Sunday, August 11, 2019

Beverly Hills 90210, The Reality Reboot

TV Show reboots are so common these days it's not surprising that Beverly Hills 90210 launched their own six episode reboot last week. What is unusual and in my opinion makes it worth watching, is the way the reboot is formatted. 

Unlike other reboots of TV shows like Will & Grace and Hawaii Five-O, which stuck to the general format of their previous incarnations, BH90210 added a modern reality show twist to theirs. 

BH90210 features the same characters and actors, but the actors play themselves and not their characters. In the first episode of the reboot which aired last week, Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, Gabrielle Carteris, and yes even Shannon Doherty, are all appearing at a Beverly Hills 90210 fan convention. It's 2019 and they are all older, and not necessarily wiser.  

As the story unfolds their lives are revealed and we see the phony personas they present to the public. Turns out middle aged TV stars have problems just like the rest of us. Keeping in mind that the actors are playing themselves it's not necessarily their actual lives we're seeing in the show, but is based on certain truths gleaned from their real lives. For example, Tori Spelling has a lot of kids and money problems, Gabrielle is the president of an actors union, and Brian Austin Green (who is married to Megan Fox in real life), lives in the shadow of his wife's fame. The death of Luke Perry is addressed in the show as well. Unlike the original series, nothing is sugar coated. After all they're grown ups now, and so is their audience. 

L to R Gabrielle, Tori, Brian, Jason, Shannen, Jennie, Ian    Photo by Brian Bowen Smith/Fox

I always liked the premise of the original Beverly Hills 90210. Two teens move with their family from a suburb in Minnesota to Beverly Hills, California and experience all of the differences in attitude and lifestyle. Back then before smart phones and streaming, California was the center of all entertainment culture. As a young person who, just like the characters, lived in Minnesota when this show first aired, I imagined myself one day living in California and experiencing the same kinds of things they did. But at the time it seemed a distant dream. 

However, midway through the show's run I did in fact move to Beverly Hills 90210! I only lived in an apartment, not a mansion like their characters, but it was still Beverly Hills and I had my own experiences with different attitudes and culture. I moved there by myself which felt brave, and lived there alone two years until my older sister joined me for some of the time. It was a much faster paced life and I needed to be on guard and on top of things as L.A. is not for the weak; but it was also rich in possibility and opportunities for growth that I never could have had in Minnesota. I went to acting school for four years while living in 90210 and completed my training at Stella Adler Academy of Acting. It was one of the best times in my life and I will always remember it that way. 

So for me, Beverly Hills 90210 was a show that inspired. We'll see what BH90210 does! 

BH90210 Wednesdays on Fox.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Waking up with PTSD

I chose this day to start writing in my blog again since the subject is a large part of why I took a break from it. Today is National PTSD Awareness Day and it's time to share my experience. This is something that many people in my life don't know about.

Nobody ever expects to wake up one day with PTSD. You usually hear about it in regards to veterans and domestic abuse victims but it can also happen in other ways. In my case it was a violent crime last year and the aftermath that triggered the onset of this horrible, chronic condition. Although I am much better now I will never forget the daily, hourly and sometimes moment to moment terror that plagued me intermittently while I struggled to break free from what felt like a constant nightmare while awake.

On a sunny Monday out of nowhere last summer I turned to  close my car door to find the barrel of a gun in my eyes. If I had been paying more attention to my surroundings this may not have happened. So yes, I cooperated and was robbed in that moment but I survived the incident. Later that day was the attempted credit card fraud, then the aftermath of having my identity out there in the hands of criminals. There is whole a lot more to this but I'll leave it at that because this is not about the crime. It's about surviving PTSD. 

I remember little after the crime that afternoon in the haze of working with police and my bank, etc. What I remember most clearly is waking up the next morning with a strong sense of inner panic and fear.  That was only the beginning. A couple of weeks later I tried antidepressants, which in my case made it worse. One night was so bad I was certain I would not survive it alone. (PTSD sufferers have a very high rate of suicide.) My husband was out of town so I rushed myself to the hospital checking myself into the ER and was hospitalized for a night. This made the PTSD much worse because I was terrified of that happening again. Afterwards I was afraid of not only other people, but myself as well. Having been a level headed person with a happy disposition all my life, this was the worst part of it all. 

What I didn't understand at the time is that something in my brain had changed. I'm not a doctor but I now know from working with mine and my therapist that a sudden incident of trauma or violence can cause a type of temporary brain injury and condition, PTSD, that makes some normal things seem scary, off center and out of balance.  For me anything could set me off... seeing a gun on TV, hearing a loud noise, even someone ringing the doorbell would send me down a dark rabbit hole and a feeling of terror and disassociation. The disassociation was the worst. It made things seem not real, like I was losing it. This is where my therapist was the most helpful. She helped me learn grounding techniques such as deep breathing, grabbing a chunk of ice, reaching out to others, etc. Anything to break the rising inner hysteria of a flashback can help ground a person with PTSD. 

So many times I wanted to scream and cry and basically fall apart, but I never did. I continued to function normally on the outside to prove to myself that I could. Running an errand, getting the mail, meeting a friend for dinner when it was dark out, working a job, normal things were monumentally challenging. I couldn't be alone all night unless there was a friend or family member nearby. What if I had a panic attack? I didn't want any of my work colleagues to know because I didn't want them to think of me as damaged and unreliable, so I white knuckled it, took it hour by hour. I just knew if I could keep at my normal life then day by day I would find my comfort zone again. I think that's called exposure therapy. 

I was fortunate to have some down time too. I could nest on my sofa watching comedies (everything else triggered me). I'd use a heavy blanket which was calming, and still is. Yoga helped me to a degree I never expected. It gave me something to focus on when a panic attack arose. Stretch this, bend that, and breathe. I also consistently did meditation. Guided mediations and affirmations from Deepak Chopra, Steve Nobel and the music of Paul Luftenegger served as a salve to ease me through and quiet my mind from the constant anxiety. Listening with my headphones every time I went to bed and every morning when I woke up and during rising panic attacks slowly brought me back. I used daily drops of Non THC CBD Oil. Also being able to talk to family and friends when I was having a rough moment was like medicine too...the best kind.

It's been ten months now and I do not suffer on a regular basis anymore! I don't live in constant fear of the unknown or of a flashback or panic attack. The symptoms started to ease three months ago and have since become mild and sometimes even non existent.

I am grateful beyond belief that I can live my life without constant fear and anxiety.  With a smile on my face I can drive alone and run errands, do things with friends, work and travel. But I will always be more aware, more careful and on guard for anything that can happen to me.

Anyone reading this who has PTSD I have the deepest empathy for you. I hope you are finding your way out of despair and back to yourself, and that you have support from people and professionals as you need it. Prayer doesn't hurt either.  AW

Here are links to one of the songs and a meditation that helped me. 

Mending: Paul Luftenegger

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Menopause The Musical

Four women walk into a department store as strangers, and walk out as friends. That is the setting of the show Menopause The Musical, which takes place at a lingerie sale in New York City. How do these women bond with each other? Through the shared trials and tribulations of menopause.

There's an Iowa housewife, a businesswoman, an earth mother and a soap opera star. These ladies have nothing in common until they realize they're all going through the "change of life." They then chat, sing, and dance their way into becoming friends; all while creating their own versions of some of the best hit songs we all know and love.

Last month was my second time seeing the show here in Las Vegas and one of the reasons I love this show so much is that it's like therapy. We've all heard of retail therapy, well Menopause The Musical is laughter therapy, friendship therapy, and music therapy all rolled into one. To be able to laugh at something that can be as uncomfortable as menopause and aging reminds us that we can laugh at almost anything. 

The performers who play these characters endear the audience with their talent and commitment to their roles. The teamwork is evident in their interactions with each other and their execution of physical comedy, which for me is another outstanding aspect of this show. 

Photo of flyer for the show
Here in Las Vegas there's a special guest star who pops in and out of the show that is familiar to most Americans and plenty of international visitors as well. It's the actress Cindy Williams, who adds a little extra zest to the cast with her comedic appearances in the production. Yes, it's that Cindy Williams, from the TV show Laverne & Shirley and author of the book Shirley I Jest! 

Jacquelyn Holland Wright as the soap opera star is a combination of sexy and strong but also playful and funny. Jacquelyn has graced us here in Las Vegas with her talent for many productions before this. Some were Mamma Mia, EFX, Best Little Whorehouse, and Divorce Party, the last two of which I wrote about her in, which is how we met.

Lisa Mack, the businesswoman, has powerful pipes and attitude! She joined the Las Vegas cast in 2010 and performed with the show in other cities before that. She occasionally goes out and joins a performance of an MTM show in other cities and countries, as do the other cast members. 

Laura Lee O'Connell, the Iowa housewife, is an astute physical comedian whose facial expressions alone are a laugh inducing highlight of the show.

Vita Corimbi, the earth mother, has been with the show since its Las Vegas run began about 15 years ago, and is a strong anchor who embodies the part wholeheartedly. I saw Vita perform last year. This time the understudy performed, Cherity Ellen Harchis. They each do the character differently but with equal success. Vita's interpretation is earth mother/hippie and Cherity is more eclectic earthy, but not as mother-ish. I was pleased to see there was an understudy this time because I like it when an understudy is used as it changes up the rhythm just a little. I also like to see the interpretation different actors bring to the same role. By the way, Cherity understudies all four roles in the cast.

As far as the music goes, which is a huge part of the enjoyment of the show, I loved the disco medley where "Staying Awake" was a spoof of "Staying Alive," and all about middle aged insomnia. The choreography on that is great too, as it is with all of the numbers. I also like how they all take turns singing lead but together a lot too, weaving their voices in and out of different songs all throughout the show. 

Jacquelyn's parody of "Beauty is Only Skin Deep," while her character sits at the make up counter, is hilarious and highly relatable. Jacquelyn also sings a sultry rendition of "Tropical Hot Flash"  which is derived from Marilyn Monroe's version of "Heat Wave."

Cindy Williams performs with hilarious effect, "My Thighs," a spoof of "My Guy," while bemoaning what to do with hers, and their ever changing shape.

The Las Vegas production is the longest running musical in Las Vegas history. It runs eight shows a week at Harrah's. Menopause The Musical was written by Jeanie Linders and originally performed in 2001 in Orlando. Since then the show has been performed in several cities and several other countries in at least five languages. 

Menopause The Musical is the perfect cocktail of humor, music and sisterhood! 

Karen Wendt and I (top) with Cindy Williams (center), 
Jacquelyn Holland Wright, (right) and Cherity Ellen Harchis, (left).

Anna Wendt Copyright 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tapestry Unraveled

I've always liked it when a singer takes an album that another artist has done and performs it in its entirety. Michelle Johnson did a beautiful job with this for her show Tapestry Unraveled, on November 18 at Myron's Cabaret Jazz. During this show she performed her interpretation of Carole King's album, Tapestry.

Michelle weaved in stories of her life and her experiences in combination with the songs from Tapestry that she said touched her so much as a young person. For her first song of the night, So Far Away, she talked about how she was born in New York, but she and her family moved to Egypt when she was a toddler and so she grew up far away from her home country. Then she sang the song beautifully with the undertones of longing that make this song so meaningful. 

Her first Carole King album Michelle said was called Music. It's what got her into Carole King before Tapestry

Michelle Johnson, Photo by Ira Kuzma

Michelle talked about her young adulthood returning from Egypt and going to college at Yale. She shared with us the struggles of pursuing her music career while also trying to provide for herself. Like many young people with a dream of the arts her parents encouraged her to have a back up plan and not to focus too much on her music career. She found out why years later.

Then she sang one of the best versions of a song by Carole King I've ever heard. Michelle's version of It's Too Late was like a show in itself!

Michelle told us about starting a new chapter several years ago when she moved to Las Vegas. She got a role in "Country Fever" at the Golden Nugget, and stayed and made Vegas her home. She talked about meeting a man who became a friend and another man who became her husband. There is more to that story but it is more meaningful than a sentence in an article so I'll leave it alone. Her soulful rendition of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, followed.

"To me, everyone's life is a tapestry." - Michelle Johnson

She talked about real friendships and not just social media friends and that many of us have come to lean on technology a little too much in our relationships. As a reminder of the importance of real friendships she then sang, along with her back up singers, a dynamic group version of You've Got a Friend, joined by vocalist Dani Corley who appeared onstage briefly to sing a few lines. 

Dani, Jolana, Michelle, Gret and Jon, Photo by Ira Kuzma

For one of the songs, Beautiful, she asked the ladies in the audience stand and sing along, which was a hit with the crowd. I noticed that some of them stayed standing for the rest of the show, moving to the music, at least up in the second level high top tables where I was seated.

Michelle spoke briefly about meeting and working with singer/songwriter Louise Goffin, (Carole King and Gerry Goffin's daughter), and how they recently held a joint class for songwriters in Las Vegas.

After completing her salute to Tapestry Michelle finished the night with her original song I'm All In, about putting all of your heart and soul into something, as she does with her music. 

I've written about three of her shows in the past year or so and one thing is always true. Michelle Johnson is more than a singer.  She is a songwriter, composer and producer that puts out a variety of entertainment with talent and passion that touches me, and her audience every time I see her. This is why her shows routinely sell out.

Musical Director Jeffrey Neiman. Back up singers, Jolana Sampson-Adamson, Gret Menzies Gonzalez, Jon Celentano. Musicians, Walter Jones, Pablo Gadda and Don Meoli.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hussarians Power Launch Party

Last month I attended the official launch party for Hussarians Power, a new non profit organization that is designed and integrated with exotic car and private jet enthusiasts. Founded by Joanna Marlow, the organization aids abuse and sex trafficking victims.

The launch party, "Colors Unleashed," was held on Friday, October 26 at the palatial UFC Mansion in Las Vegas. The event was hosted by Denny and Beata Eichenbaum, who were also sponsors. As the guests arrived we were treated to drinks and hors d'oeuvre and vegan truffles provided by local restaurant Vegan Bites. Live music was provided by another major event sponsor, Shea Arender, CEO of the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra and Parsa Naturally for Men.

Denny and Beata Eichenbaum, Hosts and Sponsors of the Event

Official launch party photography was provided by Noel Kanaley ( and David Pavon. A showcase area was featured in the grand lobby of the UFC Mansion with products and information from sponsors including Parsa Naturally for Men, 310 Nutrition, Jax Wax, Incognito and Creative 911, AM Production, and State Farm Insurance Agency, (Mike Whitford). Another very special person for whom this event would not have happened without is co-organizer and sponsor Renata Moise, who is a luxury home realtor with Berkshire Hathaway and also a supporter of safe housing organizations. 

In addition, sponsor James Jape, Author of True Ending - The Desire to Heal, was in attendance and he provided copies of his book to guests. True Ending, (available on Amazon), is about his own personal journey as a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship, and the perspective from a male point of view.

Sponsor display shown - Parsa Men Skin Care

Another feature of the party was a collection at the outside entrance of the home of several  exotic cars which were provided for the evening for guests to view. Included were a 1957 pink Cadillac Sedan Deville, a two tone vintage Rolls Royce, 1962 black CR Corvette, Lincoln Limo Super Stretch, 2016 488 red Ferrari Race Car and a 2016 red Ferrari GTB, 2012 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, 1999 Lamoborghini Diablo Roadster VT and a 1932 1104 Packard Super 8.

Exotic Car Owners shared some of their collection for viewing

After viewing the display of sponsors products, the exotic cars, and enjoying the drinks and hors d'oeuvre, the official program began with a video introducing the organization and information about the founder's reason for creating it. 

Joanna Marlow, Renata Moise, & Crystal Sparks
"By working together we are able to provide financial and educational support for victims of abuse through safe house connections, partnerships with other organizations, and through financial institutions or companies that offer their services/products for those who want to fight for the improvement of their physical and mental health and their financial situation; to be able to cherish, enjoy and love their personal relationships again." - Joanna Marlow

Then the lovely Emcee, Crystal Sparks, said "Hundreds of years ago, hussar knights fought for their kingdom's freedom on horseback. Well, our horses look a little different in this millennium.  The speed granted by some incredible horsepower gives us the freedom we're celebrating here tonight. Not just horse power but we are also celebrating human power. When we are united we are stronger and more powerful. Only together can we make a change. Everyone in this room shares a passion for speed and power and that is the reason we chose to partner with these organizations. We want to empower victims, speed up the healing process and get them on the road to success."

The event concluded with short speeches by Dominique Schuster, a Member of the Board of Trustees of The Shade Tree, who said "We have provided over 100,000 nights of free shelter to people in danger from abuse, as well as medical care. Walking through the doors every day for example we have women who have doctorate degrees, women who need their GED; women who come from a situation of domestic violence and human trafficking. Our goal is to get them to be self reliant." A special guest from Safe Nest, Phil Kalsman, their V.P. of Philanthropy also spoke briefly. He said "We've got to start talking about domestic violence and we've got to bring an end to it, That's our mission at Safe Nest."

Hussarians Power has a website,, and anything purchased through the website will benefit the organization. An excerpt from the website says, "The colors black in the logo represents pain and darkness and red represents love, specifically love of self. We're fighting for a brighter future." Hussarians Power is a tax exempt 501 (c) (3) Corporation.