Speaker 1 00:00:02 I feel a cadenza coming on. Welcome back to Chicago Musician. I'm your host, Shawn Stengel. You know, after several months of being just sick of the sound of my own voice and me talking, I'm once again in love with the mellifluous mid-tenor sonorities of my instrument, and I'm anxious to share some of my insightful, comedic, acerbic-yet-heartwarming opinions in the cadenza I'm calling the 'Summer of '23'. Right off the bat, my apologies to Michel Legrand, my staff composer, Jean DeSpinet, sort of made a pale, hurried homage to a summer from, well, a year in the last century. Anyhow, we needed some underscoring, and you know, you have to start somewhere.
Speaker 1 00:01:08 In any case, one of my intentions when I first started doing this podcast, yay, those long, many year ago, was to do some reviews of local theater and concerts and such. Being a person with many opinions, all of them perfectly valid and insightful, uh, I felt it was my duty. And then when I started thinking about it, it becomes a little trickier, because often I will be reviewing and/or commenting on or critiquing my friends and/or colleagues, and that can be a little touchy. But, uh, I felt the time has come to put it out there. I'm not trying to piss off anybody. I'm just gonna give my feelings about shows and concerts that I've seen, and hopefully mostly accolades to ones that I think are, uh, worth noting. So let's start with that. Much to my surprise, maybe not to my surprise, but I'm glad to say that I went to see Tommy at the Goodman, and I haven't, even though I've worked at the Goodman a fair amount, and on musicals, I would have to say musicals are really not what they do best in general.
Speaker 1 00:02:28 And a lot of them have been, um, just downright awful like The Music Man, and, well, let me stop with that list! But, Tommy, The Who's Tommy, they really got it right. It's an outstanding production, really well done with a great band and, I mean, really an a-list band. And it's, it's what? 80 or 75% Chicago musicians? And you'll never hear this score played better. I mean, you might hear it played as well, but you'll never hear it played better. I'll swear to that. So we've got Jim
Widlowski on drums, Bobby Everson on percussion, Larry Kohut on Bass, Chris Forte and Felton Offard play guitars, Jeremiah Frederick on French Horn and Rose Snyder on keyboard one. The conductors and keyboard players, Rick Fox and Valerie Gebert are from New York, as are most of the design team, and I think the entire cast. It's clearly a show that has its eyes on New York.
Speaker 1 00:03:39 I think it's the 30 year anniversary of the original production. But anyhow, congratulations to Heather Boehm, she's the contractor at the Goodman, for putting together this terrific band. The sound is fantastic. Who did the. . . Gareth Owen? Maybe it's Garth and I just don't know how. . . Gareth Owen. Anyhow, the sound design is loud. It's a rock opera people,! Loud, but exciting and good sound. It's not painful. It's loud and exciting. I'm not sure the Goodman has always succeeded in that world with their musicals. But this time, they really got it right. Now with the original director and co-creator, I think, Des McAnuff directing it, and Pete Townsend from The Who directly involved, it's pretty clear this production is sort of a tryout for a return to Broadway. And thus it's probably a much bigger budget than a Goodman show usually has. You look at the light package and the sound package and, a whole cast of out of town actors and, you know, it costs a lot of money! But maybe we learn that, you know, if you spend money, it's worth it.
Speaker 1 00:04:58 This is a sold out hit at the Goodman. You can't get a ticket. So good on them. I'm happy for them. It's the end of the Robert Falls era at the Goodman, and they're going out with a bang, or he's going out with a bang, even though he had virtually nothing to do with this, but his era ends with the bang. Um, so let's talk about the show. I've never seen Tommy. I didn't grow up with the album, so I have some questions. I mean, I get it. I get it enough. And I really did enjoy it somehow. It's powerful and I still don't even know what it's about. So there's some weird transitions from an album to the stage that are, if not problematic, just kind of confusing. It seems like there's a lot of holes in the narrative that you're just supposed to get or not.
Speaker 1 00:05:58 Um, but I don't know, I guess those who come to it know mostly what they're getting. And I didn't know what I was getting and I still enjoyed it. So I have to say, here's my theory: The end of the show, what's the song? 'Listening to you,I hear the music', whatever it is, they keep singing the same thing over and over and over again, and everybody moves downstage and it gets louder. But there's something really thrilling about it. And I didn't even, I really didn't even know what was going on. I didn't know what we've "accomplished." I don't know what we've learned about Tommy, about, um, being a false idol or not. I don't know even know what the musical's trying to say, but I'll, I'll say this. There were a lot of 70 year old heads bobbing to the music at the end of this.
Speaker 1 00:06:51 And it was fun. It was weirdly thrilling. So, my theory is that this last song, "listening to you. . . gazing at you, I see this glory", whatever. . .it's a really great hook. And maybe the whole album, maybe the whole musical is successful because the last song is so catchy that you think you loved the whole thing. It's sort of the Susan Stroman approach. Have a great curtain call and everyone thinks they loved the whole show. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. But the curtain call is fantastic, so the show must have been too. I don't know. . . it's a really good hook.
Speaker 1 00:07:36 Yeah, I don't know what to say about that. I liked it in spite of not really understanding it. And, you know, I'm not that stupid. I can get the general strokes and what they're doing and, you know, 'a false idol' and 'the trauma of a kid' and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it is kind of a weird hybrid of a show. And I guess, done about as well as you could hope to have it done. Still not my cup of tea, but in any case, I still give it four trumpets. That's my <laugh>, my new out-of-the-blue rating system. "Four trumpets"! Out of how many?? Who knows!! But I give it 'four trumpets'.
Speaker 1 00:08:31 Okay, so now let's touch on something that also had a quite a bit of money behind it, but was much less successful. And that's a show down at the Studebaker in the fine arts building called Personality. I, you know, television commercials and a nice lighting package and an enthusiastic cast doesn't make up for the fact fact that you need to write a script. You still need to tell a story. I don't, I mean, it was a laughable kind of insultingly bad script. And I felt bad for the cast and the band because they were trying to play something that was kind of unplayable. So I give personality one tambourine. Yeah, don't go bad. On the other hand, it's not always just about money. There was a small two-hander, a two person play called being seen that played at the Den Theater this summer. It's a collection of smaller spaces over there on Milwaukee Avenue.
Speaker 1 00:09:41 And the two actors, Kellyann Clark and Will Klinger got rave reviews for this production, and rightfully so. Um, the premises that you're at an audition, Kelly is an actress, plays an actress auditioning for a director who's, you know, pretty pompous and mannered and you just kind of wanna punch him most, most of the show, <laugh>. Um, and he, it in a way, if you're a professional in the theater, it's hits a little close to home because there's a lot of bullshit and things that actors and actresses are asked to do, and they're so willing to do them 'cause they want the job and they want approval and they want, um, to be seen as an artist. And yet it's humiliating and, um, cringe-worthy. And then, you know, we get into the Me Too era and any sort of suggestion of intimacy or, uh, innuendo blows up into, anyhow, it's quite an interesting play.
Speaker 1 00:10:48 Uh, I don't think the play the script yet is quite as tuned in as the actors were, but they were spectacular. I mean, Kelly has to just play from A to Z and back again and flip over on her head and then play it again in French or something. It's, it's crazy the things that actors will put up with in order to get a job or to get a role, um, and will, you know, kind of place against his goofy, funny guy type and plays someone of self-importance and the, you know, questionable ethics. Anyhow, I really recommend that the play, you know, okay, but the performers, I give four equity cards that's being seen. It's unfortunately, it was just a three week run, but, uh, it was pretty much sold out for the whole time. And I was glad for the actors 'cause they deserved to be seen in being seen, being seen by those seen being, ugh.
Speaker 1 00:11:55 Yeah, let's get away from this. Seeing. Let's go over to being heard. Uh, I've had the opportunity to go to Grant Park several times this summer and hear the Grant Park Symphony, our festival, symphony Orchestra of Symphony's. I don't know what their title is, but they play outside at the beautiful and iconic Pritzker Pavilion three times a week, usually on Wednesdays and Fridays and Saturdays. And, uh, excellent band, world-class setting. If you've never done it, you know, pack a picnic and go sit on the lawn and, uh, drink a glass of wine and listen to some Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev or Gershwin or whatever they're playing. They really tackle, um, pretty difficult music. Um, interesting challenging programs pretty much all the time. Maybe with the exception of, you know, happy go Lucky 4th of July or Broadway in Chicago Night. Um, but they played, uh, fantastic music and I just wanted to point out a couple of performances that I thought were really extraordinary, aside from the orchestra themselves who really play their butts off night after night, and sometimes under challenging circumstances.
Speaker 1 00:13:15 I really, I don't know who's in charge of the acoustics of Chicago, but man, there's way too many sirens and race cars and motorcycles and shit going by on Michigan Avenue and on Columbus. And it ruins a lot of the really delicate moments of these concerts, which are exquisitely played for the most part. So, like, who's in charge? Cultural Department of Chicago or Grant Park. Um, I keep thinking like, I've worked in Berlin and some other European cities, and if I was in those cities, they would have a quiet zone around Grant Park and or Millennium Park or whatever it is, from six till eight o'clock on concert nights. And there would be signs and lights and say, you know, quiet concert in progress. And, you know, I realize there are police and ambulances and things that need to use their sirens, but sometimes just, sometimes I'm sure they don't really need to.
Speaker 1 00:14:22 They could flash their lights and get through and not do it. Um, but a little cooperation and forethought from the city could just up the quality of these concerts by 50% just by saying, you know, slow down, be quiet, you gun your engine, you get a hundred dollars ticket, you know, do you wanna do that? Okay, go ahead. It'll pay for next year's, uh, piano soloist to work partly. Anyhow, that pisses me off. And another suggestion for yield Grant Park is, could we have the big screen, big screens and their opening concert. They had big screens and even though the camera guy consistently was, you know, focusing on the person who had just had the solo and not the one who was currently playing, I think they would get better. And for those on the lawn, and even for those of us sitting in the seats, it's nice to get a closeup view or two of people who you don't really have an angle on from your seat.
Speaker 1 00:15:25 And again, in New York, they have big screens, you know, in LA they got big screens, so why don't we have them in Chicago? It's just, it seems like, um, laziness or cheapness or, um, but anyhow, it cheats the experience. That said, let me point out two pieces I really liked. Um, they had a couple cancellations this year because of oh, tornado warnings and really bad downpours. And unfortunately, the 5th of July concert for the 4th of July got shut down because of tornado warnings. And, you know, what can you do? You don't wanna, you know, go all Dorothy and Toto in the middle of a concert. I mean, really if you do go to Wicked. But, um, I really wanted to point out, what was it? Oh, yeah, we heard list Totten tons, which I thought, oh, kind of a throwaway piece. I've just sort of heard the name.
Speaker 1 00:16:28 I didn't really know. And the pianist, uh, a woman named Joyce Yang had been the supposed to be playing Tchaikovsky first, I think, on the Wednesday concert. And that got rained out, so she didn't even get to play that. But on the weekend she got to play Totten tons, and she was fantastic. I mean, really impressive. Technically like crazy. It's lists. So there's 19 notes in each hand all the time, so I don't know how anyone plays it. But she was beautifully expressive and made a lot of music in the orchestra, I thought responded and played really well with her and for her. So, um, kudos to her. And then the next time I went, I heard the Elgar Cello Concerto, and this is one of those, I'm sorry, but the second movement got completely wiped out by ambulance sirens or police sirens. And I couldn't, you know, it's funny, I mean, sometimes it's kind of cool that the sirens seem to be in the right key or playing a counter melody, but not really. You kind of want to hear the concert. And fortunately that one was broadcast live on W F M T and with the microphones, I think they get it a little more isolated and you can hear better. But in the house, in the sitting out listening that night, I just got obliterated by sirens. They've done a good job of limiting helicopters and planes flying over. So now we need to get working on the two and four wheel vehicle. Um, acoustical challenges there.
Speaker 1 00:18:08 By the way, the cello soloist for the Elgar that night was a young man called Vladimir Fung. His bio said he's of Bulgarian Chinese descent. In any case, he played really well. I just wish I could have hear, heard him in the more subtle moments. And the Elgar is quite a, a a, in many ways muted or subtle a concerto. So I'm sorry I missed out on some of that subtlety due to sirens and whatnot. Uh, I enjoyed also this season. They did a William Dawson Symphony that I thought was really enjoyable and, um, sad that that was ended up being his only symphony. They did some contemporary works. Uh, I remember a piece by Anna Klein that I really enjoyed that opened one of the concerts and, uh, they did a night actually inside in the Harris Theater. They played there a couple times a season indoors, and they did a program with the Shakespeare theme. All the pieces are somehow related to Shakespeare, and there's ones, surprisingly by Shastakovich and Tchaikovsky, but there's Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, but part of that suite is the wedding March the old cliched.
Speaker 1 00:19:30 But in its original context, and with those orchestrations, it's really kind of exciting and it was really well played, and one could get kind of bitter if you spent too much time thinking about, oh, Mendelssohn was about 12 when he wrote it, maybe 17 or 22. In any case, he was way too young of a genius to have written something that good. And, uh, you know, all right, Felix, good on you. So go see the Grant Park Symphony. They play most of the summer. I think they play till almost the end of August, and it's really worth going to. And if you can't do a night concert, often their daytime, uh, rehearsals are in the Pritzker, and the the doors are open and you're welcome to come and sit there and, and listen to them rehearse. Where a lot of times you get a, a whole movement without interruption or you hear quite a bit of the music without too much talking.
Speaker 1 00:20:22 'cause they don't get to talk very much. There's very limited rehearsal and they need to keep going. So, um, as far as musical in experiences in the city this summer, that's, uh, at the top of my list. And, uh, it's a great Chicago kind of, um, beautiful summer evening, enjoy the city, go see the Bean, take a picture, and then look at the Pritzker and watch as the sun goes down and the colors change and the skyscrapers blossom. Uh, it's special, it's memorable, and it's good to remember as a Chicagoan, just to go and do it in your own city. Enjoy your own city. It's a world-class experience.
Speaker 1 00:21:14 So what have you been binging this summer? I have to say that myself. I'm not really a binger, but there are a couple of great series that I'm really sad to say farewell to. One of them is Better Call Saul. Now, I watched all of Breaking Bad eventually, but you know, as a non binger, I like stretched out the last five episodes for three and a half months, you know, oh, I don't want it to end. So I would watch one and then wait, that's kind of how I do it. And I, but I was skeptical about Better Call Saul. I'm like, why would I wanna like, you know, spend an hour with this dude, you know, pretty annoying. But wow, those guys are such smart, funny, clever, um, kind of geniuses of complicated storytelling and to do a prequel slash sequel at the same time of all around the characters from Breaking Bad.
Speaker 1 00:22:12 And, um, I don't know, Bob o Odenkirk. Bob Odenkirk and r Pearlman. Was it R Perman? She's, I, she seemed, um, oh, no, R Seehorn. Yeah, that's, that's why I was confused. Yeah, I knew that wasn't R Perlman, although I thought maybe just a blonde wig and, uh, I'm kidding. R Seehorn is so amazing. I think she sort of, um, saves the series or lifts the series and Jonathan Banks as Mike. I mean, it's so I will miss that even in its kind of creepy violence and, uh, everything fascinating, uh, writing. But the one I'm really bemoaning, uh, is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Now, if you haven't watched that, you don't know what you're missing. It's maybe the most beautifully art directed series of all time. Every season and episode is so colorful and beautiful and stylish and appropriate for the era they're in. And, um, I was just thinking, even though it's not a musical, there's been great music within each episode or some episodes, but always over the opening or closing credits.
Speaker 1 00:23:38 Clever use of, uh, uh, pop music from that time or, or using real life musician characters. I know I had a friend who played, uh, Harry Belafonte, Josh Dawson. He was in Rent here that we did at The Paramount a few years ago. Um, and in fact, there's quite a few Chicago connections to this show. Uh, the lead, Rachel Brosnahan went to Highland Park High School, I think, are you one of those people like me? I'm like, okay. Like, so she was in high school in the two thousands. So she was born in the, oh, I was alive and she was 10 miles from me. Like I know her right? But also I think, um, Susie Myerson, uh, that character, Alex Bornstein somehow was Chicago Roots. Uh, Jane Lynch, who played Sophie Lennon, sort of a, uh, Sophie Tucker, uh, knockoff type character in the, uh, previous season has Chicago Roots.
Speaker 1 00:24:36 And in fact, um, Tony Shaloub who plays the father, Abe Weissman, who's just a brilliant actor. Uh, he's the only one of them I've ever rubbed shoulders with. And that was way back in the, um, late eighties, um, when I was doing Pump Boys. Of course, every broadcast I do has to mention Pump Boys and Dinettes. Um, my producers were also producing a production of the Nerd down at the Royal George Theater, and Tony Shaloub was in that. So, I mean, way back, he must have been in preschool or something, but he was fantastic then. And so that's my, today's brush with the Greatness. But I did wanna point out in the last episode, spoiler alert, I hope I'm not spoiling anything by saying, um, Tony Shalu, his character, goes out to dinner with three other men at a very pretentious, high-end restaurant, and they're having a very pretentious discussion about this and that, and, and wine and life.
Speaker 1 00:25:41 And, and Abe is just morose and just staring down at his drink and, and, uh, eventually his dinner mates say, Abe, what's wrong? And the writing and the acting just are so perfect in this moment. Uh, Abe is mulling over why he's been waiting his whole life for the next brilliant, um, Weissman male. He, there's a whole four inch thick book of the Weissman Brilliant Men through the era. And then somehow in the scene or two before this, he discovers Miriam is the brilliant Weissman. He's missed it because it was his daughter, not his son, who was the brilliant one. And he's just coming to this realization that what if I'd actually helped her? What if I'd actually encouraged her instead, she's achieved all of this by herself 'cause I wasn't paying any attention to her. And it's heartbreaking. And, uh, the just writing. And so here's, I'm coming to my theme for my, uh, cadenza number four, I've just realized, and it's about writing, good writing.
Speaker 1 00:27:05 So there's a strike on now, and the writers are on strike, and the actors are on strike. And these executives of huge corporations don't feel they can share any of their $53 million annual salaries with the talent that actually creates the shows that people wanna see and pay to see. And it's, it's, you know, the, it's not about movie stars folks. Um, the people who make $40 million a movie will still make that. This is about the people who actually are the nuts and bolts of creating art and creating shows, and creating movies and, and television and beyond. Uh, they are getting paid less and less for more and more work with things streaming now 12 months a year, every year. There's no season from September until May, and then there's the summer of reruns. It's totally different landscape than it used to be. And yet they, the producers wanna pay old fashioned kind of wages or no wages for streaming or Netflix, or it's, I'm not saying it's not complicated, but these are not whining Primadonnas saying like, we should each make $10 million an episode.
Speaker 1 00:28:25 This is people who used to make a living a decent living by writing for television, and now they can barely survive. These are actors who used to, if not make a good living, be able to scrape by as an actor or those who made a good living by working regularly. Now, there's people who are in series or in reg in movies, and they don't make enough to make a living to support a family to buy a house. It's kind of indicative of a lot of what's wrong in our country these days where the Bezos and the Elon Musk's pays zero in taxes. How is that, how is that, you know, Elon Musk could have, he could have cured, uh, malaria or, you know, solved the problem of starvation in the world, and instead he bought Twitter and ruined it and, you know, made a rocket.
Speaker 1 00:29:23 It's so misguided. And the, I see a lot of the same correlations in the, the battle now between the studio moguls and, um, the actors and the writers who just wanna get paid for what they do. And the very thought that producers have that AI is just gonna produce them or reproduce them, is gonna replace them, is absurd. And I think of the brilliant writing of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the creativity of those guys who thought up Breaking Bad and then put Better Call Saul all around it, and, and their genius way of weaving those storylines and those characters together as no machine is gonna be able to recreate that. And even if they did, it will not be something Art is created by sweat, sweat and imagination and commitment and skill, and it should be rewarded. And that's how people make a living and they should make a living. So I don't see this thing getting solved anytime soon. It doesn't really affect me. I'm not a SAG AFTRA member, but, um, of course the musicians Union has been out, um, picketing with them supporting their fellow performance unions and writing unions, but I think it's gonna get worse before it gets solved. And, um, it's all about greed versus wanting to make a living in your craft. Uh, I hope they solve it soon,
Speaker 1 00:31:00 But just to get back, to finish my point a little bit about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it's a wonderful, wonderful series, Bobby and Sissy, uh, thank you Lawrence ev the art direction, as I said, fantastic. The music fantastic. What the cast, I just love all the cast. I will miss these characters. I love the guy who plays Lenny Bruce and such virtuosity of how they weave this real life guy through this pretend story. And, uh, really interesting, clever ways. I loved the episode where they had the Susie Myerson testimonial, the way they did flash forwards and flash backwards. It was confusing, but gave you all these clues that pointed you into the right expectations. Just, um, top-notch artistry all around. The whole last episode has such great writing. I was in bed that night after I watched it, just thinking of scene after scene that was so moving or so clever or so subtle.
Speaker 1 00:32:08 And, and, uh, it wasn't at all how I thought it was going to wrap up, and yet it was really, um, satisfying. And I guess maybe that's one of the things I like. I like when a show is smarter than me and I don't know how it's gonna go, and I'm, I'm delighted by how they twisted and tweak it in ways that I wasn't expecting, but that are better than anything I could imagine. Um, so kudos to everyone involved with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And, uh, we can be proud of our Chicago, um, contribution to the talent pool there.
Speaker 1 00:32:52 In any case, I hope you've had a good summer so far. Seen Oppenheimer Barbie, Barb Inheimer, what masterful marketing campaigns. Those were, I've only seen Oppenheimer so far. It's pretty virtuosic filmmaking. Um, I'm sure I'm not unusual in being an American who knows the name Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb and almost nothing else about it. So, uh, really well done. I guess I'll get to Barbie eventually. I just have to find the, you know, appropriate pink outfit to where I've had a pretty good summer. I got to go up to Minnesota with relatives for a while. Went to Duluth. I went to de Loot, as we say, in Minnesota and up the North shore of Lake Superior, a little bit past two harbors to Gooseberry Falls and the split rock lighthouse, really Chamber of Commerce weather days. Lake Superior was like glass. I don't think that happens very much.
Speaker 1 00:33:51 Um, very few bugs. So yeah, Minnesota at its finest, uh, before a family wedding. Then in the Twin Cities around, uh, early July. And now we're in August. We're in August already. And I don't know about you, but for me, I can already feel the change of seasons. The, the sense of, even though it's been 40 years since I was in college, the sense of going back to school, the sense of this is the end of summer, and then September you're in school, and then pretty soon it's fall and it's Christmas and off. We are into another year. I remember since I'm from Brainerd, Minnesota, which is a resort town, and summer is short in Minnesota, but it's Memorial Day to Labor Day. But I went to the University of Minnesota and we started usually September 28th, very, very late. Everyone else I knew went back to college or was in high school or back in school in the beginning of September, sometimes the end of August.
Speaker 1 00:35:02 So it was a long wait. And, uh, September's a glorious month in Minnesota. But the feeling of it, there's a nostalgia and excitement of the year to come. A little bit of a fear of, you know, heading back to the Twin Cities and that big campus and that big school. And, um, I always went early because I was in the marching band for four years and we had spat camp, yes, spat camp. We did not because we spit, because we wore spats, and we did at that time, high stepping, big 10 style, um, you know, military pattern based marching. And it was at least as athletic as musical. And in fact, it was probably more athletic than musical at a certain point, um, to its detriment, I think. But, um, I did that for four years. So we were always back on campus three or four weeks before the rest of the 56,000 students came back.
Speaker 1 00:36:03 And it was fun and creepy to be on campus that was sort of deserted for a couple of weeks. And, uh, you know, when you're a 18, 19, 20 year old, it's a little bit lonely, a little bit scary, uh, a lot of fun. The marching band was a great intro to the University of Minnesota in that, okay, I can handle 300 people. It's a lot easier to wrap your head around than 56,000 or whatever. The u campus was then one of the largest in the country. Uh, but it was the, the feeling of August in this, not impending doom, but the, the change of season always has, uh, makes me a little, um, melancholy and nostalgic, uh, even now, 40 years later, as the ancient Assyrians are fond of saying bessa, she theni, which I think more or less means enough already. I thank you for coming along on my reminiscing journey here on Cadenza four. I hope you've had a chance to listen to Bill Harrison and Luke Nelson, the first two episodes of season two on Chicago Musician. If not, check 'em out on where you get your podcasts. And until next time, I'm Sean Stengel. I am a Chicago musician.