Saturday, May 20, 2017

Star Vehicle: NBC’s Great News

Briga Heelan and Andrea Martin in Great News

30 Rock is dead; long live 30 Rock. Tina Fey’s acclaimed comedy, based on her experiences as a writer on Saturday Night Live, was one of the funniest shows on television for much of its seven-season run. Long after its series finale, its influence remains evident in shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fey’s recent Netflix collaboration with Robert Carlock, and NBC’s new (and recently renewed) sitcom Great News, which in many ways feels like the most obvious heir apparent. It was created by 30 Rock veteran Tracey Wigfield and features Fey and Carlock as executive producers, and the fact that it takes place in a New Jersey news studio makes it a workplace comedy that functions in much the same way that 30 Rock, with its eponymous setting, did.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Compulsive Spirits – Georgia O'Keeffe: A Retrospective

Red Rust Hills, 1930, by Georgia O'Keeffe.

We are pleased to welcome a new critic, Felicity Somerset, to our group.

"Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done and where I have been that should be of interest.” – Georgia O'Keeffe
I have long been an admirer of the art of Georgia O'Keeffe so I was delighted to have the opportunity to see Georgia O'Keeffe: A Retrospective at Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), which opened to the public on Saturday, April 22, 2017. The exhibition was curated and mounted by London's Tate Modern, with tour partners Bank Austria Kunstforum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is completing its tour here in Toronto and will be at the AGO until July 30.

As its title suggests, this exhibition is a retrospective of O'Keeffe’s six decades of work. It takes a chronological approach and begins with some early charcoal abstracts from 1917, and includes watercolour paintings and pastels as well as one sculpture. Most of the images are painted in oils. The exhibition ends with some of her late abstracts from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Her place in art history marks her as a leader in American modernist and abstract work and these themes are fully explored in the exhibition.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Broken Dreams: Rewatching The West Wing in the Age of Trump

Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing.

When it premiered in 1999, The West Wing was a Platonic ideal, an optimistic, aspirational dream about what American politics could someday be. I recently indulged a craving to rewatch it (which, in hindsight, can only be categorized as the screech of my drowning mind grasping for purchase on saner shores), and I was shocked to discover that now, in 2017, it's not just aspirational – it's pure fantasy. The West Wing isn’t terribly realistic, but I never thought I'd see it as downright escapist. I used to think House of Cards was like The West Wing's evil twin, showing us the dark flip side of political motivations and maneuvering – but we live in a world where the Netflix drama's cautionary storytelling has been rendered irrelevant by the much worse reality we've been forced to accept. The political America that The West Wing depicts, a place of competence, hard work, cooperation, and hope, seems as fantastical and far away to my modern eyes as the forest moon of Endor. Maybe that’s why my brain reached out towards it. I just needed to escape, if only for an hour at a time, into a world where things made sense.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Above a Whisper: Diana Krall’s Turn Up The Quiet

Diana Krall with producer Tommy LiPuma in 2001. (Photo: Bruce Gilbert)

In 1997, jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall released an album of standards called Love Scenes on the prestigious label known as Impulse! Records. It was a game-changer for the young musician, eager to showcase her great band featuring Russell Malone, guitar, and Christian McBride, bass. The setting was simple: no strings or elaborate orchestral accompaniment. It was a record that captured the band at its peak, à la Nat King Cole back in the forties. Cole’s intimate singing created a kind of chamber jazz that was easy to listen to and could swing like crazy. For Krall, who toured festivals around the world with her own trio, it was a turning point in her career. She was on a major label and fully supported by producer Tommy LiPuma, who encouraged Krall to feel every lyric and experiment with different tempos on a wide-ranging selection of songs about love. The 13 tracks on Love Scenes are deeply felt by Krall and each work is treated with respect and was arranged to suit her singing style at the time. Krall perfectly blended the edginess of Carmen McRae with the sexiness of Julie London. It was the album that put Krall on the international jazz map but I think it typecast her as a chanteuse rather than as an adventurous jazz artist who loves to sing.

On May 5 this year, twenty years after the release of Love Scenes, Diana Krall released her new album, with the cute title Turn Up The Quiet, on the equally prestigious Verve label, distributed by Universal. Tommy LiPuma, who, sadly, died March 17, 2017 at the age of 80, produced the album. It was his last gig as a producer. (Krall speaks highly of her late producer and mentor in the June 2017 issue of Downbeat Magazine.) LiPuma’s award-winning career in music was never in doubt. He helped an all-star roster of great singers reach wider recognition with varying degrees of financial and artistic success. Among his most famous prodigies were George Benson, Dave Mason, Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole, whose album Unforgettable went 7-times platinum in the United States. When he met Diana Krall – a native of Nanaimo, British Columbia – the two began a long artistic collaboration that resulted in 12 albums, millions in sales and worldwide acclaim. Their first record, released in 1995, was Only Trust Your Heart (GRP), when Krall was 30 years old. It peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Jazz Album chart.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Two Poets, Two Voices: Gianna Patriarca and Alden Hadwen

It is not known if Gianna Patriarca and Alden Hadwen know each other. But these two women have more in common than having coincidentally published books in 2016. Both are poets with ties to Toronto, and both are mothers who are roughly the same age somewhere north of 50. But it is their work that draws them together here for comparison. Each projects a nuanced feminine sensibility regarding poetic writing that serves as a form of self-revelation. Words chisel deep into memory and emotion, exposing hidden meaning. Both write honestly and straightforwardly about personal experience, yielding highly individualized portraits of everyday womanhood which yet have something of the universal about them. Their language is raw and sensual and the subject is quotidian life buying postcards, sipping coffee, watching the flowers grow. The ordinary made extraordinary through an alchemy of potent words. Love, loss, desire, regret, the quest for identity and a sense of belonging are concerns they share in common, regardless of their divergent backgrounds and decisively different points of view. Where Hadwen describes trilliums "piercing the moist forest floor," Patriarca writes of extinguished candles and plastic flowers garlanding the Virgin in churches visited by widows at dawn. One celebrates the potent energies of nature while the other rages against the emotional chill of the city. There's a reason for that.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Two Musical Revivals: Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Golden Apple

Dan DeLuca and Taylor Quick in Goodspeed Opera House's Thoroughly Modern Millie. (Photo: Diane Sobolewski)

Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on Broadway in 2002 and played for a little over two years, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. I gave the original production a pass, though, because I had such unpleasant memories of its source, the 1967 movie in which Julie Andrews sang “The Jewish Wedding Song” and Carol Channing, with that corn-husk contralto, performed “Jazz Baby.” (It’s amazing those two numbers haven’t come back to me in nightmares.) Many friends have told me since that the stage version is charming, and the revival at the
Goodspeed Opera House, directed and choreographed by Denis Jones, bears them out. Jones staged the dance numbers for the 2015 Encores! version of Lerner and Loewe’s
Paint Your Wagon, which I enjoyed very much, and he’s just been nominated for a Tony Award for choreographing
Holiday Inn, which
began at the Goodspeed. Here his work, built around twenties dance steps (plenty of Charleston and tap), is clever and energetic. A tap executed by secretaries at a trust company seated at their typewriters makes you grin, and a pas de deux on a window ledge (“I Turned the Corner”) – which brings to mind a number from the short-lived but fondly remembered
Never Gonna Dance – is the rare novelty dance turn that really soars.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dead City: Steven Heighton’s The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep

Author Steven Heighton.

“Any war goes on destroying lives for a lifetime.” Steven Heighton, The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep
In the early 1970s the beach resort of Varosha was the jewel of Cyprus’s east coast, a destination for the global jet set until the Turkish invasion of 1974. The Turkish authorities never allowed the shop owners and local population to return after they had fled. Fenced off and decaying, the city turned into a ghost town. Varosha is the major setting for the Canadian novelist and award-winning poet Steven Heighton’s fourth novel, The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep (Hamish Hamilton, 2017). Its alluring locale that combines “dead hotels” in a “topiary city made of vines, wild grape and bougainvillea” is one of the most memorable features of the novel.