Friday, August 11, 2017

"Something Rotten" at The Smith Center

The other night I got to do something I really enjoy, which is to watch someone else experience their first show at The Smith Center. We chose Something Rotten for her first show there, since Colette Robinson and I are avid fans (and sometime performers) of Shakespeare.

As we took our seats in Reynolds Hall just before curtain, I was pleased we had been able to snag gallery box seats since we'd had to wait until the last minute to get our tickets. Sitting down in the the gallery boxes made me laugh because doing so reminded me of those two curmudgeonly spectators from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf who sat up in their balcony box judging everyone. The highest level boxes at Smith Center provide a lovely close up and somewhat aerial view of the stage because of their height. 

Something Rotten, created by two brothers, (The Kirkpatricks), is a show about two brothers, (The Bottoms), who write plays. Unfortunately for them, this is during the time and in the same town as the one and only William Shakespeare. Before you stop reading because maybe you're not a fan of Shakespeare, you should know that they speak standard English for most of the show, and you don't have to know his work to enjoy it, which is one of the things I like about this show. If you know his plays it makes it even funnier, but if you don't it doesn't take anything away from your experience as an audience member.

With an upbeat opening, "Welcome to the Renaissance," performed first by Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel, then joined by the cast, Something Rotten is a play on Shakespeare's play within a play, a spoof of musicals, and a spoof of a Shakespeare play that makes fun of itself constantly. Lest you think this is a show praising the Bard think again. The second song is "I Hate Shakespeare!"....where Nick Bottom bemoans Shakespeare's overrated talent. 

Speaking of Nick Bottom, he is trying to keep his wife and himself out of poverty, so he involves the help of a seer to look into the future to see what Shakespeare will write next so he can steal it and reap the profits.  The seer, Nostradamus, (ok not quite Nostradamus, it's his nephew Thomas), tells Nick what the play will be. So Nick and his brother begin to write it...not realizing they're working on a slightly warped version of a play due to Thomas Nostradamus' shaky psychic abilities. (I'm not going to write about that and let's just make it a funny surprise, like the first time I ever saw The Producers).  The Bottom brothers, wanting to really make a splash, decide to add another dimension to the show by making it a musical. This decision is followed by a dazzling display of the meaning of "A Musical!" Blake Hammond as Nostradamus was funny, light, and gleeful as if an animated character, throughout the production.

One of the subplots referring to modern times is about Nick's wife Bea wanting to be an equal partner in her marriage to Nick, and finding ways to help support the family so he could write. This was obviously not a thing women did much of in the 1500's, although Bea was hopeful and exclaims, "It's 1595...by 1600 women will be completely equal to men in every way!"....Haha oh boy! Nigel Bottom also has a love interest, Portia, whose Puritan father is not so crazy about her blossoming love for a poor and unknown playwright.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Now, Shakespeare himself, an obviously important part of the story is a big cheese in town. He's bold, handsome and eccentric in his bedazzled Renaissance threads! 

"Shakespeare is like a rock star. We always talked about him early on being a cross between Mick Jagger, James Brown, Tom Jones and a little bit of Austin Powers. This is a version of Shakespeare you haven't seen before and it works if you love Shakespeare or hate Shakespeare." -Karey Kirkpatrick

I also like how they portrayed him equal parts insecure and conceited, like many great artists. In one scene after he enters to the chants of "We Want Will, We Want Will," he delves into a mini concert and the song "Will Power" for a throng of admirers holding up their lit candles with praise...because you know this was before lighters and smart phones.

In the end will Nick and Nigel Bottom find their way to the top?...(to quote one of the show's songs). Or will they forever live in Shakespeare's shadow? As the story progresses it takes itself to new and funnier heights. At some point I just let go trying to understand it all and just laughed and laughed. Colette and I were like two schoolgirls mesmerized and totally in the moment either giggling or bursting out into laughter throughout.  I have to appreciate the writers, cast and crew for giving me the experience of enjoying something like a child again. To even grasp a moment of that here and there as an adult is a true gift. From my aerial view I also noticed the audience's energy in the packed house as the laughter built throughout the show. At the end, (we stayed until most had left), as people were leaving they were still laughing and clapping as they made their way down the aisles to the exits. 

In many ways, aside from the obvious comparisons to Spamalot, (who is the same Director/Choreographer for Something Rotten, Casey Nicholaw), this show reminds me of Noises Off. It takes maximum talent, effort and timing for a cast to pull off a show like this, and when they do it's indescribably surprising and fun! 

The Kirkpatrick Brothers along with John O' Farrell spent four years and several rewrites (the original title was Shakespeare's Omelet) before they completed the show and it opened on Broadway in 2015. For example they originally composed 50 songs, (yes 50!) before narrowing it down to 15. 

Starring:
Rob McClure, Josh Grisetti, Adam Pascal, Maggie Lakis, Blake Hammond, Autumn Hurlbert, Scott Cote, Jeff Brooks, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Joel Newsome, and a funny, talented and energetic supporting cast!

The Smith Center production's Music Coordinator, Philip Fortenberry

Something Rotten remaining shows -
Aug. 11 7:30 pm & Aug. 12 and 13 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Tickets are $29 - $127  

Parking is free at the Smith Center, (thank you Smith Center!)

thesmithcenter.com


Copyright Anna Wendt 2017











Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Need a haircut? How to donate or sell your hair.

Did you know you can sell or donate your hair?

People need wigs and hair extensions due to hair loss from medical problems or for purely cosmetic reasons such as hair extensions, hair pieces and ponytails.

My friend Nicole recently grew her hair so long she was tripping over it when she walked!...Ok not quite that long, but she seriously needed a haircut. She decided to get it cut in a certain way so that it could be donated.


How to cut your hair and then sell it:

To sell your hair it's best if it's not treated with color or perms because you can usually get more than double the money for untreated hair. Of course your hair also has to be healthy and free of damage.

Your cut strands also have to be long enough to sell, which is at least 10 inches.

You should use gentle shampoo (two brands that make great sulfate free shampoos are  LOréal and Wen). Don't cut your hair until you have found a buyer because freshly cut hair is best! Blonde hair or light brown are the best selling colors followed by brunette, then red.

You can sell your hair through third party websites such as Hairsellon.com and Onlinehairaffair.com. Have someone take a photo of your hair from the back, (remember, don't cut it yet), then set up an account and put it up on the site.

The going rate ranges from about $300 to $1,000 on average, but the longer your locks the more money you will make.

Don't want to worry about the process of selling your hair but don't want to waste it when it could go to a good cause? Donate your hair for wigs for people who suffer from hair loss for medical reasons such as Alopecia and Chemotherapy.

To donate your hair:

For donation, a minimum of ten (10)  inches of hair is also preferred.   Layered locks are acceptable if the longest layer is ten inches. Colored or permed hair is accepted but not hair that is bleached out.

Where to donate? For more information on how exactly to get the hair on your head to a person in need, below are two helpful websites.

There is a well known organization called Locks Of Love, go to LocksOfLove.org for more information and to find a participating salon if that's easier for you than sending it in.

Pantene also has a site for hair donation, and they will accept eight (8) inches as a minimum. Go to https://pantene.com/en-us/experience-main-section2/beautiful-lengths

Once you have decided whether to donate or sell your hair it is best to have it professionally cut. To show you what to do, here is my good friend Nicole Pano with a quick 45 second video...How to cut your hair for Donation or Sale






Friday, July 21, 2017

Strictly Taboo Saturday Night

Michelle Johnson's production of Strictly Taboo dazzled with seven notable female vocalists including Michelle, Mary O, Kellie Wright, Naomi Mauro, Avana Christie, Elyse Branch, and Genevieve Dew.

Along with a top notch 17 piece orchestra led by musical director Joe Escriba, this was to pen Michelle Johnson's term, "a salicious musical revue about the divas of jazz."

Elyse, Avana, Kellie, Michelle, Mary, Genevieve and Naomi


As the ladies took the stage for their opening number Lady is a Tramp, what stood out most to me were the elegant outfits.  I loved the gowns, the diamonds, the elbow length gloves and long strings of pearls. These divas celebrating other divas were dressed to the nines and there was not a slightly falling hem or missing sequin to be seen. In addition, the expertly coordinated costume changes throughout the show made this more than a performance, but a beautifully crafted revue.

Michelle, Genevieve, Naomi, and Musical Director Joe Escriba
Some highlights of the night were Michelle Johnson as Ella Fitzgerald, Avana Christie as Bessie Smith, Naomi Mauro as Anita O'Day, Genevieve Dew as Billie Holiday, Kellie Wright as Rosemary Clooney, Mary O as Nancy Wilson and Elyse Branch as Nina Simone.

The ladies took turns and sometimes sang together for tunes such as Witchcraft, Guess Who I Saw Today, Mambo Italiano, A Little Sugar in my Bowl, Someone to Watch Over Me, Bless the Child, Send In The Clowns, and Fever.

Adding to the show were stories interwoven between the songs about the colorful and sometimes scandalous lives of the divas of jazz being paid tribute to, which I appreciated because I didn't know a lot about them so it made their songs and music more meaningful to me. Although I am willing to bet the lives of the singers on stage that night would have made just as interesting stories! Perhaps next time we will hear more about them.

Another surprise were the dancers, who intermittently jumped into a couple of numbers filling the stage with movement and energy....(especially tap dancers Victoria and Victoria).

Michelle Johnson performed a few solo numbers that night, all had different tones, sound and feel. Michelle is one of the most diverse performers we have here in Las Vegas. Although she is often referred to as the First Lady of Jazz, I tend to think that term confines her to one genre in some people's minds.  She is so much more.


Michelle Johnson
The night before her show I caught Michelle as part an event called "The Set List" at House of Blues.  Her take on the Rolling Stones' classic Wild Horses was poignant and powerful! I've been hearing a lot about Michelle lately. She sang the national anthem at a Las Vegas 51's game, then the other day at an NBA event, a few days after this show she performed at a corporate event for Microsoft. All of that was in just a two week span! Her next performance will be September 15th for her show Tapestry Unraveled a Tribute to Carole King, (also at Cabaret Jazz).

Michelle recently posted an inspiring public message on FB and since it was public I decided to share it here... "I especially want to encourage performers to focus on their own journeys. You have a unique voice that is all yours. Run your own race and you will get to the finish line. I promise you that. Just run your own race! That is what has made all of the difference for me in the past two years. I stopped comparing myself to everyone else and I stopped trying to be someone I wasn't. As soon as you acknowledge who you are, and embrace and celebrate it, things just start happening for you. Please take that leap and add single mindedness and discipline, and watch your life soar. No one can play you better than you. Make your move and leave a mark. You matter"....Beautiful words from a talented artist who we here in Las Vegas are fortunate to call a local.

This particular show was my husband and my wedding anniversary and was a perfect way to spend it. Cabaret Jazz is a special separate theater venue that is part of  The Smith Center for the Performing Arts complex and is intimate at 240 seats, but large enough for a show with an orchestra and dancers.  They serve drinks and some food including bento boxes with cheese, fruit, meat and other varieties. It's a great place for a date night, or when you have friends in town and want to show them someplace local and off of the strip.

Photos courtesy of Ed Foster




Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hot Rocks! The Set List 3.0 does the Rolling Stones

The Set List productions are about capturing the mood, music and energy of a specific artist or group by performing an album of theirs in its entirety for one performance only. Created by Andrew Wright, The Set List debuted in 2015. These kinds of  productions are my favorite. They're special, beautiful and original in their rawest form, like an uncut diamond. 

For Set List 3.0 last Friday night at House of Blues Las Vegas, tourists and locals were treated to a fantasy mix of performers from shows such as Mystere, Rock of Ages, Alice, Tenors of Rock and others, for a vocal tribute of The Rolling Stones' "Hot Rocks" album.


The Set List 3.0    Photo by Ira Kuzma

Lance Bryant's groovy and soulful opening of Time is on my Side set a high bar for the rest of the night. Then Stephanie Sanchez ripped through Satisfaction, grasping the song's pent up frustration and mirroring how we've all felt at one time or another about life, love, sex and even money. Enoch Augustus Scott (of Zombie Burlesque) surprised with his bitchy fabulous rendition of Get off my Cloud. According to Mick Jagger this song is a "stop bugging me post teenage alienation song."...that may still be true but I think it would also make a great anthem to internet trolls everywhere to shut up already!


Stephanie Sanchez
Singer Dina Emmerson (Mystere), began what started out as a beautiful Cirque De Soleil style aria then in a Vegas style song twist quickly segued into Mother's Little Helper.

19th Nervous Breakdown, performed by Ashley Fuller (Alice), relayed the song's feelings of hysteria, putting on it a rock opera spin of her own. Jaclyn McSpadden's version of Paint it Black, captured the pain and anger of sudden loss of love. Under My Thumb, by James Simpson, gave this rock tune a bit of a pop flavor. Then came Robert Torti's classic interpretation of Ruby Tuesday, a song written by Keith Richards about his young love Linda, who had just left him for Jimi Hendrix. 

Valita and her version of Let's Spend the Night Together was energetic while she hopped, danced and moved like Jagger. Anne Martinez (Alice) popped in for Jumpin' Jack Flash,  backed up by Jerry Jones on harmony, (as he did so very well for many of the songs that night). After that Franky Perez showed us his Street Fightin' Man and pulled an Adele at the Grammys by starting over and hitting the nail on the head the second time around.

One of the highlights of the night was Paul Johnson (World's Greatest Rock Show), and his version of Sympathy for the Devil. It was flawless and slightly spooky just like the original. Honky tonk woman was treated with attitude and grit by Kellie Wright.

Another killer highlight of the night, Gimme Shelter, by Robin Vincent and Philip Drennan, (Vegas! The Show), showcased Philip's strong vocals with the absolutely haunting voice of Robin who captured the angst and fear of the original song which was written during the Vietnam war. "That's kind of an end of the world song really" says Mick Jagger.

Midnight Rambler was interpreted by Jared Dalley, (Rock of Ages), and was a very bluesy House of Blues  take on the tune. Brown Sugar, by Kelly Anne Gower, in a bustier and leather pants, looked like a pussycat doll, but sounded like a wildcat.

Then Michelle Johnson broke our hearts with Wild Horses, owning it like she'd written it herself. The final duet of You Can't Always Get What you Want turned into a group song started by Tommy Sherlock with Stephanie Sanchez who were then joined by the rest of the cast.

After the music there was a vote of who sang 'em best, guys or girls and the girls won by audience vote! Honestly though this was an unnecessary distraction to me. No tricks, games or props are needed with these performers. "They" are all the show needs.

The Set List is a look at some of the best the Las Vegas entertainment scene has to offer. It's a chance for those who are lucky enough to be there on a night they do one of these shows to see some of the most promising, talented, energetic vocalists you can put together on stage, and only for the very best reason, purely because they want to be.

Next up for The Set List will be this fall at House of Blues for The Who's classic famous double album "Tommy."

Charles Garland, Guitar


The Set List 3.0
Vocalists
Lance Bryant, Stephanie Sanchez, Enoch Augustus Scott, Dina Emmerson, Ashley Fuller, Jaclyn McSpadden, James Simpson, Robert Torti, Valita, Anne Martinez, Frankie Perez, Paul Johnson, Kellie Wright, Robin Vinent, Philip Drennan, Jared Dalley, Kelly-Anne Gower, Michelle Johnson, Tommy Sherlock, Bob Torti and harmonies, Jerry Jones
Musicians
Vince Verderame, Music Director/Drums
Charlie Dennard, Keys
Dave Ostrem, bass
Charles Garland, guitar

Photos by Ira Kuzma

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Introducing an Astronaut

Introducing an astronaut for most of us is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity, and I wanted to do it well.  So I researched Eileen Collins and wrote her an introduction that her husband proofed for me the morning of the event. I'm happy to report it was a success!

Colonel Eileen Collins was the first female pilot and commander of a U.S. Space Shuttle (Space Transportation System) and was in 1990, only the second female to become a U.S. astronaut.

Eileen was in Las Vegas to do a Keynote Presentation, "Breaking Barriers to Become a Successful Pioneer in your Field," as part of the National Pawnbrokers Association's annual event.

Eileen Collins and I , Mirage Hotel,Las Vegas 7/11/17

Eileen piloted the Columbia in 1995 and commanded the Discovery Space Shuttle in 2005. So while raising her children she was also piloting space shuttles...now that's a REAL life Wonder Woman! She's been married for 30 years to her husband Pat Youngs, (an International Airline Pilot), and is the mother of two children.

I can write about how many missions Colonel Collins commanded or how many awards and commendations she's received but I'd rather talk about her, the person.

Eileen Collins, first female Space Shuttle Pilot

It's hard for any mother to leave her family and travel for work, but it takes an especially brave one to leave her husband and children on planet Earth and head into space, not once but four times, (logging a total of 38 days in space).

Colonel Collins last two missions were her most well known.  Her team delivered the Chandra X-Ray Telescope to space in 1999. The last mission she commanded was her crew's return to space on Discovery in 2005, (this was only two years after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident that took the lives of the seven astronauts on board). During the 2005 mission she piloted an unprecedented 360 degree pitch maneuver so the International Space Station could identify any damage to the shuttle Discovery after it's launch into space. In other words she flipped the Space Shuttle!

Eileen Collins retired from her position as a NASA astronaut in 2006.

Watching Eileen speak and answer questions from the audience it was clear to me that her favorite subject to talk about is space flight and the future of humans in space. I asked her what she missed most about being an astronaut and she said seeing the planet Earth from space, the camaraderie of the crew, and the weightlessness of zero gravity. The only thing she doesn't miss is that she had to be away from her family, and that's the only thing she could think of, she said.  Eileen told me before her presentation that she hoped nobody would ask her about aliens during the Q & A because that is her least favorite subject to be questioned about.

When asked about what it feels like to launch into space Eileen said, "Imagine seat belting yourself into your car, turning it back on it's wheels at a 90 degree angle and applying 600 lbs of pressure," that's what it feels like to launch into space!

Eileen Collins was not born into a family of privilege, in fact the opposite. She spent her first two years in community college before graduating with a B.A. from Syracuse University in 1978 and later the Air Force Academy. To me that's one of the most important pieces of her history, that she started in community college as her route to becoming an astronaut. We need more examples like her to encourage others that the path to success can be non traditional.

The NASA space shuttle program born in 1972, ended in 2011.

Video Link:

Eileen Collins Final Mission: Space Shuttle Discovery Launch & Landing 2005



Special thanks to Eileen Collins, Sheree Wilson, Jaki Baskow, Dana Meinecke and Robbie Ellis.