Five Songs for Getting in the Holiday Spirit

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Christmastime is my favorite time of year. I totally understand why it isn’t everyone’s, forced fun is awful I agree, but I love the parties and the sparkly lights. It’s a joyous escape from the fact that I go most work days without being in the sunlight.

It’s been a rough week for a lot of my friends, and I hope that these songs can bring a little bit of light.

  1. Maybe this Christmas – Ron Sexsmith

I have loved this song ever since it was on The O.C., it’s a bit over sentimental, but so is this time of year.

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Chris Colfer & Darren Criss

Yes, the sexual politics of this song are, to say the least, problematic, but this version never fails to bring a smile to my face.

3. The Elf’s Lament – Barenaked Ladies

4. Let It Snow – anyone’s version really

Because I want some snow damn it!

5. All I Want for Christmas is You – that little girl from Love Actually

Because it’s finally appropriate to watch this movie you guys!!

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Weekly Adventure: The Blues Brothers at The Music Box

I returned from the east coast this week with a killer cold, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out to the Sound Opinions screening of The Blues Brothers last night, but I am so glad that I did.

It’s not a secret that I am obsessed with the city of Chicago, and there are few pieces of art that reflect that love as much as this movie. Yes, it depicts a version of this city that I will never get to experience firsthand, the disappearance of Maxwell Street in particular makes me sad, but the spirit of this city is captured so well by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis’s weird, gleefully destructive, wonderful script.

There was one guy, sitting right in front of me, who seemed to have never seen the movie before last night, I was so jealous of his uproarious laughter and delighted surprise at the cop car pileup. Though this is one of those movies that really does reward multiple viewings, fun fact – Steven Speilberg plays the tax assessor, I never noticed that before.

Thing I Love: Everwood

Sometimes when I’m feeling sad I go to one of the few remaining FYE stores and buy myself a random season of a TV show and then curl up in bed for the afternoon and escape. The selection process is based pretty much solely on price. About a month ago the first season of Everwood was on sale the day that Northwestern’s football team lost badly, so I became the proud new owner of a box set.

I watched Everwood sporadically with my mom when it was first on TV (2002-2006). I remembered the broad outline of the show, Treat Williams played a fancy New York doctor that moved his sullen teenage son and plucky younger daughter to backwoods Colorado, where the weirdly named Ephram falls in love with Emily van Camp. Also Chris Pratt was there. That was all I could recall, but I loved The WB, and the formulaic teen soaps they used to churn out.

Rewatching the first season has been a much more rewarding experience than I could have imagined. Not because the show itself is astounding. In fact it’s overly sentimental and filled with ridiculously staged “impromptu” debates between Williams’ Andy and the rival small town doctor Harold Abbott (Tom Amandes). It has more in common with the schmaltz fest 7th Heaven than Felicity or Dawson’s Creek. But it’s very overwrought-ness is what makes Everwood refreshing .

As Christy Wampole eloquently, if a bit overdramatically, described in the New York Times recently, we are living in an age of irony. Although I have no problem giving sincere gifts or wearing clothes I actually like, culturally I think we all tend to shy away from genuine sentiment. There’s a sense, at least in my experience, that taking a real, non-ironic, stand, even about our own emotions, is terrifying because it opens us up to ridicule. This translates into our TV, there isn’t a successful show on right now that is as nakedly emotional and, more importantly, kind as Everwood was. (With the possible exception of Parenthood.)

What is so great about this cheesy little show is the humanity of the characters and how the writers allowed them to put all their pain and emotional need out on the table without a wink or a raised eyebrow. Emotions in Everwood are dire things, not something to be laughed or sung away, and though I roll my eyes as much as the next cynical Millennial, it can be nice to take a break and visit a place where I’m not expected too, even it is a fictional town where people ignore that Treat Williams looks a lot like a cartoon bear.

 

Weekly Adventure: Craig Ferguson at the Chicago Theater

I don’t have a TV so I don’t get to watch The Late, Late Show consistently but I have always found Craig Ferguson hilarious. Last night my friend Tyler and I went to go see him and Josh Robert Thompson (voice of the gay robot skeleton sidekick) perform at the Chicago Theater.

Although I apparently have fallen victim to the short-attention span of my generation and therefore got a little sleepy about an hour and fifteen minutes into Craig’s set, I did learn three important life lessons:

  1. Never drink twelve pints of Guinness and then take acid

2. Gerard Butler’s abs in 300 were photoshopped in

Also apparently his friends call him ‘Gerry’

3. Skinny-Drew-Carey looks like Orville Redenbacher

Things I Love: Austen Adaptations

I’m sure it comes as a shock to absolutely no one that I love Jane Austen. Over the past weekend I found that there are a bunch of adaptations of her novels illegally on YouTube, and though I know that  copyright law and my conscience should stop me from contributing to this blatant crime… Here are the three movies that got me through a few rough days:

(Side note: I classify Austen adaptations by their lead actresses rather than their director or adaptor – with the obvious exception of the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice – though I do love Jennifer Ehle.)

The Felicity Jones – Northanger Abbey  

This really captures the silliness of the novel, and Felicity is my favorite ever.

 

The Sally Hawkins Persuasion

 

I adore Sally Hawkins ever since I saw Happy Go-Lucky and this version of Persuasion literally made me cry.

Miss Austen Regrets

Not an adaptation but a delightful mini-series about the woman herself, with Hugh Bonneville and Tom Hiddleston.

 

There are many other videos down this internet rabbit hole I assure you…enjoy!

Bonus Adventure: The Book Thief at Steppenwolf

When I heard that Steppenwolf was putting on Heidi Stillman’s adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief as part of the One Book, One Chicago program for the fall, I was skeptical. As I wrote about a little while ago Zusak’s beautiful young adult novel glorifies words and books, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to translate to the stage. (I’m even more worried about the inevitable film adaptation.)

In practice the play maintained a lot of the raw emotion and confusion of the book. I credit this mostly to Steppenwolf ensemble member Francis Guinan’s performance as “Him” – the name Stillman gave to the deathly narrator. He brings the audience through the story with humor and grace, and ironically, a deep humanity.

The power of words may not have been as emphasized as it was in the novel, there is something about holding a book in your hands while reading about the lengths young Liesel goes through to obtain her own books that just can’t be recreated in the theater, but other aspects of the book were more powerful in the theater than in the book. The character of Tommy Mueller (played by Andy Monson) for instance, I found almost forgettable in the novel, broke my heart and the projections of air raids and marching Jews really added to the creeping terror that escalates throughout the story.

There were also plot and character omissions of course, the book is over 500 pages long and unless you are Eugene O’Neill you can’t keep an audience in the theater for five hours. Mostly I did think that Stillman made the right plot choices, but I did miss some of the background for Rudy and Max, mostly because I wanted to see more of the wonderful actors who played them, Clancy McCartney and Patrick Andrews respectively.

Ultimately I still love the book more than this adaptation, but I didn’t leave disappointed in any way.

(The show closed yesterday – I will really try to stop writing reviews of shows you can’t possibly see, but if that’s when tickets are cheap I can’t help it…sorry!)

Weekly Adventure: Assassins at The Viaduct Theater

 

The Viaduct Theater is aptly named, given it’s incredibly sketchy-feeling location practically underneath the expressway near where Belmont, Western & Clybourne intersect. Walking up to the theater I got the distinct impression that I was in the wrong place, but once inside I found the delightfully grimy black box theater that reminded me a lot of going to see shows in the converted shack my university gave to the student theater companies to use.

This comparison was apt, not that the Billy Pacholski’s production of Assassins was amateurish (one of the best plays I’ve ever seen was in that student shack) but it felt like it was put together by a group of like-minded friends, because they wanted to honor the source material, which is a motivation I encountered a lot in college and less so now that I’m in the “real world.”

And I share their love for this show. A Sondheim musical about presidential assassination can be a tough sell, and honestly it’s a tough show. If someone came to me and asked me to introduce them to why I love musicals, I wouldn’t start with Assassins, but it only has one or two rivals in my mind for best show. At it’s heart the musical for me isn’t really about violence, but about America and the myths we tell ourselves and each other about opportunity and freedom of speech. In the fraught political climate we are in today it’s important to remember as the Balladeer puts it, that “angry men don’t write the rules and guns don’t right the wrongs. Hurts awhile, but soon the country’s back where it belongs…”

Pacholski said in his program notes that he wanted to move away from the vaudevillian stagings of the show that he had seen in the past to focus on the human stories of these desperate people. For the most part I think he succeeded, though it is hard to take the theatrical artifice out of a show that has no regard for chronological time or realistic setting. But the wonder of this show is that we somehow look at these characters who we are taught to believe are as monsters (John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald) or jokes (Charles Guiteau, John Hinkley Jr.) as real people with real histories. As the director’s note says we see them with “empathy not sympathy.” Their acts don’t become comprehensible but their pain does.

It’s a fine line to walk and the company, particularly Libby Lane as hapless would be Gerald Ford assassin Sarah Jane Moore and Aram Monisoff as Leon Czolgosz the sensitive anarchist with a twisted sense of justice who killed Bill McKinley, walk it well with humor and pathos. Also Nicholas Druzbanski made me actually like would be Nixon killer Sam Byck’s monologues for the first time, generally I skip them on the cast recording, but he made them seem real.

(I would tell you all to go see the show, but it closes tomorrow – sorry!!)

Thing I Love: The Voice

This is not a political blog, but I want to take a moment to talk about the second most important voting experience I had this week. I voted for The Voice, more specifically I voted for Amanda Brown – but I mean come on listen to the girl:

If you’ve followed me over from my Tumblr, you know that I’ve had a long love affair with TV singing competitions. And I think that The Voice might perfect the formula. They have likeable yet crazy judges:

Real singing talent:

A host with little to no personality:

With an extra shot of eye candy:

I can’t wait for the next play-off tomorrow night!

Bonus Adventure: The Burnt Part Boys at Theater Wit

I’m not going to write a full review of this show, because I went to see it on the night of the first preview, and while it went generally smoothly, I don’t think that would be completely fair. But I did want to write a little something to encourage people to go.

The show, presented by the Griffin Theater Company at Theater Wit, is set in a small West Virginia mining town in the early 60s, the kind of town where people can refer to “the company” as an omnipotent force. The plot revolves around two brothers, one 18 and a high school dropout turned miner the other an 8th grader obsessed with The Alamo, who have lost their father in a mining disaster that has turned a part of the mountain into the titular “burnt part.”

The music, by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (the book is by Mariana Elder) who are also adapting Tuck Everlasting into a musical, which I’m really excited about now, is folk inspired musical theater, which is a genre I don’t encounter a lot, but combines a lot of my favorite things. It created a tone that strattled potential hokeyness and real emotion. It reminded me, self-conciously, of 1950s Westerns, like The Alamo, which I find comforting even though I know they can’t be telling me the historical truth. And it was sung exceptionally well for the most part, especially the young Charlie Fox (Pete), who astounded me with the power of his voice.

Again, I don’t want to nitpick a preview, but I will say that it was very well done, but if you plan on going brush up on The Alamo first, it will help you make sense of a few things.

 

The show runs Thursdays-Sundays through December 22nd at Theater Wit 1229 W. Belmont Ave