Friday, February 02, 2007

Culture Week Part 1 - Can You Hear the Drums Fernando?

This week on the blog we celebrate Culture Week.. An expansion of last years oh so popular Literacy Week. I was all set to write what will now be the next column… but then Sunday night, Trophy Wife and I took a trip to the theeee ater… hence the change from Literacy Week to Culture Week.

And what a week it has been… The Super Bowl is coming up this wknd.. And The Amazing Pumpstradamus picks the Bears to win 42-7. Sayeth the Pump: “3 week old Baby Pumpstradamus has a lot of little Bears.. And Nate has 2 and 7 in the Super Bowl pool!”. Speaking of the Big Game.. my submission for best Super Bowl ad contest was summarily rejected. To coincide with the much ballyhooed release of Vista… I came up with a Microsoft ad based on the popular Apple ads featuring a young hip guy who introduces himself as “I’m a Mac” and a stodgier square geeky guy who announces “And I’m a PC”…. except in my version the PC guy announces… “You may be the young hip guy.. But more young girls use me… a PC… to flash their boobies on their web cams than little Ipod boy over here.….”

How ironic that the week the Colts go to The Super Bowl coincides with all the attention on the tragic death of the horsey Barbaro.. At first when he was injured people initially thought it just might be a temporary setback and he would be back for Belmont. Then as we heard the severity of his condition, the hope was that he could be retired to stud and live a happy life.. Then as his leg condition worsened… the hope was for a life without pain… Now.. Its off to the glue factory….where he can be used as billboard glue so Adult Swim can just paste billboards for their new cartoon show instead of scaring the living daylights out of our friends in Boston who spent Wednesday waiting for Paul Revere to announce that The British Are Coming!! . OMIGOSH Nate!!! How can you say such a horrible thing about the beautiful, majestic and incredibly brave Barbaro… and the city of Boston? Actually, I question the media obsession with the horse. Why were there were more microphones at the Barbaro death press conference than at the daily press briefing updating the horrible Holocaust going on in Darfur? The horse was brave… how about these people who are being executed on a daily basis?

As for Culture Week… last Hannukah, Trophy Wife got me an awesome gift - Tickets to see Mamma Mia on Broadway. I gotta tell you… I hate musicals…. But I love Abba.. So this was the ultimate test to see if my love of Abba.. (My childhood was Abba and game shows.) would outweigh my distaste for musicals. The last time I went to see a musical was actually in the late 80s when as a student at Montclair State, a theater class required that I see a Broadway Musical, and write a paper about it. I was not very happy about this assignment.

So one Sunday, my buddy Harmon and I went to The City to one of those TKTS booths to buy tickets to “Oh Calcutta” since I heard there was nudity. Much to our chagrin… the show was sold out. However I later saw it on video.. and frankly I can never look at Bill Macy (from Maude) or hear the Lone Ranger Theme/William Tell Overture the same way after that experience. People who have seen the show will appreciate that comment!

Since we couldn’t get Calcutta tickets we decided to go for Plan B. Peter Marshall was appearing in a musical called “La Cage Aux Folles” and not having a clue what it was about.. we got tickets. I remember it had been a movie several years before that had an incredibly long run. We got the tix and headed to the Palace Theater… The show was actually pretty good although I was a little surprised by the whole plot involving transvestites and gays.. From what I recall, a young guy is getting married and tries to hide his gay parents from his fiance’s hoity toity parents. After the show,. we strolled over to Rockefeller Center… We used to know this guy named Wild Bill Grundfest who emceed at the Comedy Cellar and did a weekend call in show on the old 66 WNBC. Harmon and I went up there and talked about our big trip to Broadway and then a lot of people started calling in. I didn’t realize till much later that the callers were all male and extremely friendly.

So last weekend, it was off to the Winter Garden Theater to see a Sunday Night 7pm show.. a good time to catch a show since you can drive in and find free parking within a few blocks from the theater! Usually at a musical I would think.. Ok skip the songs and just tell me the story.. But in this case I was ready to say Just skip the storyline and get to the Abba songs.. However the story was kind of catchy. Its about a young girl who is getting married.. Not to the guy from La Cage… and the young girl wants her dad to give her away. The problem is she doesn’t know who her father is… and since her mom had 3 little affairs 9 months before her birth she decides to send wedding invitations to all 3 so she can figure out who’s her daddy and he can give her away at the wedding. This should be mandatory viewing for all those teenagers that appear on The Maury Povich Show so they can see the ramifications for their babies 20+ years down the road.

The girl lives on an exotic Greek Island with her mom who has really carved out quite a life for herself by running a nice little hotel. The bulk of the show takes place the day before and the day of the wedding, and the Three’s Company/My Two Dads (little known pre Mad About You sitcom with Paul Reiser) hilarity that ensues.

The music is - Abba! And I loved every second of it. Right off the bat they get into a fantastic rendition of “Money Money”… involving a song and dance number involving extras who sit quietly at the rather sparse hotel set one second and then moments later start dancing it up with the rest of the cast. One extra in particular is a little old lady who just sits there quietly knitting.. and then starts dancing like a mad-woman. With her makeup.. She actually bears an uncanny resemblance to my mom’s 70-something cousin. There is also the wedding scene near the end where the Minister who is hired to perform the wedding looked exactly like my buddy Memo, but not his identical twin brother. It was so uncanny it was almost hard to concentrate on the show for a few minutes.

All the Abba songs are there except for Fernando which I guess in retrospect isn’t really as upbeat and peppy as the other Abba work. The actress who plays the young girl is ok.. David McDonald who plays one of the dads is exceptional, and the other 2 dads are pretty good too… But the women playing her mom and her sisters are excellent! Carolee Carmello who plays the mother Donna has a set of pipes and really belts out the tunes… believe me… coming from a person who has been an Abba fan for 30 years.. that is a lot to live up to! And her sister Tanya played by Judy McLane - homina homina homina… Now that I’m married I don’t use this word anymore.. but lets just say… its what my dyslexic friend would call a FLIM! There is one scene where she is wearing this gown with thigh high slits and every guy in the theater appeared to be drooling! Britney Spears could learn a lesson here on how to act lady like with such an outfit. McLane also has a great voice and actually after the show is over and the stars take their bows.. the 3 sisters come out dressed as ABBA and along with the rest of the cast belt out an “impromptu” ABBA concert featuring a few of their most popular songs.

Incidentally, the theater runs a slick little operation selling cds, programs, and dvds… I bought one of the cd’s from the original cast recordings, and it amazes me that it costs more than what I paid for all of my other ABBA music combined!

The show is really awesome especially for ABBA fans.. Trophy Wife also had a blast… So on a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom… wait a minute.. You cant leave in the middle of a show.. OK.. On a scale of 1 to 4 Fernandos… Mamma Mia gets 4 Fernandos! It would have been 3 and a half but the little concert after the show put it over the top.

Now time for the clip of the week…

Peter Marshall wasn’t the only game show host to do La Cage. The legend himself Gene Rayburn did the show in Bucks County, PA during my radio days in the early 90s. I couldn’t get out there to see the show.. So here instead is a radio interview I did with a local theater critic the day after he saw Gene on Opening Night! Here’s that chat from the archives… from September 26, 1991.

By the way….in 2004.… many years after seeing La Cage, Trophy Wife and I went on our honeymoon cruise, and along with a few other people participated in these goofy little nightly trivia contests where you had to answer 20 questions on a sheet of paper and whichever team correctly answered the most questions would win a little tchotchke. Well on this particular night.. It was Name That Tune… for Broadway Musicals! I was doomed… if they didn’t have stuff from The Sound of Music.. It was gonna be a long night. Luckily, one of our teammates was an aspiring actress who knew every single musical ever created… it was Marvin Hamlisch with breasts! The 1st 19 questions… she had the answer in a second! Then came question 20... And she had the blankest look on her face… Y’know isn’t that a famous song. I thought… . I knew the words were….”Those were the days”…but the actress had no clue where the song was from. Using my powers of deduction… like Columbo I managed to solve the mystery with one simple question… “Uh… have you ever seen La Cage Aux Folles?”

And after she replied “No” to my question.. I promptly jotted down “The Best of Times” from “La Cage Aux Folles” and we won 20-19.

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