August 20, 2019

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/

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

Crazy Rich Asians Book and Movie

Book clubs have been caught up in Kevin Kwan fever with his trilogy of novels, Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times used the adjectives “snarky,,, wicked… funny” in her review. “Escapist” is the word I would use. Who doesn’t want to imagine what being a billionaire is like with private jet travel, unlimited shopping budgets and eye-poppingly lavish parties for one’s friends and family?

Rachel Chu unwittingly starts dating the fabulously wealthy heir to a Singapore fortune. She thought her boyfriend was merely a fellow middle class college professor in New York. A visit to his home country quickly makes it clear that his family and social set do not consider her “wealthy Asian” enough for their handsome financial prince.

After a successful run in theaters, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie, is currently streaming on several web platforms. The film does a decent job of capturing the humor and lightness of the first book making it the perfect weekend entertainment after a hard week at the salt mines. We get to see the Asian one percent frolic which gives another layer of escapist exoticism.

A literary devotee sniffed that the writing was not very good, but I say, that is not the point. A soap opera plot, interesting characters and a foreign setting are the selling points in both the three books and the one film. There will always be high demand for movies and novels that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Bring on the caramel corn and fizzy blush wine.

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

During our recent tour, Claudia Hommel and I stayed with a wonderful couple in Pittsburgh. The husband had worked for years in the air brakes division of Westinghouse. As luck would have it, I had recently finished a book entitled The Last Days of Night, a delightful historical fiction account of the electric rivalry between Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse of Pittsburgh.

The author, Chicago-born Graham Moore, has used many real life characters and woven fictional adventure and romance into the engaging plot.

While Erik Larson’s Devil In the White City gives an historically accurate account of the battle between Edison’s direct current and Tesla’s (backed by Westinghouse) alternating current, Moore imagines how this rivalry played out in their personal lives.

If you are interested in late 19th century America, The Last Days of Night will be an illuminating reading experience. Owners of Teslas will surely be tickled to know more about their car’s namesake, a decidedly eccentric but brilliant inventor.

Two Girls Down, thriller fiction by Louisa Luna

Two types of books find space on my night stand, literary works and lighter fare such as the thriller, Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna. I have book maven, Jenny Riddle to thank again for this suspenseful novel about Jamie Brandt, a distracted mother with two missing young daughters.

Enter bounty hunter Alice Vega and private eye, Max Caplan who unexpectedly join forces to solve the riddle of the absent girls.

The inquisitive duo meet more unsavory characters who may or may not be involved in the disappearance. Drugs, pedophilia, mental illness and other cases of kidnapping are uncovered by Vega and Caplan. This is a page-turner that may turn the stomaches of some readers, but crime, as they say, is not always pretty. Although sometimes entertaining.

If you need a pulp fiction fix, Two Girls Down by Louis Luna may be the remedy.

Pachinko, a 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee

A book club-loving neighbor handed me a novel that received much critical praise in 2017. The book was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and was a National Book Award Finalist. In all honesty, a family saga book set in Korea and Japan did not initially scream “Read me,” but I am so glad I read the first chapter which begins in 1910. We are introduced to Hoonie and his wife, Yangjin who are living in a Korean fishing village. Their teen-aged daughter, Sunja takes up with an older shady man named Koh Hansu. Pregnant, Sunja agrees to marry a tubercular Korean Protestant minister who is on his way to a job in Osaka, Japan.

So begins a four generation saga that will take place in a Japan of wars, poverty, illness and Korean discrimination, all the way to 1989. The Korean game of pachinko, a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine, is a thread that runs throughout the story.

Pachinko not only has stellar writing but it magically puts you into a world that is unlike anything one has experienced, yet universally so familiar as well. I came away wanting to know more about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history. Min Jin Lee has opened that window for me with her gem-like novel, Pachinko.