The guest contestant for the 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is Tiera Fletcher, who is a 24-year-old rocket scientist working on a mission to Mars, after first helping establish a NASA gateway on the moon. The interview with host Peter Sagal could go one of two ways -- mind-numbingly boring or great fun. Happily, it's the latter.
When I went to Chicago the other week, it was for my regular mid-year trip there. But I timed it specifically so that I could get a ticket for a production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man (to give its full and correct title under the circumstances...) that the acclaimed Goodman Theatre -- a Tony-winner for Best Regional Theatre -- was doing, moreover directed by Marry Zimmerman who is an Artistic Associate of the Goodman, as well as a professor at Northwestern University -- and herself won a Tony Award for directing in 2002. I was really interested in what they -- and especially she -- would do with the show. To put this in proper perspective, I not only love The Music Man, which is one of my top-favorite shows, but it was the first professional musical I ever saw when I was a real little kid, performed at the Shubert Theater in downtown Chicago. It enthralled me then, and has continued to. I wouldn't precisely call myself an aficionado of the show, but the details matter to me.
(Among the productions of the show I've seen include a memorable one in Los Angeles around 1980 that starred Dick Van Dyke as Prof. Harold Hill. I wrote about it here, and embedded a video of him performing the song, "Marian the Librarian.")
So, as much as the trip was about going to Chicago, the timing was entirely about The Music Man.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The style was quite different from most productions. Rather than treating the people of River City and the world of the show as archetypes, Zimmerman played it all quite low-key and realistic. And the staging and set design were almost bare bones, with the production looking somewhat like a painting by Winslow Homer or Grant Wood (the artist of "American Gothic," which is actually written into the number "Iowa Stubborn" as a joke).. It was very effective and added great charm and believability to the show.
This realistic quality, in turn, impacted the role of Harold Hill, played by Geoff Packard. There are largely two main ways to play the con man Professor. One, as performed in the original Broadway production and movie by Robert Preston, is as an out-of-town big city hustler who's come in to steamroll over the small town hicks, and the other is to slyly and deceptively "aw-shucks" ingratiate himself into the town as a good-old-boy one of them. (This is the interpretation Dick Van Dyke took, as did Matthew Broderick in the TV movie remake.) I personally prefer the former, because the startk contrast of a fast-talking Hill to the bucolic townspeople is dramatically more effective to me. Surprisingly, Zimmerman and Packard had an uncommon third way, one that fit the overall low-key realism of the production. And that's to play Prof. Hill pretty straightforward and present him unapologetically for who he is -- an out-of-town traveling salesman who very openly wants to sell something that no one has expressed any interest in. It was very intriguing and works quite well in many ways being thoroughly believable -- Packard most definitely does a good job -- though for my taste I think in the end it's not the right way to go. When Harold Hill is played as a big city hustler, tries to overwhelm people with exuding charm. When being slyly ingratiating, he wins over people with his presumed close kinship. But a traveling salesman selling what you don't need, while fun, isn't overly likable. And while that works okay for him being able to ultimately sell band uniforms and instruments to a town that becomes convinced by his bamboozling that they need them, it's doesn't work as well when believing that Marian the Librarian will fall in love with him. We accept that they fall in love because not only does the great structure of the show push us there effusively, but also because we see how moved she is that Prof. Hill has brought her shy, silent little brother Winthrop out of his shell. So, it works -- but for my taste it doesn't work on every level, because "appreciation" and "admiration" are not the same as love.
That said, the performances were generally extremely good. Those who stood out for me were Monica West as a terrific Marian Paroo, in a rich, lovely performance (seen below). Mary Ernster was a wonderful Widow Paroo, her mother. And Ron E. Rains did a particularly nice job as the blustery Major Shinn. On a personal level, I also enjoyed seeing Heidi Kettenring chewing up the scenery as the Mayor's wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (at times a bit much, but it was fun and fit well) -- particularly since I'd seen her eight years ago in a much-more understated and wonderful performance of Harnick and Bock's She Loves Me at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, a production that starred Jessie Mueller who soon after went on to win a Tony Award as Carole King in Beautiful.
As I said, overall, I thought the production was fresh, unique and very good. My only real quibbles (beyond how the more realistic style affected the character of Harold Hill) center around two specific directorial choices.
There are perhaps two especially-famous moments of High Musical Theater Drama in the show. The first is when Harold Hill jumps into the town's Fourth of July rehearsal to convince them all that what they most need is a band that would be filled with "76 Trombones." And the sequence begins with one particular, dramatic flourish where he brazenly dazzles the staid townfolk by suddenly changing himself -- from an out-of-towner into a mesmerizing bandleader -- and he inverts his very-ordinary sportcoat inside-out which immediately becomes a flashy, bandleader's uniform and punches out the top of his straw hat, turning it into a plumed bandleader's cap.
Here, though, seemingly to be more realistic is my guess, he didn't do that. He simply had his friend Marcellus open his suitcase, take out a coat and give it to him. And then picked up a splashy hat. It was realistic, but it wasn't especially interesting, and wouldn't have galvanized anyone in the gym to follow this,"snake oil salesman," as Mayor Shin calls him. He doesn't magically transform himself. He put on a coat and hat.
The other is one of the famous High Dramatic moments in musical theater, in a league with when Eliza Doolittle first is able to speak English properly and slowly ekes out the phrase, "The rain in Spain...stays mainly...in the plain" from My Fair Lady. It comes in The Music Man when little Winthrop, whose lisp and loss of his father has made him near-totally withdrawn and silent, suddenly BURSTS through the entire town, runs to centerstage down by the footlights, and all alone in the spotlight, for maybe the first time in his life, sings with utter, explosive joy about the Wells Fargo Wagon that's about to come to town might actually have "thumthin' thpecial" just for him!! It's a galvanizing moment in the show (and musical history), which helps cause Marian to fall in love with Harold, as her little brother races over to her afterwards to embrace one another.
Here, though, to be more realistic, he's far off to the side, waiting with everyone for the wagon to arrive, and just takes a steps forward -- stage right, amid the crowd -- to sing his song. It's a nice moment -- there's no way it can't be -- and realistic and believable, but I don't think it sends the bolt of excitement through the audience which made the moment a classic. He's happy. But it's not "thumpthin' thpecial."
I missed those big, and I think important moments. I also missed having a bit more of the attraction between Harold and Marian that builds their romance. But...I loved the realism of the production, the overwhelming charm that that brought, the excellent performances and the general joy of such a terrific show. It worked very well. And I'm pleased to know that the audience loved it enough for the Goodman Theatre to extend the run.
Here's a good behind-the-scenes look at the show with director Mary Zimmerman and the two leads, along with a bit of "76 Trombones."
And here is a very abbreviated version (which they clearly trimmed themselves to fit their two minutes on TV) of "Trouble" performed by the cast on a daytime syndicated show, Windy City Live.
There are a couple of article today, including one from the respected Cook Political Report that note how Trump could lose the popular vote by 5 million and still win re-election.
I think it's great that people are aware of this and defend against it happening. But the reality is that if Trump is SO unpopular to lose by 5 million votes, he's in big trouble.
After all, "could" is a wide word that cuts a huge path. And therefore the article is a math hypothetical. And hypothetically, Trump could lose by 25 million and still be re-elected. That's profoundly unlikely, but it's also not likely he'd lose by 5 million and be re-elected. Just mathematically possible. And important to be aware of.
Furthermore, hypothetical math aside, keep in mind that this "5 million vote loss" scenario presupposes the Democratic candidate getting an even greater number of votes in states that he or should would win anyway -- like in California, New York and Illinois -- compared to what the party got in 2016. But for that to happen, it would seem likely that most of those new votes would not be Democratic ones (since most Democrats who voted in 2016 voted Democratic), but rather from Independents and disenfranchised Republicans. Yes, some Democratic votes did go to Trump in 2016, but it wasn't two million. And if you're picking up Independent votes and disenfranchised Republicans in various states, there is no reason to presume that that wouldn't happen across the board, most especially those three states (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania) that Trump squeaked by in 2016 by a total of 70,000 which gave him the election. The short version is that for the Democratic candidate to win the popular vote by 5 million, he or she will most likely have to pick up votes that aren't Democratic to begin with, since those votes in 2016 almost all went Democratic already. Which would be a major problem nationally for Trump.
Significantly more problematic for a candidate, however, is to go into an election where you may lose the popular vote by 5 million. For that to happen, the bottom really has to have fallen out of your campaign, and all those squeaker-thin wins you had the first time as a result of disenfranchised voters who wanted change are *likely* to totally disappear and be landslides for your opponent.
"Could" Trump lose the popular vote by 5 million and still get re-elected? Absolutely. And Democrats have to be aware and fight against it. But is it likely? I think such a possibility of losing the popular vote by 5 million would be far more terrifying to Republicans, who not only would *likely* lose the presidency, but also the House again and Senate, in droves.
I think that the Trump tweets about the four Congresswomen and the general silence and support by Republicans in Congress can finally give the proving lie to the faux-contention of Republicans that they're not against immigrants at all, they love legal immigrants, they just are supposedly against illegal immigration. Supposedly.
Of course, all four women who Trump said they should "go back" to where "they come from" are not only U.S. citizens -- three of them were born in the United States. So, sending them back would pretty much require a train ticket or, in the case of Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez,, who represents Trump's own home district -- where she was born -- it would only require getting her a rental car. Furthermore, just to reiterate, all four are elected members of Congress.
And Trump and most of the Republican Party in Congress are okay with all this. Sending them back where they come from.
So much for that whole "We're not against immigrants, just illegal immigrants" thingee.
Yesterday, Trump doubled-down -- or it's more like quintupled down at this point, I think -- when he ranted about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and whipped up the crowd of frenzied Trump acolytes about her, and they then began a Drink the Kool-Aid-like chant of "Send her back!"
It wasn't very amusing, to be clear, but pretty scary for its sickness, stupidity and dangerous risk it puts all four of these women in. And Republicans in Congress not only were silent, but apparently think this is a great campaign strategy. Racism! "Republicans: We're not just against only illegal immigrants anymore."
Happily, led by Democrats -- and only four Republicans -- the House did something unprecedented. It not only voted to official condemn the president of the United States...but voted to condemn him for racism.
There have been a lot of articles over the past six months or so, with more showing up the past few days, that all include the same phrase -- "This is the future of the Republican Party." I would disagree, and strongly. No, this is not their future. This is the end of the Republican Party.
I'm not suggesting that the Republican Party will disappear from the face of the earth in 2020. It won't. Or in the near-future, or perhaps even ever. But as long as this is the foundation of the GOP -- and by "this," we are referring to racism and blatant hatred towards minorities -- it signals the end of traditional strength that the party has operated under for 150 years.
If racism continues to be the GOP's core, there will still be a Republican Party. There are racist pockets throughout the United States. There are racist states. There will still be racist Republican senators, congressmen, governors and local politicians. But their strength nationally will be profoundly diluted. Because it's a really, really bad banner for a political party in the United States which (as much as racism exists here in a very deep way) is a country literally founded on openness and being a melting pot to the world, priding itself on the Statue of Liberty which emblazons "Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddle masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp upon your gold shore." And it's a really, really bad banner for a political party in the United States because we know that Hispanics are the most-significantly growing minority in the U.S. And that at some point in the near future, the total of all minorities together will be greater than single group of people who describe themselves as white.
It's one thing to be racist, or to have a part of you that's racist. It's another to brand yourself as a racist. Most racists don't even want to be branded as racist and deny that their racist. Even the Ku Klux Klan covers itself in white sheets so they can't be seen as racist. So, when a party brands itself as the Republican Racist Party, it's really a very, very, very bad look.
A new poll shows that 68% of Americans find Trump's statements offensive. Further, 65% of Americans say that the statements are racist. But worse, 59% of Americans say that the statements are...un-American. Now, yes, I know those numbers should be far, far-higher. But we can only deal with what is, not what should be. And what "is" are still horrible numbers for the Republican Party. No American political party really wants to brand itself as "un-American." Yet already, that's how 59% of Americans view the leader of the Republican Party.
And as long as we're looking at polls, let's include one more: after the stories of Trump's racist comments became news, his approval in the Republican Party went up. On the surface, this understandably looks like a truly terrible thing -- and it is. But there's more to the number than I think meats the eye. And it's that one reason Trump's approval within the GOP is because many Republicans have left the party, concentrating those remaining who are much-more and racist. And it wouldn't surprise me if Trump's comments pushed some more, offended, non-racits away, out of the party, which mathematically would push his approval up in the remaining GOP. Moreover, this higher racist-approval even more firmly establishes the Republican Party as the racist party and even more marginalizes it. So, while Trump and remaining Republicans might see his approval within the Republican Party go up, in reality it is a very bad thing for them.
It's no way to have a political party in the United States, branding yourself as the Party of Racism. And we know it doesn't work. Trump tried it in 2018. Before the mid-terms, he did everything he could to terrify Americans that the country would be invaded by a caravan of brown-skinned people from Guatemala and Mexico. He even sent the U.S. Army to the border! And not only didn't it work...Americans in a massive Blue Wave flipped the House of Representative and took a majority of 36 seats. So, with an invasion and sending not working, all Trump has left is trying to scare Americans about four elected Congresswomen, all of whom are, of course, U.S. citizens.
By the way, I'm sure this doesn't play well with...women. I'm sure they notice this. And women are the majority in the United States.
No, branding your political party as "We're the racist one" is a horrible idea. And imagine making it worse by adding that "And we hate women, too."
To be clear, I suspect that at some point post-Trump, the Republican Party will try somehow to shed its foundation as racist. And that will help keep it somewhat viable. The problem is that that's going to take a very long time. And they'll lose a lot of its base support, diluting them even more. Some of these racists will stay in the party, of course. As for the rest, they'll probably go back to the hole they were in before and once again not vote. Eventually, if the Republican Party actually does get dragged into making some sort of effort to not be the party of racism, the GOP will then be able to bring in new views and members from Independents and the far-right of the Democratic Party, and maybe return to being the Republican Party -- not of its early days through the 1960s where they included people like Jacob Javits,Nelson Rockefeller, Margaret Chase Smith, Lowell Weicker, and others -- but at least a party that isn't insane and racist.
If. If they actually, seriously, truly make an effort at some point in the future -- but it isn't happening now -- to divest itself of a racist base. If.
But until then, this is not the future of the Republican Party. If this continues, and even grows into a deeper frenzy, it is the Republican Party's end.
And ultimately, this is why I've been writing for a long time that none of this is about Trump. We know who he is. (Toss in sexual predator, too.) This is about the elected officials of the Republican Party who enable him and are complicit in it all. To the bitter end.
Following up on yesterday's "Best of..." video from The Graham Norton Show on BBC America, here is their Part Two. This one is "Best of the Sirs and Dames." (It isn't really the very best, but it's fun and at least does cover a few years, rather than mostly just last year like I think was the case with Part One. But the series began 12 years ago in 2007, and most of the clips here are fairly recent.)
Stick with it to the end, there's a fun topper and last shot.
Rachel Maddow reported on a border story last night that was (not shockingly) utterly horrible, though happily (and shockingly) has a positive ending. But as pronounced and despicable as the story is entirely on its own, there's one side note to it that adds such a profound and -- to me -- obvious level of perspective that sends it to even another level. Yet neither she, nor the NPR report she played, nor any of the articles I read touched on it. To be clear, the story doesn't even remotely need this "other level," it stands low all by itself. But still -- this other level is otherworldly. And when I told the story and connection to a friend, I only had to mention one thing, and he instantly got it, and his immediate reaction was first silence, and then, "Oh, my God..."
The very short version of the news story is that a Honduran family tried to enter the United States at El Paso, Texas, in large part because the youngest of their three children -- a little 3-year-old girl -- has a heart condition that needed treatment. The border official in charge told the family that the mother could stay in the U.S., but that the father had to be sent back across the border into Mexico. But no, that's not the horrible part. The sick part of the story is that (prepare yourself) the U.S. border official told the little 3-year old girl that she had to decide which of her parents she wanted to stay with!!!
Because the little child had a strong attachment with her mother, that's who she chose to remain with. But of course, being only 3-years-old, she didn't understand the full significance of what that meant. And when she learned that it meant she had to leave her father, she (of course) began crying, breaking into huge tears, as did all the other two children.
The good part of the story is that, thanks to a local bishop, the family was able to meet the next day with a different border official, and he approved all of them staying in the country.
But still...the fortunate ending is a lucky circumstance, most especially considering all the hellish news that envelopes this dismal situation. More to the point is -- how on earth do you force a 3-year old girl to choose which of her parents she wants to stay with???!!
And here then is the "side note" part of the news story that Maddow, NPR and all of the articles I came across didn't draw any connection to. It turns out that the little 3-year-old girl who had to choose which of her parents she would stay with was named --
When I was watching the story, I thought it likely that I didn't hear that right and rolled the program back to watch that point again, sure that I heard the name wrong. Figuring it was a name that was close, but not exact. But no, it was exact. Sofi. The 3-year-old girl forced by a guard to choose which of her parents to stay with was named "Sofi."
While I know there are many who have neither read the novel Sophie's Choice by William Styron, nor seen the movie, I suspect most have at least heard of it. The novel won the National Book Award in 1980, and the 1982 movie got five Oscar nominations and won Meryl Streep the Academy Award for Best Actress. But for those here who don't know the story, it centers on a woman in Nazi Germany being sent off to a prison camp who is forced by a Nazi official to choose which of her two little children will live, and which other they will kill.
Obviously, this connection has absolutely nothing to directly do with this recent news story at the Texas border, which stands on its own as the entire point . But it strikes me as surprising that it wouldn't get mentioned for its thoroughly-obvious, ethereal connection and overlap with the renowned novel and award-winning movie about an almost-identical subject and name. In fact, Maddow's show even had a graphic on screen quoting from the NPR radio report that read, "The agent then turned to 3-year-old Sofi and told her to make a choice."
While one explanation for leaving out any mention of the connection is that it's so obvious that people would know it and therefore wasn't necessary -- no. The novel and movie are both almost 40 years old. I feel quite certain that there is a significant segment of the TV audience weren't born for a decade or even two later that remotely doesn't know either. And besides, Rachel Maddow is a host who often spends up to 15 minutes at the beginning of her show going into a long, detailed history of events (and sometimes very well-known history at that) to put a particular story in full perspective. And I'm certain that she and her staff know the book and movie. As do the other reporters. So, I think this is more something that seems to have just fallen through the cracks. To be clear, no, mentioning the connection wasn't even remotely necessary -- but boy, do I think the added literary perspective would have been utterly fascinating to most people and, in fact, even meaningful. All the more so with the current controversy about calling the cages that separated families "concentration camps."
But that aside, what a ghastly, sick tale without any added perspective. Thank goodness that at least one family was able with help to stumble into some decency when dealing with a Trump program filled with racist hate.
You can read a detailed report about the story in Texas here from the Dallas Morning News.
Here is the 5-minute scene from the movie with the choice. If you haven't seen the film and want to avoid watching it yet, skip by. Just know that the story is about more than this moment, but how it impacted her life and those of several other people much later. This comes as a flashback near the end when we finally learn what dark moment from her past has so deeply affected all that came after for her.
I've written on these pages often about how much I enjoy The Graham Norton Show, a chat show on BBC America. Here's Part One of a video they've posted called "The Craziest Moments" from the show. In fairness, it's not -- as far as I can tell, these are all from the past season. (Perhaps the past two...) The show has had a whole lot better, but these are fun from last year. And yet it's only Part One!
(There may be some commercial breaks within the piece, but you should be able to click through them.)
Yesterday while being interviewed on the White House grounds, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway chose not to answer a question and instead asked the reporter, "What's your ethnicity?"
I understand how reprehensible this is. I understand the outraged reaction it got, But I prefer to take a positive view of it all, and from that viewpoint I think it's really wonderful that at least she didn't ask for him to show her his papers.
The reporter, Andrew Feinberg, who writes for the website BeltwayBreakfast.com, handled the situation pretty well, basically pushing back by continually asking what that had to do with his question. Ms. Conway tried giving some unrelated answer, and then thought that giving her own ethnic background would be a cool thing, but in the end really never answered the question, shocking as that might seem.
Personally, I'd have loved for Mr. Feinberg to have responded to the "What is your ethnicity" question by saying, "Human." Because then Ms. Conway might have been stumped to answer for herself and Trump.
Given all the other news of the day, which was highlighted by the House voting for a condemnation of Trump's racist tweets, the Conway story did get some attention, though not nearly as much as it should have. Because by normal standards, Kellyanne Conway should have been fired before she made it back across the lawn to her office.
The problem, of course, was that in the Trump administration, not only was she not doing anything wrong, it's more like this is policy and the only reason she might be fired is if she didn't ask. No, that's not really much hyperbole. After all, this is the administration which, before it even was elected, put out the proposal to keep a list of all Muslims in the U.S. And only last week came close to ignoring a Supreme Court ruling by pushing to add a question of citizenship on the upcoming U.S. census.
So, while I'm glad that it did get reported on -- and I suspect won't totally fade away, like so many Trump administration indignities that get buried under the next dozen -- it's one that I find particularly reprehensible, not only under any condition, but asked on the White House lawn by an adviser to the president.
(By the way, lest it get even more overlooked, Kellyanne Conway had a second despicable moment yesterday that did, pretty much, slip under the wire. It was a comment in defense of Trump's racist tweet about the four Congresswomen, in which she referred to them as representing the "dark underbelly in the country." Given that all four women are racial minorities, and given that this is the Trump administration, I don't think for a moment that the phrase "dark underbelly" was an off-hand comment, but rather well-planned as a dog whistle to the Trump racist base.)
But if all of this from Kellyanne Condway was going to get overshadowed by anything, I take comfort that it was because Trump got officially condemned for racism by the House. Unanimity by Democrats in the voting, but remarkably four Republicans. Remarkable that they actually got four -- and remarkable that the rest of Republicans in the House thought that racism was okay. But then, at this point we've pretty much figured that out...
Seth Meyers had a very good, not to mention very entertaining "Closer Look" last night on the Trump tweets and the general issue of racism.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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