Ernie- a grand slam

ernie_playI knew going in that I would enjoy this play. I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell on the radio, was horrified when he was fired by the Tigers, relieved when he was re-hired, and sad at his eventual passing.

But I surprised at how truly enjoyable it was.

“Ernie” is set on Ernie Harwell’s last night at Comerica, when the Hall of Fame broadcaster is about to give a moving thank you to a grateful city.  Just before he walks onto the grassy field, he encounters an unusual boy who is eager to know all about him, coaxing Harwell into giving one final broadcast – the “broadcast of his life.”

The play, written by long time Detroit sport columnist Mitch Albom, recounts Harwell’s life, the highs (many), the lows (few) and his amazing journey through the game of baseball from the minor leagues in Atlanta, to the majors in New York, and finally to his adopted home Detroit.

Recounting his meetings with baseball greats Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams, to regional stars like Mark “the Bird” Fidrich and Sparky Andersen, the play reveals Harwell’s love of baseball and people he met during his journey including the players and fans who loyally listened to his broadcasts.

Ernie is played by local actor Will David Young who embodies not only Ernie’s distinctive speech patterns but his mannerisms as well. The portrayal is simply amazing.

I have no problem admitting that I was moved to tears during the performance. Any fan of Ernie Harwell and Tiger baseball owe it to themselves to see this play while they can.

Ernie the Play

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Rock of Ages Movie Adaptation Lands with a Thud













Rock of Ages movie review. Fans of the musical, Rock of Ages, are familiar with the tale of star-crossed lovers Drew Bolie (AKA Wolfgang Van Colt) and Sherri Christian who seek musical fame in Hollywood only to have their dreams hijacked along the way. Drew, whose dream is to be a rock god, instead finds himself in a foolish boy band while the only spotlight Sherrie finds is at the local strip club.

Unfortunately, Rock of Ages the musical was similiarly corrupted when it went to Hollywood to become a feature presentation.  The formula for a jukebox musical is pretty straightforward, jam some well known tunes into an entertaining story and let the music do the heavy lifting. Done well (Rock of Ages, Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You) and you have  an fun night at the theater, done poorly (Movin Out) and end up with a crap-tastic disaster.

The movie version of Rock of Ages cuts down on the music (!) and foregoes Lonny as the musical narrator (one the best the parts) for weak dialog exposition.

The resulting mess is boring slog of bad dialog. Much of the humor and cultural references from have also been completely excised. The changes turn a tongue-in-cheek romp into a bad a parody of Spinal Tap. Characters have been completely re-written and expanded in an attempt to get as much mileage as possible from the all-star (?) cast.

And here is probably where things went wrong in production. The Stacey Jaxx character while a memorable supporting character in the stage production is played by Tom Cruise, and here he’s the main emphasis of the show. You can imagine his agent sitting down with the producers…OK, Mr. Cruise is interested but we’re going to need some re-writes. First, the character won’t have a weird fetish for baby llamas…and rather than just being a stoned-out rocker he needs to be a on spiritual journey, and uh, the character needs a happy ending…

In a case of bizarre casting, Alec Baldwin takes the role of Dennis Dupree manager of the Bourbon Club. Baldwin does obnoxious well but seems completely miscast here.

The movie catches a little wind near the end but its not nearly enough to save it.

The stage musical worked by relying on music, humor, and ended with a nice moral-

Sherrie and Drew move to Glendale and start a family. Lonny notes that on The Strip, sometimes the dreams with which you enter are not always the dreams with which you leave, but they still rock.

The movie ditches this ending for feel good big stadium-sized finale. Big stars, big ending, big budget. It’s not enough for Sherrie and Drew to move to settle down in suburbia, they need to be big rock stars too! Stacey Jaxx needs to find love and a family! Dennis doesn’t die!

Amazingly this movie failed on two fronts. It’s hard to imagine that fans of the musical will enjoy the changes made to the story and equally hard to imagine that anyone would want to see the musical after this mess of a movie.

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Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert Review

Had a chance to the see the 25th Anniversary Les Miserables concert at our local theater here in Ann Arbor.

Les Mis is one of my favorite musicals and I’ve seen it performed a number of times from local touring productions, to Broadway and in the London West End so I brought many preference to how I prefer each part to be performed.

First the technical production was good, it was displayed digitally and the picture quality only broke up a few times and even then it didn’t detract that much.  I would have preferred a little more volume but overall the sound mix was good.

The cast was very accomplished, and did the material the credit.  My only disappointment was that I prefer the  Javert role to be performed by a “low” baritone to contrast with Valjean which is usually a tenor.

One annoyance was that the Marius role was played by pop sensation Nick Jonas whose pained facial expression is matched by the audience when he sings.  Seriously, I had almost convinced myself that he wasn’t *that* bad  until the concert cast was joined by the original 1985 cast in an encore, and the 1985 ‘Marius” reminded me what a truly talented performer could bring to role.

Overall the concert is well worth seeing and will be available on DVD.  One note is that this might not be the best introduction for someone who has never see the full stage production.  The show has been edited down (most of which I heartedly agree with) but some of the scene transitions may confuse someone unfamiliar with the stage production.

An added bonus is the previously mentioned encore where the 1985 cast joins the concert cast and members of the current London production.

A final note, as much as I love Les Miserable the Musical, anyone who enjoys it should really take time to read the original book by Victor Hugo which is an amazing work.  Knowing the back-stories and connections between the characters detailed by Hugo adds extra layers of depth to the musical.

You can video and images from the concert on the official site  here and many unofficial clips on youtube.

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Encore Theatre in Dexter, Michigan

Last Saturday, I had a great experience at the Encore Theatre in Dexter, Michigan.  On a lark, my wife and I decided to take in a production of Damn Yankees.

The production was very entertaining.  The cast, made up of company regulars and bolstered by guest stars, was top flight.  The theatre itself sounded great with comfortable seating and the eight rows made for an intimate venue.  An added bonus to the evening was a post-show cabaret showcasing musical numbers ranging from Wicked, Les Miserables, Suessical, Evita and many others.

Being a fan of musical theater, I’ve seen many productions on Broadway, in Toronto, and the London West End, and countless touring productions and can honestly say that the talent on display at the Encore was outstanding.  The Encore is a true gem and I highly recommend it.

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Avenue Q Michigan Theater Ann Arbor, MI

Upon returning from New York, our musical binge continued with a touring edition of Avenue Q.

Avenue Q is a musical that blends puppets and live actors in a profane, witty musical- think Sesame Street with adult themes.  It tells the story of recent college graduate as he moves to the big city and learns about unemployment, romance, and how the real reason the internet was invented.

Avenue Q was entertaining and fun but not exactly for everyone.  It’s definitely not for children but anyone who grew up with Sesame Street will probably appreciate as its conventions are used to tell a tale for grown-ups.

Avenue Q Wikipedia Entry

Avenue Q Official Site

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Rock of Ages on Broadway

Recently in New York, my wife and I saw Rock of Ages on Broadway.  Rock of Ages continues the trend of musicals based on popular music.  For those who haven’t seen a show like this, popular sons are fused together and performed to move the plot of the show along.

Rock of Ages is based on rock anthems of the 1980s and follows in the footsteps of Mamma Mia! (Abba), We Will Rock You (Queen), and Movin Out (Billy Joel).

The show follows the journey of a young couple as they try to make it big in the Los Angeles music scene.  These shows work best if you’re familiar the music, much of the of entertainment value comes from hearing the music performed live and hearing the songs wedged into the plot.  Songs from Journey, Styx, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Whitesnake, Steve Perry, and Twisted Sister among others are featured.

Overall, Rock of Ages is a hoot.  The musical performances rock, and the it’s definitely a show that you can go and have a good time.  It’s the rare broadway show that doesn’t take itself too seriously as the cast interacts with the audience and mocks the conventions of musical theater.  You know you’re in for a different kind of show when cocktail waitresses are selling cans of beer to the audience as they enter the theater.

I highly recommend this show especially if you were a fan of this musical era.

Rock of Ages Wikipedia Entry

Rock Of Ages Official Site

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Wicked on Broadway

On a recent trip to New York my wife and saw a performance (4/3 evening) of Wicked.  Being a big fan of its music I was excited to see it in person.  One the great things about seeing a show on Broadway is that theaters have an intimacy that you don’t often get when you a touring company.  Unfortunately, Wicked plays in the Gershwin Theater which is one of the larger theaters on Broadway, so I would recommend getting seats in the first 10 rows- even the balcony and mezzanine are pretty far back so I wouldn’t recommend those locations either.  Seriously, the theater has the charm of the a shopping mall.

Fortunately, we had third row seats which made for an outstanding experience.

Wikipedia has a great synapsis here.

Having only listened to the soundtrack on CD, seeing the play in person filled in quite a few gaps in the story.  The performances were top notch and the sets and lighting were amazing.  One slight quibble is that the production was breaking in a new performer as Elphaba and it seemed that she was slightly tentative in a few places.  We were close enough to see some glances from the cast encouraging her during the performance.

The strength of Wicked is the music, especially the songs of act 1.  The book has a few awkward turns, surprising for musical that is as polished as Wicked.  Note that the musical differs from the novel- the book I’m referring to is that dialog and plot of the musical.  SPOILER ALERT- For example when Elphaba escapes at the end, the reason for not letting Glenda know seems pretty weak.

Still the strength of the performances, the sets, and the music make a Wicked a must see.

Wicked Official Site

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