No. The economy is not more important than our humanity. We should be defined by who we are, not by what we make. I matter. You matter. My parents matter. And your grandparents matter. History matters (and it will judge us). The future matters (and we all deserve one). We should not value commerce over compassion, cold hard cash over warm hearts. People should matter more than things. How can we be the best we can be, if we are willing to do the worst? Families matter. Communities matter. How we help each other matters. Businesses can rebuild, but we cannot bring back the dead. Or recover our souls. Wash your hands. Stay home. Keep each other safe. Honor and respect one another. This is the only way we can get through this - together. Read more!
a kate west recommendation
An instant sensation, Eilish has the voice of a sophisticated adult, with the energy of a (duh) fifteen-year old and her collaborations with her brother Finneas O'Connell (another pro - be sure to check out his fab band, The Slightlys) have produced numerous accessible and nuanced tunes like her runaway hit Ocean Eyes.
Growing up in a musical family (some of them act too), Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell, was born to perform. She learned to dance, sing and act at an early age, quickly deciding to focus on music to make her mark. Her songs are simultaneously dark and upbeat and her talent is undeniable. Judging by the screaming teens at one of her latest gigs at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco (side note: the upside to that night was an uncrowded bar for those of us, er, just a tad over drinking age), her appeal is universal. She's super fun to listen to and dance to, and then to play again to really hear those lyrics and wonder at the masterful poetry pouring out of someone so young. Really young, but with an old soul. Seriously.
Check out her more prominent tunes, such as Six Feet Under (lyrically beautiful and poignant) or Bellyache (punchy in just the right spots). It's all on Spotify. Or iTunes. Or pretty much everywhere now. And she's only just started her career. Can't wait to see what comes next.
You can check out her family's amazing talent by watching the delightful film Life Inside Out (my previous review is here), with mom Maggie Baird and brother Finneas. It's a love note to family, in the musical and familial sense.
And by the way, if you haven't heard of Billie Eilish yet, don't worry, you will.
a kate west review/reflection
Oh, wondrous Wonder Woman. THANK YOU.
I finally got my superhero movie. I didn't even know I needed it. I knew I wanted something different. That we all desperately needed a change from the norm. We got different alright. We got something revolutionary. And validating. Some fiery inspiration. And even a little personal vindication.
It's not perfect. You can read some film critique below. If you want. But socially? It's timing couldn't be better. In this current climate of consciousness-raising against mansplaining, man-interrupting - amidst awareness of the all too prevalent and myopic (and so very tedious) male gaze, women get their OWN heroine. We don't have to share her with male opinion or dress her up as a male fantasy. Y'all get to watch, sure, but you don't have to have a say. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is her own woman. She's ours. She comes from an island of proud warrior women who don't need men - they can tend to their own affairs, thank you very much. Having attended an all girls' high school, I can tell you that not worrying about men listening to what you think of the book you're reading is a delight. Uber refreshing. You end up boldly raising your hand in every class from then on, because your opinion matters. Your thoughts and feelings are important to you and you are not shy about voicing them.
But back to Diana. She was born to care and made to save the world. We don't deserve her. But because it's the right thing to do, she will fight for us. And thank God. The men are screwing everything up and getting us into World War I. By the way, it's nice to have a period piece with earlier kinds of Germans (pre-Nazi). I love the look. Very Von Baron. As for Gadot herself - she is glorious. Emotionally vulnerable and impenetrable as a goddess. She brings female compassion to the front and shows us how strong that can be. Heart and soul are freely given in every scene and she is truly riveting. And she's beautiful. In an unadorned and pure way. She's doesn't compete with other women - at least not in the petty way we learn to. We're not jealous of her. Because she's embodying us. She's carrying our spirit, voicing our warrior cries. We are her.
I remember watching Lynda Carter in the classic television show and kinda wanting to be Wonder Woman. In a vague princessy way. But not in the more seriously epic way I wanted to be a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. It just wasn't fierce enough for me. I craved the fire and iron will to battle monsters in hell. Camp just can't do that. This movie though, wow.
Diana wanted to learn to fight ever since she was a wee lass. Auntie Antiope (Robin Wright) was the supreme role model to teach her - and how. Director Patty Jenkins really captures the bad-assery of those Amazonian battles. Unflinching in the face of danger, each solider is as committed as the next. Enter adorable Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Diana saves him from drowning with his plane, and in return he shows her the harsh modern world that had been hidden from her all these years. After much soul-searching, Diana's mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) finally lets go of her daughter and watches her disappear across the waters toward evil.
Although technically Diana was sheltered on her island, she wasn't "sheltered" and in fact, can handle herself very well. She has no qualms about speaking up, taking charge, making decisions for herself and maintaining a steely moral code. Thrust into the battlefield, in the middle of the world's first great terrible war, Wonder Woman is born. Crossing into No-Man's Land (disregarding being told not to by the men) she strides straight toward danger, fearlessly deflecting bullets. This is the pivotal scene that made so many women cry. Diana doesn't care about naysayers. She was raised to follow her own truth, her own conviction, because she believes in herself. Too many of us compromise ourselves, allow doubt to creep in, swallow the lie that women are less than. Wonder Woman is more than. She is everything in that moment. She is exquisite. It's one of the most emotionally satisfying sequences I've seen in a long time. I carried it with me long after I left the theater.
The final battle is a little tedious, sure, as is the twist of the big baddie. But I forgive. Interesting though, to have an evil female scientist in Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) who gets a wonderfully nuanced scene with Chris Pine - kudos to both of them. Nicely done.
Overall, I was stunned by how affected I was. I'm sure dedicated fans of graphic novels experienced this kind of thing before. The depiction of ultimate confidence in yourself. It's new to me though. Women aren't normally coached in that kind of self-sufficiency. Some of us learn it. But in general, society discourages it. Since Diana grew up neurosis-free, she easily soars above the rest. True, it doesn't hurt to have the advantage of super powers. But in a metaphorical sense, we can all give ourselves wings, no? I think we were starved for this perspective. Which is why it made us cry. Diana is simply Diana, with no agenda. And not trying to male bash here, but c'mon, you guys had your validation movies oh, so many times over. Let us have this one. And that's the thing about Wonder Woman too - she lets you all come along for the ride. Enjoy.
a kate west review
book, music & lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
based on the book by Rob Chernow
directed by Thomas Kail
choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running April - May 2017
contact: (888)746-1799 or www.shnsf.com
HAMILTON. The musical world will never be the same after this ultimately modern phenomenon premiered in New York in 2015. Winning 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, HAMILTON introduced a new era in theater accessibility by using rap, hip-hop, and color-blind casting to dramatically showcase the American founding fathers. Alexander Hamilton may not have been as well known as Thomas Jefferson or George Washington (although Hamilton is certainly now a household name - thanks Broadway!) but he was most certainly an interesting part of our revolutionary past. A prolific writer and an immigrant(!), Hamilton helped shape our roots, along with the legendary greats.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, genius creator of this stunning work of art, is also now a household name. Enchanted by Hamilton's story in the book by Ron Chernow, Miranda turned the tale into a brilliantly emotional and eloquent recounting of loss, envy and triumph. Who knew our own history could be so compelling, entertaining and well, so very ... educational? After taking New York by storm, HAMILTON is touring the country and is currently running in San Francisco. And yes, it's every bit as good as you've heard.
Aaron Burr, strongly portrayed by Joshua Henry in this production, is wildly and dangerously jealous of the successful Alexander Hamilton (Michael Luwoye), bringing to mind Salieri's frustration at Mozart's seemingly easy genius in AMADEUS. "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?" This opening number ("Alexander Hamilton") skillfully sets the intense tone for the bitterly tragic rivalry.
He soon becomes the vital right-hand man to George Washington himself, strongly portrayed by Isaiah Johnson. When Thomas Jefferson (played with relish and good fun by Jordan Donica) finally returns from France ("What'd I Miss?"), the political scene heats up, with one side playing the other, until Hamilton manages to win over Jefferson, leaving out Burr, once again, who is desperate to be a part of the action ("The Room Where It Happens").
Even knowing how the play ends, as it's all in the history books (duh) and Burr himself tells us at the start, "And me, I'm the damn fool who shot him", the duel scene is rivetingly suspenseful. And heartbreaking, as are a few other lovely gems (not to give it all away here). Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, in harmony with Thomas Kail's apt direction, holds our constant attention, in so many clever ways. There are slow-motion moments and rewinds and poignant portraits of isolated emotion, all amazingly effective and flawlessly expressed. King George (the delightful Rory O'Malley) even makes a few cameos here and there to ridicule the original patriots ("You'll be back ...Time will tell, You'll remember that I served you well ... We have seen each other through it all and when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love"). So we've got drama, love, lust, passion, comedy, tragedy, and oh, so much history. And all of it is palatable, fascinating, and brilliant.
Miranda has given us a modern world, framed by the old, using actors of color interchangeably, and it all works. Very, very well. The story of HAMILTON tells us that immigrants can be as important as everyone else, that equal rights matter, that the bigger picture matters most, and even better, that, as Burr eventually realizes, "The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me". If you can at all afford to, see it now.
a kate west reflection
It's been a long time coming, this new Star Wars. On the one hand, we awaited the release with Christmas morning excitement, but on the other, we were wary since we'd been hurt before (VERY hurt, by Episodes I-III, amiright???) so expectations were both abnormally high and abnormally low. Please note, the essential trilogy (IV-VI), has its flaws (besides the Ewoks) which I won't get into here, and which don't really matter to our childhood memories. Sure, the classic John Williams score helped to elevate the story to a different cinematic level than it might otherwise achieved (blah, blah, blah) but relax, this takes nothing away from the lure of the enduring legend.
The main attraction to this franchise, at least for me, is the pure emotion (full disclosure: my true affiliation is with Star Trek, but I still remember falling in love with the original Star Wars and what it did to my fantasy life). Those ideas of the nobility of the Jedi, the loneliness of a space hero, the passion of a rebellion, awakened a new hope in me too, as it were. So I really wanted to like the new movie.
And I did. I already approved of what J.J. Abrams did with the new Star Trek (at least his first movie anyway: read the review here). He kept the essence of the characters, but kept his own modern uber cool spin on it via the alternate universe. So I trusted him to do the same for Star Wars. He didn't do the alternate universe thing, but did stay true to the characters and respected the history enough to make a fairly seamless continuation.
a kate west review
book by Dennis Kelly; music & lyrics by Tim Minchin
directed by Matthew Warchus; choreography by Peter Darling
at Orpheum Theatre (SHN)
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running July 15 - August 15, 2015
contact: (888)746-1799 or www.shnsf.com
Roald Dahl's cheeky heroine Matilda leapt from page to screen (Mara Wilson) to musical. After winning numerous awards in London (seven Oliviers) and New York (five Tonys) the hit show is now on tour in our own San Francisco, currently at the Orpheum Theatre.
Gabrielle Gutierrez (matinee performance) is Matilda, the precociously gifted and neglected daughter of dud parents, the Wormwoods. She reads for pleasure, much to the scandal and chagrin of her tv (telly) addicted mum and dad. Spending as much time at the library as she can, she weaves fantasies that intersect with reality and might even have a few special powers of her own. She needs them too, as she is soon sent to the dark and dreary Crunchem Hall Elementary School, where she faces the terrible headmistress Miss Trunchbull.
Bryce Ryness is Miss Trunchbull and is every bit as horrifying and hysterical as the villain in book and screen. Hair tightly bound in a severe bun, clothes militaristic and demeanor ferocious, Trunchbull makes the children's lives a living hell ("The Hammer" and "The Smell of Rebellion"). Ryness steals the show as he strides into the Trunchbull scenes with timely maneuvers of a pro. Equally fantastic is Quinn Mattfeld as the dishonest car salesman and unappreciative father of Matilda, Mr. Wormwood. The hoots and hollers of their curtain calls alone speak to their distinctive performances.
Cassie Silva matches Mattfeld in energy as the vainly ditzy Mrs. Wormwood, however it was difficult to understand her higher register at times. In fact, many of the children were almost indecipherable when singing, and sometimes when speaking. The producers understood this potential problem (does it have something to do with the striking British accents or just the usual misinterpretation of song lyrics?) and provided the audience with a display for reading along with the text, à la opera translator, but that may have been a little far to strain to read for the balcony crowd. They did provide a synopsis in the program however, so make sure you read that carefully before the show. Or better yet, read the book! Or for those with a tv (telly) addiction, watch the movie.
Matilda is a delightful show and a wonderful character and will hold younger audiences captive, as well as entertain the grown-ups with that quintessential Roald Dahl quirky wickedness. Jennifer Blood as Miss Honey offers the softer performance, to contrast the evil surrounding our main character, and is ultimately her savior of sorts (though Matilda certainly knows how to take care of herself - girls, take note of that resolute self-reliance).
Rob Howell provides an innovative and imaginative set, while Peter Darling compliments it nicely with joyful choreography and director Matthew Warchus does a fine job painting the big picture. True, there are many harsh moments ("School Song" and "The Chokey Chant"), done with feverous revel, but there are poignant times as well ("Miracle", "This Little Girl" and "When I Grow Up"). So there is something for everyone. And other than the intense concentration needed to follow the plot (can't relax into escapist mode here) it is a super fun show. Read more!
Update: Recently re-watched Life Inside Out and am once again struck by its sincerity and how the on-screen mom is so like the off-screen mom (Billie & Finneas' mom!) in nurturing her children's creativity and supporting their individuality. Truly remarkable parenting all around. Kudos to everyone involved. What am amazing and lovely family.
The independent film Life Inside Out is a wonderfully subtle portrait of motherhood. It is a lovely and simple love letter from mother to son, depicting the purest kind of gentle love. A hit at many film festivals, you can now find this movie (and cool soundtrack) online.
Maggie Baird stars as Laura, who longs to go back to her musical roots and maybe find more meaning than her full time mom duties. We can all use a little extra creativity in our lives, after all. During her introspective journey to get there, she draws out her reclusive son Shane (Baird's real life son Finneas O'Connell - yes, of Glee fame). Her eventual sacrifice for her son proves that a mother's love is the truest bond, especially if she is true to herself first. It is so nice to see a female lead showing compassion and generosity for others, without losing her identity. In finding her own heart, Laura is able to share it with her friends and family all the more readily.
This is a sweetly delicate story, with relatively little of the modern indie angst so prevalent in many tediously drawn-out "hip" films (looking at you Cake). Also fun is watching a genuinely talented musical family work together to create a heartfelt movie that resonates with anyone who has ever wanted to perform. Or help someone else discover their true talent and calling. Must have been awfully nice to grow up around that well-loved living room piano.
The movie has a wide appeal and the entire cast is interesting and watchable. The atmosphere is cozy and the music is soothing, yet vibrant (check out The Slightlys - you may even recognize the lead actor). Director Jill D'Agnenica did a great job. It is definitely worth giving it a go.
See a clip here.
You can get the music here.
Facebook page here. Read more!
a kate west review
book by Harvey Fierstein; music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
directed by Jerry Mitchell; orchestrations by Stephen Oremus
at Orpheum Theatre (SHN)
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running December 2-28, 2014
contact: (888)746-1799 or www.shnsf.com
Let's not forget the trendy creative team, lyricist Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein (book). One can just imagine the charming work sessions between the effervescent pop star and gravely Broadway icon. Indeed, their collaboration earned them 13 Tony nominations and 6 Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. Drag queens and red shoes - what's not to love? Based on audience reaction from the S.F. crowd alone, no wrong notes here.
a kate west tribute
No, I never met him, never knew him. But, like so many others lately, I keep thinking about him. Even dreaming about him. And it's not that far-fetched that I might have met him. I used to live in Los Angeles and used to work in the improv world, where you can meet lots of I-knew-them-whens (I met Eddie Izzard, for instance, OK well when he was actually famous and I also knew lots of other "befores" but never mind that now). Still, only friends and family can mourn him in a specifically personal way. Right? Then why are the rest of us still so sad?
I think because he was always there. Since our childhoods. We didn't think about him all the time but if he showed up suddenly (like in a recent episode of "Louie") it was like seeing an old friend. And even when he made terrible movies (you know which ones), it was still delightful to watch him just be him. Or even when scripted, being someone else, doing it with his classic 100% commitment. And oh, those powerful performances ("The World According to Garp", "Dead Poets Society", "Good Morning, Vietnam" etc.), they were from the heart, direct from him to you. Not everyone with that impressive an imagination can deliver sincerity, but he had such a huge soul that boy did it shine through.
Sometimes he was hard to work with (apparently), but only because he couldn't be contained. It was impossible to completely reign in that spontaneity, and the humanity in the heart of the audience loves the unexpected. And God, he was funny. Mind-blowing to think he made it all up on the spot. And could go on for hours. Unstoppable. No wonder he was the best genie ever.
And also because he was supposed to have been nice. Been really sweet. Which always makes watching celebrities that much, well, nicer. Like Carol Burnett. And he loved the Bay Area. And bicycles (who could hold that against him?) But mostly, because 63 is too damn young to snuff out a talent giant, in any circumstances. The tragic method gave the headline an exclamation point, but it would have been headlines, regardless. The man was beloved, as apparent from the outpouring of grief from his peers and then everyone else. We're all still talking about him after all. Reading the tributes, catching up on his old interviews, and of course re-watching his classics.
I too have been binge-watching his movies lately and noticed many of them have morbid references - some throw-away line about death or suicide, mortality or heaven. Haven't gotten through all of them yet, so don't have an official tally. But it's interesting, in light of the now. Who knew that he carried so much with him? I mean at least the general public didn't know. Maybe friends and family didn't know it all. We never know it all, do we? Yes, comedians can be sad. Even miserable. Angry. There's that whole Pagliacci thing. Not to stereotype. But still ....
As many Facebookers posted, "This one hurts." Gentle Mork is gone. He could play dark so well ("One Hour Photo") but really shone at innocence ("Hook", "Popeye"). The man child who was supposedly so shy IRL but was always, always nice.
He could do delight and wonder so very well.
My favorite is "The Birdcage", which seemed like unusual casting at the time and now seems so perfect. The irrepressible Robin Williams let Nathan Lane steal the show, while still being brilliantly funny as the understated club owner. He played against Gene Hackman, for God's Sake. And against Robert DeNiro in "Awakenings", always holding his own.
And I really loved him being the father who would do anything for his kids ("Mrs. Doubtfire"). Such a ridiculous premise made pure just by the conviction of that nanny (not unlike Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie" - commitment will get you a long way).
It was obvious he loved what he did.
Until recently. I guess. He radiates unhappiness in some of his more recent work ("The Big Wedding"), at least to me.
But what do I know. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I do know that it's possible to miss someone you've never met, but still feel you know. I also know he influenced many and brought joy to countless others. He was a definite force in this world and his absence sucks. There is nothing else to say.