January 17, 2020

Van Gogh, Starry Night Art Experience in Paris

After two different ex-pats in Europe urged me to catch the Van Gogh, Starry Night art exhibit in Paris, I took notice. This was indeed no ordinary art exposition, but an Art Music Immersive Experience at the Atelier des Lumieres in the 11th arrondissement near the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

L’Atelier des Lumieres, the first digital center for art in Paris, opened in 2018 with a show featuring the work of Gustav Klimt. Would that I had a time machine to catch that show now. Bing images will have to suffice.

The current show featuring Vincent Van Gogh’s work is an otherworldly mix of his painted images from faces, to furniture, to landscapes to the famous starry night painting. Van Gogh’s brush strokes are almost palpable; his handwriting is even scrolled across the 140 video projectors throughout the former iron foundry.

An incredible sound system surrounds you in music of various types while you soak up the Van Gogh images. The soundtrack includes Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Maria Callas, Miles Davis, Die Moldau by Smetana and an eerie version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Major. However disparate the musical pieces are, they all seem to complement the enchanting visuals.

Some people choose to sit or stand in one area while viewing the multi-media presentation while others meander through the industrial space. There is a mosaic lined water pool on view below the main floor, a balcony and two additional viewing rooms, one round, the other glass or mirror-lined.

Two shorter eye-popping films play between the periodic Van Gogh program, Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World and Verse by Thomas Vanz but the real draw is Van Gogh, Starry Night (La Nuit Étoilée). The Atelier des Lumieres site recommends to plan for an hour in the space.

If you or someone you know is going to be in Paris through Dec. 31, 2019, please suggest they catch this impressive art and music experience. Admission may not be purchased at the venue, so order your tickets on-line. 14.5 Euros per adult and well worth it.

The official site: https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/en/van-gogh-starry-night

If you can’t attend, here are Bing images from the Van Gogh show:

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=van+gogh+exhibit+paris+2019&id=D0FAA86B1F68580C3D995F75F91BB7BE1E83B1B4&FORM=IQFRBA

Movie Musical Binge

I watch very few movies these days, so I was in Seventh Heaven on the United flight home to Chicago as I binged on three film musicals.

The Greatest Showman absolutely delighted me with lovely music, great acting especially from Hugh Jackman and the over-all art direction of the film. Watching the movie on a small screen was disappointing however, so seeing it again at a movie theater is on my agenda. Music Box Theater are you listening?

I have a special connection to all four A Star Is Born movies which deal with the topic of a couple on opposite fame trajectories. My mother loved black and white movies so the engaging 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March was introduced to me at a very early age.

A Star Is Born (1954) with Judy Garland and James Mason I saw as foreign exchange student at a film revival house in Paris. The vibrant visuals of Technicolor mesmerized me, and English has never sounded so good to me.

Both Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson were idols of mine so the 1976 version was for me, unmissable. The movie soundtrack got heavy rotation on my home stereo as well. Evergreen, the song hit from the movie, was an ear worm at piano bars everywhere.

I did not have high expectations for the 2018 adaptation with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, but I must admit that the film at least goes toe to toe with the 1976 film. Cooper’s singing is surprisingly good but his acting and directing are excellent. What can I say about Lady Gaga? She sings, acts and dances like the super star she is. Her French singing on La Vie En Rose was pretty magnifique, too.

My eyes started to hurt, but on I went to Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic starring Rami Malek as Queen lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Malek had caught my notice as the intriguing lead in the TV series Mr. Robot, but his embodiment of Mercury went beyond all expectations. Malek has moves! True, his singing voice was electronically mixed with that of Mercury and Canadian singer, Marc Martel throughout the movie, but he goes full throttle with the accent, the teeth prothesis and the sheer physical excitement of a Mercury performance. Be sure to watch the end credits so you can catch Mercury himself in full stage glory.

Like a binge monkey, I started Mary Poppins Returns only to be cut off by the pilot’s voice ten minutes into the movie, noting our imminent arrival to Chicago. Had there been time, I would have finished the Poppins film, gone on to the new Disney Dumbo remake and finished with Rocketman.

When is my next transatlantic flight so I can have another personal music film festival? Note to self: remember to pack eye drops.

Glessner House Courtyard concert on Sept. 25

I recently played a concert in the Glessner House courtyard with bass player Jim Cox. The evening was so lovely that I wanted to let people know about the second show I will be doing with guitarist John Papodolias on Wednesday, September 26 from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Attendees bring their own food, beverages, blankets and lawn chairs. It’s like a mini-Ravinia experience with Italian white lights strung across the Glessner House courtyard giving a soft glow to the atmosphere.

The cover charge is $10 per person and that also includes a tour of the museum after the show if desired. How could you pass up a chance to see Glessner House at night without crowds?

A little about Glessner House which is one of the understated gems in the city. William Tyre, executive director and curator of the museum has worked tirelessly for 12 years to provide a historical and architectural experience like no other.

John Jacob Glessner (an industrialist involved with the beginning of International Harvester) and his wife, Frances hired notable Chicago architect H. H. Richardson to design them a stunning home in the Prairie Avenue district, south of Chicago’s Loop. Completed in 1887, the 17,000 square feet of space looks like a fortress from the exterior, but feels cozily intimate inside. The owners of Victorian homes must have looked a bit askance at this forerunner of more modern Chicago architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Mies Van der Rohe.

My outdoor live music event would be a great way to experience the Glessner House, but a visit any time of the year is a must for anyone interested in Chicago history or architecture. Locals and people from all over the world find their way to this architectural masterpiece. Join them!

www.glessnerouse.org

Cece’s Veggie Co. Noodled

I was tempted to buy a spiralizer, a gizmo that cuts vegetables into long noodles akin to spaghetti but my accident rate with anything sharp dissuaded me.

Cece’s Veggie Company to the rescue. I purchased Organic Butternut Squash in the refrigerated section of my local Mariano’s grocery store, but I have also seen the product at Whole Foods.

You can eat the noodle-like veggies raw or sauté them for 4 to 6 minutes in a fry pan. For one version, I used my favorite spaghetti sauce on the sautéed noodles and hardly missed the usual pasta taste. A salad of meat and veggies with the raw noodles also made a very satisfying meal.

The Noodled section of the company features spiralized beets, sweet potatoes, yellow squash and zucchini as well as the butternut squash. Cece’s also sells riced veggies like cauliflower, broccoli and a medley of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and green onions. Grillerz look like cottage fries and come in three varieties, carrots with white sweet potatoes, mixed sweet potatoes and summer squash with a garlic herb butter sauce included.

Business concerns continue to find surprising ways to feature vegetables and Cece’s Veggie Company is a big contender for top banana (okay, it’s a fruit). The company uses the tagline, “Simple but twisted.” But in a really good way.

Songwriter Tom Lehrer: Biting Wit and Deep Thoughts

Over the years, I would hear mention of the name Tom Lehrer as this legendary songwriter of irreverent and topical tunes such as Poisoning Pigeons In the Park, The Vatican Rag, or National Brotherhood Week. Nor can one forget Buddy Charles’ stupendous rendition of Masochism Tango or the droll Hannukah in Santa Monica, a non-Christian holiday standard.

Lehrer’s popularity in the 1950s and 1960s included LP sales and writing music for the television show, That Was the Week That Was. Lehrer shifted his focus to teaching academic mathematics and musical theater in the early 1970s at places like MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.

He was definitely a man of many interests having worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, enlisting in the military and doing a work stint for the NSA.

His relatively small catalogue of songs is still relevant today. Lehrer is now 91 years old. Isn’t it high time we start a tidal wave of interest in his material? Shame on me because I don’t currently have any of his songs in my repertoire, but hope to rectify that soon.

My friend Lydia Stux gave me this link of Lehrer performing a special concert in Denmark. He has this nerdy charm, with his horn-rimmed glasses and his surprisingly good singing and playing.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHPmRJIoc2k

Big Little Lies on HBO

For popular fiction, author Liane Moriarty is quite a fun read. Small wonder that HBO and David E. Kelley chose to turn her book, Big Little Lies into a series. With star power like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley, how could the project fail? Having show runner David E. Kelley on board was also a surefire bet with L.A. Law, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal as some of the shows on his production resume.

Not only did this tv series surpass expectations, it was extended into a second season with none other than acting goddess, Meryl Streep. Other excellent cast members include the exotic Zoe Kravitz, square-shooter Adam Scott and Laura Dern as very entitled business mogul Renata Klein. My special favorite is child actor, Iain Armitage as the adorable and possibly dangerous Ziggy Chapman.

The California setting comes off as a very pretty place with an under current of fear, rage, frustration and boredom. Little wonder that the characters get into such dramatic situations. Big Little Lies explores spousal abuse, bad-parenting, adultery, substance abuse, bankruptcy, privilege and the bonds of friendship. Big Little Lies is essentially a soap opera with really great acting and gorgeous location cinematography.

This is yet another show that has kept me renewing my HBO subscription. Keep it up, Home Box Office.

The Last Czars on Netflix

The Last Czars, a six episode series which premiered on Netflix July 3, 2019, uses dramatic re-enactment scenes interspersed with very animated scholars weighing in on documentary-style questions.

We continue to be fascinated by royal families, as the popularity of the shows Victoria and The Crown would attest. One hundred years have elapsed since the murder of the last Imperial Russian royal family so this seems a propitious time to re-examine the downfall of this storied monarchy.

Robert Jack portrays Tsar Nicholas, the final royal ruler of Russia, as a man who was incapable of changing with the times, which were turbulent indeed with starvation, strikes, riots, a disastrous war with Japan and the run-up to World War I being some of the problems during his reign. On a personal level, he was madly in love with his wife, Empress Alexandra (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and father to four daughters who were ineligible to rule. Joy at the eventual birth of his son and heir, Alexei turned to sorrow when it was discovered that he suffered from an inherited family illness, hemophilia.

We see Alexandra, played by Susanna Herbert, fall under the spell of mystic and possible madman, Grigori Rasputin, mesmerizingly embodied by British actor, Ben Cartwright. Both Nicholas and Alexandra came to believe that only Rasputin could keep the young Tsarevitch in good health.

The series delves into how the family was executed and the possibility of survivors, most notably that of daughter, Anastasia.

If you are a fan of European history, the Imperial Russian family in particular, this docu-drama has good enough acting, cinematography, costume and production values. Some of the dialogue in The Last Czars may annoy you as stating the obvious however.

DNA testing has taken away some of the mystery surrounding the final chapter of the Emperor and his family, but historical interest remains high. I may just go google the current price of a Fabergé egg and take a virtual tour of the Hermitage Art Museum.

Date Balls by Sonia’s Organics at Mariano’s

As someone who is always on the look-out for sugar-free snacks and desserts, I wanted to let you know about a product I just found at my local Mariano’s grocery store: Date Balls by Sonia’s Organics.

In a small 12 ounce plastic container found in the produce department, you will find 20 round balls made with organic Medjool dates, organic walnuts and rolled in organic shredded coconut. There is no dairy, gluten or added sugar so this food item is good for people with dietary restrictions.

The date balls are 100 calories per item so this is not a diet food however. In fact, the package proudly states “energy boost” because of the healthy fat and protein. Just one or two satisfies my sweet tooth craving and hunger.

Other versions include cocoa powder, seeds, organic raw honey or organic raw almonds. The products are distributed by Golden Foods of Bensenville, so locavores have an additional reason to be happy with Date Balls.

Deadwood on HBO, the series and the new movie

My father was a U. S. Attorney for 8 years and had to spend summers in Deadwood, South Dakota for federal court sessions. Our family benefited by spending weeks exploring the whole Black Hills area, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Hot Springs, Hill City with its coal train locomotive and horseback riding being some of the attractions.

The real draw for me on these trips was the town of Deadwood with its storied past as a gold rush town, a gambling mecca and the place where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by the infamous Jack McCall.

Show creator of Deadwood, David Milch set the HBO series in the time period when the lawless town was literally being mined for profit and being dragged into the orbit of government and civilization.

The excellent cast of Deadwood reads like an impressive who’s who of future tv shows. Timothy Oliphant subsequently added Justified and Santa Clarita Diet to his resume. Anna Gunn as his school-teacher wife went on to play the beleaguered spouse in Breaking Bad. Ian McShane as the town underworld boss has been seen in American Gods, Ray Donovan and Game of Thrones. Mollie Parker went on to House of Cards and Goliath. Paula Malcomson played Katniss’ mother in the Hunger Games movies. Kim Dickens and Garret Dillahunt both have been in Fear the Walking Dead. William Sanderson as Mayor and hotel owner E. B. Farnum plays a quirky sheriff in True Blood. Titus Welliver has done stints in The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy and Bosch. Seasoned actor Powers Booth has been recently seen in Nashville and Agents of S. H. I. E. L. D. Calamity Jane played by Robin Weigert recently popped up as a therapist on Big Little Lies. And I have not even touched upon the guest stars.

I make special note of Keith Carradine who is a wonder to behold as Wild Bill Hickok and Gerald McRaney as powerful bad guy, George Hurst.

The language is as raw as I remember. Four letter words and graphic scenes of sex and violence abound. This is unique dialogue that gives a nod to the time period and allows the characters to use the rough and raw words of whore houses, gambling dens and booze joints.

As you may have noticed, streaming services are revisiting series that still hold interest for viewers. In the case of Deadwood: The Movie (May 2019), David Milch picks up the story ten years after the end of the original series.

While I loved communing with these characters again and loose ends are indeed tied, the film was not of the same artistic quality of the series. By all means, watch this ground-breaking remarkable series as a newcomer or as a repeat customer. The Movie may be optional.

Just remember, aces and eights are the dead man’s poker hand. At least in Deadwood.

Les Misérables at Cadillac Palace Theater

Les Misérables is back for a brief run at the Cadillac Palace in a lovely Cameron Mackintosh production of the now classic musical.

1980 was the year of the Paris premiere, with a French libretto and score by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Jean-Marc Natel. With the original creators, James Fenton, Trevor Nunn and John Caird adapted the book and lyrics into English for a London production in 1985. The show made its Broadway debut in 1987. Audiences have been going to the theater world-wide to watch people be miserable in song ever since.

This production boasts scenery, lighting and costumes that are inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, the author of the French literary epic. The familiar score is ably sung by the cast.

Let me add a word on the vocal style. The cast members are basically using a hybrid of classical singing and Broadway belt which can sometimes be over-amplified and harsh sounding. This is the fashion of musical theater today however. Down the road, I would love to hear a production of Les Misérables with operatic performers using a bel canto approach.

Many people wrongly assume that the musical is set during the French Revolution which started in 1789. A guy named Napoleon ruled from 1804 to 1814. The play starts in 1815 and culminates in the June Rebellion of 1832 when many of the play’s characters are killed in a street conflagration. Boublil and Schonberg actually wrote an earlier musical called La Revolution Francaise which played in Paris in the early 1970s. My French history nerd persona is showing. Pardon me!

If you like or even love Les Misérables, this production would be a worthy use of your time and money. Through July 27, 2019.

Next up at the Cadillac Palace Theater are:
Come From Away, July 30 through August 18,
followed by The Band’s Visit, September 3 through 15.

www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/les-miserables/