A Lack of Imagination

The year was 1992, and I was living in Southern California, still entertaining the notion that I could be a big time actor. I had been sent on an audition for Married: With Children for the distinguished role of Nerd #5. Since most of these auditions lasted about seven seconds, I wanted to find some way to start a conversation with the casting director in the hopes of attracting enough attention that I could stand out from the crowd of other Nerds #5. (No word on Nerds #1-#4.)

So, ever the provocateur, I wore a Republican political T-shirt.

That started a conversation, all right.

“You’re a Republican?!” the casting director gasped. I assured her I was.

“You’re not going to vote for Bruce Herschensohn, are you?”

Mr. Herschensohn, as few of you may recall, was a Republican locked in a tight race with then-Congresswoman Barbara Boxer, who closed the gap by running scummy ads showing the conservative Herschensohn walking into strip clubs. Herschensohn was a single man who made no excuses or apologies for his personal behavior, but the hypocrite label stuck, and Boxer won. (The Left, since it has no moral standards to speak of, is incapable of hypocrisy. Convenient, no?)

Taking my cue from the look of abject panic on this woman’s face, I wussed out and told her I hadn’t decided yet, even though I had. This wasn’t enough to placate her, though.

“I can’t imagine anyone voting for Herschensohn,” she said. “I haven’t met anyone else would even consider voting for him.”

Needless to say, she didn’t cast me.

I’ve thought about that many times since. It’s no surprise that a Hollywood flunky would be solidly liberal, but what’s disturbing is her inability to conceive of someone voting for a Republican for anything other than nefarious reasons. This is a consistent failure of imagination on the Left which, I think, does not have an equivalent tendency on the Right.

Indeed, the Right goes out of its way to acknowledge the good intentions of their opponents. Certainly welfare and all kinds of social programs are rooted in a desire to improve the lives of others. Our quarrel with them is not with their intentions; it’s with their results. For instance, raising the minimum wage may make Congress feel like it’s helping people, but, in all practicality, it’s not helping people. There are all kinds of facts to back this up, but the argument never goes to facts. With the left, it invariably goes back to motive.

“You’re against the minimum wage? Oh, I get it. You only want to help the rich. You hate the poor. You’re a racist.” 
Believe me, these conversations get very tedious very quickly.

It is now impossible to have a coherent conversation about the war in Iraq with someone on the other side of the political spectrum. Because in order to do that, you have to wade through unanswerable accusations about George Bush’s motives and personal perfidy. It’s all for oil! Halliburton! Where are the WMDs? Bush lied, kids died! And on and on and on and on…

I loathe those discussions, not because I think the Left is right, but because there’s no objective way to prove the Left is wrong. You believe that George W. Bush is Adolf Hitler Reincarnate? Nothing I can do or say can dissuade you. Those arguments come down to who can be the most angry, and the Left usually wins that one hands down. Congratulations, Lefties. You hate Bush more than I love him.

Now let’s talk facts.

The Iraq war ended the regime of one of the most brutal tyrants the world has seen, one that was a declared enemy of the United States. It has closed down Saddam’s rape rooms and stopped filling the mass graves of Iraq with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It has compelled Libya to give up their Weapons of Mass Destruction and rejoin the world community. It has exhausted the resources of America’s chief enemy, al Qaeda, who have poured all of their energy into the Iraq war and come out empty handed. It has created the possibility of the first stable, Western-friendly democracy in the most volatile region in the world. Surely all these are good things?

“Ah,” you may say, “but is it worth the money? Is it worth the lives of so many soldiers? Is it making America safer?”

And that, folks, is a discussion I’m willing to have. Because it’s about objective facts, not about forever elusive motives. But unfortunately, these questions usually devolve into how Bush is using all this to enrich his wartime buddies and it’s all a big conspiracy, and suddenly we’re back to motive again.

If you doubt that, imagine a similar conversation about Global Warming. In that case, it’s the Right who will raise questions of cost. Even its most ardent supporters are forced to concede that the Kyoto protocols will cost trillions of dollars for only trace reductions in global temperature. Given the staggering economic impact and the miniscule benefits, is it really worth it?

“Oh, I get it. You’re a Global Warming denier, just like those Jew-hating nuts.”

Yaaaaargh.

Having worked in Washington DC, I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of elected officials on both sides of the aisle genuinely want what is best for the country. What if both sides were truly willing to concede the virtue of the other’s intentions? Wouldn’t that make for an interesting discussion?

That would require, however, that Married: With Children casting director to imagine that George Bush, perhaps, isn’t Satan.

We’re all doomed.

My High School Reunion

Got a friend request on Facebook from a guy from my old school days, and it was such a kick to hear from him! (Foodleking, it was PG – think curly hair and barely-restrained anarchy.)

Facebook is more fun than you might think, if for no other reason than it allows you to stay tangentially connected to people who would otherwise drift away forever. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do, but my attitude toward nostalgia changed somewhat when I attended my 20th high school reunion a year ago in October of 2007.

I wrote up the story back then for a family blog, but for PG and Foodleking’s sake, I hereby publicly share an expurgated version with names and telling biographical details omitted.

Mrs. Cornell and I flew down to LA for a relaxing weekend sans five kids, and we rented a convertible and cruised the freeways. Except the freeways were crowded, and having the top down on the freeway makes it impossible to hear anything. We ate lunch at El Cholo; we watched the Groundlings on Friday night, and we visited the USC campus to buy key chains for our kids.

But the highlight of the weekend was Saturday night, when the actual reunion happened. (The highlight for me, anyway. Mrs. Cornell was bored out of her gourd, but I was bored when I went to her reunion in July, so I guess we’re even. It was fun to show her off to everybody. She was much hotter than all the other ladies that I remembered lusting after in high school, all of whom are much, much older than me now.)

I have to admit, I was somewhat nervous going in. I knew that everyone else was going to be much richer than we were, and I was worried that no one would want to see me. I didn’t need to worry – it was a blast from beginning to end. I saw people I had completely forgotten, and I got to catch up with old friends.

And when I say old friends, I mean old. Everyone looked old. Very old. And fat. And bald. I was hairier and skinnier than 80% of the men there. It was very good for my ego. I thought, on the whole, the women aged better than the men did. Except my old friend DW. He and I did an Abbott and Costello routine for a cabaret in high school, and he was as fat as Costello back then. He’s rail thin now and looks great. Newly divorced, he does a Jerry Lewis impersonation in Vegas, yet he also manages apartment buildings in Thousand Oaks. (Methinks he spends more time in Thousand Oaks as an apartment manager than as a Vegas star, but I didn’t grill him on it.)

TM/F was there – a fellow Mormon who became a pot-smoking Deadhead and who is now a Mormon again. She lives here in Utah and wants a Woodland Hills reunion – she says she sees my brother every once in awhile.

CG showed up, and it was really fun to see her. She was my old theatre buddy who convinced me to run for Senior Class President. She got really mad when she found out I was a Republican. She turned pale and said “you don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” When I assured her that I did, she rattled off a series of what she considered to be unanswerable questions. “You mean you don’t hate Dick Cheney? You really like George Bush? You like this war? You really think he responded well to Katrina? You think he cares about the plight of the poor?”

The questions came as quickly as she could spew them, and I just tried to deflect them with a smile and a kind word. Understand that they weren’t challenges or invitations to discussion – they were statements of incredulity, asked in the same way someone might ask if I still believed in the Easter Bunny. In her mind, only a Neanderthal could answer affirmatively to any of her queries. She couldn’t conceive of a human being who could possibly agree with the GOP and still be deserving of her respect.

To her credit, after a minute or two, when she realized that I wasn’t getting upset or defensive, she calmed down, and we continued to reminisce about high school stuff. “I’m over it now,” she said. “We can be friends again.” And we were, and we will continue to be.

I saw SM from a distance – he was the guy who used to beat me up. I thought I was big enough that I could go and let bygones be bygones, but I decided I had nothing to say to him, so I let it slide. I don’t hate him, though. Although it was nice to see he was much fatter than me.

I had a hard time answering the question “so what do you do for a living?” None of my answers made any sense. I spent a lot of time talking to MS, a big, tall goofy guy who is still single and is now one of my Facebook friends. He tried out his pick-up line with the single ladies there. It went something like this. “Did you have a crush on me in high school?” When they said no – as they invariably did – he then asked “how about now?”

I can’t imagine why he’s still single.

JR from my old children’s choir was there, even though she graduated a year after me. She had married JE, the captain of the football team. She said that her sister, R, still plays the flute after Mom taught her. ( I told Mom this, and she has no memory of either R or J. )

KM was there – he’s a big TV star now, sort of. You may not know his name, but you’d recognize his face. He’s been on dozens of national TV commercials. When I went to say hello, he grabbed me and dragged me over to meet his wife and say “THIS is the guy who beat me for Senior Class President!” It was really weird what some people remember.

One girl, MB, played French Horn with me in junior high, and she insisted on taking a picture of us together so she could show her mom. I have very little memory of MB and I couldn’t believe I had ever met her mom. But if her mom is thrilled with a pic of me, who am I to deny my public?

Everybody still lives in Calabasas. Everybody has about two kids – we had the most at five, tied with RN, another Mormon girl. (Them Mormons is fertile!) Everybody was rich, but nobody seemed to have a job that would make someone rich. MG, who played opposite me as Marion in The Music Man, is now a flight attendant. That seemed appropriate. Yet she may have been the one who drove the Lamborghini that was parked out front.

As I think about it, it wasn’t just the age of these people that was disturbing. I was reminded of the line from Raiders of the Lost Ark: “it’s not the age, it’s the mileage.” These people had a lot of miles on them. They seemed hard and weathered. I suppose I seemed the same way to many of them, but I try not to think about it. I’ve got so many miles on me that it’s kind of hard to think coherently anyway.

So that’s my report. It was tons of fun. (Sorry to fixate on the weight so much.)

Religion and Politics

First, the religion:

My daughter Cleta, age 11, is now singing in the Salt Lake Children’s Choir against her will. As my mother dragged me into a children’s choir when I was a pre-pubescent, so I have yanked my daughter into a choir not of her choosing. I’m not sure if it’s revenge or what, but the sins of my mother have now been revisited upon the next generation, and I’m OK with that.

But that’s not the point.

Tonight was her first concert, held in the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle, home of the eponymous choir, and it was part of the Salt Lake Interfaith Council’s interfaith week, or something. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians of every stripe, along with lots of Native Americans all offered prayers, and then people sang and danced and stuff. Some Hindus sang “We Shall Overcome” in Indian, and a lot of drummers demonstrated that the acoustics of the Tabernacle make even a couple of bongos sound deafeningly loud. (Said bongos drowned out the big finale where the children sang a non-denominational, namby-pamby ode to not killing each other.) The drums couldn’t overpower the bagpipers, though, who kicked off the concert with a really cool version of Amazing Grace. It reminded me of seeing a lone piper atop Edinburgh Castle at the end of the Edinburgh Tattoo.

The concert went downhill from there.

The only time anyone got interesting was when the Islamic children sang a song written by the former Cat Stevens about how “Islam will unite us all.” Really? It will? Because I have no intention of becoming a Muslim. However. I can think of ways that Islam will unite us all, and none of them are pretty.

Other than that, I found the whole thing innocuous, slightly boring, and utterly irrelevant.

It’s not that I favor religious intolerance; it’s that I don’t see the point of gathering everyone together to prove how inoffensive we can be. The moral of the story was “Please, please, please, let’s all be pals, okay?” It felt like a mandatory “Don’t Do Drugs” high school assembly. In the end, we’re going to believe what we believe. I will respect and defend anyone’s right to believe what they want – as long as violence and stuff isn’t involved – but I have no intention of watering down my faith to make it acceptable to the masses at large. Still, plenty of other churches are willing to do that, and the end result is the kind of pabulum that was on display tonight.

Maybe if the Scientologists had shown up…

Now the politics:

Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s Attorney General, was the Master of Ceremonies at the Salt Lake County Lincoln Day Dinner, the largest annual gathering of the Republicans in Utah’s most populous county. Shurtleff is a fairly gregarious chap, but he’s in the minority among Salt Lake County Republicans in that he has been, from the outset, a strong John McCain supporter. (So is Utah’s governor Jon Huntsman Jr., even though his billionaire father was Romney’s finance chairman. There are issues in the Huntsman family over that one that they’ll have to resolve themselves.)

So anyway, Shurtleff thought it would be a good idea to kick off the event with a little gloating.

“Six months ago, this state had written off John McCain,” he said with a cat-who-ate-the-canary grin. “How many of you, by a show of hands, were supporting John McCain back then?”

In the packed ballroom filled with hundreds of people, one lone McCain supporter in the back of the room raised his hand.

“Amazing how things change, isn’t it?” Shurtleff crowed. “How many of you are supporting McCain now?”

Complete silence. The same lone McCain supporter in the back of the room was still the only one with his hand in the air.

McCain could very well turn Utah into a blue state.

Behold: Glen Larson!

(Still no politics. It’s too soon. And Romney’s dropping out. I don’t want to start weeping.)

So Languatron, having been exposed, has decided to expose me. So I thought I’d beat him to the punch. 
Apparently, I’m Glen A. Larson, the creator of Battlestar Galactica, as well as such highbrow television as Manimal, Knight Rider, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. 
I’m pictured here:

He outlines the whole thing at his site, which you can visit for yourself if he doesn’t ban you soon. The site reads as if it were written by a committee of drunken, angry monkeys, so I’ll give you the good part here:
  • Glen A. Larson is Stallion_Cornell, and has been for the past nine years on Internet bulletin boards such as http://www.Tombsofkobol.com, http://forums.scifi.com, and of course Stallioncornell.com/board. He goes by other handles as well such as Arthur, MrPostModernist, and Schnorkenschneider. Judging from his Internet behavior during these nine years, he apparently has not wanted the television series he executive produced in 1978 to return in it’s original form, Battlestar Galactica. Why not? The Battlestar Galactica series in fact, created by Leslie Stevens, was a top ten hit and was giving Star Wars a run for it’s money. Lets give the late Leslie Stevens a round of applause and a standing ovation for his creation. The photo above is of Glen A. Larson (Stallion_Cornell.) Thanks to sources within the inner circle of Utah Chapter for confirming this.

I’m not sure what the Utah Chapter is or which of you Utah Chapter members confirmed this, but unless one of you comes forward and admits you’re the leaker, expect an across-the-board cut in pay. 

There are enough people who read this blog who know that I am not, in fact, Glen Larson, but I’m kind of enjoying the notoriety of being a big shot Hollywood guy. I’m ruder now, and I’m having more things catered. It’s expensive, but everything should be fine as soon as I get my first royalty check. Maybe the Utah Chapter will be delivering it to me. 
The irony is that I actually knew James Larson, Glen’s youngest son, back in Westwood when I was an early morning seminary teacher. He didn’t come very often, but he was a nice kid. I have no idea what happened to him. Now that I’m his father, I’m a little concerned about that. I want to be a good father. I don’t want it just to be about the fame and the money and the catering. It’s mainly about the rudeness, although I’m not sure if the original Glen Larson – the one who was Glen Larson before nine years ago – is rude or not. I think a Glen Larson should be rude. Certainly things should be catered. It’s a right. Maybe universal catering will accompany universal health care under President Clinton/Obama/McCain. It doesn’t matter who gets elected, really. They’re all the same. 
NO! NO POLITICS! What was I thinking? 
I’m going to shave my eyebrows, eat catered falafel, and weep. 

Behold: Languatron!

(No politics today. There’s just no good news, and I’m sick of being depressed.)

For those of you who have followed the career of Languatron, the lunatic in Chicago who thinks everyone is really a Universal Studios spy out to get him, I have a special treat for you. 
Turns out Languatron is Andrew Fullen, 5’7″, weighs 168 pounds, has brown hair and blue eyes, and is 43 years old. 
Oh, yeah. And he looks like this:

Kinda Unabomber-y, don’t you think? He seems like he could become disgruntled at any moment. 
A keen-eyed Langy watcher sent me this info, which was publicly posted at exploretalent.com. Upon being discovered, Langy changed his profile by removing the picture, saying he is 2 feet tall and lives in Los Angeles, and insisting he is African American with green eyes and auburn hair. 
You can see his current profile here
Charming, no?

We Bought a New Car

A 2006 Chevy Suburban with all the doodads – leather interior, navigation system, Bose stereo, DVD player for the kids, and heated seats. Fun evening.

Oh, except that McCain is now the Republican nominee and we’re all friggin’ doomed.

I’m trying to get excited about cheering on Barack Obama. Can’t quite get there yet. Really wish Romney would just drop out and end it, yanking off the bandage all at once instead of lingering unpleasantly.

I don’t think the conservative movement will be getting back on its feet anytime soon.

Rough ride ahead, folks. Buckle up.

At least I’m burning all kinds of fossil fuels. That should piss off the candidates a little bit.

Super Tuesday Pessimism

I refuse to allow myself to entertain the notion that Mitt Romney could have a good day today. 

There are some encouraging signs out of California and maybe Georgia, but neither is enough to stop the McCain Train from winning some critical winner-take-all states and roaring ahead in the delegate count. McCain has become inevitable, and all the sniping of the talk-show hosts can’t seem to stop him or even slow him down. Romney needs some earth-shattering event to shift the narrative, and there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon. 
James Dobson of Focus on the Family has come out with a blistering anti-McCain statement, but he can’t seem to go the next step and actually endorse the Mormon guy. Everyone already knows he hates McCain, so this is hardly news. Had he endorsed a Mormon, that might have helped. But alas, some prejudices run too deep. 
If you doubt that anti-Mormon bigotry is at the heart of Romney’s political failure, ask yourself this: if Romney were a Presbyterian, do you really think John McCain would now be the presumptive nominee?
Then, of course, there’s immigration on top of that…
It’s going to be a loooooong election season. 

Schulz and Peanuts

I just finished reading Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis. I picked up the book knowing that the Schulz family is unhappy with the finished product, and it wasn’t until the last third of the book that I realized why.

Initially, I was immensely impressed with Charles Schulz. He seemed that rarest of rarities – a creative genius who was still able to live a life of integrity. A faithful, tithe-paying, chaste Christian, a devoted family man, a war hero, and a complete teetotaler, he seemed like he would have been perfectly at home in an LDS bishopric. (In fact, one of his daughters, Amy, is, in fact, a member of the LDS Church who lives in Provo.)

Then the affairs started.

Nothing can run down a man’s integrity faster than sexual infidelity. The level of dishonesty necessary to hide a dalliance from a spouse is considerable, and Schulz undoubtedly damaged his own character by pursuing other women. It’s clear that children would find news of their father’s unfaithfulness more than a little distasteful, but the author’s evidence is clearly documented, and no attempt is made to either demonize or sugarcoat the subject.

It was a well-written-yet-ultimately-depressing book.

Certainly it was fascinating. The Peanuts strip reflects Schulz’s life so remarkably that it’s surprising that no one had ever really documented it before. Schulz himself is equal parts Charlie Brown – morose, melancholy, misunderstood – and Schroeder – single-mindedly devoted to his art to the exclusion of all else. Lucy, on the other hand, is Schulz’s strong-minded first wife, and quarrels in the marriage found their echoes in Lucy’s increasingly domineering manner. After the divorce and Schulz’s later remarriage, Lucy loses all of her potency and becomes something of a cipher.

It’s also eerie to see Schulz writing code messages to his mistress in the strip, using Snoopy’s romance with a cute female beagle with “soft paws” as stand-in for his own ill-advised trysts.

Schulz the man, though, ends up ultimately as a disappointment, as he is never able to see any corollary between his own misery and his bad behavior. He remains willfully unhappy throughout his life, largely due to his insistence that “happiness isn’t funny.” He was always afraid that if he allowed himself to be happy, the strip would cease to be entertaining.

The depressing thing about the book, therefore, is not that Schulz is human and flawed; it’s the nagging suspicion that he may be right.

I keep hoping to find evidence of a great artist who is also a great person, someone who can reconcile tremendous talent with the demands of a Christ-like life. Since nobody, artist or not, can live as Christ lived perfectly, every single one of the examples I look to will fall short of the mark. The sad thing, though, is that Schulz at his most depressed was Schulz at his funniest. When he achieved a modicum of peace with his relatively untroubled second marriage, the strip became aimless and obtuse. It took Schulz’s darkest moments to fuel the biggest laughs. He paid for the strip’s success with decades of unhappiness. Isn’t that too high a cost? And yet aren’t we grateful that we, blithely ignorant of that cost, had the benefit of the Peanuts gang to help us get through our own misfortune?

I have no easy answers, but I find the very questions depressing in a very Charlie Brown sort of way.

Wicked

And thus endeth my Chicago adventure. Having told Languatron that I’d be seeing Wicked last night, I expected to hear tales of a knife-wielding lunatic being dragged out of the theatre lobby, screaming “I’ll get you, Glen Larson! And your little Moore, too!” Thankfully, reports of such a scene remain unconfirmed.

Yesterday was a lot of fun. We toured all three for-profit theatres in Chicago and caught snippets of understudy rehearsals for Wicked and My Fair Lady. Seeing professional actors mark through their numbers in their street clothes while accompanied by a simple piano was heartening, a reminder that my own theatre experiences really aren’t that far removed from what the big boys do. Every time I get into proximity with good theatre, there’s a piece of my insides that starts to itch for what might have been had I pursued my own career further. And at the same time, there’s another piece of me that says, “been there, done that, moving on.” Seeing the Wicked cast without the lights and the glamour helped to tap down my latent actor pangs.

The theatres themselves were, in many ways, the real show, anyway. They’re funky old movie houses with ornate detail work that has all but vanished from today’s architecture. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. They’re also not going to make them this way in Sandy City, which made me wonder what the point was. I’m not complaining, though. The food was great. Although I found out after I started eating that they put wine in my soup at lunch. Being the teetotaler that I am, I expected to be sloshed for the tour, but to my surprise, I hold my liquor fairly well.

Anyway, the big deal was the production of Wicked we saw last night, and, although I was in the next-to-last row of the almost 3,000-seat theatre, I could see and hear everything, and I had a wonderful time. I knew all of the songs from having my daughters play the soundtrack ad infinitum, and I knew the basic story as well, so there were no big surprises. It was fun, though, to see the whole thing live on stage. It was also fun to see Utah actor Summer Naomi Smart playing Nessarose. (I know her, but not well. She was in the production of Guys and Dolls at Tuacahn that I directed in 2004 in a chorus role and as the understudy to Sarah Brown. She’s extraordinarily talented, and she did very well in the role last night.)

So, the short version of my Wicked review is: it was a whole lot of fun.

If you want the long version, beware of spoilers, as I’m going to delve deep into the elements of the plot that I found particularly frustrating, which may ruin the show if you want to go in with no preconceptions.

Still here? I warned you.

The plot, at first glance, seems like a tightly-crafted and clever prequel to The Wizard of Oz, but it’s actually pretty sloppy and collapses instantly under the slightest scrutiny.

Simply put, the Wizard-as-Villain’s motivation makes absolutely no sense.

Consider: It seems that the Wizard blew into Oz and was instantly adored as a wonderful savior, so he proceeds to demonize animals and prevent them from speaking. How does he do this, you may ask? Good question, particularly since it’s firmly established that the Wizard is a fraud with no magical power. The better question, though, is why does he do it, and the only answer the show offers is that “the people need an enemy.” In short, the Wizard is only there to provide a ham-handed indictment of George W. Bush’s war policy dressed up as an arbitrary plot gimmick.

You may think I exaggerate, but what else to make of jarringly contemporary references to “regime change” and leaders being either “traitors” or “liberators” based on “what label is able to persist?” The author just assumes that the political purity of the anti-war message compensates for its lack of coherence. It’s a shoddy intellectual shortcut that dates the show needlessly while, at the same time, robbing it of a significant amount of dramatic weight.

And since we’re on the subject of stupid political asides, what are we to make of the lyric in the otherwise cheerful pop confection “Popular,” in which an airheaded Glinda makes the case for popularity over smarts:

Think of Celebrated heads of state
or ‘specially great communicators
Did they have brains or knowledge
Don’t make me laugh
They were popular

Anyone know any head of state other than Ronald Reagan who was labeled “the Great Communicator?” Anybody else wonder what a gratuitous slap at Reagan is doing in the middle of a fantasy piece written almost two decades after his presidency? A veiled Lewinsky joke would be annoying but would make more sense, given the Wizard’s own adulterous proclivities. Better to leave the politics out of it altogether.

Ironically, these stupid political insertions are so clumsy that they’re easy to overlook, and the show moves quickly enough that you don’t have time to linger on the wafer-thin foundation for the plot.

Also, if you’re looking for it to fit with what we already know about The Wizard of Oz, prepare to be disappointed. You’re supposed to assume that everything in Wicked is going on behind the scenes while the original Oz story is taking place, so you’re left wondering why the Scarecrow and Tin Man bother going down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy; you’re left puzzling why the witch’s sister is termed the Wicked Witch of the East when she was, instead, a respected governor of Munchkinland, and, most of all, you have no idea why Elphaba is so consumed with getting the stupid ruby slippers back. (One of the big laugh lines in the show is Glinda’s rejoinder to her green friend: “They’re just shoes! Let it go!” It gets a laugh precisely because the reasons for her behavior are so ludicrous.)

The whole show is slightly disjointed, with the overall feel of a rock concert. The songs are hardly traditional Tin Pan Alley ditties – they’re solid pop numbers, most of which would sound right at home on any episode of American Idol. Most of them don’t move the story forward, so the flimsy book has to do that with very little time, and the whole thing feels unnecessarily rushed.

And yet I had a great time. I loved the music; the production design was gorgeous, and the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba felt authentic and was genuinely moving. Glinda did a fine Kristen Chenoweth impression, although it would be nice if it were possible for someone to make that role their own.

Reading this over, it sounds like I didn’t like it. And I did like it. Immensely. A good new musical with hummable tunes doesn’t come down the pike very often. You probably won’t notice the politics or the clumsy plotting as you hum “Defying Gravity” on your way home.

Don’t read the book, though. I tried, and it’s a tedious, self-important Freudian piece of sludge. The musical is much, much better.

Chicago Theatres

It’s snowing like a mother out there, so we’re stuck in the hotel for the better part of the morning. barring a visit from Languatron, I have some time to describe the events of the day.

I’m touring live theatres as a consultant for the City of Sandy, Utah, which is looking to build a theatre in their own downtown. When I worked full-time for Sandy, they sent me on a similar trip five years ago to Seattle and San Diego to review different models for a different kind of theatre. back then, the idea was to build a community space to accommodate local arts groups. Today, the idea is to build a large road house that would present large Broadway-style shows put on by touring companies. The thinking is that this kind of theatre would add more prestige than a smaller community house, and since the city would not be in the position of producing the programming, the theatre could actually pay for itself. 
Except that it won’t. 
The lesson we’re learning – or re-learning – is that theatre doesn’t pay for itself. If it did, someone somewhere would be doing it. Nobody is. All the theatres we’re seeing here operate with some kind of subsidy, and everyone on the trip seems to be surprised by that. 
The first theatre we visited was the Rosemont Theatre ton the outskirts of Chicago – a 4,300 seat behemoth that has accommodated a number of rock concerts along with theatre productions, including a week-long stint of the Tonight Show. It’s a big blue box that feels a lot like a mini version of the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake. They’re subsidized to the tune of a million bucks a year. The next theatre was right in downtown Chicago, the Harris Theatre, which was a whole lot funkier and more urban. they built the thing six stories underground, and they keep having to work to keep water from soaking in from Lake Michigan. It accommodates most of the local arts groups and also receives a significant subsidy. 
Neither one is a great model for what our city is trying to do. 
Whether or not you think art should receive public money is almost irrelevant. I’m really not trying to argue that one way or the other. I just wish that folks could recognize what is, not what should be. If you’re uncomfortable building a subsidized facility, then don’t. At the same time, recognize that reinventing the wheel and pretending the facility will pay for itself is utter foolishness. I think everyone’s figuring that out, and we’re trying to come to terms with what that means. 
We’re also eating great food. We went to Gibson’s Steakhouse for lunch and had Giordano’s stuffed pizza for dinner. I dig big cities. I would love to live in Chicago if I had a boatload of money. If I were a Dennys short order cook, it might be a lot harder to survive. 
My wife is mad, because tonight we’re all going to see Wicked at the Oriental Theatre, and she’s dying to see it, as are my daughters, who’ve memorized the score.  Look for a Wicked review in this space tomorrow. 
‘Til then, brethren, adieu.