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  • 06/03/17--10:33: Scouting Report

  • Over the years I’ve written up quite a few players we’ve seen play at Roger Dean Stadium Class A+ ball, the home of the Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins affiliate) and the Palm Beach Cardinals (Cardinals affiliate). I’ve watched many “graduate” the most notables being Giancarlo Stanton (who played under the name of Mike Stanton when I saw him play for the Hammerheads in 2009) and Christian Yelich (who reminded me of Jacoby Ellsbury).  But I like to concentrate my “scouting” on the pitchers, my position way back as a kid when I dreamt of major league glory.  I’ve watched Jarlin García, Justin Nicolino and Andrew Heaney make their way to the big leagues (Heaney is expected to miss the entire 2017 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery).  I’ve written up others who are still seasoning in the minors but at a higher level.

    I normally concentrate on the “home team” candidates but last Wednesday I wanted to focus on the Lakeland Tigers’ Beau Burrows.  He was the Tigers’ first draft pick right out of high school in 2015 and he is leading the Florida State league with a 1.23 ERA, a WHIP under 1, and more than a strikeout per inning.  He will probably be the starting pitcher in the league’s All Star game later this month. 
    So it was with much anticipation seeing him pitch against the Palm Beach Cardinals’ Derian Gonzalez.  Ironically, it was Gonzalez who outpitched Burrows, throwing seven scoreless innings and the Cardinals winning the game 2-0.  Nonetheless, Burrows impressed. He’s powerfully built, 6-2” and 200 lbs.  He reminded me a little of another pitcher who came out of Texas, Roger Clemens.  Burrows allowed 1 earned run on 5 hits and 6 strikeouts in his 7 innings pitched.  He has all the stuff, including a fast ball approaching 100 mph and complements that with good breaking pitches.  What he didn’t have the other night was pinpoint control, too many well hit balls as a consequence, luckily, for him, usually right at someone.  It was not his finest outing, but he is a work in progress as it should be for a 20 year old.  If he doesn’t get hurt, look for him in the “show” in a year or two.  It was wonderful to see him work at this stage, up close -- the great advantage of seeing ball at the minor league level.

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  • 06/10/17--14:33: Let the Games Begin

  • The “games” -- meaning the Congressional Hearings regarding the Russian influence on our election results and the possible “cooperation” of Trump and/or his legion of surrogates.

    James Comey laid out his case in great documented detail.  Is there enough there to “prove” a case of impeding an investigation by a sitting U.S. President, or even impeachment.  No.  Not, yet at least.

    And Trump’s reaction was predictable, cherry picking what he liked such as the three times Comey said he was not personally under investigation (he wouldn’t be – yet), then claiming other statements were “a lie,” such as demanding “loyalty” of Comey.

    Trump also said he is “100%” committed to testifying under oath (watch out what you wish for).

    It was a one on one conversation, so it boils down to who do you believe, the meticulous note taker Comey, or the off-the cuff reactions of President Trump?  Yet, they both may be telling “the truth.”  How can that be? 

    At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, simply put perhaps Trump believes his own lies, has created his own reality, and really does not believe he said or meant those aspects of Comey’s testimony.  Therefore, he can in good conscience testify to that effect. 100%.

    As Eric Hoffer, author of The True Believer said, “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.

    Perhaps future candidates for President should be required to undergo physical AND psychological testing?  Aren’t we entitled to choose between the healthiest candidates for such an important office?

    And from another site (there are many), “certain personality traits where pathological lying may occur include” (does any of this strike a chord?):

        Narcissism or self-centered behaviors and thought patterns
        Abusive attitude
        Obsessive, controlling, and compulsive behaviors
        Jealous behavior
        Manipulative behaviors
        Socially awkward, uncomfortable, or isolated
        Low self-esteem

    Almost a month ago I wrote to our two Senators (Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson) and our Representative (Brian Mast).  This was before Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department as special counsel but right after James Comey was dismissed as FBI Director by Trump.  I ultimately received responses from Nelson and Mast, those were after Mueller was appointed and thus their responses were understandably focused on that appointment.

    Rubio on the other hand provided an automated response that a reply would be forthcoming and such a reply never did.  I find this interesting as Rubio’s questioning of Comey was definitely Trump predisposed.  Rubio seems to be committed to appealing to the base that got him elected.  This country has devolved into Newton's third law of physics, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Just flip back and forth between MSNBC and FOX and you can experience the polarity.

    Here is our letter first and then the responses.

    May 13, 2017
    Dear (insert name of Senator or Representative):

    My wife and I, both retired, are distraught and anxiety ridden over the behavior of President Trump.  I can think of only two times we’ve felt so concerned:  during the Cuban missile crisis and during the end of the Nixon administration.  Luckily, a stable, resolute President Kennedy prevailed during the former crisis and our democracy and separation of powers worked to ensure the preservation of the Republic during the latter.

    Where are the courageous Senators to insist on a special prosecutor (now that the FBI has been kneecapped) to investigate the extent of any possible collusion of the Trump election team with Russian operatives?  Where are the courageous Senators to insist on a complete examination of Trump’s financial dealings in light of the emolument clause of the Constitution or to consider whether his removal is justified by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution based on mental illness?

    Perhaps you feel the same existential dilemma we do: how does one, as a citizen of a country he/she loves, support its new leader, given his unstable, even despotic behavior, one who relies on nepotistic advice? 

    The concept of separation of powers and the role of the 4th estate are being severely tested and we look to the Senate as the last bastion of defense.  Will you and your colleagues rise to the occasion or are you going to allow this person to run amuck and jeopardize everything our founding fathers stood for?  His behavior is an affront to the dignity of the Office of the Presidency, weakening our country instead of protecting it, something he pledged to do when he was sworn into office.

    We will be carefully watching your actions and depending on you to do the morally right thing to protect our country.



            Senator Marco Rubio
            May 13 at 11:54 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to contact me. Your correspondence has been received and I welcome the opportunity to address your concerns. Hearing directly from constituents such as yourself is truly an honor, and your input is much appreciated.

    Please look for my response in the near future. In an effort to serve you better, please do not duplicate e-mails into the web-form, as it may serve to delay the response to your concerns. If you need immediate assistance with a federal agency, please call (866) 630-7106, toll-free in Florida.


    U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

    # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

    May 22 at 6:40 PM
    Dear Mr. Hagelstein,

    Thank you for contacting me in support of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in our elections and potential ties to the Trump administration. Your thoughts are important to me as I work to effectively represent you in Congress.

    You deserve transparency and accountability in government. We should never run or hide from the truth. If we seek out truth and embrace it then Americans can know we all play by the same set of rules.

    As you may know, in addition to ongoing investigations in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed former F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel for the Russia investigation. Like you, I hope that Director Mueller can be looked at as unbiased and that his finding will be respected by all. The American people deserve answers, and I am committed to ensuring a transparent process as these investigations move forward.   

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.  If you’d like to receive updates about this issue and other news that’s important to our community, please sign up here.  To follow along with my work on your behalf, please join me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram   and YouTube.  If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me again.  As always it is an honor to represent you in the United States Congress.


    Brian Mast
    Member of Congress

    # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

    May 30, 2017
    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hagelstein:

     Thank you for contacting me about ongoing investigations related to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election.

    In March, I called for the appointment of a special prosecutor and/or the establishment of an independent commission to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference.

    After the President fired FBI Director Comey on May 9, I repeated my calls for a special prosecutor and/or an independent commission. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Justice named former FBI Director Bob Mueller Special Counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. Bob Mueller has the experience to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, he must be provided the resources and independent authority he needs to follow the facts wherever they lead.

    The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has pledged to continue its bipartisan investigation into Russian attempts to influence our election. In addition, I am cosponsoring S. 27, which would create an independent commission to investigate Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election.

    According to the U.S. intelligence community, Russia is responsible for a number of hacks and the subsequent leaking of stolen information related to the 2016 Presidential election, at Putin's direct order. The attempt by an outside power to influence the election and promote a particular candidate is a very serious threat to our constitutional form of government.

    On December 29, 2016, President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia in response to these hacks. I am cosponsoring S. 341, the Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017, a bill that would keep sanctions imposed on Russia for election hacking and other aggression in place until Congress says otherwise.

    As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and Ranking Member of the SASC Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, I will continue to support policies that enhance our capability to deter and defend against cyber attacks from all enemies.

    Now isn’t the time to cozy up to Russia, now is the time to stand up to Russian aggression.  I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

    Sincerely, Bill Nelson

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  • 06/14/17--10:15: Flag Day Despoiled

  • I was going to write a piece about Flag Day with photos.

    Now, the depressing news about the shooting at a baseball practice field of Republican members of the congressional baseball team leads to other thoughts.  Thankfully no one was killed other than the gunman.  Good riddance to him. And thankfully the brave Capitol Police were there to take him down.

    But will this be a time that we pull together long after the incident?  Or will it just pull us further apart?

    I’ve heard comments such as Representative Mo Brooks’  “It’s not easy to take when you see people around you being shot and you don’t have a weapon yourself.”  According to initial reports the deranged gunman had a military assault style weapon.  One can understand the helplessness and the impotence felt by Rep. Brooks.  It is an outrage that we cannot even enjoy our national pastime without feeling threatened this way.  And it is an outrage that political divisiveness should lead to any kind of violence.

    But unless we all pull together the subsequent dialogue can go two divergent ways.  One could lead us down the path of greater authoritarianism and the call for arming more citizens (although a greater police presence is going to be necessary when many of our Representatives are in public venues).  The other path could call for the long-needed ban of military grade weapons.  Are we all supposed to be armed  with AR-15s on our baseball fields?  I’m no Pollyanna and know that such a ban would have little impact on what happens in the near future.  I’m thinking long term.  This is not about challenging the 2ndAmendment, and it is not about Republican vs. Democrat.  It’s about common sense banning military weapons, doing comprehensive background checks, expanding our treatment of mental illness, and developing better early warning signs of mentally disturbed people from social networks and prior arrests.

    I worry about how this horrible incident will move the country in the future.  Will we come together, E pluribus unum, or be driven apart, politicizing this horror?  I look to the flag and wonder and hope.

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  • 06/16/17--11:32: I Love My Wife

  • Cy Coleman’s I Love My Wife is the title song from his 1977 musical about wife swapping – a very popular “sport” in those days, the same year NYC’s Plato's Retreat opened for swingers.  After the fantasying by the husbands in the show, they come to the conclusion that they have the best in their own wives.  Thus this song.  If it were not for Frank Sinatra perhaps the song would be as forgotten as the musical but, thankfully, Sinatra saw the genius of this beautiful ballad, the repeated musical phrases resulting in such a haunting melody.  He recorded it as a single using a Nelson Riddle chart. The lyrics, by Michael Stewart, latch onto those musical phrases (these of course are not the entire lyrics):

    But just in case, you didn't know
    I love my wife

    and later in the song….

    But just in case, you hadn't heard
    I love my wife

    and later again…

    But just in case, you couldn't guess
    I love my wife

    and the concluding

    But just in case, you couldn't guess
    Or hadn't heard
    Or didn't know
    I love my wife
    I love my wife
    I love my wife

    I love my wife

    My piano rendering of this wonderful melody is dedicated to my wife of nearly 50 years, Ann.

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    My favorite bass player, David Einhorn, knowing my love of Sondheim, gifted me Our Time, Tommy Cecil and Bill Mays’ incredible jazz interpretation of Sondheim’s work.  As it is indicated as “Volume 2” I was able to find their first CD of Sondheim’s music, appropriately called Side by Side.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a “plug” for anything in this space, but I make an exception for these two CDs. (Amazon carries both.)

    Tommy Cecil and Bill Mays

    They take the beautiful and frequently complex music of Sondheim to another level (although some of the pieces Sondheim was only the lyricist), probably the most unique jazz pieces I’ve ever heard.  It is an equal partnership between a gifted bassist and pianist.  We’ve seen Bill Mays at the Colony on Palm Beach, intended to go back this year, but learned that the Colony had cancelled his brunch gigs on Sunday, probably due to financial considerations.  He is perhaps one of the best jazz pianists at work today.

    No drummer is necessary for this pair. In fact a drummer would interfere with their accomplishment, a unique collaboration of two gifted musicians, their voicing and rhythm just perfect.

    Before these two CDs I had collected a series of Sondheim jazz albums by the Terry Trotter Trio, the only such authorized renditions by the great man himself, Stephen Sondheim.  I listen to them frequently but now I’m fixated on the innovative work of Cecil and Mays. Here are the tracks from the two CDs:

    Side By Side(Sondheim Duos)

    1 Something's Coming 7:09
    2 Not While I'm Around 6:25
    3 Broadway Baby 8:00
    4 Every Day a Little Death 6:10
    5 Ballad of Sweeney Todd 4:50
    6 Small World 6:52
    7 Side By Side By Side 5:27
    8 Anyone Can Whistle 6:28
    9 Comedy Tonight 7:06

    Our Time (Sondheim Duos 2)

    1 Everybody Says Don't  5:33
    2 Johanna 3:44
    3 Our Time5:59  
    4 Moments in the Woods 6:09
    5 Finishing the Hat 4:48
    6 The Miller's Son 5:55  
    7 Losing My Mind 4:19
    8 The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened 5:44
    9 Agony 6:05
    10 Being Alive 5:44
    11 Rich and Happy 6:08

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  • 06/22/17--13:57: Too Late Now

  • We think of Lerner and Lowe as a team, but lyricist Alan Jay Lerner worked with other composers such as Burton Lane on the film Royal Wedding in 1951.  It includes this gem of a song, a memorable contribution to the Great American Songbook, touching lyrics by Lerner and a suitable Burton Lane melancholic melody.  Supposedly, they wrote it over the telephone. 

    Although it’s been recorded by many, it’s Judy Garland’s sad rendition I think of as the song was written for her but she dropped out before Royal Wedding was filmed and was replaced by Jane Powell.  This YouTube recording was from her TV show, performed some dozen years later.  It takes on a genuine sadness given the back-story.

    Too Late Now
    Too late now to forget your smile
    The way we cling when we danced awhile
    Too late now to forget and go on with someone new

    Too late now to forget your voice
    The way one word makes my heart rejoice
    Too late now to imagine myself away from you

    All the things we've dreamed together
    I relive when we're apart
    All the tender words together
    Live on in my heart

    How could I ever close the door
    And be the same as I was before?
    Darling, no, no I can't anymore
    It's too late now

    My rendition in the “recording studio” of my living room has its technical drawbacks, but I tried to capture the pure simplicity of this wonderful melody.

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    Calling all Janeites!  Calling all Janeites!  Mr. Henry Dashwood has died, leaving his home to John, son from his first marriage, and John’s scheming wife, Fanny, who has convinced her husband to banish his father’s second wife and her three daughters from their home, relegating them to Barton Cottage in Devonshire.  The shock of it all!  A mere cottage!  And the three young women, two of marriageable age, Elinor and Marianne, have no attachments and the bereft Dashwood women have but a very small inherited income.  If you are an inveterate Jane Austen enthusiast, you of course recognize this as the beginning of Sense and Sensibility, her first novel published in 1811.  It is a whirlwind novel of scandal, gossip, attachments made and attachments broken, the manners and mores of Regency England, and of course love.

    Here is a wonderful adaptation written by Kate Hamill for the stage which opened last night, and a high energy production by FAU’s Department of Theatre and Dance.  Ultimately, the affections of the steadfast Edward Ferrars, and the stalwart Colonel Brandon win over the sensible Elinor and the mercurial Marianne, respectively, but before that much anticipated denouement, we are treated to a dizzying array of plot complications and impediments to love conquering all.

    The cast made up mostly of MFA Graduate Students and two equity actors are all equally professional.  If this is the future of South Florida Theater, it will flourish.  It is a large cast including several members of “gossip groups,” sort of a Greek Chorus which brings the audience into the temper of the times.  Hilariously, they also function as dogs and horses in the play, just adding more action to what is already a lot of moving parts on stage as the minimalist scenery is on wheels and the cast is constantly moving them into new places. Comedic elements emerge throughout the production

    Although it is impossible to comment on each and every performer (complete cast list below), they are all very convincing, but a special call out to Jessica Eaton who plays Fanny, her malice giving no grounds, and Traven Call who captures the essence of dog, horse, and finally the foppish brother of Edward, Robert Ferris.  Amanda Corbett plays Elinor and Gabriela Tortoledo is Marianne, both performing flawlessly in these two demanding major roles.  

    What makes this production so enjoyable is the period Regency costumes (Dawn Shamburger), the music of the times (Sound Design by Rich Szczublewski), the fast moving choreography (kudos to Jean-Louis Baldet the Director and Suzanne Clement Jones, Stage Manager), and, again, a cast thoroughly committed to their craft.  Technical and Lighting Design is by Thomas M. Shorrock, and K. April Soroko is Scenic Designer.  A special mention goes to the Dialect Coach Jenna Wyatt -- getting that right is half the battle in such a production.

    If there is one minor quibble (not to me personally, but it might be to some) it is the length, more than 2-1 / 2 hours including intermission.  Of course a familiarity with the novel would be helpful.  If you haven’t read it, there is always Wikipedia.  But after you’ve seen it, maybe you will want to read it as well as all of Jane Austen and become a Janeite like my wife Ann! 


    Elinor Dashwood...................................Amanda Corbett+
    Marianne Dashwood.............................Gabriela Iortoledo+
    Margaret Dashwood..............................Abby Nigro
    Mrs. Dashwood.....................................Kathryn Lee Johnston*
    John Dashwood/Dr. Harris/Gossip E...Gray West+
    Edward Ferrars......................................Sean Patrick Gibbons+
    Fanny (Ferrars) Dashwood....................Jessica Eaton+
    Colonel Brandon....................................Stephen Kaiser+
    John Willoughby....................................Zak Westfall+
    Sir John Middleton................................Barry Tarallo*
    Mrs. Jennings.........................................Rachel Finley+
    Lucy Steele/Gossip C.............................Laura M. Goetz
    Anne Steele/Gossip D............................Savannah Marino
    Robert Ferrars/Gossip E........................Trayven Call+
    Gossip A.................................................Tara Collandra
    Gossip B.................................................Erin Williams+

    *Member of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA)
    + M.F.A. Graduate Student

    Amanda Corbett, Sean Patrick Gibbons and Gabriela Tortoledo  -Photo by Zak Westfall

    Sense and Sensibility has Friday – Sunday performances 7 p.m. June 23 through July 22 with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday as well at Studio One Theatre, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton.

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  • 06/28/17--15:58: News of the World

  • Funny how what we sometimes read is based on serendipity rather than carefully thought out choices.  After all, reading time is precious, especially with multifaceted activities whirling around in the modern world, all calling for our attention or participation.  It’s one of the reasons I welcome the summer and returning to our boat in Connecticut for a long stay.  No pressing commitments, no piano, and although there is work to be done on the boat, incomparable to “running” the house.  Also, our dock is out of range of Wifi so even our Internet activity has to be cut back, television too as satellite is unreliable on a cloudy windy day.  I welcome the change.

    So I’ve been happily arranging my reading, lining up all the novels I hope to finish.  Most are so-called “serious” ones, no sense listing them here.  In fact, I had already started one, when our good friend, Nina, sent us an email with the subject “beautiful writing,” starting out her message “.... It was March 5 and cold, his breath fumed and his old muffler was dank with the steam. Above and behind them the Dipper turned on its great handle as if to pour night itself out onto the dreaming continent and each of its seven stars gleamed from between the fitful passing clouds.....” This is a passage from the book I’m reading and loving): News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  It’s a story of a printer turned newsreader in the 1870's and what happens to him.

    So I sagely replied, Yes, Beautiful.  Sounds like the kind of book one of us can knock off quickly.  But I have so many on my reading take-off pad that I can't promise to get to it immediately, and if it's a library book, or promised to someone else, I'd feel guilty taking it.  

    It was a library book but my wife Ann agreed to read it, which she did in a few days, enthusiastically endorsing it as well and insisting I would love it too.  Meanwhile I was reading one of my “serious” novels and laboring.  I declared (to myself), even if it’s serious it should be a joy to read so I decided to put it down (very unlike me) and give myself over to a novel which had all the earmarks of a great story, News of the World, and as there were still a few days left before the library return date, felt confident that I could knock off the 200 some odd pages.

    How happy I am that I made that decision.

    Jiles’ novel reminded me a little of Philipp Meyer’s, The Son, (although his is a novel written on a much grander scale), in that one of the main characters was captured by Indians and raised by them, while their parents were killed, all of this taking place in the post civil war territory of Texas.  Each makes its points about man’s inhumanity to man and survival being a paramount issue.  However The Son is a sledgehammer of a novel while News of the World is delicate and uplifting.

    Here’s another comparative observation to other novels I’ve read, and this might seem to be strange, yet there is an interesting connection.  Jiles dispenses with the use of quotation marks so the author’s narrative and the characters’ dialogue is not readily distinguishable.  This technique, while off putting at first, works very well as you get used to it and I find that it makes great story telling even more energizing.   

    Two such novels, reviewed in this blog which also use that technique are Dave Eggers’ Hologram for a King and Louis Begley’s About Schmidt.  And as with Jiles’ novel, both are fast reads, hard to put down.  I find them almost reading like screenplays, easily adaptable to that medium.  The novels I mentioned were made into films.  News of the World would be a perfect film as well I thought.  Therefore I googled the title and “film” and found that Tom Hanks had just signed up for a movie version! 

    Perfect casting as “The Captain” and ideally suited to Hanks’ sensibilities and temperament.  He’s a little young for the part, the main character being closer to my age (nearing mid-70s than Hanks at 60), but just perfect otherwise.  Ironically he starred in the movie version of Hologram for a King so maybe he has a penchant for story narratives and dialogue without quotation marks as well!

    The Son also made its way to film, a recent 10 part TV miniseries.  Great stories about the West and the real back story of the unimaginable cruelties and hardships have power.

    I found News of the World a metaphor for today’s developing dystopian world.  There was extreme political dissention in Texas during post Civil War years.  Edmund Davis, considered a radical, was elected governor against Andrew Jackson Hamilton, a Unionist Democrat.  Davis supported the rights of freed slaves and wanted Texas to be divided into a number of Republican-controlled states.  This leitmotif works in the background of the novel and the political polarity resembles today.  You were either pro Davis or anti-Davis.

    It was also a time of great fear, Mexicans being hunted and murdered, Indian wars continuing, and marauding bands of outlaws, lawlessness and violence, not exactly an excellent time for a 70 plus year old man to take a newly freed Indian captive on a 400 mile journey south through Texas.

    Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is no ordinary man of the times, though.  He’s been through two wars, including the war of 1812 but that experience is secondary to his nature.  He’s a good man, trustworthy, honorable, and as an ex-printer he is interested in and makes his living from “the news of the world.”  These attributes put him in a situation where he is inveigled to return a captive of the Kiowa tribe, a 10 year old white girl, captured when she was six, to her aunt and uncle some four hundred grueling and dangerous miles from Wichita Falls northwest of Dallas to Castroville, southwest of San Antonio.

    He’s also not ordinary as he embraces information (a modern man!), believing that “If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and the world would be a more peaceful place.”

    So the story begins when Britt Johnson, a free black man, asks Captain Kidd to deliver the child, who was left to him by a government agent, back to her family.  After all she’s a white girl and if Johnson attempts the three plus week journey, there could be consequences.  “You take her and the fifty dollar gold piece I was given to deliver her.  Hard to find somebody to trust with this.” Thus the Captain was given the responsibility of delivering Johanna Leonberger under contract with a government agent (Johnson gives him papers to that effect) and as Kidd himself says:  “I am a man of my word.”

    He was a runner during the war of 1812.  “He had good lungs and knew the country…covering ground at a long trot was meat and drink to him….Nothing pleased him more than to travel free and unencumbered, along, with a message in his hand, carrying information from one unit to another, unconcerned with its content, independent of what was written or ordered therein…A lifting, running joy.  He felt like a thin banner streaming, printed with some real insignia with messages of great import entrusted to his care…He always recalled those two years with a kind of wonder.  As when one is granted the life and the task for which one was meant.  No matter how odd, no matter how out of the ordinary.  When it came to an end he was not surprised.  It was too good, too perfect to last.”

    And since the Civil War he has been an itinerant news provider, going from town to town reading news articles at assemblages of people in the town for 10 cents apiece.  But now he had to combine his living with the solemn oath of delivering the child safely,”in his mild and mindless way still roaming, still reading out the news of the world in the hope that it would do some good, but in the end he must carry a weapon in his belt and he had a child to protect and no printed story or tale would alter that.”

    When he first sees Johanna he says “The child seems artificial as well as malign.”

    She says (inaudible to them):  “My name is Cicada.  My father’s name is Turning Water.  My mother’s name is Three Spotted.  I want to go home.”  She doesn’t speak these words though as “the Kiowa words in all their tonal music lived in her head like bees.”

    Thus, the journey begins and here in the best interest of spoiler alerts, I’m deserting plot and delving into some of Jiles’ sparse writing and some of the themes that emerge.

    The Captain is not only a man of honor, but a person of great sensitivity.  In spite of the travails of trying to transport her, and the frustrations of trying to teach her some of the ways of the white world which she had entirely forgotten, his inherent humanity prevails:  “He was suddenly almost overwhelmed with pity for her.  Torn from her parents, adopted by a strange culture, given new parents, then sold for a few blankets and some old silverware, now sent to stranger after stranger, crushed into peculiar clothing, surrounded by people of an unknown language and unknown culture, only ten years old, and now she could not even eat her food without have to use outlandish instruments….Her sufferings were beyond description.”

    “He worried all up and down every street and with every tack he drove in.  Worried about the very long journey ahead, about his ability to keep the girl from harm.  He thought, resentfully, I raised my girls, I already did that.  At the age he had attained with his life span short before him he had begun to look upon the human world with the indifference of a condemned man.”  Oh do I identify with the last sentence of this quote!

    He is a man who lives in the real world and his flight with Johanna brings these thoughts to the surface, “more than ever knowing in his fragile bones that it was the duty of men who aspired to the condition of humanity to protect children and kill for them….Human aggression and depravity still managed to astonish him….Some people were born unsupplied with a human conscience and those people needed killing.”

    Yet, as he turns 72 on the road, and is fending off threats to follow through on his promise and in the process gradually bonding with Johanna, he is “beyond belief “at his age, still traveling, alive, and thus “unaccountably happy.” 

    “Maybe life is just carrying news.  Surviving to carry the news.  Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.”

    I’ve quoted liberally in this overview, but it’s one of the advantages I can bring to a blog vs.the usual “review.”  Such reviews can easily be found elsewhere.  But I like to focus on the writing, and this is a beautiful novel and I was glad to put down my other reading to enjoy News of the World.  I’ll look forward to Tom Hanks’ interpretation of it, an actor I admire.  He will make a great Captain Kidd.

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  • 07/03/17--13:07: I Could Have Told You

  • One of the great joys of music is meeting different musicians and then hearing them play or sing pieces I’m not familiar with.  Wikipedia says The Great American Songbook, also known as 'American Standards', is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century.  That’s enormous territory and although I’ve been playing songs from that genre for more than fifty years, I still come across new ones (to me).  Most are fun to play and some are very moving.  Such is the case with the song “I Could Have Told You” The haunting melody was written by the great James Van Heusen, a friend of Sinatra’s, and the melancholic lyrics were penned by the prolific lyricist Carl Sigman. 

    The  recording became a Frank Sinatra “signature song.” The Nelson Riddle arrangement was recorded as a single on December 9, 1953 just days after Sinatra reportedly attempted suicide over his broken marriage to Ava Gardner.  No wonder it is so mournful and heartfelt and supposedly he never performed it in his endless appearances on stage. Obviously, the song conjured painful memories. It later appeared on his 1959 compilation album Look to Your Heart and another one that same year, made up of mostly sorrowful songs, No One Cares.   

    It was also recorded by Bob Dylan (surprisingly to me) so if one likes his voice and style you can also find it on YouTube.  It can’t compare to Sinatra’s smooth tonality and phrasing. 

    Although I probably heard the song in my years of listening to Sinatra, I didn’t have the sheet music or take note of it.  I was “introduced” to it by a singer we came across in our many visits to the Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter.  The Jupiter Jazz Society headed up by Rich and Cherie Moore has a Jazz Jam there on Sunday nights.  Rich is a very talented pianist and can play almost any style. We’re supporters of the Society and try not to miss a performance.  We learned about the Society and Double Roads from our good friend (and my bass accompanist from time to time) David Einhorn who occasionally plays there.   So one connection leads to another in the small music world and there we saw a performance by an upcoming interpreter of the Great American Songbook, Lisa Remick.

    A prediction: we’ll hear a lot more from her in the future.  She’s a perfectionist, the kind of singer we really appreciate, trying to go to the heart of a song, and singing it while conveying the emotional foundation of the lyrics and the melody.  Such is her interpretation of “I Could Have Told You” on her CD, Close Enough for Love.   

    Thus, I was captivated by that song on her CD. I found a lead sheet for the piano and after playing it over and over again for myself, decided to record it and upload it to YouTube trying to allow the melody to speak for itself, with my usual disclaimer that it was recorded under less than ideal conditions in my living room and using a digital camera.  I played it just one time through and one can follow the lyrics which are below. It’s a gem of a song.

    I could have told you
    She'd hurt you
    She'd love you a while
    Then desert you
    If only you'd asked
    I could have told you so
    I could have saved you
    Some crying
    Yes, I could have told you she's lying
    But you were in love
    And didn't want to know
    I hear her now
    As I toss and turn and try to sleep
    I hear her now
    Making promises she'll never keep
    And soon, it's over and done with
    She'll find someone new to have fun with
    Through all of my tears
    I could have told you so

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  • 07/07/17--11:59: Baseball and Boating

  • As American as apple pie.  But for us the beginning of the summer concludes our Florida “season.”   We’ll get to a few more Class A+ minor league games but as part of the summer is scheduled for traveling, our boat is best stored on land during the hurricane season.  Thus, early yesterday morning I made my annual solitary trip leaving the North Palm Beach Waterway and the PGA bridge behind, 

    and emerging into Lake Worth to run down to Riviera Beach where I was met at a boat ramp by Mariner Marine, the dealer for the Grady White.  After getting the boat up on the trailer and climbing down, it is but a short ride to the dealer and there I arranged for the annual servicing as well, saying farewell to our center console, ‘Reprise,’ but knowing when I pick her up in the fall, that it will have been serviced and detailed, looking beautiful for more time on the water.  And at my age I now must add, health willing of course.

    The night before we saw another minor league game, this time the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate) facing off against our Palm Beach Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.  We decided to sit behind home plate so I could get a better view of the pitching: two fine pitchers were at work.   

    First there was a fellow lefty, Cam Vieaux, who was drafted in the 6thround only last year and is carrying a 1.42 ERA since joining Bradenton.  Vieaux is clearly a control pitcher with a fast ball only in the low 90s which he mixes with a change-up and a curve to keep batters honest.  But if batters guess fast ball correctly, he is hittable, and as a result gave up 11 hits in 7 innings.  Andy Young found that key in the 6th inning with a home run, tying the score 2-2.  Still, Vieaux gave up only 2 earned runs while recording only 2 strike outs.  He is a crafty lefty and as he perfects his style, he has future potential.

    On the other hand, the Palm Beach Cardinals right hander. Ryan Helsley, is a classic power pitcher, his fast ball in the high 90s. The Cards lifted a large number of foul balls as batters got under the ball or not able to get around on those fast balls.  He was drafted in the 5th round by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Northeastern State and has averaged more than one strikeout per inning in the minors with a career 2.20 ERA.  As with many young pitchers, location is the issue and he needs to get to the point of recording outs with his other pitches.  He went six innings with seven strikeouts, also giving up two earned runs.  He’ll learn and when he does, he’ll move up.

    As it turned out, the game stayed at 2-2 and went until the early morning hours, the Palm Beach Cardinals finally scoring the winning run in the 14th inning, a walk off infield single by Leobaldo Pina.  By that time, we were long-long gone, the pitching and seeing good ball playing more interesting to me than the outcome of the game.

    I’ve said it many times before – Class A+ ball in the Florida State League is normally every bit as professional as a major league game, and several of the players we’ve seen over the years have graduated to the majors.

    All in all it was a beautiful night for baseball at Roger Dean Stadium and an equally fine morning to run the boat one last time this season.

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    When one of the finest regional theatres presents the preeminent work of the greatest living Broadway lyricist and composer (arguably the best ever), we can expect to experience a performance work of art that will be long remembered.  Such is Dramaworks’ production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.It packs such an emotional wallop that the stunned audience left exiting, “wow,” after a standing ovation.

    Even though Sweeney Todd flopped on Broadway and the West End when it first opened in 1979 -- critics and the public were not prepared for the bizarre subject matter and Sondheim’s treatment of it in a musical -- the show has become one of his most frequently performed on all levels ranging from expurgated school productions to full-scale professional theatres.  As Sondheim himself commented, if you give an audience a good story, especially an extravagant one, they’ll accept it with pleasure, no matter how bizarre, and idiosyncratic it might be.

    Although the plot is fairly well known, a brief summary might be helpful.  The story itself, which can be traced in various English publications going back to the mid 19thcentury, is based on “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”  Sondheim saw a retelling of the tale in a 1973 play by Christopher Bond in London and it immediately struck him as material for a musical horror story.

    In Sondheim’s version, Sweeney Todd, AKA as the barber Benjamin Barker, has been ruined by Judge Turpin who coveted his wife, Lucy and stole her away by banishing Barker to Botany Bay for life.  But Barker, now under the cloak of a new name, Sweeney Todd, eventually returns to London with the help of Anthony Hope, a young, good natured sailor he befriends.  Todd has one overwhelming yearning aside from escape: retribution.

    He sets up a barbershop over Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop -- known for making the worst pies in London.  She is aware of Todd’s past and tells him that his wife, Lucy, had taken poison and their daughter, Johanna, was adopted by the Judge, becoming his ward.  His quest for retribution is intensified.  Little does he know that Mrs. Lovett has her own designs on him, hoping they will ultimately become lovers and has twisted the truth to her own advantage.

    Todd challenges Adolfo Pirelli who claims to be "the king of the barbers, the barber of kings" to a contest to inveigle the Judge into his shop. Ultimately, Pirelli becomes the first of Todd’s victims and ingredient in one of Mrs. Lovett’s new, much celebrated ”meat pies.”

    Judge Turpin’s attention to Johanna turns from regarding her as his ward to wanting her for his wife.  Anthony, the young sailor, has developed an intense love interest in Johanna as well.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Lovett and Todd are grinding people from all walks of life as their pie enterprise flourishes.

    These story lines converge with the death of many of the major characters, sparing the young lovers, Anthony and Johanna, and Tobias Ragg, Pirelli’s assistant who is devoted to Mrs. Lovett.

    That’s as brief as I can make it, but this musical is, oh, so much more.  It is genius every step of the way demonstrating Sondheim’s cardinal rules: Content Dictates Form; Less Is More; God is in the Details – all in the service of – Clarity.  

    Shane R. Tanner and Company in Sweeney Todd Photo by Cliff Burgess

    The very opening line of the show’s first number “The Ballard of Sweeney Todd” is “Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.”  Simple enough?  Here’s Sondheim’s take:  If ever there was an example of "God is in the details," it's the line that opens this show: "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd." Detail 1: the use of "attend" to mean "listen to" is just archaic enough to tell the audience that this will be a period piece. Detail 2: the idea of a "tale" suggests that the audience not take the story realistically but as a fable, and opens them up to accept the bizarrerie of the events which follow; it also promises a story that will unfold like a folk ballad, foreshadowing the numerous choruses of the song that will pop up during the course of the evening. Detail 3: the alliteration on the first, second and fourth accented beats of "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd" is not only a microcosm of the AABA form of the song itself, but in its very formality gives the line a sinister feeling, especially with the sepulchral accompaniment that rumbles underneath it.

    Sondheim is the consummate artist, approaching every lyric, every note in this gorgeous “black operetta” with the same level of thought and detail.  Interestingly, Sondheim’s antipathy for opera led him to construct it mainly as song forms, something between a musical and a ballad opera.  His love of background music in film, and he has scored several, became infused in the music.  Lyrics were a challenge and he decided to invent some colloquialisms to go along with British ones he knew. 

    There are a number of chorus numbers, their role ranging from serving as a Greek Chorus and as provocateurs moving the action along.  Sondheim rejects the notion that all people in a chorus will be singing the same thought in harmony.  Thus, chorus and duet numbers in the work can have different overlapping lyrics but all in perfect sync with the music (although, alas, and this does not distract from the overall achievement, not every single word can be heard or assimilated).  

    Dramaworks’ interpretation relies on the deft hand of the Director, Clive Cholerton, and the equally important musical director Manny Schvartzman, making his PBD debut.  Cholerton directed the enormously successful 1776, last year’s musical offering from Dramaworks but by his own admission, Sweeney Todd is his favorite show.  Thus, he found it a bit daunting to finally have the opportunity to direct it.  Some previous versions had Sweeney as a crazed mass murderer at the onset, but his vision was to have Sweeney arrive bitter and angry from prison, but not a murderer out of the gate. 

    His take came more clearly into view working with the costume designer, Brian O’Keefe, whose idea was to make a strong costume statement -- a “steam punk” look, almost science fiction, a post apocalyptic world (although still strongly grounded in 19th century England).  O’Keefe is also reaching to younger audiences with this gothic but futuristic feel to it -- or perhaps even a contemporary spin given the current political zeitgeist.  The costumes are simply astonishing, from Mrs. Lovett’s seductive lacy top with the tightly strung corset to Johanna’s virginal gowns and nightdresses to Beadle Bamford’s sinister black boots, menacing cudgel and flowing overcoats.

    Schvartzman successfully works with the inherent complexity of Sondheim’s music, blending the cast seamlessly with the score and wringing out every drop of color and emotion Sondheim has poured into the work.  He is also the talented pianist and conductor of the show, along with an orchestra of five, including himself.  He clearly achieves his objective of providing the same support as a larger orchestra, hitting every note Sondheim intended.

    Shane Tanner returns to the Dramaworks’ musical stage, having last appeared in 1776, this time in the title role of Sweeney.  Tanner is well known for a wide range of musicals, including Sondheim’s Into the Woods,ALittle Night Music, and Assassins.   He makes a critical transition when he crosses the line from merely plotting one person’s murder to becoming a mass murderer with ghoulish composure.  Beware of the razor in his hand.  It is the ultimate equalizer of classes.  Tanner’s performance starts with despair and lack of hope, gradually escalating to rage and the audience feels that steady spiral to its core.  He is a Sweeney to be remembered.

    Ruthie Stephens in Sweeney Todd Photo by Cliff Burgess

    Ruthie Stephens as Mrs. Lovett twists everything in her lust for Todd.  We root in many ways for Lovett and Sweeney as they grind up aristocrats along with everyone else, “Those crunching noises pervading the air?.....It’s man devouring man, my dear.”  Stephens focus is on Mrs. Lovett’s role as an opportunist and as Stephens is from the UK, she expertly capitalizes on the very Brit humor of the part.  Her clarion voice and performance were stunning and when she is on the stage, your eyes never leave her.

    The lovely Johanna is central to all the major characters in the work, the Judge lustily desiring her, Lovett wanting her out of the way, Todd trying to protect her, Anthony loving her.  This key soprano role is played by Jennifer Molly Bell.  She is as radiant as her namesake song in the show, “Johanna.”   Bell effectively communicates what it feels like to be a bird trapped in a cage, longing for escape.

    Michael McKenzie and Shane R. Tanner in Sweeney Todd Photo by Cliff Burgess

    Michael McKenzie, as Judge Turpin, makes a strong case for the Judge being “misunderstood” yet unable to tame his emotions – although by banishing Todd to seduce his wife and claim his child makes him decidedly villainous.  His scene of self-flagellation singing a new verse of Johannaas he voyeuristically peers at his ward is unforgettable.  By the time he finally succumbs under Todd’s razor (the first such attempt going amiss), the audience is as ripe for revenge as Todd.

    The good-natured, madly-in-love with Johanna, Anthony Hope, is performed by Paul Louis Lessard (PBD debut) whose tenor voice soars in his numbers.  When Lessard first sings “Johanna” he demonstrates that Sondheim can write a genuinely beautiful love song.  The song is sung in several iterations in the show.  It was one of Sondheim’s favorite’s --   writing songs like these not only appeals to my instinct for intricate plotting, it makes me feel like a playwright, even if the plays are only six or seven minutes long. Lessard captures Anthony’s sensitivity and determination to have his lovebird.

    My own favorite songs from the show, aside from “Joanna,” are “Pretty Women” sung by Todd and the Judge when the Judge is first in the barber’s chair, and the ghoulishly hilarious “A Little Priest,” sung by Mrs. Lovett and Todd which brings the curtain down on the first act.  I might also add “Not While I’m Around,” a beautiful ballad sung by Evan Jones who plays Tobias Ragg (PBD debut) and then is joined by Mrs. Lovett.  It’s an unusual number as it mixes both warmth (Tobias’ take) and evil (Mrs. Lovett’s plotting as she sings).

    PBD veteran of many shows, Jim Ballard plays Beadle Bamford, Judge Turpin’s thug and partner in crime.  Ballard’s portrayal is the personification of evil and brutality and that characterization combined with his strong voice left an indelible impression.

    Rounding out the cast are Alex Mansoori as Pirelli (PBD debut), Shelley Keelor as the Beggar Woman / Lucy, and the rest of the ensemble, Terry Hardcastle, Christopher Holloway (PBD debut), Hannah Richter (PBD debut), and Victoria Lauzun (PBD debut).  All have fine, powerful, operetta quality voices which enhance this production.

    Michael Amico’s scenic design captures the drab factory-like industrial conceit with the worn paneling and the large overhead windows, for letting in light or the color red, symbolizing blood at the appropriate times.  It functions perfectly for the action and atmosphere.

    Lighting design is by Donald Edmund Thomas. There are some 380 lighting changes (with as many as 8-10 in a minute), dividing the stage into 22 lighting sections so lights can follow the action.  The lighting has an appropriately grungy feel to it with shadows streaming across the stage.

    Sound design is by Brad Pawlak who puts the focus on the music itself as well as a well -timed screeching whistle at emotional peaks.

    This PBD production of Sondheim’s masterpiece haunts, staged by a team of professionals worthy of Broadway.  It is a powerful, stunning performance, not to be missed.

    Sondheim’s comments are from Stephen Sondheim: Finishing the Hat; Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010)

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