" done in an "Irish" style with some step dancing. (Think of an updated, uncensored, redo of Tom Lerher's "Irish Ballad" and you'll have an idea.) (We encountered the singer's mother in the audience selling the band's CDs. She gets my award for most supportive stage mom--.) Since the songs were played for laughs, it took some of the edge off and kept them reasonably in the area of "adult entertainment."

Sir Pinkerton described the show as "self-taught circus," and you could see that. There were a number of "misses" in the carnival acts, but which made them all the more endearing, and we enjoyed their efforts just as much as we did the almost inhuman precision of Cirque du Soleil.

One thing that was both amateurish and annoying was the use of the smoke machine. Smoke machines are the poor-man's special effect, and everyone that gets one tends to overuse it. Modern portable machines end to use either an oil solution or a fine powder, which is safer to handle than the hot-water/dry ice fog method. However, any airborne particle tends to touch off Georgie's asthma, so I was a bit ticked off to see the fogger running through the entirety of a rather long intermission, in a vain attempt to haze the stage for the illuminated juggling act that opened the second half. Fortunately, we were far enough back that most of it didn't reach us, but this wouldn't have been the first show we had to flee when the air got too thick. The fog really didn't do much for any of the numbers, as the only place it was effective was the back corner of the stage nearest the machine itself. Since they are local, I will try to contact them with a bit of advice--.

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