Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish
a kate west recommendation

Not that she needs any promotional help from me, but I'm praising her nonetheless. Billie Eilish, at 15 years old, is pop music's fastest rising star. From appearances on shows like The Late Late Show with James Corden and acoustical sets at Apple Stores, Eilish is making her presence known internationally, including a whirlwind tour at all the usual hot cities (you can buy your tickets here, but just so you know, she sells out - fast). 

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.

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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.

Photos: Warner Bros. Pictures

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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

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.

Joshua Henry as Aaron Burr

Michael Luwoye as Alexander Hamilton

We watch Hamilton rise quickly and almost effortlessly through the political ranks, forever bypassing his friend Burr. He meets the elitist socialites, the Schuyler sisters, and marries Eliza (the wonderfully lyrical Solea Pfeiffer) while lusting after Angelica (the larger-than-life Emmy Rover-Lampman). He later gets entrenched in scandal with a married woman and somehow manages to extricate himself by wits alone. These ladies all seem to be "Helpless" ("Look into your eyes, and the sky’s the limit, I’m helpless! Down for the count, and I’m drownin’ in ‘em"). But they are the least of his worries.

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"). 

Solea Pfeiffer, Emmy Rover-Lampman, Amber Iman as the Schuyler sisters

Michael Luwoye & Isaiah Johnson (George Washington)

RubĂ©n J. Carbajal, Michael Luwoye, Jordan Donica,  Mathenee Treco

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. 

Rory O'Malley as King George

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.

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