Author Archives: george

DEAR EVAN HANSEN: THE MUSICAL


It’s astonishing that a play about mental health and teen suicide could use those elements to produce a successful musical. Dear Evan Hansen won six Tony Awards in 2017: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Steven Levenson), Best Original Score (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ben Platt), Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (Rachel Bay Jones), and Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire).

Evan Hansen is a socially awkward high school student. His mother has sent Evan to a counselor and Evan’s taking anti-anxiety medication. As part of his therapy, Evan is supposed to write to himself emails every day extolling how great his day will be (hence the title: “Dear Evan Hansen”).

Evan has a crush on a girl in the Jazz Band, Zoe, but through a series of unlikely events, one of Evan’s emails gets printed out and falls into the hands of Zoe’s psycho brother, Connor. Connor commits suicide and Evan’s email is found on his body. Zoe’s parents then think Connor and Evan were friends.

Evan decides to makes up a story that he and Connor were Good Friends. This seems to bring some relief to Zoe’s parents so Evan continues to elaborate his fictitious story. You can pretty much guess what’s going to happen in ACT II. Diane liked Dear Evan Hansen more than I did. GRADE: B
SONG LIST:
Act 1
“Anybody Have a Map?” – Heidi, Cynthia
“Waving Through a Window” – Evan
“Waving Through a Window” (Reprise #1)* – Evan
“Waving Through a Window” (Reprise #2)* – Alana
“For Forever” – Evan
“Sincerely, Me” – Connor, Evan, Jared
“Requiem” – Zoe, Cynthia, Larry
“If I Could Tell Her” – Evan, Zoe
“Disappear” – Connor, Evan, Alana, Jared, Larry, Cynthia, Zoe
“You Will Be Found” – Evan, Alana, Jared, Zoe, Company, VC (virtual community)
Act 2
“Sincerely, Me” (Reprise)* – Connor, Jared
“To Break in a Glove” – Larry, Evan
“Only Us” – Zoe, Evan
“Good for You” – Heidi, Alana, Jared, Evan
“For Forever” (Reprise)* – Connor
“You Will Be Found” (Reprise)* – Alana, Jared, VC
“Words Fail” – Evan
“So Big/So Small” – Heidi
“Finale” – Evan, Company

NEW ORANGE VANILLA COCA COLA


Maybe it’s the COKE commercials for their new Orange Vanilla Coca Cola…or maybe it was the really low price for this new product at TARGET that lured me into buying and tasting it. Not bad, not great. Just okay. Do you have a favorite carbonated drink?

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #530: MADBALL By Fredric Brown


Fredric Brown’s crafty carney tale, Madball, was first published in 1953 as a DELL paperback. Later, in 1961, Madball was reprinted by Gold Medal Books. A “condensed” version of Madball titled “The Pickled Punks” ran in The Saint Detective Magazine in June-July 1953.

Madball, set in a traveling carnival show, starts with a murder of a returning member of the troupe and escalates in suspense and action as the murderer needs to eliminate threats to discovery. In the process, the aspects of carney life and the behind-the-scenes reality of this strange way of life comes into focus through Fredric Brown’s deft descriptions and plotting. Madball captures the excitement and danger of the lives of knife-throwers, exotic dancers, and fortune-tellers where someone in their midst is a murderer.

Stark House has done a brilliant job reprinting classic crime novels, especially in their BLACK GAT series. Madball may be the best of the bunch! GRADE: A
STARK HOUSE BLACK GAT BOOKS:
21. Stool Pigeon by Louis Malley
978-1-944520-81-6
A dark tale of New York gangsters in Little Italy and the revengeful cop who plans to bring down an old nemesis. “Every page of Stool Pigeon feels real and true.”—Elgin Bleecker, The Dark Time. August 2019.

20. Madball by Fredric Brown
978-1-944520-74-8
“A terrific pulp novel that is filled with energy and excitement from cover to cover [filled] with all manner of thieves, murderers, strippers, carnival barkers, knife throwers, drifters, fortune tellers, and others…all linked by greed.”–GoodReads. June 2019.

19. The Hoods Take Over Ovid Demaris
978-1-944520-73-1
“A powerful novel of big-time rackets, of gang wars and their victims, of ice-picks and bombs.” ‐Pensacola News Journal. “Whoever said crime doesn&apost pay has never spoken to Ovid Demaris.”‐New York Times. April 2019. 

18. Frantic Noel Calef
978-1-944520-66-3
A French crime thriller from 1956 filmed by Louis Malle as Elevator to the Gallows. “A truly noir crime book, perverse and scathing.”—Agnieszka. February 2019. 

17. End of the Line by Delores & Bert Hitchens
978-1-944520-57-1
“Hitchens had a good ear and a dead-on eye for the various charades played by the human animals. She also wrote a series of railroad mysteries with her husband Bert.”—Ed Gorman, Deadly Women. November 2018. 

16. You’ll Get Yours by William Ard
978-1-944520-54-0
“Brooklyn-born Ard was one of the unjustly forgotten hard-boiled writers of the fifties. His career burned bright but fast … but in that time he managed to create several intriguing New York private eyes.”—Thrilling Detective. August 2018.

15. Frenzy of Evil By Henry Kane
A twisted tale of male menopausal murder when a sadistic lawyer decides to get rid of his young wife’s new lover. “Kane has an unnerving hyper-real way of writing dialogue… reminded me of David Mamet’s terse, realistic dialogue in his early plays.”—J. F. Norris, Pretty Sinister Books. May 2018.

14. The Men From the Boys By Ed Lacy
An ex-cop hits the skids when he takes a job as a seedy house dick. “It is a vivid, hard-hitting police story—with no punches pulled.”—Will Ousler. February 2018.

13. Never Say No to a Killer By Clifton Adams
“A homicidal first-person thriller reminiscent of Horace McCoy’s jailbreak classic, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye… relentlessly vicious.” —Cullen Gallagher, “The Desert, The Prairie, and The Gutter.” November 2017.

12. The Last Notch Arnold Hano
A vintage noir western from the maverick editor of Lion Books, written as by “Matthew Gant,” and published here for the first time under the author’s name. Introduction by David Laurence Wilson, who calls Hano both “challenging and subversive.” August 2017.

11. The Affair of Lady Westcott’s Lost Ruby / The Case of the Unseen Assassin By Gary Lovisi
Two new thrilling Sherlock Holmes adventures featuring Inspector Alec MacDonald, affectionately nicknamed by Holmes as Mr. Mac. “Mr. Lovisi is one of the top 5 authors who write new Holmes stories.”—David Chack. May 2017.

10. Angel’s Flight By Lou Cameron
A crazy ruthless story of the music business told from the inside, from swing jazz to bebop to rock & roll. “Sings loud and true with terrific characters, real heart and is a joy to read…a noir masterpiece.” —Gary Lovisi, Paperback Parade. February 2017

9. Woman on the Roof By Helen Nielsen
“Best whodunit of the year.”—Springfield News and Leader. “Among the best mysteries of the year.”—Mystery Writers of America. November 2016.

8. She Got What She Wanted By Orrie Hitt
“This is a fine novel, sleaze paperback or literary, [on] how difficult it was for a woman not to have to resort to using her body and sexuality to get ahead in life.” –Michael Hemmingson, Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books. August 2016.

7. The Girl on the Bestseller List By Vin Packer
They all had a reason to hate Gloria Whealdon after she exposed their lives in her bestselling novel—but only one had a reason to kill. “I’ve read a number of Vin Packer’s books, and this one remains a favorite.” —Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine. May 2016.

6. Felony Tank By Malcolm Braly
Seventeen-year-old Doug is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up in jail. What happens next could only have been written by the author of It’s Cold Out There. February 2016.

5. Only the Wicked By Cary Phillips
The fourth Ivan Monk mystery, never before published in paperback. A tense Los Angeles thriller with roots in the Deep South. Author Sara Paretsky calls Phillips “my kind of crime writer and Ivan Monk is my kind of detective.” November 2015.

4. The Persian Cat By John Flagg
A post-World War II thriller set in Teheran featuring cynical agent Gil Denby. His mission: bring a beautiful traitor to justice. His odds: slim. August 2015

3. Stranger at Home By Leigh Brackett
Originally published as by the actor George Sanders, this domestic mystery by sf author Leigh Brackett is the story of a rich heel who comes back to get even with those who thought they had left him for dead. May 2015.

2. Eddie’s World By Charlie Stella
Charlie Stella’s first great crime novel, back in print and available in paperback for the first time! Eddie Senta is suffering a mid-life crisis and decides to get involved in a heist. Everything that can go wrong, does. May 2015.

1. Haven for the Damned By Harry Whittington
A group of eight people all converge on a small ghost town on the outskirts of the Mexican border, each with their own demons and dilemmas. They all want something they’ve lost: freedom, a lost wife, their youth. Not all of them will leave alive. May 2015.

THE NOSTALGIC IMAGINATION: HISTORY IN ENGLISH CRITICISM By Stefan Collins


During his analysis of William Empson’s The Structure of Complex Words, Stefan Collins writes: “At first meeting, the book can seem deliberately uninviting. One way to describe its structure would be to say that an outer ring of barbed wire surrounds an inner ring of ditches…at the heart of which there is a labyrinth.” (p. 116). If you enjoy this kind of snarky academic writing, you’ll enjoy The Nostalgic Imagination. Stefan Collins writes about both English history and major critics like F. R. Leavis, Q. D. Leavis, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, and T. S. Eliot.

Of course, these people and their criticisms of English Literature are mostly forgotten now. We’ve moved on to obsessing over cat videos and the Kardashians. Collins captures a time when books were taken seriously and literary criticism was an honored profession. If you’re nostalgic for more serious and sensible times, The Nostalgic Imagination will meet you half-way. GRADE: B+
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction p. 1
1 Whig History and the Mind of England p. 25
2 Scrutinizing the Present Phase of Human History p. 48
3 Science and Capitalism as ‘Background’ p. 77
4 Rationalism, Christianity, and Ambiguity p. 102
5 The History of ‘the Reading Public’ p. 126
6 The Long Industrial Revolution p. 156
7 Literary History as Cultural History p. 183
Postscript p. 207
Notes p. 211
Index p. 235

MY GLENDA JACKSON MOMENT


After Diane, Katie, and I saw The Cher Show on Mother’s Day, we dashed through the rain to the ORSO restaurant for dinner. ORSO is known for their celebrity guests. When Diane and her sister went to ORSO a few years ago, they saw Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. Last year, Katie ate at the ORSO restaurant and saw Judy Collins just a couple tables away. We were half-way through our meal with no celebrities in sight when two elderly women entered and took a table a few yards away from us. One of those women was Glenda Jackson.

We were enjoying dessert (Diane had gelato and I had a delicious piece of chocolate cake) when Glenda Jackson got up and walked out of the restaurant. A few minutes later, we paid our bill, put on our rain jackets and prepared for a wet walk back to the Marriott Marquise. We stepped outside, and noticed it wasn’t raining. Glenda Jackson sat on the stoop smoking a cigarette. “Good timing,” she said to us. “The rain just stopped.” “Timing is everything, Ms. Jackson,” I replied. Glenda Jackson smiled and gave us a wave with her cigarette.

Have you met a celebrity?

FUN HOME: A MUSICAL


Fun Home: A Musical is based on Alison Beckdel’s graphic novel. Beckdel’s autobiographical story of her complicated relationship between her and her father explores sexual orientation, gender roles, suicide, emotional abuse, dysfunctional family life, and the role of literature in understanding oneself and one’s family. Like The Cher Show, it takes three actresses to play Alison Beckdel: a “small” Alison, a College student Alison, and a 40-year-old Alison who narrates the play.

While there’s humor in Fun Home, the specter of darkness and death hover over the characters. In the performance we saw, young Jane Hereth (Small Allison) stole every scene she was in. What a talented little girl! If Fun Home: A Musical shows up in your neighborhood, I recommend you go see it. GRADE: B+
SONG LIST:
1. “It All Comes Back (Opening)” – Small Alison, Bruce, Alison & Company
2. “Sometimes my father appeared to enjoy having children…” – Alison, Bruce & Helen
3. “Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue” – Helen, Alison, Small Alison, Christian, John, Bruce & Roy
4. “Not Too Bad” – Medium Alison
5. “Just had a good talk with Dad…” – Alison, Medium Alison, Bruce, Pete, Small Alison, John & Christian
6. “Come to the Fun Home” – John, Christian & Small Alison
7. “Helen’s Etude” – Alison, Roy, Bruce, Small Alison, Helen, John, Christian & Medium Alison
8. “Thanks for the care package…” – Medium Alison, Joan, Small Alison & Bruce
9. “Party Dress” – Small Alison, Bruce, Medium Alison, Alison
10. “Changing My Major” – Medium Alison
11. “I leapt out of the closet…” – Alison, Small Alison, Bruce & Helen
12. “Maps” – Alison
13. “Read a book…” – Bruce, Small Alison, Alison & Helen
14. “Raincoat of Love” – Bobby Jeremy & Company
15. “Clueless in New York…” – Alison, Small Alison & Bruce
16. “Pony Girl” – Bruce
17. “A flair for the dramatic…” – Alison, Joan, Medium Alison & Bruce
18. “Ring of Keys” – Small Alison & Alison
19. “Let me introduce you to my gay dad…” – Joan, Medium Alison, Alison, Bruce & Small Alison
20. “Shortly after we were married…” – Helen & Medium Alison
21. “Days and Days” – Helen
22. “You ready to go for that drive?…” – Bruce & Alison
23. “Telephone Wire” – Alison & Bruce
24. “It was great to have you home…” – Bruce & Alison
25. “Edges of the World” – Bruce
26. “This is what I have of you…” – Alison
27. “Flying Away (Finale)” – Alison, Medium Alison & Small Alison

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME


When Heidi Schreck was a teenager, she would travel from one American Legion post to another competing in debates about the Constitution. Students participated in these civic exercises and the winners were awarded money for College expenses. Heidi Schreck put herself through College on the winnings from these debates. But, it becomes very clear very early in What the Constitution Means to Me that the Constitution is just a vehicle for Heidi Schreck to talk about her troubled family and its tumultuous history.

It’s astonishing that this essentially one-woman show could deal with so many topics: civil rights, slavery, amendments to the Constitution, and feminism. Heidi Schreck talks about how the women in her own family have survived through physical abuse and rape. She also points out that the US Constitution, intended to protect all of us, never even once mentions the word “woman.”

What the Constitution Means to Me is nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Heidi Schreck) and Best Play.

I found What the Constitution Means to Me very moving. I can’t imagine how Heidi Schreck could perform this emotional play eight times a week! I was drained after sitting through one performance! Highly recommended! Do you have a favorite Amendment? GRADE: A-

THE CHER SHOW: THE MUSICAL


It takes three “Chers” to tell the story of the real Cher. There’s a teenage Cher, a 20/30 year old Cher, and a “star” Cher. In chronological fashion, The Cher Show presents the story of how Cher met up with Sonny Bono and became a success, selling 50 million records. But, Sonny and Cher blew through all that money. When musical trends changed, Sonny and Cher were dropped by their record company and were broke. Sonny manages to sell the idea of The Sonny and Cher Show to CBS. The show ran from 1971 to 1974. Cher divorced Sonny and that pretty much cancelled the show. But, amazingly, Sonny and Cher reunited on TV in 1976 for a second iteration of The Sonny and Cher Show. But variety shows were going the way of the dinosaurs and the show was cancelled in 1977 because of low ratings. Cher then secures a recording contract and produces a series of hits during the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, Cher is touring the country with her Here We Go Again tour.

If you’re a Cher fan, you’ll enjoy this biographical musical. If you’re into female empowerment, The Cher Show is a perfect example of how determination and grit can produce success despite many setbacks. Do you have a favorite Cher song? GRADE: A
SONG LIST:
1. If I Could Turn Back Time
2. Half-Breed
3. The Shoop Shoop Song
4. I Got You Babe
5. When the Money’s Gone – All Or Nothing
6. Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do
7. Living in a House Divided
8. Bang Bang
9. Believe
10. Song For the Lonely
11. All I Ever Need is You
12. Heart of Stone
13. Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves
14. Midnight Rider – Ramblin’ Man
15. Just Like Jesse James
16. Dark Lady
17. Strong Enough
18. The Way Of Love
19. The Beat Goes On
20. I Found Someone
21. You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me
22. Finale

JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM


John Wick 3 is basically a chase movie. In John Wick 1 & 2, retired assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) pissed off an international crime organization called The High Table and now Wick is declared “excommunicado” (which means anyone who helps Wick is put under a Death Sentence, too). Wick has a $15 million bounty on his head and plenty of people want to collect it. The movie moves from one fight scene to another. There’s a lot of choreographed violence.

My favorite sequence occurs when Wick calls in a favor from Sofia (Halle Berry) and all hell breaks loose. There’s some creative use of dogs in the battle scene. Director Chad Stahelski doesn’t tamper with his formula of ultra violent action (I sort of wish he would!). The AMC theater where I saw John Wick 3 was sold out. The crowd was raucous! And the film sets up John Wick 4 nicely. GRADE: B+