Friday, September 22, 2017

Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth...Round 2

During Mike Tyson's boxing days I never thought I'd someday be going to see him do a one man show in Vegas, and at a comedy club no less.

The former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson is back onstage with Undisputed Truth 2, which debuted here in Vegas earlier this month and is a sequel to his one man show from 2013. That show debuted in Las Vegas and went all the way to Broadway, then a TV Special and a book.

For this show he chose to open it at Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at MGM Grand. Mike Tyson enters the comedy stage differently than he entered his boxing matches. There's no flashy robe, shiny shorts or entourage. Just music, and then he appears onstage and introduces himself with humility.

"Iron Mike is dead. I'm a different person today."  - Mike Tyson

He immediately sets everyone at ease by talking about his recent "sports injury"...which consisted of falling off a hover board, an accident that led to back surgery. During his last show in 2013 he talked about his early days and how he got into boxing, how it saved him because at 13 years old without a dad and growing up in a rough neighborhood he'd already been arrested 38 times. He shared his past troubled relationships with women, drug use and the tragic death of his daughter.

His new show Undisputed Truth 2 is more about the history of his boxing career. He talks about the opponents he fought along the way, some of the more controversial things that happened outside the ring during that time, and about his friendships with late celebrities such as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. He also bemoans middle age and its impact on his life which he is becoming all too familiar with at age 51. He talks about regretting how he had embarrassed his kids with some of his actions and how he gained 100 lbs while in rehab joking "I'm an emotional eater."

One can tell that he's still working on this new material but that's what I like, the imperfect moments, the beginning stages of a show when the performer is finding his way. I would like to see this show again on one of the last dates here in town, to see how it's been fine tuned and how he's fine tuned his performance before he hits the road on tour to other cities.

While watching the audience react I heard a lot of laughter, but not always when Tyson expected it. Laughs or not everyone seemed to be listening intently. Someone like Mike Tyson will always be a curiousity to the average person even if not a boxing fan. He is someone who lived his professional dream. But on the other end of the spectrum he also fell far from the top to the very bottom, with drug abuse, prison and bankruptcy. Most of us wonder what this journey would be like, the extreme ups and downs.

These past several years like a true champ he has picked himself up and risen from the ashes to do what he can now, which is to entertain while being his rough, oddly sweet and comedically talented self. I love to see someone re-invent themselves, take chances and share with others so openly. What better way to take control of your own story than to tell it yourself? His show is worth your money and time.

Word is there's a movie in the works about his life that will star Jamie Foxx and be directed by Martin Scorsese. Also check out his cartoon series Mike Tyson Mysteries.

Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth 2
Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at MGM Grand
Through Nov. 20th 2017


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My First Movie Role Killed Me

I can't believe it has been 20 years since my very first movie role. I was playing the part of a girl who follows a celebrity out of an autograph signing and then is immediately afterwards killed in a car accident. This was all I knew because I had originally auditioned for another part but was cast in this one.  I was a little nervous about the car accident scene but the assistant producer assured me it would be filmed without any of us actors actually inside the vehicle. They generally don't give the whole script to the day players so I didn't yet know the larger theme of the film.

I was in performing arts school at the time and was pleased with having been cast in my first real part in Deathumentary, an independent film with a budget of about $50,000.

The night before the shoot I was watching a movie at home with my friend Jeannine and on the news came the shocking story that Princess Diana was in a serious car accident and in grave condition. As many now know, she left her Paris hotel with her companion in a car driven by a chauffer, when there was a distraction with paparazzi on motorcycles that played a significant part in the crash. Jeannine and I watched and waited late into the night to see if Diana would survive. She was so young and well liked, it was really hard to believe she could pass away. But as the news came on again we gasped in horror and sadness that she was gone. The worst part to accept was that the Paparazzi that had relentlessly hounded her most of her life, beyond anything ever seen before with a public figure, were a major contributor to her sudden and untimely death. 

Anna Wendt, Karen Wendt, Leland Crooke

The next day I arrived on the set ready for my car accident scene, but distracted with the news of the night before. One of the producers then told me that coincidentally the premise of my scene, which had been written several weeks before, was very similar to what had happened to Princess Diana.  If you don't already know, the paparazzi were taking photos of Diana while she lay dying in the mangled Mercedes after the accident. This was exactly the premise of the scene we were shooting less than 24 hours later.

As we waited for the other actress in the scene to show up, she flaked out and called to cancel at the last minute..  So I suggested we contact and ask my sister Karen who lived close by if she'd like the role. The crew thought that was a great idea and so they called and offered her the part...if she could get there quickly. She said ok, and in that strange way was cast in her first film as well. Thankfully she was a good sport and got ready and whizzed over there to join us within an hour, keeping the production on schedule. (Too bad we had to both die in our very first scene together.)

In the plot of the film, a man known as Dr. Seymour had happened along a car accident one day, filmed the aftermath and started selling copies of the video. This went so well for him he found another crime scene and filmed that, and on it went. Unbeknownst to any but his inner circle, he then started to actually cause accidents in order to film and profit from them.

Now, twenty years later, it makes you wonder about some of the video and live streaming content you see these days. The screenwriter of Deathumentary must have had an insight, albeit a macabre one, into one particular aspect of the future.  Now that we live in a 24/7 live streaming world, let's hope society polices itself on what is and is not "acceptable" media.

A clip from Deathumentary - https://youtu.be/BK24wRYotsk

Deathumentary, although written and completed in 1997, was not officially released until several years later and only on the film festival circuit. Writer/Director Lawrence Riggins.


Related article: http://www.entertainmentdaily.co.uk/news/paparazzo-who-took-pictures-of-princess-diana-as-she-was-dying-breaks-silence-on-what-he-did-with-them/

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