STAGE REVIEW: Ken Levine's "A or B", Falcon Theatre, Los Angeles


Imagine watching one play that tells two stories at the same time, following one couple going down two parallel journeys that address workplace romances, human resources and gender equity, all the time keeping the two parallels clear to the audience, the characters consistently believable and identifiable, and the repetitions within the parallels always fresh and inventive.

It all came together in the premiere of a new play by Emmy-winning writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Frasier, Cheers and numerous other "A" series), directed by Andrew Barnicle and starring Jules Willcox and Jason Dechert, who possess just the right timing and chemistry.

It is great experience in more ways than one. Sitting in the Falcon Theatre, founded by TV legend Garry Marshall, seeing a play written by an accomplished TV writer who was inspired by his work is mind-blowing to say the least. "A or B" is in performances now through Nov. 16.



This week's Spin: The Archies and America


The coming Independence Day holiday and this month's passing of Archie in a specific comic book series inspired this week's story about the world's greatest fictional pop band.

Miley's Antics Get Spot-On Spoof by MAD Magazine



This month's MAD Magazine says what most "respectable" forms of news have not been able to but most of the country is thinking. People are smart enough to see the shrewdly engineered "grown up transformation" of Miley Cyrus into exactly what she was before: a  packaged pop product with a strong marketing plan drawn up by top brand managers that get her name in some sort of "shocking" headline every day. And it works.

This is indeed "art" -- the art of distribution and targeting, media manipulation and initially seeded enthusiasm. When she was Hannah Montana, there was never any doubt that this was the game, nor were the intentions to "package" a star being touted as the pursuit of art and self-expression.

Unlike artists of the caliber of Madonna and Lady Gaga, who built their persona and music brick by brick before it mushroomed into big business, Miley's not behind (pun) most of the decisions, though she might make suggestions and approve strategic formulas. It's fictionalized reality in the most garish of Hollywood traditions. It would be nice if someone would just admit the machine-like process.

Miley is a smart young lady who has proven to have loads of talent beyond performing as if she's appearing on amateur night at the Newark strip club. That's as old as Little Egypt. But if she and her staff are really shrewd, she'll alter the brand within the next year before she becomes a self-parody.

If that hasn't happened already (see above).

The essence of creativity... the true Disney difference



To honor the memory of Diane Disney Miller -- and the memory she sought to define and sustain of her father -- please listen to this song about creativity and why you go the extra mile, get passionate about an idea and keep trying, while others don't always understand because they see no concrete gain.

"Why have that extra detail, or clever line, or different way to approach this? Why would you throw so much effort into something with no visible gain?"

Yes, show business is a business and you have to feed, clothe and shelter your "child." It's a reality to be not only faced but understood as necessary. But you also have to love that child. And loving means giving, even for no reason except...

"Because," that's why. This song says it so beautifully.

MAJOR NELSON TAKES FINAL BLAST OFF
USA Today and TV Week never mention it. To the New York Times it's was his "breakthrough," yet not even part of the article text.

To millions of us who grew up enjoying reruns of I Dream of Jeannie, five times a week or more, Larry Hagman was Major Nelson, who went on a space mission. The missile went up, but something went wrong and they had to bring it down. He landed on an island in the South Pacific, where he found a bottle. Or at least it looked like a bottle, but it didn't act like a bottle. Because in it was a Jeannie, who could grant any wish...

My point is that, though there's no denying the impact of Dallas on Larry Hagman's career and pop culture, I Dream of Jeannie is likely to endure longer in our hearts.

And memories. I have spent most of my life saying "Yeees" the way Major Nelson did to Dr Bellows. When my wife asks me a question that I can't answer, my reply is "It's an experiment, uh, that Major Healey and I are working on."



Add to that the occasional exclamation of "JEAANNAAAAY!" when riding thrill rides or when things in life go awry, and you get my point.

Yes, Dallas is current, Dallas is and was big. But remembering Larry Hagman is more than mentioning J.R. over and over. It's also like the Shuttle being shipped off to L.A., the last vestige of the space program. So much more than mere trivia.



"Master, are you not pleased?"
"Yeeees." 

"BRAVE" BURSTS ONTO BLU-RAY WITH TONS OF EXTRAS
Impressive at Brave was on the big screen, there's something intensely dazzling to see it in Blu-ray. The almost infinite details fill every millimeter of the home screen.

Brave is a sweeping epic tale, but it's also an intimate examination of mother/daughter relationship. Although I enjoyed the film and saw it twice in theaters, as a dad and husband, I found the scene in which Merida gives her mother something to ingest that could be extremely harmful or fateful, is kind of difficult to take. Merida then snaps into denial of wrongdoing, which pushes more than a few buttons.

But I'm not a Mom or a daughter. When I saw the film with two sets of each, they resoundingly loved the film with absolutely no reservations. Being mothers of teen daughters, they each agreed that of course, the girl would be driven to risk anything to make her mother change, not considering the consequences and, yes, not owning up to it.

How Merida does face the impact of her actions, the fate of the kingdom, and her parental issues, is the heart of Brave, and what you must experience from beginning to end. Few films, animated or not, take a character through such a character arc in such a plausible, believable way. The Brady Bunch this ain't.

The magnificent score by Patrick Doyle is as epic as the film, and the voice cast is ideal. Pains were taken to make things as authentic as possible, as evidenced by the bonus features.

And what a feast of bonus features there are, at least on the Blu-ray. The DVD does contain the audio commentary (thank you!) and two short films, but depending on which Blu-ray set you choose, you get a lot of cool stuff.



Basically the 3-disc "Ultimate Collector's Edition" includes everything that the 5-disc Disney/Pixar's Brave: The Ultimate Collector's Edition does except for a Blu-ray 3-D disc and a digital download disc.

Here's are the bonus features:

DISC ONE / FEATURE FILM

- Audio Commentary

- Short Films
     1. La Luna
     2. The Legend of Mordu

- Behind the Scenes
    1. Brave Old World
    2. Merida & Elinor
    3. Bears
    4. Brawl in the Hall
    5. Wonder Moss
    6. Magic
    7. Clan Pixar
    8. Once Upon a Scene

- Extended Scenes
    1. Meet the Lords
    2. Triplets Distraction
    3. The Ruins
    4. Blockade

DISC TWO / BONUS FEATURES

- Fergus & Mordu - An Alternate Opening

- Fallen Warriors (short deleted shots)

- Dirty Hairy People

- It is English...Sort of (Doric dialect)

- Angus (the horse)

- The Tapestry

- Promotional Pieces
    1. Feast Yer Eyes! Wee Bits of Animation (montage of
        comical blackouts)
    2. Relics: A Lyre, Cauldron and a Rock
    3. Clan Dun Broch (Fergus Offers a Lesson)
    4. Launch (Merida Teaches the Triplets Archery)
    5. Flying Guts Theater (Presenting An Entertainment)
    6. USA/Japan/UK Trailers

- Art Gallery
    1. Characters
    2. Color Keys
    3. Development Art
    4. Environments
    5. Graphics

PIXAR RELEASES OVER A BAKER'S DOZEN OF TREATS
Many of the Pixar principles of creativity have their roots in the concepts of Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and the people in their orbit. One of ways Walt was able to nurture talent, sustain characters, test new ideas and techniques, and generally keep the studio rolling, was to produce short films through the golden age until the '60s with occasional forays into later decades.

Pixar always does this, creating shorts to accompany their features and some of those released by Walt Disney Pictures, some for TV and others as special bonus material for home video releases. This is the second collection in the series and is a must-have for families and animation buffs alike.



For all ages and levels of interest, you get two excellent "Toy Story Toons" each of which are impressive considering how many characters they include in such a short time. There are also two "Cars Toons" starring Mater the tow truck -- one nodding to a future Pixar "Planes" series and another enhancing the back story of Radiator Springs, which ties in with the new Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park.

Three shorts present an aspect of their feature films' storylines from another point of view: BURN-E happens during WALL-E and Dug's Special Mission and George & A.J. occur during the course of UP. George & A.J., by the way, has the funniest audio commentary of all twelve -- in which a stentorian announcer relentlessly "oversells" the film.

All twelve films have commentaries (thank you!), many of them revealing how personal some of these films are to their creative staff. Partly Cloudy was inspired by the non-English speaking mother of its director (as well as Walt Disney's Dumbo). La Luna captures the  memories of the adults of its director's youth.

Personally, I think La Luna is the most beautiful of the films, with a breathtaking score -- reminiscent of that of Pinocchio -- by the amazing Michael Giacchino. (If only a soundtrack album of all these films was released!!)

Presto boasts the most classic treatment of the films, in that it has the wild humor and frenetic timing of the best Warner, MGM and Disney cartoon shorts. And My Friend, the Rat, which opens the set, is especially delightful for those of us who enjoyed the Disney factual animation/live action films, most directed by Ward Kimball. The design and the music are spot on. These creative people know their material and clearly love it.

Another wondrous extra are seven student films by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, fun to watch but also fascinating while considering what magnificent futures would lie before these three icons -- and some likely roots of their subsequent films. You can also see how their sense of childlike wonder had not been beaten out of them by "too cool" peers or bitter adults.

Says Lasseter, with a chuckle, of his student days: "I was a bit of a procrastinator. The hardest part of making these films was getting them done, 'cause I would wait way too long to start my project! It's interesting now, having five sons. I go to them, 'I was a procrastinator.  Please don't be a procrastinator in your life!"

And for those who have DVD but not Blu-Ray, you still get the extra films -- and the commentaries on the DVD disc.

WALT DISNEY CLASSIC "SUMMER MAGIC" HITS THE MUSICAL STAGE

If you're a fan of the beloved 1963 Hayley Mills / Burl ives movie -- and happen to be in the Morristown, Tennessee area this weekend (it's an hour's drive north of Knoxville) -- you might get to experience the world's first musical stage adaptation of Walt Disney's Summer Magic: Flittering from Film to Footlights.

 

The original 1963 Summer Magic was a warm family comedy/drama highlighted by songs by Disney Legends Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. The show's creators, Jerry Maloy and Jim Hollifield, adapted it into a full musical by expanding the original score of seven tunes (including the worldwide favorite, "Ugly Bug Ball") to 24 songs, including selections from the Sherman classics, The Happiest Millionaire and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band.

 

But here's the thing: after this weekend it may disappear forever! Disney Theatrical Group has granted permission to produce Summer Magic as a nonprofit, limited staging in cooperation with the Newport Theatre Guild and the Morristown Theatre Guild. So these may be the only performances.

 

Special events are also part of the excitement. This Friday, June 22 at 7 p.m. the Summer Magic performance will be preceded by a special panel hosted by Stacia Martin. Friday's special guests will be Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman and film star Eddie Hodges, sharing behind-the-scenes memories. Richard's lovely wife, Elizabeth, Disney Legend Mary Costa (voice of Princess Aurora), Disney author/artist Russell Schroeder and Disney author/vice president Howard E. Green are also scheduled to attend on Friday evening.

 

Saturday, June 23 at 7 p.m., Richard Sherman will kick off the evening with a lively Q&A session, followed by the live show.

Starring in all three weekend performances, (including a Sunday 2:30 p.m. matinee) will be Kathy Garver (Cissy of TV's Family Affair) on stage in the role of Mother Carey!

Walt Disney's Summer Magic: Flittering from Film to Footlights will appear at the Morristown campus of Walters State Community College. For ticket information, call 423-586-9260 or visit morristowntheatreguild.com.



DISNEY AND STAGE LEGEND TOMMY STEELE IS CELEBRATED


This week on BBC Radio, you can stream a free one-hour special honoring the legendary entertainer Tommy Steele, who among many other triumphs starred in the London, Broadway (with John Cleese) and movie versions of Half a Sixpence; Walt Disney's last film, The Happiest Millionaire, and Francis Ford Coppola's only musical, Finian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark.

You can listen to the program here for the next five days.


Tommy Steele (far right) with Gladys Cooper, Lesley Ann Warren, Fred MacMurray, Geraldine Page, John Davidson and Walt Disney on the set of The Happiest Millionaire.

Also this week on BBC Radio:

The Night the Animals Talked (2 days left to listen)

Jack and the Genetically Modified Beanstalk (2 days left to listen)

The White Christmas Story
Martin Sheen narrates a one-hour documentary about Irving Berlin's beloved song (2 days left to listen).

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (4 days left to listen)

The Beatles' Christmas (5 days left to listen)

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be: The Lionel Bart Story
Five-part bio of the composer/lyricist of "Oliver!"

Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales
Five 15-minute stories.

Aesop's Fables
Adapted from the stage production by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) (7 days left to listen).

Yeti's Finger
What does Jimmy Stewart have to do with the abominable snowman?

The Adventures of Tintin (2 episodes left)

PLEASE NOTE: Some BBC Radio programming contains material intended for mature audiences.

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL RADIO PANEL ON "TV CONFIDENTIAL"
The weekly radio show about television, past and present, TV Confidential, is devoting its second hour this week to TV specials and holiday episodes of TV shows.



I'll be on the panel with author Joanna Wilson, actors Tony Figueroa and Donna Allen Figueroa and host Ed Robertson. The show plays on various stations throughout the country this week and will land in the podcast next Wednesday.

Here is the broadcast schedule:

WROM Radio
Sunday 12/25
8pm ET, 5pm PT

Share-a-Vision Radio
KSAV.org
Friday 12/23
7pm ET, 4pm PT
10pm ET, 7pm PT

The Coyote KWTY-FM
Ridgecrest, Calif.
Sunday 12/25
10pm PT
Monday 12/27
1am ET

InternetVoicesRadio.com
Tuesday 12/27
11:05pm ET, 8:05pm PT


The podcast of this episode will appear on Wednesday 12/28 and can be subscribed to at itunes or by clicking here.

GREG INTERVIEW ON "TV CONFIDENTIAL"
Staring tonight, various stations are airing an episode of TV Confidential in which my own self is interviewed about Disney music and Mouse Tracks.



InternetVoicesRadio.com
Tuesday 11/15
12:05am ET / 9:05pm PT


It will then become available for listening on demand at TVConfidential.net and as beginning Wednesday 11/16.

All the episodes of TV Confidential are also available for download on iTunes.



NATIONAL DOUGHNUT DAY IS FRIDAY


Yes, a great, tasty, delicious tradition continues. Stop in and get a free doughnut and REJOICE at its wondrous fantasticality!

More info here.

D23 EXPO UPDATE: JUST LIKE THE OSCARS

This morning there was a Disney/Touchstone/Miramax movie preview hosted by Dick Cook with appearances by Tim Burton, Jerry Bruckheimer, Robert Zemeckis, John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Miley Cyrus (singing "The Climb"), The Muppets (doing parodies of "Cruella DeVille" and "Prince Ali" as well as the finale version of "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie.

And Johnny Depp...as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Nice presentations all day, about Disney Theme Park music (with Bruce Brougton and Joel McNeely) and the Toy Story Musical (with Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn) and tonight, it's Saludos Amigos and The Shaggy Dog.

D23 AND ME...AND A WHOLE LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE



Just in case you haven't heard, the first-ever D23 Expo starts this Thursday at the Anaheim Convention Center. D23 (which gets its name from the year the Walt Disney Studio officially opened in 1923) is the first corporate-driven Disney fan organization.

L'il ol' me is doing the fabled multi-media presentation FROM ANNETTE TO MILEY: HOW DISNEY POP CHANGED THE WORLD, through the courtesy of Walt Disney Records. It's on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

If you're planning to be in the area, please stop by!

Nice interview on Mouse Clubhouse site
Scott Wolf was kind enough to do this interview at his excellent website. Also check out the other interviews, many with personalities we haven't heard much from lately. It's definitely a great site to bookmark.



Podcast and Review Now on MousePlanet.com

The folks at MousePlanet were nice enough to inteview Greg about MOUSE TRACKS and lots of other Disney subjeccts on their podcast, plus Mark Goldhaber wrote a thoughtful review on their acclaimed site.

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