Behind the Story

Have you ever watched a show or listened to a podcast, and wanted to learn a little bit more about the story behind the story? Here are a few of those for you:

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You’ll Put Your Eye Out | “A Christmas Story Live!” on Fox 12/17

A Christmas Story Live! (Fox)This was a weekend where our only truly live performance — that is, a performance were (if we wanted to, and security allowed, we could touch the performers) — was Saturday for the Klezmatics. But we did see another performance that was labeled “Live!” (but was tape delayed for our timezone): A Christmas Story Live! on Fox (KTTV 11) Sunday night. This is part of the trend of bringing back “live” musicals on television that was restarted with A Sound of Music on NBC, and has continued there with Peter PanThe Wiz, Hairspray Live!, and which Fox picked up to bring us Grease Live!. NBC didn’t have a holiday musical this year (Bye Bye Birdie, which was planned for this month, but indefinitely postponed), but Fox brought us their incarnation of A Christmas Story – The Musical (which, I should note, that if you want to see really live you can at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB), or numerous other venues around this country). Don’t worry, there are even more “live theatricals” (Jesus Christ Superstar, Rent) in the pipelines.

This was my first time seeing A Christmas Story — and that means either the original movie or the musical production. I had heard the music from the cast album of the show before, however, so I had a vague familiarity with the story. I won’t recap the story here, as I’m sure you can find it or you’ve seen it. Instead, I just want to share some observations on the live TV production that need to get out so my brain can be productive again:

  • NBC’s attempts have attempted to preserve the form have kept that “stage” feel: static sets, no special television tricks or techniques. Fox, on the other hand, has gone for this odd hybrid between stage and screen: expansive sets designed to keep the steadicam operator busy, some elements of realism in the set design and execution, significantly larger ensembles, and often camera and cinematography tricks. The “risk” of live performance is still there, however, as they still have to navigate set movement, costume changes, and the cinematography tricks in real time. I’m not 100% sure I like Fox’s approach, but I understand why they did it.
  • Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (FB) appear to have written two new songs for this show: the opening number which was “eh?”, and a number on Chanukah. That number, while good, felt shoehorned in for inclusivity, especially with the overkill of the Magen David-themed wall paper and getting the number of nights right. Two problems, however. The song sang of Matzah Balls, which most assuredly are not Chanukah food; and the Jewish family was later in line for Santa (highly unlikely, even in the 40s).
  • Inclusivity was a big theme in this, especially with the mixed nature of the ensemble. Now I’m all for inclusivity and diversity, but in this production it felt too politically correct, too forced, too … wrong. Perhaps that was because they were going for the realism aspect, and it didn’t fit the real world of the 1940s. On stage, you can get away with the diversity because the realism isn’t there.
  • Matthew Broderick did pretty good, but there seemed to be a few points where he had line hesitations. For such a seasoned stage actor, that seemed wrong.
  • There appeared to be only one line gaffe, when the father (Chris Diamantopoulos) was stealing a taste of the turkey and cracked up the mother. They covered it well.
  • Having now seen the story, it seems a bit inconsequential and forced to be a musical; but I can also see why it, just like Elf – The Musical created around the same time, will be perennial holiday favorites at small companies throughout the world. Why they can’t just do A Mulholland Christmas Carol is beyond me.
  • The actor playing Ralphie (Andy Walken (FB)) did a great job — he handled the music and the cuteness well, although he was a bit fast talking on the commercial breaks.
  • … and they’re dancing on snow, too!
  • One of the kids in the kids ensemble (Artyon Celeste) looked like Gary Coleman, and got me thinking of a remake of Different Strokes (although that wouldn’t work these days — these days the diversity comedy is Superior Donuts). Overall, the kids ensemble was very strong in the show.
  • For all their attempts to be “period” — from the Cars to the Kelvinator — there were some significant slipups, such as the electrically lighted hand-held candles in one song to the lighted candy canes in the other. The directors (Scott Ellis and Alex Rudzinski) really must decide if they are going for realism or not.
  • During the “Ralphie to the Rescue”, the use of TV tricks (black and white, graininess) was gratuitous and unnecessary, especially as this was supposedly a live production of a stage show, not a movie.
  • The odd breaks into production numbers were odd given the realistic nature of this — they need to pick one form or the other. Such production numbers are something that will work much much better on stage, and do make me want to see the stage version of this in the future.
  • Viewers slammed this remake. The ratings were worse than any of the recent live musicals broadcast to date.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

We may be going to the  58th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, as they are featuring Klezmer Music from 3-6pm on Dec 24, and we can take advantage of Metro to avoid the traffic. Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman. Afterward: The obligatory Chinese Food.

If I can get tickets, January will start out with the Jason Graae/Faith Prince concert at the Rubicon Theatre (FB) in Ventura [tix]. The next weekend brings Aladdin at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The rest of January is currently open, as January tends to be a quiet theatre month. We’ll see what fills up.

February is busier. It starts with the Cantor’s Concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom (FB). The following weekend brings our first Actors Co-op (FB) production of 2018: A Walk in the Woods. Mid-week brings opera: specifically,  Candide at LA Opera (FB). That is followed the next weekend by the first production of the Chromolume Theatre (FB) 2018 season, Dessa Rose. The month concludes with a hold for James and the Giant Peach at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hills, and tickets for Dublin Irish Dance Stepping Out at  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

March was supposed to start with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner, but that shifted back a week, so we’ll go to it after our first show in March, the LA Premiere of the musical Allegiance at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (FB). This is followed by a HOLD for Steel Pier at the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theatre (FB). The penultimate Friday of March brings Billy Porter singing Richard Rodgers at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The last weekend of March is open for theatre, but there will be the Men of TAS Seder.  Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Why I Will Not Be Watching Star Trek: Discovery (At Least Now)

Tonight is the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery (FB). The first episode will be broadcast on CBS; for the rest, those in the US must subscribe to CBS’s exclusive pay-streaming service, CBS All Access. I’m a long time fan of Star Trek, and avidly devoured all of the TV series from the point where I could choose my television: the animated series, ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:V, and even ST:Enterprise. But I’m not going to be watching Star Trek:Discovery beyond the first episode (and possibly not even that). I think that were Gene Roddenberry alive, he wouldn’t be watching it either.

Here’s why.

In how CBS has chosen to broadcast Star Trek:Discovery (ST:D), I feel they are not being true to the Star Trek vision. Gene Roddenberry emphasized in Star Trek an optimistic attitude, a view of the world where barriers between people did not exist. The class distinctions were gone, and race, gender, orientation, religion, and similar divisions were not factors. All of the other instances of Star Trek on the small screen were egalitarian in their broadcast: if you had a TV, you could watch them, be they on NBC (TOS), the UPN network (Enterprise, Voyager), or syndicated (TNG, DS9). But for Discovery, this isn’t the case. Those without Internet access or those who are not paying for streaming service (read: most cable and satellite users) are disenfranchised. They can’t watch the show. Those with Internet access can, but only if they pay. This reduces the audience to a particular wealthy demographic.

That’s problem enough for the Emmys, as I’ve discussed previously. They no longer serve to encourage excellence in Broadcast TV (or basic cable).  Let the plebeians have crappy TV; those with the means can pay to watch the quality stuff on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and … Streaming provides the wealthy audience that buys stuff, or pays the network directly for their programming.

But for Star Trek? Putting Star Trek on a streaming platform creates the exact class distinctions that Roddenberry fought against. It is a pure grab for money and revenue from technically savvy Trek-fandom who have more money than they need — money CBS feels free to separate from them. Much as I want ST:D to succeed, it should be on a mainstream broadcast or basic cable channel: the CW or SyFy, not pay-streaming.

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Emmy Awards: Relevance and Privilege

Over on Facebook today, a friend of mine posted a very interesting query: “So of all who watch the Emmy’s year after year…. do you actually have access to all those networks and shows that are nominated?”. This dovetailed with a feeling I had watching this year’s Emmys: What happened to the days when most people could see the Emmy winning shows on broadcast TV? This year there were very few network shows nominated, and even fewer winners. In fact, many of the winners weren’t even broadcast on channels one could get on traditional over-the-air, cable, or satellite TV as part of the basic subscription packages. They were on channels that, like HBO, you had to pay premium prices for, or channels like Hulu which you had to have an Internet subscription to watch.

Thinking about this further, on my Facebook, I asked: Wouldn’t it be great if we could get an awards show for excellent on channels that everyone could see: free channels or those included is most basic packages. That would encourage those channels to be excellent, not just those that can command premium prices.

But, driving home, what I realized is something unspoken about the Emmys: We may celebrate diversity behind the camera — especially this year. But we don’t have diversity in front of the screen. The inclusion in the Emmys of premium channels and channels that depend on the Internet have an unwritten presumption of a form of privilege: the privilege that provides the means to pay for premium subscriptions, to have Internet service, to pay for the extra devices, to pay for the computers and such. Many of the poor in this country don’t have those means — our rush to the Internet has simply passed them by and most people don’t care. There is no requirement of Universal Internet Access, like there is for phone service.

In our push to recognize quality in premium channels, we are sucking the quality from the accessible-to-all channels. And in doing so, we are dumbing down those channels and hurting the entire viewership of TV.

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It’s a Bundle of 💩

An article in today’s LA Times by the usually reliable David Lazurus prompted this rant, especially as Lazurus opined that Disney’s move to its own streaming service was yet another death blow to expensive cable bundles. He opined that it would be better for consumers. I respectfully disagree.

Increasingly, we’re moving to the ala carte method of pricing. Airlines such as United are touting “Basic Economy”, where you get a seat and nothing more, and pay for any other privilege. TV, which used to be simple, is now an increasing number of services to which you must subscribe separately — which hides the total cost of all you see. Add your internet service provider fee to what you pay for Netfix + Amazon + YouTube Red + Hulu + CBS All Access + …. you name it, and your total can quite likely be more than that of cable, but you don’t see it. Sometimes, there is an argument for simplicity: A single price that bundles together what you would likely want.

Perhaps it is because I am older, but I don’t want to have to manage all of these separate fees. I want that simplicity. Alas, this means that much of new TV that is on these streaming services is lost to me. I’d love to watch Star Trek: Discovery, but I don’t want to have to deal with CBS All Access to do so. I’d love to explore some of the Netflix exclusive series, but don’t want to deal with yet another service and how it fits into my system.

All of these systems that increasingly use the Internet as their delivery mechanism are an exploitation of privilege, and a way of strongly focusing on a privileged audience. Much of US likes to forget that not everyone has fast streaming access, or can afford all the computer systems required for access, or the newer TVs. Low-income minorities, seniors — who cares about them. As long as we can reach our middle and upper class well educated audience — with the buying power — that’s what we want. Let those plebians watch the shows that can only be in the Cable and Satellite bundles.

So I disagree with the Times. I think the move of Disney to its private streaming service is a grab for more profits, and yet another way of targeting messages of consumption to those with the means to consume. Quality TV is no longer the opioid of the masses; it is the crack of the rich.

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Pre-Labor Day Sale on News Chum! Get It Here! New Low Price!

Observation StewLabor Day weekend is less than a week away. Here’s some tasty news chum to get you through the week:

  • Relaxen und vatch das blinkenlights! Back in the 1960s, you knew it was a computer if it had loads and loads of blinking lights. In fact, a popular meme (mimeographed educational memo exaggerated) going around read: “ACHTUNG! Alles touristen und non-technischen looken peepers! Das machine control is nicht fur gerfinger-poken und mittengrabben. Oderwise is easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowen fuse, und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Der machine is diggen by experten only. Is nicht fur geverken by das dummkopfen. Das rubbernecken sightseenen keepen das cotten picken hands in das pockets, so relaxen und watchen das blinkenlights.” I mention this because the Lost in Space computer prop has recently been reconstructed. What caught my eye for this article was (a) that the Lost in Space computer was later used as the Batcomputer, and (b) that the TV shows of the 1960s used surplus, 1950s-era Burroughs B205s whenever they needed something cool and blinkenlighty.
  • The Nodpod. Ever attempt to fall asleep on an airplane or vanpool? Your head droops forward and back as your neck gets sore. There’s a proposed solution. The nodpod. The NodPod, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, claims to provide a more comfortable, upright snooze by holding your head at a 90 degree angle. The cushioned sling attaches to your headrest (without blocking the screen of the person sitting behind you) and can be adjusted to keep your noggin snug in place.
  • Lint in our Oceans. We’ve all seen lint in the lint trap, and worried about how dryers are destroying our clothes through friction. Washers have the same problem, especially for clothes made of plastic — and polyester is plastic. Microfibers wash off, go into the oceans, and harm sealife. The linked article purports to solve the problem through a magic ball that captures polyester microfibers. Potentially interesting.
  • Scary Math. Does math scare you? How about mathemagic involving the (horrors) number of the beast (not his better half, 333, or the neighbor of the beast, 667). I’m talking about Belphegor’s Prime, a supposedly sinister numeric palindrome that has a NUMBER of odd qualities. Or at least that’s what one mathematic trickster would have you believe. The number known as Belphegor’s Prime is exactly, 1,000,000,000,000,066,600,000,000,000,001. For those without the fortitude to stare directly at the infernal number, that’s a one, followed by 13 zeroes, followed by the traditional Number of the Beast, 666, followed by yet another 13 zeroes, and a trailing one. Learn all about it here.
  • Kosher Frozen Custard. If you’ve ever been to St. Louis, you likely know about Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard — a classic on Route 66. Did you know it was Kosher? Here’s the story of how that came to be.
  • Daugs in Northridge. IHOP has been on the move in recent years: it vacated its long-time location on Reseda Blvd for the former Rosies at Tampa and Nordhoff. So what is happening with the former IHOP? It is becoming Daug House, a restaurant for craft hot dogs. Dog Haus emphasizes community engagement and support through the outreach programs which connects with organizations around the area, such as schools, churches, nonprofit organizations, and little leagues. The menu includes all beef skinless Haus dogs, hand-crafted Haus sausages, a proprietary grind of chuck and brisket Haus burgers, sliders, sides and desserts. While we’re on the valley, here is Eater LA’s list of great Valley restaurants, almost all of which are clustered around Ventura Blvd, because we all know that for the foodie crowd, there is no life in the valley north of US 101.
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News Chum Stew: Onesies and Twosies

Observation StewLast night, we had a Shabbabaque at Temple (“Shabbat” + “Barbeque”). There was a bunch of food leftover, and so I brought some home — the sliced tomatoes and roasted zucchini — and threw it into a crockpot. That’s a great thing to do with leftovers: make a stew (and I intend to suggest formalizing that next year*). Just like at the Shabbabaque, I’ve got loads of leftovers — onsies and twosies of news articles — that don’t make a coherent dish. Perhaps they’ll make a good stew. What do you think?

Jewish Summer Camp

Food and Eating

Local Returns and Departures

The Body

History

What’s Left

 

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Weekend News Chum to Fill your Loving Cup

Observation Stew’tis the weekend, and that means it is time to clear out the accumulated links that didn’t them… well, at least those I remembered to send back home from work. In the spirit of the day, feel free to share these stories with your sweetie.

 

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