Thursday, September 17, 2015

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 2

By James V. Ruocco

The top source for Connecticut Cabaret Theatre's new stage production of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh In" is the irreverent and brash humor of Ed Friendly and George Schlatter, the creators of the popular 1960's NBC sketch comedy. It was there that millions of television viewers first heard the catch phrase "sock it to me" and "you bet your sweet bippy" or nearly fell off their sofas and recliners as the cast drifted merrily through the infamous "Cocktail Party" sequence or completely lost control of themselves and the material during the show's closing "Joke Wall" buffoonery.

No matter how you look it, is was that sheer zaniness that kept "Laugh In" going for six full seasons.
" 'Laugh In' is an iconic television show," says director Kris McMurray, who happily welcomed the opportunity to present the stage adaptation at his intimate cabaret space. "When I read the script, I knew we just had to do it. It was brilliant and contained all of the famous characters we had seen on  TV including those created by Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Goldie Hawn, Jo Anne Worley and Arte Johnson.
Among them: the little old lady with the umbrella; the German soldier who kept muttering "very interesting;" the very, very dumb blonde whose body was covered in pithy wordplay; and the dirty old man on the park bench.

"I plan to take my audience on a very nostalgic journey," offers McMurray. "That is, a time when television and all Americana was beginning to be very controversial and played with us innocents."
True to form, "Rowan and Martin's Laugh In" includes plenty of sexual innuendo and politically incorrect jokes from that era plus the typical short sketches, one-shot sight gags, black outs, variety skits and comedic caricatures the show was famous for.           
" 'Laugh In' is for all ages," adds McMurray. "People who have actually grown up with the television show or for the new generation who want to take a peek at what was really the very first 'Saturday Night Live' for television."

The production stars Chris Brooks, Meagan Bomar, James J. Moran, Bobby Schultz, Brianna Zuk, Sue Emond, Abby Brooks, Russell Fish, Barbara Horan, Maria Pompile, Will Dayton, Carleigh Schultz, Dave Wall, Grace Rizzuto, Linda Kelly, Nancy Ferenc and George Lombardo.
"Rowan and Martin's Laugh In" runs Sept. 18 through Oct. 24 at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre (31 Webster Square Rd., Berlin, CT).
Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Doors open at 7:15 p.m.
Tickets are $30. For more information, call (860) 829-1248.

(The Great and Wonderful Wizard....I Mean Melissa....Comes to Ridgefield)

If you want to get up close and personal with Melissa Etheridge.....lots of lesbian women do...then, put on your best flannels and blue jeans, jump into your SUV and head over to Ridgefield this October for an edgy and exuberant concert guaranteed...and I mean, guaranteed.... to leave you breathless.
If you know me, then you already know that I'm a big Etheridge fan. I've seen her five or six times in concert. And, I'm not even a lesbian. Maybe, in my next life. Who knows? It's either that or poster child for Burberry or Ralph Lauren.

As evidenced in previous Etheridge concerts, this one allows the singer to entertain her audience with many powerhouse vocals (don't you just love her edgy, raspy sound) about life, sex, hope, romance, doomed relationships, confessions and survival.
She will perform several songs from her edgy 2014 album "This is M.E.," including "Ain't that Bad," "Who Are You Waiting For," "Do It Again" and "Take My Number."
"This is music that I love," she says. "There's more R&B and soulful feeling to it because that's always been inside of me and I think rock and roll and soul and R&B are brother and sister and those collaborations are probably my favorite."
Fans can also expect to hear many of her greatest hits: "Come to My Window," "I'm the Only One,"  "Breathe," "Bring Me Some Water," "Fearless Love," "Angels Would Fall" and "I Want to Come Over."
While some of the songs are two decades old or older, Etheridge isn't really bothered. Then, now, always, she finds new ways to whip her crowd into a frenzy and make them think they're hearing each song for the very first time.

"The emotion doesn’t cut like it used to," Etheridge explains. “But rather than coming from a place that is desperate it comes from place where it’s fun to sing a fist-raised-in-the-air song that has become more of an anthem.”
I couldn't agree more.
Performances are 8 p.m. Oct. 5 and 6 at the Ridgefield Playhouse (80 East Ridge, Ridgefield, CT). Tickets are $125. For more information, call (203) 438-5795.

(No Empty Chairs or Empty Tables at This Groban Concert)

International singing sensation Josh Groban is coming to Toyota's Oakdale Theater (good God, what an awful name for a venue) on Sept. 26th to promote his new Broadway show music album "Stages" and happily entertain and seduce audiences with the same charm, sparkle and vocal savvy that has kept him in the limelight for years and years.

Am I a big Groban fan, you ask?
Oddly enough, I'm a newbie....eight days and counting.
Yes, really.
So let's backtrack.
While perusing "You Tube" last week (my taste in music changes as often as my mood swings), I decided to track down some videos from the West End and Broadway productions of "Les Miserables" and who should pop up first, but Groban singing "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," my favorite song from that show. I hit play and was immediately hooked. Five minutes later, I decided to give Groban's "Bring Him Home," also from "Les Miz," a quick spin.
I was so impressed, I clicked on and ordered Groban's new album "Stages," which, is the centerpiece of his new 2015 concert.

"Nothing has inspired me more in my life than the energy that is shared in a theatre when great songs and great art are on the stage," Groban said in a press statement for "Stages." "I wanted this album to pay tribute to those inspirations and memories.
"Having lived in New York City the last few years, seeing as much theater as I could see, and having so many great friends in the theater community, it became really inspiring to take this on. It was time."
Time is also on Groban's side.
"Stages," the actual album, is timely, inventive, stylish and sung magnificently. So it's easy to see why Groban decided to include most of this theatrical repertoire in his tour.
I, for, one, can't wait to hear these songs performed LIVE.
Included in the concert songbook are "What I Did For Love" ("A Chorus Line"),"Pure Imagination" ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), "Bring Him Home" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" ("Les Miserables"), "Over the Rainbow" ("The Wizard of Oz"), "Children Will Listen"/"Not While I'm Around" ("Into the Woods," "Sweeney Todd'), "You'll Never Walk Alone" ("Carousel"), "Finishing the Hat" ("Sunday in the Park With George") and "Anthem" ("Chess")

Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $75 to $465.
For more information, call  (203) 265-1501.
Toyota Oakdale Theatre is located at 95 South Turnpike Road, Wallingford, CT)

(Wendy Wasserstein's Final Play "Third" is Set to Open at TheaterWorks)

With its upcoming production of Wendy Wasserstein's "Third," Hartford's prestigious "TheaterWorks kicks off its 30th season.
Wow, how time flies!
Then, as now, this critically-acclaimed Equity showcase will continue to offer theatergoers a fine assortment of contemporary works designed to entertain, challenge, entice and surprise its audience. And it doesn't get any better than Wasserstein, the late American playwright whose works include "The Heidi Chronicles," "The Sisters Rosensweig" and "An American Daughter."

"Wasserstein has a gift for dissecting the emotional and intellectual struggles of women," says "Third" director Rob Ruggiero. " Funny and biting, this is Wendy's last, and perhaps best, play."
Set during an academic year at a very small New England college, "Third" charts the emotional upheaval that erupts once Laurie Jameson, a female college professor accuses her student Woodson Bull III (in the play, he is nicknamed "Third") of plagiarism. He, of course, denies this, but she believes his essay on "King Lear" is not his work and reports him to the college's Committee of Academic Standards.

Is this action justified? Or is Jameson guilty of using the accused to fuel her inner torment with academics, relationships, age and identity politics?
You'll have to see the play to find out.
The production stars Kate Levy, Andrea Gallo, Edmond Genest, Conor Hamil and Olivia Hoffman.
"This is an exciting time for TheaterWorks," adds Ruggiero. "Together with you, we have grown into Hartford's best contemporary theater. We've stayed focused on sharing great stories, because we know that great stories make the best theater."

"Third" runs Oct 1 through Nov. 8.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets are $15-$50. For more information, call (860) 527-7838.

(Tom Chute's Morning Show is Always First in My Book)

WATR's Tom Chute knows a thing or two about talk radio.
Originally, he planned on staying at 1320/AM for "just five years," but luckily for us, he's now in his 30th year at the popular Waterbury-based radio station. Even better, he has no intention of slowing down at any given moment.

Chute, first and foremost, is an entertainer. He has charm, personality, wit, compassion, warmth and about 101 other traits that keep WATR listeners merrily entertained weekday mornings whenever they tune in to "Tom Chute and You." He is the very definition of a media celebrity, and truly, one of the most likeable people on the planet.
Whenever I listen to this long-running radio program, I am always impressed with Chute's high-energy, his feel-good savvy, his professionalism and his ability to communicate his thoughts without ever missing a beat.
What is his secret, you ask?
How does he keep things fresh and spontaneous?
It's all fairly, simple.
"I basically plan on having different features and different conversations every half hour, after every news break," he explains. "That's why you hear fresh stories whenever you tune in."
How does Chute pick and choose what material to use, day after day, week after week?
"Some of it is lifestyle from my very own life," he says. "I also search the web and various publications for stories that I feel would be fun for our morning show.
"I always look for lighter stories because we try to entertain and bring people up with our morning show. We don't want to be depressing."
"Tom Chute and You" is broadcast Mondays through Fridays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

So check things out. You won't be disappointed.
And if you listen to WATR from your car while driving to work, taking the kids to school or running "early morning" errands, you may, if you're like me, miss your exit, find your gas tank almost "on empty" or simply pull over, grab a cup of Starbucks, relax and let Chute do all the talking.

(They Like Me......They Really, Really Like Me)

I am truly humbled.
In just less than a week, "From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2"  has skyrocketed on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Bing, etc. The stats are well beyond amazing. And I mean, amazing. I had no idea that
"Take 2" would actually surpass my national/international column "From the Desk of Jim R," in hits and views during the first few days it was posted online.
And not just in Connecticut, but all across the USA and overseas in over 30 countries including Sweden, Slovakia, Denmark, France, England, Australia, Switzerland and Canada.
I guess it's safe to assume that "they like me.......They really, really like me."


Here's is just a smattering of what they've been saying:

"Jim! I can't thank you enough for writing this article and how excited I am for you to return to writing. You piece was wonderful! I love the fluidity and grace with which you use words. You truly have a gift. Every word draws you farther into the piece. And it's so flattering! I can't thank you enough!! I may not be performing for a while but I will be following you! " (Sybil Haggard Chamberlin)

"Jim, we loved the review. You are an excellent writer. I almost felt we were watching the play. Thank you for all the wonderful praise for Sybil and the whole production. You are so gifted and we are blessed to have you in our lives... If you are ever down North Carolina way, you are welcome. " (Dora Haggard)

"Absolutely loved it, Jim. There were so many interesting topics that kept me entertained. It's well written and informative. The play 'Gidion's Knot' has made me want to see it (even though I'm an 18 hr. flight away) which goes to show what a brilliant writer you are. Well done, my friend. Looking forward to the next one " (Rose Imbrogno)

"Jim,  thanks for the wonderful write up. If you had said anything more about the company I might have gotten a swelled head. Glad to see you writing again. It's alway a joy to read writing that is entertaining yet meaningful and has depth."  (Donato D' Albis)

"I met Jim for the first time at 'Gidion's Knot' and his passion for theater is apparent in the first moments of talking with him. Thank you for this wonderfully written article! "(Kailee Donovan)

"Yes! Jim did a wonderful job reviewing the play" (Teddi Therkildsen)

"I wholeheartedly agree. It was a special night at the theater." (Susan Pople)

"Loved reading this. Thanks for sharing. I know you are one proud Mama, Dora! I'd love to see Sissy in a play-- any play!" (Brenda Scott)

"Wow, Kailee and Sybil...what a great article and review of  'Gideon's Knot.' I could not have said it better!"  (Keith Donovan)

"You are a very witty writer with many enlightening things to say about entertainment and other matters, and I look forward to reading each and every one of your new works!"  (Lana Forrester)

"Great article on the Connecticut Cabaret!!! And the "infamous" and talented producer / director/ actor and, of course,  my friend, Kris McMurray....I love all your Facebook posts. Your blogs, etc. You're SO accomplished!!!!" (Melinda Learned)

"This is an awesome endeavor. I love the personalization and the much more interesting and user-friendly than a run-of-the-mill review. CONGRATS!!! " (Valerie Vitalo)

"Jim, båda versionerna av 'Från skrivbordet av Jim R' visar en mycket hängiven, begåvad och fokuserade writer.You göra orden hoppa rätt off sidan. Vi kan inte vänta och se vad du ska göra härnäst." (Bjarne Sjoner)

"It's so nice to have you back writing again." (Barbara Davitt)

"Congrats! Welcome back, Jim." (Barry Hughson)

" We hope you enjoy the show (and hope we enjoy the review" "('Rear Window") (Hartford Stage)

"What a great blog....wonderful Jim!" (Thomas Chute)

"Jim, loved the blog. Even though I get the Hartford Courant, I really don't take much notice. I found your blog much more informative and fun. Look forward to the next one. Thanks." (Linda Hodson

"Great stuff Jim! Thank you! I look forward to re-reading this a few times today! Welcome back!! " (Keith Paul)

"This makes me very happy!" (Sharon Wilcox)

"Jim, votre écriture est tout simplement magnifique. Nous attendons avec impatience votre prochaine colonne." (Gautier Fournier)

"Wow! You're back. How great!" (Donna Bonasera)

 "I've enjoyed your writings!" (David Stephen Irvin)

"Nous avons adoré votre écriture. Il est très frais, coloré et personnel." (Stephane Vallart)

"Fabulous. Loved every story! You certainly were busy!"  (Matthew Valenti)

"Congrats Jim! So glad to see you back doing what you love best." (Marianne Schmitt McKenna)

"Writing is your forte. So glad you are doing this again." (Linda Salerno)

"Nice to see local theatre coming back."  (Patricia Emily Rimkunas)

"Congratulations!"  (Janice Luise-Lutkus)

(The Big E.......No Way in Hell)

It's a question I get asked every year at this time.
"Are you going to 'The Big E?' "
"No," I reply.
Again, the same question, "Are you going to 'The Big E?' "
"No," I explain, "I AM NOT GOING TO 'THE BIG E.' "

In actuality, I absolutely hate (such harsh words there, Jimmy Boy) "The Big E," the crowds, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the parking, the long lines for food, the ridiculous overpricing and all those people who think 'The Big E" is equivalent to Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee or Christmas in Rockefeller Center.
I want no part of it.
But first, let's backtrack.
My first and only time at "The Big E" was when I was a wee boy of 9 or ten. My parents James-Vincent and Frances had never been before and thought it might be fun and interesting. A half- hour after we arrived, I could tell they wanted to bolt, especially after checking out the livestock on display or wandering through a CT pavilion of prize-winning vegetables.
"Oh, look, Jim," my mother said to my dad. "An entire pavilion with rows and rows of tomatoes and blue ribbons. I've seen enough. Let's go."

Thus, ended our first and only experience with "The Big E." Out of the gates we went, never, never ever to return.
By now, you're all probably saying, "Christ, what a bunch of snobs? How could anyone hate "The Big E?"
In defense of my parents, it just wasn't their thing? Or mine.
I have nothing against sheep, horses, cows or chickens, but I'd rather see them romping about the English countryside in Dorset, Wiltshire or Bibury than in West Springfield, Massachusetts.

What about the food and the refreshments?
My parents (and I) loved the fried dough, the hot dogs, the hamburgers, the cotton candy, the snow cones and the candied apples.....just like everyone else....But we could get that anywhere. Or make it ourselves.

As for "The Big E," it remains....and will continue to remain, a very distant memory. It is not on my list of things to do in 2015 or any year after. But in their defense,  they do make, a very mean fried dough.
End of story. Fade to black.                                                             


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