Sunday, February 17, 2008

Movin' Out Moved Me

Yesterday I saw a traveling production of Movin' Out, the theatre production inspired by the music of Billy Joel. I liked it but my friends didn't. Here's the deal. You have to prepare yourself for what your going to see. Don't go expecting to see your typical lighthearted romantic-comedy musical theatre production. Instead, this show is basically a dance recital that's heavily ballet influenced. Let's just make a checklist here of what you get and what you don't.
1. First of all, you get a real live band of very talented musicians that are practically channeling the essence of Billy Joel. Its a really great combo of "real" piano, synth, lead and bass guitar, 2 sax players and a drummer. Several of them shared the vocal duties but the piano player could have been BJ's twin twenty years ago.
2. Secondly, you get very talented dancers that are very verstile in traditional ballet and modern dance. Its a supremely athletic cast. They have to be due to the very physically demanding nature of the show.
3. You don't get any dialogue. The show is basically a production that uses interpretive dance to illustrate a story using Billy Joel's music as the theme.
4. There are no sets. The entire stage is utilized for the staging of the elaborate dance numbers. The lighting and fog machines are used somewhat effectively to emphasize featured dancers and dramatic moments, but that's about it.
I have been a lover of Billy Joel's music every since I was a college kid. I respect him for being a real musician and not just a pop commercial lip-syncer like so many of today's pop musicians. The guy writes his own music. I've tried to play some of thoese piano parts to his tunes. Several of them take the skills of a real virtuoso to pull it off effectively. His vocal abilities are amazing. His range is atypical of most rock stars. As a matter of fact, it took three vocalists to sing the parts to some of the songs that Joel handles himself. So, I loved the show for that reason.
The drawback of this show is that the story was somewhat forced out of the songs. It was beautifully choreographed by Twyla Tharp, but Billy Joel never meant for these songs to be used in a musical. He wrote this material over the course of twenty to thirty years. The writer of this show really had to force these songs together to create a story. Fortunately, Joel's music his stylistically and harmonically unified enough to bind the thing together. If it hadn't been for that it would have been a little tough to stick with it. Because, somone as easily bored as myself can only watch prancing pretty people and fancy footwork for so long before I start to ask, "where's the concession stand?"
Here's the roughly contrived story in a nutshell. Brenda and Eddie (from song) and their friends Tony and James are wild high school kids from the 60's. They dance and romance one another beginning with Italian Restaraunt. The guys head off to the Vietnam War. James gets killed and when James and Eddie return to the states they suffer the obligatory emotional crises required to flesh out the dramatic points for the show. Tony becomes reaquainted with James' widow. And achieves a catharsis. Brenda and Eddie reconcile and they all dance away happily ever after.
My only problem with the story was a brief scene where Tony experiences a nightmarish life of drugs and sexual addiction that has the dancers mimicking various sex acts wearing very skimpy and risque' costumes. I personally don't have a problem with it (I'm a big boy now). But, there were several families with young children in the audience. There was no warning in the program about this scene and it was definitely way beyond PG-13. I'm not saying the scene should have been cut. I'm saying that families should have been allowed to make the choice whether their children were ready to see such things played out so realistically by real people.
Now, as they say, that's the facts, Jack. But, here's the real reason why this show is worth every penny you pay for it. Here's why you should make every effort to attend this show (especially if you happen to be one of the "family" or a female). ITS THE MEN, STUPID! Imagine if you can a whole cast of young athletic men in the twenty to thirty age category who have been working at vigorous athletic, aerobic, and strength training for the last several years of their lives. Do you realize what that type of conditioning does to the gluteus muscles of those fellas? It was amazing. The whole afternoon was like window shopping at a bubble-butt boutique. Its also certain that they had found the most imaginative costume designers to outfit the guys in clothes that definitely flattered their best features. There were a few times when the guys didn't even bother with the inconvenience of wearing a shirt. And my-oh-my, how flexible they are.
Now, as beautifully, eye-poppingly gorgeous as these guys were, my friends and I were very able to control ourselves and maintain our composure. Because, we've got class. However, the same can't be said about the tasteless cow sitting behind us. This two-ton, middle-aged menopausal heifer never shut up for the entire show. While she was well-dressed it was obvious that she had been brought up as an ignorant hillbilly. You just can't whistle and cat-call like she did and not have been raised in the woods. If I were her husband I would have been ashamed and embarassed that my wife acted this horny in public. Every time "Tony" showed us a really hot move she squealed like a horny co-ed at a Chippendales strip show. She also had the audacity to believe that her full-voice singing along to the show actually added to our enjoyment of the evening. I gave her several ugly looks. We put our hands over our ears during the most hellacious screeching and screaming. But, she never got the hint. If there was any justice in the world she would have to pay for our tickets. I couldn't believe that the ushers didn't ask her to control herself.
But, it was an experience I'll never forget.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Tuesday Superheroes

I voted early today. I just had to be part of the Super Tuesday primary. Now, I'm not saying who I voted for. But, I will say, "IT WASN'T A REPUBLICAN!!!". I realize that I live in a backwater pseudo-state that barely has enough delegates or electors to make a difference in an election for class president, BUT, I'll be darned if some ignorant, snaggle-toothed, religiously fanatical torch-wielding villager will be allowed to have a say in this election while I sit idly by without letting my voice be heard.

Our little town here only has 7,000 people in it. There are already more than a thousand people who have voted early. Wow, I've never seen such a turnout for an election around here. I encourage everyone to speak up this year. Don't let the GOP elect another old white guy. This year they appear to be on the verge of electing the oldest, whitest, sickest, meanest old goat they've had in decades (and I thought Junior and Lord Vader were bad).

Now, I'm not telling anyone how to vote. Its not my place. We're all entitled to our opinions, even when they might not be correct. But, if you want to vote with the Gemini Art guy, don't vote GOP. Beware of any ballot with the names of mean old white guys on it. Isn't it time we tried something different? It'll be okay. Just do it.

I found two lovely photo portraits of possible candidates to vote for. Take your pick. Vote for one or the other, or both (if you can get away with it). But, whatever you do, don't sit home and do nothing about it. Do not let the uninformed and misled masses make this decision without you.

I'm the Gemini Art guy, and I approve this message.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fading Heritage

Some of you have expressed interest in learning a little bit more about the Gemini Art writer. I'm not too keen on the idea of having a devoted reader turn into a stalker so I won't divulge any personal information. But, I'll be happy to tell you a little of my background and influences.

Yesterday I had the chance to drive through a little community that played a brief but influential role in my childhood, Caddo Gap. Several members of my extended family lived there, worked there, went to church or school there at some time in their lives. At one time Caddo Gap was a vibrant and thriving little logging and farming community that had its own school, post office and a smattering of stores. I believe it was at its climax during the 30's, 40's, and 50's (no I wasn't alive back then).

My memories of the place come from times my grandmother took me there. It was handy to stop by the Caddo Gap Mercantile if you were going fishing in the Caddo River. You could pick up snacks, sodas, fishing tackle and fish bait. I still have a little straw cowboy hat my grandmother purchased for me at Caddo Gap when I was around 14 years old. That was in the mid 80's. By that time the Caddo Gap school had been closed (since 1971) and consolidated with other small towns. Our country was beginning to make "progress". We learned to shop at Wal-Mart, self-serve gas stations were cheaper than full-service, and convenience stores became more convenient than the Caddo Gap Mercantile. The drips and drops of income from Reagan's trickle-down economics never reached Caddo Gap. As a matter of fact, it dried up altogether.

Now all that remains of the little community that used to be Caddo Gap are the skeletal shells of old store fronts and the lone proud figure of the Caddo Indian monument (more about the Caddo Indian in later posts).

A small but well-tended park and garden mark the spot where the old school had been. No doubt the park was placed there by some of the hundreds of former students that had grown up there and called her their alma mater. The sidewalks bear the names of the graduates as a testament to the contribution made by this little forgotten place.

Let's not delude ourselves into thinking that our current progress has made everything better. Let's also weigh that progress against what we have lost. We don't start school everyday with the noble ritual of students lining up around the schoolyard flagpole to say the pledge of allegiance before we start the day. Schools are so large that teachers only know a fraction of the students on campus. And modern professional decorum looks down on the possibility of teachers and students sitting together at lunch just to visit and get to know one another better. Credit is handled by the impersonal whirring of machines chewing on plastic rather than a handshake and promise between a customer and merchant that, "I'll pay you back after pay day." These days we put cranky old men in "retirement homes" rather than let them sit on the storefront benches to compete over who gets to open a door for a lady or carry her groceries to her car. We don't miss their tobacco spit on the sidewalks but young mothers would enjoy having these old cusses back to tussle with the toddlers on the porch while she picks up a few things for dinner. The simple pleasure of fishing has been perverted into the sport of angling. Most "serious" fishermen need an expensive boat and thousands of dollars worth of equipment to do the same job we used to do with a cane pole and a bucket of worms. Our lakes are so toxic and laws so strict that we have to throw back most of what we catch and buy commercially raised, hormone laden Chinese fish from Wal-Mart. Plastic pop bottles have made it safer to drink a cold drink than the dental chipping glass we used to pull from a machine for a single coin. But, little boys across the country have lost their jobs and tiny income by not having glass bottles to collect and return to support their soda pop habit.
Perhaps we have sacrificed too much in our rush toward progress. Maybe we should have found compromises that would have helped us hang on to our fading heritage.